What is JacketFlap

  • JacketFlap connects you to the work of more than 200,000 authors, illustrators, publishers and other creators of books for Children and Young Adults. The site is updated daily with information about every book, author, illustrator, and publisher in the children's / young adult book industry. Members include published authors and illustrators, librarians, agents, editors, publicists, booksellers, publishers and fans.
    Join now (it's free).

Sort Blog Posts

Sort Posts by:

  • in

Suggest a Blog

Enter a Blog's Feed URL below and click Submit:

Most Commented Posts

In the past 7 days

Recent Posts

(tagged with 'biographies')

Recent Comments

JacketFlap Sponsors

Spread the word about books.
Put this Widget on your blog!
  • Powered by JacketFlap.com

Are you a book Publisher?
Learn about Widgets now!

Advertise on JacketFlap

MyJacketFlap Blogs

  • Login or Register for free to create your own customized page of blog posts from your favorite blogs. You can also add blogs by clicking the "Add to MyJacketFlap" links next to the blog name in each post.

Blog Posts by Date

Click days in this calendar to see posts by day or month
new posts in all blogs
Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: biographies, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 85
1. Review of the Day: The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch by Chris Barton

JohnRoyLynch1The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch
By Chris Barton
Illustrated by Don Tate
Eerdmans Books for Young Readers
ISBN: 978-0-8028-5379-0
Ages 4-8
On shelves now

“It’s the story of a guy who in ten years went from teenage field slave to U.S. Congressman.” Come again? That’s the pitch author Chris Barton pulled out when he wanted to describe this story to others. You know, children’s book biographies can be very easy as long as you cover the same fifteen to twenty people over and over again. And you could forgive a child for never imagining that there were remarkable people out there beyond Einstein, Tubman, Jefferson, and Sacajawea. People with stories that aren’t just unknown to kids but to whole swaths of adults as well. So I always get kind of excited when I see someone new out there. And I get extra especially excited when the author involved is Chris Barton. Here’s a guy who performed original research to write a picture book biography of the guys who invented Day-Glo colors (The Day-Glo Brothers) so you know you’re in safe hands. The inclusion of illustrator Don Tate was not something I would have thought up myself, but by gum it turns out that he’s the best possible artist for this story! Tackling what turns out to be a near impossible task (explaining Reconstruction to kids without plunging them into the depths of despair), this keen duo present a book that reads so well you’re left wondering not just how they managed to pull it off, but if anyone else can learn something from their technique.

From birth until the age of sixteen John Roy Lynch was a slave. The son of an overseer who died before he could free his family, John Roy began life as a house slave but was sent to the fields when his high-strung mistress made him the brunt of her wrath. Not long after, The Civil War broke out and John Roy bought himself a ride to Natchez and got a job. He started out as a waiter than moved on to pantryman, photographer, and in time orator and even Justice of the Peace. Then, at twenty-four years of age, John Roy Lynch was elected to the Mississippi House of Representatives where he served as Speaker of the House. The year was 1869, and these changes did not pass without incident. Soon an angry white South took its fury out on its African American population and the strides that had been made were rescinded violently. John Roy Lynch would serve out two terms before leaving office. He lived to a ripe old age, dying at last in 1939. A Historical Note, Timeline, Author’s Note, Illustrator’s Note, Bibliography of books “For Further Reading”, and map of John’s journey and the Reconstructed United States circa 1870 appear at the end.

JohnRoyLynch2How do you write a book for children about a time when things were starting to look good and then plummeted into bad for a very very long time? I think kids have this perception (oh heck, a bunch of adults too) that we live in the best of all possible worlds. For example, there’s a children’s book series called Infinity Ring where the basic premise is that bad guys have gone and changed history and now it’s up to our heroes to put everything back because, obviously, this world we live in right now is the best. Simple, right? Their first adventure is to make sure Columbus “discovers” America so . . . yup. Too often books for kids reinforce the belief that everything that has happened has to have happened that way. So when we consider how few books really discuss Reconstruction, it’s not exactly surprising. Children’s books are distinguished, in part, by their capacity to inspire hope. What is there about Reconstruction to cause hope at all? And how do you teach that to kids?

Barton’s solution is clever because rather than write a book about Reconstruction specifically, he’s found a historical figure that guides the child reader effortlessly through the time period. Lynch’s life is perfect for every step of this process. From slavery to a freedom that felt like slavery. Then slow independence, an education, public speaking, new responsibilities, political success, two Congressional terms, and then an entirely different life after that (serving in the Spanish-American War as a major, moving to Chicago, dying). Barton shows his rise and then follows his election with a two-page spread of KKK mayhem, explaining that the strides made were taken back “In a way, the Civil War wasn’t really over. The battling had not stopped.” And after quoting a speech where Lynch proclaims that America will never be free until “every man, woman, and child can feel and know that his, her, and their rights are fully protected by the strong arm of a generous and grateful Republic,” Barton follows it up with, “If John Roy Lynch had lived a hundred years (and he nearly did), he would not have seen that come to pass.” Barton guides young readers to the brink of the good and then explains the bad, giving context to just how long the worst of it continued. He also leaves it up to them to determine if Lynch’s dream has come to fruition or not (classroom debate time!).

JohnRoyLynch4And he plays fair. These days I read nonfiction picture books with my teeth clenched. Why? Because I’ve started holding them to high standards (doggone it). And there are so many moments in this book that could have been done incorrectly. Heck, the first image you see when you open it up is of John Roy Lynch’s family, his white overseer father holding his black wife tenderly as their kids stand by. I saw it and immediately wondered how we could believe that Lynch’s parents ever cared for one another. Yet a turn of the page and Barton not only puts Patrick Lynch’s profession into context (“while he may have loved these slaves, he most likely took the whip to others”) but provides information on how he attempted to buy his wife and children. Later there is some dialogue in the book, as when Lynch’s owner at one point joshes with him at the table and John Roy makes the mistake of offering an honest answer. Yet the dialogue is clearly taken from a text somewhere, not made up to fit the context of the book. I loathe faux dialogue, mostly because it’s entirely unnecessary. Barton shows clearly that one need never rely upon it to make a book exemplary.

Finally, you just have to stand in awe of Barton’s storytelling. Not making up dialogue is one thing. Drawing a natural link between a life and the world in which that life lived is another entirely. Take that moment when John Roy answers his master honestly. He’s banished to hard labor on a plantation after his master’s wife gets angry. Then Barton writes, “She was not alone in rage and spite and hurt and lashing out. The leaders of the South reacted the same way to the election of a president – Abraham Lincoln – who was opposed to slavery.” See how he did that? He managed to bring the greater context of the times in line with John Roy’s personal story. Many is the clunky picture book biography that shoehorns in the era or, worse, fails to mention it at all. I much preferred Barton’s methods. There’s an elegance to them.

I’ve been aware of Don Tate for a number of years. No slouch, the guy’s illustrated numerous children’s books, and even wrote (but didn’t illustrate) one that earned him an Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Honor Award (It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw). His is a seemingly simple style. I wouldn’t exactly call it cartoony, but it is kid friendly. Clear lines. Open faces. His watercolors go for honesty and clarity and do not come across as particularly evocative. But I hadn’t ever seen the man do nonfiction, I’ll admit. And while it probably took me a page or two to understand, once I realized why Don Tate was the perfect artist for “John Roy Lynch” it all clicked into place. You see, books about slavery for kids usually follow a prescribed pattern. Some of them go for hyperrealism. Books with art by James Ransome, Eric Velasquez, Floyd Cooper, or E.B Lewis all adhere closely to this style. Then there are the books that are a little more abstract. Books with art by R. Gregory Christie, for example, traipse closely to art worthy of Jacob Lawrence. And Shane W. Evans has a style that’s significantly artistic. A more cartoony style is often considered too simplistic for the heavy subject matter or, worse, disrespectful. But what are we really talking about here? If the book is going to speak honestly about what slavery really was, the subjugation of whole generations of people, then art that hews closely to the truth is going to be too horrific for kids. You need someone who can cushion the blow, to a certain extent. It isn’t that Tate is shying away from the horrors. But when he draws it it loses some of its worst terrors. There is one two-page spread in this book that depicts angry whites whipping and lynching their black neighbors. JohnRoyLynch3It’s not shown as an exact moment in time, but rather a composite of events that would have happened then. And there’s something about Tate’s style that makes it manageable. The whip has not yet fallen and the noose has not yet been placed around a neck, but the angry mobs are there and you know that the worst is imminent. Most interesting to me too is that far in the background a white woman and her two children just stand there, neither approving nor condemning the action. I think you could get a very good conversation out of kids about this family. What are they feeling? Whose side are they on? Why don’t they do something?

