Tag Archives: biography

Picture Book Biographies of Literary Giants

One of my favorite books when I was younger was Little Women. I still have my beloved copy for my daughters to be able to read. J has read an abridged version, but hasn’t yet delved into the meaty version of the classic yet. So finding a beautiful biography of Louisa May Alcott was like reading about an old friend.

louisaYona Zeldis McDonough’s wonderful book, Louisa: The Life of Louisa May Alcott, is a joy. Louisa’s early life is reminiscent of Little Women, which is not surprising since she based that book on her own experiences. Louisa became who she was due to her parents’ unusual, at the time, beliefs, which are explained fabulously. She had a challenging upbringing and knew that she would find a way to contribute.

I loved reading about how her writing came about and her sheer determination. Her family and experiences shaped who she was and the work that she created. The back of the book also has some great quotes from Louisa May Alcott and samples of her poetry. Continue reading →

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The Libraries of Andrew Carnegie

I’m a sucker for a book about a library. So for today’s non-fiction picture book challenge I give you the book The Man Who Loved Libraries: The Story of Andrew Carnegie, written by Andrew Larsen and illustrated by Katty Maurey.

IMG_0059Larsen gives young readers a very brief introduction to the rags to riches story that was Andrew Carnegie. They quickly learn that he was born in Scotland in a poor family. When things became too difficult in Scotland, they made the journey to America to try their luck. Andrew worked hard always trying to be the best at whatever job he was doing. He became a messenger, taught himself how to operate telegraph equipment, and worked long hours.

He loved to read, but at the time there were no public libraries and books were expensive, so he rarely got the chance. Fortunately for Carnegie, a local businessman in Pittsburgh owned his own library and opened his doors to others on Saturday afternoons. The more Carnegie read, the more he learned. Continue reading →

Lighter Than Air – Flying High with Sophie Blanchard

 

In 1783, two brothers in Paris flew the first hot air balloon. Sophie Armant Blanchard was 5 years old at the time, but even at that age, she knew that here place was up in the clouds. Matthew Clark Smith and illustrator Matt Tavares tell her story in the beautiful book, Lighter Than Air: Sophie Blanchard, The First Woman Pilot.

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As the synopsis says: “Behold the story of Sophie Blanchard, an extraordinary woman who is largely forgotten despite her claim to being the very first female pilot in history. In eighteenth-century France, “balloonomania” has fiercely gripped the nation . . . but all of the pioneering aeronauts are men. The job of shattering that myth falls to a most unlikely figure: a shy girl from a seaside village, entirely devoted to her dream of flight. Sophie is not the first woman to ascend in a balloon, nor the first woman to accompany an aeronaut on a trip, but she will become the first woman to climb to the clouds and steer her own course. The words of Matthew Clark Smith bring Sophie’s story to light after so many years, while Matt Tavares’s atmospheric art and unique perspectives take her to new heights.” Continue reading →

Kate Warne, Pinkerton Detective

I first learned about Kate Warne, the first female detective hired by the famous Pinkerton Detective Agency, in Kate Hannigan’s middle grade novel, The Detective’s Assistant. That was a fun novel based on her life, but now there is an awesome picture book biography that not only talks about Warne’s life, but can get kids excited about detective work and all of the creativity that it entails – Kate Warne, Pinkerton Detective.

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Marissa Moss does an excellent job of looking at how Kate Warne got her job at the Pinkerton Detective Agency and just how unusual that was in 1856. When Kate Warne applied for a job with the Pinkerton Agency, Pinkerton assumed she wanted to cook or clean, but he agreed to try her out as an agent. Assigned to a tough case with high stakes, Warne went undercover and not only found the stolen money, she got almost all of it returned. Continue reading →

Life in the Ocean – Sylvia Earle and a lesson in protecting our earth

ocean coverOur earth’s surface is about 71% water and 29% land, yet much of our seas have barely been explored. Life in the Ocean is the true story of Sylvia Earle, an oceanographer and activist. While the book is about how she fell in love with the sea at an early age, it is also a message that we need to take better care of our oceans.

The start of the book tells of Earle’s early life in New Jersey and her natural curiosity that developed while she was  living on an old farm. Earle investigated the world around her and studied nature and animals. A move to Florida and a pair of swim goggles showed her the amazing life that lived in the ocean and would forever change her life.

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The book then takes a quick turn by briefly describing Earle’s achievements. Between being the only woman doing the kind of research that she was involved in to developing equipment that would allow her to dive deeper in the water, she was obviously an important force in her field. I would have liked to have seen this developed more, but that is where the book becomes less of a biography and more of a book about the ocean and its future. Continue reading →

A Boy and A Jaguar

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

nfpb2017Every 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!

Balderdash!

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 →

Stand Up and Sing!

Folk music has always held a special place in my heart. Summer camp meant singing time honored songs of this genre, and while others were listening to 80s hair bands, I was happily ensconced in American folk. I grew up knowing the words to almost every song by Peter, Paul and Mary, Simon & Garfunkle, Joan Collins, Bob Dylan and Crosby, Stills & Nash. From an early age this style of music touched me deeply and probably helped form some of my pacifist and liberal ideas.

Bloomsbury Children’s Books has just put out an amazing account of the life of Pete Seeger, one of the fathers of the American Folk movement called Stand Up and Sing! Pete Seeger, Folk Music, and the Path to Justice. Covering his life from early childhood to his death in 2014, author Susanna Reich put together a book that might help the next generation think more deeply about the world around them and the music they listen to.

For Seeger, music was in his bones, but he also was a very well read and aware of politics at an early age. He was a child of the Great Depression and had a really difficult time understanding why some people had great wealth and some had nothing. His father took him to parades and marches for working people and he saw how music could unite people.

Reich does a great job of showing how Seeger learned various music styles by traveling and being exposed to a wide variety of cultures and experiences. And just as Pete Seeger influenced a slew of other artists, it was Woody Guthrie who took him under his wing and showed him that “music could fill a room with peace and harmony.”

Pete Seeger used his music to try and make important changes in our world. He dreamed of a world where there were fewer people struggling to get by. He believed strongly in workers’ rights and racial equality, things that were considered “un-American” in his time. In the time of McCarthy, Pete was blacklisted for his beliefs.

An interesting part of the book comes when it talks about Seeger’s friendship with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the fact that it was Seeger who introduced King to the song “We Shall Overcome.”

When I think of American Folk music, I think of the anti-war movement of the 1960s and 70s. Some of my all-time favorite tunes were ones that Seeger wrote but which I heard performed by Peter, Paul & Mary – If I Had a Hammer, Turn! Turn! Turn!, and Where have all the Flowers Gone. These were the songs that ached for peace and lamented a war that took so many lives and accomplished little to nothing.To me, folk music is all about bringing people together and lifting them up. Get the right group of adults together today and you can have a really awesome singing fest of music old and new. Music is a tool to inspire people. Pete Seeger inspired a generation of singers and songwriters along with activists and believers. This book is an awesome tribute to his life and his genius.

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!

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I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark

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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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This biography does a great job of showing how many changes women have had to make over the years.

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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.”

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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.

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