Archive for the ‘Biography’ Category

Review of The Girl Who Drew Butterflies, by Joyce Sidman

Friday, February 15th, 2019

The Girl Who Drew Butterflies

How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science

by Joyce Sidman

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018. 144 pages.
Starred Review
Review written March 7, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher.
2019 Sibert Medal Winner for best children’s nonfiction book of the year
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#1 Longer Children’s Nonfiction

This book has a prologue, with the heading, “The Girl in the Garden.” Quoting from it will tell you the background of Maria Merian’s life.

A girl kneels in her garden. It is 1660, and she has just turned thirteen: too old for a proper German girl to be crouching in the dirt, according to her mother. She is searching for something she discovered days ago in the chilly spring air. As she combs the emerald bushes, she looks for other telltale signs – eggs no bigger than pinpricks, or leaf edges scalloped by the jaws of an inching worm. . . .

But for years she has gathered flowers for her stepfather’s studio, carried them in, and arranged them for his still-life paintings. She has studied the creatures that ride on their petals: the soft green bodies of caterpillars, the shiny armor of beetles, the delicate wings of moths. She has looked at them closely, sketched and painted them. In learning the skills of an artist, she has learned to look and watch and wonder.

Imagine this girl, forbidden from training as either a scholar or a master artist because she is female. Aware that in nearby villages women have been hanged as witches for something as simple as showing too much interest in “evil vermin.”

Yet she is drawn to these small, mysterious lives. She does not believe the local lore: that “summer birds,” or butterflies, creep out from under the earth. She thinks there is a connection between butterflies, moths, caterpillars, and the rumpled brown cocoon before her, and she is determined to find it.

This is her story.

The biography that follows tells of a woman far ahead of her times. She was both an artist and a scientist. She was an artist because she assisted her father and her husband and learned from them – she wouldn’t have been able to study on her own merits. She was a scientist by virtue of her own patient observations. She learned which caterpillars transformed into which moths or butterflies and which cocoon or chrysalis went with each.

She made her observations known by painting them. She would paint creatures on the same plant where she found them, and she would paint a butterfly with its egg, caterpillar, pupa, and chrysalis in the same picture.

This book is lavishly illustrated with Maria Merian’s own paintings as well as photographs of caterpillars, moths, and butterflies. Quotations from Maria’s writings are included, set off in a box and printed in script. Every spread has something colorful to catch the eye.

The structure of Maria’s biography follows the life cycle of a butterfly, with chapter titles: “Egg,” “Hatching,” “First Instar,” “Second Instar,” “Third Instar,” “Fourth Instar,” “Molting,” “Pupa,” “Eclosing,” “Expanding,” “Flight,” and “Egg” again. Joyce Sidman has written a poem for each chapter, placed next to a photo of a caterpillar or butterfly at that stage.

Maria’s unique combination of observation plus art left a mark that affected scientists after her. After her death, Carl Linnaeus used her book to classify and name more than one hundred insects – names we still use today.

The exquisite paintings and detailed photographs make this a beautiful book worth browsing – even if it weren’t packed with facts about an important scientist, a woman far ahead of her time.

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Source: This review is based on a book sent by the publisher.

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 Dreamers, by Yuyi Morales

Wednesday, February 13th, 2019

Dreamers

by Yuyi Morales

Neal Porter Books (Holiday House), 2018. 40 pages.
Starred Review
Review written July 6, 2018, from an advance F & G.
2019 Pura Belpré Illustrator Award Winner
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#1 General Picture Books

Oh, this is such a gorgeous and timely book.

Mixing English and Spanish (without a glossary), Yuyi Morales tells her immigration story with glorious paintings and collages loaded with symbolism. A note at the back fills in the details.

She came to America with her baby, to get married. She felt bewildered and an outsider. She didn’t understand the language.

But almost the very center spread of the book is the place that changed both her and her child’s lives – the public library.

We see specific books on the shelves, but also wonders pouring out of the books she opens. All the rest of the spreads are about libraries and the wonders of books.

Thousands and thousands of steps
we took around this land,
until the day we found . . .

a place we had
never seen before.
Suspicious.
Improbable.

