Tag: musicians

3 New Picture Books about Amazing Women

Brave Jane Austen Reader, Writer, Author, Rebel by Lisa Pliscou

Brave Jane Austen: Reader, Writer, Author, Rebel by Lisa Pliscou, illustrated by Jen Corace (9781627796439)

This picture book biography looks at the childhood and life of Jane Austen, focusing on how she was raised in a poor family where her father ran a boarding school in their home for boys, including Jane’s six brothers. Jane’s mother worked hard keeping the house, the garden and the animals. It was a bustling household and Jane spent her childhood listening and learning. Her father had a large library with hundreds of books and they spent their evenings being read to. Jane knew that boys and girls were treated very differently from one another and that her family was struggling financially. She was sent away to a boarding school herself but returned home after becoming ill. She spent her recovery time reading the books from her father’s library. She returned to school once more, but money soon ran out and she came home. She began to dream of being a writer and started creating characters who did not match society’s expectations either. Jane continued to write, even though her books were not published at first. Once published, she began to live more comfortably than before but died at a young age of 41, not seeing the last of her books come to publication.

Pliscou shows Austen’s tenacity in this picture book biography. This is not a biography for very young children, but one with plenty of detail and interesting tidbits for those in elementary school. The focus here is on Austen’s personal struggles, her intolerance for societal norms, her wit and her skill. Corace’s illustrations are filled with rosy-cheeked characters surrounded by detailed settings that embrace them. The greens of the countryside, the purple blush of first love, and wallpapers all wrap this book into a colorful package for readers.

A nonfiction picture book about one of our greatest women writers, this belongs in all public libraries. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Girl Running Bobbi Gibb and the Boston Marathon by Annette Bay Pimental

Girl Running: Bobbi Gibb and the Boston Marathon by Annette Bay Pimental, illustrated by Micha Archer (9781101996683)

At school, Bobbi is not allowed to be on the school’s track team because she’s a girl and those are the rules. But after school, Bobbi loves to run. She lives near where the Boston Marathon is held and she longs to join the race, but women are not allowed to participate. Bobbie trains anyway, running longer distances than even the marathon. She takes a trip across the country in the summer and runs in her nurse’s shoes through several states. She runs in all weather, but still she is not allowed to join the marathon. Bobbi does not give up, instead she comes up with a plan to join the marathon unofficially and run. When she takes off her bulky sweatshirt disguise, people realize that a girl is running the race. As Bobbi runs in her new shoes, the pain of blisters slows her down. But she completes the race, coming in 124th. The officials refuse to give her a medal, but Bobbi has proven something far more valuable.

The afterword in the book provides more information on how long Gibb trained and the fact that in 1996 she retroactively was named the female winner of the 1966, 1967 and 1968 Boston Marathons. Gibb’s story shows tremendous resolve and a desire to break through patriarchal boundaries that were artificially holding women back in sports and life. Told in very simple prose, this picture book biography is approachable and easily relatable to anyone who wonders about how women finally were taken seriously in sports. The illustrations are friendly and bright, filled with dazzling yellows and deep blues.

A strong picture book about an inspiring figure in women’s sports. Appropriate for ages 5-8. (Reviewed from ARC provided by Nancy Paulsen Books.)

Libba The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten by Laura Veirs

Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten by Laura Veirs, illustrated by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh (9781452148571)

When Libba was a little girl, she heard music everywhere, so she would borrow her brother’s guitar to play the music in her head. Her brother was right handed though, so Libba would need to play his guitar upside down and backward. When her brother left home, he took his guitar with him so Libba worked small jobs to earn enough money for her own guitar. She wrote her first song at age thirteen and played the guitar all the time. But then life happened and Libba stopped playing. Late in her life, Libba got a job as a housekeeper for a musical family, the Seegers, connected to many of the great musicians of the time. Eventually, she picked up a guitar and played it and the family heard her play. Soon she was playing large venues and her first song, Freight Train, was heard around the world.

In this delicate and gentle biography, first-time picture book author Veirs who is also a musician, captures the life and the music of Cotten. She includes an author’s note that speaks more to the limited options for an African-American woman in the segregated South. The illustrations are very special, done in the organic warmth of graphite with digital color added, they glow on the page.

Share this picture book biography with musicians of all ages and then listen to Cotten’s songs together as she plays upside down and backwards. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Reviewed from copy provided by Chronicle Books.)

