A fantastic angle for this biography: the super-soaker. Kids love to read about things that they connect with. Who hasn't used a super-soaker (or pineA fantastic angle for this biography: the super-soaker. Kids love to read about things that they connect with. Who hasn't used a super-soaker (or pined for one)?! Lonnie Johnson is a likable character to boot, and this picture book biography starts with his childhood and takes the reader up to the present. A great story about someone who just didn't give up, who kept pursuing his dreams, and who kept doing what he was created to do (tinker and invent!). Illustrations are vibrant and enthusiastic, in keeping with the tone of the text. ...more
Well-written and well-illustrated (the "illustrations" are all primary source material including photographs of Florence and her family as well as somWell-written and well-illustrated (the "illustrations" are all primary source material including photographs of Florence and her family as well as some art from the time period). There's a definite feminist slant, especially in the first third of the book, and while it's probably true that Florence felt trapped, I felt the constant reminders a bit heavy handed. The book really picks up when Florence begins to do her nursing work in the military hospitals and can "work her magic." It takes a special personality to forge a new path and have countless people fall in line, but Florence was just such a person!...more
Picture book bios are so interesting: this one is about the Great Blondin, a tight-rope walker, who spent his life longing for the next death-defyingPicture book bios are so interesting: this one is about the Great Blondin, a tight-rope walker, who spent his life longing for the next death-defying adventure. When he decided to walk a rope across Niagara, no one believed he could do it. But of course he did--and many times. He even carried a guy on his back! Tavares' illustrations are excellent, even stronger than the text....more
Fascinating look at important medical pioneer and the history of medical practice. Great for an addition to study of human body (to see how our undersFascinating look at important medical pioneer and the history of medical practice. Great for an addition to study of human body (to see how our understanding has changed) and Roman times....more
Excellent introduction to Archimedes, the history of the time period, and the many scientific inventions/discoveries/theories of this4.5 stars really
Excellent introduction to Archimedes, the history of the time period, and the many scientific inventions/discoveries/theories of this man. Even for kids who don't have a physics background, the explanations and illustrations are fairly easy to follow. But for kids who are already interested in physical science concepts, this will be an especially interesting biography. Easy enough to read aloud (provided you can pronounce Greek names), but the drawings will necessitate a small audience or the ability to pass the book around....more
A solid book about Herodotus, how "history" was first being recorded, and the world of ~ 400 BC in Greece/surrounding areas. Bendick uses first personA solid book about Herodotus, how "history" was first being recorded, and the world of ~ 400 BC in Greece/surrounding areas. Bendick uses first person, acting as Herodotus, so this blurs the lines of "nonfiction" and "fiction." Short, sweet, and engaging for kids who have some familiarity already with this time period....more
What It’s About: Twelfth century samurai Minamoto Yoshitsune’s turbulent life and the rise of the saFirst reviewed on Literaritea
What It Is: Biography
What It’s About: Twelfth century samurai Minamoto Yoshitsune’s turbulent life and the rise of the samurai culture. Yoshitsune was one of the early samurai to practice a ritual (and gory) suicide in order to avoid being captured by the enemy. But his life up until that point was no less peaceful. On the run from birth, he found refuge first in a monastery and later in wealthy estate before taking on a leadership role in his family. But as his family rose to power, strife between him and his brother, strife between their family and the opposing samurai family, and general instability in Japan meant for a gripping, action-packed, and often violent existence.
What Works: The pacing is excellent in this book–hard to put down! The prose is well done. Words like “probably” and “he might have…” help indicate where the author is making educated guesses based on her research of the time period and culture. Speaking of research…. fully 60 pages are end matter: chapter notes, author’s notes, timelines, glossary, index. This gal has done her homework!
What Doesn’t Work: For a biography, not much. Expertly crafted and researched, this is a terrific example of a biography. But in terms of a biography to “teach” or “inspire” character traits…this might not be the best choice. That’s the subject matter’s fault, though, not the author’s. She attempts to show ways in which Yoshitsune is honorable and treats his comrades with dignity, but a samurai is still a samurai. Violence is the answer.
What I Think/Recommend: If you are studying Medieval Japan with anyone eighth grade or older, this is a fantastic addition. Anyone simply interested in history and/or Japanese culture will also find this a riveting read. But be forewarned: as the back of the book states (accurately), a lot of people die in this book…. and most are NOT from natural causes. The author isn’t overly graphic in her descriptions, by any means. But the samurai solve all their problems with violence and the weapons of the day meant, aside from archery, the battles were up close and personal.
