Tag: biographies

Lift Your Light a Little Higher by Heather Henson

lift-your-light-a-little-higher-by-heather-henson

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

six-dots-by-jen-bryant

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

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.

 

 

 

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.

Solving the Puzzle Under the Sea by Robert Burleigh

Solving the Puzzle Under the Sea by Robert Burleigh

Solving the Puzzle Under the Sea: Marie Tharp Maps the Ocean Floor by Robert Burleigh, illustrated by Raul Colón (InfoSoup)

This picture book biography tells the story of Marie Tharp, a scientist who was the first to map the ocean floor. The daughter of a mapmaker, Marie grew up following her father into the field as he created his maps. In the 1940s, Marie became a scientist and looked for a place to focus her attention where she could have a new idea. Scientists were just starting to measure the ocean depths using soundings, using echoes to assess depth. Marie worked to piece all of these measurements together into a map of the ocean floor, revealing mountain ranges under water and helping prove the theory of plate tectonics as she revealed a deep narrow valley running the length of the Atlantic Ocean. Marie Tharp is one of the 20th centuries most important scientists thanks to her discoveries as she mapped the ocean floors of our planet.

Burleigh has once again captured a female scientist and the importance of her role in science and in breaking barriers. The understated drama here is nicely handled, the defensiveness of some male scientists, the way that women were not welcome on boats, and the quiet way that Tharp worked to make her own unique impact on science. As readers see the importance of perseverance in scientific discovers and the importance of resilience in the face of resistance, they will understand that these apply to their own lives as well.

Working once again with Burleigh, Colón shows in images the vital importance that mapping the ocean floor had in understanding our planet and the way that it functions. The mapping of the ocean floor offers great images from the large maps to the underwater scenes that invite readers to think about what lies unseen under the ocean.

A dynamite pick for public and school libraries, this is an opportunity to learn about an important female scientist. Appropriate for ages 7-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

My Story, My Dance by Lesa Cline-Ransome

My Story My Dance by Lesa Cline Ransome

My Story, My Dance: Robert Battle’s Journey to Alvin Ailey by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James E. Ransome (InfoSoup)

Starting from his birth through his rise to Artistic Director at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, this picture book celebrates Robert Battle’s life. Born with bowed legs, he was taken in by his aunt and uncle and then raised by his cousin Dessie. It was with Dessie that he discovered a love of music and words. He sang in the church choir and after he got his leg braces off, he began to take karate. At age 13, he started dance late in life for a dancer. Soon Robert was noticed by his high school dance instructor and then auditioned for The New World School of Arts. As he grew, he got to see the Alvin Ailey dance troupe perform and was awed by them. Moving to New York City to attend Julliard, his dancing reached another level and progressively he moved to work with Alvin Ailey. This story of talent and determination celebrates dance and the power it has to communicate.

The prose by Cline-Ransome is spry and fast moving. She shows the importance of family in Robert’s upbringing, even if his mother was not in the picture. The theme of the warmth of family plays throughout the book, from the early pages to the very end where Robert Battle is speaking to the Alvin Ailey audience. The author makes sure to not only talk about the facts of Battle’s life but also shows how his early disability and his willingness to work exceedingly hard played into his later success.

Ransome has done the illustrations in this picture book biography in pastels. The rich colors are gorgeous on the page. He uses them to show the richness of Battle’s life and then when the book shows the movement of dance, he uses them to create the moves from one position to another fluidly across the page in a rainbow of sketches.

A lovely biography on a contemporary figure in American and African-American dance, this picture book is rich and powerful. Appropriate for ages 6-8.

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