Review of My Lost Freedom, by George Takei

My Lost Freedom

A Japanese American World War II Story

by George Takei
illustrated by Michelle Lee

Crown Books for Young Readers, 2024. 48 pages.
Review written May 13, 2024, from a library book.
Starred Review

George Takei, who ended up acting in the original Star Trek series, was five years old when his family was imprisoned in the Japanese American incarceration camps during World War II. He’s already told his story in They Called Us Enemy, a graphic novel. Now he’s put the story in picture book biography form, so that even elementary school children can learn from it.

Now, George was five. As I noticed in the graphic novel, his five-year-old perspective looked for fun in the big adventure of a train ride and a move. For example, the first camp they went to was Camp Rohwer, and he thought the soldiers on the train were trying to roar like a lion when they called out the name. (He didn’t know that soldiers on train cars with rifles wasn’t a normal way to go on vacation.)

He highlights how much his parents did to give George and his two siblings a happy and comfortable childhood. But it also comes out how much they lost. And how completely unjust it was for the government to do this to people born in America. Even when they got sent to a higher security camp because his father wouldn’t sign up for military service, George highlights the movie theater there and the stray dog they adopted.

The main part of the book ends with a happy reunion with George’s father, who had gone ahead of them after they were released to rent a home. There’s extensive back matter which reveals how hard it was to establish a home after the war with prejudice still high and only $25 from the government. A government that had confiscated all their possessions and bank accounts before the incarceration.

But I like the way George Takei doesn’t come across as bitter. Instead, he clearly stands up for what democracy should be — something his father taught him. After some young men in the camps protested, this happened:

One night, angry soldiers came roaring into the camp in jeeps, their rifles aimed at us. They were looking for radicals, but more often than not, innocent men were thrown in jail. I remember hearing women crying and wailing.

When I asked Daddy about the radicals, he said, “In a democracy, the people have the right to assemble and protest.

I’m glad this man is telling the story of what happened to him as a child, in hopes that such a thing will never happen in America again.

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Review of Unbound, by Joyce Scott with Brie Spangler and Melissa Sweet, art by Melissa Sweet

Unbound

The Life + Art of Judith Scott

by Joyce Scott
with Brie Spangler
and Melissa Sweet
Art by Melissa Sweet

Alfred A. Knopf, 2021. 44 pages.
Review written November 9, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

Unbound is the story of Judith Scott, an artist who made wrapped fiber art sculptures.

This story is extra powerful, because it’s narrated by Judith’s twin Joyce. She starts when they were young and did everything together.

But when Joyce went to Kindergarten, she was separated from Judith, who had Down Syndrome. Before long, Judith was put into an institution, and the book expresses how terribly Joyce missed her sister.

Judy has never spoken a word. We wonder if she will ever talk. The doctors say that she is slow and will not get better, but they don’t know Judy like I do. She is perfect just the way she is. She knows things that no one else knows and sees the world in ways that I never will.

It isn’t until Joyce grows up and starts her own family that she is able to get Judith out of the institution to come live with her.

Since Joyce worked as a nurse, she found an art center that had programs for people with disabilities. It took some time, but that was where Judith discovered how much she enjoyed making wrapped fiber art sculptures.

For years, Judy wraps and weaves, creating fantastic, cocoon-like shapes filled with color.

She wraps her head in beautiful hats, scarves, and ribbons, becoming her own work of art.

Before her death, Judy’s sculptures achieved worldwide acclaim.

This story is especially inspiring because her twin sister believed in her and saw the beauty in her all along.

Melissa Sweet’s mixed-media art evokes Judith Scott’s work so beautifully. (There are some photographs to give you the idea as well.)

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Review of Emmy Noether: The Most Important Mathematician You’ve Never Heard Of, by Helaine Becker and Kari Rust

Emmy Noether

The Most Important Mathematician You’ve Never Heard Of

by Helaine Becker and Kari Rust

Kids Can Press, 2020. 40 pages.
Review written April 19, 2021, from a library book

I’m always happy to find a picture book biography of a mathematician, and practically over the moon when that mathematician is also a woman!

It’s tricky, though, to write a picture book biography of someone who worked with high-level ideas. Emmy Noether helped Albert Einstein with the equations for his theory of relativity and did her own work that “completely changed our understanding of the universe.”

But the book also explains why most people haven’t heard of Emmy Noether, even though the work she did was ground-breaking and revolutionary.

A big part of that was that she was working in a field that didn’t welcome women at the time, and in order to get to do the work, she had to work behind the scenes – and wasn’t always given credit.

