Tag Archives: biography

Perfect Pairing – Dances into Spring

I’m continuing the celebration of Women’s History Month with a focus on trailblazing dancers.

Brave Ballerina: The Story of Janet Collins

Author: Michelle Meadows

Illustrator: Ebony Glenn

Publisher/Date: Henry Holt and Company (Macmillan Publishing Group)/2019

Ages: 4-8

Themes: ballet; diversity; trailblazers; biography

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

A lyrical picture book biography of Janet Collins, the first African American principal dancer at the Metropolitan Opera House. 
Janet Collins wanted to be a ballerina in the 1930s and 40s, a time when racial segregation was widespread in the United States. Janet pursued dance with a passion, despite being rejected from discriminatory dance schools. When she was accepted into the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo as a teenager on the condition that she paint her skin white for performances, Janet refused. She continued to go after her dreams, never compromising her values along the way. From her early childhood lessons to the height of her success as the first African American prima ballerina in the Metropolitan Opera, Brave Ballerina is the story of a remarkable pioneer as told by Michelle Meadows, with fantastic illustrations from Ebony Glenn.

Read a review at Noodling with Words.

 

Firebird: Ballerina Misty Copeland Shows a Young Girl How to Dance Like the Firebird

Author: Misty Copeland

Illustrator: Christopher Myers

Publisher/Date: Penguin Young Readers Group/2014

Ages: 6-10

Themes: ballet; trailblazers; determination

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

In her debut picture book, Misty Copeland tells the story of a young girl–an every girl–whose confidence is fragile and who is questioning her own ability to reach the heights that Misty has reached. Misty encourages this young girl’s faith in herself and shows her exactly how, through hard work and dedication, she too can become Firebird.
Lyrical and affecting text paired with bold, striking illustrations that are some of Caldecott Honoree Christopher Myers’s best work, makes Firebird perfect for aspiring ballerinas everywhere.

Read a review at Kirkus Reviews.

I paired these books because both are lyrical picture books that explore the hard work and dedication necessary to excel at ballet and that encourage all young children, regardless of race or socio-economic situation, to soar through their endeavors. In Brave Ballerina, readers learn the story of Janet Collins, the first African-American prima ballerina in a major company. In lyrical rhymes that dance through the story, Meadows explores each component that led to Collins’ success, ending with the revelation that “This is the dancer,/bold like the sun,/a prima ballerina/in 1951.” In the fictional Firebird, Copeland herself offers encouragement to the narrator, a young dancer who doubts her abilities. With practice, Copeland assures the budding ballerina that she’ll “soar become a swan, a beauty, a firebird for sure”.

Looking for similar reads?

See Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova (Chronicle Books/2015).

PPBF – Dangerous Jane

For International Women’s Day, I’m happy to share a fairly recent picture book biography of one of my all-time heroes.

Title: Dangerous Jane

Written By: Suzanne Slade

Illustrated By: Alice Ratterree

Publisher/Date: Peachtree Publishers/2017

Suitable for Ages: 6-10

Themes/Topics: biography; Nobel Peace Prize; Hull House; immigrants; settlement house

Opening:

Jane was born beside a sparkling creek on an Illinois prairie in a friendly town called Cedarville.

Brief Synopsis: The biography of Jane Addams who founded Hull House, the first settlement house in the United States, led the Women’s Peace Party and the International Congress of Women to restore peace during World War I, helped displaced persons and refugees after the war, and was the first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931.

Links to Resources:

  • Check out the Teacher’s Guide to find discussion questions, a timeline, vocabulary crossword puzzle, simile writing exercise, and more;
  • Pair Dangerous Jane with primary sources from the era to discover more about Jane Addams;
  • Check out the back matter, including a timeline, more about “Dangerous Jane”, and a select bibliography;
  • Celebrate International Women’s Day in your classroom, library or home, with these resources.

Why I Like this Book:

In this cradle to almost-grave picture book biography, Slade constructs a compelling narrative to show how the losses Jane Addams suffered as a child and the poverty she saw then informed her life’s work. As Slade notes, “Jane promised herself- when she grew up, she would buy a big house to share with people in need.” Later, we learn that Addams founded Hull House in Chicago to help immigrants adapt to life in America. She then used the skills she’d honed helping “people from different countries live in peace at Hull House” to promote peace during World War I. Although her efforts were not immediately successful and although Addams was criticized for the work she undertook, ultimately “dangerous” Jane was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the first American woman to be so honored.

