Mother Goose of Pudding Lane by Chris Raschka, illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky (9780763675233)
The story of the real Mother Goose frames a selection of her rhymes in this biographical picture book. The book begins by explaining that Mother Goose was actually Elizabeth Foster who married Isaac Goose in 1692. He was a widower with 10 children and the two had four more children together! So she was very like the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe. She raised this large family with her husband, filling the house with rhymes which are still shared in homes today.
The framework of Mother Goose’s own story is told in brief poetic lines that rhyme across the pages, forming their own nursery rhyme of sorts. The highlight here is seeing the nursery rhymes themselves, all returned to the more original versions that were a little rougher and reflected Mother Goose’s time period. It would have been good to have an author’s note with more details about her life as well as a bibliography.
Radunsky’s illustrations are funny and clever. They range from paintings to rougher pencil sketches that appear on the page together. The mix is dynamic and interesting, reflecting the mix of rhymes and story on the page.
Not your regular picture book biography, which makes it all the more interesting. Appropriate for ages 3-6.
Reviewed from copy provided by Candlewick Press.
The Secret Kingdom: Nek Chand, a Changing India, and a Hidden World of Art by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Claire A. Nivola (9780763674755)
A nonfiction picture book look at the incredible Rock Garden of Chandigarh. Chand grew up happily in a small village in the Punjab region of India. He grew up there, hearing stories and building palaces on the sand near the river. As an adult, he became a farmer but everything changed when the partition of India happened in 1947. Forced from his home and into a city, Chand struggled to find the beauty he had grown up with. He finally discovered it in the jungle along the city’s edge. There he cut back the vegetation and built himself a hut. He started gathering items and bringing them into the jungle. Then he started building a secret kingdom, one that was undiscovered by anyone else for fifteen years. When the officials wanted it destroyed, the local community rose up to protect this outsider’s art.
Rosenstock manages to keep the complicated story of the partition of India to a scale that allows young readers to understand its impact on Chand, but also not get caught in the political details. She cleverly uses repetition of themes in the book, creating a feel of a traditional tale that suits this subject perfectly. She also shows the care and attention to detail that Chand demonstrated in his quiet work. There is a sense of awe around both his skill and his dedication to his vision.
Nivola’s art is fine-lined and marvelously detailed. From the lush jungle setting to the various figures he created. It is impressive that when the pages unfold to show photographs of the actual Rock Garden, there is no jarring moving from illustration to image. It flows naturally and yet allows the full images to amaze too.
A look at an outsider artist who created a world all his own. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from library copy.
Starstruck: The Cosmic Journey of Neil Degrasse Tyson by Kathleen Krull and Paul Brewer, illustrated by Frank Morrison (9780399550249)
This book rightfully starts with the Big Bang and then moves on to a young Neil Degrasse Tyson being inspired by the Hayden Planetarium. At age nine, Tyson was inspired to start investigating the stars and the universe around him. He began with binoculars and in a few years had his own telescope. He worked to get a better telescope and also started to build his library of science and astronomy books. In sixth grade, Tyson attended a class at the Hayden Planetarium, often one of the youngest people there. At fourteen, after drawing the attention of the education director at the planetarium, Tyson was taken on a journey to northwest Africa to view a rare solar eclipse. He attended the Bronx High School of Science and went on to start speaking publicly about astronomy. His hero, Carl Sagan, tried to get Tyson to attend Cornell University, but Tyson chose Harvard instead. Eventually after getting a PhD, he returned to the planetarium that had originally inspired him, becoming the director. It was there that the controversial but scientific decision to eliminate Pluto as a planet gained Tyson public attention, leading to him becoming one of the foremost speakers and authorities on astronomy in the nation.
Krull, a master nonfiction author, writes an inspiring story here, showing that from a single experience, a lifetime of enthusiasm and knowledge can be born. Throughout the book, Tyson’s drive and wonder at the universe is clear. Tyson’s willingness to be visible as an authority on astronomy is clearly depicted as he understands the power of media to reach people and demonstrate that people of color can be scientists too.
Morrison’s illustrations also demonstrate the wonder and awe that Tyson feels for the universe. The illustrations have a wonderful vibe to them with people frozen in action and Tyson shown as the heart of the book. There are shining pages filled with black sky and brilliant stars that are particularly striking.
