Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Friday, December 8, 2023

A Review of Three Picture Book Biographies

As the year is coming to a close, we have more books than weeks left to post reviews. To keep the momentum of posting new titles, Cathy and I thought we would offer a combined post of some delightful and engaging recently published picture book biographies. One of the attractions of picture book biographies is a great introduction to the life of someone who changed the world. We look at it as whetting a persons appetite just enough that they want to know more.

We will go alphabetically by author.

Traveling Shoes: The Story of Willye White, US Olympian and Long Jump Champion
Alice Faye Duncan; Illustrated by Keith Mallett
Calkins Creek. An Imprint of Astra Books for Young Readers. 2023

Born in 1939, Willye White was born to black parents but she “was an oddball baby with green eyes and reddish hair. My body was a lump of dark blue veins and light-bright cocoa skin.” At three days old, her parents ran away and left Willye to be raised by her maternal grandparents. In 1950, at age ten, Willye was running on the high school track team. At age 16, in 1956, Willye qualifies for the Olympic women’s track team in the long jump. Told in poetry and prose, Duncan incorporates quotes by Willye at the beginning of each chapter. Mallett’s digital illustrations complement the narrative. The author weaves the turmoil and uncertainty of the Civil Rights Movement into Willye’s life. Included is a brief biography of Willye’s life, a timeline, author’s note, and bibliography round out this excellent title.

Beautiful Noise: The Music of John Cage
by Lisa Rogers; Illustrated by Il Sung Na
a.s.b. anne schwartz books 2023

John Cage believed the sounds that surrounded him every day were music. 

“a garbage truck screeching/feet skipping/pigeons scattering/tires whispering/cats hissing/children giggling/balls bouncing/dog tags clinking/taxis vrooming…” The narrative is posed to readers as “What If’s.” “What if people stormed out of these concerts and said your music wasn’t music   but you still believed it was? Answer: “Then you’d be like John Cage.” The illustrations by Il Sung Na are a bit abstract and perfectly complement this inspiring and unusual composer. Added backmatter include an author and illustrator’s note, quotation sources, and a selected bibliography. The endpapers are amazing.

Shining Star: Vera Rubin Discovers Dark Matter
by Suzanne Slade. Pictures by Susan Reagan
Calkins Creek. An Imprint of Astra Books for Young Readers. 2023

Vera Rubin loved the stars. At night, she would study how the “twinkles of light slid across the sky. She memorized the names of constellations. Sometimes, she stayed up all night considering colossal, cosmic questions: Why did starts travel along curved paths? How did people tell time by watching stars move? Why did different stars appear in different seasons?”

Dr. Rubin’s work was important to the scientific community. She also worked hard to encourage women to study science and helped them obtain equal opportunities. Included is an author’s note, a brief description of Dr. Rubin’s Dark Matter Discovery, a timeline, additional reading, and lack & white photos of Dr. Rubin. Quotes by Dr. Rubin are placed in italics on every double page spread. The illustrations by Reagan, created with hand-painted watercolor washes and ink lines that are combined and enhanced digitally in Photoshop, reflect back the words and life of this very important female scientist.

Each book would be an excellent read aloud for all ages.

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