Tag: Authors

Marti’s Song for Freedom by Emma Otheguy

Marti's Song for Freedom by Emma Otheguy

Marti’s Song for Freedom by Emma Otheguy, illustrated by Beatriz Vidal (9780892393756, Amazon)

This picture book in both Spanish and English verse tells the story of José Martí. Martí spent his entire life working to end slavery in Cuba after witnessing the brutality first hand. At the time, Spain ruled Cuba and a war of independence started in 1868. Martí wrote against the Spanish government and was jailed and put to hard labor. At 17-years-old he was sent away from Cuba. He continued to fight for Cuba’s independence and settled in New York. He would travel into the Catskill Mountains to see the nature that he missed from Cuba. Martí eventually returned to Cuba and helped fight in the battles against the Spanish, dying on the battlefield before freedom was realized. His words live on: it was his words and songs that helped drive the Cubans to fight for freedom and to continue fighting.

The verse contains excerpts from Martí’s works, allowing readers to read his words directly. The verse from the author and from Martí  work beautifully together, flowing into one river of words that tell the story of Cuban freedom. The afterword and author’s notes add information to the verse, giving more dates and information on the war for freedom in Cuba and on Martí’s life. This picture book biography takes a complex subject and makes it accessible for young readers, demonstrating how a young-person’s passion can ignite a nation.

The illustrations move from Cuba to New York to the Catskills, capturing scenes of daily life, lush greenery, and battles. There is a sense of energy to all of the illustrations, that matches that of the verse as it speaks to the drive that Martí had to speak out for Cuba’s independence.

A great picture book biography that adroitly pairs English and Spanish on the page. Appropriate for ages 7-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

Balderdash by Michelle Markel

Balderdash by Michelle Markel

Balderdash!: John Newbery and the Boisterous Birth of Children’s Books by Michelle Markel, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter (9780811879224, Amazon)

This picture book biography is the story of John Newbery, the man who first created books for children in the 18th century. Books were popular in London at the time, but all of the fun books were for adults. Children had to read poems and fables that were dull and taught them about social niceties. John Newbery grew up to be a publisher and realized that children needed different books. He created a book that was filled with fantasy and games and then he made it very attractive and paired it with a toy. Next came a magazine for children and eventually a novel. The books were written anonymously but all were sold and printed by Newbery himself, the man who created children’s literature.

Markel has captured the feel of the creativity and wildness of someone who decided to make a major change in the world. The text here is celebratory of the new discoveries and new chances being taken in books. Markel points out all of the positives about Newbery’s book and avoids noting that his books don’t bear any resemblance to children’s books of today. Rather, the focus is on the invention, the cleverness of the marketing and the popularity of children’s books from the very beginning.

Carpenter’s illustrations are filled with pizzazz. They have a great energy about them, depicting the bustling streets of London, the desirability of the books, and even showing sad children with real humor. She uses slightly turned pages to show other images underneath along with speech bubbles. The text of the book is also playful, moving through different fonts and text sizes for emphasis.

A glimpse of the earliest children’s books, this historical picture book biography is a pleasure just as Newbery’s were. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.

A Poem for Peter by Andrea Davis Pinkney

a-poem-for-peter-by-andrea-davis-pinkney

A Poem for Peter: The Story of Ezra Jack Keats and the Creation of The Snowy Day by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Lou Fancher and Steve Johnson (InfoSoup)

The son of Polish immigrants, Ezra Jack Keats grew up in poverty in Brooklyn. Early in his life, Ezra followed his dream of being an artist. As an 8 year old, he earned money painting store signs. His father worried about this dream, but also helped by bringing home partially used paint from the artists at the cafe he worked at. Ezra was encouraged at school by teachers and at the library by librarians. Just as Ezra was about to leave for art school, his father died. He thought his artist dream was gone, but then during the Great Depression the New Deal emerged with The Art School League. It was then that he discovered what would be the beginning of The Snowy Day, but World War II would intervene before that dream could come true.

Pinkney’s poem sings on the page, telling the story of how an image can create real magic, just like the snow that inspired it too. She writes with real passion about poverty, the transformation that snow brings to poor neighborhoods, the delight of creation, the wonder of art and the long path it takes to bring a story to life sometimes. Pinkney’s words are magic, dashing and reacting along with the reader, swirling like snowflakes against your cheeks.

The illustrations by Fancher and Johnson are wonderful. Done in collage and paint, they capture Brooklyn as a clear setting and the hardship of Keats life enlivened by art. They then go on to inspire new thoughts of snowflakes and snow as they pay homage to The Snowy Day.

Perfect for fans of The Snowy Day, this picture book speaks to the power of art in one’s life and the way that one man’s dreams have inspired generations to dream too. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from library copy.

Some Writer! by Melissa Sweet

some-writer-by-melissa-sweet

Some Writer!: The Story of E. B. White by Melissa Sweet (InfoSoup)

The life of E. B. White, author of several beloved children’s books, is shown here in a children’s biography from a two-time Caldecott Honor winner. White’s upbringing as a child with his summers spent on a lake in Maine shows the impact of childhood experiences. He won several writing awards as a teenager, knowing exactly what he wanted to do. His work for The New Yorker and other publications as a column author and poet is shown as well as Sweet spends much of the book on the author’s adult life. The strong connection he had with water, nature and Maine shines on the page just as it does in his work. Issues with Stuart Little being accepted in libraries and other moments of note are wonderfully portrayed in original wording of letters. A writer who lived away from the fame he was garnering, White continued to do farm work, sail his boats, and enjoy the simple life he adored.

