Feb 3, 2013

A Bevy of Biographies

Last week the annual American Library Association Youth Media Awards took place. By now you've probably heard that Jon Klassen won the 2013 Caldecott for THIS IS NOT MY HAT, and Katherine Applegate won the 2013 Newbery for THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN. Many other awards were announced, including winners and honors and lifetime achievement awards. Watching the live webcast was the next best thing to being there, hearing authors and illustrators being cheered like rock stars.

Now that awards season has ended, the litany of monthly "themes" begins: Black History, Women's History, Hispanic Heritage, Poetry, just to name a few. I've stated my case in the past about the mixed benefits of theme months, so this post is in praise of ignoring the calendar and celebrating excellence whenever and wherever we find it. Back in November there was a National Non-Fiction Day and the next will come November 3, 2013. One day in a whole year? For books that share the truth about our world and those who live in it? Really?

Life stories and inspirational life events lend themselves to the power of picture books, and I won't wait until next November to celebrate these with you.

Little Brown Books for Young Readers, 2012
A worthy place to start is FIFTY CENTS AND A DREAM: YOUNG BOOKER T. WASHINGTON, by Jabari Asim, illustrated by Bryan Collier. (Collier won the Coretta Scott King Illustrator award for I TOO AM AMERICA.) 
Washington's drive to read, to learn, to succeed, and to share those opportunities with others is portrayed effectively. The concluding pages point out that he was dismissed for years as too accommodating but has more recently been recognized as a fearless and tireless advocate for equality and justice.
Read more in this Kirkus review.

Scholastic Press, 2012

I recently saw some photos of my grandma with her girlfriends, circa 1910-1914. The images made it perfectly clear that they were a spunky, fun-loving, and adventurous group. A penciled note on the back of one indicated they called themselves the gym-daisies. Reading HERE COME THE GIRL SCOUTS: THE AMAZING ALL TRUE STORY OF JULIETTE "DAISY"GORDON LOW AND HER GREAT ADVENTURE, by Shana Corey, illustrated by Hadley Hooper called those photos to mind. Lively text and muted illustrations describe sweeping passages of time and provide a revealing look at gender stereotyping and social expectations. Everyone should read this.

Eerdmans Books for young Readers, 2012
What a shame it would be to wait for the annual April focus to share poetry and the people who write it.
A RIVER OF WORDS: THE STORY OF WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS, by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet makes it clear that poetry ran through his life on a daily basis, as it should in ours.
The poetry collection on the endpapers is a bonus to this biography of a poet whose work touches nature, emotions, and the funny bone. I loved that the triple timelines in the back matter span his life and the history/works of that time awhile continuing the incredible collage illustration.
Read what Kirkus says in this starred review.

Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2005

The previous titles were all 2012 releases, but will continue to find and engage readers in years to come. This has been true for MUSIC FOR THE END OF TIME, by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Beth PeckThis story of the years French composer Olivier Messiaean spent in a German prisoner-of-war camp inspires on many levels- the drive to create, the potential for humane treatment in the worst of situations, the power of inspiration, and the capacity for music (art) to nourish the soul.

A Kirkus review provides even more detail.

Just one glance at the cover art for these titles reveals the range of styles, moods, techniques and approaches used by the various illustrators. The same is true for the text of each. In my opinion (and that's what a blog is for, right?) they are equally excellent, outstanding, distinguished, and worthy of our time and attention. This demonstrates my mixed reaction to awards announcements. So many fine books deserve accolades, and for each one named there are so many others waiting to be discovered and shared. Speak up if you want to share some recommendations of your own.

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Picture books are as versatile and diverse as the readers who enjoy them. Join me to explore the wacky, wonderful, challenging and changing world of picture books.