Alan Rabinowitz is an American zoologist who has spent his life studying wild cats and was called ‘The Indiana Jones of Wildlife Conservation’ by TIME Magazine. But as a child, Rabinowitz struggled to fit in due to a very pronounced stutter. In the picture book, A Boy and A Jaguar, Rabinowitz tells his story to young children as a way to encourage those who struggle to find their own voices and for those who have found their voice, to speak up for those in need.
As a child, Rabinowitz simply couldn’t get the words out. It made it difficult for him to go to school, let alone have friends. However, when he talked to animals, he could speak without stuttering. He felt a bond with the animals. He felt that they were misunderstood and mistreated, just has he was. As a child, he promised his pets that if he ever found his voice, that he would keep them from harm. Fortunately, his father saw the bond that he had with animals and frequently took him to the Bronx Zoo.
Rabinowitz learned tricks to get him through school and finally found a program that helped him deal with his stutter. But even when speech was less of an issue, he still much preferred the company of animals over humans. His work took him to Belize to study jaguars and to ultimately fight to protect them.
This is a beautiful book that can really encourage children to think about they way that they treat others, the way that they treat and respect animals, and how one person can be a change for good. Rabinowitz was up against a lot of really challenging obstacles, and yet he persevered. The story also shows how Rabinowitz followed his passions and made good on his childhood promise to protect the animals. In a world where we are told by many different people how we should act and what we should do when we grow up, Rabinowitz listened to his inner voice and took solace in the places that gave him the most peace.
The only thing that I felt was missing from this book was any sort of author’s note to explain just who Rabinowitz is and the work that he has done. He is a very well respected animal activist and he founded the organization Panthera, a group devoted to protecting wild cats and their ecosystems. Turns out that Rabinowitz also does work advocating for stutterers as a spokesperson for the Stuttering Foundation of America. From a childhood where teachers considered him “disturbed,” he proved them wrong and has truly become a voice for those in need.
Every Wednesday I try to post a non-fiction picture book as part of the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy. There are truly so many amazing nonfiction picture books being published these days, it can be hard to contain myself sometimes. Make sure to check out Kid Lit Frenzy and the linked blogs to find some more fabulous books!
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.
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 →
The 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.
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 →
What’s the sign of a truly awesome book? When your kids ask to read it over and over again. I’m thrilled to say that both of my girls are enthralled with the exceptional biography of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
This book seems like a book about disagreeing, but really, it’s about how Ruth Bader Ginsburg helped change our country for the better by arguing for the things that she believed in, one disagreement at a time.
The book starts at RBG’s childhood where she learned early from her mother that it was okay to disagree with the status quo. At that time, Ruth lived among many different immigrant cultures in who all unfortunately shared one viewpoint – boys were expected to grow up and do big things while girls were expected to find husbands. Ruth’s mother, Celia, taught her that girls should be able to make their mark as well and encouraged Ruth to read about strong women from books in the library.
Ruth was also confronted with prejudice at an early age based on her religion, but it made her aware of prejudices against other groups as well. She never forgot the sting of prejudice and it impacted how she treated others in return.
One thing this book makes painfully clear is how difficult it was to be a woman in the 50s, 60s and 70s. When Ruth went to Cornell in the 50s she was considered different when she wasn’t just going to college to meet a husband. When she wanted to go to law school, people disapproved. When she graduated from law school, tied in her class for first place among 9 women and 500 men, she couldn’t find a job because no one wanted to hire a female lawyer (especially a Jewish one).
This biography does a great job of showing how many changes women have had to make over the years.
As a lawyer RBG appeared before the Supreme Court to fight for the equal treatment of women. “She wasn’t only fighting for women. When women were excluded from the work world, men were excluded from home life.” She has fought for equal rights for all Americans in the workplace, in the court system, and the schools. She believes that all people should be treated equally regardless of race, color or sex and has worked tirelessly to make sure our nation’s systems treat them the same. “Her voice sings out for equality…[and] step by step, she has made a difference.”
Now I just have to go and read the grown-up version, The Notorious RBG.
