Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Monday, January 25, 2016

Two Friends: Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass

Two Friends: Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass  
by Dean Robbins
illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko
Orchard Books/ Scholastic, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-545-39996-8
Grades K-5

I attended a Scholastic 2016 picture book preview earlier this month where I had the honor of hearing Selina Alko and Sean Qualls describe their collaboration on the illustrations for Two Friends. Below is a photograph of original artwork from the book.

Two Friends is an beautiful, informational picture book about Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony. The story begins with Douglass and Anthony enjoying tea together in Anthony's parlor. The narrative then flashes back and describes Anthony's early life and how she "taught herself to give speeches" in support of women's rights. The story shifts to Douglass' early life as a slave when he "secretly learned to read and write." Douglass also gave speeches and used his gift for words to speak in support of African American rights. The story concludes in Anthony's parlor with the friends having tea as they share their plans, their speeches and their ideas for changing the world.

Alko and Qualls explain in an illustrators' note that they researched the time period, especially the clothing, when they created the acrylic paint, collage and colored pencil illustrations. Words permeate the illustrations, escaping in the steam from the tea, printed on Anthony's bloomers, and flowing through the air as Douglass speaks. The colors, textures and patterns will make readers want to linger on each page.

One of the many strengths of the book is that it works for very young readers as an introduction to two important figures from American history, and it's effective for older students learning about civil rights and the power of words.

Be sure to read the author's note from Dean Robbins in the back of the book.  A bibliography provides readers with more books on the topic. Two Friends would make an excellent read aloud for small or large groups and is a recommended purchase for school and public library collections.

Don't miss other books by the illustrators:
The Case for Loving by Selina Alko and Sean Qualls
Emmanuel's Dream written by Laurie Ann Thompson and illustrated by Sean Qualls

The reviewer received a copy of the book from the publisher.

Monday, January 18, 2016

From the Backlist: An Eye for Color

An Eye for Color: the Story of Josef Albers
by Natasha Wing; Art by Julia Breckenreid
Henry Holt. 2009
ISBN: 9780805080728
Grades 2-12

The reviewer borrowed a copy of the book from her local public library.

A few weeks ago, back in December 2015, I came up with an idea for an art program for the teen summer reading program: an exercise in color from the book, Local Color by Mimi Robinson. Robinson based her idea on the works of Josef Albers, a German artist who spend years studying how the mood of a painting changed based on color combinations. I read the library’s copy of An Eye for Color to learn a little bit more about the life of Albers. So, I was totally blown away when, while in Boston (January 8-11, 2016) for ALA’s Midwinter meeting my friend Madeline and I snuck away from the excitement to visit the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA). To my utter astonishment the exhibit at the ICA was on Black Mountain College (1938-1957) where Josef Albers taught from 1933-1949! On display were some of his work! I was so inspired and excited that I I couldn’t stop talking. (Poor Madeline).

I love it when that happens! 

An Eye for Color is a fantastic picture book biography about the life of Josef Albers. Born in Germany in 1888, Albers saw art in the simplest things. He would start out being a primary school teacher, an art teacher, and then in 1920 Albers attended the German art school, Bauhaus. The Bauhaus philosophy was that art, technology, and business should be brought together to apply good design to industrial objects, such as buildings and furniture.

In 1933, with the rise of Nazi Germany, Albers was asked to teach at the Black Mountain College located in Asheville, North Carolina. Albers would teach at the experimental college until 1949 when he was made head of the design department at Yale University. 

It was while teaching at Yale that Albers started his study of color. Wing’s simple text is partnered with Breckenreid’s illustrations that gives readers the visual elements to fully understand Albers’ work with color. 

Wing offers an author’s note that reveals Albers was her neighbor while growing up. Unaware of his fame, the young Wing eagerly shared her school art projects with the world famous artist. It would be as an adult that Wing realized the magnitude of the influence the kindly gentleman wearing a long overcoat and a beret had on the world of art. 

Back matter, besides the author's notes, include a glossary of basic color theory, bibliography, and a see for yourself activities that would be perfect to do with a classroom or by yourself. 

This book can be read as a simple story about an interesting man who loved color or if reading to an older audience, read the author’s note first. It will greatly enhance the readers understanding of Josef Albers and his work.

A thoroughly engaging and inspiring picture book biography.

Monday, January 11, 2016

NF Sightings at the ALA Midwinter Conference

Today I returned home from the ALA Midwinter Conference in Boston where thousands of librarians, authors and publishers took over Beantown. I'm tired yet energized after spending time with fellow librarians, attending committee meetings and publisher events, and viewing 2016 titles in the Exhibit Hall. I also had the pleasure of attending book previews hosted by Scholastic, Candlewick Press, Chronicle, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Holiday House and Boyds Mill Press. 2016 looks like a year for more amazing nonfiction, especially science books as well as books about presidents.

I ended the conference by waking up very early to attend the ALA Youth Media Awards this morning where nonfiction books received a lot of love. (Look for an awards blog post later this week.)


Thanks to Candlewick Press for the visit to their office in Somerville, MA.

Here are some of the new, nonfiction titles spotted at the ALA Midwinter conference. 

We Will Not Be Silent by Russell Freedman
Clarion Books

You Can Fly: The Tuskegee Airmen 
by Carole Boston Weatherford and Jeffrey Boston Weatherford
Atheneum Books for Young Readers

The Slowest Book Ever by April Pulley Sayre and Kelly Murphy
Boyds Mill Press

Science Comics: Dinosaurs
by MK Reed and Joe Flood
First Second
Hillary by Jonah Winter and Raul Colon
Schwartz & Wade

Grover Cleveland, Again! by Ken Burns and Gerald Kelley
Knopf Books for Young Readers
Solving the Puzzle Under the Sea by Robert Burleigh and Raul Colon
Simon & Schuster

Bridge to the Wild by Caitlin O’Connell and Timothy Rodwell
HMH Books for Young Readers

The Story of Seeds by Nancy F. Castaldo
HMH Books for Young Readers

Crossing Niagara by Matt Tavares

The Great White Shark Scientist by Sy Montgomery and Keith Ellenbogen
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Bubonic Panic: When Plague Invaded America by Gail Jarrow
Calkins Creek

Two Friends: Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass 
written by Dean Robbins, illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko
Orchard Books- Scholastic

Around America to Win the Vote by Mara Rockliff and Hadley Hooper

The Secret Subway by Shana Corey and Red Nose Studio
Schwartz & Wade

Dorothea’s Eyes by Barb Rosenstock and Gerard DuBois
Calkins Creek

Some Writer: The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Seven and a Half Tons of Steel by Janet Nolan and Thomas Gonzalez
Peachtree Publishing

Will’s Words: How Shakespeare Changed the Way You Talk
by Janet Sutcliffe and John Shelley

Masters of Disguise: Amazing Animal Tricks by Rebecca L. Johnson

Lincoln and Kennedy: A Pair to Compare by Gene Barretta
Henry Holt and Co.

To the Stars: The First American Woman to Walk in Space
by Carmella Van Vleet, Dr. Kathy Sullivan and Nicole Wong