Thursday, April 6, 2017

Picture Book Biographies

I love biographies, and when I share them with my students they are always interested and intrigued by the people they are hearing about - all unknown to them.  Most of the kids I see are well aware of famous people like Martin Luther King, Jr., and Rosa Parks, but there are so many little known people who have made great contributions to this world.

Here are just a few of the new picture book biographies I've added to my school library collection recently.

Antsy Ansel: Ansel Adams, Life in Nature by Cindy Jenson-Elliott - the story of Ansel Adams' life from his childhood and enjoyment of the outdoors to his career as a professional photographer, and eventually a photographer of nature's beauty.  The author's note at the end and additional photographs adds to this story.

Noah Webster's Fighting Words by Tracy Nelson Maurer, illustrated by Mircea Catusanu - I didn't know much about Noah Webster, but this biography offers a fun look at how his love of words as a child translated into his eventual desire to create a dictionary which would be used as a resource to help people with the spelling of words. Webster lived during a time when the United States was just declaring it's independence from Great Britain, so he had a desire to Americanize spellings and words.  The collage illustrations are fun and I loved the additional little blurbs of text sprinkled throughout.

The Hole Story of the Doughnut by Pat Miller - this book explores the invention of the donut by Hanson Gregory, a sailor.  Technically, this book is shelved in the 600s with my other food-related books, but I'm featuring it today because a portion of this book does tell about Hanson Gregory and his life as an adult.  The invention of the donut was accidental - just the result of Gregory attempting to find a way to get dough cooked throughout in order to feed his sailors - but nearly two hundred years later, donuts continue to be popular.

Tiny Stitches: The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas by Gwendolyn Hooks, illustrated by Colin Bootman - this is a fascinating book about an African American medical pioneer that is little known.  Vivien Thomas was unable to go to medical school because he was African American, yet the doctor he worked for believed in him and his abilities and was able to give him a job that provided him a good income and the chance to test the various ideas he had about how to conduct open heart surgery on young children.  Thomas was not publicly recognized until 1971, but his contributions to medicine have saved thousands of lives.

Martina and Chrissie: The Greatest Rivalry in the History of Sports by Phil Bildner, illustrated by Brett Helquist - I grew up watching Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert Lloyd battle on the tennis courts. This book focuses on the tennis careers of these two women, not providing much other biographical information.  The women battled on the court a total of eighty times, and only a few of the major matches are written of. However, the focus on the friendship between the rivals is certain to be highlighted, as well as their dedication to the sport.

Mountain Chef: How One Man Lost His Groceries, Changed His Plans, and Helped Cook Up the National Park Service by Annette Bay Pimentel, illustrated by Rich Lo - Tie Sing lived in the United States, learning to speak both Chinese and English. Although many Chinese Americans worked in laundries or restaurants during this time, Tie Sing had ideas much greater than that.  He took groups of people on tours through the mountains of California, preparing gourmet feasts for them.  There were a few mishaps, and eventually, Sing's donkey lost his food and table service, leaving him to use his creativity to whip up some food. That, too, was a hit.  Sing is remembered at Yosemite National Park with Sing Peak named after him.

Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean's Most Fearless Scientist by Jess Keating, illustrated by Marta Alvarez Miguens -this book is set to be published in June by the author of Pink Is For Blobfish.  Eugenie Clark had a fascination with sharks, unwilling to believe they were the ruthless killers many people believed them to be.  She set out to prove this, dispelling many myths about sharks along the way.

She Stood For Freedom: The Untold Story of a Civil Rights Hero, Joan Trumpauer Mulholland by Loki Mulholland and Angela Fairwell, illustrated by Charlotta Janssen - Joan Trumpauer Mulholland is a civil rights activist, remarkable because she was white. This book chronicles her involvement in the Freedom Riders activities, the March on Washington, and other memorable Civil Rights events.  The collage art in this biography is delightful.

Balderdash: John Newbery and the Boisterous Birth of Children's Books by Michelle Markel, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter - this topic is near and dear to my heart. I love how Markel shares the story of John Newbery, his love for books - and his desire to create reading material for children so that they could delight in the written word.  The illustrations are fun and entertaining as well. Since we talk about the Newbery award at school, this will be a good book to give more information on the man behind the award.

So many of these titles are ones I am anxious to read to groups of students, or I can think of an individual child who will connect with a person's life story.  There are so many biographies out that go beyond just telling us another version of the people we have already heard about.  Go out there and explore them.

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