This is one of many amazing non-fiction picture books that I first heard about as a part of Kid Lit Frenzy’s non-fiction picture book challenge. It has quickly become a family favorite. You never know what amazing books you can find when you check out the awesome collection of linked up blogs.
When I was a little girl, I was completely fascinated with Nadia Comaneci. She had captured the world’s attention in the 1976 Olympic games and by the time I was 5 or 6 the television movie on her life had made it’s debut and I would watch it any chance that I got. I tried gymnastics classes, but I didn’t have the skill or the passion. I was much happier playing soccer and baseball, but that didn’t deter my love of Nadia.
Back in December, I read that a new picture book biography of Nadia was coming out and decided that I had to have it. “Nadia: The Girl Who Couldn’t Sit Still,” by Karlin Gray, shows a little girl who couldn’t sit still, but who was determined to be the best. It wisely skips over the eating disorder that she, and many other gymnasts, suffered from, but it does show her amazing focus and how she changed the sport of gymnastics.
Bela & Malta Karolyi picked Nadia to be a part of their new gymnasium because of the joy that she showed when cartwheeling around the playground. It would take lots of hard work and determination to build Olympic level skills, but that’s what she did.
Like most humans, Nadia was not perfect and would often fall during practice and early competitions. But like the champion that she was, she always got back up and did it again. All of this paid off when she was the first gymnast to ever get a perfect 10.
When I read this book with my older daughter, or really, when she read it to me, she was as taken with Nadia’s story as I have always been. On the eve of the Summer Olympics, I’m thrilled to get my kids excited about the sports that they can see. J took gymnastics when she was younger, but never really got into it. She has recently been fascinated with figure skating, but we are obviously in the wrong season for that. So I’m excited to have her wanting to learn more about gymnastics and now both J and E want to watch the Olympic games. I even found the original Nadia movie on YouTube and will be letting the girls watch that at some point in the near future.
One of the things that I love about non-fiction picture books is getting kids excited about topics that for whatever reason that don’t know much about. When I was a kid growing up in Los Angeles, not only were there lots of kids doing gymnastics, but we were family friends with an Olympic gymnast so there was a lot of interest. I love that we managed t drum up some interest in a great Olympic sport at just the right time.
I first found out about this book because of a post of upcoming new releases from KidLitFrenzy, the host of the non-fiction picture book challenge. I have learned of so many awesome titles because of this weekly link-up of awesome non-fiction picture books.
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!).
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.
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.
This is simply a remarkable book. You can bet that I will be getting my hands on a copy come July 1!
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!
My 5 year old is a big lover of Disney Princesses and while she got an absolute blast out of taking pictures with Cinderella, Belle, Ariel and Tianna recently, she has always been more interested in the stories of Mulan and Pochahontas. She has been listening to the audio versions of these stories again recently and as we lie there listening to Pocahontas (it’s first on our CD), she keeps asking me questions about the real Pocahontas, questions I simply haven’t been able to answer.
So yesterday I was in the library looking for non-fiction children’s books for an article that I’m working on and I found Pocahontas: Princess of the New World by Kathleen Krull. I knew that I had to bring that home for her to see and of course she loved it. Kathleen Krull is a real pro at writing biographies for children and I didn’t even realize it was one of hers when I picked it up.
Of course, as soon as E saw the book she was super excited. She started asking me questions in the car and I kept saying, “We will have to read it when we get home.” I didn’t get a chance to read it with her because J read it to her while I was making dinner, but when I asked if she liked it she said she loved it.
Krull admits in the back of the book that very little is known of Pocahontas and that all of her information came from English sources but with the known facts and research from a variety of sources, she tried to put the story together as best she could. Through engaging and colorful illustrations, she captures the younger listener’s eye and her story can be told. As the story begins she is an 11 year old girl who was “clever and fearless.” She was well respected and “knew how to get her own way – as a proper princess must.”
In 1607 three ships from England landed near her village. “The men were exhausted, sick, smelly, and crabby” and they had come to this new land to try and make money for investors in England. “Within months, half of these 108 men would be dead.” The new land wasn’t an easy place for them to live and they didn’t know how to work or live off of the land.
