Tag: biographies

Silent Days, Silent Dreams by Allen Say

Silent Days, Silent Dreams by Allen Say

Silent Days, Silent Dreams by Allen Say (9780545927611)

This is a picture book biography of James Castle, an artist who lived in Idaho. But it is so much more than a biography, thanks to the work and talents of Say, who has recreated the story of Castle’s life and also his art. Castle was born premature and was deaf, mute, and autistic. He never learned to speak, write, read or use sign language though he was sent to school. Castle instead communicated via his art, created in lofts and sheds on his family’s property. Drawing on scraps of salvaged paper using matchsticks, he created the spaces he wanted to live in, filling his bare attic with furniture drawn on paper. He drew friends to be with him. At least twice, Castle’s work was left behind as the family moved. Later in life, after being denied art at the school’s insistence, Castle’s work was discovered and he was given space in a gallery. Still, he continued to live much the way he always had, creating art with spit, soot and scraps.

In Say’s Author’s Note, the wonder of this book becomes even more apparent. Say had been asked to draw a portrait of Castle to donate to a library. Upon discovering Castle though, Say was intrigued by the lack of details on the artist and the conflicting tales about him. Thanks to that interest, this book was created, telling the story of Castle’s quietly tragic life that resulted in amazing works of original art. Say writes with a compassion that makes this book shine, never languishing in moments of loss or opportunities that failed to come to fruition, instead it is a testament to the power of art to transform lives in large and small ways, to communicate despite a lack of words.

The art by Say is quite simply astonishing. Using the same materials that Castle used, Say has recreated some of his work, drawing the small lonely spaces that Castle worked in, showing his time at school. The art that depicts Castle’s life flows together with works meant to show Castle’s artwork, creating a scrapbook of sorts that leads the reader through the artist’s life.

Filled with grace and a deep understanding, this picture book biography is truly exceptional work from a master. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Arthur A. Levine Books.

3 Picture Book Biographies about…Books!

A Boy, A Mouse, and a Spider by Barbara Herkert

A Boy, A Mouse, and a Spider: The Story of E. B. White by Barbara Herkert, illustrated by Lauren Castillo (9781627792455)

A picture book biography of E.B. White, this book focuses on White’s love of animals and how that combined with his love of writing to become the stories he is known for. Featuring moments from his life, including a friendship with a mouse as a young child, White returns to his beloved Maine to continue to write and soon discovers a story of a pig who needs a hero to save him. Herkert uses a lovely spare poetic tone in this picture book, allowing White’s personal inspirations to shine from his animals to his sense of place. The illustrations by Castillo are wonderful, creating moments of time and beautiful spaces that show White on his journey to becoming one of the most beloved children’s authors. Appropriate for ages 5-8. (Review copy provided by Henry Holt.)

Miguels Brave Knight by Margarita Engle

Miguel’s Brave Knight: Young Cervantes and His Dream of Don Quixote by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Raúl Colón (9781561458561)

This picture book biography of Miguel de Cervanes Saavedra shows his childhood in Spain. He grew up the son of a barber and surgeon. His father though had a gambling habit and was even jailed for his debts. Just as the family rebuilt after each loss, his father would once again gamble and send the family into debt and moving to a new town. Along the way, Miguel got to attend school sometimes and once he was older his writing gained some attention. Even as a child, he dreamed of fantastic stories to counter the disarray of his family. Engle writes with a natural poetry in this book, showing the brutality of life for Miguel but also the way in which his unique upbringing created his love of stories for escape. The art works to tie the entire book together, showing Miguel’s imagination and scenes from Don Quixote. A great introduction to a legendary Spanish author, this picture book is exceptional. Appropriate for ages 7-10. (E-galley received from Edelweiss and Peachtree Publishers.)

