Posts filed under ‘Biography’

Me…Jane awarded Caldecott honor

Me…Jane illustrated and written by Patrick McDonnell; published by Little, Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc., New York; 2011.

With her stuffed chimpanzee, Jubilee, a young Jane Goodall explored the world around her.  From her backyard, she dreamed of living in Africa among its creatures.  One day, she awoke to find her dream was realized.

I read this book then set it aside for a few days.  My initial reaction was that the illustrations were remarkable but the story lacked appeal for children.  Then I reread it.  Hmmmm.  A child with a dream.  A child whose hobbies reflect her future endeavors.  And the words that convey her story fit.  This is a book for cuddling up on the couch, reading together, and examining the images.  At the very end of the book, in fairly small type, is this Art Note:

This page features a cartoon that Jane Goodall made of her life in the forest at the Gombe Stream Game Reserve.  Readers will also find two facing pages of drawings and puzzles that Jane herself created when, as a young girl, she led a club called the Alligator Society.  Throughout the book, ornamental engravings from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries are included, collectively evoking Jane’s lifelong passion for detailed, scientific observation of nature.

Aha!  McDonnell’s illustrations further portray the young Jane.  I think it would be lovely to tell children that the things that interest them now, the things they are passionate about, will help drive them toward their future selves.  Maybe that’s a great starting point to encourage journaling or even creating collection boxes.

Now  about the illustrations….  The cover appears to be the cover of a scrapbook or photo album, with pseudo-binding and corner protectors.  Each page is treated like a page in a scrapbook.  Almost all of the left-hand pages appear to be stamped with fading ink in shapes that would be in a collection of rubber stamps intended for children; the text is printed on this page, in a font and ink style that invokes a typewriter with a worn ribbon.  Then the corresponding right-hand page is an image rendered in India ink and watercolors.  McDonnell has captured the essence of the young zoologist for us.  By the final pages, photos of Dr. Goodall and biographical information, including a message from her, are included to remind us that this is her story.  That this child-dreamer with a penchant for exploring grew up and made her dreams reality.  In her message, Jane encourages us all to get involved to help make “the world a better place for people, animals and the environment” by joining a local Roots & Shoots group.  The end pages invoke African textiles which let us know as the book starts, and reminds us as the book ends, that this is the book about a zoologist working in Africa.


February 2, 2012 at 6:53 am 1 comment

Why you Knucklehead…

Knucklehead by Jon Scieszka; published by Viking, Penguin Group, New York; 2008.

I laughed out loud non-stop.  Scieszka seems to have eavesdropped on my childhood (especially the My Side of the Mountain story).  More important than the humor is the way Scieszka has written this specifically to reach kids—he even seems to talk directly to them (boys in particular).  The lessons couched in funny stories are rich and well-described.  He has taken a giant step toward fulfilling his mission of reaching reluctant readers!

I would add this to a pathfinder for reluctant readers.  I would use it in a display with realia, like the toys and comic books he mentions in his stories.  Maybe I’d read a chapter or two then show upper elementary students the cover of the book; I’d supply them with a variety of old comic book covers that they could paste their pictures on and name their autobiographies (and maybe I could encourage them to write a chapter or two to put inside).

By the way, does anyone else have a younger brother nicknamed “Chuff” or is it just Scieszka & me?

January 10, 2010 at 12:07 pm

Music for the eyes and ears

Before John Was a Jazz Giant: A Song of John Coltrane by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Sean Qualls; published by Henry Holt and Company, New York; 2008.

The artist’s use of watercolor, acrylics and collage really set the mood for a little jazz: combining seemingly dissimilar styles into a singular song or image.  The lyric words create the sounds that influenced John Coltrane.  The placement of the text within the images also created the illusion of waves of sounds.  An author’s note at the end of the book offers more information about Coltrane and even provides a list for “listening” and reading.

I would combine this book with a selection of Coltrane’s CD’s in a box about jazz, or a program about jazz, or in a display during Black History Month.

January 10, 2010 at 11:31 am

Duke Ellington pounds the pearlies

Duke Ellington by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney; published by Hyperion Books for Children, New York; 1998.

I had to include this book since I just helped my daughter research Duke Ellington for a school project in the Spring.  The scratchboard illustrations give the illusion of the early jazz days of Duke Ellington and the story is written with a rhythm like Ellington’s music.

I was captivated by the telling of his story and would recommend it for biography projects because there are sources listed in the back of the book as well as more information about the man.  I’d also use it if I ever did a jazz program like I mentioned in the review of Jazz.  Additionally, the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History has online resources about jazz which includes actual artifacts from Ellington’s life in the virtual exhibit.

January 9, 2010 at 12:51 pm

To dream, to dare, to dance

To Dance by Siena Cherson Siegel, illustrated by Mark Siegel; published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers, New York; 2006.

A quick look at the end pages summarizes the story—from a young girl dancing on the beach to a young mother with her child and husband dancing on the beach.  The story opens with Seigel explaining that “big, empty spaces always made me dance”—ah, the end pages explained in just a few words.  Siegel’s story, illustrated by her husband Mark, is a biography that will speak to all children who have a passion for something, but especially for the little girls that spend so many Saturday mornings in ballet class, dreaming of becoming a prima ballerina.  Words and pictures blend into a singular story that tells of the development of her passion.  I can’t imagine this story told in any format other than a graphic novel.  For all these reasons and more, this book was an ALA Notable Children’s Book and was a Sibert honoree.

I would certainly use this to introduce upper elementary students to biographies.  I would also use it in a ballet kit for families to borrow or in a display about careers.  Hmm, I think it would be well-paired with a fiction title in a fiction/non-fiction paired kit, maybe with Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfield.

January 9, 2010 at 11:00 am

Inspiration of 100 great women

Remember the Ladies: 100 Great American Women by Cheryl Harness; published by HarperCollins Publishers; 2001.

Lady Liberty oversees the title page, and combined with the red end pages, we know this is a book about American women.  The biographies of 100 American women date from pre-national history (like Pocahontas) to today (like Ruth J. Simmons).  Illustrations of each woman correspond to amazing fact about her.  The background colors of each set of facing pages range from purple (mountain’s majesty) to amber (waves of grain).  I felt like bursting out in a chorus of “America, the Beautiful” when I read this book!

I imagine doing a program with the National First Ladies’ Museum and using this book to tie in with that program.  It would also be appropriate to add to a display for Presidents’ Day (which I think should be renamed American Heroes Day) or the Fourth of July.

January 9, 2010 at 10:47 am

The Tale of Beatrix Potter

Beatrix Potter by  Alexandra Wallner; published by Holiday House, New York; 1995.

I guess I expected the biography of Beatrix Potter to be more like her books—warm and witty.  The folk art illustrations detract from the story, for me, because they are not done in a style complementary to Potter’s own illustrations.  Although Wallner’s illustration’s aren’t what I expected, the biography itself was written at a level accessible to most elementary aged children.  This book will be of interest more to parents than their children—parents who grew up listening to Potter’s tales and have shared them with their own children.

After reading a biography done as a graphic novel, this was a bit dry.  However, I might use this in a display with Potter’s books and the movie that was recently released about her life.

January 9, 2010 at 10:40 am

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Disclaimers: Per the FTC regulations, please note that sometimes books are received for review for free by publishers or authors. All books (ARCs, galleys, library or purchased) will be reviewed fairly; no special consideration is given to anything reviewed on this blog. In addition, I make every attempt to avoid spoilers. Sometimes they happen inadvertently or because they are important to defend a review; not all spoilers have been removed or fixed. This disclaimer is a general statement included as a warning to readers.

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