Tag: biographies

The Legendary Miss Lena Horne by Carole Boston Weatherford

The Legendary Miss Lena Horne by Carole Boston Weatherford

The Legendary Miss Lena Horne by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon (9781481468244, Amazon, GoodReads)

Born into a family of educators and activists, Lena Horne grew to be an African-American star and civil rights activist. As a child, Lena’s parents dreamed of making it big. Her father was a street hustler and her mother was an actress. As a small child, she was left with her grandmother in Brooklyn while her parents sought their fortune. From her grandmother, Lena learned about the value of education, good manners, and black pride. But soon Lena’s mother returned and took Lena on the road with her. During the Great Depression, her mother decided to put Lena on stage. Lena soon outshone her mother, becoming the first African-American actress to get a studio contract. She eventually also found her voice in the civil rights movement.

Weatherford shows Horne as a small child torn between the dreams of her grandmother and her mother. Then in the middle of the book, a transformation happens and Lena takes to the stage, becoming a star. The book beautifully weaves together the two dreams of grandmother and mother, showing how Horne’s life honors them both and how her career evolved to become large enough to encompass everyone’s wishes. Weatherford uses text carefully and deftly, making sure that the book remains readable by younger readers. There is a feeling of verse to her prose that invites readers in.

Zunon’s illustrations are done in oil paint and cut paper collage. The paper collage adds patterns and texture to the images. The paintings provide the people, expressions, and emotions. They show Horne growing and changing, transforming before the reader’s eyes into a star.

This is a gorgeous picture book biography honoring a woman who broke new ground in civil rights using her career and her voice. Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

I Dissent by Debbie Levy

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I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy, illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley (InfoSoup)

The life of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is told in this first picture book about her. Ruth grew up in Brooklyn in the 1940s where her mother took her to the library so she could learn. She was taught that girls could do anything they wanted. As a Jewish girl, Ruth knew racism with signs posted that Jews would not be served at specific establishments. Ruth learned that there were limits to what she was sometimes allowed to do, and sometimes she won when she protested and sometimes things stayed the same. She went to college in the 1950s when most women did not attend. She was one of nine women in her law school class of over 500. She went on to become a law professor even though she had a baby daughter at home. She was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1993 and has continued to be a voice for change and equality. She has made a difference in the country by being willing to disagree.

Levy cleverly uses the framework of one disagreement or dissent after another to frame Ginsburg’s life. From her mother originally disagreeing with how girls were meant to be raised to the way that Ginsburg and her husband’s roles in their marriage to the work she has done in courtrooms and the justice system. There is a clarity to the writing that keeps it very readable and Ginsburg is a great figure for children to know better.

Baddeley’s illustrations capture the expectations of the 1940s and 1950s in images and move into 1970s showing that Ginsburg continued to break the rules. There is a merriment to the illustrations that captures Ginsburg spirit and her intelligence as well.

A robust look at an amazing woman’s life, this is one for every library. Appropriate for ages 7-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

 

Lift Your Light a Little Higher by Heather Henson

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Lift Your Light a Little Higher: The Story of Stephen Bishop: Slave-Explorer by Heather Henson, illustrated by Bryan Collier (InfoSoup)

Stephen Bishop was a slave who explored and mapped Mammoth Cave. The book is set in 1840 where you can follow the light of Bishop’s lantern deep into the massive cave as he gives people and the reader a tour. For the reader though, the tour is about slavery, about civil rights and about the ability for a man to discover value through exploring darkness. Bishop was the first to see many of Mammoth’s sights, including the blind fish. He learned to read as people signed their names on the cave’s ceiling, though learning to read and write was forbidden for slaves. This man’s story is a tale of resilience, self worth and discovery.

Henson tells the story almost in verse, capturing the highlights of the man’s discoveries but also weaving the dark side of slavery with the darkness of the cave. Henson gives Bishop a strong voice, one that stands out on the page and demands to be heard. Told in the voice of The Guide, Bishop explains slavery and its structure to the reader just as he explains his role and his attitudes towards life and the cave that made his famous. The author’s note contains information on Bishop and how he was sold along with the cave to several owners.

Collier’s illustrations are exceptional. He has several that are simply amazing in their power. One that caused me to linger for some time was the page with the oxen with faces on their sides, faces of slavery in various colors that are wrinkled and damaged. It’s a powerful reminder of the place of slaves as property. There are other pages that show hope in the slanting light of sun as Bishop exits the dark of the cave is one. Exceptional.

