Category Archives: biography


One of the best things that has come out of blogging is being a part of the blogging community of amazing children’s literature reviewers. Learning about new books and getting other takes on how to encourage a love of books in all children is why I do this. Since we don’t live in a city with tons of great book stores and large libraries, there are many times that the only way I know a book exists is through the pages of other people’s blogs.

As long-time readers will know, I try really hard to be a part of the nonfiction picture book challenge hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy every week. This week, Alyson posted about three books she had recently read, but one stood out to me, partially because this week also happens to be Children’s Book Week. The book was Balderdash! John Newbery and the Boisterous Birth of Children’s Books, by Michelle Markel. I happened to be at one of our local libraries that evening for a CBW event and did a happy dance when I found a copy there.

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Balderdash! is a great biography about a man whose name is synonymous with children’s literature. The cover of the book even has such a wonderful illustration by Nancy Carpenter that the book screams out to be read. But even with Newbery being such an important name in children’s literature, I admit that I didn’t know much about him before reading this book. Continue reading →

Fancy Party Gowns

FPG coverThe Story of Ann Cole Lowe is not one that I probably would have ever heard of if not for the new biography, Fancy Party Gowns, by Deborah Blumenthal. Her story, however, is important in the world of fashion, women, and African-American history.

Ann Cole Lowe learned how to sew from her mother and grandmother who were both dressmakers in Alabama. When Ann was 16, her mother had been working on a dress for the governor’s wife when she died. “Ann thought about what she could do, not what she couldn’t change.” So Ann finished the dress.

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Ann continued to work hard and in 1917 was sent to a design school in New York, but she had to study alone, in a separate room, because of the color of her skin. This image alone in the book is exceptionally powerful to help get the notion across to children just how unfair laws and practices were when it came to segregation. This didn’t stop Ann, if anything, it might have made her stronger. Continue reading →

Digging into the American Revolution

Digging into the American Revolution

We have Hamilton fever in this house. One of the great things that has come out of that, apart from listening to the music non-stop, is that it has gotten my girls interested in learning more about our history around the time American Revolution. We had been thrilled to read Aaron and Alexander back in the summer, but when we were at the library recently, I happened upon the section covering this period in history and started grabbing (973.4 for anyone interested). Continue reading →

Hiromi’s Hands – A Glimpse into the World of the Sushi Chef

hiromi-coverIn Japanese culture, sushi is a way of life. In large cities in America, sushi is a wonderful delicacy best experienced in a good restaurant. But if you visit most sushi restaurants, you will notice something – the vast majority of the sushi chefs are male. This stems from the fact that not only were women expected to care for the children, but it was thought that their hands were warmer and could spoil the delicate fish. Hiromi’s Hands, by Lynne Barasch, is the true story of Hiromi Suzuki who became one of the first female sushi chefs in New York City. It is also a fascinating book about Japanese culture and the art of sushi making.

Hiromi’s father, Akira, grew up in rural Japan and had a fascination with the fish market. At an early age, he apprenticed to become a sushi chef. After many years, he was invited to move to New York to be the head chef at a sushi restaurant, and after three more years he opened his own restaurant in NYC.


Hiromi was born in 1978. She learned Japanese traditions but also wanted to act American. By the time she was eight, Hiromi was asking to go to the fish market with her father to be able to spend more time with him. She got her wish and also wound up gaining a vast amount of knowledge. By 13 she wanted to help at his restaurant and because this was American and not Japan, he let her. She worked hard and proved herself as an excellent itamae-san (chef in Japanese).hiromispot2

I have always appreciated the art of sushi even though I didn’t appreciate the taste until I was in my 20s. This book is a fascinating way to teach some of the mysteries of the sushi world and open kids’ eyes to a very interesting subject. This book is published by Lee & Low books, a great source of multicultural picture books. They did a great interview with author Lynne Barasch that you can read here.

nfpb2017I have been encouraged by the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy to post about a nonfiction title each week. My goal is to post a nonfiction picture book, or at least nonfiction, every Wednesday. Please check out Kid Lit Frenzy for an amazing resource of nonfiction picture books.

