Seven New Picture Book Biographies

Several new picture book biographies provide windows into the lives of remarkable women and men. I especially admire how the authors of many of these books present their subjects as resilient children who persevered through difficulties to become extraordinary adults in a wide range of fields.

The Funniest Man in Baseball: The True Story of Max PatkinThe Funniest Man in Baseball: The True Story of Max Patkin by Audrey Vernick

With The Funniest Man in Baseball: The True Story of Max Patkin, Audrey Vernick delivers another wonderful nonfiction baseball picture book. After other excellent titles such as Brothers at Bat, The Kid from Diamond Street, Vernick continues to find fascinating baseball stories and deliver them in appealing books for young people. Her newest focuses on Max Patkin, The Clown Prince of Baseball.

Max Patkin, born in 1920, dreams of a career as major league baseball player. During World War II, Patkin pitches to Joe DiMaggio in an exhibition game. DiMaggio hits a home run, and Patkin chases him around the bases to the delight of the fans. When injuries derail Patkin’s dreams of becoming a baseball player, he remembers how his clowning brought such enjoyment. For the next few decades, Max Patkin performs at more than 4,000 major and minor league games without missing a scheduled appearance until his retirement at age 75. (Older readers may remember Patkin’s cameo in the 1988 Bull Durham film.)

Audrey Vernick’s text explains the historical context of Patkin’s life but also conveys the hilarity of his antics in a rollicking narrative voice. Jennifer Bower’s bright comic illustrations effectively support Vernick’s descriptions of Patkin’s physical comedy. Baseball fans will revel in The Funniest Man in Baseball, and it will also entertain those who enjoy stories with generous doses of humor.

Write to Me: Letters from Japanese American Children to the Librarian They Left BehindWrite to Me: Letters from Japanese American Children to the Librarian They Left Behind by Cynthia Grady

The internment of innocent Japanese-Americans during World War II is one of our country’s darkest self-inflicted bruises. Among those imprisoned were Japanese-American children from San Diego whose local librarian, Ms. Clara Breed, sent them away with books and stamped postcards so the children could stay in touch with her. As Ms. Breed received postcards telling her where the children were being held, she sent more books and more postcards, heroically maintaining correspondence with dozens of children throughout their plight.

Cynthia Grady’s nonfiction picture book Write to Me: Letters from Japanese American Children to the Librarian They Left Behind is a remarkable testament not only to Ms. Breed but also to how the power of reading and writing can sustain us in difficult times. Young readers will relate to the children who are presented with sensitivity by illustrator Amiko Hirao as we see them reading their books and writing to Ms. Breed: “The youngest children wrote to Miss Breed about what they saw around them. The older children wrote about their living conditions and how they spent their days.”

Write to Me is an excellent window into an episode of American history too important to forget, expertly developed for children. In addition to Grady’s accessible text, Hirao’s drawings are realistic enough to foster empathy for the children without delving very far into the rawness of being torn away from their homes. Most page spreads include renderings of some of the brief notes written to Ms. Breed allowing readers to experience the postcards as primary texts. The book’s endpapers feature photos of Japanese American children traveling to and living in prison camps. Thorough back matter includes historical background on the internment program, Clara Breed’s life, “Selected History of Japanese People in the United States,” source notes, bibliography, and suggestions for further reading.

Irving Berlin, the Immigrant Boy Who Made America SingIrving Berlin, the Immigrant Boy Who Made America Sing by Nancy Churnin

In Irving Berlin: The Immigrant Boy Who Made American Sing, Nancy Churnin delivers another inspiring picture book biography. Beginning with young Irving arriving in New York on a boat from Russia, readers understand that for Irving, music and his love for America were inseparable. As with most immigrants, life in America was at first difficult for Irving, but by following his passion for music, he eventually found success and made important contributions to America through his songs.

Irving Berlin: The Immigrant Boy Who Made American Sing can be used as a stand-alone biography, and is also useful for building background knowledge related to immigration, fine arts, New York, and patriotism. With its thorough back matter and especially fine binding, this is a worthwhile addition to school and home bookshelves.

Ella Fitzgerald (Pequeña & GRANDE, #7)Ella Fitzgerald by Mª Isabel Sánchez Vegara

Ella Fitzgerald is the first title I’ve read in the Lincoln Children’s Books series “Little People, Big Dreams” focusing on the childhoods of those who achieved cultural importance. Author Mª Isabel Sánchez Vegara finds the elements with kid appeal in Ella’s story: trouble in school, loss of a parent, and making new words and sounds with her voice. The discrimination faced by Fitzgerald and other black artists is downplayed but still signified by an illustration showing a sassy Ella posing by a “White Only” sign. Bàrbara Alca’s colorful illustrations reinforce the hopeful, uplifting message of this book and presumably the “Little People, Big Dreams” series.

The Brilliant Deep: Rebuilding the World's Coral Reefs: The Story of Ken Nedimyer and the Coral Restoration FoundationThe Brilliant Deep: Rebuilding the World’s Coral Reefs by Kate Messner

Kate Messner’s nonfiction picture book The Brilliant Deep: Rebuilding the World’s Coral Reefs wraps the science of coral reefs around a biography of conservationist Ken Nedimyer. Young readers will easily understand Messner’s clear explanation of a natural coral reef’s growth process, although the human-assisted grafting process for establishing a new coral reef is more complex. The biographical treatment of Ken Nedimyer emphasizes how his professional commitment to coral reef conservation began with boyhood curiosity. Matthew Forsythe’s pastel paintings convey both the vibrant colors of a healthy coral reef and the fading glory of a coral reef as it begins to die. The back matter provides more details about coral reefs and a “How Can Kids Help?” section with suggestions for becoming involved in coral reef restoration.

The Amazing Collection of Joey Cornell: Based on the Childhood of a Great American ArtistThe Amazing Collection of Joey Cornell: Based on the Childhood of a Great American Artist by Candace Fleming

Joey whimsically collects unrelated objects that strike his fancy. Eventually, he realizes that he can make art by juxtaposing those items in surprising ways. Although Joey’s creative mind comes through in this picture book biography, readers may have a hard time understanding and empathizing with him. While the illustrations focus on the materials of Joey’s collection, the facial expressions are repetitive and inauthentic. Readers also need help knowing how to look at and appreciate the originality of Joey’s imagination, but when Joey’s artistic creations finally appear, they don’t look much different from the stuff sitting haphazardly in the barn. The explanations and small photographs of Cornell boxes in the back matter are helpful in explaining why Joseph Cornell is regarded as such an important artist, but I wish the main narrative provided more of that exposition.

