The Book Rescuer: How a Mensch from Massachusetts Saved Yiddish Literature for Generations to Come by Sue Macy, illustrated by Stacy Innerst (9781481472203)
Aaron Lansky’s grandmother came to America from Eastern Europe. She brought with her precious books in Yiddish, which her brother threw into the sea along with her other possessions as a sign they must break with the past. Aaron grew up firmly American in Massachusetts. When he went to college he began to study Jewish scholars and had to learn to read Yiddish to be able to read what he needed to. But Yiddish books and the language were in serious trouble in the 1960s after the impact of World War II. Aaron found himself rescuing Yiddish books from destruction. He filled his apartment with books and asked the leaders of Jewish organizations across the country to help save the books. But they believed that Yiddish was no longer worth saving. So Aaron created his own space in an old factory building that he named the Yiddish Book Center. As word spread, he continued to save books from destruction and meet with people who handed their beloved books over to him. The Center continues its work to this day, having saved Yiddish books from destruction for decades.
Macy writes with a wonderful tone in this nonfiction picture book. She shares the importance of what Lansky accomplished with his work but also has a playful approach that works particularly well. The insertion of Yiddish words in the text adds to this effect. The story of Aaron Lansky’s work is one of finding a personal passion and getting swept up in it. It is a story of hard work, resilience and determination in the face of even those who should care not finding your work valuable at first.
The illustrations by Innerst move from playful in depicting things like running in pajamas at night to save books to dramatic when looking back at the Holocaust. They are done in acrylic and gouache with textures added digitally. The images suit the subject well with a feel of modern design combined with connections to the past.
A fascinating biography of a little-known man who saved a written history of his people. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster.
You Are My Friend: The Story of Mister Rogers and His Neighborhood by Aimee Reid, illustrated by Matt Phelan (9781419736179)
Celebrate the life of the person who became Mister Rogers, a beloved children’s television creator. As a child, Freddie was often sick and filled his days with puppets. He found it hard to make friends and was bullied sometimes. Freddie found that piano was a way he could express his feelings. His mother also told him to look for people around who were helpers, which made him feel safe and supported. His grandfather allowed Freddie to take risks as a child and know that he was adored. When Fred Rogers created his television show, he incorporated all of these childhood inspirations. His show had lots of helpers who shared their talents, talked about difficult subjects, and always told children that they were valued.
Reid draws clear parallels between Fred Rogers’ childhood experiences and the television show he eventually created. The use of his own childhood as inspiration resonates with the readers, allowing them to better understand the impetus behind the iconic show. Even his own talents with puppetry and piano which were highlighted on the show are shown as ways that he expressed himself in the darker times of growing up.
Phelan’s art is done in watercolor and pencil. Special small moments are created in the images such as Freddie Rogers wearing a cardigan or the simple images of Rogers on the television in a variety of situations.
A book that vibrantly captures one of the pioneers of children’s television. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from library copy.
Evelyn the Adventurous Entomologist: A True Story of a World-Traveling Bug Hunter by Christine Evans, illustrated by Yasmin Imamura (9781943147663)
Born in 1881, Evelyn Cheesman did not conform to the expectations set for little girls. She loved to go on bug hunts and play outside. As she grew up, she hoped to become a veterinarian but women at the time did not attend college much less become vets. So Evelyn became a canine nurse. Evelyn heard about an opportunity at the London Zoo to run their insect house. She leaped at the opportunity, though no woman had ever done it before. She took their dilapidated and neglected insect house and created an engaging display. She then started traveling the world to gather new species and discovering unknown species along the way. She continued to work into her seventies, still traveling the world and climbing to find the insects she loved.
Evans has written this picture book biography with a frank tone that speaks directly to the societal barriers in place against women at the turn of the century entering the sciences. It is remarkable to watch Evelyn make her own way through those barriers, creating a space for herself to learn and explore. There is a joyous celebratory nature to the book as Evelyn reaches new levels in her careers and crosses boundaries both geographical and societal.
The illustrations are done in watercolor, featuring layered elements that really create the woods and other habitats beautifully on the page. The book then moves into the sterility of Evelyn’s time as a canine nurse with the colors becoming more muted. The vivid colors of the beginning of the book return as Evelyn heads into the field and re-enters nature.