And Tate has adapted his style, you can see. Compare the heads and faces in this book to those in one of his earlier books like, Ron’s Big Mission by Rose Blue, in this one he modifies the heads, making them a bit smaller, in proportion with the rest of the body. I was particularly interested in how he did faces as well. If you watch Lynch’s face as a child and teen it’s significant how he keeps is features blank in the presence of white people. Not expressionless, but devoid of telltale thoughts. As a character, the first time he smiles is when he finally has a job he can be paid for. With its silhouetted moments, good design sense, tapered but not muted color palette, and attention to detail, Mr. Tate puts his all into what is by far his most sophisticated work to date.

This year rage erupted over the fact that the Confederate flag continues to fly over the South Carolina statehouse grounds. To imagine that the story Barton relates here does not have immediate applications to contemporary news is facile. As he mentions in his Author’s Note, “I think it’s a shame how little we question why the civil rights movement in this country occurred a full century following the emancipation of the slaves rather than immediately afterward.” So as an author he found an inspiring, if too little known, story of a man who did something absolutely astounding. A story that every schoolchild should know. If there’s any justice in the universe, after reading this book they will. Reconstruction done right. Nonfiction done well.

On shelves now.

Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.

Like This? Then Try:

Professional Reviews:

Misc: For you, m’dear?  An educator’s guide.

Videos: A book trailer and everything!


6 Comments on Review of the Day: The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch by Chris Barton, last added: 9/12/2015
Display Comments Add a Comment
2. Review of Tricky Vic

pizzoli_tricky vicTricky Vic: The Impossibly True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower
by Greg Pizzoli; illus. by the author
Intermediate   Viking   48 pp.
3/15   978-0-670-01652-5   $17.99

Amidst the current plethora of picture-book biography role models, it’s nice to see a book about a con artist. “Ah, yes. But an artist all the same.” “Count Victor Lustig” (born Robert Miller) fleeced his way as a card shark back and forth across the Atlantic until WWI put an end to that; after obtaining the blessing of Al Capone, Lustig went into a “money box” counterfeit-counterfeiting scam in Chicago before returning to Europe and his greatest trick of all — convincing a Parisian businessman that the Eiffel Tower was about to be dismantled and taking his cash bid for the salvage. Lustig’s exploits did not end there, but they did end eventually, with the apparently nine-lived (and forty-five-pseudonymed) con man finishing his days on Alcatraz Island. With a sophisticated, genially sinister design incorporating cartoons and photographs into a low-toned red and mustard palette, the book signals the right kind of reader: one for whom venality is no obstacle to a good time. There’s no moral here, except perhaps for the one that closes the excellent author’s note: “Stay sharp.” Sidebars throughout provide historical context, and a glossary and thorough source list will give young crooks cover for school reports.

From the May/June 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


The post Review of Tricky Vic appeared first on The Horn Book.

0 Comments on Review of Tricky Vic as of 1/1/1900
Add a Comment
3. The Sky Painter: Louis Fuertes, Bird Artist, by Margarita Engle | Book Giveaway

Enter to win a copy of The Sky Painter, by Margarita Engle and illustrated by Aliona Bereghici. Giveaway begins April 28, 2015, at 12:01 A.M. PST and ends May 27, 2015, at 11:59 P.M. PST.

Add a Comment
4. Five Family Favorites with Margarita Engle, Author of The Sky Painter: Louis Fuertes, Bird Artist

Margarita Engle, author of The Sky Painter, selected these five family favorite children's books.

Add a Comment
5. How to Create Interactive Timelines

If you're looking for an awesome online report option for biographies or nonfiction texts, you'll love Hstry.co. Hstry is a site where students can create cool looking, interactive timelines with text, images, videos, and embedded quizzes. 

These are really good looking timelines! If you don't believe me, check out this sample on World War I, or this one about the History of Immigration in theUnited States. And your students can create timelines that look just as good.

In my case, however, I didn't want a timeline. My sixth graders had just read nonfiction books of choice, with topics as varied as fashion, venomous animals, and accidental inventions. I needed a venue that would permit them to show off their topic's most interesting facts. So in my case, my students used the site to create linear collages rather than timelines. The video below (which I created and hosted for free at Screencast-O-Matic) walks you through one of those projects.

I spent a good deal of time modeling the process of creating a Hstry timeline in class (and you'll need to do the same), but some students were still somewhat fuzzy on all the steps even after I finished. Plus, three students were absent the day I modeled the how-to. So I created the following video which walks students through the process. Note: do not make a video when all you have for audio production is a dollar store microphone. The project sheet to which the video refers is here if you care to see it.

One downside to this site is that (at present) students cannot publicly share their projects. So in my class we did mini field trips. Students logged in and set up their projects on their screens. I then randomly distributed our class name cards, and students went and visited the Hstry project belonging to the classmate whose name appeared on the card. While visiting, my students provided feedback via a form I created. After two visits, all students were allowed to return to their projects, read the feedback form, and then make corrections as needed. Following these revisions, we conducted two more staged visits, and then students were permitted to visit as they chose or return to their own laptop to improve their work.

Sample Applications for the Classroom:

  • Create a timeline of historical events.
  • Create a biographical timeline.
  • Embed multiple videos, each with its own quiz.
  • Do what my students did, and use it as a linear collage for a nonfiction book.
  • Create your own timeline (as a teacher) to provide students with needed historical context they need before a new unit. 
Notes and Caveats:

  • Again, student timelines are not publicly visibly (yet), and may never be, so plan accordingly.
  • Check-off sheets like the one I created are key to help students manage the content they're adding.
  • Looking for other creative, tech-oriented ways to create book reports? Check out these 23 iPad Alternatives to the Book Report.
  • No, I did not really read the book about chickens, but I did spend summers running a farm at camp, so I know my way around a chicken coop.

0 Comments on How to Create Interactive Timelines as of 1/1/1900
Add a Comment
6. Beyond biography

With storytelling ease and pitch-perfect pacing, the following works of narrative nonfiction for older readers bring their subjects to brilliant life, elevating the sometimes-staid genre of biography to literary art form.

woodson brown girl dreaming Beyond biographyJacqueline Woodson’s memoir-in-verse Brown Girl Dreaming is so immediate that readers will feel they are experiencing the author’s childhood right along with her. Born in Ohio in 1963, Jackie moved with her family to Greenville, South Carolina, to live with her maternal grandparents. We see young Jackie grow up in historical context alongside the contexts of extended family, community (Greenville, later Brooklyn), and religion — and we trace her development as a nascent writer to her realization that “words are [her] brilliance.” The poetry sings in this extraordinary portrait of a writer as a young girl. (Penguin/Paulsen, 10–14 years)

mccully ida m tarbell Beyond biographyEmily Arnold McCully creates a multilayered biography of a crusading early-twentieth-century journalist in Ida M. Tarbell: The Woman Who Challenged Big Business — and Won! Readers meet young Ida growing up in Pennsylvania oil country. A curious child, Tarbell’s lessons learned from scientific inquiry led to her dogged determination to get to the bottom of an issue. McCully engagingly re-creates the era’s social context for women (famously, Tarbell didn’t believe in women’s suffrage) as well as the culture and importance of print media, allowing readers to draw their own conclusions about Tarbell’s positions and her times. (Clarion, 10–14 years)

fleming romanov Beyond biographyCandace Fleming’s riveting book The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia appeals to the imagination as much as the intellect. Her focus is not just the Romanovs (the last imperial family of Russia), but the Revolutionary leaders and common people as well, showing how each group was the product of its circumstances and how they all moved inexorably toward the tragic yet fascinating conclusion. An epic, sweeping historical narrative. (Random/Schwartz & Wade, 12–18 years)

paterson stories of my life Beyond biographyDemonstrating warmth, ease, and a sense of humor about herself, Katherine Paterson relates tales from her life, and from her parents’ and grandparents’, too, in Stories of My Life. The author gently ambles from story to story, looping through her youthful experiences in China and Japan, her marriage and children, and her writing. Throughout all there is a strong connection to Paterson’s childhood: “By the time I was five I had been through war and evacuation, but nothing had prepared me for the American public school system.” (Dial, 12 years and up)

From the August 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

share save 171 16 Beyond biography

The post Beyond biography appeared first on The Horn Book.