Rescue and Jessica: A Life-Changing FriendshipRescue and Jessica: A Life-Changing Friendship by Jessica Kensky

Rescue and Jessica: A Life-Changing Friendship tells the side-by-side nonfiction stories of a service dog in training and a young woman recovering from the loss of her legs. Rescue, the service dog, initially doubts his abilities but eventually becomes confident in the wide range of ways he supports Jessica. Similarly, Jessica struggles emotionally and physically with the loss of her legs, but with Rescue’s help she bravely copes and adapts to the changes in her life. The back matter reveals that Jessica’s injuries were incurred in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, but that aspect isn’t mentioned in the main narrative, concentrating instead on how a mutually beneficial relationship develops between Rescue and Jessica. Their story definitely has moments of drama, but the big lessons here involve empathy and resilience.

Many thanks to the authors and illustrators who teach important life lessons through the true stories of people who inspire them!

Some of these reviews originally appeared on Goodreads and elsewhere in slightly different form.

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Review: HOW TO GET YOUR SCREEN-LOVING KIDS TO READ BOOKS FOR PLEASURE by Kaye Newton

Kaye Newton’s How to Get Your Screen-Loving Kids to Read Books for Pleasure is geared toward parents frustrated with how the reading lives of their children are hijacked by the allure of cell phones, iPads, and other screen-based devices. Although Newton acknowledges that screen-based engagement is here is stay, her new book is full of ideas about how to develop a culture of reading at home.

Newton has done her homework. Drawing on experiences with her own children, as well from reading research, and the work of experts such as Donalyn Miller, Penny Kittle, Kelly Gallagher, and Jim Trelease, Newton emphasizes the importance of kids choosing the books they read.

Beginning with background to help parents understand why pleasure reading is critically important for kids, and how it looks and feels to today’s students, Newton notes that “the time they spent reading for pleasure dropped off at age eleven, when they entered middle school.” Newton explains how school and personal technology frequently generate barriers for the reading lives of young people.

How to Get Your Screen-Loving Kids to Read Books for Pleasure then takes readers through a variety of reading-related scenarios filled with strategies for parents to try based on Newton’s sixteen-month journey of successfully encouraging her own children to spend more time with books and less time with social media. These pages have tips galore, more than it is possible to employ, and that’s one of this book’s beauties: an awareness that the best education is highly individualized. Newton wisely acknowledges that “a tip that worked for one of my children wouldn’t necessarily engage the others.”

Other topics Newton discusses include approaching pleasure reading with children who have learning differences, the value of graphic novels and audiobooks, reading in the summer vs. reading during the school year, ways to think about rewards and incentives, book clubs for different age groups, why nonfiction matters in the “fake news” era, and how to talk to schools and teachers about their reading cultures or lack thereof. The “Frequently Asked Questions” chapter includes responses to questions that I’ve heard many times, as well as a few new ones. For example, is it OK if my child reads the ending of the book first?

Newton also includes many specific title recommendations for a variety of reading needs. As the 2018 copyright indicates, the suggestions are up to date, including Nic Stone’s Dear Martin and Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give.

My only quibble with How to Get Your Screen-Loving Kids to Read Books for Pleasure is that it goes too easy on those schools and classrooms that choose not to develop lifelong readers. Newton says, “public-school teachers are pressured to teach to state requirements and don’t have much time to encourage reading for pleasure.” I don’t accept that. As Donalyn Miller said in a Nerdy Book Club post, “No matter our professed pedagogy, our consistent actions and behaviors reveal what we truly value. What do our rituals and routines communicate to students that we value about reading?” Saying that the curriculum is too full or that test preparation requirements preclude inculcation of pleasure reading is too easy. I’ve seen and helped dozens of teachers make the turn from no-choice to choice, and each educator who has stuck with it reports that students develop stronger reading habits when they choose their own reading material and have time to read them in school. In my own classroom, ten minutes a day of reading self-selected books made a bigger positive difference than anything else I’ve ever done. Parents and teachers need to work together on this issue.

Kaye Newton gives readers clear, practical advice about the world of today’s developing young readers. How to Get Your Screen-Loving Kids to Read Books for Pleasure is an excellent resource for parents, but I hope educators will also read it. Many of the strategies and recommendations apply to school as well as home, or can be easily adapted for classroom use. Today’s ubiquitous technology has some advantages, and it’s not going away, so leveraging it or balancing it to enhance the reading lives of children is a pressing need both at home and at school.

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Review: WHERE MY BODY ENDS AND THE WORLD BEGINS by Tony Romano

where-my-body-ends-and-the-world-begins.w300In Tony Romano’s Where My Body Ends and the World Begins, readers are immediately immersed in a Chicago neighborhood of the late 1950s and 1960s. The community is still devastated by the fire at Our Lady of the Angels School in 1958 that claimed the lives of 92 students and three nuns. Everyone was affected by the fire, but everyone was affected differently. The fire tragically changes the Lazzeri family, and Anthony Lazzeri, a childhood survivor of the fire, now twenty years old, navigates his Italian neighborhood and impending adulthood with a complex mix of cynicism, humor, confusion, and courage.

Tony Romano makes the inner life of his main character as vivid and dynamic as the dramatic action going on around him. In the opening scene, Anthony is reeling from being struck by a car. As the scene unfolds, readers meet many of the inhabitants of Anthony’s exterior world: Nonna, his quirky, omnipresent grandmother; Lipschultz, a retired cop; and Maryanne, Anthony’s on-again-off-again girlfriend who never quite fills the role he envisions. We also glimpse Anthony’s interior struggle where is tormented by a leg that he cannot sense as part of himself.

The Our Lady of the Angels fire is a devastating historical backdrop for this novel. The fire gave rise to ghosts, rumors, and suspicions that haunt the neighborhood and its characters a decade later. These Tony Romano characters are at once archetypal and unique. Mrs. Mazzolini, for example, “dressed in her usual mourning black, keeps the neighborhood stocked with bread and soup and summer tomatoes from her backyard.” Perez, Anthony’s catcher from their baseball days, is shipping off to the military. Then there is the retired Chicago cop who knows more than he should about his neighbors. That is Lipschultz, Anthony’s nemesis. Crusty old Chicago newspaperman Mike Royko even shows up in this novel.

These relatives and neighbors fill Anthony’s life, but he wants more, although he isn’t sure exactly what he wants. The plot involves Anthony trying to understand why certain things happened and why things are the way they are. (Please excuse this vagueness for the sake of avoiding spoilers.) Although some situations seem unexplainable, Anthony uncovers secrets and discovers information that help him unknot the intricately woven fibers of his family, neighborhood, and self. Tony Romano artfully places readers with Anthony on his psychological journey, as well as during his neighborhood sleuthing and confrontations.

The title is intriguing, isn’t it? Where My Body Ends and the World Begins seems philosophical, and the book indeed subtly dabbles in questions about life’s meaning, but the title is also a metaphor for how this novel explores many lines of demarcation: where the past ends and the present begins, where grief ends and where what-comes-next begins, where secrets end and truth begins, where fiction ends and reality begins.

