Wednesday, December 19, 2018

🎄Gift Suggestions: Biographies - A Picture Book Roundup

If you are thinking about making this a bookish Christmas, consider biographies. Biographies are a wonderful way for kids to learn about other people, the challenges they faced and how they were able to overcome them. The stories found in biographies offer some important life lessons and ways for kids to discover things about themselves. And they can be really enjoyable. Here are five books my young readers really liked reading this year and one that I really liked. Can you guess who liked which books?

Carlos Santana: Sound of the Heart, Song of the World
written by Gary Golio, 
illustrated by Rudy Gutierrez
Henry Holt and Co., BFYR, 2018, 40 pages
Born in 1947, in a small Mexican village, Carlos Santana was surrounded with music from the very beginning. His father was a mariachi player, traveling around Mexico, gone for months at a time. When home, he taught Carlos how to read music and play the violin. Papa was Carlos' musical hero but once he heard American blues on the radio, Carlos was hooked, much to his father's dismay. American blues played by musicians like Muddy Waters and B.B. King became Carlos' new musical  heroes and he longed to play the blues on a electric guitar. It was the first time music really spoke to him and made him feel alive. When his father finally gave in and got a used electric guitar for him, Carlos began to finally play the music that he had always heard inside himself - a wonderful mixture of Mexican music and American blues and jazz. As much as I have always loved the music of Carlos Santana, I didn't really know anything about him. For that reason alone, I found this biography very interesting. And while the text is pretty child-friendly, detailed and straightforward, it is through the wildly colorful illustrations that one feels what was in Carlos Santana's heart all along. The illustrations evoke a strong sense of Mexico and the blues with a mix of 1960s psychedelic, paying homage to the influences of Carlos Santana's particular sound. Back matter is included.  

Lights! Camera! Alice! The Thrilling True Adventures of the
First Woman Filmmaker
written by Mara Rockliff, 
illustrated by Simona Giraolo
Chronicle Books, 2018, 60 pages
Well, if one of the purposes of biographies is to introduce young readers (and their teacher) to people they may never have heard of, this book certainly fills that bill. Born in France in 1875, Alice Guy-Blaché loved stories, but after her father's bookstore was destroyed and he died not long after, she realized she would need to get a job. Applying at a camera company, Alice discovered moving pictures. Alice thought moving pictures were great, but why not tell a story as well. Alice loved making films even though it wasn't always easy. And she was successful, even when her stories were stolen by others. After marrying, she and her husband moved to America, where Alice continued to make movies. But after her husband went to Hollywood, Alice's business began to fail, though her story does not come to an end there. Alice was a real ground breaker, the first woman in the field of filmmaking but she has received little credit for all she accomplished. The whole book has the feel of old time movies, complete with storyboards, title cards, and text written in short, simple sentences that resemble the inter-titles of silent films, Rockliff traces Alice's life, showing how she turned her love of stories into a career which led to cutting-edge innovations in film. Complimenting the story are colorful dry media illustrations that add a bit of old-time whimsy to Alice's life story. This is a book that kids will most certainly find interesting and inspiring. Back matter is included.

MartĂ­'s Song for Freedom
MartĂ­ y sus versos pro la libertad
Written by Emma Otheguy, translated by Adriana Domainguez
illustrated by Beatriz Vidal
Children's Book Press, 2017, 32 pages
Written in both English and Spanish, Otheguy introduces young readers to Cuban poet and freedom fighter JosĂ© MartĂ­. As a boy, MartĂ­ was introduced to the beauty of the Cuban countryside by his father, and he fell in love with it. But he also realized that not everything was wonderful when he saw enclaved people cutting sugarcane, but wanting to the free. MartĂ­ wished to end slavery in Cuba, however, Spain ruled the country and didn't care about the diverse people of Cuba. When the Cubans began a war against Spain, MartĂ­ supported them, writing pamphlets and newspaper articles, for which he was arrested. At 17, he was released from jail on condition that he leave Cuba forever. MartĂ­ settled in New York, continuing to support Cuba's fight for freedom. He found solace in writing verses about nature in the Catskill Mountains, but his heart never left Cuba. And, he felt that Cuba needed him, that it was time to fight Spain for its freedom again. MartĂ­ returned home and served as a soldier, and though he died before Cuba won its freedom, the fight was finished by friends who kept his dream alive. Written in short free verse stanzas, similar to MartĂ­'s own poetry, Otheguy introduces the reader to this hero of Cuba freedom who never strayed from his belief that the Cuban people deserved their independence. The poetry is supported by Vidal's beautiful gouache illustrations, in colors reminiscent of bright, sunny, warm hues of the Cuban landscape. Back matter is included.

