Archive for the ‘Biography’ Category

Review of The Eye That Never Sleeps, by Marissa Moss, illustrations by Jeremy Holmes

Thursday, September 3rd, 2020

The Eye That Never Sleeps

How Detective Pinkerton Saved President Lincoln

by Marissa Moss
illustrations by Jeremy Holmes

Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2018. 48 pages.
Starred Review
Review written November 7, 2018, from a library book
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#7 Children’s Nonfiction Picture Books

This picture book biography is a fun and entertaining – while factual – story of how the detective Allan Pinkerton became a detective and ended up saving President Lincoln and founding the Secret Service.

The illustrator gave the pages the look of the time but with contemporary colors. Pinkerton fled Scotland on his wedding day, and this story is told with the pictures as well as the text. The Pinkerton agency eventually became known as “the eye that never sleeps,” and Pinkerton’s eyes – and the direction of his vision – are highlighted in orange throughout the book.

The complete package of words and pictures here keeps you turning pages, with the illustrations including panels that almost give the book a graphic novel feel.

Pinkerton did keep Lincoln safe after uncovering a plot to assassinate him when he was first elected. They used a decoy and sent him to Washington by a different route. The book also includes how Pinkerton became a detective and how he was the reason the term “private eye” was coined.

A fun and suspenseful story that’s also true.

abramsyoungreaders.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 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 Imagine, by Juan Felipe Herrera, illustrated by Lauren Castillo

Monday, August 3rd, 2020

Imagine

by Juan Felipe Herrera
illustrated by Lauren Castillo

Candlewick Press, 2018. 32 pages.
Starred Review
Review written November 2, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#6 Children’s Nonfiction Picture Books

I confess – when I first read this book at the library, I looked through it hastily and wasn’t impressed. But when the publisher sent it to my house, I gave it another look, knowing what it was, took my time, and this time was touched by its beauty.

This picture book is an illustrated poem – an autobiographical poem addressed to the reader and intended to inspire.

It’s short – I admit that it’s easy to dismiss if you don’t take your time with it and stop to look at each picture.

Juan Felipe Herrera was Poet Laureate of the United States from 2015 to 2017. This poem shows us his humble beginnings, and his journey to become a poet.

Each stanza ends with the word “imagine” and covers a double-page spread. Here are the first few stanzas:

If I picked chamomile flowers
as a child
in the windy fields and whispered
to their fuzzy faces,

imagine

If I let tadpoles
swim across my hands
in the wavy creek,

imagine

If I jumped up high
into my papi’s army truck
and left our village of farmworkers
and waved adios
to my amiguitos,

imagine

You see the boy gradually getting bigger in the pictures. The poetry also talks about his experiences:

If I moved
to the winding city
of tall, bending buildings
and skipped
to a new concrete school
I had never seen,

imagine

If I opened
my classroom’s wooden door
not knowing how to read
or
speak in English,

imagine

It takes him through writing stories and poetry, singing in front of people, and finally reading out of his own poetry book in front of the Library of Congress as the Poet Laureate of the United States of America.

And then, finally, the book finishes all the sentences:

imagine what you could do.

Inspiring and beautiful – and there’s also a treat under the paper cover! (The stars of the cover are embossed in gold foil on the book with the title.)

candlewick.com

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

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but 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 Hey, Kiddo, by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Wednesday, July 15th, 2020

Hey, Kiddo

How I Lost My Mother, Found my Father, and Dealt with Family Addiction

by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Graphix (Scholastic), 2018. 312 pages.
Starred Review
Review written June 26, 2018, from an Advance Reader Copy.
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#5 Longer Children’s Nonfiction

Here’s a graphic novel memoir by a bestselling graphic novelist, so it’s sure to be popular. This one, though, isn’t sweetness and light, and the issues addressed go a lot deeper than friends and cliques. We do have a happy ending – Jarrett Krosoczka has achieved success with his art. The book is marketed for 12 and up, so it’s for a somewhat older audience than those who love Lunch Lady.

Jarrett tells about his life. His mother was a heroin addict, and he didn’t know his father. His mother’s parents raised him, and they had their own quirks, being older than his friends’ parents.

Jarrett explains his family history. His grandparents had five kids, and he wasn’t a whole lot younger than his youngest aunt. He lived with his mother the first years of his life, but she couldn’t stay off heroin and out of trouble, so eventually he was permanently with his grandparents.

This book takes Jarrett through elementary school and high school, all the way up to applying to art school for college. He credits the teachers and friends who helped him along the way, as well as offering many tributes to his grandparents, without hiding their prickliness and quirks. His persistence, despite coming from an unconventional family, ended up paying off, and notes at the back bring us to the present.