Although reading this novel is its own reward, supporting independent publishing is a bonus. Where My Body Ends and the World Begins is published by Allium Press and is a finalist for the Foreword Reviews Indies Book of the Year in the Historical Fiction category.

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Asher, Alexie, and Dashner: Believe the Women and Ban the Books?

7982497829_0125989382_kI’ll start by saying as clearly as possible, I believe the women (and others) who have accused young adult literature authors Jay Asher, Sherman Alexie, and James Dashner of sexual harassment and other bad behavior. These popular writers have each accepted varying degrees of responsibility for their actions, and each has received criticism and shaming from various corners of his business and fan bases.

All of this comes into play for me because they are the authors of three books that dozens of students have read with my encouragement: Thirteen Reasons Why, The All-True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, and The Maze Runner. These three books have little in common except that they are extremely popular with young readers, and each has ignited a passion for reading in many of my students.

Considering the recent developments involving these authors, I don’t know what to do about these titles. Should I withdraw my endorsements of the books? Should I still encourage students to read them, but temper that encouragement with words of warning about the authors? Should I keep promoting the books and not mention anything about the authors?

It’s easy to say there are plenty of other books available for young readers, and these authors don’t deserve a readership. Although I tend to agree with the second part of that sentiment, I’m not ready to agree to the first part. Yes, there are a lot of other compelling books, but I know for a fact that these books work. They are my go-to books for certain readers, and I’m reluctant to let go of something that works. And after all, the books are not their authors (or are they?).

I understand that encouraging students to read these books means more copies of them will be sold, and Asher, Alexie, and Dashner will gain more monetary profit. That bothers me. However, students who read the books are not sexually harassed by what they find in the pages, and the books do not promote sexual harassment. On the contrary, students derive benefits from reading these books as they engage with the characters, stories, and ideas.

Another aspect of this quandary is that pulling the books from my list of recommended titles feels like a violation of a deeply-held principle of mine: Students should be allowed to read whatever they choose, and all books should be available to them. These books themselves are not worthy of censorship. In fact, in the past I’ve argued with others about the value of not censoring Thirteen Reasons Why and All-True Diary. It seems hypocritical to now shield students from them, not because of their content but because of their authors’ behavior.

But is keeping the books in circulation a slap in the face of the authors’ victims and others? If the answer is Yes, then the books must go. Are readers who have been subjected to this kind of harassment re-humiliated when their teacher promotes a book by a perpetrator? If the answer is Yes, then the books must go.

After thinking through this, I’m forced to admit that maybe the books’ meanings are different now. Is it possible to read the books the same way knowing what we now know about their creators? Probably not. I recently read Jay Asher’s newest book, a graphic novel entitled Piper (recommended to me by a student). I had to read Piper through a new lens, and that lens caused me to see it differently than I would have six months ago.

“What’s best for students?” is usually the guiding question for my educational decision-making, but the answer is not clear this time. What aspects of this dilemma am I missing? How have other educators handled books by these authors? Do you still approve students who want to read Thirteen Reasons Why? Are The Maze Runner and its sequels still on the shelves of your classroom and school libraries? Is The All-True Diary of a Part-Time Indian still in your curriculum? How did you decide?

Thank you for reading, and especially for your insights.

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Review: ANYBODY’S GAME: KATHRYN JOHNSTON, THE FIRST GIRL TO PLAY LITTLE LEAGUE BASEBALL by Heather Lang

lang game

Anybody’s Game: Kathryn Johnston, the First Girl to Play Little League Baseball by Heather Lang is a terrific new nonfiction baseball picture book and a great way to celebrate the upcoming baseball season.

“Girls don’t play baseball” is the book’s opening line, announced to twelve-year-old Kathryn by her brother Tom. Right away, readers get a sense of Kathryn’s spunk when she answers, “Why not? I’m better than you.” And she’s right. Kathryn is the best player around, but when Little League teams form in the spring of 1950, she is excluded because she’s a girl. Then, with her parents’ support and ingenuity, Kathryn makes the team and becomes not only the first female Little League player, but also the best all-around player on the King’s Dairy Little League team.

Anybody’s Game is irresistible because of Kathryn’s persistence and because both the text and the artwork get the baseball right. Kathryn’s upper cut swing and pitch delivery would be the envy of any player, and her willingness to slide headfirst says a lot about her approach to baseball and life. Heather Lang’s engaging narrative voice delivers Kathryn’s story in text rich with dialogue and lively sentence constructions. Cecilia Puglesi’s artwork effectively evokes the 1950s with attention to authentic period details while the characters’ large, stylized eyes convey an impressive range of facial expressions.

Young readers will relate to Anybody’s Game because the heroine is a kid. Picture book biographies frequently include the childhood of a resilient person who grows up to do something amazing. In this book, it’s a kid who does something amazing. Although Kathryn’s love of the game motivates her to do whatever it takes to play, her defiance of expectations imposed by her gender blazed a trail for today’s determined female members of their schools’ football and wrestling teams.

The useful back matter is framed by Heather Lang’s reflections as a baseball fan and includes photos of Kathryn Johnston along with details about how she has stayed involved in the game, as well as a clear “Women and Girls in Baseball” timeline.

Heather Lang’s Anybody’s Game is an excellent addition to classroom or home libraries. Its important lessons will stick with readers as the new baseball season slides headfirst into summer.

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Review: SPEAK: THE GRAPHIC NOVEL by Laurie Halse Anderson and Emily Carroll

speak graphic

When I learned a few months ago that Laurie Halse Anderson’s 1999 YA classic Speak was being adapted as a graphic novel, I assumed it would be just that, an adaptation. The new version of Speak is more than that though. Way more.

Speak: The Graphic Novel is still the story of Melinda, a freshman who was raped at a party and is now ostracized at school because she summoned police to the party. The art teacher is still here, and the tree is still significant. This re-telling of Speak retains all the essence of the original, but some aspects are updated, including the presence of cell phones and the internet. A few other plot elements are different, and readers familiar with the novel will notice and appreciate the variations.

The graphic novel format brings many new dimensions to this story as the artful arrangement of text and images takes us inside the mind and emotions of this brave, damaged young woman. We see the surreal images swirling in Melinda’s mind. We visualize somewhat disorienting juxtapositions in ways that text doesn’t allow. Artist Emily Carroll’s black-and-white renderings effectively convey the drama of a victim who will not use words in most situations, although the last few pages do more than speak—they shout!

Speak: The Graphic Novel stands alongside the original novel as a powerful alternative way of telling Melinda’s story. It will absorb both new readers and those who have long known the relevance of Laurie Halse Anderson and Speak.

