Archive for the ‘Biography’ Category

The Beatles

Posted: February 15, 2014 in All ages, Biography, Graphic novels
The Beatles, by Mick Manning and Brita Granström              (Frances Lincoln, 2014)

The Beatles, by Mick Manning and Brita Granström
(Frances Lincoln, 2014)

The Beatles are receiving much attention recently as the “Fab Four” just received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and the group is being highlighted in children’s literature as well. Mick Manning and Brita Grandström have created a FABulous informational picture book using elements of the graphic novel format. Chronicling the history of The Beatles from John’s birth in 1940, to 1970 when John, Paul, George, and Ringo went their own ways in the music world, each page turn is a new dated “chapter” with a short description of the band’s events in that year/years and additional fascinating anecdotes. Who knew that John received his first harmonica as a kid when a bus driver gave him a professional harmonica because John had been playing a harmonica on the bus constantly from Liverpool to Edinburgh? The book explains this was the same harmonica used in Love Me Do.

Mick Manning & Brita Grandström at the Frances Lincoln tea in Philadelphia, January 2014

Mick Manning & Brita Grandström at the Frances Lincoln tea in Philadelphia, January 2014

I caught up with Mick and Brita at a Frances Lincoln tea in Philadelphia (they live in England; Mick’s from Yorkshire, and Brita is from Sweden). They have been writing and illustrating for 20 years, and during this time they have received numerous awards for their information books, and are currently shortlisted for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award — a major international award established by the Swedish government in 2002 and bestowed by the Swedish Arts Council. Watch for the announcement of the 2014 winner on March 25, and keep rooting for Mick and Brita!

1962-1963 "Goodbye Pete, Hello Ringo" from The Beatles

1962-63 “Goodbye Pete, Hello Ringo” from The Beatles



Mr. Tiger Goes Wild, written and illustrated by Peter Brown

Mr. Tiger Goes Wild, written and illustrated by Peter Brown

Journey, by Aaron Becker

Journey, by Aaron Becker

Nelson Mandela, words and paintings by Kadir Nelson

Nelson Mandela, words and paintings by Kadir Nelson

I was lucky to be invited to help as a facilitator today for the Mock Caldecott co-sponsored by The Lane Libraries (Butler County, Ohio) and the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. What’s a Mock Caldecott, you ask? It’s a lively and exciting discussion of books, resulting in a vote among participants as they predict the upcoming Caldecott Medal and Honor books. Many libraries, schools, bookstores, and other venues hold Mock Caldecotts– with varied predictions!

We were a group of maybe 80 librarians and educators, and we had received a list of 24 titles ahead of time so we could read and examine the art in preparation for today’s festivities (thanks to Gratia Banta, former Caldecott Committee Chair, and also to Sam Bloom of PLCH for selecting and organizing).  The Caldecott Medal is awarded for the best illustrated book of the year, and you can read more about terms and criteria for this award here.

We were divided into small groups, and we quickly discussed the artistic qualities of the books, one at a time. Each group voted for their three top choices, the votes were tallied, and the results are above! We decided Aaron Becker’s wordless fantasy Journey would receive the Caldecott Medal, with Kadir Nelson’s Nelson Mandela and Peter Brown’s Mr. Tiger Goes Wild receiving Honor designations.

Will these books actually receive the awards we predicted? Only the actual Caldecott Committee will determine that, and the results will be announced on the morning of January 27. If you can’t go to the ALA Midwinter meeting in Philadelphia for this event, find a link for the live streaming here.

Here is a real treat for you . . . go to this link to watch a series of video clips of illustrators discussing some of the books that might be currently under consideration by the 2014 Caldecott Committee (books published in 2013). It is possible one or more of these books could be selected for recognition, but that’s all hush-hush for now. We’ll just have to wait until January 27 to learn more.

What are your picks for the Caldecott?

The House Baba Built:  An Artist's Childhood in China, written and illustrated by Ed Young

The House Baba Built: An Artist’s Childhood in China, written and illustrated by Ed Young

Ed Young was the inaugural speaker for the Butler Lecture at Dominican University’s Graduate School of Library and Information Science on February 22, and I was lucky enough to be there!