3 New Biographies of Great Women

Before She Was Harriet by Lesa Cline-Ransome

Before She Was Harriet by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James R. Ransome (9780823420476)

Told in reverse chronological order, this picture book biography of Harriet Tubman is stunning. The verse walks readers through her life, from her work with runaway slaves to her speeches as a suffragist. The book touches on other parts of her life that readers may not be aware of such as her work as a Union spy and a nurse. The book moves all the way back to Harriet saving her family from slavery and then her own time enslaved on a plantation when her father taught her about the woods and the stars, creating an opportunity for Harriet to become the amazing woman she was. The poetry of this book is beautiful and spare, it moves from one important moment in Harriet’s life to another, spooling out her life’s story. The illustrations by Ransome are beautiful, playing with light and dark. The images stop readers just to gaze when the page is turned as they capture one moment after another. An important and lovely book about Harriet Tubman that belongs in all libraries. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (ARC provided by Holiday House.)

Grace Hopper Queen of Computer Code by Laurie Wallmark

Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code by Laurie Wallmark, illustrated by Katy Wu (9781454920007)

This picture book offers a friendly and approachable look at the life of Grace Hopper, one of the most important and influential computer geniuses of history. Even as a child Grace spent her time figuring out how things worked and designing devices. She attended Vassar College where she studied math and physics and also found adventures like going up in a plane. She attended graduate school in Yale, one of two women in her class. When World War II came, Grace wanted to help and tried to join the Navy. At first they would not accept her, but after a year she convinced them. She wrote programs for the first computers, coining the term “computer bug” when a moth flew in and stopped the computer from working. She created the way that computers can be programmed using language rather than 1s and zeroes.

Wallmark also shares a timeline of Hopper’s life at the end of the book that shows even more of her accomplishments over her long career. She also makes sure to share Hopper’s personal verve for life and her approach to creativity, moving the book away from what could have been too distant and factual into one that children can relate to easily. Wu’s illustrations capture that feeling as well, showing Hopper hard at work and yet enjoying daredevil time and teamwork. A great picture book biography that will add a lot to STEM collections. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Nina Jazz Legend and Civil-Rights Activist Nina Simone by Alice Briere-Haquet

Nina: Jazz Legend and Civil-Rights Activist Nina Simone by Alice Briere-Haquet, illustrated by Bruno Liance (9781580898270)

This picture book is a completely engrossing look at the life of Nina Simone. Done in a way that welcomes even small children to hear her story, the book opens with a greeting and a lullaby. Using piano keys as an allegory for race, the book looks at the keys through the eyes of a young Nina, who notices that white keys are whole notes while black keys are half notes. She sees something similar in society as well. Nina used music as a way to unite and to protest. Inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr., her music spoke to people of all color and united them. While the story follows a linear path in time, the information shared focuses on important events in Nina’s life rather than feeling like a chronological list of accomplishments or dates. Instead readers get to see what influenced her and how she grew into her voice as an activist. The illustrations are particularly compelling. Done in black and white, the image of people who arranged as piano keys and the one of dandelion seeds floating downward are particularly compelling. Smart and beautifully designed. Appropriate for ages 4-7. (Reviewed from library copy.)

4 Artistic Picture Book Biographies

American Gothic The Life of Grant Wood by Susan Wood

American Gothic: The Life of Grant Wood by Susan Wood (9781419725333)

Woods is a child of Iowa, who drew pictures of his beloved area even as a child. He left Iowa to study art in Europe. He tried various styles while there, including cubism, impressionism and abstract art. But he found his voice when he saw Gothic art in a museum. He returned to Iowa and created his best-known work, American Gothic, using his sister and dentist as models. Wood writes with a storytellers tone as she writes of Wood’s exploration of art and his triumphant return and the birth of regionalism. MacDonald’s art is bright and celebrates the Iowa countryside with a vintage flair. A great introduction to an American artist. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Imagine That How Dr. Seuss Wrote the Cat in the Hat by Judy Sierra

Imagine That!: How Dr. Seuss Wrote the Cat in the Hat by Judy Sierra, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes (9780375974298)

In 1954, children were having problems learning to move from knowing how to read a few words to being able to read a book. When Life Magazine covered the issue, they suggested that a new book be made by Dr. Seuss. Unable to use his signature made-up language and words, Dr. Seuss had to follow a strict vocabulary list instead. Luckily on that list were the words “cat” and “hat” and the author was inspired. He used easy rhymes and silly illustrations combined with dynamic storylines to get children to turn the pages. Soon Dr. Seuss was creating more beginning readers and publishing others by different authors. It was the birth of the popular early-readers for children and Cat in the Hat remains one of the best! This picture book is a fascinating look at the author’s process and the way that the challenge inspired him creatively. The illustrations combine classic Dr. Seuss elements with Hawkes’ own style. Young writers will be inspired by this look at Dr. Seuss. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Review copy provided by Random House Books for Young Readers.)

