Tag Archives: biography

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.

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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!

PPBF – The World is Not a Rectangle: A Portrait of Architect Zaha Hadid

None of my children is a visual artist or an architect, but all enjoyed designing and re-designing special places when they were young. From my daughters’ connected castles (with a third, for my husband and me, in the middle), to my son’s over-sized drawing of a zoo, to many hours spent together on the computer designing Syms’ homes and even “real” homes with home design software, my children loved architecture and design. I wish today’s Perfect Picture Book had been available when they were young – I know they would have savored every page!

148144669XTitle: The World is Not a Rectangle: A Portrait of Architect Zaha Hadid

Written & Illustrated By: Jeanette Winter

Publisher/date: Beach Lane Books (Simon & Schuster)/2017

Suitable for Ages: 5-10

Themes/Topics: STEAM; biography; architecture; persistence

Opening:

In Iraq, rivers flow through green marshes. Wind swoops across sand dunes and through ancient cities. Zaha Hadid sees the rivers and marshes and dunes and ruins with her father and imagines what cities looked like thousands of years ago.

Brief Synopsis: As a child in Iraq, Zaha Hadid loved nature; as an architect, she incorporated the swoosh, zoom and flow of nature into her designs.

Links to Resources:

  • Discover Iraq, the country where Hadid grew up;
  • Learn about architecture and elements of design here and here;
  • See illustrations of some of Hadid’s creations and learn where they are in an Afterword, explore more in the Sources, and see photographs of 10 of Hadid’s best buildings;
  • Find discussion questions and curriculum connections in this review;
  • Design and draw your dream house, classroom, park, or other favorite place.

Why I Like this Book:

In The World is Not a Rectangle, Winter combines sparse, lyrical text with gorgeous, often-full page illustrations to tell the story of architect Zaha Hadid. Like Hadid’s nature-inspired designs, Winter’s text flows and swoops across the pages and recounts Hadid’s journey to become a world-renowned architect, despite being a woman in a male-dominated field and a Muslim. I love how Winter shows the reader the natural scenes that inspired Hadid, and I love the many details Winter shares in her text and illustrations. A particular favorite includes reams of scribbled designs and text that highlight the sense of movement in Hadid’s creations and her belief that “the world is not a rectangle.” This spread, and several others, can be viewed at Simon and Schuster (but are not reproducing well here!).

The text and illustrations work together on many levels to highlight the work of a Muslim female pioneer; to inspire children to persevere and reach for their dreams; and to appreciate these architectural gems.

A Note about Craft:

Winter tells Hadid’s story in the present tense, from her childhood in Iraq, to her days as a student and struggling architect, to her time at the pinnacle of success, to the night when “the light in Zaha’s window goes dark.” Only then does Winter switch to past tense, “[s]he has left this world” before returning to present tense with the revelation that Hadid’s colleagues “keep their lights on…keeping her flame burning bright.” Not only does Winter’s choice of present tense render the story more immediate (similar to using first person point of view, I think), but I believe it’s particularly effective in the biography of a woman whose creations will endure for centuries.

Winter uses sparse, lyrical text interspersed with quotations in this longer than usual, 56-page picture book. I particularly think her verb choices are important ways to incorporate movement in the text, as Hadid, herself, incorporates movement in her architectural designs.

The World is Not a Rectangle is an NCTE 2018 Orbis Pictus honor book.

See a review of another book by Winter:  Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan.

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!

PPBF – Frida Kahlo and her Animalitos

I was fortunate to have visited the New York Botanical Garden’s 2015 FRIDA KAHLO: Art, Garden, Life exhibition with an artist friend and view first-hand some of her paintings and the flora that she incorporated into them.IMG_5558

The conservatory show included a recreation of part of the exterior of La Casa Azul, as I was transported to the Mexico of Frida Kahlo, the subject of today’s Perfect Picture Book:

28807785Title: Frida Kahlo and her Animalitos

Written By: Monica Brown

Illustrated By: John Parra

Publisher/date: NorthSouth Books, Inc (an imprint of NordSüd Verlag AG)/2017

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: art; biography; Frida Kahlo; pets; Latina; Mexico.

Opening:

This is the story of a little girl named Frida who grew up to be one of the most famous painters of all time. Frida was special.