Schomburg The Man Who Built a Library by Carole Boston Weatherford

Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Eric Velasquez (9780763680466)

This picture book biography shows the important impact one person can have when on a quest for knowledge. Schomburg was a man of Afro-Puerto Rican heritage who collected books, manuscripts, letters and more to show the achievements of people from African descent. These achievements were not in history books and not reflected in the national narrative at all. As he studied, he proved over and over again that black culture was unrepresented despite the incredible discoveries and art it contributed to the world. Schomburg’s library was eventually donated to the New York Public Library where you can visit it today. Weatherford highlights not just Schomburg’s own contribution to knowledge of black culture, but also shows other individuals that Schomburg discovered in his research. She does so via poems, some about specific people others about the books and research and many about Schomburg’s own life. The art by Velasquez is rich and beautiful, offering a dynamic visual for the fluid poetry. An important and timely read. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Reviewed from library copy.)

 

 

4 Artistic Picture Book Biographies

American Gothic The Life of Grant Wood by Susan Wood

American Gothic: The Life of Grant Wood by Susan Wood (9781419725333)

Woods is a child of Iowa, who drew pictures of his beloved area even as a child. He left Iowa to study art in Europe. He tried various styles while there, including cubism, impressionism and abstract art. But he found his voice when he saw Gothic art in a museum. He returned to Iowa and created his best-known work, American Gothic, using his sister and dentist as models. Wood writes with a storytellers tone as she writes of Wood’s exploration of art and his triumphant return and the birth of regionalism. MacDonald’s art is bright and celebrates the Iowa countryside with a vintage flair. A great introduction to an American artist. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Imagine That How Dr. Seuss Wrote the Cat in the Hat by Judy Sierra

Imagine That!: How Dr. Seuss Wrote the Cat in the Hat by Judy Sierra, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes (9780375974298)

In 1954, children were having problems learning to move from knowing how to read a few words to being able to read a book. When Life Magazine covered the issue, they suggested that a new book be made by Dr. Seuss. Unable to use his signature made-up language and words, Dr. Seuss had to follow a strict vocabulary list instead. Luckily on that list were the words “cat” and “hat” and the author was inspired. He used easy rhymes and silly illustrations combined with dynamic storylines to get children to turn the pages. Soon Dr. Seuss was creating more beginning readers and publishing others by different authors. It was the birth of the popular early-readers for children and Cat in the Hat remains one of the best! This picture book is a fascinating look at the author’s process and the way that the challenge inspired him creatively. The illustrations combine classic Dr. Seuss elements with Hawkes’ own style. Young writers will be inspired by this look at Dr. Seuss. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Review copy provided by Random House Books for Young Readers.)

Muddy the Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters by Michael Mahin

Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters by Michael Mahin, illustrated by Evan Turk (9781481443494)

McKinley Morganfield was raised by his Grandma Della who called him Muddy. He was brought up with gospel music from church but loved other music more, the music heard at fish fries, the blues. But his grandmother didn’t approve and didn’t want Muddy to waste his time playing music. Muddy though could not stay away from music and saved money to get his own guitar. When not playing music, Muddy worked in the cotton fields until one day he walked out. He headed for Chicago, but no one there was interested in his country blues. People told him to change, but Muddy kept playing his style of music, steadily working towards a record and the fame that would eventually come after a lot of hard work. Mahin keeps the bounce of music in his prose, infusing it with lines from Muddy’s songs, repeating phrases about Muddy not listening to other people, and touches of rhythm. Turk’s illustrations are explosive. Done on black backgrounds, they are neon at night on the page and also show the rhythm and feel of music visually. A strong and special book about a musician who didn’t do what he was told and succeeded because of that. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Review copy provided by Atheneum Books for Young Readers.)

Pocket Full of Colors The Magical World of Mary Blair Disney Artist Extraordinaire by Amy Guglielmo

Pocket Full of Colors: The Magical World of Mary Blair, Disney Artist Extraordinaire by Amy Guglielmo and Jacqueline Tourville, illustrated by Brigette Barrager (9781481461313)

Mary Blair collected colors as a child, filling her eyes and her world with the colors of her family’s move West across the desert and into California. At art school, she met her husband and the two painted together. Hired as one of the first women at Disney Studios, the men didn’t want to consider her bright colors. Walt Disney invited her on a trip to South America, where Mary discovered new bright colors. She continued to try to get her colors into films, sometimes accepted and other times not. Mary eventually left the studio to create children’s books, advertising and sets. Invited back to Disney for a special project, Mary accepted but only if she was going to be the one in charge. From that agreement came It’s a Small World, a ride still beloved at Disney Parks. The authors capture Blair’s love of color and her signature style that is on full display in her picture books and the amusement park ride. The illustrations dance with those colors, leaping from the page in a merry mix of colors that move from bright to subtle. A picture book that celebrates a leading lady in Disney. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Review copy provided by Atheneum Books for Young Readers.)

