Tag: history

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.

Bravo! by Margarita Engle

Bravo by Margarita Engle

Bravo!: Poems about Amazing Hispanics by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rafael Lopez (9780805098761, Amazon)

Latino heroes and heroines are depicted in poetry in this nonfiction picture book. From countries around the world and a variety of backgrounds, these people are inspirational and influential. The poems celebrate their accomplishments with clarity and focus, offering a glimpse into their lives. Engle’s poetry is readable and interesting, inviting you to turn the page to discover yet another amazing person. Some of them readers will be familiar with and others will be new. Readers can find more information on each of the people at the end of the book.

Lopez’s illustrations are done in “a combination of acrylic on wood, pen and ink, watercolor, construction paper, and Adobe Photoshop.” The results are rich illustrations with a clever feel of being vintage in their textures. Each illustration speaks to the person themselves, clearly tying them to their passion and cause.

An important book for public libraries, this is a celebration of Latino impact on the world as a whole. Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt & Co.

Lighter Than Air by Matthew Clark Smith

Lighter Than Air by Matthew Clark Smith

Lighter Than Air: Sophie Blanchard, the First Woman Pilot by Matthew Clark Smith, illustrated by Matt Tavares (9780763677329, Amazon)

This picture book biography tells the story of Sophie Blanchard, the first woman to fly on her own. In the 18th century, France was filled with “balloonmania.” Every balloonist was male and they were breaking records. Meanwhile, a girl was growing up by the seaside and dreaming of flight. When she met the famous balloonist Jean-Pierre Blanchard, the two realized they had a shared passion for flight. They were soon married and started flying together. After two shared flights, Sophie went up alone and became the first woman to fly a balloon solo. Her husband died from a heart attack and fall from a balloon and Sophie stopped flying for awhile. Eventually, she flew again and earned a living with her flight. Napoleon made her Aeronaut of the Official Festivals and Chief Air Minister of Ballooning.

Smith offers exactly the right amount of detail in this picture book. The dangers of ballooning are mentioned but not dwelled upon, just like the death of Jean-Pierre. Sophie’s own death in a balloon is only mentioned in the Author’s Note which also speaks to how little is actually known about her despite her accomplishments. Her childhood, in particular, is unknown and Smith created some of the details himself. Throughout the book, it is the wonder of human flight that is the focus and that unites Sophie’s adult life with her childhood dreams.

Tavares has illustrated this picture book with period details that capture the balloons and the fragility of the baskets. In other illustrations, he captures the sky and the expanse that Sophie is flying into. Two illustrations mirror one another with darker skies as Sophie dreams as a girl of flying and when she returns to flight after her husband’s death.

An important picture book about a brave and groundbreaking woman who refused to be limited by the rest of the world. Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from library copy.

The Secret Project by Jonah Winter

The Secret Project by Jonah Winter

The Secret Project by Jonah Winter (9781481469135, Amazon)

What an incredible risk to take, creating a picture book about the creation of the atomic bomb. A mother-son team not only take that risk but create a book that is heart pounding, historical and riveting. In a shut-down school in the desert of New Mexico, a very secret project begins. The world’s greatest scientists gather to work on the “Gadget.” They work day and night working to cut an atom in half. After two years of work, the device is ready to be tested. The book ends with a countdown to the test and the resulting mushroom cloud.

Told in the simplest of language, this picture book looks at the process of building the atomic bomb, the secrecy of the project and the skill and time that it took. There is a constant growing foreboding as the project continues, as the science progresses. This book is not about the importance of the weapon and does not glorify it in any way. Instead it brings the science down to nuts and bolts, looks at the damage that it creates, and ends in a way that makes sure to leave readers with their heart in their throats.

The illustrations have a strong sense of formality and control to them. Each is framed in a square box and the rest of the page is white. They are almost tiles that decorate the wall for the reader. That all changes as the test begins and suddenly the strict rules are broken wide open, adding to the drama of the end.

Stunning, powerful and brave, this picture book belongs in all library collections. Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Beach Lane Books.

The First Step by Susan E. Goodman

The First Step by Susan E Goodman

The First Step: How One Girl Put Segregation on Trial by Susan E. Goodman, illustrated by E. B. Lewis (InfoSoup)

This picture book biography tells the story of Sarah Roberts. Sarah was attending school in Boston in 1847 when she was told that she would have to stop. Instead she would be required to attend the school for African American children across town where there were fewer books and the subjects were not as robust. Sarah’s parents decided not to accept this decision and instead decided to fight for change in the courts. Two lawyers agreed to take Sarah’s case, Robert Morris the second African-American attorney in the United States and Charles Sumner known for his way of orating about justice. Though they lost this first court case challenging school segregation, it set other events in motion and in 1855, Boston became the first major American city to integrate its schools.

Goodman writes an inspiring book about how even losses can begin to change the way people view laws. She does not stop with the longing for change and the case itself, continuing to tell the story of Boston’s changes and then the way that this case led to more cases which resulted in the end of segregation in the nation. This book demonstrates many things to young readers. First that they themselves can create change in the world around them. Second that a loss does not mean the end, it means the fight continues in a different way.

Lewis’ illustrations are done in watercolor and gouache. They echo with historical significance, showing the power of a dream for change, the sorrow of one little girl, and the determination that it takes to make society better. The illustrations range from the subtlety of black and white photographs to the bright colors of change and hope.

A powerful and important story of how children change their world, this picture book is inspiring. Appropriate for ages 7-9.

Reviewed from ARC received from Bloomsbury.

Review: Drowned City by Don Brown

Drowned City by Don Brown

Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans by Don Brown (InfoSoup)

This powerful graphic novel tells the story of Hurricane Katrina from the very beginning as the hurricane forms and grows in power to the slow recovery of New Orleans in the aftermath. As the winds and rains of the storm breach the levees around the city, readers will see the devastation that occurs as 80% of the city floods. The book tells the true story, one where everyday people are heroes, where supplies and help are not sent in a timely way, where presidents make appearances but don’t remedy the problems, and where people looking for help just find more death and despair. It is also the story of selfless people who come in and make a real difference, of rescues and saved lives. It is in short, a true story that unflinchingly tells the story of a storm and a city.

With an enormous list of references and sources at the back of the book, this graphic novel is based entirely on facts and first-person accounts. Brown tells the tale without any need to make it more dramatic, just offering facts about what happened and what went wrong to make it even worse. Brown’s account though is also filled with humanity, offering glimpses of the horrors that people survived, of the losses as they mounted, and of a world turned upside down for people trying to escape the city.

Brown’s art in this graphic novel is done mostly in browns and greens. There are striking pages that stop a reader for awhile, such as the art on pages 30 and 31 which has dead bodies floating past in purple water, even as survivors are being hauled up to a roof. Brown conveys the heat and the desperation of survivors, the desolation of the flooded city, and then the slow rebuilding process.

A riveting and powerful look at one of the worst disasters in American history, this graphic novel is a way to talk with children about Hurricane Katrina. Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Fur, Fins and Feathers by Cassandre Maxwell

Fur Fins and Feathers by Cassandre Maxwell

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.