I think children, teachers, and parents will appreciate how Slade ties the seemingly disparate aspects of Addams’ work into a cohesive narrative and how she relates it back to Addams’ childhood. By doing so, I think she helps children realize that they, too, can make a difference. I also liked that Slade focuses not just on Addams’ well-known settlement house work, but that she extends the story to include Addams’ peace-building efforts.

Based on a William Morris color scheme and incorporating the faces evident in contemporary photographs, Ratterree’s detailed illustrations help evoke Addams’ world.  Even young children will be able to follow along finding Addams, clad in green throughout the story, in each spread.

A Note about Craft:

The title of today’s perfect picture book intrigued me and caused me to pick it up. Reading the jacket flap, I learned immediately that Dangerous Jane is the biography of Jane Addams, whose work at Hull House I’d studied, and whose memoir about the same I’d read. I could think of many adjectives to describe Addams, but “dangerous” wasn’t among them. I was hooked! You’ll have to read the book to determine why this is such a perfect title – you may be as surprised as I was.

Dangerous Jane is a cradle to almost-grave biography. Writing Addams’ story in this way enables Slade, I think, to put the main events into perspective and encourages children to think that if the sickly, motherless Addams could found a movement and promote world peace, they can bring about positive change, too.

With such a long timeline, it could be difficult to follow the story. Slade provides repetition and repeats motifs which, I think, help tie the story together. Addams’ “aching heart” is one of those; asking questions, “What could she do?”, is another. Depicting Addams in a signature-green outfit, wearing her mother’s broach is a third, and I’m sure there are several I’m not highlighting here. What repetition or threads can you use to bring order to and help readers follow a decades-long story?

Visit Slade’s website to see more of the many non-fiction picture books she has written. Read a post by Slade at Picture Book Builders in which she shares why she wrote Dangerous Jane and interviews Ratterree.

Visit Ratterree’s website to see more of her illustrations and read a post in which she discusses her research for Dangerous Jane and interviews Slade.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

Perfect Pairing – of Female Poets

I can’t think of a better way to start off a celebration of Women’s History Month than with two picture books that celebrate two American female poets.

My Uncle Emily 

Author: Jane Yolen

Illustrator: Nancy Carpenter

Publisher/Date: Philomel Books, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group/2009

Ages: 6-8

Themes: poetry; Emily Dickinson

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

This six-year-old has an uncle like no other! His uncle wears long white dresses and never smokes cigars. Gilbert’s uncle is none other than Emily Dickinson . . . Uncle Emily he calls her. And how he loves her. He knows that she writes poems about everything, even dead bees. But it’s a poem about truth that, after a fracas in school, he remembers best. “Tell all the Truth,” the poem begins. And, in finally admitting what went on that day, he learns something firsthand about her poetry, something about her, and a good deal about the importance of telling the truth, no matter how difficult it might be.

Read a review at Publisher’s Weekly.

 A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks

Author: Alice Faye Duncan

Illustrator: Xia Gordon

Publisher/Date: Sterling Children’s Books/2019

Ages: 5-8

Themes: poetry; Gwendolyn Brooks; biography; Pulitzer Prize; African-American

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

SING a song for Gwendolyn Brooks.
Sing it loud—a Chicago blues.
With a voice both wise and witty, Gwendolyn Brooks crafted poems that captured the urban Black experience and the role of women in society. She grew up on the South Side of Chicago, reading and writing constantly from a young age, her talent lovingly nurtured by her parents. Brooks ultimately published 20 books of poetry, two autobiographies, and one novel. Alice Faye Duncan has created her own song to celebrate Gwendolyn’s life and work, illuminating the tireless struggle of revision and the sweet reward of success.

Read a review at Chapter 16 by Julie Danielson from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, where she features illustrations from the book.

I paired these books because they explore the lives and poetry of two important women from two different eras of American history, but in quite different ways. In My Uncle Emily, Yolen sets up a fictionalized interaction between poet Emily Dickinson and a favorite nephew that centers on Dickinson’s poem, “Tell All the Truth”. Despite the fictional treatment, however, Yolen reveals the truth in Dickinson’s poetry and sheds light on the importance of family to Dickinson. In A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks, Duncan recounts the life of Brooks, starting in childhood, with lyrical text that weaves Brooks’ poetry into the narrative. Poetry is front and center in both picture books, not surprisingly, given the centrality of poetry in the subjects’ lives and in the lives of these gifted authors.

 

 

PPBF – I Am Farmer: Growing an Environmental Movement in Cameroon

I’m so happy to share a soon-to-be-released picture book biography that I’ve had on my radar for a while. Insightful and inspirational – this is one you won’t want to miss!