This is also the story of two monkeys, a parrot, three dogs, two turkeys, an eagle, a black cat, and a fawn. They were Frida’s pets, and they were special too.

Brief Synopsis:

The story of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo and her many pets that inspired her and were subjects of her paintings.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn about Xolo dogs (Xoloitzcuintli – pronounced, show-low-eats-queen-tlee), an ancient Aztec breed, and view a short video of a Xolo playing;
  • Frida Kahlo is known for her self-portraits (over 50 of her 200+ paintings are paintings of herself, sometimes with her beloved pets). Color in the portrait from the Activity Page;
  • Try drawing or painting your own self-portrait;
  • An Author’s Note provides further information about Frida Kahlo, the first Latina to be featured on a US postage stamp;
  • Find more activities and insights in the Educator’s Guide.

Why I Like this Book:

Frido Kahlo and her Animalitos is an inspiring story of overcoming adversities and celebrating what is near and dear. For Frida Kahlo, what was near and dear were her pets, who were “her children, her friends, and her inspiration.”

I think kids will enjoy reading about the art and life of this important artist, an artist who hailed from Mexico, who was a female artist, at a time when most artists were male, and who suffered from illness and physical injury. I especially think they will enjoy how Brown relates the features of the pets to traits Kahlo shared. For instance, Brown connects the flight of Frida’s pet eagle, Gertrudis, to Frida’s imagination: “Like her eagle, Frida’s imagination could fly high.” Brown also includes a quotation from Kahlo, “Feet, what do I need you for when I have wings to fly?” Brown relays these insights as she explains how Kahlo was injured in an accident and spent many months in bed. By pairing these facts with the image of Kahlo’s imagination soaring like an eagle, I think Brown enables children to understand how Kahlo turned her adversities into opportunities to create art, and this will inspire them to overcome their own adversities.

Frido Kahlo’s art was colorful, a reflection of her Mexican home and love of its folk art traditions. So, too, are Parra’s vibrant acrylic illustrations. View the book trailer that captures some of these award-winning illustrations.

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Reprinted from John Parra’s website

A Note about Craft:

Brown’s picture book biography of Frido Kahlo is not the first picture book to explore this important 20th century Mexican artist and her work. So what sets it apart and what can authors interested in writing about a well-known, and examined, figure learn from Brown’s approach? I think a key to the success of Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos is Brown’s identification of an important influence on Kahlo and using it as a lens to relate her life story and explore her artwork. That this influence is her beloved pets, a topic to which kids easily can relate, renders Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos not only an enjoyable book to read, but one for budding artists to examine, too.

Check out Monica Brown’s website and see the many other picture books and picture book biographies she has written.

See more of John Parra’s artwork on his website, and read a 2015 interview with him at Latinx in Kidlit.

Among other awards, Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos was named a 2017 New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book of the Year and 2018 Pura Belpré Honor for Illustration.

Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos is also published in Spanish as Frida Kahlo y Sus Animalitos.

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!

PPBF – The Flying Girl: How Aída de Acosta Learned to Soar

I’m starting National Poetry Month with a picture book biography written in free-verse by Margarita Engle, the Young People’s Poet Laureate, as she shines a light on a little-known first woman of flight and inspires us all to soar.

flying girlTitle: The Flying Girl: How Aída de Acosta Learned to Soar

Written By: Margarita Engle

Illustrated By: Sara Palacios

Publisher/date: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Simon & Schuster)/March 2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: flying; first female pilot; biography; courage

Opening:

One day, a girl named Aída was strolling on a lively street in a lovely city when she glanced up and was dazzled by the sight of a huge balloon that glided as gracefully as a whale-shaped moon.

Brief Synopsis: The Flying Girl recounts the story of how young Aída de Acosta became the first female to pilot a motorized aircraft.

Links to Resources:

Why I Like this Book:

As Engle recounts in this inspiring, lyrical biography, all Aída needed to pilot a motorized dirigible was “courage and a chance to try”. We learn in the Afterword that Aída did so despite her parents’ disapproval and months before the Wright Brothers undertook the much better-known first airplane flight at Kitty Hawk. I think children will enjoy learning about this brave young Cuban-Spanish-American woman, who followed her dream to soar in the skies. And perhaps they’ll be inspired to soar towards their dreams, too.