Great books for the Inventor in all of us

Yesterday was Benjamin Franklin’s birthday and my daughter’s kindergarten class has been focusing on inventors and inventions because of it. When we think of inventors, we often think of older white men with crazy hair. But there were a lot of amazing inventions created by children and young adults, male and female, black and white.


picture-book-of-ben-coverSince it was Ben Franklin who got me thinking about this, I did find three very different books about him and his work. For a true biography on the great Ben Franklin, David Adler’s A Picture Book about Benjamin Franklin is a great start! This book focuses less on his inventions and more on the man himself. Some of Franklin’s inventions are cleverly interspersed as he created them with the reasons why he invented them as well.

now-and-ben-coverIn Now and Ben: The Modern Inventions of Benjamin Franklin, Gene Barretta highlights a large number of Franklin’s inventions. What makes this book extra interesting is how Barretta juxtaposes how we use these inventions in the current day to when Franklin was creating them. A great way to show the impact that Benjamin Franklin has had on all of us.now_and_ben_2

wit-and-wisdom-coverAlan Schroeder brings us an unusual look at Benjamin Franklin and his inventions in Ben Franklin: His Wit and Wisdom From A-Z. A very interesting way to learn more about this amazing inventor and founding father.


Emphasizing the power of perseverance, inventors-secret-hires1The Inventor’s Secret: What Thomas Edison Told Henry Ford, by Suzanne Slade, alternates between the lives of two inventors, beginning with Thomas Edison, who was 16 years Henry Ford’s senior. Many of Edison’s major inventions are touched on, and young Ford is portrayed as curious as to the secret of Edison’s success. Ford continues to work on developing engines and designing cars and finally seizes the opportunity to meet Edison in person. The two go over Ford’s designs, and Edison urges the younger man to “keep at it!” With that, Ford discovers that “he’d known Thomas’s secret all along!”—a realization illustrated with a light bulb over Ford’s head.

so-you-want-coverWant a quick, fun rundown of a ton of inventors? That is what you get in So You Want to be an Inventor?, by Judith St. George. This colorful book reminds young minds that they “don’t have to have white hair and wrinkles to be an inventor” and then it gives them a slew of examples. The book features some of the world’s best-known inventors-Thomas Edison, Benjamin Franklin, Eli Whitney-as well as lesser-known geniuses like Georges de Mestral (inventor of Velcro), Wilhelm Roentgen (inventor of X rays), and Hedy Lamarr (inventor of a system that became the basis for satellite communication). One page highlights that not all inventors are men and focuses specifically on female inventors. Also highlighted is the fact that some inventors work alone while others work as teams and that one great invention can often lead to another. The bottom line is that your invention could change the work, you just have to take the risk.

six-dots-coverInventions often come out of a specific need. Such was the case for Louis Braille. When we think about famous people who are blind, the first name that usually pops into people’s heads is Helen Keller. But we also need to give credit to young Louis Braille, who invented the Braille alphabet, allowing visually impaired people to read. Six Dots, by Jen Bryant, excellently tells the story of how Braille lost his sight at 5, his constant desire to still be able to read, and his creation of the Braille alphabet. A fascinating read.six-dots-inside

whoosh-coverMost kids know the thrill of soaking someone with a water gun, or being soaked themselves, so reading about the guy who invented them is an enticing subject. But Whoosh! is more than just a story about how super soakers were invented. Whoosh!: Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions, by Chris Barton, tells of a young boy fascinated with how things worked and who loved to create. It tells of the successes and failures that all inventors deal with. It illustrates how unusual it was for an African-American team to win a major science fair at the University of Alabama in 1968. And then it shows how Lonnie Johnson came up with a great idea that got rejection after rejection until he finally had success. A true story of perseverance and innovation.whoosh-inside

