Tag: books

3 Picture Book Biographies about…Books!

A Boy, A Mouse, and a Spider by Barbara Herkert

A Boy, A Mouse, and a Spider: The Story of E. B. White by Barbara Herkert, illustrated by Lauren Castillo (9781627792455)

A picture book biography of E.B. White, this book focuses on White’s love of animals and how that combined with his love of writing to become the stories he is known for. Featuring moments from his life, including a friendship with a mouse as a young child, White returns to his beloved Maine to continue to write and soon discovers a story of a pig who needs a hero to save him. Herkert uses a lovely spare poetic tone in this picture book, allowing White’s personal inspirations to shine from his animals to his sense of place. The illustrations by Castillo are wonderful, creating moments of time and beautiful spaces that show White on his journey to becoming one of the most beloved children’s authors. Appropriate for ages 5-8. (Review copy provided by Henry Holt.)

Miguels Brave Knight by Margarita Engle

Miguel’s Brave Knight: Young Cervantes and His Dream of Don Quixote by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Raúl Colón (9781561458561)

This picture book biography of Miguel de Cervanes Saavedra shows his childhood in Spain. He grew up the son of a barber and surgeon. His father though had a gambling habit and was even jailed for his debts. Just as the family rebuilt after each loss, his father would once again gamble and send the family into debt and moving to a new town. Along the way, Miguel got to attend school sometimes and once he was older his writing gained some attention. Even as a child, he dreamed of fantastic stories to counter the disarray of his family. Engle writes with a natural poetry in this book, showing the brutality of life for Miguel but also the way in which his unique upbringing created his love of stories for escape. The art works to tie the entire book together, showing Miguel’s imagination and scenes from Don Quixote. A great introduction to a legendary Spanish author, this picture book is exceptional. Appropriate for ages 7-10. (E-galley received from Edelweiss and Peachtree Publishers.)

Schomburg The Man Who Built a Library by Carole Boston Weatherford

Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Eric Velasquez (9780763680466)

This picture book biography shows the important impact one person can have when on a quest for knowledge. Schomburg was a man of Afro-Puerto Rican heritage who collected books, manuscripts, letters and more to show the achievements of people from African descent. These achievements were not in history books and not reflected in the national narrative at all. As he studied, he proved over and over again that black culture was unrepresented despite the incredible discoveries and art it contributed to the world. Schomburg’s library was eventually donated to the New York Public Library where you can visit it today. Weatherford highlights not just Schomburg’s own contribution to knowledge of black culture, but also shows other individuals that Schomburg discovered in his research. She does so via poems, some about specific people others about the books and research and many about Schomburg’s own life. The art by Velasquez is rich and beautiful, offering a dynamic visual for the fluid poetry. An important and timely read. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Reviewed from library copy.)

 

 

3 Wolfish Picture Books

Baabwaa & Wooliam by David Elliott

Baabwaa & Wooliam by David Elliott, illustrated by Melissa Sweet (9780763660741)

Wooliam and Baabwaa are sheep who spend their time together reading books and knitting. When they decide to head out on an adventure together, they find a distinct lack of adventure in the sheep pasture. Then a stranger appears and suddenly they are on an adventure. The stranger turns out to be a wolf! When the sheep discover that the wolf needs their skilled help, they band together to teach him to read and knit him something better to wear. This picture book celebrates the mix of quiet life and excitement that makes life an adventure. The writing by Elliott has a strong narrative voice that adds a dash of humor to the tale. Sweet is an exceptional illustrator and it’s great to see her doing a lighthearted picture book filled with her watercolors and collage. A great pick for fans of books, knitting or sheepish wolves. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from library copy.)

When a Wolf Is Hungry by Christine Naumann-Villemin

When a Wolf Is Hungry by Christine Naumann-Villemin, illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo (9780802854827)

Edmond Bigsnout is a hungry wolf on a mission: a mission to catch and eat a city rabbit. But when he travels out of the woods and to the city, he discovers that it’s not that easy. The rabbit lives in an apartment building with lots of neighbors and Edmond is mistaken for a new neighbor. Edmond makes plan after plan to capture the rabbit, but somehow ends up helping all of the neighbors instead. Edmond soon realizes that he may just have to join them instead, particularly when he meets a lady wolf who also lives in the building. The pacing of this book is beautifully done with rushing to and fro that adds a dashing pace and then the slower moments of helping others that lead to the natural conclusion. The art uses unique perspectives that are appealing and visually interesting. A little dark and a lot of fun, this picture book is just right for ages 4-6. (Review copy from Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.)