Palacios’ bright, mixed media illustrations capture the excitement of this aviation first. I especially like that she set many of the illustrations against a sky-blue background. Many also include bright red birds – a detail younger children especially will enjoy following.

 

A Note about Craft:

In The Flying Girl, Engle focuses on one event in the life of Aída de Acosta, the short time she spent in Paris where she discovered Alberto Santos-Dumont’s dirigible, convinced him to teach her to fly, and then flew the dirigible by herself. In the Afterword, we learn the rest of her story, but I believe Engle keeps unnecessary details out of the text so the reader better experiences Aída’s journey from dream to soaring.

Although Aída is a teen in the story, well above the normal picture book main character age range, Engle focuses on her interactions with her mother when she discovers Aída’s aspirations, she renders Santos-Dumont childlike by referring to him only by his first name in the text, and she includes “excited children” and “giggling children” as onlookers. Perhaps most importantly, Engle addresses children in the last lines of the story, as Alberto declares Aída “a brave inspiration for all the girls of the world!”

Read a wonderful guest post on “poetry that crosses borders” by Engle on the Grog and her reasons for hope for #OwnVoices poetry in a Nerdy Book Club post, both last fall. To read a recent poem building a bridge of peace by Engle and to post your own poem about “choices”, visit René LaTulippe’s No Water River. See my reviews of a few of Engle’s other works: All the Way to HavanaBravo!: Poems about Amazing Hispanics, and Miguel’s Brave Knight: Young Cervantes and His Dream of Don Quixote.

Visit Palacios’ site and follow her on Instagram to view more of her illustrations.

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!

PPBF – Danza! Amalia Hernández and El Ballet Folklórico de México

As we’re nearing the end of Hispanic Heritage Month, and as Mexico, and particularly the region surrounding Mexico City, just experienced horrific damage from devastating earthquakes, I decided to showcase a new picture book about a Mexican cultural treasure as today’s Perfect Picture Book:

9781419725326_s3Title: Danza! Amalia Hernández and El Ballet Folklórico de México

Written & Illustrated By: Duncan Tonatiuh

Publisher/date: Abrams Books for Young Readers/August 2017

Suitable for Ages: 6-10

Themes/Topics: Mexico, biography, dance, traditions

Opening:

Amalia Hernández was born in Mexico City in 1917, and everyone assumed she would grow up to be a schoolteacher like her mother and her grandmother. Even Ami, as everyone called her, expected that.

Brief Synopsis:

Danza! is the biography of Amalia Hernández (1917-2000) who enjoyed and practiced ballet and modern dance as a child, grew up to become a professional dancer and choreographer, and later founded El Ballet Folklórico de México, the most famous dance company in Mexico. It also recounts the story of El Ballet from its inception through the present.

Links to Resources:

Why I Like this Book:

Danza! shares a positive message about the cultural traditions of Mexico and the hard-work and persistence of the founder of El Ballet Folklórico de México. I can imagine many children reading this story and dreaming of dancing in a company of dancers such as El Ballet or perhaps founding a cultural or sports group themselves.

The text is informative without being didactic. I appreciated the inclusion of pronunciation guides and ballet terms, the sprinkling of Spanish terms throughout the text, and the inclusion of an Author’s Note, Glossary, and Bibliography.

Tonatiuh’s artistic style suits the subject matter well. His characters seem to dance on the pages. I especially enjoyed the collaged additions of photographed fabrics and even hair.

A Note about Craft:

Although Danza! principally is the biography of Amalia Hernández, it also tells the story of her legacy, namely El Ballet and the promotion of Mexican folk dancing. By taking the story beyond Hernández’ death and focusing on El Ballet, Tonatiuh leaves the reader feeling hopeful about the continuation of this important dance company.

Tonatiuh brings Hernández’ story full circle: he tells us at the outset that it was “assumed” that she would become a school teacher. We learn near the end of the book that in later life, she taught and supervised the ballet rehearsals. “She had become a schoolteacher after all, like her mother and her grandmother.” Placing her in her family tradition strengthens the story, I think, as Danza! is, at its heart, a story about preserving cultural traditions.

Visit Tonatiuh’s  website and check out some of his other books:

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Reviewed here

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Reviewed here

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Reviewed here

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!