This book speaks from the heart about a kid growing up in a family with challenges, but a lot of love. He learned to grapple with that, push boundaries, uncover truth, and above all use his art to throw light on shadows.

scholastic.com/graphix

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

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but 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 House of Dreams, by Liz Rosenberg

Friday, June 12th, 2020

House of Dreams

The Life of L. M. Montgomery

by Liz Rosenberg
illustrated by Julie Morstad

Candlewick Press, 2018. 339 pages.
Starred Review
Reviewed July 7, 2018, from a copy sent from the publisher.
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#4 Longer Children’s Nonfiction

I am an avid L. M. Montgomery fan. I have read all of her published journals. I’ve read all her novels. Usually when I read a biography, I think how much nicer it was to read about these things in L. M. Montgomery’s own words. But I didn’t feel that way about House of Dreams.

In the first place, Liz Rosenberg did a great job of giving us the high points of L. M. Montgomery’s life. She speaks frankly of bipolar disorder and that there was no real treatment for it in her time. When Maud had a long low period, we don’t have to wade through the despairing journal entries, but we get a summary.

I thought I knew the whole story. But this book was the first I heard a crucial fact about Maud’s passionate love affair with Herman Leard – he was publicly courting another woman. It always made me crazy in her journals to read all the reasons why he wasn’t actually suited to her for marriage. I had no idea that she was protecting herself from jealousy. (I did know that she herself was engaged at that time to Edwin Simpson.)

I also knew that her life ended very unhappily and that she was very disappointed in her oldest son Chester. This book puts perspective on that and gives more details than Maud did about what Chester had done. (It’s this part that makes the book more for young adults than for children.) And I did not know that her death was probably a suicide, though I did know that she ended her days feeling despairing.

Her life ended unhappily, but there was so much inspiring about her life. Her persistent work at writing and her eventual success of climbing “the Alpine path” is always an uplifting story to hear. This quiet imaginative girl from Prince Edward Island achieved fame and wealth and a lasting legacy. The illustrations by Julie Morstad are perfect and make the book a treasure. (I’d love to see Julie Morstad illustrate all of L. M. Montgomery’s novels!)

I’m not going to keep all of the books that publishers have sent me to consider for the Newbery – but this one is going right into my collection of books by and about L. M. Montgomery. It’s a lovely book about a fascinating and inspiring life. I do recommend it to all my friends, teen and up, who love the Anne and Emily books.

candlewick.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 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 Kindness and Wonder, by Gavin Edwards

Thursday, June 4th, 2020

Kindness and Wonder

Why Mister Rogers Matters Now More Than Ever

by Gavin Edwards

Dey St. (William Morrow), 2019. 248 pages.
Review written December 29, 2019, from a library book.

Kindness and Wonder is a biography of Mr. Rogers, followed by ten lessons from his life, with anecdotes. I like the biography. I had tried to get through the much more detailed biography, The Good Neighbor in audio form, and hadn’t ever finished it. This one gives you the basic facts and the basic story of his life without getting bogged down.

The ten lessons are:

Be deep and simple.
Be kind to strangers.
Make a joyful noise.
Tell the truth.
Connect with other people every way you can.
Love your neighbors.
Find the light in the darkness.
Always see the very best in other people.
Accept the changing seasons.
Share what you’ve learned. (All your life.)

Some of the stories presented alongside these lessons weren’t what I expected. For example, the “Love your neighbors.” chapter told how the lives of Andy Warhol and George Romero paralleled the life of Mr. Rogers. I’m not sure I cared about them!

But mostly, this book tells about a man’s life who saw his ministry as using television to reach children, and who took children’s developmental needs very seriously.

As a children’s librarian, of all people, I need to learn everything I can from Mr. Rogers. I like the way this book points out the lessons from his example.

rulefortytwo.com
harpercollins.com

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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 Lights! Camera! Alice! by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by Simona Ciraolo

Saturday, May 30th, 2020

Lights! Camera! Alice!

The Thrilling True Adventures of the First Woman Filmmaker

by Mara Rockliff
illustrated by Simona Ciraolo

Chronicle Books, 2018. 56 pages.
Starred Review
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#4 Children’s Nonfiction Picture Books

Who knew? One of the first people to create movies was a woman! This is from the note at the back:

Alice Guy-Blaché (1875-1968) was the first woman in the world to make movies – and one of the very first moviemakers, period. Long before Hollywood turned from silent films to “talkies,” Alice directed the first sound films ever made. She was also one of the first to film made-up stories instead of real events. (Some historians say she was the first, while others credit the Lumière brothers or Georges Méliès.) Between 1896 and 1920, Alice made over seven hundred movies, and her studio, Solax, produced hundreds more. She truly earned the title “Mother of the Movies.”