The Wolf Who Fell Out of a Book by Thierry Robberecht

The Wolf Who Fell Out of a Book by Thierry Robberecht, illustrated by Gregoire Mabire (9781423647973)

When a book falls to the floor, a wolf is ejected from his story. At first he thinks he can just hide under the book, but a hungry cat starts to stalk him. When he tries to enter the book he came from, he can’t seem to find the right place in the story to come in. He tries another book then, but that one is filled with princesses and dancing and the wolf is expected to dress up. Trying another book, he discovers the dangers of dinosaurs. The wolf finally discovers a book where the wolf has gone missing, and it’s just the right choice. This fractured story is a lot of fun and unlike other fractured tales doesn’t expect the readers to know many fairy tales or folk tales. Readers will enjoy the pitch black wolf struggling to enter the candy-colored story books around him. This is a story of stories worth the read. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from library copy.)

 

The Treasure Box by Margaret Wild

The Treasure Box by Margaret Wild

The Treasure Box by Margaret Wild, illustrated by Freya Blackwood (9780763690847, Amazon)

Nominated for the CBCA Picture Book of the Year, this picture book is exceptional. In a time of war, the library is burned and only one book survives. Peter’s father has that book and creates an iron box to keep it safe. When Peter and his father flee their town, they carry the book with them. Peter’s father dies on the journey and he continues to carry the book with him, even leaving behind his suitcase to manage it. Finally, Peter must leave the box behind, but he hides it safely first. Years later, Peter is able to return to the box and rescue the book, restoring it to his hometown and its library.

Wild’s lovely and simple text allows the drama of the story elements to speak for themselves, never injecting more horror into it. That approach allows the reader to feel deeply the loss and pain of losing one’s homeland. Even the death of Peter’s father is subtle and gentle, allowing the grief to permeate more fully. It makes the focus on the importance of the book all the more tangible and vital.

It is Blackwood’s illustrations that truly make this book amazing. She has created layered illustrations that have shadows and depth to them. Throughout the images, there are pages of books shown. They fall as scraps of paper with words of hope on them, dash across the page as rain, and form the smoke of the burning town. They create the landscape and the foundation beautifully.  Here is an image from the book and Blackwood’s blog:

Treasure Box Image

A war-torn book that speaks to the power of history and knowledge along with resistance and resilience. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

Balderdash by Michelle Markel

Balderdash by Michelle Markel

Balderdash!: John Newbery and the Boisterous Birth of Children’s Books by Michelle Markel, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter (9780811879224, Amazon)

This picture book biography is the story of John Newbery, the man who first created books for children in the 18th century. Books were popular in London at the time, but all of the fun books were for adults. Children had to read poems and fables that were dull and taught them about social niceties. John Newbery grew up to be a publisher and realized that children needed different books. He created a book that was filled with fantasy and games and then he made it very attractive and paired it with a toy. Next came a magazine for children and eventually a novel. The books were written anonymously but all were sold and printed by Newbery himself, the man who created children’s literature.

Markel has captured the feel of the creativity and wildness of someone who decided to make a major change in the world. The text here is celebratory of the new discoveries and new chances being taken in books. Markel points out all of the positives about Newbery’s book and avoids noting that his books don’t bear any resemblance to children’s books of today. Rather, the focus is on the invention, the cleverness of the marketing and the popularity of children’s books from the very beginning.

Carpenter’s illustrations are filled with pizzazz. They have a great energy about them, depicting the bustling streets of London, the desirability of the books, and even showing sad children with real humor. She uses slightly turned pages to show other images underneath along with speech bubbles. The text of the book is also playful, moving through different fonts and text sizes for emphasis.

A glimpse of the earliest children’s books, this historical picture book biography is a pleasure just as Newbery’s were. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.

A Poem for Peter by Andrea Davis Pinkney

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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.

Six Dots by Jen Bryant

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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.

 

How This Book Was Made by Mac Barnett

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How This Book Was Made by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Adam Rex (InfoSoup)

How is a book made? Well this book was made in the regular way with an author making many drafts, and editor offering firm advice, an illustrator taking a long time to create the art, and it being printed halfway around the world. But it is also an amazing story and one that will surprise when the tiger keeps reappearing, the pirates raid the slow boat full of books, and the news that there is one last important piece to the book really being A BOOK. You will just have to read this book to see what that is.

Any book by Barnett and Rex is going to be wonderfully surprising and funny. This book is no exception. Barnett immediately makes sure that this book is not taken too seriously by starting it with him arm wrestling a tiger. The tiger then returns at important moments in the book, sometimes to be scared off and other times with a posse. The editor’s role is also depicted in the book with a lot of tongue-in-cheek but also honesty too. Throughout there is real information on how books get made with plenty of imagination added as well. Just like any book.

Rex’s illustrations are done with pencil on paper combined with photography. Some of the illustrations have cotton clouds and others are 3-d objects or 2-d objects photographed. This gives a great sense of space and distance, shadows lengthening across the page. Throughout the art is as clever as the words, which is a compliment to both.

A funny and imaginative look at the making of this book, both unique to this book and universal to the process. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.