Title: I Am Farmer: Growing an Environmental Movement in Cameroon

Written By: Baptiste & Miranda Paul

Illustrated By: Elizabeth Zunon

Publisher/Date: Millbrook Press (an imprint of Lerner Publishing Group)/5 February 2019

Suitable for Ages: 7-11

Themes/Topics: environmentalism; Cameroon; farming; clean water; intergenerational; social activism; biography

Opening:

This is northwestern Cameroon. Green. Wet. Alive. The rainy season has begun.

Brief Synopsis:

A young boy in West Africa who loves to garden becomes a farmer and founds a grassroots, not-for-profit organization to protect the environment via sustainable farming and clean water projects.

Links to Resources:

  • Discover the West African country of the Republic of Cameroon, where Farmer Tantoh lives and works;
  • Try some kid-friendly gardening activities, including inside activities that you can do in your home or classroom;
  • Learn about the Save Your Future Association, a grassroots, not-for-profit organization in Cameroon that Farmer Tantoh founded in 2005 to protect the environment, including sustainable landscaping and ensuring clean water to rural communities in northwestern Cameroon, to build community, and to promote education about environmental issues;
  • Watch the book trailer and learn more about Farmer Tantoh and Cameroon in the Authors’ Note, Glossary and Pronunciation Guide (which helpfully includes words for water), and Proverbs.

Why I Like this Book:

I Am Farmer is an inspirational, true story that shows young and old alike that one person with passion and persistence can make a difference in his or her home community and the world. In this picture book biography, the Pauls introduce young readers to Farmer Tantoh, who has a life-long love of gardening inherited from his grandmother and father, who has pursued his passion to become a farmer, and who works to bring clean water and organic farming to his home country of Cameroon. Whether reading I Am Farmer at home or in the classroom, I think young environmentalists will chuckle at Tantoh’s first attempts to grow onions without soil or water and marvel at his persistence to become a farmer despite his classmates’ jeers, his older brother’s pleading that Tantoh not pursue this low-paying occupation, and a water-borne illness that left Tantoh ill for several years.

I Am Farmer is a fascinating story about Farmer Tantoh’s life and work, and it’s a wonderful introduction to life in rural Cameroon in West Africa, a place most of us are unlikely to visit. This picture book biography also introduces children to important science topics including horticulture, sustainable agriculture, and the need for clean water.

Zunon’s colorful collage illustrations bring Farmer Tantoh’s world to life. The inclusion of photographs on the endpapers, including of Farmer Tantoh, of his grandmother and other family members, and of Cameroon, is an added bonus.

A Note about Craft:

Picture book biographies are popular now, but who is a good subject to feature? I think Farmer Tantoh is a wonderful choice because he became interested in his life’s work as a child, he’s overcome several challenges, including physical and economic, his work helps others, and growing food and obtaining clean water are issues that kids can relate to and understand. That there are few picture books set in Cameroon and that Farmer Tantoh’s grandmother inspired and helped him grow his passion add interest and layers to this inspiring biography.

The Pauls sprinkle gardening and water-related terms and phrases throughout I Am Farmer. I think this will help readers better enjoy the story and understand and discuss the issues raised. For instance, as a student, “Tantoh drinks up facts and figures faster than his teacher can pour them onto the chalkboard.” Zunon helpfully includes environmental, water, and horticultural terms on the classroom chalkboard. Likewise, a “stream of hands” work together to bring fresh water to villages, where a “trickle of hope” grows, and a “crop” of young people are “digging in, planting ideas, and growing a movement”.

Visit Baptiste Paul’s website and Miranda Paul’s website to learn more about their other picture books. To view more of Elizabeth Zunon’s artwork, visit her website here.

The authors provided a digital copy of I Am Farmer in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

PPBF – Peace and Me

Today’s Perfect Picture Book debuted one month ago, on 21 September, the International Day of Peace. I think this is a perfect day to review it as the 66th annual Jane Addams Children’s Book Award Ceremony takes place in New York City this afternoon.

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Title: Peace and Me

Written By: Ali Winter

Illustrated By: Mickaël EL Fathi

Publisher/Date: LantanaPublishing/September 2018

Suitable for Ages: 7-11

Themes/Topics: peace; Nobel Laureates; #NF; biography

Opening:

ALFRED NOBEL invented a substance that helped countries go to war, but he is best remembered for his amazing contribution to world peace. How did this happen?