One final note: Yoshitsune’s consort gets good attention (and she was heroic in her own way!), but some families may wish to know this beforehand. There are no graphic scenes; the text merely mentions that the two are not married and, eventually, that she is carrying his child.
What It’s About: Young Jackie Woodson grows updating thFINALLY read this gem! First reviewed on Literaritea
What It Is: autobiographical novel-in-verse
What It’s About: Young Jackie Woodson grows updating the tumultuous sixties, born in Ohio, living in South Carolina, and ending up in Brooklyn. Quite a range of locales, particularly given the time period for a young African American! Woodson eloquently recounts her different experiences, her family struggles as her mother leaves her father, and her close relationships with her grandparents. She longs for home, but doesn’t always know where home is.
What Works: The form! This is a stunning example of a novel-in-verse for which the poetry tremendously enhances the storyline. Woodson has such a way with words. Imagery, emotion, action–it’s all here.
What Doesn’t Work: Not much! There’s a reason this book garnered so much praise and so many awards when it first came out.
What I Think/Recommend: This is a fantastic title to use with a number of studies: poetry, Civil Rights, autobiography, African American studies, etc. It would be an excellent read aloud or audio book with the right narrator. Its length might scare some non-readers off, but the poetic form makes for a quick read. I’d recommend it for upper middle grades; there’s some “meat” here that younger readers might not grasp.
Woodson is raised Jehovah’s Witness by her maternal grandmother, and she reflects a good bit on this. She gravitates to the new Islamic faith her uncle acquires from his time in prison (coinciding with the Black Power movement). Helpful to know, depending on the religious affiliation of your family/school!...more
I really enjoyed Solving the Puzzle Under the Sea: Marie Tharp Maps the Ocean Floor, so I was eager to read this earlier work by Burleigh and Colon. II really enjoyed Solving the Puzzle Under the Sea: Marie Tharp Maps the Ocean Floor, so I was eager to read this earlier work by Burleigh and Colon. It's not as strong--perhaps partly as a reflection of just what we expect out of nonfiction books for kids a couple of years after this book was first published. The story is engaging enough for science-lovers, and Burleigh does a good job explaining what Leavitt was facing in terms of adversity, what she was looking at in terms of the stars, and what she ended up discovering. However, without the end material, it's not very clear in the story itself exactly what she was really doing or even when she lived. A bit more specificity in the text would have been helpful. Colon's art is suitable for the text, but I think he's done better work, too (such as in the book mentioned above!). A good biography to accompany a study of astronomy and/or women scientists, but not one I think I'd rush to buy for my personal library....more
The Warm-Up: A well written, well researched account of the Jubilee Singers using the experience of Ella Sheppard as theFirst reviewed on Literaritea
The Warm-Up: A well written, well researched account of the Jubilee Singers using the experience of Ella Sheppard as the focal point. The Jubilee Singers were the former slaves who were the first students at Fisk University.
The Melody: Lowinger gives a fairly thorough account of Sheppard’s life as a whole. The main thrust of the book, though, is the rise and success of the Jubilee Singers. Lowinger doesn’t mince words about the racism and prejudice these brave young people faced, nor does she hide the brutality towards and injustice of the slaves in the U.S. prior to, during, and after the Civil War. The South wasn’t the only bastion of hate and bigotry, and the Civil War didn’t immediately solve all the problems. Lowinger also offers information on various Jubilee Singers and those that helped the Singers. A biography of Ella Sheppard, yes, but this is also a terrific social history of the U.S. during the mid-1800s that is more than a slave narrative, a cry for abolitionist causes, or an account of the differences between the South or the North.
The Applause: Well done, Ms. Lowinger! More emotional connection with Shepherd and her fellow singers might have been too much for middle school and high school readers, but she offers sophisticated writing, well researched information, lyric to old spirituals, and plenty of maps, photographs, and other memorabilia reproductions to interest any reader age 10 and up. Lowinger also alludes to the Christian faith of Shepherd and some of the others without making this a main focus. Those who don’t share Shepherd’s faith will not be offended, but those of us who do very much appreciate this aspect!