Unbelievable.
Surprising.

Unimaginable.

Where we didn’t need to speak,
we only needed to trust.
And we did!

Books became our language.
Books became our home.
Books became our lives.

We learned to read,
to speak,
to write,
and
to make
our voices heard.

The text alone doesn’t do this book justice. The joy of the mother and child as the world and imagination opens up is glorious to behold.

In the note, where she fills in details of her story, she explains that her child was not a Dreamer in the political way the word is used today, about undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children.

Kelly and I were Dreamers in the sense that all immigrants, regardless of our status, are Dreamers: we enter a new country carried by hopes and dreams, and carrying our own special gifts, to build a better future. Dreamers and Dreamers of the world, migrantes soñadores.

Now I have told you my story. What’s yours?

She includes a list of books that inspired her at the back.

Oh, such a lovely book! And it doesn’t hurt that it’s a song of thanks to libraries.

HolidayHouse.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 Queen of the Track, by Heather Lang, illustrated by Floyd Cooper

Saturday, January 19th, 2019

Queen of the Track

Alice Coachman, Olympic High-Jump Champion

by Heather Lang
illustrated by Floyd Cooper

Boyds Mills Press, 2016. 40 pages.

This is another picture book biography about a person I never heard of but am very glad to know about.

Alice Coachman was the first African American woman to win an Olympic gold medal. She won in 1948, and had to miss the 1940 and 1944 Olympics, when she was at her peak, because of World War II.

Born in 1922 and very poor, Alice faced many obstacles to living her dreams. Being black and being female were both obstacles to being an athlete.

The print in this book is small and there are lots of words on the pages, so the intended audience is older than the usual picture book crowd. However, it’s in good company with other picture book biographies.

The excellent picture book biographies written today are why I was happy our library created a children’s nonfiction browsing collection. This book isn’t designed for someone writing a report, but for someone wanting to read the true story of an inspiring person.

And she is inspiring. I’m so glad this book exists so I could learn her story.

The note at the back tells us more.

Alice credits her success to the support she received from her family, teachers, coaches, and sometimes people she hardly knew. In an effort to give back and help others, she founded the Alice Coachman Track and Field Foundation, which supports young athletes and helps former Olympic athletes adjust to life after the games.

Many do not know Alice’s story, since her gold medal came in the early days of broadcast television. But it was Alice Coachman who paved the way for future Olympic track stars such as Wilma Rudolph, Evelyn Ashford, and Jackie Joyner-Kersee.

heatherlangbooks.com
boydsmillspress.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 Antsy Ansel, by Cindy Jenson-Elliott, illustrated by Christy Hale

Thursday, January 17th, 2019

Antsy Ansel

Ansel Adams, a Life in Nature

by Cindy Jenson-Elliott
illustrated by Christy Hale

Christy Ottiaviano Books (Henry Holt and Company), 2016. 32 pages.

Here’s a picture book biography of Ansel Adams, famed photographer, especially of our national parks. The language is simple, appropriate for younger elementary school students. But a lot of information is packed into these pages, with more in the notes at the back.

The author relates Ansel Adams’ life to kids by telling us he was a child who could never sit still.

Indoors, Ansel felt trapped and sick. At school he got into trouble. Everyone thought they knew what he needed.

“Keep him calm,” the doctor said, “away from light and sound.” Ansel yearned for wind and waves.

“Give him discipline!” the principal said. Ansel felt like a fly buzzing inside a jar.

Ansel’s father had a different idea. “Give him open air,” he said. He took thirteen-year-old Ansel out of school and let him learn at home.

The first twenty-two of thirty-two pages are about Ansel’s growing up years. Here’s the entire text of a spread about the San Francisco world’s fair, which Ansel visited every day (as we learn in the notes):

A season ticket to the San Francisco
world’s fair filled Ansel’s mind with
mysteries and marvels,
impressionists and organists,
flavors and aromas,
and fun and games.
Ansel was on fire for learning.

When Ansel was fourteen was when his family first visited Yosemite — and they gave Ansel a camera. I like the pages showing Ansel in Yosemite. The picture of Half Dome turns the book on its side to capture its tall majesty, as does a spread with a Sequoia.