This picture book biography dramatizes Alice’s life without enormous amount of text and plenty of visuals. She grew up in France and got her start there, but came to America and made movies outside New York City. But the rise of Hollywood and the start of World War I meant her studio went out of business.

Each “episode” of her life has a “title card” like the old-fashioned title cards used in silent movies, and it turns out that each one is the title of a movie Alice made, with titles like “A Terrible Catastrophe,” “The Great Discovery,” “Starting Something,” “Imagination,” and “Her Great Adventure.”

There’s lots of back matter, and I took the time to look up one of Alice’s short films on YouTube. I was quite taken with this amazing woman I’d never heard of before – who changed the world.

mararockliff.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 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 Helen Oxenbury: A Life in Illustration, by Leonard S. Marcus

Thursday, May 14th, 2020

Helen Oxenbury

A Life in Illustration

by Leonard S. Marcus

Candlewick Press, 2018. 288 pages.
Starred Review
Review written 02/20/2020, from a library book

This big, beautiful, heavy book tells the story of the career of the amazing picture book artist, Helen Oxenbury. I was delighted to read it, because Helen Oxenbury’s Tom and Pippo books were a huge favorite of my firstborn child, who is now almost 32 years old.

The pages are as large as a picture book, the paper is thick, and there are almost 300 pages. There’s a decorative ribbon, so this is suitable for a coffee table book, which is where I kept my library copy while I was reading it – but I’m afraid that meant I didn’t get around to it very often. By far the majority of the pages are filled with paintings, and when there is text it isn’t long. So this book doesn’t take a long time to read if you sit down and look. Every time I thought I should give up because I wasn’t getting around to it, I’d read another chapter and be so delighted that I didn’t have the heart to part with it until I was done.

It’s a beautiful book and filled me with nostalgia especially about the books I’d read to my kids. But I also enjoyed the wonderful art from books I hadn’t been familiar with. It’s arranged in a way that you can see Helen Oxenbury’s strengths and her growth as a writer. The story of her career is fascinating, too. She met her husband, the noted illustrator John Burningham, when they were both in art school. She began her own career in the 1960s and continues to this day.

This wonderful book looks in great detail at her many illustrated books and celebrates her life. There’s a Bibliography at the back as well as testimonials from authors she’s worked with. So much fun if you or your child have ever loved a Helen Oxenbury book. And if you haven’t, you’ll discover ones you must find and enjoy.

At the back of the book, we discover that Helen Oxenbury is the one who created the Walker Bear, also used by Candlewick Press. The book finishes with a quote from Deirdre McDermott, the Publisher of Walker Books:

So it is that the story of Helen Oxenbury’s astonishing contribution to children’s books is intrinsically woven into the fabric and legacy of Walker Books and Candlewick Press. She is as steeped in our history as we are in hers. Helen’s beautiful, iconic bear has illuminated the creative path for the thousands of stories that we’ve published, and shines a way forward for the many, many more to come.

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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 Faithful Spy, by John Hendrix

Thursday, May 7th, 2020

The Faithful Spy

Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler

by John Hendrix

Amulet Books, 2018. 176 pages.
Starred Review
Review written October 1, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher
2019 YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award Finalist
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#2 Longer Children’s Nonfiction

This book isn’t quite a graphic novel – but every page is covered with art and the text is arranged on the art. Some pages do have panels and/or speech bubbles, but most just have an arrangement of text. There are many diagrams and some maps, and every spread has some kind of graphic element.

The story is true. This book tells about a German pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and his spiritual journey, which eventually led him to get involved in a conspiracy to assassinate Adolf Hitler.

The book also explains the rise of Hitler in an easy-to-understand way. In fact, I feel like I understand it much better than before. I hadn’t put it all together and understood that he took power completely legally and how he pulled that off.

A really striking part was when Dietrich went to seminary in New York City in 1930 and became close friends with a black man. He did some traveling in the South and was appalled when he saw how Blacks were treated, even by pastors. This part was chilling:

But there was something oddly familiar about what he was seeing. It reminded him of the rhetoric of that young nationalist upstart, Adolf Hitler, and his Nazi party, who had tried to seize control of the government a few years earlier.

It was, of course, nothing to the level of what was happening in the United States.

To think that something like this kind of repulsive segregation could come to his Germany was impossible.

But of course it did come, and Dietrich became part of the “Confessing Church” – the first public religious opposition to Nazi policies of discrimination. He even opened his own rebel seminary, which operated under the radar as long as they could.

Another striking moment in the book was that Dietrich and a friend went to visit Martin Niemöller just minutes after he’d been arrested – and were taken into custody, but released that night. This is striking because Martin Niemöller was the one who wrote:

First they came for the socialists,
and I did not speak out –
because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I did not speak out –
because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I did not speak out –
because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me
and there was no one left
to speak for me.