0 Comments on Beyond biography as of 1/1/1900
Add a Comment
7. New Books!

I treated myself to a new book right before going on vacation. I’ve wanted to read the series for a while, but only bought the first book because I got such a deal on it. I really have too many books here to justify buying more.



Belly measures her life in summers. Everything good, everything magical happens between the months of June and August. Winters are simply a time to count the weeks until the next summer, a place away from the beach house, away from Susannah, and most importantly, away from Jeremiah and Conrad. They are the boys that Belly has known since her very first summer–they have been her brother figures, her crushes, and everything in between. But one summer, one terrible and wonderful summer, the more everything changes, the more it all ends up just the way it should have been all along.


While we were away, this one arrived in the mail. I’ll be reviewing this book for the author.

little author

Many girls in elementary and middle school fall in love with the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. What they don’t always realize is that Wilder’s books are autobiographical. This narrative biography describes more of the details of the young Laura’s real life as a young pioneer homesteading with her family on many adventurous journeys. This biography, complete with charming illustrations, points out the differences between the fictional series as well as the many similarities. It’s a fascinating story of a much-celebrated writer.


Hope you had a great week.

0 Comments on New Books! as of 8/27/2014 4:05:00 AM
Add a Comment
8. Little Author in the Big Woods by Yona Zeldis McDonough

little author“Once upon a time, sixty years ago, a little girl lived in the Big Woods of Wisconsin, in a little gray house made of logs.”  This sentence opens Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder, the first in a series of children’s books that gave middle grade readers a glimpse into the life of America’s pioneer families. And for some–like myself–this would be the start of a lifelong desire to learn more about the real life of Laura, her sisters Mary, Carrie, and Grace, and her parents Charles and Caroline Ingalls.

In a style similar to the  Little House books, author Yona Zeldis McDonough has created a biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder aimed toward middle grade readers that not only helps point out the fact and the fiction behind Wilder’s classic children’s books, but also celebrates the independent mind of the Quiner and Ingalls women along the way.

McDonough’s book opens not with Wilder, but with a brief prologue discussing the life of Caroline Lake Quiner, who would one day become Caroline Ingalls. This sets the tone for the rest of this biography, as it highlights how Caroline’s mother, Charlotte, believed in higher education for girls; something Ma Ingalls also wanted for her daughters.

Told in chronological order, Little Author in the Big Woods follows Wilder’s life and the journeys she took not only with her family, but later with her husband Almanzo and daughter Rose. It talks about the hardships the Wilders faced as a young married couple and of their leaving De Smet, South Dakota to settle in Mansfield, Missouri. Readers learn about the building of the dream house on Rocky Ridge Farm and Wilder’s early career writing for the Missouri Ruralist, before moving on to the creation of the Little House series. McDonough ends with an epilogue that discusses the longevity of Wilder’s work and Michael Landon’s classic television show, Little House on the Prairie, which is based upon the books. Readers are also treated to quotes from Laura Ingalls Wilder, details on some of the games that Laura played, crafts, and recipes. Also included is a list of other writings by Wilder and a list with some of the other books about her.

While I have to admit I learned little new about Laura Ingalls Wilder as a result, I believe middle grade readers will enjoy getting to know more about her real life and the independent nature of the women in the Quiner, Ingalls, and Wilder families. With a similar writing style and design to the Little House series, readers will feel right at home with this book. Jennifer Thermes did an excellent job in capturing the essence of McDonough’s book and Wilder’s life with her beautiful illustrations. I’m thrilled to add Little Author in the Big Woods to my Laura Ingalls Wilder collection.


Rating: :) :) :) :) :)

Age Range: 8 – 12 years
Grade Level: 3 – 7
Series: Christy Ottaviano Books
Hardcover: 176 pages
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR); First Edition edition (September 16, 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 080509542X
ISBN-13: 978-0805095425

I received a copy of this book from the author. This review contains my honest opinions, which I have not been compensated for in any way.

1 Comments on Little Author in the Big Woods by Yona Zeldis McDonough, last added: 10/27/2014
Display Comments Add a Comment
9. Review of Unbroken

hillenbrand_unbrokenUnbroken: An Olympian’s Journey from Airman to Castaway to Captive
by Laura Hillenbrand; 
adapted by the author
Middle School, High School   Delacorte   292 pp.
11/14   978-0-385-74251-1   $19.99
Library ed. 978-0-375-99062-5   $22.99   g
e-book ed. 978-0-307-97565-2   $10.99

With media attention focused on the July 2014 death of Louis Zamperini, and Angelina Jolie’s upcoming movie detailing his WWII experiences, this adaptation of Hillenbrand’s best-selling Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption puts the Zamperini story in the hands of many teens not ready or willing to tackle the adult version. Constantly in and out of scrapes as a child, Zamperini appeared to be heading for a life of crime. But Louis traded delinquency for adulation. He became a competitive runner, and gutsy performances earned him a slot on the 1938 Olympic track team. With the outbreak of World War II, he joined the Air Corps, surviving a plane crash and forty-seven days adrift on a raft only to be captured and interred in various Japanese POW camps until war’s end. He returned to California alive but emotionally scarred; after battling alcoholism, he became a Christian crusader. This adaptation eliminates much of the original detail, particularly concerning Zamperini’s survival at sea and his time as a POW, and Zamperini’s eventual redemption receives fewer edits than other portions of the text — and thus its impact is more prominent than in the original. But the tension built by his oceanic ordeal and by the unrelenting torture during his years in captivity never wavers, creating a humdinger of a page-turner: a noble story about the courage of America’s Greatest Generation, personified. An author interview with Zamperini and (unseen) notes and index are appended.

From the November/December 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


The post Review of Unbroken appeared first on The Horn Book.

0 Comments on Review of Unbroken as of 1/1/1990
Add a Comment
10. Review of Draw What You See

benson_draw what you seeDraw What You See: The Life and Art of Benny Andrews
by Kathleen Benson; illus. with paintings by Benny Andrews
Primary, Intermediate   Clarion   32 pp.
1/15   978-0-544-10487-7   $16.99

Benson opens in New Orleans in 2005, where Benny Andrews traveled after Hurricane Katrina to teach children “to use art to express their feelings about what they had been through…he knew that sometimes it was easier to tell a story with pictures than with words.” And this is an excellent way to begin a biography of an artist dedicated to the craft of narrative- and experience-based art, and also to the ongoing social concerns of African Americans and other minority groups. Then it’s back to 1933 Plainview, Georgia, where three-year-old Benny drew his first picture. In clear prose, Benson moves through the years, during which Andrews defied social expectations by leaving the farm, attending high school, earning a bachelor of fine arts degree, and eventually becoming a renowned painter in an art world that was still unwelcoming to artists of color. The narrative is expertly crafted around original Andrews paintings (identified in the back matter), which are notable for their focus on autobiographical elements and people’s experiences of prejudice as well as for the expressionistic stylization of figures: elongated subjects work in a field, attend church, dance at a jazz club, sell newspapers in Harlem. Appended are an author’s note, sources and resources, and an ultra-detailed timeline that makes clear the breadth and heft of Andrews’s accomplishments.