A strong biography of a national science hero, this book will lead young people to dream and wonder. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Crown Books for Young Readers.
A Poem for Peter: The Story of Ezra Jack Keats and the Creation of The Snowy Day by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Lou Fancher and Steve Johnson (InfoSoup)
The son of Polish immigrants, Ezra Jack Keats grew up in poverty in Brooklyn. Early in his life, Ezra followed his dream of being an artist. As an 8 year old, he earned money painting store signs. His father worried about this dream, but also helped by bringing home partially used paint from the artists at the cafe he worked at. Ezra was encouraged at school by teachers and at the library by librarians. Just as Ezra was about to leave for art school, his father died. He thought his artist dream was gone, but then during the Great Depression the New Deal emerged with The Art School League. It was then that he discovered what would be the beginning of The Snowy Day, but World War II would intervene before that dream could come true.
Pinkney’s poem sings on the page, telling the story of how an image can create real magic, just like the snow that inspired it too. She writes with real passion about poverty, the transformation that snow brings to poor neighborhoods, the delight of creation, the wonder of art and the long path it takes to bring a story to life sometimes. Pinkney’s words are magic, dashing and reacting along with the reader, swirling like snowflakes against your cheeks.
The illustrations by Fancher and Johnson are wonderful. Done in collage and paint, they capture Brooklyn as a clear setting and the hardship of Keats life enlivened by art. They then go on to inspire new thoughts of snowflakes and snow as they pay homage to The Snowy Day.
Perfect for fans of The Snowy Day, this picture book speaks to the power of art in one’s life and the way that one man’s dreams have inspired generations to dream too. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from library copy.
Miss Mary Reporting: The True Story of Sportswriter Mary Garber by Sue Macy, illustrated by C. F. Payne (InfoSoup)
Mary Garber was one of the first female sports journalists in the United States. At a time when women were not newspaper reporters, Mary was a sports reporter. Her big break came during World War II when the men were sent to war. After the war, Mary was moved to a news desk but then a year later permanent came back to sports. She was there to witness Jackie Robinson join the Brooklyn Dodgers. Mary herself was barred from the press box and forced to sit with the coaches’ wives rather than the other reporters until her editor complained. Locker rooms were also a challenge. Mary continued writing about sports for more than 50 years, retiring in 2002. Along the way she garnered awards and honors and a reputation for being fair and unbiased.
Macy captures the story of this groundbreaking woman beautifully. The tone is playful and humble with Garber’s quotes often given credit and thanks to others rather than taking praise for herself. At the same time, one understands the courage it took for Mary to continue doing this job in such a male-dominated field. This story is inspirational in the best possible way.
Payne’s illustrations add to the playful feel of the title and the humor. Mary is shown as very petite, dwarfed by those around her. Yet she is clearly the center of attention on the page, her face lit from within by her big eyes and large glasses. Her short hair and can-do attitude mark her uniquely on the page as well.
A great picture book biography to share with children who enjoy sports or writing. Appropriate for ages 7-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.
Mary Cassatt: Extraordinary Impressionist Painter by Barbara Herkert, illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska (InfoSoup)
In 1860, girls did not become artists, but Mary knew exactly what she wanted to do. She enrolled in art school and then moved abroad despite her father’s protests. She copied the masters in The Louvre and lingered outside gallery windows. Art judges disliked her style, but she found herself welcomed to the group of independent artists by Degas himself. Soon she was painting exactly the way she liked and capturing life around her in her art.
Herkert tells the story of Mary Cassatt’s life with such poetic brevity. Her brief lines add to the energetic feel of the book, capturing the tremendous focus and passion of Cassatt herself with their tone. Herkert says things simply as they were and are. She states frankly the expectations of women in that time period, the way that the art institutions rejected Cassatt and the place the Cassatt found support and her own voice.
The illustrations by Swiatkowska pay homage to Cassatt’s own work. Done in a variety of media with gouache, watercolors, acrylics, enamel and tempera, the illustrations have a richness that has a vintage feel about it and focuses on capturing the society that Cassatt lived in and moments in her life.
A beautiful nugget of a picture book biography, this is an inspiring look at a woman who refused to be defined by society and instead lived a life all her own. Appropriate for ages 7-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt and Co.