Muddy the Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters by Michael Mahin

Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters by Michael Mahin, illustrated by Evan Turk (9781481443494)

McKinley Morganfield was raised by his Grandma Della who called him Muddy. He was brought up with gospel music from church but loved other music more, the music heard at fish fries, the blues. But his grandmother didn’t approve and didn’t want Muddy to waste his time playing music. Muddy though could not stay away from music and saved money to get his own guitar. When not playing music, Muddy worked in the cotton fields until one day he walked out. He headed for Chicago, but no one there was interested in his country blues. People told him to change, but Muddy kept playing his style of music, steadily working towards a record and the fame that would eventually come after a lot of hard work. Mahin keeps the bounce of music in his prose, infusing it with lines from Muddy’s songs, repeating phrases about Muddy not listening to other people, and touches of rhythm. Turk’s illustrations are explosive. Done on black backgrounds, they are neon at night on the page and also show the rhythm and feel of music visually. A strong and special book about a musician who didn’t do what he was told and succeeded because of that. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Review copy provided by Atheneum Books for Young Readers.)

Pocket Full of Colors The Magical World of Mary Blair Disney Artist Extraordinaire by Amy Guglielmo

Pocket Full of Colors: The Magical World of Mary Blair, Disney Artist Extraordinaire by Amy Guglielmo and Jacqueline Tourville, illustrated by Brigette Barrager (9781481461313)

Mary Blair collected colors as a child, filling her eyes and her world with the colors of her family’s move West across the desert and into California. At art school, she met her husband and the two painted together. Hired as one of the first women at Disney Studios, the men didn’t want to consider her bright colors. Walt Disney invited her on a trip to South America, where Mary discovered new bright colors. She continued to try to get her colors into films, sometimes accepted and other times not. Mary eventually left the studio to create children’s books, advertising and sets. Invited back to Disney for a special project, Mary accepted but only if she was going to be the one in charge. From that agreement came It’s a Small World, a ride still beloved at Disney Parks. The authors capture Blair’s love of color and her signature style that is on full display in her picture books and the amusement park ride. The illustrations dance with those colors, leaping from the page in a merry mix of colors that move from bright to subtle. A picture book that celebrates a leading lady in Disney. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Review copy provided by Atheneum Books for Young Readers.)

Review: Leontyne Price by Carole Boston Weatherford

leontyne price

Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Raul Colon

This picture book biography looks at the life of Leontyne Price, an African-American opera singer who burst through the color barrier.  Born in Mississippi in 1927, Leontyne grew up poor in money but rich in music from both her parents.  They also taught her that she was just as good as anyone else, no matter what their color.  Leontyne was inspired when she saw Marian Anderson perform and then got to sing in the church choir when Anderson performed in 1939 after being barred from a whites-only concert hall.  Leontyne headed to Ohio to college where she planned to be a teacher, but when her voice was discovered she changed her major to voice.  She then went to Julliard and on to the world stage where she sang on Broadway in Porgy and Bess.  She became the first black singer to star at La Scala and broke wide the door that Marian Anderson had first opened. 

Weatherford writes in prose that reads like poetry, broken into stanzas and offering celebrations of this inspiring woman on the page.  From the pride and power of her upbringing by her parents to the final pages that show how far she has come, the book captures the strength and determination that it took to take a natural gift and break down barriers with it.   Weatherford’s words are filled with moments that are inspiring, times that are amazing, but she also keeps things down to earth, showing even on the final page that Price is entirely human even as she reaches incredible heights in her career.

Colon’s illustrations are beautiful.  Filled with his trademark scratches and lines, they have a beautiful flowing texture that carries from one image to the next.  He uses sweeping colors to show the beauty of the music coming from both Price and Anderson, filling the world with the colors of music. 

A beautiful and powerful testament to one of the ground breaking artists of our time.  Appropriate for ages 7-9. 

Reviewed from copy received from Knopf Books for Young Readers.

