Jenny's Library

Posts Tagged ‘biography

cover image for Lulu and the Dog From the SeaLulu and the Dog From the Sea by Hilary McKay, illustrated by Priscilla Lamont

When Lulu, her parents, and her cousin, Mellie, spend a week in a cottage by the sea they discover an unexpected guest – the kind that walks on four legs.

A cute story that is designed to appeal to the large number of newer readers that love animals.  Each of the characters has personality, and while the plot may be unlikely, the day to day discoveries and frustrations and interactions ring true.

It’s not the most spectacular writing, but it’s far from stilted, which is all too common in when books for this age group.

cover image for When I Grow Up: Sally RideWhen I Grow Up: Sally Ride by AnnMarie Anderson, illustrated by Gerald Kelley

A biography of Sally Ride, written at about third grade level.

Unfortunately, this particular easy reader does all kinds of things that are common to easy readers that I hate, especially nonfiction easy readers.

The first is that it’s just not very well done. The sentences make sense, but they aren’t memorable either.  The illustrations lack elegance and just don’t flow. Worse, the practice of using photographs, and then drawing images of Sally Ride into them rather undermines the idea that this is a real person.  It’s also written in the first person, as if Ride herself was talking to us, despite the fact that Sally Ride was a real person who died recently and wrote words of her own that could be quoted.

It’s not so awful that I wouldn’t buy it for the library, especially considering the topic, but it’s the kind of book that makes me wish we had higher standards for beginning readers.

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cover imafe for Ellington Was Not A StreetEllington Was Not a Street by Ntozake Shange, illustrated by Kadir Nelson

it hasn’t always been this way
ellington was not a street

Once upon a time, the greats of the Harlam Renaissance were more than just a memory.  They talked and laughed and sang and played and discussed the issues and events of the day.  Presented from the point of view of a young girl whose house was a gathering place for these great men, Ellington Was Not a Street shows readers how solid and real and human these legends were.  Told in poetry and pictures, Nelson’s rich and detailed illustrations are a perfect compliment to Shange’s elegant language.

The short biographies at the end was a wonderful addition, but the book did leave me wondering where all the women were.

cover image for Thunder RoseThunder Rose by Jerdine Nolen, illustrations by Kadir Nelson

Rose was born on an auspicious night, against a backdrop of thunder and lightning. Her parents knew as early as that first night that Rose was something special, full of power and talents beyond that of ordinary children.  As she grew, so too did the tales about the amazing things Rose could do.  But when drought threatens her family’s cattle, and the survival of her frontier town, can Rose fight weather itself to bring rain and thunder back to her home?

Told in the tall tale tradition, Thunder Rose is an engaging and delightful story of a confident young heroine.  The rhythm and imagery of Nolen’s words evokes the folklore that inspired her book, and Nelson’s illustrations are as wonderful as ever, with action and expression on each page.

cover image for Nelson MandelaNelson Mandela by Kadir Nelson

Rolihlahla became Nelson when he began school and his teacher refused to call him by his Xhosa name.  Although life was not fair or easy for blacks in South Africa, Nelson Mandela worked hard and eventually became a lawyer.  As the South African government enacted more and more discriminatory and unfair policies, Nelson used his talents and education to defend his people.  Despite the danger of speaking out against apartheid, Mandela became a leader, organizing rallies in support of the rights of blacks and enduring years in jail in his fight for a better South Africa.

Kadir Nelson’s illustrations never fail disappoint, but this is a particularly gorgeous book.  His style is the perfect compliment to the history being told, presenting moments of quiet reflection or vibrant energy as needed.

cover image for We Are The ShipWe Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball by Kadir Nelson

The rule that barred blacks from joining the National and American leagues was never posted on a sign or written into law, but that didn’t make it any less real.  So greats like Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson played instead for the Homestead Grays and other teams in the Negro League.  Adored by fans and treated like stars when they would tour in Latin America, the players in the Negro League still had to often take care to leave town before sundown when they were on tour in the US.

Full of stunning paintings and amazing stories, Kadir Nelson’s award winning book shares a part of history that is often overlooked.  While Nelson’s artwork is always the star of his books, the research and skill that went into the text is noteworthy as well.  Told in vernacular and from the point of view of an unnamed narrator who was alive to see the Negro Leagues in action, We Are the Ship‘s memorable voice appropriately centers the black experience rather than assuming a white audience.  The dynamic artwork captures a variety of experiences and moments, and suitably brings to mind both Norman Rockwell paintings and sports photography.

cover image for Coretta ScottCoretta Scott by Ntozake Shange, illustrated by Kadir Nelson

When Coretta Scott was a young girl, she would walk five miles in the early morning dew just to attend school, while the white children rode the bus to theirs.  When she grew to be an adult she fought for equality, tirelessly and despite personal tragedy.