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Review: CHARLIE TAKES HIS SHOT by Nancy Churnin

churnin charlie

Most Americans know the story of Jackie Robinson, the black baseball player who broke his sport’s color barrier in 1947. Charlie Sifford, the first black PGA golfer, could be called the Jackie Robinson of golf, but Charlie’s situation was different. Golf is an individual sport with no teammates. Golf is frequently played at private clubs with significant leeway to determine who can play on their courses. Because of his persistence, and with the support of Jackie Robinson himself, Charlie Sifford became the first black PGA golfer in 1961.

Charlie Takes His Shot is Nancy Churnin’s new picture book biography of Charlie Sifford. Focusing on his life in golf, Churnin takes readers from the 1930s when Charlie is not allowed to play on the courses where he caddies, to 1967 when Charlie dramatically wins his first PGA tournament. Along the way, readers see how different types of prejudice keep Charlie out of professional golf, even when he wins the National Negro Open so many times they tell him to keep the trophy. Sometimes the bigotry takes the form of blatant harassment; other times the discrimination is more insidious. The narrative text invites readers to simultaneously imagine being a superior athlete and the victim of such racial injustice. When Charlie’s ball drops in the cup in the final scene, readers understand that the game of golf and American society are forever changed.

The life lessons in Charlie Takes His Shot are clear: stay true to your game, whatever it is; keep practicing and getting better at what you do; and find the people who will support you in your cause.

John Joven’s illustrations not only impeccably accompany the text, but they also strikingly capture various physical actions involved in golfing. In many picture book biographies, the older version of the subject bears little resemblance to the younger person, but as Charlie Sifford ages during the decades covered in this story, Joven masterfully portrays him at various stages of life.

The back matter includes an author’s note that discusses Charlie Sifford’s life in more detail and a thorough timeline contextualizing Sifford’s life and accomplishments.

Charlie Takes His Shot is a worthwhile addition to any collection, alongside Nancy Churnin’s other excellent picture book biographies, The William Hoy Story: How a Deaf Baseball Player Changed the Game and Manjhi Moves a Mountain.

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Meet Julia Reyes and Vivian Carter: 2 YA Books for Right Now!

mexican moxie

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez and Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu are two of the most powerful YA books of the past year. Every high school classroom has readers looking for books like these and characters like Julia Reyes and Vivian Carter. If you haven’t yet met Julia and Vivian, please introduce yourself and then introduce them to others!

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican DaughterI Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter opens with Julia and her family mourning the sudden death of older sister Olga, the seemingly perfect child. Then Julia, the family rebel, discovers some surprising clues that maybe her sister wasn’t so perfect after all. Julia’s family life was complex before her sister’s death. Born in America to undocumented Mexican immigrant parents, Julia dreams of attending college in New York and becoming a writer, aspirations that her parents do not understand or accept. With this important book, author Erika L. Sánchez gives readers an authentic look at the lives of the growing number of young people with one foot in America and the other in Mexico. But the novel is more universal than that. As Julia investigates her sister’s secrets, she also learns details about her parents’ earlier lives, and readers are reminded how the people we think we know and understand are often shaped by their buried pasts.

MoxieMoxie by Jennifer Mathieu

Author Jennifer Mathieu gets everything right in her novel Moxie. The main character Vivian lives in a small Texas town, and she is more than fed up with how most of the boys in her high school get away with degrading the girls. “Make me is a sandwich” is a favorite taunt, but things eventually go far beyond that. Inspired by her mom’s RiotGrrrl past, Vivian creates and distributes a zine titled Moxie to challenge the girls in her school to resist and fight back.

The girls don’t know who started the magazine, and they react to it in different ways, but as the behavior of the boys and men in the school becomes more and more despicable (and believable), they adopt the zine’s motto “Moxie girls fight back.” Moxie has humor, but it’s mostly just fantastic because of its daring, honesty, and integrity.

In many ways a public high school is a microcosm of its community and culture. We live in a time when a disgraced judge in Alabama had a viable path to the U. S. Senate despite lying about preying on underage girls when he was in his thirties. The President of the United States proudly admits to assaulting women, then dismisses it as locker room talk, as if that makes it okay. A prominent Hollywood producer routinely intimidates and assaults women (including someone I know personally) and gets away with it for a long time. If there was ever a moment when a novel like Moxie is needed, it’s right now.

I hope libraries and classrooms will put a spotlight on I Am Not your Perfect Mexican Daughter and Moxie. Get them out there. The excellent covers will do some of the promotional work, but please talk up these important books!

 

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One More 2017 Round-Up of Nonfiction Picture Books

For my final set of nonfiction picture books of 2017, here are eighteen recent titles that feature history, biographies, animals, math, and natural science. I’m constantly amazed at the inventive ways picture book authors and illustrators approach and shape their material to engage and enlighten readers. I hope you find something here that will appeal to the young readers in your life.

Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of ConfusionDazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion by Chris Barton

This is a terrific subject for a nonfiction picture book! The drama of war, the art of deception, and giant ships painted in dazzling colors and patterns all combine in Chris Barton’s Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion. During World War I, British ships were torpedoed by German submarines at a rate so alarming that the British food supply was threatened. Nothing seemed to thwart the attacks until Norman Wilkinson, a British naval officer, came up with the idea of painting the ships in bold patterns that would confuse the enemy’s tracking systems just long enough to avoid being torpedoed.

Barton’s narrative text has many touches of humor, which might seem out of place for such a deadly subject, but the point of Dazzle Ships is that sometimes the best way to solve a problem is “by trying the unlikely, the improbable, the seemingly bonkers.” Illustrator Victo Ngai’s picture book debut gives readers large, detailed images that are themselves dazzling. No one will hurry through this book. Each spread features Barton’s engaging narrative voice and Ngai’s complex but friendly visuals.

Dazzle Ships gets the history right, but more importantly for young readers, it makes history interesting and relevant to contemporary contexts. I can easily imagine a Dazzle Ships fan becoming the person in the room who says, “Other ideas aren’t working very well. What if we try a dazzle approach instead?”

The Nantucket Sea Monster: A Fake News StoryThe Nantucket Sea Monster: A Fake News Story by Darcy Pattison

I won’t give away anything here, but the sea monster that spooked the Nantucket citizenry in 1937 turned out to be something other than a denizen of the deep. Darcy Pattison’s picture book The Nantucket Sea Monster: A Fake News Story is a tale for our times as it reminds readers that reported facts need to be verified and that the media is sometimes used for purposes other than truth-telling.