Brief Synopsis: A collection of 12 short biographies of winners of the Nobel Peace Prize of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Links to Resources:

  • Complete the sentence “Peace is…” by writing or drawing what you think peace means;
  • View the book trailer;
  • Learn more about the Nobel Prizes and check out the teacher resources for the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize.

Why I Like this Book:

Arranged chronologically, Peace and Me introduces children to 12 well-known and lesser-known winners of the Nobel Peace Prize from around the world. Linked together with tag lines that explore what “peace is” in the context of each winner, the one-page biographies highlight the impact the winners had on the world.

From such well-known figures as Bishop Desmond Tutu (1984 winner), whose peace includes “finding ways to forgive” and Jane Addams (1931 winner), whose peace includes “giving people the skills to thrive”, to lesser-known Fridtjof Nansen of Norway (1922 winner), whose peace is “making sure everyone has a home”, Peace and Me provides not only important biographies of peace builders but also explores the various aspects of peace their work represented.

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Photograph of interior spread from Peace and Me

Filled with gorgeous, full-page, vibrant collaged illustrations, Peace and Me will be a valuable resource for classrooms, libraries and home. I particularly love how each biography shows what one person can do to help the world and support an aspect of peace, and how it also encourages readers to take action to promote peace in some way. I also like that Peace and Me begins with a brief biography of Alfred Nobel and his bequest to fund Prizes, thus providing context for the biographies. The addition of a timeline, world map, and endnote summarizing what peace is and asking “What does peace mean to you?” further the impact of this timely and beautiful book.

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Photograph of interior spread from Peace and Me

A Note about Craft:

A compilation of 12 (really 13, including Nobel) short biographies could quickly become tedious and boring, too listy. How does Winter avoid that? I think by starting with a definition of peace, “Peace is…”, for each honoree, and then relating that definition to a particular individual, Winter draws the reader into the narrative and provides a framework for examining each person and the concept of peace.

For younger children and more visually-minded readers, EL Fathi has hidden a young girl in every illustration.

From the book jacket, Ali Winter is “an experienced anthologist and non-fiction writer from the United Kingdom”. View more of French-Moroccan illustrator EL Fathi’s work on his website.

UK-based Lantana Publishing “is a young, independent publishing house producing inclusive picture books for children.” Lantana’s books are distributed in the US and Canada by Lerner Publisher Services.

Amnesty International has endorsed Peace and Me. Read a review at The Book Activist.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

 

Perfect Pairing – Celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month

As we’re midway through National Hispanic Heritage Month, I’m celebrating with picture books about Mexican visual and performing artists by a talented Mexican & American illustrator/author.

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Danza!: Amalia Hernández and El Ballet Folklórico de México

Author & Illustrator: Duncan Tonatiuh

Publisher/Date: Abrams Books for Young Readers/2017

Ages: 6-10

Themes: dancer; biography; Mexican culture

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Award-winning author and illustrator Duncan Tonatiuh tells the story of Amalia Hernández, dancer and founder of El Ballet Folklórico de México. 
Published in time for the 100th anniversary of Hernández’s birth, Danza! is the first picture book about the famous dancer and choreographer.
Danza! is a celebration of Hernández’s life and of the rich history of dance in Mexico. As a child, Amalia always thought she would grow up to be a teacher, until she saw a performance of dancers in her town square. She was fascinated by the way the dancers twirled and swayed, and she knew that someday she would be a dancer, too. She began to study many different types of dance, including ballet and modern, under some of the best teachers in the world. Hernández traveled throughout Mexico studying and learning regional dances. Soon she founded her own dance company, El Ballet Folklórico de México, where she integrated her knowledge of ballet and modern dance with folkloric dances. The group began to perform all over the country and soon all over the world, becoming an international sensation that still tours today….

With Tonatiuh’s distinctive Mixtec-inspired artwork and colorful drawings that seem to leap off the page, Danza! will enthrall and inspire young readers with the fascinating story of this important dancer and choreographer.

Read my review. Danza! is the 2018 Américas Award winner, which was presented in Washington, DC, this past Friday, 28 September.

book_Diego 

Diego Rivera: His World and Ours

Author & Illustrator: Duncan Tonatiuh

Publisher/Date: Abrams/2011

Ages: 5-9
Themes: artist; biography; Mexican culture

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

This charming book introduces one of the most popular artists of the twentieth century, Diego Rivera, to young readers. It tells the story of Diego as a young, mischievous boy who demonstrated a clear passion for art and then went on to become one of the most famous painters in the world.
Duncan Tonatiuh also prompts readers to think about what Diego would paint today. Just as Diego’s murals depicted great historical events in Mexican culture or celebrated native peoples, if Diego were painting today, what would his artwork depict? How would his paintings reflect today’s culture?