A strong picture book biography of a man many won’t have heard of before, this book speaks to the tragedy of slavery and the resilience and power of one man. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum.

 

Six Dots by Jen Bryant

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Six Dots: A Story of Young Louis Braille by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Boris Kulikov (InfoSoup)

Louis Braille lost his sight at age five from an accident and a resulting infection. His family helped him learn to cope, making him a cane that he could use to explore a little farther from home each day. His brothers taught him to whistle and his sisters made him letters out of straw. He could play dominoes, knew trees by touch, flowers by their smell and could listen to books being read aloud. But there were no books for blind children like him. Even when he got into a school for the blind in Paris he had to work very hard and become one of the best students to be able to access their books. When Louis achieved that though, he found that the books were done in large raised wax letters so thick books were actually quite short. Then there was news that a French army captain had created a way to send secret messages that was read by touch. Louis worked to make the system readable by the blind, creating his own alphabet system as a teenager!

Bryant writes in first person from Braille’s point of view. She explains how Louis lost his sight with just enough detail to make it understandable how tragic it was but doesn’t overly linger there. When Louis’ sight is gone, the text changes to become filled with noises and other senses than sight. Bryant moves the story forward using Braille’s desire to read for himself, that drives both the story and Braille’s own life. As each opportunity proves to be disappointing, Braille does not give up hope, instead developing throughout his life a tenacity to find a solution.

Kulikov’s illustrations play light against dark. When Braille loses his sight, the pages go black with shadowy furniture forms only. Color is gone entirely. The reader is not left there, but moves back into the world of color unless the story is speaking about Braille’s blindness specifically, so when Braille finally gets to try reading the wax lettering, the page goes dark again, also showing his disappointment in the solution.

Intelligently designed and depicted, this is a warm and inspiring look at the life and achievements of Louis Braille. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Knopf Books for Young Readers.

 

Some Writer! by Melissa Sweet

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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.

 

 

 

Cloth Lullaby by Amy Novesky

Cloth Lullaby by Amy Novesky

Cloth Lullaby: The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois by Amy Novesky, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault (InfoSoup)

Louise grew up alongside a river that wove through her life. Her mother restored tapestries and from age 12, Louise helped too by drawing in the missing bottom edges of tapestries. At her mother’s side, Louise learned about weaving and patterns. Louise eventually went to school in Paris and studied mathematics and cosmography at university. While at college, her mother died and Louise turned to art to express her feelings. She created enormous spiders out of metal and stone, naming them “Maman.” She took the fabrics of her life and cut them apart, working to put them back together in new ways. It was a tribute to her mother and her childhood expressed in art.

Novesky’s picture book biography keeps the magic of Bourgeois’ childhood intact. The book ends with an image of the artist and one of her spiders as well as a quote that speaks to her never having lost touch with the magic of her childhood. That quality weaves throughout the book where both the river and the restoration work create moments of inspiration and amazement. There is such beauty in the quiet work of restoration as well as the knitting activities of spiders. Readers will immediately understand the connection of wool and web in her art.

Arsenault’s illustrations are alight with that same magic and inspiration. In one image of Louise’s mother, there is a certain spider-ness there, subtle but also clear as she works with her black wool. All of the illustrations in the book celebrate pattern and weaving. There is a limited palette of reds, blues and grays that evoke the richness of tapestries and the excitement of art.

A top pick for picture book biographies, this book pays homage to a female artist that many may not know. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from library copy.

The Book Itch by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

The Book Itch by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth & Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie (InfoSoup)

This book is about the National Memorial African Bookstore and how it became a center for black culture in the 1960s. Told from the point of view of the son of Lewis Michaux, the owner of the store, this book looks at the figures like Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali who come to the store. It is also the story of how Michaux fought to have a store, selling books out of a pushcart at first and being denied a business loan from banks. Michaux was known for his slogans which he shouted on the street, told to his son and painted on the front of his store. The book continues through the assassination of Malcolm X. Readers must look to the note at the end to discover what happened to the store.

This nonfiction picture book speaks to the power of bookstores to inform and to keep a culture strong. One man’s vision comes to life thanks to his own determination and also the way that it spoke to others. The choice location near the Apollo Theater also helped get African-American celebrities to come to the store. The choice to have the story told from a child’s point of view was what makes this book appropriate and understandable for children.

The illustrations by Christie are filled with deep color and thick paint. They directly show the effort and intensity of determination of running a book store like this one. Some pages light with oranges and yellows while others are darkened by death.

A powerful book about an important book store and the vital need for information and books as part of a movement. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from library copy.