Review: Little Melba and Her Big Trombone by

little melba and her big trombone

Little Melba and Her Big Trombone by Katheryn Russell-Brown, illustrated by Frank Morrison

Melba had always loved the sounds of music: blues, jazz and gospel.  Even when she slept notes and rhythms were in her dreams.  When she signed up for music class at school, Melba picked out a long horn that was almost as big as she was.  Melba practiced and practiced, teaching herself to play.  Soon she was on the radio at age 8, playing a solo.  When Melba was in sixth grade, she moved from Kansas City to Los Angeles where she became a star player in the high school band.  When she was 17, she was invited to go on tour with a jazz band.  She played with some of the greats, but she was one of the only women on tour and racism in the South was harrowing.  Melba decided to quit, but her fans would not let her.  All of the top jazz acts in the 1950s wanted her to play with them.  So Melba came back, went on more tours, and her music conquered the world.

This picture book biography of Melba Doretta Liston shows how music virtuosos are born.  Her connection with music from such a young age, her determination to learn to play her selected instrument, and her immense talent make for a story that is even better than fiction.  Melba faced many obstacles on the way to her career but overcame them all.  She survived the Great Depression, found her musical voice early and then professionally.  She also had the challenges of sexism and racism to overcome on her way to greatness.  This is all clearly shown on the page and really tells the story of a woman made of music and steel (or brass).

Morrison’s art beautifully captures the life of Liston on the page.  His paintings are done in rich colors, filled with angles of elbows, horns and music, they leap on the page.  They evoke the time period and the sense of music and jazz. 

Put on some Dizzy Gillespie with Melba Liston playing in the band and share this triumphant picture book with music and band classes.  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Lee & Low Books and Edelweiss.

Review: The Cosmobiography of Sun Ra by Chris Raschka

cosmobiography of sun ra

The Cosmobiography of Sun Ra by Chris Raschka

Caldecott Medalist Chris Raschka has both written and illustrated this picture book biography of the jazz musician Sun Ra.  Sun Ra claimed that he came from Saturn.  He came to earth in 1914 in Alabama and he was named Herman and called Sonny.  From the very beginning, Sonny loved music.  He learned to be a musician as a young child and also studied about philosophy.  As a teen, Sun Ra was already a professional musician.  When World War II came, he refused to become a soldier and instead was labeled a conscientious objector.  After the war, Sun Ra returned to his music and formed The Arkestra.  They made wild jazz music, created their own costumes, and toured the world sharing their music.  Sun Ra left earth in 1993, having changed it for the better with his music.

Raschka has created a celebration of Sun Ra on these pages.   His text is playful and invites readers into the book.  It opens with the idea that Sun Ra was from Saturn and scoffs at that, but then plays along with it as a premise throughout the book.  Intelligently, children are invited in on the humor and can see what is really happening that way.

Raschka’s illustrations are bright and loose.  They suit the jazz of the music with their free flowing lines, deep colors and they way they capture landscapes as well.  These are illustrations that celebrate music on a deep level.

A beautiful picture book about a jazz legend, this picture book should be welcome in all library collections.  Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Herman and Rosie by Gus Gordon

herman and rosie

Herman and Rosie by Gus Gordon

Herman is a crocodile who lives in New York and finds it very lonely.  He loves playing his oboe in his apartment.  His job selling things on the telephone, makes his life less lonely because he can talk to people, but doesn’t make him very good at his job.  Rosie lives in the building next door to Herman and she loves to sing.  She has a job washing dishes but loves most of all her singing lessons and performing in a little jazz club on Thursday nights.  The two are lonely but fairly happy because both of them hear great music floating into their windows from time to time.  Then one day Herman loses his job and Rosie discovers that the jazz club is closing.  The two of them head home and don’t make any music for a long time.  Until they wake up one morning and things have changed.  They are craving their favorite food and want to make music. 

Gordon has written a picture book ode to big city living, particularly New York.  He incorporates the potential loneliness of urban life but also praises the bustling, the music, the lifestyle.  The characters are quirky and believable.  They are the sort of characters who make perfect sense, whose actions are credible, reactions ring true, and they make the entire book work. 

Gordon writes and illustrates with a playful tone.  His illustrations are done in mixed media, including photographs, paint, and pencil.  The different media are worked together so thoroughly that at times you never notice the photos mixed in.  They are so cleverly done that it all forms one unified piece until something catches your eye.

Two musical souls in one big lonely city where they live next door to one another.  It’s a combination just as exquisite as New York itself.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.