A strong STEM biography for bug lovers. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Innovation Press.
Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreno Played the Piano for President Lincoln by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rafael Lopez (9781481487405)
Teresa Carreno was a Venezuelan pianist who fled to the United States as a child when there was a revolution in her home country. But arriving in the U.S., there was a war here too, the Civil War was raging. Teresa used music to communicate, practicing her piano with a variety of musicians who came to her home. She played piano in enormous theaters as a child. Then, she was invited to play at the White House by President Abraham Lincoln. Teresa believed in the power of music, but how could it overcome the horrors of war and reach the heart of one of the most powerful men in the world, who had just lost his son. At the White House, Teresa found herself at a poorly-tuned piano and unable to start. When President Lincoln requested his favorite song, Teresa played it and improvised as well. Carreno went on to become world famous for her piano, composing and singing.
Engle embraces using poetic language in her picture books. Here, the moments of Carreno’s life come alive thanks to Engle’s language that uses metaphors often. Her metaphors will be well understood by children such as, “playing hymns that shimmered like hummingbirds” and “they stepped into a room so red that it looked like a storm o r a sunrise.” The effect is immersive and breathtaking.
Lopez’s illustrations are done in mixed media and assembled digitally. Dramatic moments such as the family fleeing Venezuela are done in deep colors that capture the mood and have layers of content to explore. Historical figures and Carreno herself have clear emotions that show the impact of her music.
A strong biography about a young girl with a tremendous gift. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum.
Thurgood by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Bryan Collier (9781524765347)
From the time he was a small boy, Thurgood Marshall was destined to be a lawyer. He even convinced his parents to have his name legally changed from Thoroughgood to Thurgood at age six. Thurgood faced racism growing up in Baltimore in the 1920’s. He had to attend the overcrowded Colored High School which had no library, gym or cafeteria. His father worked at jobs where he served wealthy white customers, including at a country club that did not allow black people to be members. His father also taught him to debate and argue ideas. When he attended Lincoln University, Thurgood was loud, funny and a great arguer. He went to law school at Howard University where he learned to fight for civil rights in court. His first major legal fight was to force his top pick law school to accept black students. Again and again, Thurgood fought to create laws that focused on equality for all.
A picture book biography that tells the story of the youth and upbringing and early legal cases of the first African American on the Supreme Court, this book really celebrates how he became a weapon for civil rights. Winter makes sure to keep the inherent racism in the society at the forefront, pointing out moments in Thurgood’s life when he was targeted and almost killed. The resilience and determination on display throughout his life is inspiring.
Collier’s art is done in a mix of watercolor and collage. Using patterns and textures, Collier builds entire worlds from paper, from a ruined movie theater to haunting segregated schools. The illustrations are powerful and add much to this story of racism and fighting back.
Strong and compelling, this biography belongs in every library. Appropriate for ages 7-10.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Schwartz & Wade Books.
Sparky & Spike: Charles Schulz and the Wildest, Smartest Dog Ever by Barbara Lowell, illustrated by Dan Andreasen (9781944903589)
Sparky has a dog that is black and white. His dog knows fifty words, loves to each strange things, and only drinks from the bathroom faucet. Sparky and his father always head to the drugstore every Saturday night to pick up the Sunday comics. Sparky loves comics and also loves to draw himself. His teacher says that he may be an artist one day, but Sparky definitely wants to be a cartoonist. But drawing is hard, especially getting characters right in multiple panels. The kids at school love Sparky’s drawings, but ignore him otherwise. When Sparky realizes that his dog could make the comic for Ripley’s Believe It or Not, he sends it in along with his drawing of Spike. Eventually, his drawing and caption are published! It’s just the start for the kid whose real name is Charles Schulz.
Lowell deftly depicts the growth of a young artist as he develops his own dream, his own art and a path forward. It is a pleasure to see a young Charles Schulz and his connection to the dog who will inspire Snoopy. His connection to comics from a young age is also fascinating to see as well as his struggles with friendship. The art by Andreasen is cleverly done with a realistic touch that both pays homage to the work of Schulz but also stands on its own stylistically.