So this book is a nice introduction to the story of a boy who loved to be outside and learned to make his living by staying outside and sharing the beauty he saw with others.

cindyjensonelliott.com
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mackids.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 Let Your Voice Be Heard, by Anita Silvey

Saturday, January 12th, 2019

Let Your Voice Be Heard

The Life and Times of Pete Seeger

by Anita Silvey

Clarion Books (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), 2016. 101 pages.

This is a straightforward biography of Pete Seeger for upper elementary audiences. There are plenty of photographs and the print is large and lines are widely spaced, so it’s not an intimidating amount of reading.

I hadn’t known a lot about Pete Seeger’s life, and I was inspired. His approach to music — reviving folk songs, popularizing them, and collaborating with others — is partly what makes him such a likable character.

But he also stood up for causes. He provided a voice — and songs — for the Labor movement, for anti-war protesters, for the Civil Rights movement, and for cleaning up the environment.

But a big part of his life I hadn’t known much about was him being brought up before the House Un-American Activities Committee, and how much that impacted his life. I hadn’t realized how much was done against people suspected of Communist sympathies — in America.

It’s also impressive that Pete Seeger didn’t let those things make him bitter. He continued to sing and spread the belief that working together we can make the world a better place. “Pete would call up a radio station, get a spot on the air, and then be out of town before the American Legion could protest.”

Here’s how the author sums up Pete Seeger’s legacy:

Throughout his life Pete Seeger remained committed to the idea that people need to come together. “It’s been my life’s work, to get participation, whether it’s a union song, a peace song, civil rights, or women’s movement, or gay liberation. When you sing, you feel, I’m not alone.”

Support for workers. Peace. The right to speak and sing in freedom. Civil rights for all people. The preservation of the planet. The causes to which Pete Seeger dedicated his life remain relevant and evergreen. He lived with purpose and meaning. As he often said, “Nobody really knows what the world’s going to bring. . . . We always find solutions, we’re an intelligent race . . . As long as I’ve got breath, I’ll keep on doing what I can.”

His life stands as a testament for social and political change, reminding everyone to fight for what they believe in and to let their voices be heard.

childrensbookalmanac.com
www.hmhco.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 Samurai Rising, by Pamela S. Turner

Tuesday, January 8th, 2019

Samurai Rising

The Epic Life of Minamoto Yoshitsune

by Pamela S. Turner
illustrated by Gareth Hinds

Charlesbridge, 2016. 236 pages.
Starred Review

This book of narrative nonfiction for children booktalks itself. Samurai warriors! Murder and betrayal and kidnapping! Epic battles and clever strategy! And it’s all true!

Pamela S. Turner has done in-depth research about an ancient Japanese Samurai warrior, around whom many legends have sprung up. She does a good job separating what is known from what is speculated about him, and the final 73 pages of the book are back matter, including notes about the history and about her research, a timeline, bibliography, and an index.

The story itself reads like a gory and dramatic novel. Now I personally am not a big fan of war stories, but for kids who don’t mind that (and there are many), this book is filled with excitement – all the more exciting because it really happened.

The Introduction is short and explains why Minamoto Yoshitsune’s story is important:

Few warriors are as famous as the Japanese samurai. We remember those beautiful swords and those fearsome helmets. We recall, with both horror and fascination, how some chose to end their own lives. But no one can understand the samurai without knowing Minamoto Yoshitsune.

Yoshitsune’s story unfolds in the late twelfth century, during the adolescence of the samurai. Yes, cultures have their youth, maturity, and old age, just as people do. During Yoshitsune’s lifetime the samurai awakened. Their culture was bold, rebellious, and eager to flex its muscle. The samurai would ultimately destroy Japan’s old way of life and forge a new one using fire and steel and pain.

Yoshitsune was at the very heart of this samurai rising. Exile, runaway, fugitive, rebel, and hero, he became the most famous warrior in Japanese history. The reason is simple: Yoshitsune was the kind of man other samurai longed to be.

The book begins with the uprising and death of Yoshitsune’s father in 1160. It ends with Yoshitsune’s suicide before his enemies came for him in 1189. In between we hear the story of the warrior’s glory that went unappreciated except in legend.