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

Pocket Full of Colors is a picture book biography of Disney artist Mary Blair. The through line of Mary’s story is her fascination with color. As a child, Mary “collected” colors; throughout her life, she traveled the world in search of more colors. When first hired by Walt Disney, Mary’s fanciful color schemes were rejected by the “Nine Old Men,” Disney’s primary animators. But Pocket Full of Colors is a persistence story, and Mary ends up in charge of her own animation. Mary Blair is the reason the pumpkin carriage in Cinderella is teal instead of orange. Mary Blair is the reason the Peter Pan mermaids are lime green. And Mary Blair is the reason “It’s A Small World” has such a unique look and feel. The text by Amy Guglielmo and Jacqueline Tourville is light and lyrical, and Brigette Barrager’s bright artwork expertly draws on Mary Blair’s fascination with arranging colors. Pocket Full of Colors will delight young readers as they recognize Mary Blair’s art from Disney films they love while learning the story behind those visual effects.

Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy WatersMuddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters by Michael James Mahin

Muddy is a powerful picture book biography of McKinley Morganfield, better known as blues legend Muddy Waters. As a child in Mississippi, little McKinley “was never good at doing what he was told.” That included keeping clean, so his Grandma Della just took to calling him Muddy. Muddy’s insistence on doing things his own way made it hard for him to stay employed in the Jim Crow South, so he came to Chicago to play music, his way. Author Michael Mahin emphasizes how Muddy was always true to how he felt his music should sound, even when others tried to exert control over it, and young rebel readers will find validation in Muddy’s story. Evan Turk’s artwork is just wild. The loud abstract page spreads capture the thrilling, stinging electricity of Muddy Waters’ voice and guitar. I’m not sure if Muddy has wide kid appeal, but it’s likely to be just the right book for some kids.

Take a Picture of Me, James Van Der Zee!Take a Picture of Me, James Van Der Zee! by Andrea J. Loney

Andrea J. Loney’s Take a Picture of Me, James VanDerZee is a picture book biography of one of the most important figures from the Harlem Renaissance. As a photographer, James VandDerZee created portraits that captured and celebrated the lives of Harlem residents in ways that eventually showed the rest of the world the lives of middle-class black citizens. In an age when photography studios are in our pockets, the story of James VanDerZee and the art of photography is important to remember, not only because of his role in elevating the art of portraiture but because of how his dignified work challenged negative stereotypes of black Americans.

Imagine That!: How Dr. Seuss Wrote the Cat in the HatImagine That!: How Dr. Seuss Wrote The Cat in the Hat by Judy Sierra

I clearly remember the Dick and Jane books from my earliest grades of elementary school. Dr. Seuss came along in later grades in the form of read-alouds. I loved when our teacher read to us The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins and Yertle the Turtle. My parents read Dr. Seuss book to me too: Horton Hatches the Egg and Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose. As I learned from Judy Sierra’s nonfiction picture book Imagine That!: How Dr. Seuss Wrote The Cat in the Hat, the Dr. Seuss easy reader books came along just a little later, and apparently my teachers weren’t quite ready to replace Dick and Jane with Thing One and Thing Two.

Imagine that. Imagine That! helped me understand something about my early reading life that I’d never realized. I’m excited to think about this wonderful book doing the same for readers fifty years younger than me as they ponder when, how, and why Dr. Seuss books came into their lives.

The Cat in the Hat grew out of a realization that those Dick and Jane books are boring, and kids were more likely to read if their first easy readers were fun and exciting. Ted Geisel, the author known as Dr. Seuss, accepted a challenge from writer John Hersey to write a funny book using only words from the approved basal reader list. Imagine That! explains Geisel’s offbeat creative processes and how The Cat in the Hat became such a phenomenon.

Young Dr. Seuss fans will enjoy learning more about this subject matter that is likely already in their knowledge banks. Will this be their first exposure to literary analysis as they think about how Dr. Seuss worked within various constraints to create his delightful effects? Will it inspire them to write funny stories of their own? Imagine that.

Frida Kahlo and Her AnimalitosFrida Kahlo and Her Animalitos by Monica Brown

In Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos, Monica Brown tells the life story of artist Frida Kahlo through the lens of the animals in her life, how she shared traits with them, and how they inspired and inhabited her imagination. Kahlo’s life and art lend themselves to interpretation in many ways, and I admire how this picture book biography chooses a specific window that is accessible to young readers. The John Parra illustrations not only convey the biography of Frida Kahlo; they also emphasize the animal motif that runs through her life and work. Readers will likely want to see some of Frida Kahlo’s artwork after reading this book. The back matter helpfully includes a list of paintings that connect to this narrative, and kids will enjoy recognizing the animals from Monica Brown’s book in those Kahlo paintings.

The Girl Who Ran: Bobbi Gibb, The First Woman to Run the Boston MarathonThe Girl Who Ran: Bobbi Gibb, The First Woman to Run the Boston Marathon by Kristina Yee

The Girl Who Ran is a persistence story. In 1966 Bobbi Gibb became the first woman to run the Boston Marathon. As a little girl, Bobbi liked to run. Her friends did too, until they lost interest. Bobbi kept running. As an adult, she wanted to run in the Boston Marathon, but her application was denied because of her gender. So, Bobbi covered up her long hair, jumped out of the bushes, and ran the marathon anyway. We all need stories like this.

The images of Bobbi and other people in this picture book biography effectively show the emotions involved in each page spread, but when Bobbi is running, she is trailed by fiery streaks of red, orange, and yellow. Similarly, the primary narrative text is straightforward, but there are moments in the story when words burst across the top of the page. When Bobbi’s running is in flow, rhyming couplets appear in italics. I like how these various touches move Bobbi’s true story into something a little bigger than mere reality.

Danza!: Amalia Hernández and El Ballet Folklórico de MéxicoDanza!: Amalia Hernández and El Ballet Folklórico de México by Duncan Tonatiuh

Duncan Tonatiuh’s Danza!: Amalia Hernández and El Ballet Folklórico de México is a picture book biography about the founder of the most enduring Mexican dance company, El Ballet Folklórico de México. Danza! is the story of how a young girl in Mexico City was inspired by folk dancers to become a dancer herself. Amalia Hernández trained in classical ballet but found herself choreographing modern dance pieces resembling the dances she remembered seeing as a young girl.

Although Amalia took her dances to villages all through Mexico, she knew her artistic visions could not be complete unless they were performed in a theater. The company she formed became internationally famous for their dazzling fusion of ballet and modern dance with folkloric elements.

Much like El Ballet Folklórico de México itself, Danza! uses illustrations blending traditional Mexican styles with modern depictions. Danza!’s readers will learn about turning artistic dreams into reality, and the persistence necessary to achieve artistry on a large scale. This book will especially appeal to young dancers, and students with Mexican heritage will undoubtedly experience a surge of pride.

Big Machines: The Story of Virginia Lee BurtonBig Machines: The Story of Virginia Lee Burton by Sherri Duskey Rinker

Big Machines: The Story of Virginia Lee Burton is a picture book biography celebrating the work of “Jinnee” Burton, the creator of such classic children’s books as Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, Maybelle the Cable Car, and The Little House, the Caldecott Award Winner in 1943. Young Jinnee’s imagination takes many forms, but the drawings she makes to delight her children become stories and eventually books beloved by generations.