marvelous mattieThere are a ton of female inventors out there, but they don’t get the same kind of recognition that men do. In Marvelous Mattie: How Margaret E. Knight Became an Inventor, Emily Arnold McCully tells the story of Margaret Knight, aka Mattie, who was a brilliant woman who lived from 1838-1914, during the height of the industrial revolution. Her father’s toolbox and her sketchbooks of ideas were her salvation during a very rough childhood of poverty. When she was a child, no one felt that a woman could have an inventive mind, but she always saw ways to improve things. She probably saved many lives by creating a safety device for looms and was the brains behind the flat-bottomed paper bag. When a man tried to steal her invention before she could get it patented, her methodical notebooks and determination proved to a judge that a woman could and did invent the new bags. This book is a wonderful story that  children can relate to and it helps them comprehend the struggles that Mattie and every woman went through so many years ago.

ada lovelaceIn Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine, by Laurie Walmark, girls can see the story of the woman credited with creating the first computer language, way before the actual invention of computers. While she didn’t code in the way that we thing of the terms now, she realized that a machine to solve complex equations created by a fellow inventor could not actually run without a detail set of instructions. By using his notebooks and her knowledge of mathematics, she left her mark on the history of computer science.ada-interior

harnessed-the-wind-coverA final fascinating story is that of young Wiliam Kamkwamba told in The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind. This is the picture book version of the autobiography written by Kamkwamba. When a terrible drought struck William Kamkwamba’s tiny village in Malawi, his family lost all of the season’s crops, leaving them with nothing to eat and nothing to sell. William began to explore science books in his village library, looking for a solution. There, he came up with the idea that would change his family’s life forever: he could build a windmill. Made out of scrap metal and old bicycle parts, William’s windmill brought electricity to his home and helped his family pump the water they needed to farm the land. This is a wonderful way to bring a current story to a younger audience.boywhoharnessedthewind_zunon5

While I have focused on nonfiction picture books about inventors, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the outstanding books by Andrea Beatty. Rosie Revere, Engineer, Ada Twist, Scientist, and Iggy Peck, Architect are three of our favorite books and such a wonderful way to show children that they should follow their dreams and believe in themselves. For more information on these books and a few other fiction titles, check out the post I wrote last year.

nfpb2017I have been encouraged by the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy to post about a nonfiction title each week. My goal is to post these books every  Wednesdays. Please check out Kid Lit Frenzy for an amazing resource of nonfiction picture books.




Let Your Dreams Fly

If you hadn’t already gathered from reading my site, I have a deep affection for books about strong girls. But it isn’t just that I like strong girls, I like strong children who dream big and put their all into everything that they do. So when I saw the new book, “Amelia Who Could Fly,” written by Mara Dal Corso and illustrated by Daniela Volpari, I knew that it was a book that I had to get my hands on. I can’t actually get my hands on it just yet as it won’t be available until July 1, but I did get to preview a copy online as this is an exclusive Usborne title (thank you Kane Miller Press!).

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This great picture book tells the story of 10 year old Amelia Earhart who knew from an early age that she wanted to fly. She also lived in a time when women were not allowed to do as many things as men, so the book does mention how she admired women who had made a difference and hoped that she would also be remembered as a woman who had done great things.

Through fun illustrations, you can see her early attempts at getting airborne and her excitement at not only going on a roller coaster, but seeing an airplane flying even higher up in the sky. She didn’t care if she failed, because she knew that the biggest failure was to never try.Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 9.05.21 PM

What is especially lovely about this story is it’s simplicity. It shows how she was an ordinary girl with big dreams. The sheer joy that she gets from feeling the wind in her face and being airborne however she can pushes her dream along. Unlike many girls at her time, she wasn’t afraid of getting dirty or bruised, something we still have to teach our kids from time to time. As the final page of the book explains, she was a nonconformist, something I personally have no problem encouraging.Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 9.06.11 PM


This is simply a remarkable book. You can bet that I will be getting my hands on a copy come July 1!