Honestly, this book was hard to read in September 2018! It wrestles with how a Christian should act under a corrupt regime. What should they do? How can they simply stand by? Is speaking up enough? What if speaking up brings danger to your loved ones and relatives?

Dietrich had to really wrestle with himself to join the group (composed of some relatives high in the military) who were plotting Hitler’s assassination. They made three attempts – and were very close to success each time. And it feels strange as you’re reading this book to wish that the assassinations had worked!

Dietrich also was a spy. He was supposedly a spy for the Abwehr, but was actually working as a double agent, trying to get some foreign support for the group planning the assassination.

There were times during the war and just before the war when Dietrich had a chance to get out of Germany, including a chance to escape after he’d been arrested and was in prison. But for the sake of his country, which needed people working to do what’s right, and for the sake of his loved ones, who would be sure to suffer if he escaped, Dietrich stayed until the end. He was killed just before the end of the war.

It’s all very dramatic and thought-provoking and laid out in a visual way, making it easier to understand.

Because of the heavy nature of the topic, this is probably more for high school students. But since it’s in such a visual format, some middle school kids will want to read it, too. I highly recommend it for adults as well. I feel much more knowledgeable about World War II and the rise of Hitler than I did before I read it. And I’m thinking hard about what a Christian should do when they see their government pursuing evil policies, infiltrating the church, and making people suffer.

johnhendrix.com
amuletbooks.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.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but 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 Nothing Stopped Sophie, by Cheryl Bardoe, illustrated by Barbara McClintock

Monday, April 27th, 2020

Nothing Stopped Sophie

The Story of Unshakable Mathematician Sophie Germain

by Cheryl Bardoe
illustrated by Barbara McClintock

Little, Brown and Company, 2018. 36 pages.
Starred Review
Review written June 27, 2018 from a library book.
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#2 Children’s Nonfiction Picture Books

At last! The Boy Who Loved Math was a picture book biography of a mathematician that was hugely popular a few years ago. Now there’s one about a girl who loved math! And Sophie Germain accomplished amazing things.

It’s always interesting to illustrate someone being good at math. This is accomplished with interesting variety in this book. I like the illustration where her parents tried to take away her candles so that she couldn’t stay up late doing math. But later her work involved patterns of vibrations, and those are nicely illustrated.

Another interesting episode is where Professor Joseph-Louis Lagrange goes to visit the brilliant student who has been writing to him and discovers she’s a woman.

With so many women who broke ground in fields that were closed to them, a key part of Sophie’s life was her persistence. That is portrayed beautifully here, from the title to the final page.

Sophie is celebrated today because nothing stopped her. Her fearlessness and perseverance have inspired many people.

Perhaps she will also inspire you.

cherylbardoe.com
barbaramcclintockbooks.com
lbyr.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 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 Dancing Hands, by Margarita Engle and Rafael López

Thursday, April 9th, 2020

Dancing Hands

How Teresa Carreño Played the Piano for President Lincoln

by Margarita Engle
illustrated by Rafael López

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2019. 36 pages.
Starred Review
2020 Pura Belpré Illustrator Award Winner
Review written February 10, 2020, from a library book

Dancing Hands tells the story of Teresa Carreño, who was born in Venezuela in 1853. She learned to play the piano when she was very young.

I love that this book won the Pura Belpré Illustrator Award, because the artist does a wonderful job of using the art to convey the joyful music Teresa played with bright, colorful, and playful images. The author does a good job of using poetic language that was a perfect vehicle for the art. Here’s what’s written on two spreads about Teresa learning to play the piano:

At first, making music seemed magical,
but Teresa soon learned that playing a piano
could be hard work. Sometimes she had to struggle
to make the stubborn music behave
as she practiced gentle songs
that sounded like colorful birds
singing in the dark and light branches
of a shade-dappled mango tree . . .
and powerful songs that roared
like prowling jaguars, beside towering waterfalls
in a mysterious green jungle.

If Teresa felt sad, music cheered her,
and when she was happy, the piano helped her
share bursts of joy. By the time she was six,
she could write her own songs, and at seven
she performed in the peaceful chapel
of a magnificent cathedral, playing hymns
that shimmered like hummingbirds.

When she was eight years old, her family was forced to flee Venezuela because of war, and they came as refugees to New York City. Teresa began to perform in her new country and became famous as the Piano Girl.

But the United States was at war, too. Teresa traveled many places to perform, but this book features the invitation she received to play for President Abraham Lincoln at the White House when she was ten years old.

The president’s son had recently died, so the book focuses on how her joyful playing – and dancing hands – brought comfort to the grieving family.

A note at the back adds details to put it all in context, but this exceptionally beautiful book tells the true story of a young girl who used music to bring joy to others.

rafaellopez.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 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?