Although Sherri Duskey Rinker’s narrative conveys a factual timeline, it is not exactly a straightforward biography. Big Machines is more of a salute to imagination, creativity, storytelling, and adults who inspire children. John Rocco’s warm realistic pictures, an homage to an earlier time in children’s book publishing, provide a bit of nostalgia for adult readers but will also allow young readers to experience how books looked and felt once upon a time.

From the endpapers to the back matter, this loving tribute to an author who cared enough about children to create stories for them is sure to delight both children and adults.

Dangerous JaneDangerous Jane by Suzanne Slade

The title Dangerous Jane is alluring, but it’s also ironic because the life mission of Jane Addams was to protect and serve whoever needed protection and support. Dangerous Jane tells the life story of Jane Addams with a focus on how she was inspired to serve others as a child, and moves on to how she established a settlement house in Chicago and an international women’s movement, both dedicated to helping those who need it without regard for nationality or any other consideration. After World War I, Jane Addams was considered a traitor and labeled “The Most Dangerous Woman in America” by some who thought she should be more selective about who she provided with assistance. She eventually became the first woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Author Suzanne Slade’s text covers these milestones in the life of Jane Addams in finely crafted sentences. Slade’s economy with words provides her sentences with punch but never crosses into melodrama. I especially admire how the final phrase or image on each page is particularly thought-provoking. Because of Slade’s attention to the sound of her sentences, Dangerous Jane is one of the rare picture books that will work as a read-aloud.

The illustrations by Alice Ratterree enhance Suzanne Slade’s narrative with historically accurate and interesting backdrops. The faces are expressive and realistic, and all of this is rendered in colors that are not quite sepia but still create a nostalgic effect.

Young readers exposed to Dangerous Jane will learn about empathy, compassion, service, World War I, the role of women in the early Twentieth Century, and much more. In this time when some in our society want to build walls, I’m glad that “Dangerous” Jane Addams can still inspire the better parts of human nature.

Hidden Wildlife: How Animals Hide in Plain SightHidden Wildlife: How Animals Hide in Plain Sight by Jim Arnosky

Hidden Wildlife: How Animals Hide in Plain Sight is the latest In Jim Arnosky’s series of picture books about wild animals. The window here is Arnosky’s own experiences with these animals and how his artist’s eye interacted with the animal’s coloration and camouflage. Two striking aspects of Hidden Wildllife set it apart from similar books. The first is Arnosky’s stories about how he encountered each animal in its natural habitat and what he noticed about how it blended in with its surroundings. (Exposition is fine, but stories make the learning stickier.) Secondly, the colorful paintings are large and dramatic, and young readers will love the foldouts.

How to Survive as a FireflyHow to Survive as a Firefly by Kristen Foote

How to Survive as a Firefly explains the brief, dynamic life of a firefly, and how its metamorphosis differs from other life cycles. The energetic narrative voice effectively conveys what author Kristen Foote wants readers to understand about the firefly—it lives fast, changes quickly, and doesn’t have time to relax. (This contrasts with how I experience fireflies as they seem to quietly twinkle off and on during lazy summer evenings!) The illustrations are comical, but the appearance of the narrator becomes a little repetitive. The animated tone of the narrative text carries through to the back matter, which may lead young readers to engage with those pages rather than skipping them.

WalrusWalrus by Herve Paniaq

Animals Illustrated: Walrus by Herve Paniaq is full of interesting facts about walruses, and the Ben Shannon illustrations depict aspects of a walrus’s life not commonly considered. The text is easy to read, but I’m a little troubled by several variations of “it is said” or used in a book that is likely to be used as a credible source. For example, Paniaq writes, “Walruses that live in very deep water are said to enjoy eating seals.” Well, do they enjoy eating seals or not? That “said” formation leaves doubt.

The book’s short chapters offer intriguing information and pictures, but the last spread covers two topics, how walruses can be dangerous to humans, and how Inuit store walrus meat and used tusks as harpoons. If the book is read in one sitting, which is likely, the end just seems to trail off with no final thoughts or big idea to remember about the subject.

If your library doesn’t have a walrus book, this one will be serviceable.

Beauty and the Beak: How Science, Technology, and a 3D-Printed Beak Rescued a Bald EagleBeauty and the Beak: How Science, Technology, and a 3D-Printed Beak Rescued a Bald Eagle by Deborah Lee Rose

Beauty and the Beak begins as a bald eagle chick is born. The chick is followed to adulthood when she is wounded by a human predator. The weakened, disfigured bald eagle is discovered scavenging in a dump by a police officer and taken to a raptor sanctuary. Named Beauty, the eagle is not only nursed back to health, but with the help of 3-D dental technology she is successfully fitted with a prosthetic beak that restores much of her ability to function normally.

This book’s photographs are excellent. The first part shows how a bald eagle develops into maturity and fends for itself in the wild. The second part shows Beauty in rehabilitation and undergoing the procedure for attaching the prosthetic beak. The science is explained in accessible language and clearly demonstrates that humans are capable of helpful impulses that ingenuity can harness with technology to improve our world and its varied inhabitants.

Beauty and the Beak’s extensive notes and back matter comprise roughly 40% of the book. While the primary narrative accompanying the photographs is geared toward younger-grade readers, the language in the ancillary material is noticeably more complex and devoid of photos.

Zoo Scientists to the RescueZoo Scientists to the Rescue by Patricia Newman

Patricia Newman’s colorful Zoo Scientists to the Rescue is a picture book for middle-grade readers focused on the problem-solving work of scientists affiliated with zoos around the world. The first and last chapters are overviews of the kinds of dilemmas faced by animals and dealt with by zoo scientists. The three middle chapters feature specific species in specific zoos: orangutans at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, black-footed ferrets at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, and black rhinoceroses at Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago. Annie Crawley’s high-quality photographs of animals will captivate young scientists, but the photographs of people doing their work or posing with charts are less interesting.

Money Math: Addition and SubtractionMoney Math: Addition and Subtraction by David A. Adler

David Adler’s Money Math: Addition and Subtraction is a wonderfully interactive picture book for elementary-age readers. Hosted by George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and other figures from United States currency, Money Math engagingly connects the real-world skill of counting money to more abstract mathematical concepts, such as fractions and decimal points.

The cartoon-like illustrations by Edward Miller invite readers to imagine the coin illustrations as real coins. Students who enjoy this book will easily transition from the book to manipulatives or actual coins. Although the book is focused mostly on adding coins and bills in various ways, it also touches on the subtraction-related skills of making change. The tone and message of Money Math is that counting money is fun, and so is the math behind it. Money Math is a great addition for any school, classroom, or home library.