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I haven’t been great at participating in non-fiction Wednesdays as much as I had hoped, but I have a few more titles up my sleeve. Check out some of the other great titles that have linked up!nfpb16


Taking a Lesson from Rosa

It is Black History month. I will admit that this is not a topic that I typically focus on with my kids, but the more my older daughter and I delve into the Holocaust and the treatment of Jews, the more important showing her that similar injustices have been faced by others.

One subject that both of my girls have been interested in has to do with Rosa Parks. We have a deep love of the Isabella books, and Rosa Parks is one of the pages in the original edition. Like most libraries, our local library showcases books on the top of the shelves for specific events and I was drawn to a book about Rosa Parks.

coverJo Kittinger’s Rosa’s Bus: The Ride to Civil Rights is an excellent book that tells about the plight of African Americans from the perspective of bus #2857 – the scene of Rosa Parks’ famous refusal to move. This book gets classified as a picture book rather than a non-fiction title  because it is told from the point of view of the bus, rather than straight fact about Rosa and the boycott. Through absolutely wonderful illustrations, Rosa’s Bus shows how African Americans were expected to sit in the back of the bus and give up their seats if the rows reserved for whites were full. If they didn’t move, they would be arrested. “Those were the rules, called Jim Crow laws. That’s just the way things were.”


“That’s just the way things were” is a common theme when I try to explain civil rights, women’s rights and the plight of the Jews to my kids. It is hard for them to fathom that blacks were told to stay separate from whites. That blacks had to sit in different places, go to different schools, drink from separate water fountains and that black and white children rarely played together.

Rosa’s Bus also recounts the bus boycott itself. Rather than just focusing on Rosa Parks, the book shows how Martin Luther King, Jr. got involved and led a peaceful protest that lasted for over a year. It also puts the bus itself as an important part of history that is now housed at the Henry Ford Museum in Michigan, where it was first built. “It welcomes people who remember the way things were and people who only have heard the stories.”

Rosa-final-coverAnother book about Rosa Parks that truly shines is I am Rosa Parks, a part of the Ordinary People Change the World Series. This series, by Brad Meltzer, is stunning in it’s simplicity. The Rosa Parks edition might very well be the best one that I have read of the series.

Beginning with childhood incidents that guided her later actions, this entry in the Ordinary People Change the World series proceeds with examples of Jim Crow laws and separate-but-equal disparities. These set the scene for Parks’ involvement in civil rights, her now-celebrated refusal to give up her seat on a bus, and the Montgomery Bus Boycott she inspired.

Meltzer and illustrator Christopher Eliopoulos take the story of a strong young girl who stood up for herself from a young age and made her completely accessible. Kids are able to read these books and see that heroes from our history were normal people who just decided to do something extraordinary. Rosa Parks was never one to back down and had been taught from an early age to expect people to respect her just as she respected herself.rosa standing up

I love that this series encourages kids to be strong and to be the change that our world needs. As the last page of this book says, “I’m also proof that there’s no such thing as an ordinary person. I hope you’ll always stand up for yourself, and I hope you’ll remember that we’re all in this together.”


As we continue to have conversations about women’s rights (awesome post of books coming soon), I always find it important to compare all of the issues to similar plights of other minorities. The lesson of Rosa Parks is that we can all make a difference in this world by standing up for what we believe in.  A great lesson from Black History Month and for every day of the year.

nfpb16This post is a part of the awesome link-up of non-fiction picture books as hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy. When I was writing this post, I had no idea that Alyson Beecher had written a post just the day before about the Ordinary People series. Check out all of the linked blogs here.

For the Right to Learn – A beautiful biography of Malala Yousafzai

I have long been fascinated by the story of Malala Yousafzai. As a young girl, Malala Yousafzai defied the Taliban in Pakistan and demanded that girls be allowed to receive an education. She risked her life to get information to the western world about how important education was for all children in Pakistan and how difficult the Taliban was making it for them. For her bravery, she was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman in 2012, but survived. In 2014 she became the youngest Nobel Prize winner for her amazing work.