Sweet has written a simply incredible biography. Her writing flows with that of White. Hers has a frankness and an honesty that is particularly important in biography. Sweet intersperses White’s writing throughout the book, sometimes in clippings from magazines or newspapers and other times clearly typed using a typewriter to get the right feel. Unlike many children’s biographies, Sweet depicts White’s childhood and then moves on to his work and his adult life. While his childhood informs his work, it is not the sole focus of the biography, which honors young readers will plenty of information on his full life.

Sweet’s illustrations are equally amazing. She uses physical items on the page, weathered wood, screws, rope, typewriter keys, and leaves. She incorporates photographs and then her own art as well, creating a world of found objects, drawn Wilburs and Templetons, photos and actual documents that is rich and wondrous. It is like opening a drawer and discovering a treasure trove, a book you want to curl up with and read just as you did those beloved childhood books.

In short, this is a masterpiece. A book with just the right tone, style and organic nature. Terrific! Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

 

 

How This Book Was Made by Mac Barnett

how-this-book-was-made-by-mac-barnett

How This Book Was Made by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Adam Rex (InfoSoup)

How is a book made? Well this book was made in the regular way with an author making many drafts, and editor offering firm advice, an illustrator taking a long time to create the art, and it being printed halfway around the world. But it is also an amazing story and one that will surprise when the tiger keeps reappearing, the pirates raid the slow boat full of books, and the news that there is one last important piece to the book really being A BOOK. You will just have to read this book to see what that is.

Any book by Barnett and Rex is going to be wonderfully surprising and funny. This book is no exception. Barnett immediately makes sure that this book is not taken too seriously by starting it with him arm wrestling a tiger. The tiger then returns at important moments in the book, sometimes to be scared off and other times with a posse. The editor’s role is also depicted in the book with a lot of tongue-in-cheek but also honesty too. Throughout there is real information on how books get made with plenty of imagination added as well. Just like any book.

Rex’s illustrations are done with pencil on paper combined with photography. Some of the illustrations have cotton clouds and others are 3-d objects or 2-d objects photographed. This gives a great sense of space and distance, shadows lengthening across the page. Throughout the art is as clever as the words, which is a compliment to both.

A funny and imaginative look at the making of this book, both unique to this book and universal to the process. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Sweaterweather by Sara Varon

Sweaterweather by Sara Varon

Sweaterweather & Other Short Stories by Sara Varon (InfoSoup)

Enter the artistic process of graphic-novel author Sara Varon. Here you will see short comic stories, some done as exercises, essays and journal entries. Varon introduces each piece, sharing that she is always at least one of the characters in each of her stories. Each story has the charm and wit that one expects from a book by Varon, here is bite-sized pieces that allow readers to meet even more adorable animal characters. There are cats who long to fly, stories based on alphabet exercises, bee keeping information, swimming pools, and much much more. This is a world worth visiting multiple times!

Varon’s art is almost wordless, the characters showing much  more than telling all that they do. Varon plays with the cells of the graphic novel, breaking the walls between them by handing cups across the lines in one story and in another showing both above and below the water at the same time. She is consistently gently funny and smart in all of these stories. There is a beautiful familiarity to her work, it is at once quirky and cozy and creates worlds where one wants to exist.

Readers will find a lot to love here, whether they are reading it as future artists and authors themselves or because they love Varon’s work. Varon shows the growth of her own work as the book progresses, and also shows how from the very start she was true to her own style and vision. The collection is empowering and fresh.

The author of Robot Dreams and Odd Duck shows a back-stage view of her work, inviting young readers into her creative process. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from First Second.

Review: Billy’s Booger by William Joyce

Billys Booger by William Joyce

Billy’s Booger by William Joyce (InfoSoup)

This memoir in picture book format celebrates the creativity of a child destined to become an author. William has trouble at school. He wishes math were as much fun as the comics in the newspaper. He wants to play invented sports in gym instead of the normal ones. Notes are sent home from school. Then along comes a creative writing contest and William is very excited. He works and works on his entry. It’s title is Billy’s Booger and it’s all about a booger in his nose that gets super powers. But when the prizes are given out, Billy doesn’t win any of them, not even honorable mention. He is devastated and starts to act like everyone else. When he’s returning all of the book he used for research for his own book, he hears laughter in the library and heads over to investigate. A group of kids is reading his book and the librarian tells him that out of all of the entries in the contest, his is the most popular! He may not have won the actual prizes, but got something even better.

Joyce tells the story with a wonderful tone. He explains the earlier time when he grew up and children played outside rather than at playdates, when there were only three channels on the TV, and when funnies in the paper were a huge part of your day. It is a memoir about a kid who doesn’t quite fit into the school mold. It’s less about the grownups and how they dealt with him, though that is there in the background and more about him as a child and what he loved to do even then. It’s a testament to following your dream, to doing what you love and what you have always loved.

The illustrations are done in Joyce’s signature style, one that embraces vintage elements but also shines with a modern feel too. My favorite part of the book was the insert with William’s book in it. Happily, the pages are made from construction paper that feels so different in your hand. When I turned the page and saw it I cheered aloud. It is such a change from the finished and lovely illustrations in the rest of the book to move to these rougher drawings and paper. What an important element to embrace.

Fans of Joyce will love this glimpse of him as a child and it may inspire children to try their own hands at writing. Get this funny book out when creative writing projects are coming to help inspire really creative responses. Appropriate for ages 7-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.