If You Were the MoonIf You Were the Moon by Laura Purdie Salas

A little girl reading in bed, on the verge of falling asleep, says hello to the moon and wishes she “could do exactly nothing, just like you.” The moon replies, explaining all the ways it is more active than it seems. The narrative can be read by focusing on the moon’s lyrical replies (“Hover near your mother … Tease the Earth: peek-a-boo!”), but each of the moon’s answers is supported by a more detailed explanation of the science behind it, as well as beliefs about the moon from various cultures. The moon is friendly throughout, both in the text and in the illustrations as it reveals how being the moon is a lot like being a busy youngster.

Many of these reviews appeared on Goodreads or elsewhere in slightly different form.

As always, thanks for reading. Which of these jump out at you as the most appealing?

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14 More New Nonfiction Picture Books for Home or School

This batch of nonfiction picture books has a little bit of almost everything–biographies, animals, dazzling illustrations, fascinating photos, laughs, drama, and insights into our amazing world. I hope these reviews are helpful to parents and educators searching for the best titles to add to shelves at home or school. Here we go.

What Makes a Monster?: Discovering the World's Scariest Creatures (The World of Weird Animals)What Makes a Monster?: Discovering the World’s Scariest Creatures by Jess Keating

The most disgusting, disturbing animal I’ve ever seen is a moray eel at Walt Disney World. It’s horrible. And now Jess Keating comes out with What Makes a Monster?: Discovering the World’s Scariest Creatures, and there is the fangtooth moray eel, which justifies every bad dream I’ve ever had about those nasty things.

If that weren’t bad enough, this book also features the vampire bat, the Humbolt squid, and worst of all, the goblin shark. Thanks, Jess. There go a few more nights of good sleep.

All of this is testament to another fabulous book in Keating’s “The World of Weird Animals” series. Yes, I’m creeped out by some of those pictures, but I also learned a lot from reading this book. Filled with facts just as weird as the pictures, the text also doesn’t shy away from positive aspects of these animals. For example, some of them are less endangered than they used to be, and some look for ways to help each other.

As with Keating’s Pink Is for Blobfish, the previous book in this series, the format is the definition of engaging. Bright colors, captivating photos, funny illustrations, and cleverly written text make this a book that young people will read repeatedly, and share with each other. If curiosity is the best impetus for motivating students to study science, What Makes A Monster? will provide plenty to ponder.

Animals by the Numbers: A Book of InfographicsAnimals by the Numbers: A Book of Infographics by Steve Jenkins

The weight of all termites on Earth is double the weight of all humans on Earth. A gnat beats its wings a thousand times per second. The bulldog bat is one of the loudest animals, but humans can’t hear its high-pitched sounds. Crocodiles kill three hundred times more humans each year than sharks. Only three Red River soft-shelled turtles are still in existence, two in zoos and one in a Vietnamese lake. Who knew?

Animals by the Numbers: A Book of Animal Infographics will fascinate animal lovers and others. Animals are automatically appealing to many young readers, but this book also includes strange facts about familiar and unfamiliar species that will intrigue many curious minds.

Author Steve Jenkins goes beyond the animal focus to present data in a variety of infographic formats: pie charts, flow charts, bar graphs, and many others, making Animals by the Numbers a helpful guide as students consider and decide how to best visually represent or report different types of information. These infographics are presented alongside Jenkins’s own artwork depicting many different animals.

Jenkins’s strong integration of content and format will make Animals by the Numbers one of the most appealing, useful books in any collection.

Hatching Chicks in Room 6Hatching Chicks in Room 6 by Caroline Arnold

Follow along as Mrs. Best brings eggs from home to an incubator in her elementary school classroom. Hatching Chicks in Room 6 has an easy-to-follow narrative with built-in drama as Mrs. Best’s students watch and wait for the baby chicks to emerge from the eggs they carefully incubate. Caroline Arnold’s photos are great as they capture the students’ enthusiasm and what seems to be expressiveness from the baby chicks. (If a photographer can show expressiveness in a chicken of any age, something good is going on.) Although there is necessarily some challenging vocabulary here (incubator and albumen, for example), the words are explained well and are not overwhelming. Once readers know the words, they will likely incorporate them into their own language when discussing this book or its subjects.

Robins!: How They Grow UpRobins!: How They Grow Up by Eileen Christelow

Robins!: How They Grow Up is full of fascinating details about robins that will enhance what young readers have probably already noticed about them. As the primary text explains how young robins are born and develop, some comic robins lurking at the bottom of the pages comment on the narrative. This provides some nice variety, which is needed because the pictures become repetitive in places, mostly because the backgrounds are so plain, and the robins look mostly the same from page to page. Still, the artwork is expressive and appealing; it’s just repetitive. Although probably too long for a read-aloud, Robins! can be a good picture book to use in the spring as robins begin to appear. Markers of the robins’ various ages can serve as little chapter breaks for those hesitant to read the entire book at once.

Can an Aardvark Bark?Can an Aardvark Bark? by Melissa Stewart

Can an Aardvark Bark? explores the variety of sounds made by animals, and which dissimilar animals make similar sounds. Emerging readers will enjoy the onomatopoetic character of the animal sounds featured in the primary text (bark, whine, growl, etc.), while more details and complex vocabulary are found in the supporting text. The primary text would serve well as a read-aloud, and children can then explore the rest of the book more independently or in groups. The format is almost a tribute to Eric Carle with its stylized artwork made of multiple fabrics and text with repeating elements.

DroughtsDroughts by Melissa Stewart

Also written by Melissa Stewart, Droughts is a useful science book in the “Let’s Read and Find Out” series. Sweet’s primary narrative text explains the science behind droughts in clear, straightforward language. The human touch comes through the warm Andre’ Ceolin illustrations showing children and adults dealing with various stages of drought, as well as taking steps to conserve water. The vocabulary and syntax in the sidebars and back matter is slightly more complex than the rest. This is fine because adults are more likely to be involved in the experiments and explanations described in those sections. Sweet and Ceolin’s book is more friendly than flashy as it makes accessible the science behind droughts.

Two Truths and a Lie: It's Alive!Two Truths and a Lie: It’s Alive! by Ammi-Joan Paquette

I was originally not sure about this one. Two Truths and a Lie: It’s Alive presents sets of three cleverly-written, humorous explanations of various scientific phenomena. But, you guessed it, two of them are true and one is not. The fake one might be wildly made-up or it might have something factual embedded in it, but it’s not completely true.

All the explanations are fun, but I’m bothered by young readers spending so much time reading fake stuff alongside true stuff, even if they know some of it is made up. Separating fact from fiction these days is almost a survival strategy, and I don’t quite see how this book strengthens that skill. I imagine readers being entertained and enjoying the mysteries but not remembering enough of the details the next day to be clear on what was true and untrue.

