Archive for the ‘Biography’ Category

Review of Frederick Douglass: The Lion Who Wrote History, by Walter Dean Myers

Friday, December 14th, 2018

Frederick Douglass

The Lion Who Wrote History

by Walter Dean Myers
illustrated by Floyd Cooper

Harper, 2017. 36 pages.
Starred Review

This is a picture book biography of Frederick Douglass. It highlights his decisions to learn to read and later to escape slavery. I like this paragraph.

Frederick listened carefully to the Auld children. They spoke clearly and directly, and he knew that it was because they had also read the words they used. He felt that reading could make a difference in how a person lived.

Years later, abolitionists had Frederick speak at their meetings, and crowds were impressed. This fits with what Trevor Noah says in his book Born a Crime about how the way you speak strongly influences how people relate to you. Frederick Douglass didn’t sound like a slave, in his speech or in his writings. That challenged people’s assumptions.

Walter Dean Myers makes the point that Frederick Douglass gained so much influence, his voice became a lion’s roar.

The careful and wise decisions made by Frederick Douglass – to learn to read, to escape from slavery, to speak out for justice for all Americans, and to aid the Union Army – had helped to write American history.

walterdeanmyers.net
harpercollinschildrens.com

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Source: This review is based on a book I received at an ALA conference and had signed by the author.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Are You an Echo? by Misuzu Kaneko

Wednesday, December 5th, 2018

Are You an Echo?

The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko

Poems by Misuzu Kaneko
Illustrated by Toshikado Hajiri
Narrative by David Jacobson
with translations and editorial contributions by Sally Ito and Michiko Tsuboi

Chin Music Press, Seattle, 2016. 64 pages.
Starred Review

As soon as you touch this book, you know it’s something special. You can feel the high-quality paper, which seems appropriate for a book of Japanese poems.

This is a book of poetry from Japan’s most-loved children’s poet, but it’s also a biography and the story of uncovering Misuzu’s story.

The book begins with Setsuo Yazaki, who read one of Misuzu’s poems and wanted to find out more about her. He was the one who uncovered her diaries and made public her life story, as well as many more unpublished poems. She is now widely read by children in Japan. Along with telling this story, on each spread one of her poems is given.

Then the book tells Misuzu’s life story, still accompanied by her poems. Her story is a tragic one. She was given “a disease that caused her great pain” by her “bad, unfaithful husband.” She was married for four years, but after she left, her husband was going to take their child away. The book lingers on her last night with her child, then tells us:

Misuzu wrote a letter that night asking her husband to give Fusae to her mother.
She was weak from the illness and determined not to let her husband take their child.
So she decided to end her life. She was only twenty-six years old.

On the opposite page, we’ve got Misuzu’s poem, “Cocoon and Grave” comparing a person to a silkworm. Like the silkworm becoming a butterfly, “the good person will grow wings, become an angel and fly away.”

The narrative part goes on to talk about how Misuzu’s poems were rediscovered after her death and went on to have special significance after the tsunami in 2011.

The book finishes with a collection of 15 more poems by Misuzu, with the original Japanese shown as well.

Despite Misuzu Kaneko’s tragic life story, this lovely book expresses hope, and shows the beauty of looking at the world with eyes of kindness and empathy.

How can you help but like someone with this philosophy?

TO LIKE IT ALL

I want to like everything –

onions, tomatoes, fish –
I want to like them all,

everything in the meals
my mother makes.

I want to like everyone –

doctors, crows –
all of them, too.

Everything and everyone in the world
God has made.

www.chinmusicpress.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Keep Moving, by Dick Van Dyke

Monday, December 3rd, 2018

Keep Moving

and Other Tips and Truths About Aging

by Dick Van Dyke
read by the author

Blackstone Audio, 2015. 5.5 hours on 5 compact discs.

Listening to this audiobook will make you smile. Written shortly before he reached his 90th birthday, the main advice Dick Van Dyke gives his listeners is: Keep moving!

The style is a little bit rambling, but he has a right to ramble! He gives us anecdotes from his long life and observations about the journey. He’ll make you laugh and he’ll help you look at your own elder years with anticipation.