4 Diverse Biographies of Women

Here are four of my top picks for picture book biographies. They just happen to be about exceptional diverse women.

Danza! by Duncan Tonatiuh

Danza!: Amalia Hernández and El Ballet Folklórico de México by Duncan Tonatiuh (9781419725326)

When Amalia saw the dancers in her town square as a child, she knew that she wanted to be a dancer. She studied ballet and modern dance but always remembered those folk dancers from her childhood. Amalia traveled throughout Mexico, watching the different folk dances in different regions. She used her dancing and choreography skills to turn those dances into performances for the stage. Founding her own dance company, she became known throughout the world.

Tonatiuh uses his signature illustration style that is a delightful mix of folk images and modern edge. The illustrations are a match for the topic, each strengthening the other. He writes of the large amount of work and dedication that Hernández had as well as the vision she carried through her entire life of folk dance and its importance. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos by Monica Brown

Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos by Monica Brown, illustrated by John Parra (9780735842694)

This picture book biography focuses on Frida Kahlo’s lifelong relationship with animals. As a child she had a blue parrot, the color of the home she grew up in. She also had a fawn and a cat. But when Frida was six, she got very ill and had to stay in bed for a long time. Her illness caused one of her legs to be different from the other, but once she was better it didn’t slow her down at all. Frida also had an eagle, two monkeys, two turkeys and three dogs. Her animals had a place in their garden to play, designed by Diego Rivera, Frida’s husband. As she painted, her animals stayed around her and appeared in her self portraits.

Brown uses the animals in Kahlo’s life to point out specific characteristics of her personality, each tied to a specific pet. This strengthens Kahlo’s already strong connection to her animals and makes it more clear for the reader as well. Parra’s illustrations are done on board. They have an appealing combination of organic feel, connection to nature and folk images. An appealing and unique look at Frida Kahlo. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (E-galley received from Netgalley and NorthSouth Books.)

Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Jonah Winter

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Case of R.B.G. vs. Inequality by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Stacy Innerst (9781419725593)

This picture book biography of Ruth Bader Ginsburg shows her intelligence from childhood onward. With a mother who loved books and reading, Ruth was raised to go to college in a time when most women did not attend. Ruth’s mother passed away the day she graduated high school and never saw her daughter head to Cornell and then on to law school. Along the way, Ruth noticed all of the inequities around her, towards minorities and women. She experienced some of the directly: having her pay slashed when pregnant and being barred from the Law Library at Harvard because she was a woman. With the fight for equality for women, Ruth became the most important female attorney in the nation as she argued before the Supreme Court. Eventually, she would become the second female court justice and the author of some of the most powerful dissents in the Court’s history.

This picture book starts with Ruth’s childhood and the importance of her mother and also ends that way. Throughout it is a celebration of the power of women and the importance of their roles and their voices. Winter writes with a strong sense of history and shows both the possibilities there are in the world and also what hard work it takes to get there. The illustrations by Innerst have a quirky historical quality to them with watercolor but also a distinct modern twist as well. This is a strong biography of Ginsburg and her importance to the entire country. Appropriate for ages 7-9. (Reviewed from library copy.)

The World Is Not a Rectangle by Jeanette Winter

The World Is Not a Rectangle: A Portrait of Architect Zaha Hadid by Jeanette Winter (9781481446693)

Growing up in Iraq, Zaha Hadid saw all of the natural features around her: rivers, marches, sand dunes, and more. As a child, she dreamed of creating her own cities. She designed her own clothes. In school in London, Hadid learned more about cities and architecture. She opened her own studio, designing buildings without corners that echoed the natural features of her homeland. Even after winning an architectural contest, her buildings don’t get built. But she refuses to change or stop designing. Eventually, her buildings gain attention and are built around the world. Her studio grows and gets busier. Even after she passes away, her ideas and designs and the work of her studio continue.