An inspiring look at the creator of Peanuts. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy provided by Cameron Kids.
The Important Thing about Margaret Wise Brown by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Sarah Jacoby (9780062393449)
In 42 pages, Mac Barnett celebrates the 42 years of Margaret Wise Brown’s life and writing. This is not a traditional picture book biography, but instead a treasure of glimpses into moments in Brown’s life. Small details like her biting dog and her birth date are shared. Barnett also makes sure to point out unique things that Brown did as a child, like skinning a rabbit and wearing its fur. The rabbit element plays out across Brown’s life and writing, even publishing a book that was first published with a rabbit fur cover. These elements are all loosely woven into a story of a woman who wrote unique and strange books for children, odd enough not to be accepted by the New York Public Library. Still, it didn’t slow Brown down from writing and living her own unique life.
This book is incredible. Written with a conversational tone, inviting readers to see how writing for children needs to be expansive and go beyond cuteness and cuddles. Barnett, who also shares similar elements in his own writing for children, explores fascinating parts of Brown’s life and makes her unique voice the focus of the book. His writing is a study in how to have a strong voice in a children’s book, a narrative point of view, and yet also avoid being didactic at all, insisting that young readers think for themselves.
Jacoby’s illustrations are a great mix of showing Brown’s life, full pages of pastel and flowers, and other moments with bunnies in libraries. The mix is wonderfully odd and so exactly appropriate for a story about Brown herself.
I predict that this one is going to be win awards. It certainly should. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from library copy.
Smile: How Young Charlie Chaplin Taught the World to Laugh (and Cry) by Gary Golio, illustrated by Ed Young (9780763697617)
Growing up on the streets of London, Charlie Chaplin was raised by a single mother who performed as a singer. At age five, Charlie himself started to perform in place of his mother as her voice quit. The family ended up in the poorhouse and when they managed to get back out, Charlie went to school. That was where he learned of his love of attention and the spotlight. At age nine, Charlie joined a boys theater troupe and among other jobs, he worked his way up on stage. Eventually, he made his way to the United States. He starred in a movie but when people in the industry saw how young he was, they doubted him. With one clever costume choice though, Charlie Chaplin invented his iconic tramp character.
Golio’s poetic approach to this nonfiction picture book suits the subject completely. It has a sense of lightness and playfulness with plenty of optimism in the face of hardship. Even as Charlie’s childhood turns bleak, there are moments of light and wonder too. The writing is rich and invites readers to better understand the subject and where he came from. I’d recommend sharing some Chaplin clips with children so they can watch the genius at work. Young’s illustrations are exceptional. The images are bold and full of strong graphical elements. Using colorful silhouettes, they play with light and dark, whimsy and reality.
A mix of humor and sadness, just as Chaplin would have wanted it. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy provided by Candlewick Press.
Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpre by Anika Aldamuy Denise, illustrated by Paola Escobar (9780062748683)
The deep impact and life of librarian Pura Belpre is shown in this picture book biography. The first Puerto Rican librarian in New York City, Pura entered the job with a deep understanding of her native folklore and the power of storytelling with children. But the shelves of the library did not have any of the Puerto Rican tales. So Pura sets off to fix that as well as demonstrating ways to tell stories using puppets. Soon her first book is published and she can use it when she travels to different library branches to share her stories. Pura gets married to a musician and the two of them travel to different cities to perform his music and her stories. When her husband dies, Pura returns to New York City to discover that the stories she planted years ago have germinated something bigger.
Denise writes with a tone of wonder as she tells of this librarian who created her own way to tell the stories she loved. The text is infused with Spanish in a way that allows for comprehension and also clearly ties this book to its Puerto Rican subject. The text reads like poetry, gamboling across the page filled with activity and Pura’s own decisiveness.
The illustrations are rich and vibrant. They depict the library, Pura’s storytelling with children, and the subject matter of her stories. Filled with textures and deep colors, the illustrations pay close attention to the time period of the book and yet have a playful lightness to them as well.
A strong picture book biography of a remarkable librarian. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from library copy.