Posts Tagged ‘biography’
Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012
Today, February 22nd, is George Washington’s birthday and what better way to celebrate our forefather who could not tell a lie, than with a “mostly true” and yet entirely amusing picture book. Margaret McNamara’s George Washington’s Birthday: A Mostly True Tale (Schwartz & Wade, 2012) is a fresh and funny relief from stale biographies about historical figures that children are forced to read for school. Instead, McNamara, with help from witty illustrator Barry Blitt, best known for his satirical New Yorker covers, offer a story about a 7-year-old boy who thinks his family has forgotten his birthday. A story many young and birthday conscious readers can relate and aspire to, because this particular 7-year-old happens to grow up to be the first president of United States. And, humorously, no one will forget his birthday now that it’s a national holiday.
McNamara and Blitt cleverly play with fact and fiction throughout the book. McNamara weaves in familiar facts and legends about George Washingon, such as the story of the cherry tree and throwing a stone all the way across the Rappahannock river. Little asides on each page act as disclaimers, telling readers what is fact and what is myth, offering insight and often more detail about George Washington’s bright future. Blitt’s illustrations play off of these facts and myths. Where a factoid states that George Washington never wore a wig, he puts the 7-year-old in a white wig which comically shifts and falls on in various states of the boy’s activities.
The text and illustrations are packed with little nuances of humor for the reader to pick up on. Sometimes subtle, like when George mutters under his breath, calling his older half brother “a tyrant” to other times being a bit more blatantly funny, such as the headlines in the newspaper that George’s father reads: “Cherry Tree Mystery Solved” and “Don’t Axe Don’t Tell Repealed.” Perhaps my favorite illustration is the hilarious one on the back cover of an older and more familiar looking George Washington wearing a party hat, blowing a party horn. Party on, George.
Adults and children alike will appreciate the different levels of humor in this book, while learning facts and debunking popular myths. If you’re interested in hearing illustrator Barry Blitt talk a bit about the book, he was interviewed by Terry Gross for NPR’s Fresh Air recently. You can listen online here.
Our gratitude to author Margaret McNamara who is donating a portion of the proceeds from this book to The Carle Museum. A reason to party, indeed. Pick up your copy online here.
Tuesday, January 31st, 2012
LOOKING AT LINCOLN by Maira Kalman (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2012)
Using a breezy conversational style, Kalman provides a unique introduction to our 16th president. She begins by drawing attention to Lincoln’s tall stovepipe hat and his face on the $5.00 bill, and then she integrates information about Lincoln’s impoverished childhood, study of the law, election as President, Gettysburg address, Emancipation Proclamation and murder in 1865. She also integrates such fascinating lesser-known facts about his run-in with a donkey and the name of his dog. Bold colors and varying use of the pages makes this biography captivating and informative.
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Want more recommendations from The Carle Bookshop? Click here to read for Top of the Shelf book reviews.
Tuesday, August 30th, 2011
Before There Was Mozart: The Story of Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-George by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James E. Ransome (Schwartz & Wade, 2011)
This picture book biography celebrates a boy who, born of a mother who was a slave and a father who was a wealthy plantation owner in the West Indies, sailed to France, where he won the hearts as a musician, orchestra conductor, and composer. Many pictures in this book shine. There’s a lot of gold and yellow, beginning with a sunrise over the sea, and ending with Joseph taking a bow before royalty. James E. Ransome shows the beauty of fields and harbors in Gaudeloupe, where Joseph first becomes enchanted with music, as well as Paris, where his father takes him when he’s nine to begin classes with the sons of dukes and marquises. Joseph’s privileged life isn’t without pain and prejudice. His mother has her own apartment in a less glamorous part of Paris, and their lives become more separate.
At age twenty-one, Joseph devotes himself to music, and before long captivates audiences with the way he could “make a violin weep as if its heart had been broken.” He composes operas, quartets, and concertos, and played at many venues, including one in which Mozart is in the audience. At last he’s invited to Versailles to play for King Louis the Sixteenth and Queen Marie Antoinette. As they and their elaborately dressed guest applaud, so do we, with the pleasure in the music of the word and light dancing in the pictures.
Tuesday, May 10th, 2011
Me…Jane by Patrick McDonnell (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
With a few words and riveting ink and watercolor drawings, this small picture book tells the story of the childhood dream that led Dr. Jane Goodall to Africa to study chimpanzees. We see young Jane holding a stuffed chimpanzee in scenes based upon the scientist’s childhood recollections. She loved reading Tarzan of the Apes. She snuck into a henhouse to patiently wait for the moment when a creature broke through a shell.