I enjoyed the audiobook in particular, because it was as if Dick Van Dyke was talking to me. You can hear the smile in his voice, and when I listened coming home from work, it never failed to make the evening cheerier. Dick Van Dyke dances when he hears music in the grocery store!

He asks the listener: Are you singing and dancing? If not, why not?

www.downpour.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Fancy Party Gowns, by Deborah Blumenthal

Saturday, December 1st, 2018

Fancy Party Gowns

The Story of Fashion Designer Ann Cole Lowe

by Deborah Blumenthal
illustrated by Laura Freeman

Little Bee Books (Bonnier Publishing), New York, 2017. 36 pages.
Starred Review

I’m not terribly interested in fashion design, so I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this picture book biography of fashion designer Ann Lowe, the first African American woman to become a designer of couture clothing.

The illustrations are colorful and striking. The pictures of Ann Lowe’s famous gowns, such as Jacqueline Kennedy’s wedding dress, are beautiful.

But I love the spin the author puts on her life. The story isn’t bogged down with details, though important ones are given. But we get key phrases that give us Ann Lowe’s spirit:

Ann also knew that doing what you love could set your spirit soaring.

Ann thought about what she could do, not what she couldn’t change.

When Ann saw obstacles, she thought about what she could do, not what she couldn’t change.

The author dramatized a major setback with just a few key details, telling about making Jacqueline Kennedy’s dress:

Ann bought fifty yards of the finest ivory silk taffeta and the trimmings to go with it. For months, she cut and sewed. The gown had a wide bouffant skirt with pleated bands and tiny wax flowers.

Ann also made all the dresses for the wedding party.

Then just ten days before the wedding, Ann opened the door to her workroom.

“NO!” she cried.

A pipe had burst. Water gushed everywhere, flooding everything!

Ten of the sixteen gowns were destroyed.

Ann thought about what she could do, not what she couldn’t change.

She bought more fabric and trim, and hired others to help. She lost money instead of earning it.

In just eight days and eight nights, Ann and her team remade all the dresses.

That wedding was also where Ann was told to use the back entrance to deliver the dresses – but she stood her ground and said those dresses wouldn’t be in the wedding unless she was allowed to enter through the front door.

This is a lovely book about overcoming obstacles and doing what makes your heart soar. If you are interested in fashion design, all the better!

deborahblumenthal.com
www.LFreemanArt.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Book Itch, by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

Saturday, November 10th, 2018

The Book Itch

Freedom, Truth & Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore

by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson
illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

Carolrhoda Books, Minneapolis, 2015. 36 pages.
Starred Review
2016 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book

This picture book biography tells the same story the same creators told in the novel No Crystal Stair, but I found myself warming more to the picture book.

Mind you, it was nice to have all the background from the novel (which was very close to being nonfiction) about the life of the author’s great-uncle, Lewis Michaux, who owned the National Memorial African Bookstore in Harlem.

The picture book is told from the perspective of Lewis’s son with the same name. It communicates the spirit of the man, his pithy wisdom, and the supreme importance he placed on books and on black people knowing their history.

I love his sayings on the endpapers (as well as in the text). Things like, “This house is packed with all the facts about all the blacks all over the world,” and “Books will help him clear the weeds and plant the seeds so he’ll succeed,” and “Words. That’s why people need our bookstore.”

This picture book starts later than No Crystal Stair did, not telling about Lewis Michaux’s entire life, but looking at a time when the bookstore was at its height and his son met people like Muhammed Ali and Malcolm X there.

Here’s what it says about starting the bookstore:

Dad opened his store in Harlem Square way before I was born. Mom says he started out with five books. Five books and a mission. She says he had something in his heart he believed in so much that he’d do just about anything to make it happen.

Dad says he got the book itch and needed to scratch it.

lernerbooks.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Keith Haring: The Boy Who Just Kept Drawing, by Kay A. Haring

Saturday, November 3rd, 2018

Keith Haring

The Boy Who Just Kept Drawing

by Kay A. Haring
illustrated by Robert Neubecker

Dial Books for Young Readers, 2017. 40 pages.
Starred Review

This picture book is a biography of artist Keith Haring written by his sister. She writes a note at the back:

I wrote this story to answer the question I’m always asked, “What was Keith like as a kid?” The answer is, “HE WAS ALWAYS DRAWING!”