Of course I have wanted my children to get an understanding of who she is and what she did. That said, I didn’t think that J was ready to read I am Malala, even in the version specifically made for children. Sometimes it is necessary to find ways to ease her into non-fiction subject. When I saw this great post from Valarie Budayr during Multicultural Children’s Book Day, I knew it was a book I had to get my hands on.

For-the-Right-to-learnWith gorgeous pictures and an engaging story, For the Right to Learn tells of Malala Yousafzai’s unusual early education growing up in the Swat valley of Pakistan. Malala’s father believed that both boys and girls deserved to have an education and, because he ran a school, Malala was able to get a wonderful education.

However, when the Taliban came to power in Pakistan they made rules that changed how women were treated. For the Right to Learn manages to use simply imagery and text like the following to let children know just how many changes the Taliban instituted.

“They declared that females should be separated from males. They wanted to outlaw education for girls. They also tried to force women to wear garments called burqas to cover their entire bodies and faces.”


The Taliban slowly made more and more rules making it harder for women to get an education. Through intimidation and violence, the lives of those that disagreed with the Taliban become more and more difficult and increasingly dangerous.

malala radioBut, as the book explains, bombs could not silence Malala. She wound up blogging anonymously through the BBC to tell first-hand what it was like to experience the school closings for girls. That garnered international attention and some girls were allowed to go back, but only those under the age of 10.

Then in 2009, the Pakistani army decided that it was no longer safe for the people within their own country and 2 million people fled the Swat Valley. “The Taliban had already tried to take her rights, her education, and her voice. Malala prayed they wouldn’t come after her home.”

After three months, the Taliban seemed to be gone, but her home town was a shell of what it once was. By that time, people had also discovered that she had been the one blogging and Desmond Tutu had nominated her for an award. But the Taliban wasn’t really gone, they were just laying low, and now she was on their hit list.

On October 9, 2012, a man got onto her bus headed for school asking who Malala was.

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Malala and two of her friends were injured in the shooting, but miraculously they all survived. Malala was injured the worst and had to be airlifted to a hospital in England for additional surgeries and to keep her safe from the Taliban. She inadvertently became a household name standing for equal education for women, but what she wanted more than anything was to be allowed to go back to her own studies.

malala nobelIn December 2014 she became the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner. In her speech, she lifted her voice for children everywhere: “This award is not just for me. It is for those forgotten children who want education. It is for those frightened children who want peace. It is for those voiceless children who want change.”

Malala is the voice of how important education is for everyone. We have long heard that the only way we are going to fight terrorism is to educate people and help them help themselves out of poverty. Author Rebecca Langston-George did an outstanding job of tackling the difficult situations that Malala faced in a wonderful way without causing un-needed fears and illustrator Janna Bock brought it to life. Malala stands for strong women everywhere and is someone I want my girls to look up to at an early age. I am highly impressed by this beautiful book as an entry point into her biography.


I have given myself a challenge this year to write once a week about a non-fiction picture book as part of the non-fiction picture book challenge. nfpb16I aim for Wednesdays, but sometimes, life just gets in the way. For additional titles, you should check out Kid Lit Frenzy and the many great blogs that participate in the link-up. I’m especially excited about a new book about Elizabeth Cady Stanton that is apparently coming out later this month.

Exploring art with a Mystery

I’m always looking for ways to get my girls interested in art. It is very hard living in an area that does not have art museums easily accessible. When I was growing up in Los Angeles, we were taken to museums on a regular basis as part of our formal education.

who stole mona lisaSo imagine my surprise to find the book “Who Stole the Mona Lisa?” in our local library and for J to declare it one of her favorite books. She read it over and over. I think that actually sparked her desire to take an art class and start delving into Picasso. This innovative take on da Vinci’s masterpiece is full of interesting facts, but is also told as something of a mystery about the time when Vincenzo Perugia stole the painting and kept it for two years.

Told from the perspective of the lady herself, this book starts in the Louvre with the reader getting to listen to a curator give a guided tour of the museum. They stop at the Mona Lisa for detailed inforation. Interesting facts about the time when Leonardo da Vinci painted her are presented along with great facts about the master himself. It turns out that the Mona Lisa was owned by many French kings until Napoleon decided to donate her to the Louvre where she became world famous.