From the January/February 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


The post Review of Draw What You See appeared first on The Horn Book.

0 Comments on Review of Draw What You See as of 1/1/1900
Add a Comment
11. Review of The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

kamkwamba_boy who harnessed the windThe Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Young Readers Edition
by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer; illus. by Anna Hymas
Intermediate, Middle School   Dial   294 pp.
2/15   978-0-8037-4080-8   $16.99   g

As a young boy growing up in Malawi, William Kamkwamba believed in — and was fearful of — magic. As he got a bit older, he was drawn to science. He tinkered with toy trucks and “monster wagons” (“chigiriri, that looked like American go-carts”) and began reading old science books and dreaming up inventions. When heavy rains, followed by drought, hit his country and the corrupt government didn’t respond, young William used his scientific ingenuity to help people in need. He began making a windmill out of “bottle-cap washers, rusted tractor parts, and [an] old bicycle frame,” and, to the amazement of family and community, it was a success. Soon he dreamed of conquering darkness, pumping water to the villages, and fighting hunger. This young readers’ edition of the bestselling adult memoir The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope (already adapted as a picture book by the same name) has been simplified for a middle-grade audience, unfortunately losing some of the lyricism of the original. (Chapter one in the adult version opens, “Before I discovered the miracles of science, magic ruled the world.” Chapter one here begins, “My name is William Kamkwamba, and to understand the story I’m about to tell, you must first understand the country that raised me.”) Both versions have a straightforward narrative arc: because of the book’s prologue, readers know that William’s wind machine will be successful and that they, the readers, are to be inspired. And it is inspiring — a well-told true tale of one young man’s passion for science making his world better.

From the January/February 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


The post Review of The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind appeared first on The Horn Book.

0 Comments on Review of The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind as of 1/1/1900
Add a Comment
12. THE IRIDESCENCE OF BIRDS, A Book About Henri Matisse – Perfect Picture Book Friday

Title: The Iridescence of Birds – A Book About Henri Matisse Written by: Patricia MacLachlan Illustrated by: Hadley Hooper Published by: A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Book Press, 2014 Themes/Topics: Henri Matisse, painters, the influence of childhood, France Suitable for ages: 5-11 40 pages, … Continue reading

Add a Comment
13. Celebrate Black History Month with Two Book Collections from LEE & LOW BOOKS!

A heads up to our blog readers that we have two great sales happening now to celebrate Black History Month!

We’re offering 25% off two Black History Month collections on leeandlow.com through the end of the month. Kick-start your Black History book collection or mix things up with great books that can be used all year long.


Both collections offer biographies of great leaders who excelled in many different fields including writing, politics, music, and the culinary arts and will appeal to a wide range of readers.

Our Black History Month Paperback Collection features four award-winning picture books in paperback:

John Lewis in the Lead
I and I Bob Marley
George Crum and the Saratoga Chip
Love to Langston 

Originally $40, it’s currently on sale for $29.95.

Our Black History Month Special Collection features five award winning picture book biographies in a mix of paperback and hard cover editions:

John Lewis in the Lead
George Crum and the Saratoga Chip
It Jes’ Happened
Love to Langston
Baby Flo

Originally $65.70, it’s currently on sale for $50.

0 Comments on Celebrate Black History Month with Two Book Collections from LEE & LOW BOOKS! as of 2/13/2015 2:43:00 PM
Add a Comment
14. Twenty-two Cents, Muhammad Yunus and the Village Bank – Diversity Reading Challenge 2015

I naturally gravitate towards diversity in my reading, and my blog has had this as a focus since its beginning, but this challenge has pushed me to seek out texts in a more targeted way. Today’s story, however, came to … Continue reading

Add a Comment
15. Review of the Day: Tricky Vic by Greg Pizzoli

Tricky Vic: The Impossibly True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower
By Greg Pizzoli
Viking (an imprint of Penguin Group USA)
ISBN: 978-0-670-01652-5
Ages 8-11
On shelves now

I was listening to a favorite podcast of mine the other day when the panelists began discussing the difference between heist films and con man films.  A heist film is one where the entire movie is a build-up to a great and fabulous heist.  Ocean’s 11 and that sort of thing.  In the children’s book world this would be The Great Greene Heist.  A con man film is different.  There you have a single individual, and not necessarily a heroic one either.  Catch Me If You Can is a con man film.  And on the children’s book side?  Honestly, we don’t have a lot of them.  Maybe Pickle by Kim Baker but that’s a stretch.  It really wasn’t until I laid eyes on Greg Pizzoli’s Tricky Vic that I could appreciate what I had been missing all these years.  Told with a relaxed easygoing style, Pizzoli takes one of the world’s most notorious individuals in the con game, and refuses to humanize him.  Here we see a character that was larger than life.  Makes sense that he’d try to sell a structure that was in many ways his equal.

In 1890 he was born Robert Miller, but that didn’t last.  Names came and went and by the time he was an adult, Miller was a professional gambler turned con artist.  His preferred method of payment was gambling on transatlantic ocean liners but then along came WWI and Miller, now calling himself Count Victor Lustig, needed a new occupation.  Through a little low level trickery he got the blessing of Al Capone and then set about bilking the easy rich.  But his greatest feat, and the one that would put him down in the history books, was his successful con of “selling” the Eiffel Tower to prospective buyers.  Though in time he was eventually caught and jailed (in Alcatraz, no less), Vic’s odd life shines a spotlight on those individuals willing to get ahead on our own greed and misplaced hope.  Backmatter includes an Author’s Note, Glossary, Selected Sources, and a note on the art.

Every great picture book biography finds something about an individual that is interesting to child readers.  In The Boy Who Loved Math it was Paul Erdos’s sheer enthusiasm and childlike goofiness.  In The Noisy Paintbox it was Kandinsky’s ability to translate sound to sight and back again.  And in Tricky Vic it’s shamelessness.  Kids don’t often encounter, in any form, adults that unapologetically do wrong.  Vic ultimately pays for his crimes, and in many ways that’s the only way you can get away with what Pizzoli is doing here.  You see, the trouble with con man storylines is that they’re just too much fun.  You can’t help but root for Vic when he pulls the old Romanian Money Box scheme or when he cons the great Al Capone himself.  Really one of the few objections I’ve heard lobbed against the book is a question as to whether or not kids will have any interest in an obscure two-bit criminal.  But like all great nonfiction authors for kids, Pizzoli knows that children’s biographies do not begin and end with Amelia Earhart and Abraham Lincoln.  Sometimes kids appreciate far more the biographies of the people who didn’t go about with halos hovering around their ears.  There’s room on our shelves for the baddies.

Now when Greg Pizzoli debuted with his picture book The Watermelon Seed two years ago, there was nothing to indicate to me that he had any inclination to go the nonfiction route.  “The Watermelon Seed” utilizes a three-color print job and distinctly retro aesthetic.  That aesthetic remains intact in Tricky Vic but Pizzoli but the technique has been cranked up to eleven.  In “A Note About the Art in This Book” at the back, Pizzoli says that the illustrations seen here were “created using pencil, ink, rubber stamps, halftone photographs, silkscreen, Zipatone, and Photoshop.” The end result is a book that straddles the line between those picture books actually concocted in the 1930s and a distinctly contemporary creation.

Dig a little deeper and Pizzoli’s illustration choices go beyond mere novelty.  The choice to render Vic’s head as a thumbprint has so many different uses.  With a mere change in tone or color, Pizzoli can render his personality and character different from one page to the next.  This chameleon of a man couldn’t ask for better representation.  But much of the success of the book lies in how it tackles the question of Vic as a bad person.  Pizzoli’s choice to make Vic expressionless throughout the book is key to this.  Because kids aren’t exactly reading about a role model, it’s important that Vic never look like he’s having too much fun.  Remove his mouth and eyes and voila!  An instant blank slate on which to project your storyline.  Let the facts speak for themselves.

