There is a strong movement to encourage young girls to pursue careers in science and technology. While we are pushing our next generation of great thinkers, some picture book authors are putting together absolutely brilliant biographies of women who were ahead of their time and who made great advances in their individual fields. One of the books in this category is The Shark Lady – The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist by Jess Keating and illustrated by Marta Álvarez Miguéns. (June 2017, Sourebooks).
From a very young age, Eugenie Clark was fascinated with sharks. She longed to swim with them and see the world through their eyes. She also wanted to show people that they were beautiful. Eugenie read book after book on sharks and filled many notebooks. Continue reading →
At the end of April, Jews across the world will take a special moment to pause and reflect about the Holocaust on Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. Passover, another Jewish holiday that started Monday night, is also a time where we often focus on commemorating and retelling the tragedy of the Holocaust and the amazing efforts that many Jews took to escape the Nazis and start a new life.
There are many truly amazing books for younger readers about the Holocaust. While a number of them are what you might consider middle grade fiction, and sometimes non-fiction, there are also some picture books that tell the story very well. It is a difficult topic to touch on, so all good books have to tread somewhat lightly and focus on the resilience and perseverance of a nation of people rather than on the tragedy itself. Here are a few of the books we have managed to read.
In 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).
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.
I 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.
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.
Since 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.
In 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.
Alan 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, The 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.
Want 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.
Inventions 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.
Most 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.
There 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.
In 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.
A 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.
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.
I 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.
This is the time of year of giving and of bestowing acts of love and kindness on those around us. I recently discovered The Bake Shop Ghost, by Jacqueline K. Ogburn. This delicious book reminds us that it is the little acts that can often mean the most.
Miss Cora Lee Merriweather ran the best bake shop around, but she seemed to have poured all of her sweetness into her cakes for she never smiled and instead seemed to have the pucker of one who had just eaten a sour lemon. When she died, she had no family to leave her bake shop to.
People tried to take over her shop, but her ghost remained and ran each of them out of town. Years pass and Annie Washington comes to take over the shop. After cleaning the place up and making it ready for business she gets down to the business of baking. Miss Cora Lee of course makes an appearance, but Annie is not afraid of a ghost.
The two battle it out all night long until Annie finally cries enough! She asks Cora Lee what she can do so that Cora will allow her to work in peace. Cora has one request, which sounds simple enough, but has a deeper meaning. “Make me a cake so rich and so sweet, it will fill me up and bring tears to my eyes. A cake like one I might have baked, but that no one ever made for me.”
That seemed like an easy enough task for Annie and for the first time in years, the shop was full of warm buttery goodness. Annie bakes up dessert after dessert but none of them “bring tears” to Miss Cora’s eyes. After a month, Annie has run out of ideas and heads to the local library for inspiration. When she finds a section on Miss Cora Lee and the Merriweather Bake Shop, she realizes exactly what kind of cake she needs to make. When she shows it to Cora, her eyes are brimming before she even takes a bite. It was a birthday cake. Annie had learned that it was Cora’s 100th birthday. Not only that, since Miss Cora had been an orphan, there had never been anyone who celebrated her. It wasn’t the perfect cake Cora wanted, she wanted the love that often comes when people buy a cake for someone else.
Cora tells Annie that since she made the perfect cake that she would keep her end of the bargain and leave Annie in peace. But in the time that Annie had been making cakes for the ghost, the two had struck up quite a friendship and Annie had come to appreciate and respect the ghost’s judgement. Rather than wanting Cora to leave her alone in the kitchen, she wanted her to stay on as her partner.
All children enjoy fairy tales. They help inspire us, teach us, and entertain us. Many traditional fairy tales have had a main female character who needs help from a magical being and/or gets saved by a prince. As we as a society change, so too have our fairy tales. The newest addition to the fairy tale scene is a series of books to be published by Queen Girls. The books that they are bringing forth are “stories of real women turned into fairy tales to inspire girls to follow their dreams.”
The authors of these books approached me as a way to help spread their message and I jumped at the chance because I am highly impressed with what I see. The main mission of collaborators Andrea and Jimena is to “give girls a positive view of life and help them envision their dreams as possible. This is the reason why our stories are based on real women.