Since I originally reviewed Two Truths and a Lie: It’s Alive, I’ve talked to two parents who are also educators who told me they see kids absorbed in this book, so I’m willing to consider that because truth is so slippery in our peculiar era I may not be seeing the book’s full potential.

Manjhi Moves a MountainManjhi Moves a Mountain by Nancy Churnin

“Moving mountains” is usually a hyperbolic metaphor for accomplishing seemingly impossible tasks. In the nonfiction picture book Manjhi Moves a Mountain, a dedicated laborer literally moves a mountain to connect two villages. Manjhi’s poor village “in the heart of India” is separated from a more prosperous village by a mountain. Manjhi throws a stone in frustration. Inspired by seeing dust crumble from the stone, Manjhi begins to chip away at the mountain with his hammer and chisel. At first, other villagers laugh at his folly, but eventually they begin to respect his dedication. Twenty-two years later, Manjhi has moved the mountain, and the two villages are united.

This beautifully designed book has a mythical feel, but Manjhi’s story takes place in the twentieth century. Nancy Churnin wisely refrains from belaboring Manjhi’s heroism as she simply tells what happens and heroism emerges from that description. Danny Popovici’s appealing illustrations reward readers who linger on each spread as details are embedded in the depth perspective of each picture. The book begins and closes with different endpapers that effectively convey the power of Manjhi’s accomplishment.

Although it actually happened, Manjhi’s accomplishment is something of a metaphor after all, as the back matter challenges readers to consider what mountains they can move to improve their communities, and provides links to resources for learning about what others are doing, and how readers can share their own experiences.

Lighter Than Air: Sophie Blanchard, the First Woman PilotLighter Than Air: Sophie Blanchard, the First Woman Pilot by Matthew Clark Smith

Nothing on Earth captures the imagination quite like taking to the sky in a hot air balloon. Lighter than Air is a picture book biography about Sophie Blanchard, the first woman pilot. Blanchard guided hot air balloons all over 18th Century France. Author Matthew Clark Smith provides a narrative that contextualizes the French attitudes of the period, especially regarding the role of women in that society, and how Sophie Blanchard first challenges those expectations, then becomes an exception to all those rules as she gains popularity and respect for her airborne exploits.

Some of the Matt Tavares illustrations are drawings that evoke the art prints of that time, but several of the pictures are more involved with backgrounds and sophisticated shadings. These pictures are more satisfying and made me wish the others were more like them.

The design of Lighter than Air is simple. The endpapers are plain, and the back matter is an author’s note, illustrator’s note, and a brief bibliography. The author’s note reveals the circumstances of Sophie Blanchard’s death. No spoilers here, but I hope young readers find their way to that detail and then ponder and discuss its ironies.

Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer CodeGrace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code by Laurie Wallmark

Laurie Wallmark’s Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code portrays legendary computer programmer Grace Hopper as fun and feisty. More than anything, Wallmark’s picture book biography is an appealing story that will engage many young readers, not just the technology fans. The computer science and engineering are accessible and presented as challenges which “Amazing Grace” gladly tackles. The narrative has a friendly voice, and I also like the inspirational Grace Hopper quotes adorning many of the page spreads. Katy Wu’s bright, happy illustrations perfectly match the tone of Wallmark’s words. Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code is a book that readers will remember, re-visit, and talk about with each other.

Listen: How Pete Seeger Got America SingingListen: How Pete Seeger Got America Singing by Leda Schubert

Listen: How Pete Seeger Got America Singing is a worthy picture book tribute to the iconic folksinger. The lyrical text begins with “Listen,” an imperative repeated several times. The difference between “listen” and “hear” is a call to pay attention to what is going on beneath and behind the words and tunes of Pete Seeger’s songs.

Most pages of the text includes brief lists of two or three titles of songs associated with that page’s content. While most of the songs are not explained, some titles are well known, which creates a kind of imagined soundtrack for reading this book. The lesser-known titles may intrigue readers to investigate them.

Raúl Colón’s artwork can almost stand alone without text. His textured illustrations have a nostalgic glow that perfectly matches Leda Schubert’s portrayal of Pete Seeger’s idealism and optimism.

If you’re only going to add one Pete Seeger picture book to a collection, I recommend Listen. Seeger’s life is explained in an evocative voice, and the role of folk songs and folk singers in those tumultuous times is conveyed without being overtly didactic. Schubert and Colón hit all the right notes here.

The Girl Who Thought in Pictures: The Story of Dr. Temple GrandinThe Girl Who Thought in Pictures: The Story of Dr. Temple Grandin by Julia Finley Mosca

The Girl Who Thought in Pictures: The Story of Dr. Temple Grandin portrays a misunderstood child who persists in learning to become a renowned scientist. As a child, Temple’s autism confuses and alienates many of those around her. When she leaves the city and spends more time in rural settings, she begins to understand her own mind and its powers that are so hidden from others. This important picture book lures in readers with friendly illustrations and gently rhyming text. Picture book biographies rarely make for good read-alouds, but The Girl Who Thought in Pictures is an exception. Educators and parents who use this book will help young readers understand autism and empathize with those who think differently.

Pedal Power: How One Community Became the Bicycle Capital of the WorldPedal Power: How One Community Became the Bicycle Capital of the World by Allan Drummond

Pedal Power has a nice balance of whimsy and message as it shows how bicycling advocate Maartje Rutten led Amsterdam to become the world’s foremost biking city. Although the words and pictures have light touches, author Allan Drummond delivers important content about the benefits of cycling and the power of activism.

Her Right FootHer Right Foot by Dave Eggers

Her Right Foot by Dave Eggers is mostly a history of The Statue of Liberty that begins with humor and ends with an important message about America and immigrants. Some of the background is familiar, which Eggers acknowledges, but there are also some surprises. In fact, there is one big surprise involving something important about the statue’s right foot. The narration builds a positive relationship by directly addressing a reader, sometimes teasingly, sometimes with compliments. This pays off at the end when Eggers delivers his innovative interpretation of the statue. The Shawn Harris cut-paper artwork is decidedly modern, which reinforces a new way of seeing our well-known neoclassical statue. Her Right Foot is fun, and it’s likely to be a favorite with young readers even as it reminds us about America’s important mission to welcome “the poor, the tired, and the struggling to breathe free.”

See what I mean? A little bit of almost everything. No book is just right for every reader, but I hope some of the titles here fit the interests of the young readers in your world.

One more quick note: Since my last blog post about nonfiction picture books, I’ve been chosen as a first round judge for the Cybils Awards. Nothing I say in these reviews should be assumed to reflect how I’m judging any of the nominated books, or how the Cybils judging is proceeding in general. Finalists are announced on January 1, 2018, and winners are announced on February 14, 2018!

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