The author does an amazing job of making this all accessible and understandable to the reader, while inserting little reminders that this is history, and we don’t know everything. She mentions eyewitness accounts, where the information is sketchy, and uses language like “probably” and “Imagine…” where she’s drawing inferences.

No child who reads this book will think that history is boring!

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garethhinds.com
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 Ten Days a Madwoman, by Deborah Noyes

Thursday, December 27th, 2018

Ten Days a Madwoman

The Daring Life and Turbulent Times of the Original “Girl” Reporter Nellie Bly

by Deborah Noyes

Viking, 2016. 136 pages.
Review written in 2016 from a library book.

Despite the title, this is a complete biography of Nellie Bly for middle grade readers. The episode where she infiltrated an insane asylum for ten days is the way she launched her career in stunt journalism.

Sidebars that take up an entire spread are common, and there are plenty of illustrations and photographs from the time period, so there’s lots of variety in this account.

Nellie Bly, then Elizabeth Jane “Pink” Cochran, came to New York without money, planning to get hired by a newspaper. When that didn’t happen, she decided to write an article for her hometown paper, the Pittsburgh Dispatch answering the question if women reporters could get hired in New York. She interviewed the heads of the six major newspapers — and thus introduced herself to them.

Here’s the beginning of Chapter 2:

One fateful day in September, about four months into her New York adventure, Nellie — who was already nearly broke — found that her purse had gone missing, along with the last of her savings.

In the months and years to come, she would circle the globe, marry a millionaire and be widowed, take over his manufacturing empire, and become an influential businesswoman. But for now, Nellie Bly, who came to New York in search of “new worlds to conquer,” was penniless. She was also too proud to give up. “Indeed,” she wrote later, “I cannot say the thought ever presented itself to me, for I never in my life turned back from a course I had started upon.”

That was when she went to the office of the New York World, talked her way in, and proposed to the editor that she would sail to Europe and return in steerage to expose the horrible conditions.

The newspaper didn’t accept that idea, but they proposed another. Could Nellie get herself admitted to the insane asylum on Blackwell’s Island to report conditions there? If she could get herself in, the newspaper promised to get her out again.

This story — as hinted in the title — is the one the book gives in the most detail. It was frighteningly easy for Nellie to get herself admitted. Once there, she dropped the pretense of being insane — but was completely unable to talk herself out of the asylum. Conditions were horrible and the staff were abusive. Fortunately, the newspaper did get her out after ten days, and then Nellie exposed it all.

This gave her fame, and even opened up the field to more women and “stunt journalism.” Another adventure was when she went around the world in 72 days. She met Jules Verne along the way, since it was his book that had inspired the adventure.

This book is accessible to middle grade readers with its short chapters broken up by interesting sidebars, ample illustrations, and truly surprising stories. Nellie Bly had an amazing life, even when women were expected to keep quiet and do as they were told.

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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 Looking Back, by Lois Lowry

Wednesday, December 19th, 2018

Looking Back

A Book of Memories

by Lois Lowry

Revised and Expanded, with a Foreword by Alice Hoffman

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016. 259 pages.
Original edition published in 1998.
Starred Review

This is an Ideas photo album, courtesy of author Lois Lowry.

She says in the Introduction:

Stories don’t just appear out of nowhere. They need a ball that starts to roll.

This book is written because the most common question writers for children get asked is “Where do you get your ideas?”

The book is full of old photographs. Before each chapter, she’s got a short selection from one of the books she’s written. Then there’s a photograph. Then there’s a memory about the photograph. Many times, it’s easy to see how the memory and photo relate to the quotation. Sometimes less so. But it’s always interesting.

This also gives a picture of a writer’s life. Though the pictures aren’t in chronological order. But you do get the feel for themes running through her life. She also included some photos of her parents. I enjoyed the ones where she placed photos side by side of herself and her mother at the same age.

I’ve been looking at old photos myself lately. It’s fun to go through an album of memories with Lois Lowry.

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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 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.

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harpercollinschildrens.com

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

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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.

What did you think of this book?