Note for concerned parents: there is some heavy content in this book, as is fitting with the subject material. One historical image (not a photograph) shows a mob beating a black man to death. Scenes like this, references at the beginning to male masters taking their female slaves to bed, and the like make this a book better suited for upper middle grades and up if you are dealing with sensitive young readers.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes....more
What It Is: A picture book biography about Hillary Rodham Clinton
What It’s About: Hillary Clinton! Although Winter beginsFirst reviewed on Literaritea
What It Is: A picture book biography about Hillary Rodham Clinton
What It’s About: Hillary Clinton! Although Winter begins with Hillary’s childhood, the majority of the book is about her life as an adult. Winter emphasizes Hillary’s accomplishments, particularly the ones in which she is the first to do something (either as a woman or the First Lady in particular) or rises to overcome significant obstacles.
What Works: Winter’s text is dispassionate in a good way. I’ve seen accusations of propaganda and that it’s not exciting enough (ironic that those have both come up). However, when you are writing a book about a major Presidential candidate during the campaign season, a more dispassionate tone will bring more bipartisan readership. Additionally, Winter humanizes Hillary a bit more than similar books, showing her real life obstacles (fatigue, balancing work/family, etc.). Colon’s art is a bit static–the snapshot effect in a sense that captures an event frozen in time. It’s a good accompaniment to the tone of Winter’s text.
What Doesn’t Work: The opening sequence lauding Queen Elizabeth, Joan of Arc, Rosie the Riveter and then… Hillary… feels a bit disjointed and smacks of hagiography (although Hillary isn’t presented as a saint, per se). Additionally, given that this book has just been published and some of Hillary’s less saintly actions have been in the public eye for some time (ahem, the issue of her email comes to mind), a bit more nuance in the text would have been helpful. Additionally, there is scant end matter: no bibliography, no documentation. (There is an author’s note.)
What I Think: Of the three Hillary picture book bios I’ve read, I like this one the best for its dispassionate tone. It’s a good starting point to learn more about this remarkable woman, whether or not you agree with her politics.
What I Recommend: Use this book with older elementary students to discuss presidential candidates and history, the growth in women’s rights, and to learn more about this particular presidential candidate in particular. Challenge your students to find out information about Hillary that is not in this biography that might offer a bit more balance to the picture....more
What It Is: A picture book biography of Hillary Rodham Clinton
What It’s About: Ostensibly a picture book biography of Hillary Rodham Clinton, this book is championing all the noteworthy things Hillary’s accomplished as a girl/woman. Attention is given to Hillary’s childhood, adolescence, college, and professional life.
What Works: The illustrations are *amazing.* Pham did serious research and peoples the backgrounds with key historical figures. Reading the illustration notes at the end is an education in itself! The illustrations, saturated in bold colors, pop and dance off the page. Hillary is a bright spot of red on nearly every page, regardless of her age. The primary colors are prominent throughout, a nice artistic choice to show Hillary’s patriotism (and an interesting change from many of Hillary’s public appearances where she is notably NOT in red or blue).
What Doesn’t Work: The text! There are folks who are wild over this book, but this is propaganda, folks. I think this book will turn away all non-Hillary lovers (particularly Republicans) and win wild acclaim from many Democrats. That might be part of the author’s intent, but it’s not a solid choice for a picture book biography that should present a more balanced view of its subject.
What I Think: This book is worth tracking down as a lesson in phenomenal illustration. That is definitely its strong suit.
What I Recommend: Regardless of your politics, this is an interesting book to examine in terms of propaganda. For younger children, it’s an okay introduction to Hillary herself as it’s young child friendly (short text and vibrant illustrations). But please pare it with a more balanced view. It would be a fine choice for a school or public library to have on hand....more
What It Is: A picture book biography about Beatrix Potter.
What It’s About: This book focuses primarily on Potter’s youngFirst reviewed on Literaritea
What It Is: A picture book biography about Beatrix Potter.
What It’s About: This book focuses primarily on Potter’s young life. She had a lonely childhood because her brother was away at school (except for the summers), and she had no other siblings. She spent much of her childhood painting, taking care of small animals, and the like.
What Works: Focusing on Potter’s childhood is an easy access point for the target audience of this book. Watercolor illustrations are bright and in keeping with the focus on Potter’s painting.
What Doesn’t Work: The book as a whole feels “okay” rather than remarkable. Lack of end matter and lack of depth to Potter’s story make this feel like a sweet story rather than a robust biography of a famous author.