And speaking of facts, in no time in our nation’s history have picture book biographies for children fallen under as much scrutiny as they do today.  Time was the D’Aulaires could write varying fictional accounts of everyone from Pocahontas to Abraham Lincoln and win Caldecotts for their efforts.  These days, the debate rages around how much an author is allowed to do and the crux of that debate centers on made up dialogue.  I am firmly of the opinion that made up dialogue is unnecessary in a children’s book biography.  However, when handled creatively, there are exceptions to every rule.  And “Tricky Vic” is, if nothing else, vastly creative.  If you read the book the actual text is all factual.  There is some mucking about with the timeline of one of the major events in Vic’s life, but Pizzoli comes clean about that in his Author’s Note in the back, and I give a lot of credit to folks who fess up plainly.  Getting back to the text, look a little closer and you’ll see that there is some made up dialogue but Pizzoli keeps it at a minimum and gives it its own separate space.  Little speech balloons between the characters will occasionally crop up at the bottom of the pages.  The feeling is that these are interstitial fictional bits that simply support the rest of the text.  A reader doesn’t walk away from them thinking that they’re strict representations of the past.  They are, instead, a little colorful complement to the text to give it a lighter bouncier feel.

I recently conducted a Salon in my library on children’s nonfiction picture book illustration and historical accuracy.  During the course of the talk we discussed Vincent Kirsch’s work on Gingerbread for Liberty and the times when a bouncier, more light-hearted feel to the illustrations best fit the text.  In Tricky Vic Pizzoli isn’t going for a meticulous reconstruction of past events in his art.  He’s going for something with a historical feel, but with fun built in as well.  The design elements are what really step things up a notch.  I also loved the factual sidebars that complemented the text but never dominate.  As kids read they encounter sections talking about Prohibition, The Tower’s Critics (the folks who hated it from the get-go, that is), the Hotel de Crillon, Counterfeiting, and Alcatraz.  The end result is as dynamic as it is informative.

I wonder vaguely if this book will receive any challenges from concerned parents living in the mistaken belief that Pizzoli has penned a How To manual for little budding criminals.  As I mentioned before, the line between celebrating your biographical picture book subject and simply reporting on their life is thin.  The beauty of Tricky Vic, I think, is that his life is just as wild and weird as any fictional character.  There is value in showing kids the fools of the past.  I don’t think anyone will walk away from this thinking Vic had it all figured out, but I do think a fair number of them might want to follow-up on Pizzoli’s Selected Sources for a little independent reading of their own.  And if this book encourages just one kid to rethink their attitude towards nonfiction, then this title has earned its place in the world.  The gorgeous art and great writing are just gravy.  For one.  For all.  Un-forgettable.

On shelves now.

Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.

Like This? Then Try:

Other Blog Reviews: 100 Scope Notes

Professional Reviews: The New York Times

Interviews: Greg Pizzoli discusses his technique at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.


1 Comments on Review of the Day: Tricky Vic by Greg Pizzoli, last added: 3/26/2015
Display Comments Add a Comment
16. Hear Me Roar/In Numbers Too Big to Ignore

As I write, it's the Ides of March, official anniversary of Julius Caesar's deathday (44 BCE) and the 246th birthday of cantankerous  Andrew Jackson. That is, if this U.S. President No. 7 hadn't been dead for years.  But this post  goes live on Monday the 18th and seeing as I'm a nonfiction author, given to enthusiastic bouts of looking things up – man oh man, the things there are to FIND OUT.   It turns out that a Scottish MP was born 18 March 1891. And on a September night in 1954,  during Alice Cullen's time in Parliament, hundreds of her young constituents (ages 4 ~ 14) had to be calmed down, and told to take their knives and sharp sticks and leave a huge old cemetery in Glasgow.  Why were they there?  Hints: 1. Vampires. 2. Comic books, 

In any event, if you're reading this, you may well know that Black History Month grew from the strong and certain belief of such African American scholars as Dr. Carter G. Woodson and  Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois that the history of their race was a rich subject for deep academic attention.   Out of this devout certainty came Woodson's brainchild, the first Negro History Week, born in February 1926.  Why shortish, mercurial February? Because African Americans had long been celebrating Lincoln's birthday and the one which Frederick Douglass chose for himself: February 14.  In 1976, America's Bicentennial, after 50 years of progress, protests, violence, and breakthrough civil rights legislation, the week was expanded to a month's worth of study, commemoration, and celebration. 

So how is it that March was set aside for making the citizenry aware of women's history?    Because of history, as you might expect.  Or "herstory," as we might have said back in the 1970s, if it hadn't seemed so pretentious, stilted & weird.  On March 8, 1857, just a few days after James Buchanan's inauguration,  New York City needleworkers  so badly needed to work fewer hours (10 hrs. per shift) in better working conditions, that they went on strike. Heavy-handed policemen, under orders, busted it up.  Even more violent was the garment workers' strike in 1908 - on March 8, in honor of those who'd gone before. So it was that the Socialists attending their International Congress  in Copenhagen, Denmark, chose March 8, 1910 as the first International Women's Day.   So, after 60-some years of parades, protests, the Vote, the Pill, and doors forced open, a group of Californians launched an official "Women's History Week" for the week of IWD, 3/8/1978.   That week grew to an entire month, to be proclaimed presidentially and noted nationally, as of 1987, by way of a joint U.S. Congressional resolution. (It's said that a Republican and a Democrat - Orrin Hatch and Barbara Mikulski – actually co-sponsored the legislation. Those were the days, my friend; we thought they'd never end.)

I Am Woman 

Check out these books ANY time of year, but especially now, in Women's History Month,  do avail yourself of this dozen-or-so books (to name but a few) about those who came into the world as girls.

•    Ballet for Martha [Graham], by Jan Greenberg, Sandra Jordan, and Brian Floca.    •   Lives of Extraordinary Women: Rulers, by Kathleen Krull and Kathryn Hewitt     •   Minette's Feast: The Delicious Story of Julia Child and Her Cat  and Clara Schumann: Piano Virtuoso, both written by Susanna Reich    •    What To Do About Alice? How Alice Roosevelt Broke the Rules, Charmed the World, and Drove Her Father Teddy Crazy by Barbara Kerley and Edwin Fotheringhan   •   Write On, Mercy!: The Secret Life of Mercy Otis Warren and  Jeanette Rankin: Political Pioneer, both by Gretchen Woelfle   •   Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony: A Friendship That Changed the World, by Penny Coleman   •   Bylines: A Photobiography of Nellie Bly, written by Sue Macy   •   Helen's Eyes: A Photobiography of Annie Sullivan, Helen Keller's Teacher, written by Marfe Ferguson Delano   •    Remember the Ladies: 100 Great American Women and  Rabble Rousers: Twenty Women Who Made a Difference,  both by Cheryl Harness      
By the way, if it happens that you don't read my newest, Mary Walker Wears the Pants,  DO read someone's book about this real, live, courageous, idealistic, stubborn-as-all-get-out,  high octane woman, whose history is well worth the knowing. Pretty well summed up in the subtitle: "The True Story of Doctor, Reformer, and Civil War Hero."  DO read up on Dr. Mary Edwards Walker,  a valiant, eccentric Medal of Honor winner (only woman to whom it's been awarded), best known in her time as a cranky, outrageous  female, who was determined to free those of her sex from genteel purdah.  From steel-boned corsets and their long, heavy, unwieldy skirts and petticoats.   (Fun to wear once in a while - a reenactment deal or a school visit - like being a transvestite in a time tunnel. But every day? Just. Shoot. Me.)   

 So, regardless of their race or gender, grateful I am to those souls who braved the storms, walked the walks, and fought the fights.  They all deserve a medal.