Turning Pages: My Life Story
Pasando pĂĄginas: La historĂ­a de mi vida
written by Sonia Sotomayor, 
illustrated by Lulu Delacre
Philomel Books, 2018, 40 pages
Sonia Sotomayor is one of two of my Supreme Court heroes and I was particularly taken when I read that she was a big reader growing up as was I and that she also loved Nancy Drew. When I saw this book about her life, I knew it was a must have. Born in NYC, Sonia's family originally came from Puerto Rico, so naturally her first language was Spanish. When she began school, Sonia had to learn English. It wasn't easy, but books made learning it fun and that was the first of many life lessons that Sonia culled from the books she read - all the through her life up to her Supreme Court appointment and continues even now. Of course, poetry and comic books also had an impact on Sonia's life. For example, as a child diagnosed with diabetes, she was afraid to give herself the necessary injections, but found superhero courage in the Justice League of America. My kids loved hearing this (so did my Kiddo, a big JLA fan from way back). This is an unusual biography and one that I would readily share with kids, and especially reluctant readers who are struggling with books and reading. I cannot tell you how much I wish I had this book when I was teaching in the Bronx, where Sonia Sotomayor grew up. My young readers haven't read enough books yet to do this, but after reading this biography, my Kiddo and I had a nice talk about some of the lessons we have taken away from books that had an impact on us. Lulu Delacre's oil-washed illustrations with collage elements add much to this biography. I like that she incorporated the covers of books Sonia read all the way through this insightful biography. This book is available in both English and Spanish. Back matter is included.  

The Girl with a Mind for Math: The Story of Raye Montague
written by Julia Finley Mosca, 
illustrated by Daniel Rieley
Innovation Press, 2018, 40 pages
In this rhyming picture book, readers are introduced to Raye Montague. "Who?" my young readers asked when I showed this book to them. And truth be told, I asked the same question when I received it. Raye Montague is an African American from Arkansas, and, it turned out, a whiz at math. At 7, her granddad took her to see a real submarine, and Raye immediately knew what she wanted to be when she grew up - an engineer building ships. The only problem was that Raye lived in the segregated south and went to a school that wasn't as good as the white school. Still, she persisted in her studies, excelling in math and eventually went to college, where she was told, engineering wasn't taught to black students. Graduating with a degree in business, Raye got a job in Washington, DC for the Navy in a department where they designed ships. Hired as a secretary, Raye was undaunted in her desire to be an engineer, and signed up for computer classes. Good thing, too, because when all the engineers got the flu, Raye was able to do her own work as well as theirs. And Raye went on to design the first ship done completely by computer in less than a day. And she still wasn't an licensed engineer! Nor was she allowed to see her computer designed ship when it was built! Why? Because she was a black woman. But Raye persisted, giving her best. Does she ever receive the recognition she so rightly deserved? Yes, she does and more, and, as my kids agreed, finally! Raye's advice to dreamers - never quit, hold your course, and don't stress. Telling this story in rhyme seemed weird at first, but it enabled Mosca to get in a lot of information in a way young readers could relate to, and it opened good discussions about race and sexism that would otherwise be difficult to introduced to young kids. I loved the simple almost cartoonish illustrations because sometimes those speak louder to kids than more realistic images. This is another inspiring, well-done STEM book for young readers. Back matter is included.

Thirty Minutes Over Orgeon: 
A Japanese Pilot's World War II Story
written by Marc Tyler Nobleman
illustrated by Melissa Iwai
Clarion Books, 2018, 40 pages
Most people don't know that during WWII, the United States was bombed by the Japanese, but bombs were actually dropped twice in 1942 in a remote, forested area near Brookings, Oregon. The airplane pilot who dropped those bombs was named Nobuo Fujita, and after the war, he returned to civilian life, though he lived with guilt over the bombings. Then, in 1962, the people of Brookings decided to invite Nobuo to their Memorial Day celebration, and he accepted the invitation. The visit led to a reconciliation between Nobuo and the citizens of Brookings. Over the course of Nobuo's life, he donated thousands of dollars for the town library to buy multicultural children's books, and he invited three high school students to Japan for a visit at his expense. After he died in 1997, some of Nobuo's ashes were scattered in the area where he dropped his bombs. Not only is this a very interesting story about little known events, but Nobuo and the residents of Brookings are an inspiring example of how enemies can become friends if only we reach out to each other, a message as relevant now as it was then. Iwai's beautiful illustrations, done in watercolor and mixed-media, really capture the gentle humanity of both the Fujita family and the Brookings residents in this picture book for older readers. Back matter is included.

I hope you find some of these useful gift suggestions, meantime my young readers and I wish you

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