Besides the expressive drawings, nineteeth century prints give a faint background to some pages, suggesting a bygone era when naturalists more often worked from outdoor observation, before our era in which the unseen underlies much scientific training. We also see sketches Jane made for a club she formed called “The Aligator Society.” There’s a beautiful rhythm within sentences and between the pages that emphasize close looking, wonder, and a connection between people and nature. I love the two-page spread where Jane lies in the grass delighting in the sky, watched by curious chickens. She climbs trees with un-awkward reverence.
The story is of a child, though the book ends with a photograph of the ground-breaking scientist reaching for the hand of a chimpanzee. In addition to the useful afterword, I would have liked to see at least a page suggesting the years of work between a young girl’s dreams and its realization, but it’s a small quibble. Me…Jane is a charming introduction to a wise and great-hearted scientist, and, really, why shouldn’t every child with a cherished stuffed chimpanzee become a primatologist, or at least find her own way to help save the world?
Pick up a copy of Me…Jane and read more Top of the Shelf recommendations.
Tuesday, April 26th, 2011
Queen of the Falls written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Of course I admire other books by Chris Van Allsburg, who won the Caldecott Medal for The Polar Express and Jumanji, but I was skeptical about a book based on the true story of how Annie Edson Taylor went over Niagara Falls in a wooden barrel one hundred years ago. I knew the story of the 62-year-old widow who was brave and maybe desperate — students were leaving the charm schools she ran, and she wanted to avoid the poorhouse — but I couldn’t help thinking about other intrepid women who were both daring and somehow helped the world.
Annie Edson Taylor was pure daredevil without much curiosity about say, the natural history of the falls, and she didn’t make a pretense of doing her feat in the name of women’s rights. But from the first to last page of this longish picture book, Chris Van Allsburg drew me smack into the story of a complicated woman I came to care for. With a nod to his background in fantasy, the first page shows a seventeen-story building amid the falls, to give us scale, then a close-up of a terrified young girl pointing toward a barrel: Annie is hurtling down. We then jump to background leading up to the event, and I first fell for Annie in the picture in which she’s dreamily and bravely waltzing alone, while a long little boy, her last student, sits in the corner. Black and white portraits masterfully show a rich variety of mood and poses: pride, defiance, tenderness, recklessness, her scientific eye (she oversees the barrel making), grace, sense of theater, and with view of her within the barrel: “Annie could feel only one thing: complete discombobulation.”
While there’s sadness when her feat doesn’t bring the riches she hoped for, the last page ends with Annie’s pride and contentment. I was deeply contented, too.
Pick up a copy of Queen of the Falls or check out more books by Chris Van Allsburg, including The Carle’s catalog from it’s 2005 exhibition, The Mysteries of Chris Van Allsburg.
Click here to read more Top of the Shelf book recommendations.
Tuesday, April 5th, 2011
Night Flight: Amelia Earhart Crosses the Atlantic by Robert Burleigh, paintings by Wendell Minor (Simon & Schuster, 2011)
Robert Burleigh uses poetic language to detail Amelia Earhart’s 1932 flight across the ocean, the first time a woman made this over-2000-mile trip solo. Readers will be engaged by the details of the weather and single-engine airplane as well as the inner journey: there’s excitement, fear, fatigue, nostalgia, and always courage. Burleigh makes use of metaphors and present-tense free verse couplets to bring out feelings with well-chosen words. Here’s an example:
“1:00 a.m. The friendly night becomes a graph of fear:
a jagged line between where-I-am and not-quite-sure.”
Wendell Minor shows the red Vega with rounded contours from many perspectives. The way he gives close-ups into the cockpit then switches to long views adds excitement. I love the contrast between the double page spread when Amelia Earhart leaves a wide bleak runway in Newfoundland, and the one where cows cavort across green fields when Earhart safely lands in Ireland, and “the world returns to her deafened ears.” Endpaper aficionados will enjoy the Lockheed Vega drawn in front of a map of the journey.
Robert Burleigh offers an overview of Earhart’s career in the afterword, and Wendell Minor gives us a look into his meticulous research. We also get a bibliography and quotes from Earhart on aviation, women’s rights, and determination.
Pick up a copy of Night Flight or read more Top of the Shelf book recommendations.