Dr. Mary Edwards Walker



0 Comments on Hear Me Roar/In Numbers Too Big to Ignore as of 3/18/2013 8:23:00 AM
Add a Comment
17. Things I Love Thursday

I love reading fifth grade writing.

I recently taught a biography writing workshop with fifth graders.

They did an amazing job. 

Check out some excerpts from one of them (and they were ALL amazing):

A crisp, cold wind whistled through the treetops on February 19, 1928, and sailed past a little yellow bungalow, only stopping to hear the joyful sighs of a proud mother and father cooing over their little girl. 

Children raced along the small sidewalks of the tiny town of __, Kansas, to the few shops in the center of town. Dogs strolled through green lawns and a light frost covered windowpanes, but Mary __ was too young to enjoy it. Her little fingers were closing into little fists, and then opening, as she looked in wonder.

Are you wowed yet? Just wait till you read the ending:


Now living in __, Connecticut, if you stop by to listen, you might hear the crisp pages of a new cookbook turning, the microwave running, or something boiling on the stove.

If you stop a minute to smell, you might smell the aroma of spices or maybe something baking in the oven.

If you stop to peer in through the window, you might see bottles and jars out, pots on the stove, or baking sheets going into the oven.

And sometimes, you might see her lying on the couch, remembering all the fun times she had traveling before.

If you ask her what her greatest accomplishment was, she would tell you it was raising four wonderful kids.

On rainy days, she might be finding a new use for something old.

You might see her watching T.V. or reading the newspaper, or maybe trying to find out more about her Grandpa L.

I could use many words to define her: thrifty, hard-working, loving, caring, funny, helpful, a loving mother, a loyal wife, and many more, but the best thing to say is that she is a wondrous woman. 


1 Comments on Things I Love Thursday, last added: 3/21/2013
Display Comments Add a Comment
18. Multicultural Picture Book Biographies

Author Don Tate offers advice on writing picture books from a multicultural perspective. 


0 Comments on Multicultural Picture Book Biographies as of 6/21/2013 4:23:00 PM
Add a Comment
19. Review of the Day: Everybody Paints! by Susan Goldman Rubin

EverybodyPaints Review of the Day: Everybody Paints! by Susan Goldman RubinEverybody Paints! The Lives and Art of the Wyeth Family
By Susan Goldman Rubin
Chronicle Books
ISBN: 978-0-8118-6984-3
Ages 9-12
On shelves February 4th

For years it was my pleasure to work in the New York Public Library’s Central Children’s Room, located in the Donnell Library. The Central Children’s Room was the crown jewel of children’s literature in the city, and amongst its many treasures (which included a parrot-headed umbrella owned by Mary Poppins/P.L. Travers and the original Winnie-the-Pooh toys) were N.C. Wyeth’s original paintings from the book Robin Hood. I might be mistaken, but I’m pretty sure we owned them all. Certainly we didn’t put them all on display, but a fair number of them were available for the public and they turned out to be quite a draw for the local illustrators. Since those days the Donnell has been sold and the paintings transferred to the main branch of NYPL where they now grace the walls of the President of the library’s office. If you would like to see them it is not out of the question, but it is also not as easy as it once was. I, for my part, haven’t seen them in years. With that in mind, I think it makes perfect sense why I was drawn to Susan Goldman Rubin’s latest artistic picture book biography Everybody Paints! Not content to tell merely the story of one famous painter, Rubin dares to encapsulate the lives of three generations, with a particular focus on one painter in each. N.C., Andrew, and Jamie are presented to kids here in a clear-cut way that honestly displays their very interesting work.

NCWyethRobinHood 241x300 Review of the Day: Everybody Paints! by Susan Goldman RubinMeet the bronco buster. That’s one name you might give to N.C. Wyeth. Born to parents that thought he’d be better suited as a farmhand than as an artist, N.C. set about to prove himself. Before long he was apprenticed to the great Howard Pyle and became his star student. Wyeth became adept at cattle round-ups as well as painting scenes of action and adventure. His talents brought his lucrative illustration projects like Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and Robin Hood. Along the way he sired talented offspring, each of whom had some kind of talent. Andrew Wyeth pursued his art with the same fervor as his dad, but while the fine art community had never officially accepted his father, Andrew was embraced almost immediately. In his footsteps followed Jamie, a painter who could work on everything from picture books to portraits of presidents. This is their story.

Writing a biography of the Wyeths for children isn’t as fraught with potential peril as writing a biography of other artists might be. Having cut her teeth on bios about Diego Rivera (Diego Rivera: An Artist for the People) and Andy Warhol (Andy Warhol: Pop Art Painter) the Wyeths must have struck Ms. Rubin as a true relief. This is not to say that there haven’t been rumors floating around them for years, but vague rumors are far easier to elide than numerous confirmed affairs and “The Factory”. The content is presented in a very nice, straightforward style. We meet each Wyeth in turn, and the narrative will slip from one to another without so much as a herk or a jerk. The sections are not particularly long. Indeed, the book itself is infinitely readable at just a scant 112 pages. That means that if a kid wants to do a bit of serious research they may need to find some additional books to cover the material more extensively. That said, Rubin provides the basic overview and allows the reader to fill in gaps on their own. Nothing wrong with that when you’re dealing with children’s book biographies.

AndrewWyethTrodden 273x300 Review of the Day: Everybody Paints! by Susan Goldman RubinIt was a Kirkus review of this book that sniffed that this particular book is “undersized and overdesigned.” The “undersized” criticism strikes me as particularly silly, perhaps in light of the fact that as a librarian I’ve seen too many art books rejected by child readers because they were “too big” to comfortably carry home. I’m a New York City librarian, so kids in my town have to lug and tote every book they take from the library themselves. There is no helpful waiting car to dump the load into. With that in mind our little patrons become quite savvy in the ways of pick up and retrieval. Imagine, if you will, that you are attempting to woo a kid with the assignment to read a book about a famous artist into reading this book. I can attest that there’s nothing worse than being cut off mid-spiel by a child who points out, quite logically, that the book is “too big”. I mean there’s no comeback to that! So yes, it’s true that the images in this collection aren’t the size that they are in real life. But that is more than made up for when it comes to the sheer number of images present.

To the second criticism, that of being “overdesigned”, the book actually one in a series of artistic biographies done in a “gift book” style. Some of you may recall the rather gorgeous Sparky: The Life and Art of Charles Schulz that came out a couple years ago by Beverly Gherman. Like this book it wasn’t afraid to play around with an eclectic design. Lots of large fonts, different colored pages, and images, images, images. In this book Rubin skillfully alternates between photographs of her subjects and their families and their paintings. To an adult, I suppose the layout of this book might feel jarring but I’m quite fond of it. It kept me awake, allowed my eye to travel from text to image and back again freely, and best of all when Rubin mentions a famous photograph it’s right there for you to look at.

JamieWyethJFK 300x172 Review of the Day: Everybody Paints! by Susan Goldman RubinYou see, one complaint I’ve heard fielded at artistic biographies is that they don’t contain enough images of their subject’s work. How are you supposed to care about someone if you can’t see what it is that they themselves cared about? When Ms. Rubin wrote Diego Rivera I adored it. Some librarians, however, wanted a lot more images. Full paintings would be described but never seen. One might point out that in an internet age it’s fairly easy to see pictures of things whenever you want to, but the point stands. A book about an artist should do its duty and give its subject proper due. With that in mind, Everybody Paints! fairly pops with pictures. I don’t know enough about the rights to reproduce painted images in the way Rubin presents them here. What I do know is that she’s done a stand up and cheer job of it. Nothing major feels like it’s missing.

In spite of the fact that there’s been a real push to promote great nonfiction books with kid readers, it can be a hard sell. Adults that are my age or older have a hard time remembering any particularly great books of nonfiction from when we were young (and no, the Childhood of Famous Americans series does NOT count). Few of us are aware that we’re in a golden age of great children’s informational titles. What Everybody Paints! does is typify this kind of book. It’s a hard subject that requires a deft hand. And with her abundance of experience in this particular area, Susan Goldman Rubin does her subjects proud. As beautiful as you would expect, and three times as fun as you might think to read.