She gets that across in the book, with the words “he just kept drawing” showing up as a refrain on most spreads.

The artist does a great job capturing the spirit of Keith Haring’s work. His unsophisticated but intricate lines are something that naturally appeal to children, and keeping that spirit works wonderfully in a picture book.

The book begins:

When he was little, his father taught him how to draw dogs and fish and funny things. His dad would draw a line. Then Keith would draw one. Soon, the whole page would be full.

From that time on, Keith never stopped drawing.

The story gives us some highlights of his short life. He’d even do murals with children. He’d draw in chalk on black spaces in subway stations.

At the end of the book, she gives Keith’s answers to these questions:

“WHY do you draw all the time?
WHY do you give your artwork away?
WHY do you draw on buildings, on people, on clothing, on furniture, on subway walls, on cars, on skateboards, on walls that belong to no one, and on things to be thrown away?
WHY do you draw on EVERYTHING??”

Keith stopped drawing, just for a moment, and answered.
“I draw all the time because there are many spaces to fill. I give my drawings away to help make the world a better place. I draw everywhere because EVERYONE needs art!!”

kayharing.com
www.neubeckerbooks.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Balderdash! by Michelle Markel

Friday, October 5th, 2018

Balderdash!

John Newbery and the Boisterous Birth of Children’s Books

by Michelle Markel
illustrated by Nancy Carpenter

Chronicle Books, 2017. 44 pages.

Here’s a picture book biography of John Newbery (yes, that’s with ONE R), the publisher who began publishing books for children.

The book is written with simple text and entertaining illustrations, in the style of the books John Newbery published.

It talks about books for children before Newbery:

Children had to read
preachy poems and fables,
religious tests that made them fear that death was near,
and manuals that told them where to stand,
how to sit,
not to laugh,
and scores of other rules.

When John Newbery started publishing books for children, he began with A Little Pretty Pocket-Book and was the first bookseller to sell a book with an accompanying toy.

He went on to publish more books, a magazine, and even a novel for children – the first one being The History of Goody Two-Shoes. Now, readers today will notice a strong moral. “Goody went from rags to riches without a fairy godmother. She did it through study, hard work, and kindness.” But the whole idea that children could learn from a story, rather than a sermon – that was revolutionary. The idea that reading might be fun? Thank John Newbery!

Of course, John One-R Newbery is who the Newbery Medal was named after when the American Library Association decided to give an award “for the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” It’s because of John Newbery that the world got the idea there could be literature for children. This is mentioned in the note at the back. The main text is kept light and fun and geared for children.

michellemarkel.com
chroniclekids.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Malala: Activist for Girls’ Education, by Raphaël Frier, illustrated by Aurélia Fronty

Tuesday, August 7th, 2018

Malala

Activist for Girls’ Education

by Raphaël Frier
illustrated by Aurélia Fronty

Charlesbridge, 2017. 45 pages.
Starred Review

This is a picture book biography of Malala. Her story is told simply, in a way that children can understand.

Malala was born in 1997 in Pakistan, the daughter of a teacher who had founded a school for girls. As the Taliban rose to power, Malala became an activist for girls’ education, even though she was still a child.

When she was eleven, she spoke against the Taliban trying to take away her education, in a speech covered by newspapers and television. After the Taliban did close down schools for girls, Malala was offered a chance to write a blog for the BBC about girls and education.

When she was still thirteen:

Malala is elected speaker of the child assembly associated with the Khpal Kor Foundation, which promotes the rights of children. In this leadership role, she begins as a children’s rights activist.

She wins the first-ever National Youth Peace Prize in Pakistan, and starts an educational foundation. But the Taliban does not like her work. Assassins come onto her school bus and shoot her three times. (This page is rendered symbolically with silhouetted figures in guns, but a bright light (like an explosion) coming off Malala. The faces of the girls are peaceful.)

Malala is flown to England, where she recovers. And then she begins a fresh wave of activism. Now she’s working for girls all over the world.