Another part was that she had to flee Germany at the start of World War II and died shortly after she left.

This book does an admirable job simply explaining high-level concepts. It also does a wonderful job getting across Emmy Noether’s exuberant personality and eagerness to talk about math. Here’s a bit after she had finally gotten her degree but wasn’t allowed to be a professor anywhere in Germany:

Emmy loved math so much, she found a way to teach anyway – she did it for free! That let her keep doing the research she loved and come up with new ways to think about and do math.

But just like when she was a student, other mathematicians took credit for her work. Or “forgot” to credit her. They knew they could get away with it; if Emmy spoke up, she could get kicked out of the university, since she wasn’t supposed to be there.

It’s lovely to have a book that shows kids that loving math can be ladylike!

kidscanpress.com

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Review of Monument Maker, by Linda Booth Sweeney, illustrated by Shawn Fields

Monument Maker

Daniel Chester French and the Lincoln Memorial

written by Linda Booth Sweeney
illustrated by Shawn Fields

Tilbury House Publishers in association with the Concord Museum, 2019. 64 pages.
Starred Review
Review written January 14, 2020, from a library book

You can tell this is a monumental book when you pick it up and browse through it. It’s thicker than most picture books, printed on heavy paper. The pages are large, done with exquisitely detailed artwork, and pictures of two of Daniel Chester French’s statues done extra big by turning the book sideways. Almost all the pictures are in shades of gray, except the frame of the story with modern kids examining his work and shown in color.

The book tells about the whole life of Dan Chester French, the sculptor of the statue of Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial and of the Minuteman statue in Concord and of many more American statues.

He didn’t expect to become a sculptor when he grew up, but he witnessed great events – like the end of the Civil War and the assassination of President Lincoln. And it turned out that he liked making art.

The book tells about the influence of moving to the town of Concord, Massachusetts and the great thinkers who lived there. I liked the detail that he took lessons in art from Louisa May Alcott’s sister (the model for Amy in Little Women).

I never realized that Daniel Chester French, the sculptor, made smaller models of the statue of Abraham Lincoln and other people, stonecutters, were responsible for the final statue made of stone.

I like it when biographies of artists give you the feel for how the artist was inspired as well as what his art is like. This book does those things very well.

Twelve pages of back matter give more information. This is an engaging, informative, and inspiring book. It makes me want to go see more Daniel Chester French sculptures.

lindaboothsweeney.com
shawnfields.com
tilburyhouse.com

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Review of The Only Woman in the Photo, by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Alexandra Bye

The Only Woman in the Photo

Frances Perkins & Her New Deal for America

by Kathleen Krull
illustrated by Alexandra Bye

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2020. 44 pages.
Starred Review
Review written February 3, 2020, from a library book

Did you know that a woman named Frances Perkins was instrumental in designing the New Deal? I didn’t. She was also the first female cabinet member, and it was twenty more years before there was another. This picture book biography tells her story and how she was in the right place at the right time to make a big impact on people’s lives.

The author tells us that young Frances was too shy to speak when she was a child, even to ask for a library book. But she was encouraged by her grandmother, and when she saw injustices around her, she joined the new field of social work and spoke up to help people.

She spoke up for people in poverty and for worker safety. She witnessed the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire where 146 people died. That made her all the more determined to be a voice for women being exploited.

Frances first worked in New York State, helping pass laws there to make workplaces safer. And that was where Franklin D. Roosevelt, the governor, appointed Frances the state’s industrial commissioner shortly before the stock market crash and the start of the Great Depression.

So when FDR was elected president, he asked Frances to be his secretary of labor. I like the double-page spread about her decision:

So Frances decided she’d accept the job – if FDR allowed her to do it her way. She had been thinking up ideas for years. Now she wrote all her requests on slips of paper, a to-do list for helping the most vulnerable.

At their meeting, she held them up, and she watched the president’s eyes to make sure he understood what she was planning. The scope of her list was breathtaking. It was nothing less than a restructuring of American society.

Their talk lasted one hour – until he finally said, “I’ll back you.”

The next spread shows Frances cleaning out the desk in her new office in the Department of Labor – the drawers were crawling with cockroaches!

The book goes on to explain – in picture book terms that are easy to understand – how hard Frances worked to help American workers. Her dream come true happened in 1935 when FDR signed the Social Security Act into law.

One interesting thing about the book that I find rather refreshing: It doesn’t talk about her marriage at all, except the note at the back where we learn that she was the sole support of her husband and daughter, both of whom had significant health problems. Since books about great men don’t always mention their families, there’s something I like about this picture book glossing over that. Though I did assume she was single and that’s how she accomplished so much, so part of me which that had gotten some attention in the main part of the book. But it’s a picture book biography of a woman who was far ahead of her time, and it does succeed in presenting the significant details of her life and making the reader want to know more.