On shelves February 4th.

Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.

Like This? Then Try:

Professional Reviews: Kirkus

share save 171 16 Review of the Day: Everybody Paints! by Susan Goldman Rubin

1 Comments on Review of the Day: Everybody Paints! by Susan Goldman Rubin, last added: 1/14/2014
Display Comments Add a Comment
20. Grosset & Dunlap’s “Who Was?” Series | Women’s History Book Giveaway

Enter to win a Who Was? book from Grosset & Dunlap's leading biography series. Giveaway begins March 21, 2014, at 12:01 A.M. PST and ends April 20, 2014, at 11:59 P.M. PST.

Add a Comment
21. Resources For Teaching About Wangari Maathai and Seeds Of Change

Jill_EisenbergJill Eisenberg, our Resident Literacy Expert, began her career teaching English as a Foreign Language to second through sixth graders in Yilan, Taiwan as a Fulbright Fellow. She went on to become a literacy teacher for third grade in San Jose, CA as a Teach for America corps member. She is certified in Project Glad instruction to promote English language acquisition and academic achievement. In her column she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators. 

Seeds of Change cover

Seeds Of Change

In honor of Wangari Maathai’s birthday on Tuesday, April 1 and upcoming Earth Day later this month, we at Lee & Low Books want to share all the fantastic resources and ideas that are available to educators who are teaching about Wangari Maathai’s legacy and using Seeds Of Change: Planting a Path to Peace.

Wangari Maathai

Seeds Of Change

Elementary School:

Seeds of ChangeMiddle School and High School:

  • Seeds Of Change won the American Library Association’s Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent in Illustration in 2011. The Committee Chair and Book Jury have prepared activities and discussion questions for Seeds Of Change in the 2011 Discussion Guide for Coretta Scott King Book Awards, P. 20-21.
  • Have students read and discuss author Jen Cullerton Johnson and illustrator Sonia Lynn Sadler’s joint interview with Lee & Low, which covers the environment, their travels, and Wangari Maathai’s achievements.
  • After introducing Wangari Maathai with Seeds Of Change, delve deeper with the Speak Truth To Power human rights education curriculum, a project of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights. They present an in-depth exploration on Wangari Maathai, the Green Belt Movement, and sustainability issues.
  • In teaching standard 7 of the ELA Common Core, have students evaluate how Wangari Maathai is presented in a documentary compared to the Seeds Of Change biography. PBS’s documentary on Wangari Maathai and the Green Belt Movement, Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai, contains a classroom section full of video modules, handouts, and lesson plans.

What did we miss? Let us know how you are using Seeds Of Change in your classroom!



Filed under: Curriculum Corner Tagged: African/African American Interest, biographies, CCSS, children's books, common core standards, diversity, Educators, ELA common core standards, environmentalism, History, holidays, lesson plans, Reading Aloud, reading comprehension, ReadyGEN, Wangari Maathai

0 Comments on Resources For Teaching About Wangari Maathai and Seeds Of Change as of 3/29/2014 10:41:00 AM
Add a Comment
22. Review of the Day: Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus

GrandfatherGandhi 287x300 Review of the Day: Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi and Bethany HegedusGrandfather Gandhi
Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus
Illustrated by Evan Turk
Atheneum (an imprint of Simon and Schuster)
ISBN: 978-1-4424-2365-X
Ages 4-8
On shelves now.

Are you familiar with the concept of booktalking? It’s a technique librarians developed to get people interested in books they might otherwise not pick up. The whole concept is to develop a kind of movie trailer style talk that gives a sense of the book’s allure without giving up the plot. Typically booktalking is done for middle grade and young adult works of fiction, but enterprising souls have had a lot of luck with nonfiction as well. Now with an increased interest in nonfiction in our schools it’s more important than ever to make the books we hawk sound particularly good. It doesn’t hurt matters any when the books actually ARE good, though. Now let’s say I’m standing in front of a room of second and third graders with a copy of Grandfather Gandhi in my hands. How do I sell this book to them? Easy peasy. Some books practically booktalk themselves. Here’s how you sell it:

“Have any of you ever heard of Einstein? Yes? He’s the guy that was a total genius. Now imagine you’re his grandkid and you’re not that smart. Okay now, have any of you heard of the Beatles. Yes? Well imagine you’re one of THEIR grandkids . . . and you’re bad at music. Now here’s the big one. Has anyone heard of Gandhi? He was a great guy. He managed to free his country and stop a lot of oppression and he did it without any violence at all. Martin Luther King Jr. got some of his ideas from Gandhi about nonviolence. All right, well, now let’s image you are Gandhi, the most peaceful man IN THE WORLD’s grandson. What if you get mad? Can you imagine what it would be like to have everyone whispering every time you got a little steamed about something?”

So there you go. Quick. Simple. To the point. I’ve met a fair number of picture book memoirs in my day, but Grandfather Gandhi may well be my favorite. Smartly written with an unusual hook and art that will just knock your socks off, this is one title you are going to have to see firsthand for yourself.

GrandfatherGandhi2 300x258 Review of the Day: Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi and Bethany HegedusWhen young Arun and his family first arrive in his grandfather Mahatma Gandhi’s village, he’s mighty shy around his incredibly famous relative. Yet right away Grandfather is warm and welcoming to them, and when he praises Arun for walking the distance from the train station the boy swells with pride. Unfortunately, having Gandhi as your grandpa means having to share him with the 350 followers who also live in the village. Arun struggles with his lessons in Gujarati and the fact that there are no movie theaters around, but there are upsides to village life too. He’s pretty good at soccer with the other kids, and occasionally Grandfather will take him for a walk just mano a mano. But then, one fateful day, Arun gets into a skirmish on the soccer field and his anger is overwhelming. Shamed that the grandson of Gandhi himself would react in anger he confesses to his Grandfather immediately, only to find the man isn’t angry or disappointed in him in the least. Anger, Gandhi explains, is like lightning. You can use it to destroy or you can use it to light the world, like a lamp. Which will you choose?

I think it’s fair to say that there have been a fair number of children’s picture books from family and relatives of famous peacemakers. Most notable would be Martin Luther King Jr.’s clan, where it sometimes seems like every son, daughter, niece, and nephew has his or her own spin on their infinitely famous relative. Gandhi’s a bit different. One wouldn’t expect his own descendants to have much in the way of access to the American publishing industry, so biographies of his life in picture book form have concentrated occasionally on his life and occasionally on The Great Salt March. When I saw that this book was co-authored by his fifth grandson I expected the same sort of story. A kind of mix of “this guy was fantastic” with “and I knew him!”. Instead, Hegedus and Gandhi have formulated a much more accessible narrative. Few children can relate to having a famous relative. But what about controlling their anger in the face of injustice? What’s fascinating about this book is that the authors have taken a seemingly complex historical issue and put it into terms so child-friendly that a five-year-old could get the gist of it. That Gandhi’s anger went on to become what spurned him to make lasting, important changes for his people is the key point of the book, but it takes a child’s p.o.v. to drill the issue home.

GrandfatherGandhi3 300x176 Review of the Day: Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi and Bethany HegedusAbove and beyond all that, this is a book that advocates quite strongly for peace in all its myriad forms. Hardly surprising when you consider the subject matter but just the same I sometimes feel like “peace” is one of those difficult concepts without a proper picture book advocate. I went to a Quaker college where PAGS (Peace and Global Studies) was a popular major, and it was in making Quaker friends that I learned about picture books dedicated to the concepts embraced by that particular religion. Books like The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf, The Table Where Rich People Sit by Byrd Baylor, Thy Friend, Obadiah by Brinton Turkle, and more. I’m sure that many is the Quaker household, or really any household that believes that peace is a practical and attainable solution, that will embrace Grandfather Gandhi as one of their own.