Young, widely known for his Caldecott Award winning book Lon Po Po: A Red-Riding Hood Story from China and many other books, spoke about his recent The House Baba Built: An Artist’s Childhood in China. He showed slides and related how he went back to Shanghai to find that house, and while it took some looking because the street had been built up, he finally did pinpoint the four-family home his father built and where he grew up. His stories about the history of the house were engaging, such as how he was gracious to the current owner and was thus invited inside, why his father included a swimming pool inside the home, how a worker died building the home, and other childhood memories of a family haven during wartime. The book itself is a biography, a family history, a glimpse into this historical period in China, and is stunning with fold-out pages, drawings, collage art, and photos. The paper itself is a tactile treat, and the book encourages lingering.

Ed Young signs my books after the Butler Lecture at Dominican University

Ed Young signs my books after the Butler Lecture at Dominican University

Thank you Susan Roman, Thom Barthelmess, and others at Dominican for this delightful evening with Ed Young. I can’t wait until next year’s Butler Lecture when Jane Yolen is scheduled to be the speaker!

His Name Was Raoul Wallenberg, by Louise Borden

I tend to favor books for younger readers, so here is a compelling history book that ends in mystery, for middle school readers and older. Photos, documents, and maps accompany this account of the man who assisted Hungarian Jews in avoiding concentration camps during World War II– Raoul Wallenberg. Wallenberg was a Swede, college educated in the U.S., and a diplomat. He created faux documentation– the schutzpass (“schutz for protection/ and pass for passport,” p. 66)– an official-looking document that protected thousands of Hungarian Jews. When it became too difficult to issue the individual passes, even with a staff of 115 people and passes sometimes issued in the field, Wallenberg devised a collective schutzpasse which was issued to more than one person. Wallenberg’s own story ends in mystery. He was arrested by the Soviets and taken to Lubianka Prison in Russia, where the story grows cold. He was reported to have died, but other first-person accounts claim differently. His fate has never been verified.

Louise Borden is known for meticulous research, and an Author’s Note including photos of Borden in Sweden and with people who knew Wallenberg supports her detailed investigations. The book is written in free verse– a somewhat unusual style for informational books– but I found the writing allowed me to savor each line and fostered comprehension. I recommend this book for middle school and up.

Seed by Seed

Posted: October 6, 2012 in Biography
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Seed by Seed, by Esmé Raji Codell, illustrations by Lynne Rae Perkins

In schools we tend to perpetuate myths, and one of the myths we often pass along without question is lore about John Chapman, or “Johnny Appleseed.” In many classrooms there is an apple unit in fall, with tales about this man who purportedly wore a cooking pot on his head and planted apple trees so we can now enjoy the fall fruit. Websites, worksheets, and children’s books depict the man with a tin hat, planting apple seeds throughout the wilderness.

Esmé Raji Codell (author) and Lynne Rae Perkins (illustrator) have a new picturebook biography about John Chapman–Seed by Seed: The Legend and Legacy of John “Appleseed” Chapman, recommended by the publisher for ages 4 and up. This new offering about “Johnny Appleseed” might explain Chapman’s place in history a bit more accurately than some other sources of information for children. It happens I researched Chapman not too long ago, and Codell does dispel some of the myths. Codell includes a bibliography to show where she gathered her information, and Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World (Random, 2002) is one of her sources. This is important, because Pollan explains that Chapman did not plant trees for eating apples, but for apples to be used for making cider. Hard cider. Yes, Johnny Appleseed brought alcohol to “wilderness.” Codell does mention cider (not hard cider), in her telling of how Chapman obtained seeds from mills in Pennsylvania, to be used for growing trees in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana. She further related that Chapman sold seedlings to the pioneers, and Codell suggests he also gave the trees to those who could not afford to pay.

By most accounts, Chapman was an eccentric character. He was a vegetarian (but so am I, and I’m certainly not eccentric, am I?), and Codell also includes that he was a follower of the Swedish theologian Emanuel Swedenborg. Among other oft-told vignettes or other characteristics of the man that Codell mentions is about the cooking pot he supposedly wore on his head in lieu of a hat. Writes Codell: “Some say he carried his tin cooking pot on his head like a hat.” Thus, neither confirming nor denying that he wore a pot as a hat.

Now let’s think about wearing a cooking pot on your head. In fact, go try it. (I’ll wait . . . .) How did it feel? What about in summer when it’s hot and humid, the sun is blazing on your metal headpiece, and there are all manner of insects flying around and crawling on your scalp? No?