KathleenKrull.com
AlexandraBye.com

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Review of Ruth Objects, by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Eric Velasquez

Ruth Objects

The Life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg

written by Doreen Rappaport
illustrated by Eric Velasquez

Disney Hyperion, 2020. 44 pages.
Review written February 12, 2020, from a library book

Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a wonderful subject for a picture book biography, because her life story is an inspiring one of triumphing in spite of obstacles. She’s a trailblazer, clearing a path for other women to follow in her steps.

I enjoyed the book I Dissent a little more, since that was the picture book biography that first told me about Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s life. But this one fills a niche of being for a slightly older age group (good for upper elementary, I think). It gives more details of her life and her journey through law school, teaching, in courts, and to the Supreme Court. I liked that when she was teaching at Columbia Law School, she filed lawsuits for women workers there to get the same benefits as men. This book featured a lot of her cases that were about gender.

Doreen Rappaport has a series of picture book biographies. They all stand out for their large size with big, beautiful paintings of the subject (and always their face on the cover) and for the way she highlights quotes from the subject on every page. Those big paintings make this book memorable.

“Yes, women are here to stay. And when I’m sometimes asked when will there be enough women on the Court, and I respond when there are nine, people are shocked. But the Supreme Court has had nine men for ever so long, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.”

doreenrappaport.com
EricVelasquez.com
DisneyBooks.com

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Review of The Bug Girl, by Sophia Spencer with Margaret McNamara, illustrated by Kerascoët

The Bug Girl

(A True Story)

by the Bug Girl herself, Sophia Spencer,
with Margaret McNamara
illustrated by Kerascoët

Schwartz & Wade Books, 2020, 40 pages.
Starred Review
Review written 02/20/2020 from a library book

This picture book is written in the voice of the author, who is a fourth-grade student – and does a marvelous job of telling other kids that it’s okay to love bugs.

Sophia begins with her first encounter with a bug – when she was two years old, in a butterfly conservatory, one butterfly landed on her and decided to stay the whole time she walked around the conservatory.

After that, Sophia became obsessed with bugs. She got books and videos about them and learned all she could about them. She collected bugs, and her mom let her keep them out on the porch.

In Kindergarten, other kids thought Sophia’s obsession with bugs was cool. But that changed when she got to first grade. Now they started teasing her and calling her weird. There’s a very sad page in that section:

Then I brought a grasshopper to school. I thought the kids would be so amazed by the grasshopper that they’d want to know all about it. But they didn’t. A bunch of kids crowded around me and made fun of me.

“Sophia’s being weird again,” one of them said.

“Ew! Gross!” said another. “Get rid of it!”

Then they knocked that beautiful grasshopper off my shoulder and stomped on it till it was dead.

Sophia became afraid to talk about the bugs she loved. She continued to be teased and excluded at school and called weird. She thought she’d have to give up her passion.

But Sophia’s mother was sad to see her so unhappy.

She wrote an email to a group of entomologists asking for one of them to be my “bug pal.” She wanted me to hear from an expert that it was not weird or strange to love bugs and insects. “Maybe somebody will write back,” said my mom.

“Maybe,” I said.

“Or at least call.”

We thought those scientists would be too busy to respond.

But an email came from an entomologist named Morgan Jackson who asked to put the letter online.

He asked other bug scientists – all around the world – to let me know if they had any advice for a girl who loves bugs.

That set off a flood of responses, with a hashtag: #BugsR4Girls

I couldn’t believe how many people around the world loved bugs as much as I did. And how many of them were grown-up women!

Some were scientists who wrote about the work they do in their labs. Others shared videos of themselves with bugs on their arms and sent pictures of themselves hunting bugs in the wild.

The response also set off more publicity of its own – Sophia got interviewed by newspaper reporters and even appeared on television.

Now, as a fourth-grader, Sophia has many other interests, but she still loves bugs.

This picture book presents all this in a child-friendly way with bright pictures and simple text. At the back are six pages of cool bug facts from Sophia.

margaretmcnamara.net
rhcbooks.com

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Review of Bird Girl, written by Jill Esbaum, illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon

Bird Girl

Gene Stratton-Porter Shares Her Love of Nature with the World

written by Jill Esbaum
illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon

Calkins Creek, 2024. 44 pages.
Review written April 30, 2024, from a library book.
Starred Review

Bird Girl is a picture book biography of Gene Stratton-Porter. Many years ago, I read A Girl of the Limberlost, and I expected the story of her life as an author. Instead, the book told about her fascination with studying and caring for birds and her groundbreaking work as a nature photographer who photographed birds in their natural settings.