Read a review at CCBC.

I paired these books because they celebrate important figures of Mexican culture, and Tonatiuh brought both artists to life with his distinctive Mixtec illustration style.

Looking for similar reads? See the list of past Américas Award winners and honor picture books, including All the Way to Havana (Margarita Engle/Mike Curato, 2017). See other books by Duncan Tonatiuh, including Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s TaleThe Princess and the Warrior, and Undocumented: A Worker’s Fight.

PPBF – People of Peace: 40 Inspiring Icons

Happy #PeaceDay! How will you celebrate? I can’t think of a better way than learning about folks from throughout the world who have promoted peace. And how can we do that? By reading about them, of course! Starting with today’s Perfect Picture Book:

36205142Title: People of Peace: 40 Inspiring Icons

Written By: Sandrine Mirza

Illustrated By: Le Duo

Publisher/Date: Wide Eyed Editions, an imprint of The Quarto Group/2018 (first published in French, Gallimard Jeunesse, France/2017)

Suitable for Ages: 7-10

Themes/Topics: Peace; non-fiction; biography

Opening:

These women and men, enlightened thinkers, engaged citizens and revolutionary leaders, have all forcefully denounced the atrocity and absurdity of war, and fought against slavery, racial oppression and social injustice. They have spoken out against the violation of human rights everywhere with their rallying cry for non-violence.

Brief Synopsis: A collection of 40 people of peace, with information about each person’s identity, action, and context.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn more about the UN International Day of Peace;
  • Check out some of the suggested activities, including some ideas for children and students, participating in a one-minute silence for peace at noon in your local time-zone, creating and sharing a Peace Crane,  and hosting a Feast for Peace;
  • This year’s #peaceday celebrates the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “The Right to Peace- The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70.” Learn more here;
  • Did you know we have a US Institute of Peace that is “America’s nonpartisan institute to promote national security and global stability by reducing violent conflicts abroad”? Check out their student resources and ideas to promote peace;
  • Take the #PeaceDayChallenge;
  • Follow the format of People of Peace and present information about someone you think is a Person of Peace.

Why I Like this Book:

People of Peace includes snapshots of well-known, and less well-known, people (“icons”) who promote or promoted peace in their lifetimes. I love the international focus of the book, with people from almost every continent represented, and I love that they represent different pathways to peace. For instance, are you a sports fan? See how Muhammad Ali championed civil rights in the US and was a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War. A music lover? Learn about folk singer Joan Baez, rock legend John Lennon, and pianist/composer Daniel Barenboim, who co-founded the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, comprised of members from Palestine, Israel and other Middle Eastern nations.

Because of the diverse assortment of peace builders highlighted, I think People of Peace is a wonderful addition to school libraries and classrooms. Told in a series of text boxes for each person, I think this format will appeal to older elementary and middle school students, and it could act as a template for a project highlighting other People of Peace.

Computer-generated “iconic” illustrations complete the snapshots of these peace builders.

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Rosa Luxemburg, reprinted from People of Peace

A Note about Craft:

As noted above, People of Peace uses a unique format to present a variety of peace builders. Given its vast breadth, both historically and geographically (not to mention gender, race, ethnicity, and professional), this could have been a muddled mess. Instead, the uniform formatting makes it easy to navigate, learn more, and compare these peace builders. Sadly, although there is a timeline in the back, there is no bibliography. Hopefully, an e-version with click-through bibliographies will be forthcoming.

Per the publisher’s website, Mirza “holds a Master’s degree in History from the University of Paris and is a graduate of the Institut Français de Presse. After six years of working at a publisher, she is now a full-time author, specialising in history. Sandrine lives in Paris.”

Also from the publisher’s website, “Le Duo is an illustration partnership between Alberic and Leopoldine, who trained at the Esag-Penninghen (Paris) and the Chelsesa College of Art and Design (London). They specialise in advertising (clients include Monoprix, Thalys and Nestlé) and editorial illustrations, having being featured in The Good LifeMen’s Health and Le MondeLe Duo are based in Paris.”

“The leading global illustrated non-fiction book publishers”, the Quarto Group “makes and sells great books that entertain, educate and enrich the lives of adults and children around the world.”

Check out more multicultural kids’ books about peace at Colours of Us.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!