Shange’s poetry is once again elegant and evocative, while the repetition in Nelson’s always remarkable paintings this time also echo the rhythm of the text.  A part of me wanted more particulars in the poem about her work after her marriage, but the  short biography at the end of the book helped with that.

cover image for Diego Rivera: His World and OursDiego Rivera: His World and Ours by Duncan Tonatiuh

Born in Mexico, Diego Rivera traveled to far off places, like Madrid and Paris, to learn to paint.  But it was back home in Mexico where he made his most celebrated paintings – murals that depicted the lives of the citizens of Mexico.  Ordinary people as well as rulers, workers and warriors, all from both the world around him and from his country’s past.  If Rivera were alive today, what parts of your life do you think would be in his murals?

Diego Rivera does a wonderful job of explaining this artist’s work to children.  While it does include some biographical information in order to give context to his work, that isn’t the focus.  Instead, the book talks about Rivera’s artistic choices and the history and culture that his work brought attention to.  Tonatiuh’s own art is one of the highlight’s of the book; while clearly different from Rivera’s in style, the same influences of history and culture are evident, making it perfect for this topic.  The strong outlines, rich colors, consistent posing, and symmetry make the illustrations easy for children to read, while the depth of textures, the range of expressions, and variety of settings, actions, and clothing styles invite them to look deeper. Tonatiuh also ends the book by asking children to think about what kinds of murals Rivera might paint today, comparing and contrasting luchadores with Aztec warriors, students with factory workers, and malls with street vendors.*  In doing so he emphasizes the impact that Rivera’s work had on ordinary, everyday people, and encourages children to see their own lives through new eyes.

* Also science fiction movies with Aztec gods? I don’t know what that was about, and it came across as rather disrespectful to me, alas.

cover image for Hot Hot Roti for Dada-jiHot, Hot Roti for Dada-ji by F. Zia, illustrated by Ken Min

Aneel love having his grandparents around. Especially when Dada-ji tells him stories about the village he used to live in when he was a boy, and the hot, hot roti he would eat to build up his strength. How else could he wrestle water buffalo or make the earth rumble beneath him? Soon, both Aneel and Dada-ji are both hungry for some hot, hot roti.  But no one will help Aneel make any!  So he decides to make some himself.

There’s a lot to love in this book.  The writing is solid – it works well as a read-aloud and incorporates Hindu words and phrases without breaking the flow of the story or making it seem like we are getting a language lesson.  The plot is complicated for such a short book (with flashbacks and tales within tales and going back and forth between the real and the fantastic) but it’s never confusing or distracting.  The pictures match the story perfectly as well, and Min does a wonderful job of illustrating in such a way as to help younger readers distinguish between the here and now and the tall tales Aneel’s grandfather tells him.

Overall, it’s a sweet story about family, home, and spending time with loved ones.

cover image for The Christmas CoatThe Christmas Coat: Memories of My Sioux Childhood by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve, illustrated by Ellen Beier

Winter has arrived, and Christmas is on it’s way.  Virginia longs for a new coat to keep her warm, one that fits just right.  Especially when she has to walk through  wind and rain to get to school.  As her community prepares for holidays, Virginia does her best to think of others, but that doesn’t stop her from longing for a coat that’s just right for her.

I’m going to take the fact that this book won an American Indian Youth Literature Award as further proof of just how few books include native american children in them, and how even fewer of those do so respectfully.  This is not a bad book, and would make a good addition to any Christmas display, but it’s not really an example of great children’s literature either.  What it does do, however, is show native american children in true and realistic settings, and that’s depressingly rare.  (Debbie Reese has a review of the book at American Indians in Children’s Literature, and I strongly recommend reading that for a better understanding of what the book does well.)

cover image for Hide and Seekcover image for Wiggle

Hide and Seek by Taro Gomi

A cute and different type of “can you spot the difference?” book.  Can you spot the candles on the giraffe? Very small children may need help finding the objects listed in the rhymes, but the visual repetition and adorable animals will delight children of all ages.

Wiggle! by Taro Gomi

With a little imagination, and Gomi’s delightful illustrations, your finger can help make a cat’s tail wiggle, a chameleon’s tongue stick out, or an elephant’s trunk swing.  Not all of the actions quite work (the crocodile flashes his fang?) but all are sure to amuse.


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