Portrait in Poems: The Storied Life of Gertrude Stein & Alice B. Toklas by Evie Robillard, illustrated by Rachel Katstaller (9781525300561)
Enter the marvelous world of Gertrude Stein and her partner Alice B. Toklas in France in the middle of the 20th century. Stein created an art gallery in her home after moving to Paris with her brother. They purchased from many incredible artists of the time, including Picasso. In fact, Picasso was so taken with Stein that he had her sit for a portrait which he then gave to her as a gift. Saturday evenings, they opened their home so that others could see the art. Stein was both a writer and a genius, working on capturing her world in words for both adults and children. Stein and Toklas purchased a dog they called Basket, that was featured in Stein’s work, including the “autobiography” she wrote about Alice.
Robillard captures the essence of the life that Stein and Toklas created together, one of acceptance and adoration for one another. Her author’s note speaks to the complexity of their life in World War II France as well as their relationships with those who conspired with the Germans, which likely allowed them to keep their collection of masterpieces safe during the invasion. These elements are not referred to in the body of the book, instead focusing on the art collection, the world they built for themselves, and Stein’s writing and ideas.
Fitting nicely with the clever writing, the illustrations are playful and jovial with a great quirkiness as well. The images depict Gertrude and Alice together, their garden, their home and Basket as well in a color palette that feels timely and modern.
A lovely picture book biography that celebrates an iconic lesbian couple in history. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Kids Can Press.
On Wings of Words: The Extraordinary Life of Emily Dickinson by Jennifer Berne, illustrated by Becca Stadtlander (9781452142975)
Emily Dickinson grew up in a small New England town. As a little girl, she explored the fields and gardens around her home, discovering new words and ways of thinking about the world around her. Her feelings were deeper than most people’s with higher joys and lower sadness. Her thoughts here also deeper, including her love for so much around her. She found sorrows and looked for solutions in school and church, but refused to put her faith in things she could not see. She had her own brand of hope, one that led her to her own truth too. That truth came to life in her poems, not shared with anyone, just with herself. They allowed her to express her feelings and the way she looked at the world, puzzle through things, and ask questions that could not be readily answered. Those same words now inspire so many readers to do the same, find their own voice, look at the world from their own lens: just as Emily did.
Berne writes her prose with a thoughtfulness that allows her to intersperse many of Dickinson’s own words in the text. Dickinson’s poems fly on the page, lifting it up in the way only she can. Berne then serves as her foundational story, offering clarity about Dickinson’s life and then pairing those with poems. It’s a delightful way to introduce young readers to poetry and to Emily Dickinson herself.
The illustrations have a lot of historically accurate elements like the Dickinson home and surroundings. Still, my favorite illustrations are the ones where Emily’s imagination soars along with the illustrations which become whimsical and wild.
A grand look at a great poet’s life and work. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy provided by Chronicle Books.
Cezanne’s Parrot by Amy Guglielmo, illustrated by Brett Helquist (9780525515081)
Cezanne was a French painter who longed to be told that he’s a great artist, so he tried to train his parrot to say that to him. Cezanne’s focus on ordinary events and people as well as his unique style of thick paint and heavy lines did not speak to the professors at the famous Academie des Beaux-Arts where he longed to study. Monet advised Cezanne to head into the French countryside for inspiration. But Monet painted quickly and Cezanne painted very slowly, sometimes taking over 100 visits to a site before his painting was complete. He continued to submit his art for consideration by the Academie, but continued to be rebuffed. The Impressionists emerged as a group that broke the rules of art, but Cezanne didn’t fit in, even with them. He continued to paint the way that only he could, eventually becoming a huge success.
Cezanne’s continued disappointments in gaining attention for his art flavor this picture book biography with rejection and sorrow. They also give readers a chance to see someone who never gave up even as people mocked him. This incredible resilience is also captured in the humor of teaching his parrot to compliment him, something that finally happens in the picture book towards the end.