What I Think: A suitable picture book biography about a beloved author, but not one to rush out and buy.
What I Recommend: This is a solid library checkout. If you’re enjoying Potter’s works with your children (home or classroom), consider checking this out to enjoy alongside. If your children are reading Potter’s stories on their own, then I’d recommend Who Was Beatrix Potter? for a more rounded, fleshed out biography.
What It Is: Part historical fiction and part picture book biography about Beatrix Potter
What It’s About: Beatrix Potter kFirst reviewed on Literaritea
What It Is: Part historical fiction and part picture book biography about Beatrix Potter
What It’s About: Beatrix Potter kept copious journals as a child, writing them in a secret code. She also loved to draw and paint. Hopkinson takes stories and anecdotes from the journals to recreate a story based on the truth. She changes some facts (such as Potter’s age) to make the story more engaging. Essentially, Potter (a young child in Hopkinson’s version) borrows a guinea pig to paint it. Tragedy strikes, and the guinea pig owner is not happy.
What Works: The format of this book is lovely. Voake’s illustration style, although looser and less precise than Potter’s, is still reminiscent of Potter’s, especially in the palette used. Hopkinson’s text is charming, taking the form of a letter to the reader much like Potter’s The Tale of Peter Rabbit started out. Solid back matter includes a select bibliography, source credits, plus a mini biography of Potter complete with photographs.
What Doesn’t Work: I’m on the fence about the tweaking Hopkinson did with the facts. Making Potter a young girl instead of a 20-something year old woman certainly makes the story of the guinea pig more interesting to children. And I think Hopkinson keeps the spirit of Potter’s childhood intact. And yet, can we call this a biography if it changes significant details?
What I Think: I like it. This is a lovely little picture book to share with children who are enjoy Potter’s own stories. Hopkinson humanizes Potter, and children will enjoy this story even if they don’t know who Beatrix Potter is.
What I Recommend: Share this with the children in your life as a read aloud, especially with ages 3-8. Encourage the older children to look up extra information on Potter. A must buy? Probably not; check with your local library first.
What It Is: A middle grades biography of Buffalo Bill
What It’s About: Buffalo Bill may be the title character of this wilFirst reviewed on Literaritea
What It Is: A middle grades biography of Buffalo Bill
What It’s About: Buffalo Bill may be the title character of this wild ride, but Bleeding Kansas just prior to the Civil War takes center stage. Billy Cody came of age during a particularly turbulent, violent time right on the border of Kansas and Missouri. Pro-slave factions were set out to kill his anti-slave father; that combined with the usual suspects (disease, general economic hardship, pioneer struggles, etc.) meant that young Billy had to grow up in a hurry.
What Works: The narrative is fast-paced and sprinkled with terrific photographs and artwork from the time period. Short chapters end on a suspenseful note, keeping readers hooked. Warren’s end matter is outstanding: copious source notes, a thorough bibliography plus extra resources on supporting characters and the time period, author’s notes on research and information on characters such as Wild Bill Hickok (who makes an appearance).
What Doesn’t Work: Some young readers may pick this up hoping for a more straightforward biography of Buffalo Bill. This is more a book about tensions in Kansas and the country during the mid-1800s (slavery, Native Americans, Mormons, westward expansion) with young Billy Cody as the focal point.
What I Think: A great read all in all. Bill’s mother is clearly religious/Christian, but it’s unclear whether he shares any of that faith. It would be interesting to see that explored further. Regardless, he seemed to treat those with whom he came into contact with dignity, even if they were different from himself.
What I Recommend: Target audience is middle grades (4th-8th), but advanced readers as young as third could get into this story easily and older readers will also enjoy it. A good choice for independent reading for fun, to go along with a study of U.S. History during this time period, to offer a nonfiction “Western” alternative....more
Rather than looking at school segregation through the lens of Brown v. Board of Education, Goodman takes readers back 100First reviewed on Literaritea
Rather than looking at school segregation through the lens of Brown v. Board of Education, Goodman takes readers back 100 years to the 1840s when a young African American Bostonian named Sarah bravely went to an all-white school. When Sarah was kicked out, her parents hired one of the first African American lawyers to plead their case. He ended up working closely with a white lawyer, and the two together presented Sarah’s case to a packed courtroom. They lost.