Everything was great until 1911 when she was stolen from the wall of the museum. The French police looked everywhere, but could not find her. People came to the museum to see the blank space where she was supposed to be and pay tribute to her memory. She was finally found in the home of Vincenzo Perugia, an Italian living in Paris and the world went wild.

The book starts and ends questioning why the Mona Lisa is smiling. By the end of the book, we are told that she is smiling because she is happy. Happy to be back where she belongs.

As with great books for children that are based on actual events, the final page in this book is the author’s note with additional facts and details about the Mona Lisa and the time that she was stolen from her home.

who was da vinciSince reading this, J has also been reading “Who Was Leonardo da Vinci” and the Da Vinci edition of the Getting to Know the Great Artists series. She continues to learn huge amounts about the artist and his work and is quite fascinated by him. She has learned artistsDVDjust how much of a renaissance man he was and all of the amazing things that he invented. She loves that he was fascinated by puzzles and codes. Her only sadness is that we can’t just visit the Louvre ourselves. Someday 🙂

Moon Bound – Non-fiction Wednesday

There was a time when J was really into space. She still enjoys it, but it isn’t the subject that elicits pure excitement from her. However, when I found the book “I Want to Go to the Moon” by Tom Saunders, we both got a big kick out of it. Even better, this is a fun way to learn about Neil Armstrong and the space movement.

moonThis cute book, with fabulous illustrations by Cynthia Nugent, tells the story of Neil Armstrong and his love of the moon. From his early childhood, he had the big dream of going to the moon but was often told that it just wasn’t possible. According to this book, which takes a few liberties, his parents tried to dissuade him from his dream of going to the moon since many had not been flying for very long at this point, and the moon was simply too far away. But Neil had a dream and he wasn’t going to let anyone stand in his way. He learned everything that he could about flying as a child, even flying a plane before getting his drivers license.

moon sillyNeil of course continued on the course of action that we all hope our children proceed on – he worked hard and didn’t let anyone stand in his way. What the book doesn’t tell you is that in the middle of his college education, he was drafted into the Navy. According to Wikipedia, he flew numerous missions in Korea and came back to college with a renewed sense of purpose. He graduated in 1955 with a Bachelors in Aeronautical Engineering. He then worked hard as a test pilot (not washing dishes as the book has you believe) and proved himself as an expert in his field.

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According to Wikipedia, “in 1958, he was selected for the U.S. Air Force’s Man In Space Soonest program. In November 1960, Armstrong was chosen as part of the pilot consultant group for the X-20 Dyna-Soar, a military space plane under development by Boeing for the U.S. Air Force, and on March 15, 1962, he was selected by the U.S. Air Force as one of seven pilot-engineers who would fly the space plane when it got off the design board.” In 1969, we all know what happened, Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon.

photo 3This book wasn’t a perfect work of non-fiction, but I still really enjoyed it. As an adult, I happen to love picture book biographies. They are a great way to get kids excited about a subject and the pictures keep their attention and help to explain certain points. This book is more about having a big dream and sticking to it, but it might also get kids interested in Neil Armstrong.

Another great picture book that is more fact based is One Giant Leap by Don Brown.

one giant leapThis book focuses on Armstrong’s childhood and his love of airplanes which then inspired his love of space. This book works as a good source of information for budding students just starting their love of non-fiction materials.
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Neil Armstrong was an amazing figure in our space history. For kids and grown-ups alike, his message was to believe in yourself and the power of your dreams. He found his passion at a young age and didn’t let anything stand in his way.

This post is a part of Kid Lit Frenzy’s non-fiction picture book Wednesdays. We have currently read 7 non-fiction picture books this year out of our goal of 50. Check out the link-up at Kid Lit Frenzy for some amazing suggestions for other non-fiction books. There are tons I want to get my hands on that I hope J will let me read with her.