And then I remembered that I learned from her novels how important it is for farmers to leave trees on the edges of their fields – because then birds will help them eliminate pests. And that was only a bit of the nature lore in her novels.

The book is bright and colorful and uses entertaining anecdotes to tell the story. When she was a girl, she hid a hawk’s droppings from her farmer father so he wouldn’t know where the nest was and kill it. Later, when he did shoot down a hawk, she took care of it and befriended it until its wing healed.

As an adult, Gene Stratton-Porter had a house with a conservatory that had windows with special hatches so birds could come and go, and she kept food for birds throughout her house.

She began photographing birds because the illustrations a magazine wanted to use for her stories were drawings of stuffed birds in unnatural positions. She learned to photograph and develop her own film – and then she went out into the nearby Limberlost swamp to take the pictures.

She fights through spongy muck and tangled undergrowth – rattlesnake territory – to reach the hollow tree where a vulture nests. She goes back time and again to capture the world’s first photo series of a growing vulture chick.

She ended up with a vast knowledge of wildlife acquired through patient observation that began when she was a child. And her story shows kids the power of a quirky obsession.

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rebeccagibbon.com

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Review of The Unstoppable Garrett Morgan, by Joan DiCicco, illustrated by Ebony Glenn

The Unstoppable Garrett Morgan

Inventor, Entrepreneur, Hero

by Joan DiCicco
illustrated by Ebony Glenn

Lee & Low Books, 2019. 40 pages.
Review written April 22, 2020, from a library book

Here’s another fascinating picture book biography about an amazing person I knew nothing about.

Garrett Morgan was an African American inventor and born in 1877. He grew up on a farm in the South and moved to Cincinnati to find opportunities. He worked as a janitor, but was good at fixing equipment and was promoted to machinist for a clothing manufacturer.

When he wanted to marry a white seamstress from Germany, he quit his job and opened his own sewing machine repair shop. Together with his wife, they expanded their business to a company making affordable clothing.

But where Garrett Morgan really made a name for himself was designing and manufacturing “Safety Hoods” for firefighters to wear. It would bring fresher air up from ground level to keep the wearer from smoke inhalation. Where he gained the reputation of a hero was when he wore one of his own Safety Hoods to rescue people from a tunnel explosion.

And he continued to keep people safe, as later in his life he invented a system of traffic signals.

His story is told as someone who wasn’t stopped by obstacles.

With determination and courage, Garrett Morgan went around, over, and through every obstacle between him and his goal to help others. Today his legacy is all around us. Whenever firefighters rescue people from smoke-filled buildings or motorists and pedestrians safely cross an intersection, we have a brave inventor to thank: Garrett Morgan.

joandiciccowriter.com
ebonyglenn.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 World of Glass, by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan

World of Glass

The Art of Dale Chihuly

by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan

Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2020. 60 pages.
Review written July 13, 2020, from a library book

World of Glass is a biography of artist Dale Chihuly, who works in glass. It’s longer than a picture book biography, but has large square pages that fit large photographs of the artist’s work on almost every page, making the book suitable for upper elementary through middle school.

I was interested in this artist because on the afternoon after the 2019 Newbery committee had made our choice and delivered our press release to the ALA office, but hadn’t announced our choice to the world yet, I was left to my own devices in Seattle. I rode the monorail to the Space Needle, as I could vaguely remember doing as a little girl. But at the grounds of the Space Needle, unlike when I was a little girl, I found the Chihuly Garden and Glass, where the glass sculptures of Dale Chihuly are featured. I spent a couple of hours browsing and was enchanted.

This book filled in details for me of the artist’s work. Even reading it more than a year after I saw the gallery, I now understand better what was being accomplished with the various forms made in glass. The book explains how he got his start and tells about various series of art pieces he has made.

Until I saw that museum, when I thought of an artist, I would never have thought of glass blowing. This book may expand kids’ ideas about art as well.

Dale has said that in order to get better at glassblowing, an aspiring artist must do it over and over again. “You’re making something that’s never been made before. It’s an ancient craft that someone invented two thousand years ago. Can you imagine blowing human breath down a blowpipe and getting a bubble and then heating it up in fire, using a couple of little tools and then making forms you can’t touch? All you have to do is blow glass once and you want to become a glassblower.

JanGreenburgSandraJordan.com
abramsyoungreaders.com

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