Often times, classic stories highlight the strength, courage and skills of men. Female characters are often stereotyped or one-dimensional: the mother figure, the homemaker, the exotic beauty, the love seeker…We believe that we should be telling different stories to our children. Let’s encourage girls to find their happiness, passions, drive and self-confidence from within. At the same time, let’s help boys to move to a place of equality.”
The first book that they are publishing is called Bessie, Queen of the Sky. This story features Bessie Coleman, the first African American woman in the world to receive her pilot’s license. I was able to read a rough draft of the book and it is wonderful! The story shows how Bessie Smith always wanted to fly, but that between living in a time when flight schools wouldn’t take women and when women were expected to “learn how to cook, clean, and become moms – not pilots,” she was definitely facing an uphill battle. But Bessie followed her dreams, went to flight school in France, and became the first black woman to fly airplanes in the whole world. She believed in herself, she believed in her dreams, and she made her dreams a reality.
Publishing these books is the dream of Andrea and Jimena. I for one would like to see their dream come true, so I have backed their kickstarter campaign. You can do that too by clicking here. I look forward to reading more of their work as it continues to come out. They already have one planned based on Isadora Duncan and one about Savitribhai Phule. There is much that we can learn from these marvelous books. For more information about their books, check out their website.
My children are not overly fascinated with magic, but they are moved by women who break the norm and especially by performers. When I found a copy of Anything But Ordinary Addie: The True Story of Adelaide Herrmann, Queen of Magic, it struck me as a book that they would get a kick out of and I was spot on.
Adelaide Hermann, nee Adele Scarsez, was a girl who never wanted to be ordinary. She always wanted to “astonish, shock and dazzle.” Born in 1853, she lived in a time when girls had a very specific role they were supposed to play but that she didn’t seem to fit into.
As a young girl she answered an ad to become a dancer, but ballet wasn’t exciting enough and found other outlets for her charisma and creativity. She met Alexander Hermann, a famous magician, and the two hit it off immediately. Together, they astounded audiences around the world. When Alexander suddenly died, Addie wanted the show to go on and decided to be the star herself. While it wasn’t done at the time, she knew that she had the skills and pulled off one of the most difficult tricks known in the magical world.
What makes this book so fun is the fact that Addie truly believed in herself no matter what. When she saw something that she wanted, she went after it 110%. She proposed to her husband in a time that women proposing was completely unheard of. She tried tricks that she had never done before, just having faith in herself and her abilities. The one trick that frightened her wound up being the trick she did to convince the world that she had the ability to be the world’s first female magician.Her story is exciting and the book is chock full of amazing illustrations that bring it all to life. Thanks to Mara Rockliff who wrote this book and Margaret Steele who put researched Adelaide Hermann and wrote her own book in 2012 (Adelaide Hermann: Queen of Magic), this fascinating story is being told to a new generation of children.
Thanks to Alyson Beecher of Kid Lit Frenzy for hosting the weekly link-up of amazing non-fiction picture books. I’m always amazed by the great books that I find from all of the other bloggers.
Ada Marie Twist, named after Ada Lovelace and Marie Curie, is a precocious little girl who doesn’t speak until she is 3 when she comes right out with full sentences. I actually grew up with a young boy like that, and it is amazing how some children just observe the world around them and hold off on speaking until they really have something to say. For Ada Marie, she had a scientific mind from an early age and when she started talking, it was to ask “Why” everything around her worked the way that it did.
With brilliant rhymes that keep the story flowing in a sing-song manner, Ada discovers the world around her. When she is confronted by a horrific smell one day, which happens to come from her brother’s sweaty socks, she feels a compelling need to understand what the source of the smell was and how our sense of smell even worked. “A mystery! A riddle! A puzzle! A quest! This was the moment that Ada loved best.” Whether working through the problem by experimenting on things around her or writing out questions that led to other questions and possibilities, Ada scientifically explores the things that intrigue her.
This books is loved in our house by our soon to be 6 year old as well as our 9 year old. Heck, this 40-something momma loves it! This book champions girl power and exploration. It supports women in scientific roles. It supports the idea of never giving up and finding new ways to problem solve. Many also love the fact that Ada is a girl of color. Ada may never find the source of the stink, but her family supports her efforts and she continues to discover new things. Whatever your reasons for loving it, this is a book to be enjoyed over and over again!
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.