John Smith was a brave adventurer who tried to learn the language of the Powhatan tribe, but one day he was ambushed and taken to their chief who wanted them to leave the land or commit to being his allies against other tribes. When John Smith didn’t answer, a sign was given that made him believe he was about to lose his life. Pocahontas stepped in and for a time there was peace between the two groups. Smith became an important part of the colony’s fate and helped Jamestown develop as it grew to contain 500 English, but one day for no reason he needed to return to England.
The settlement struggled for a while and then things got openly hostile with the Indians. In 1613 they kidnapped Pocahontas, remembering her high status. Her father called their bluff and would not negotiate to get her back. During her kidnapped state, she started to learn more about the English, was coaxed into their clothing and taught their religion. In fact, “the princess became the first American convert to Christianity.” She fell in love with an Englishman, wed him, and had a child. Her father sent gifts and a promise for peace. She wound up traveling back to England and seeing what life was like there, but died soon after.
So the two Disney movies got parts of it right, except for the overwhelming love story angle of the first movie. And now we have a much better idea of what the story of Pocahontas entails so I can answer more of my little one’s inquisitive questions.
I was thrilled to find this book and to add it to the list of non-fiction picture books as a part of the roundup organized by Alyson Beecher over at Kid Lit Frenzy. I love the encouragement to explore more non-fiction by reading through all of the other blogs and the challenge it gives me to actually get my posts up.
In the past few months, I have seen my older daughter get a stronger appreciation for serious issues – politics, injustice and discrimination. She learns a great deal from the books that she reads, but also from the conversations that we have. Obviously, the political primaries happening and my not so quiet dislike for certain politicians has swayed some of her thinking, but I like that she is taking an active interest in the world around her and understanding that choices that we make affect not only our local world but our larger community.
One thing that has come up a lot has to do with the rights of women. It is very difficult for young girls to understand that while they have the opportunity to do and be almost anything, that these rights have come because so many women were oppressed in years past and fought back. When we read books about women who led the way, J definitely asks why they were not allowed to go to school, or why they were expected to get married and take care of a family. Since at the moment both of my girls long to be on stage, they have a hard time with the notion that at one point this was considered an unacceptable life choice. Our children now have many opportunities that my mother’s generation did not have, but as we saw in the case of Malala, the struggle still continues for many.
So how do I educate my girls on both the past and the present? Books of course! The following are a few of the books that we have been reading lately, and a few old favorites, that have started J thinking more about women’s history.
“What would you do if someone told you can’t be what you want to be because you are a girl? What would you do if someone told you your vote doesn’t count, your voice doesn’t matter because you are a girl?” This is how the wonderful biography, Elizabeth Leads the Way, begins.
As I said above, it is exceptionally difficult for girls today to comprehend that women were not allowed to do things simply because they were girls. But when Elizabeth Cady Stanton was a girl, her choices were very limited. Her own father thought that her life would have been easier if she had just been born a boy. Fortunately, he did allow her to continue her education and she married a man who had fought for the rights of slaves and therefore understood when Elizabeth talked about women’s rights.
Still, when Elizabeth Cady Stanton proposed the idea to fight for women’s right to vote, people were flabbergasted. There were others who agreed with her though, and they just needed her spark to start the fire. Women didn’t actually get the right to vote until 18 years after she died, but we all owe Elizabeth Cady Stanton a huge debt of gratitude.
When you think about important women in history, Eleanor Roosevelt’s name always comes up. A woman who spoke up for what she believed in and changed the role of the First Lady, a biography on her is a must read for anyone interested in women’s history.
In Doreen Rappaport’s outstanding biography, “Eleanor, Quiet No More,” children of all ages can get a sense of how amazing she was. From a childhood of privilege but lacking love, she finally was encouraged to be her best self when she was sent to England to study and found herself in the tutelage of a progressive teacher.