On Malala’s sixteenth birthday, July 12, 2013, hundreds of people from around the world hear her speak at the United Nations in New York City. Malala wears a shawl that belonged to Benazir Bhutto, a Pakistani prime minister who was assassinated.

The book includes quotations from that speech and tells us that the next year, at seventeen, Malala was the youngest person ever to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

This book is packed with facts, but they are presented in a way children can understand. The illustrations are lovely, and tend toward symbolic depictions of ideas. There are 10 pages of back matter with photos and more information.

malala.org
charlesbridge.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Stairways to Heaven, by Lorna Byrne

Saturday, August 4th, 2018

Stairways to Heaven

by Lorna Byrne

Coronet, 2011. First published in the United Kingdom in 2010. 293 pages.
Starred Review

Stairways to Heaven continues the life story of Lorna Byrne begun in Angels in My Hair, including telling about the process of becoming an author and people finally knowing that she can see angels.

Lorna Byrne has been able to see angels all her life. This book begins after her husband’s death and tells how the angels helped her move with her youngest daughter to a new home. Along the way, she reveals many things that angels have told her about life and about spiritual things.

Some of the things in this book seem a little out there. I’m thinking that it’s possible that even with all the study of the Bible I’ve done, I don’t know everything there is to know about spiritual things! Lorna Byrne doesn’t claim to know it all either, and she has a simple, humble style. She just tells what the angels have told her.

Since this book covers publishing her book, she’s also starting to answer many of the questions that people ask her now that the world knows she can see angels.

For the most part, these things are extremely inspirational and uplifting. Some points I especially like are that each one of us has a guardian angel who loves us and is with us always. And that there are many other angels all around us that we can call on to help.

This paragraph sums up nicely an important thrust of her teaching:

Many of us don’t understand how important the relationship between mankind and angels is. We have free will, but we have angels to prompt us to do the right things, to prompt us to do what God would want us to do in each and every circumstance. This is the task God has given angels and, because it is God’s task, angels will never ever give up. Every time you pray you are talking directly to God. Regardless of your belief in angels, angels are praying with you at the same time, adding power and strength to your prayer. This is one of the tasks God has given the angels. We never pray alone.

This is an inspiring and eye-opening book, though, like me, you may have to set aside some of your previous assumptions to fully appreciate it.

lornabyrne.com
hodder.co.uk

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Source: This review is based on my own copy, purchased via Amazon.com.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of I Am Jazz, by Jessica Herthel & Jazz Jennings, pictures by Shelagh McNicolas

Tuesday, July 24th, 2018

I Am Jazz

by Jessica Herthel & Jazz Jennings

pictures by Shelagh McNicholas

Dial Books for Young Readers, 2014. 32 pages.
Review written in 2017

I Am Jazz is a simple picture book about the experience of one transgender girl.

Her experience is presented simply, in child-friendly language. She talks about her best friends, Samantha and Casey, and the things all three of them love to do.

But I’m not exactly like Samantha and Casey.

I have a girl brain but a boy body.
This is called transgender.

I was born this way!

She tells us that at first her family was confused, they’d call her a boy despite her insistence that she was a girl.

Then one amazing day, everything changed. Mom and Dad took me to meet a new doctor who asked me lots and lots of questions. Afterward, the doctor spoke to my parents and I heard the word “transgender” for the very first time.

That night at bedtime, my parents both hugged me and said, “We understand now. Be who you are. We love you no matter what.”

This made me smile and smile and smile.

This book was published in 2014, but our library has only recently purchased it. Better late than never! It’s in the nonfiction section – in juvenile biography under “Jennings” – so no child is going to accidentally stumble across it in the picture books. That’s a bit of a shame, because it’s a simple explanation of what it’s like to be transgender – but at least we won’t have parents complaining that they don’t want their child exposed to this. To find this book, you will have to look for it.

I do recommend looking for it! A lovely book to explain to children what life is like for the transgender classmates they may end up encountering. Or, for that matter, to understand what they themselves may be going through. Stories go a long way to counteract bullying. This book tells a true story in a positive way.

transkidspurplerainbow.org
penguin.com/youngreaders

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?