Goodman walks readers through this “first step” for school integration, ending with Brown v. Board of Education to give readers some context. Goodman’s tone throughout is matter of fact and clear. She lets the story speak for itself with rare intrusion.
Lewis’s illustrations are stunning. Composition, perspective, palette–it’s all used to wonderful effect. The title page shows Sarah in a blue dress set against a sepia city backdrop. Our eyes are focused on her, and we want to turn the page to see what she’s walking into. She’s all but eclipsed in the first courtroom scene, reminding us how young she is. The Brown v. Board of Education scene is particularly moving. Linda Brown in her rosy dress stands in front of a unified group of all-white justices in their black robes, the rosy backdrop echoing her dress. Stark, momentous, and effective.
What helps set this picture book biography above the rest is the end matter. Goodman includes a timeline of integration milestones and events with directions to the young reader to decide for themselves if a given event is a step forward or backward. Her notes on the following pages invite young readers into the research process, give more information to “our heroes” from the story, and offer a nice list of sources and resources (including some other good examples of well-written history!).
Recommended for use in classrooms, libraries, and at home as a terrific example of how to “do” history. It’s also a nice extension of Civil Rights studies and African American history. Recommended for grades 2-6....more
Picture book biographies tackle such interesting subjects! Solving the Puzzle Under the Sea shows how the undersea map weFirst reviewed on Literaritea
Picture book biographies tackle such interesting subjects! Solving the Puzzle Under the Sea shows how the undersea map we take for granted in elementary school these days first came to be.
Marie Tharp, inheriting her map-making father’s love of cartography, wanted to map the ocean’s floor–something that had never been done. Unfortunately, when Tharp was entering the workforce, women weren’t sought after as scientists and some still believed that a woman on board ship was unlucky!
Tharp’s friend Bruce shared the soundings he took, and Tharp worked to place them on a map. Even though Bruce disagreed with Tharp’s hypothesis about the tectonic plates, he helped her persevere through the decades to painstakingly map the Atlantic ocean floor. When her work was complete, her map helped prove the existence of the tectonic plates and their continual activity.
Raúl Colón’s illustrations add a lovely, watery feel to this story told in first person. With one exception, Tharp is depicted looking at her work or off the screen rather than directly at the reader. The reader is therefore drawn to also look at her work rather than directly at her. Burleigh alludes to Tharp’s uphill road against various challenges without making those challenges the driving point of the story. Rather, the reader is fully drawn into Tharp’s passion and story, not into a history or anthropological lesson.
End matter includes a thorough note on “Marie Tharp, Scientist,” a glossary, a bibliography, internet links, and “things to wonder about and do,” ensuring that this is a book that draws the young reader to follow in Marie’s footsteps. Recommended for 2nd-4th grade....more
Friends have been telling me to read this book, and it went in one ear and out the other until a friend actually SENT me this book. A fascinating readFriends have been telling me to read this book, and it went in one ear and out the other until a friend actually SENT me this book. A fascinating read all in all, but the first 2/3 are more interesting/compelling than the last. ...more
A great read about the "candy bomber" with loads of photographs, reproduced letters, and other historical mementos. Shows how Halvorsen continued to bA great read about the "candy bomber" with loads of photographs, reproduced letters, and other historical mementos. Shows how Halvorsen continued to be interested in Germany and how much he meant to them as a country....more
A great story of perseverance and hard work! In America, we take it for granted that those with disabilities will have some protection under the law:A great story of perseverance and hard work! In America, we take it for granted that those with disabilities will have some protection under the law: handicap parking spots, elevators instead of just stairs, menus in Braille, hearing aids, prosthetics, etc. Life is still extra challenging for many with physical disabilities, but we have made strides as a country to ease some of that.
Not so in many nations around the world. The story of Emmanuel takes place in Ghana where to be born with only one good leg was practically a death sentence. Emmanuel perseveres and ends up helping inspire proactive legislation and care for other disabled Ghanaians (in addition to raising awareness globally!).
This is also the story of a dedicated athlete!...more
An interesting approach to a picture book biography: text is written to sound similar to a jazz song with its cadence, the blues element, and some repAn interesting approach to a picture book biography: text is written to sound similar to a jazz song with its cadence, the blues element, and some repetition. Text has potential, but is not as strong as the art--which is terrific.
Of note/concern for some: a voodoo element is alluded to, but it's for Morton's godmother....more