Using wonderful illustrations by Gary Kelley and a number of strong quotes, the book gives you a sense of who she was and how her beliefs were formed. She stood up for the vast number of Americans who struggled to survive while the wealthy lived easy lives. She sood up for the rights of women and African Americans. She helped the soldiers during the war. Eleanor was often mocked for her looks and called a do-gooder, but she persevered and was a major force in our history. Eleanor Roosevelt was a game changer and this book does a wonderful job or portraying that.
Speaking of strong women and First Ladies, there is Hillary Clinton. Now, I will admit, she is one that many people have very strong feelings about, and not all positive. She has made a lot of mistakes, but she is also an important figure in changing the role of women in this world. Whatever your politics, people should be able to look at Hillary Clinton, what she has accomplished over the years, and realize that she is an important person.
The new biography “Hillary Rodham Clinton: Some Girls are Born to Lead,” does struggle with being rather propagandaish, but there is still a solid message for young girls. As the book begins, “In the 1950s, it was a man’s world. Only boys could grow up to have powerful jobs. Only boys had no ceilings on their dreams. Girls weren’t even supposed to act smart, tough, or ambitious. Even though, deep inside, they may have felt that way.” Here is the story of a young girl who excelled in school, who learned about the world beyond her pristine town of those that struggled and wanted to help make a change. As she got older, she saw the plight of migrant workers and their kids, she was a part of the movement to make sure that everyone had the right to vote. As First Lady, she fought for health care and women’s rights, even while everyone continued to make fun of her appearance – something they would never think of doing to a man.
This is an important addition because it shows that the struggle for women’s rights is real and still current. For all of the advances, we are still needing to make cracks in the glass ceiling.
There are some great books about women that escape the political realm. A few of these are old favorites, but this one is newly published.
In our quest to find biographies about strong women, we discovered this little gem published in 2015 – “Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine.” Ada Lovelace was the daughter of famed poet Lord Byron. Ada had a lonely childhood and filled many hours coming up with inventions in her journal.
Through pictures of her childhood, we are shown Ada’s fascination with things that fly and her desire to create a flying machine. She experimented and made many computations, but was stalled by a bout with the measles that left her unable to walk for many years.
Fortunately for Ada, her mother recognized her passion for math and hired tutors for her, even though there were few highly educated women at the time. Through one of her tutors she met Charles Babbage, a famous mathematician and inventor, and they developed a friendship.
Babbage had designed an Analytical Engine to solve complicated problems – a true thinking machine and forerunner of the computer – but he hadn’t actually built it. Ada took home his lab books and created early coding to go with the machine, the instructions to actually make it work. While she never touched a modern machine, Ada Byron Lovelace created the profession of computer programmer long before the computer was even invented.
Miss Moore Thought Otherwise, by Jan Pinborough, might be one of my all time favorites. This book tells the story of how Anne Carroll Moore created libraries for children. What is truly amazing about the book is how it continually shows how things were done in the late 1800s when Anne Moore was growing up and in the early 1900s, but when Miss Moore was faced with people telling her that girls “didn’t” or “shouldn’t” do something, the common refrain was “Miss Moore thought otherwise.”
“In the 1870s many people thought a girl should stay inside and do quiet things such as sewing and embroidery.” But Anne Moore wanted to be like her 7 brothers out having fun and she wanted an education like them too. With her education she became a wonderful librarian and then turned the library system on its head when she actually encouraged children to come into the library and check out books. Miss Anne Moore was a major force behind publishing companies seeing the sense in publishing more books aimed at children and to make sure that they were quality books.
In a very straight-forward manner, the book gives a great sense of who Elizabeth Blackwell was and how she wound up becoming a doctor. She was a girl who was spunky, strong, smart and who never walked away from a challenge. She was a curious girl who wanted to know more about the world around her She also never imagined being a doctor until a friend who was very ill put the idea in her head. Of course she was laughed at and rejected, but one school finally admitted her. “Elizabeth proved she was as smart as any boy.”
There are tons of other great resources out there for stories on strong women that we will continue to read. Anyone can make a difference in this world, regardless of your gender.
I am highlighting great biographies as a part of my efforts with Kid Lit Frenzy’s non-fiction picture book challenge. Check out her website for a ton of great resources!
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.
Jo 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.”
Another 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.
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.
This 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.