Winter has a gorgeous way with biographies, keeping them brief enough for even preschool audiences but detailed enough to intrigue and to speak to the individual and their life. Look in the back of the book for information on where her buildings are located in the world. The illustrations, also by Winters, capture the soaring spirit of Hadid’s designs and their unique vision. Appropriate for ages 5-7. (Review copy provided by Beach Lane.)

Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix by Jacqueline Briggs Martin

Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix by Jacqueline Briggs Martin

Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and June Jo Lee, illustrated by Man One (9780983661597, Amazon)

Roy Choi was born in Seoul, Korea and moved to Los Angeles with his family when he was two years old. His family owned restaurants and he grew up loving his mother’s cooking. When his family got successful, they moved into the suburbs where Roy didn’t fit in. He eventually found his way to being a chef and worked in prestigious kitchens until he lost his job. When a friend had the idea to open a food truck that served tacos, Roy agreed. Soon his food truck was a huge success. Still, Roy wanted to do more. He decided to open fast food restaurants in neighborhoods that needed them. Roy stayed in the neighborhoods where he felt most at home and where he was needed, and that’s exactly where you will find the very successful chef today.

This is the third book about chefs and food people by Martin. As with the previous two books, she captures the essence of this person with skill. Her prose is shown as poetry on the page and often reads that way too. Her take on things so succinct and focused, she uses only the necessary words to tell the story. Her collaborator, Lee dances poems on the page that have the feel of modern lyrics.

The illustrations are entirely unique. Done with backgrounds of spray-paint on large canvases that were then photographed, there is a wild energy to them. The play of music and food on the page is apparent, the graffiti inspired art ties to the urban setting and the poorer neighborhoods.

Strong and successful, this picture book captures a modern master of food. Appropriate for ages 6-10.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

Margaret and the Moon by Dean Robbins

Margaret and the Moon by Dean Robbins.jpg

Margaret and the Moon: How Margaret Hamilton Saved the First Lunar Landing by Dean Robbins, illustrated by Lucy Knisley (9780399551857, Amazon)

This nonfiction picture book tells the story of Margaret Hamilton and her work on computers. When Margaret was a girl in the 1930s and 1940s, she wondered why girls weren’t studying science and math, so she did. She went to MIT and started working on computers back when they required handwriting code and the computers filled entire rooms. She eventually went to NASA where she programmed computers to help astronauts travel to the moon and connect to one another in space. When Apollo 11 came and astronauts were going to land on the moon, Margaret wrote the programs to get them there and back safely. In fact, when disaster struck it was Margaret’s programming that kept everyone safe and accomplished the goal.

Robbins writes with a celebratory tone in this biographical picture book. His appreciation for Margaret’s ability to ask tough questions and figure out answers is clear. Throughout, he keeps the tone playful and light, showing the hard work behind the accomplishments, and her inquisitive nature as the keys to her success.

It is great to see graphic novelist Knisley illustrating children’s books. Her illustrations match the tone of Robbins’ writing, keeping the entire book light and celebratory. The amount of work done by Margaret is staggering and is shown by Margaret next to a pile of papers that showed the length of her code. That same image is repeated as a photograph at the end of the book.

A wonderful example of women in STEM, this picture book speaks to the power of brains and determination. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Knopf Books for Young Readers.

Bravo! by Margarita Engle

Bravo by Margarita Engle

Bravo!: Poems about Amazing Hispanics by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rafael Lopez (9780805098761, Amazon)

Latino heroes and heroines are depicted in poetry in this nonfiction picture book. From countries around the world and a variety of backgrounds, these people are inspirational and influential. The poems celebrate their accomplishments with clarity and focus, offering a glimpse into their lives. Engle’s poetry is readable and interesting, inviting you to turn the page to discover yet another amazing person. Some of them readers will be familiar with and others will be new. Readers can find more information on each of the people at the end of the book.

Lopez’s illustrations are done in “a combination of acrylic on wood, pen and ink, watercolor, construction paper, and Adobe Photoshop.” The results are rich illustrations with a clever feel of being vintage in their textures. Each illustration speaks to the person themselves, clearly tying them to their passion and cause.

An important book for public libraries, this is a celebration of Latino impact on the world as a whole. Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt & Co.