Another reason Chapman may not have worn his pot on his head has to do with the pot itself. Marji Hazen, on the Johnny Appleseed page of the Ashland County Chapter of the Ohio Genealogical Society website, states: “Pots of that period were handmade, usually of heavy copper, iron, or enameled iron. Such a burden would not long or comfortably serve the function of headgear. And above all, Johnny Appleseed was a man with a practical sense of function.”Another source that Codell consulted is Robert Price’s Johnny Appleseed: Man & Myth (Urbana University Press, 2001; first published 1954 by Peter Smith Publisher, Inc.). Price’s book is considered an authoritative source on the man, and Price asserts that first-hand reports do not confirm that Chapman wore the “mush-pot” hat.

Maybe Chapman wore a pot on his head, maybe he didn’t, but on the front cover of Seed by Seed illustrator Perkins gives us the handled-pot-hat image, thus saying he did. This image shows up at least twice again in the book, further reifying the idea that Chapman did wear a pot on his head.

Codell generalizes at the beginning of the book when she indicates tree trunks were once seen outside our windows (true, in certain parts of the country), but overall there is an attempt to provide a rational view of John Chapman. Esmé Raji Codell (Educating Esmé: Diary of a Teacher’s First Year, and books for children) and Lynne Rae Perkins (author of Newbery Award winner Criss Cross as well as an illustrator), are giants in children’s literature. Seed by Seed is a quality book to be positioned among other sources of information about “Johnny Appleseed.” He is an American icon and his story is fascinating, regardless if we ever separate the fancy from the fact.

I had the pleasure this past weekend to attend the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC, a division of the American Library Association) 2012 Institute in Indianapolis. One of the closing session speakers was illustrator Bryan Collier. This was the second time I have had the pleasure to listen to Collier, and each time I was riveted by his talk.

Collier shared that the inspiration for his watercolor and collage illustrations is his grandmother, who was a quiltmaker. This immediately becomes apparent when viewing the illustrations closely. Overall, the illustrations can appear blocky (yes, like a quilt!), but close viewing reveals intricate aspects.

Dave the Potter, by Laban Carrick Hill and illustrated by Bryan Collier

Brenda Dales and Bryan Collier at the 2012 ALSC Institute

Collier focused his talk on Dave the Potter (2010, by Laban Carrick Hill), a book about the man enslaved in South Carolina who crafted thousands of pots. Many of these pots were replete with brief poems which revealed that Dave had learned to read and write. Collier explained some of his decisions in creating the art for this book, such as including shackles in the illustrations to remind that Dave was a slave. He also explained some of the back story, stating it is reported that Dave lost a leg in a railroad accident, which prevented him from kicking the treadle wheel, so an armless slave was brought forth to do that part of the work. Collier shared he chose not to include the armless slave in his illustrations, as that would be difficult to see and would present a distraction. Listening to Collier express how he struggled with ways to visually present this powerful story of a man who was enslaved but was devoted to art was a gripping experience.

Bryan Collier’s work pulls one in. His art is the type you can’t stop examining. He has illustrated over twenty books for young people, and hopefully there will be at least that many more

More of Bryan Collier’s art can be seen at his website, and a list of his books is available at his entry on Wikipedia.

Looking at Lincoln, by Maira Kalman

Is it a biography? A history book? A picture storybook for young readers? Looking at Lincoln is a blend of all three genres. The young narrator sees someone who resembles the face on a five-dollar bill, and goes to the library to read about Abraham Lincoln. She tells us right off there are “over 16,000 books written about him.” So why do we need another? Because it’s by Maira Kalman. The blue, yellow, and pink cover signals this will not be the standard Lincoln fare. The narrator wonders about Lincoln the man, such as whether he and his wife had nicknames for each other, or if Mary made his favorite cake when he was elected. Kalman succinctly reviews the events of Lincoln’s presidency, yet adds anecdotes such as the shooting of a Civil War soldier, Elmer Ephraim Ellsworth. Hand lettered text and well as a serif-style font differentiate the narrator’s voice and the historical information. Notes from the author explaining more about the historical events are appended, along with a list of sources. The personal inquiry approach slides smoothly into an absorbing historical encounter. Read an interview with Kalman about the making of Looking at Lincoln, which includes a link so you can listen to her introducing and reading from the book, or you can just go to the link here.