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.
Enormous Smallness: A Story of E.E. Cummings by Matthew Burgess, illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo (InfoSoup)
This picture book biography of the great poet E. E. Cummings is exceptional. Focusing on Cummings’ early years primarily, the book invites young readers to view their own world with wonder and to try to put it into words. As a young boy Cummings was already creating poetry, starting at age three. His mother wrote down his poems for him as he recited them aloud. His imagination extended to art as well, but his real love was words which he approached very playfully, often creating his own words or mashing ones together into new ones. The book emphasizes the hard work that Cummings put into his craft, including spending lots of quiet time observing the world around him for inspiration. After graduating from Harvard, Cummings headed to New York City where he found new inspiration all around him. He served in World War I and published his first books soon after the war ended. His poems were both loved and controversial as he toyed with form and words. Filled with Cummings’ poems as examples, this picture book is a joy to read.
Burgess does a great job with his prose which introduces the young Cummings and his early poems and then follows him as he grows older and his poems grow with him. I appreciate that the book was not attempted to be written using Cummings’ unique style. Rather it is a book that pays homage to the art, the inspiration and the man himself. Spending so much time on Cummings’ youth makes the book much more appealing to young readers who will find inspiration both in Cummings’ age when he began to write and in his poems simplicity.
The art by Di Giacomo is filled with textures and patterns. Words dance across the page, playful and light. They often break free of the lines of prose, merging to be part of the art itself. Words float up on breezes, lengthen with hot summer days, and zing with the style of New York City.
A fabulous biographical picture book, this book is a great introduction to E.E. Cummings and his work. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion Books.
Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Jamey Christoph
Gordon Parks had a rough beginning to his life from being born almost stillborn to losing his mother at age 14. He was told by his white teacher that he and the rest of his all-black class would end up as either porters or waiters. Parks did do those jobs, but then he purchased a used camera and everything changed. He started photographing models and then turned his camera towards the struggling families in Chicago and Washington DC. He is pointed towards one specific subject who will create his most famous image, American Gothic, the picture of an African-American cleaning woman standing in front of the American flag with her mop in hand. Parks managed to show racism with a clarity thanks to just picking up a camera at first.
Weatherford keeps this book very friendly with a minimal amount of text in the bulk of the book. She does include an author’s note at the end that fills in more of the extensive career of Parks as a film director and Renaissance man. The focus here in this picture book biography is Parks’ photographic work and the impact he had on exposing racism and poverty in the inner city, showing hard working people who were still in poverty. Make sure to turn to the end of the book to see his photographs and their intense message.
Christoph’s illustrations are stellar. Using a subtle color palette, the images echo the photographs that Park took, but not too closely. Instead they build upon them, showing Parks taking the images and embracing the dark beauty of the back streets of urban spaces. He also beautifully captures emotions and the humanity of Parks’ subjects that also shines in his photographs.
An important picture book biography, this book shows how one person can make a difference and have a voice. Appropriate for ages 7-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Pilot and the Little Prince: The Life of Antoine de Saint-Exupery by Peter Sis
Born in a time when airplanes were just arriving in the skies, French author Antoine de Saint-Exupery had dreams of flying himself. At age 12, Antoine made his own flying machine that didn’t work. He spent his days at the nearby airfield watching the pilots fly. He even convinced one of them to take him up with him. After serving in the military, Antoine took a job delivering the mail by plane. Antoine was put in charge of an isolated airfield himself. It was there that he started to write, but he also kept on flying, helping create new air routes in South America. He returned to France eventually and got married. He continued to both write and fly even after moving to New York, having famous adventures and also creating his beloved Little Prince.
Sis beautifully shows the life of a man with two strong passions: writing and aviation. He very effectively ties the two together, showing how they support one another though they may seem so separate and apart. This is a book less about the creative process of an artist and more about the adventures that he had that inspired his writing and the eventual creation of a character who is beloved around the world.
As always, Sis’ illustrations are dazzling in their minute details. He playfully puts faces on mountains that form the landscape below the plane. He creates the Manhattan skyline in fine lines with the red of the sun peeking over the horizon. And then there are the smaller touches on the page that one lingers over and that add further information as well.
A dynamic picture book biography of an unusual author, this book demonstrates that there are many paths to becoming a writer and that the best path is your very own. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from library copy.