Helquist’s illustrations are saturated with color, rich and vibrant. He reproduces several of Cezanne’s masterpieces on the page while the majority of the illustrations are filled with images of Cezanne’s hard work, using speech bubbles and humor when appropriate.
A look at one of the greatest painters of all time and what it took to be a success. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by G. P. Putnam’s Sons.
Fred’s Big Feelings: The Life and Legacy of Mister Rogers by Laura Renauld, illustrated by Brigette Barrager (9781534441224)
This picture book biography offers a glimpse into the childhood of Mister Rogers along with a look at how he created his legendary program for children. Fred grew up a shy boy whose asthma kept him indoors. He found a way to express himself through music by playing the piano. In 1951, Fred saw children’s television and realized that he could perhaps use this new medium to explain to them how special they really are. By 1954, Fred had his first TV show on a local community-supported channel. It was done live and mainly improvised. In 1968, the first Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood aired with Fred Rogers as the host and his message of acceptance, community and compassion.
This bright and cheery look at Mister Rogers and his impact on children’s television lets readers see how a shy and quiet child transformed into a man speaking before Congress and creating a program that will be remembered by all who watched it. The illustrations are full of life with bright colors erupting from the television and inspiring young viewers. Several of Mister Rogers’ most notable episodes are also captured on the page.
Another winning Mister Roger’s picture book that is worth tuning in for. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster.
Our House Is on Fire: Greta Thunberg’s Call to Save the Planet by Jeanette Winter (9781534467781)
Greta was a quiet girl living in Stockholm until she learned about climate change. Once she heard a little bit about it at school, she started reading and watching films to learn even more. Greta soon realized that the world was in serious danger of fires, floods, droughts and catastrophic environmental change. She was sad and depressed for a long time, then she decided to go on strike from her school to protest the lack of action on climate. She protested outside the Parliament building every Friday, at first alone and then with other students. Soon children around the world were joining the protests. The quiet girl from Stockholm has become one of the leading young voices for climate change in the world.
Winter makes this book not only about Greta but also about climate change itself. As Greta finds her passion for working on climate, readers learn alongside her about the dangers that climate change brings to the world. As with all of her nonfiction picture book, Winter distills the story of Greta into something digestible by small children. Her pages are full of illustrations with words that explain but never become narrative or overwhelming. Her illustrations are bold and fresh, depicting climate disasters in images on the wall, the dangers to wildlife in Greta’s thoughts, and also the resilience and determination it took for Greta to continue to protest when no one seemed to be listening.
A timely and strong biography about one of the most important people working in climate today. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster.
Just Like Beverly: A Biography of Beverly Cleary by Vicki Conrad, illustrated by David Hohn (9781632172228)
Growing up in Yamhill, Oregon, Beverly spent her days on the family farm with animals for friends. She only had two books growing up, so she made up her own stories instead. When her mother got a children’s library created in Yamhill, Beverly finally had access to more stories. After moving to Portland, Beverly started school, determined to learn to read in class. Numbers were easy for her, but reading was hard. It didn’t help when she had to stay out of school for weeks due to smallpox. It wasn’t until the following year that she got a teacher who put in extra effort with Beverly to help her learn to read. Soon she was writing too and eventually became a librarian. When Beverly heard children asking for stories about kids like them, she was inspired to try her hand at writing children’s books!
Conrad has created an engaging biography where readers can see Cleary’s inspiration from her own childhood reflected in her books for children. The difficulty that Cleary had learning to read is shown in great detail, echoing the immense effort it took to learn. It is inspirational for children who may be having difficulty learning to read to see someone who eventually became one of the most famous children’s authors of all time having the same problems.
The art by Hohn is bright and friendly. The use of period clothing really helps place the book in the past visually and keeps the bright-eyed Beverly from feeling too modern. It also shows the great sense of humor that Cleary had throughout her life.
An inspiring story of triumph and achievement. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
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.