Fur, Fins and Feathers: Abraham Dee Bartlett and the Invention of the Modern Zoo by Cassandre Maxwell
As a child, Abraham loved animals. He read all about them, even as he started working as a curator at the Museum of Natural History. As a child he also saw the way that animals were treated, lined up in small cages where they could barely move as people paid to view them. Abraham’s exhibits drew the attention of the members of the London Zoological Society and when they discovered his broad knowledge of animals, they asked him to be the next superintendent of the zoo. Abraham found innovative and kind ways to work with injured animals. He also began labeling exhibits with information about the animals in addition to their names. He figured out that animals need specific diets. Finally, he began to expand the way that the animals were kept, creating larger enclosures filled with trees, where the animals were healthier and people could still view them.
Maxwell has written a captivating biography of Bartlett that focuses on the way that his personal interest in animals led him to revolutionize zoos. Young readers will be dismayed and startled to see the small cages animals were kept in and as the book progresses, they will see the transformation to the modern zoos they know today.
The cut-paper art has an old-fashioned feel that beautifully conveys the 19th century time period. Maxwell incorporates small details of fashion and decor that firmly keep the setting in the past. There are clever touches of other papers with special textures or patterns that make the illustrations worth looking at closely.
A clever and fascinating biography of the man who created modern zoos, this book would be a welcome read for any class before a trip to the zoo. Appropriate for ages 7-11.
Reviewed from copy received from Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.
In Mary’s Garden by Tina & Carson Kugler (InfoSoup)
This picture book biography of Mary Nohl, a Wisconsin artist, tells the story of her first creations of large art. When she was young, Mary discovered that she loved art and making things and drawing. It was when she started to collect odds and ends from the beach near her home that she started to create her statues in her garden. Cement was combed and crafted, dotted with stones and other objects. One after another, huge creatures filled her yard, drawing visitors to see what Mary was creating. Mary died in 2001 at the age of 87 and her home still serves as a gallery of her art.
The Kuglers focus primarily on the finding of objects and the process that Mary used to create the art. Then they turn to the gallery she created with her huge creatures who are friendly and welcoming and wild. One can immediately see the appeal of her art. Turning to the back of the book, readers can see the actual art and her garden gallery. The more detailed prose found there also explains how her works is still problematic for her neighbors and how people are working to preserve it.
The illustrations are great and completely capture the whimsical and decidedly friendly nature of Mary Nohl’s art work. From the finding of objects on the lake beach to the creation of the art itself, the illustrations invite young readers to try their own hand at found-object art and to make themselves happy too.
Ideal for Wisconsin libraries, art teachers will enjoy having a book about a woman modern sculptor. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Tricky Vic: The Impossible True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower by Greg Pizzoli
This is a picture book version of the life of Robert Miller, known to law enforcement as Count Victor Lustig, who was one of the greatest con artists of all time. During the early 1900s, Lustig traveled the world doing one con after another. He sailed on ocean liners and befriended wealthy travelers beating them at cards just before they reached their destination. He even conned the legendary Al Capone, pretending to try to double his money while all the time just giving Capone his same money back to appear honest. It worked! His largest con of all time was trying to sell the Eiffel Tower for scrap metal. Amazingly, he did that twice! This incredible story makes for riveting reading and is filled with historical information so young readers will understand concepts like Prohibition.
Pizzoli writes the story of Lustig with great flourish, reveling in the amazing cons that this one man managed to pull off. Pizzoli is known for his simple and clever picture books for younger readers, and in this nonfiction picture book he shows his skills in writing for elementary-aged children. This biography is funny and fascinating, a combination that will have children enthusiastically turning the pages. His writing is filled with the details that make the cons more interesting and using sidebars, he makes sure that children understand the historical context of these cons and how Lustig got away with so much for so long.
Pizzoli’s illustrations add to the appeal. Lustig is shown with only a fingerprint for a head, keeping him a complete enigma throughout the book. At the same time, this bowler-hatted man stands out from the others. The illustrations are an intriguing mix of photographs and drawings, hearkening back to black-and-white photographs even while offering a modern look too.
An impressively compelling subject and cool illustrations combine into a book that is impossible to put down. Appropriate for ages 7-11.
Reviewed from copy received from Viking Books for Young Readers.