It’s been a long time since I ran across a picture book with as long and lengthy a list of materials used in the illustrations as I have here. On the publication page it reads, “The illustrations for this book are rendered in watercolor, paper collage, cotton fabric, cotton, yarn, gouache, pencil, tea, and tin foil. Cotton hand spun on an Indian book charkha by Eileen Hallman.” Phew! You might think that all that “stuff” might yield something clogged up or messy, but that would be doing Mr. Turk a disservice. Observing how well he gives his pictures depth and texture, life and vitality, you might be shocked to learn that Grandfather Gandhi is his first picture book. From the spinning wheel endpapers to montages of sheer explosive anger, Turk makes a point of not only adhering to some of the more metaphorical aspects of the text, but finding new and creative ways to bring them to visual life. To my mind, the materials an artist uses in his or her art must, in the case of mixed media, have a reason for their existence. If you’re going to use “cotton fabric, cotton” and “yarn” then there should be a reason. But Turk clearly did his homework prior to doing the art on this book. He doesn’t just slap the images together. He incorporates the fibers Gandhi knew so well and turns them into an essential aspect of the book’s art. The art doesn’t just support the text here. It weaves itself into the story, becoming impossible to separate from the story.

GrandfatherGandhi4 300x213 Review of the Day: Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi and Bethany HegedusIt’s Arun’s anger that proved to be the most visually interesting aspect, to me, in the book. Turk deftly contrasts the calm white thread produced by Gandhi’s spinning with the tangled black ones that surround and engulf his grandson whenever his feelings threaten to break free. The scene where he’s tempted to throw a rock at the boy who shoved him down is filled with thread, Arun’s magnificently clenched teeth, and black shadow figures that reach out across the field to the soccer net, dwarfing the three other little figures below. Later you can see the negative space found in cut paper turning from a representation of lightning into a thread of cotton in the hands of Gandhi illuminating a passage about making your anger useful. Yet Turk doesn’t just rely on clever techniques. He’s remarkably skilled at faces too. Arun’s expressions when he gets to see his grandfather alone or makes him proud are just filled with wide-eyed eager hope. And his frustrations and anger pulse off the page from his features alone.

Picture books for kids about dealing with their anger tend towards the fictional. There’s Molly Bang’s When Sophie Gets Angry . . . Really Really Angry and Robie H. Harris’s The Day Leo Said, “I Hate You”. These are two of the good ones. Others veer towards the preachy and paternalistic. Imagine if you started using something like Grandfather Gandhi instead. More than just a memoir, the book offers a broad look at the benefits of channeling your anger. Better still, it’s a true story. Kids respect the true. They’ll also respect young Arun and his uncomfortable position. Fair play to author Bethany Hegedus for hearing him speak more than 13 years ago about this moment in his life, knowing that not only was there a picture book story to be had here, but a lesson kids today can grasp. As she says in her “Note from the Authors” at the end, “We world we live in needs to heal – to heal from the wars that are fought, to the bullying epidemic, to mass killings by lone gunmen, to poverty, to hunger, and to issues that contribute to internal anger being outwardly expressed in violent actions.” Gandhi’s message never grows old. Now we’ve a book that helps to continue his work for the youngest of readers. A necessary purchase then.

On shelves now.

Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.

Like This? Then Try:

Other Blog Reviews:

Professional Reviews:


  • ReaderKidZ speaks with Ms. Hegedus about the book.
  • Meanwhile Kirkus interviewed the two authors and the illustrator here.

Misc: This is a book with a very nicely maintained and updated website of its own.  Some of my favorite posts include this one from Evan Turk on how he got access to the spun cotton fiber featured in the book.  I also light his piece on Light & Shadow and this one on how he chose his art.  Arun even has posts up containing family Gandhi stories that would make an excellent follow up books should the need arise.  Be sure to read the one on pumpkins and eggs when you get a chance.


One of the top best book trailers I’ve seen in a really long time.  Accomplished and it does a brilliant job of highlighting Turk’s art.

llustration & Animation by Evan Turk

Music: “Ambwa” used by permission of artist Ustad Ghulam Farid Nizami
Voices: Arun Gandhi & Bethany Hegedus
Sound: Evan Turk, Carrington MacDuffie & The Block House, Justin Yelle & Kaotic Studios, and William Dufris & Mind’s Eye Productions.
Project Management: Curious City

share save 171 16 Review of the Day: Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus

10 Comments on Review of the Day: Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus, last added: 4/10/2014
Display Comments Add a Comment
23. Biographies for Young Readers: Dip into the Minds of the Greats

There's a fine art to turning a great life into something digestible for a child. The art lies in finding the essence, an almost haiku-like writing that condenses, getting only the most salient details on the page. Each of the following biographies rises to that fine art.

Add a Comment
24. At the Beach


We’re taking a two week break to rest and relax on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. I brought some books with me, as is my usual practice. Only one of them ended up being for the youth market.

Corrie ten Boom and her family are watchmakers in Haarlem, Holland, where they give what little they have to spread God’s love and help others. But everything changes when World War II erupts and Hitler’s army takes over their country. As the Nazis round up Corrie’s Jewish neighbors and send them to deadly concentration camps, she knows that something must be done to stop them. But what can one small family do in the face of such great evil?

Read the amazing true story of Corrie ten Boom, a Torchlighter® hero of the faith, and discover how her obedience to God saved lives and continues to inspire others today.

Paperback: 85 pages
Publisher: Christian History Institute (May 1, 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1563648733
ISBN-13: 978-1563648731

My hope is to blog a few times while we’re away, so don’t go far.

0 Comments on At the Beach as of 6/29/2014 8:05:00 PM
Add a Comment
25. The Torchlighters Biography Series: Corrie ten Boom by Kaylena Radcliff


From the Christian History Institute comes a biography from their Heroes of the Faith line. Corrie ten Boom and her family are watchmakers in Holland. When World War II erupts, Hitler’s army takes over their country and begins rounding up their Jewish neighbors. Read the story of how one family stood strong in faith against a great evil.

Recommended for ages 8 – 12, this biography shares the life of Corrie ten Boom, her sister, Betsie, and their father who hid Jewish people from the Nazi army during World War II. They would end up arrested, some going to concentration camps, and Corrie struggled to hold onto her faith in such darkness. Her amazing story is shared in this biography that is accompanied by historical photographs, illustrations that match the artwork from the associated DVD, interesting facts about the Netherlands, a timeline and a glossary of terms.

My daughter and I watched the DVD together. In spots, I had some difficulty understanding what the characters were saying, but overall the sound quality is good. Some of the images–though animated–might be disturbing for the youngest viewers; like the scene of the Nazis banging on doors with the butts of their guns and yanking people out onto the streets. Betsie is beaten with a club by a German guard in the camp and an ill-mannered nurse informs Corrie when she comes to see her sister that she is “in there with the other dead bodies.” Female prisoners are seen being carted off in trucks to the gas chambers; but while Corrie looks upon the gas chambers, it is not made apparent to young viewers what is going on there. So there is definitely historical accuracy worked into this production.

This is a moving story that will remind readers/viewers of the power of forgiveness and how leaning on faith can bring you through adversity. I am glad to add this book and DVD to our home library. It would also make a fabulous addition to a church library.

Rating: :) :) :) :) :)dvd

The Torchlighters Biography Series: Corrie ten Boom
Author: Kaylena Radcliff
Paperback: 85 pages
Publisher: Christian History Institute (May 1, 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1563648733
ISBN-13: 978-1563648731
List price: $9.99


Format: Multiple Formats, Animated, Color, NTSC
Language: English
Region: All Regions
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Number of discs: 1
Rated: NR (Not Rated)
Studio: Vision Video
DVD Release Date: October 25, 2013
Run Time: 34 minutes

I received a copy of this book and DVD from the Christian History Institute. This review contains my honest opinions, which I have not been compensated for in any way.


This post first appeared at the Christian Children’s Authors blog.

0 Comments on The Torchlighters Biography Series: Corrie ten Boom by Kaylena Radcliff as of 1/1/1900
Add a Comment

View Next 25 Posts