Ernest Shackleton was a British explorer whose Antarctic expedition in 1914-1916 is one of the most epic examples ever of doggedly determined leadership amidst harrowing conditions and disastrous setbacks.
This gripping story of survival has been fodder for gobs of books, documentaries, and IMAX shows. Nick Bertozzi’s new portrayal of Shackleton’s journey in graphic novel format offers another excellent viewpoint that is aesthetically pleasing, highly accessible, and exceptionally personal. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
I won’t bother telling you the events of Shackleton’s trip. Suffice it to say that ice mountains, dashed hopes, isolation, burbling dissent, ferocious leopard seals, wicked waves, and frostbite were only a few of the issues that threatened this crew and tested Shackleton’s courage, optimism, and savvy.
What I especially like about this graphic novel presentation is the alternate perspectives Bertozzi brings out by focusing on the ground-level, human story. The names of every expedition dog are here, mind you, as well as the cat. Why? Because the men aboard loved those creatures and knew them by name. The entire book is communicated through dialogue which means that personalities, emotion, inside jokes, private conversation, exclamations, worried mutterings are the means by which we experience the story.
Bertozzi’s light hand and minimal line give an austere feel to the landscapes and an elegance to the ship’s lines. He also uses very small figures for his men which conveys the diminutive stature of humans in the vastness of the Antarctic ice. It’s not until the final moment of victory that we get a burly, strong Shackleton piercing us with his resolute gaze.
For those of you who have never read an account of this expedition, I do think you will come away with a number of questions. Bertozzi does not strive to create a seamless, fleshed-out account here. Don’t miss his short word of introduction for a humorous explanation of why he had to condense things a bit. And perhaps that’s just as well. There’s plenty of excellent material for follow up if your interest is piqued. I’ve previously reviewed one of these, Jennifer Armstrong’s book Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World. Bertozzi lists a number of other publications, websites and a museum to investigate as well.
For some reason, my library shelves this as Teen Graphic. It’s a grand story for brave kids (remember, this is real life) ages 10 and up, I’d say. If you love it, you’ll want to find Bertozzi’s other historical graphic novel, Lewis & Clark.
Calico elephants and scuba-diving dalmations, trusty sea-horse steeds and a regal leopard with jeweled collar, coming right up!
All this exotic wonderment is brought to you by one talented, creative, hard-working woman. Dahlov Ipcar is nearly 97 years old now. She lives in the same, bright, farmhouse in Maine she’s occupied for about 77 years, drawing and painting still, surrounded by her beautiful, eclectic collection of art, the quiet of the northwoods, and the fresh light streaming in the windows.
Ipcar has been making art since she was a child in New York City, raised by artists in a home saturated with creativity and investigation. One of her early loves was animals. She could spend days observing them at the zoo, as well as in the Natural History Museum or in paintings at the Met. Little wonder that her books team with animals, yet Ipcar’s animals sing with unconventionality!
The Calico Jungle, for example, written in 1965, was inspired by animals as well as the elaborate patchwork quilts she sewed. One of her quilts tells the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Ipcar began to imagine how a young child might be wafted onto a flight of fancy by the creatures sewn onto his quilt. The little boy in this story is given a quilt by his mother, strewn with exotic calico trees and peacocks, wildly patterned giraffes and elephants. Each night as he lies in bed, the boy fingers his quilt, quietly enjoying all the fantastic creatures, until he falls asleep. It’s a quiet story, yet Ipcar’s brilliant, wonder-filled illustrations spark such exciting ideas.
Dahlov’s father was a renowned sculptor. This gorgeous puma is one of his pieces.
I like to think he was an influence in her story, The Marvelous Merry-Go-Round, published in 1970. It’s the story of a woodworker who carves horses for merry-go-rounds. His proud, strong horses fairly prance and toss their manes, and he paints them with colorful, gleaming trappings. No matter how beautiful he makes each horse, though, the village children have one steady preference — the dapple grays. This woodcarver’s imagination is fired by a visiting circus and he begins crafting all manner of merry-go-round beasts, from snarling tigers to a beefy St. Bernard dog. No matter — the children’s favorite is always, always, the dapple gray. Page after page of strong, decorative, thrilling animals for children to admire fill this book. Which one would they choose to ride on?
Dahlov Ipcar’s parents bought the property where she now lives, and as a young girl she spent rustic summers there. When she married her dear Adolph, they chose to live there permanently, chopping wood, living off garden produce, running a dairy, and raising two sons while also working in their field of art. They were married for — listen to this — almost 70 years, until his death at age 98.
Farm life in Maine, mixed with a vivid imagination, resulted in her clever book, Deep Sea Farm, published in 1961. This fellow’s farm is on the sea floor, where a couple of dogfish help him tend a garden of sea cucumbers, and his barn houses sea horses and cow fish. There are tiger sharks and leopard fish to hunt, and gardens of sea anemones. The turquoise, pink, and yellow that dominate this book create a lovely aquatic feel.
Not all of Ipcar’s animals are quite so fantastical, but she certainly knows a lot of them! Her book I Like Animals (1960) is a great treat for young children with an almost catalog sense to it, yet it holds an incredibly array of creatures. This little boy dreams of ways to be near the animals he loves. If he were a zookeeper, for intance, he could ride camels and tend to “bongos and gemsbok and kudus and okapis and all kinds of antelope from the plains of Africa.” When was the last time you saw an okapi in a book for preschoolers, hmm? Check out what you’d encounter at a pet shop, farm, or in the northwoods as well, and think about where you’d rather be.
Dahlov did not pursue a traditional college education. After one semester at Oberlin, she left to explore life and art in her own way. She seems to have dug in with such tremendous curiosity and delight. What an interesting life and person! We get a sense for the far-flung areas of interest she must have from this last book on today’s list, I Love My Anteater with an A, from 1964. I’ll give you just one sample from this zesty alphabet book:
I love my mackeral with an M because he is magnificent. I hate him with an M because he is malicious. His name is Marconi. He comes from Morocco. He lives on macaroni and marmalade, and he manages a meat market.
Each entry follows this same format. Sounds like a great game to make up for yourselves.
I am indebted to two websites in particular for their wonderful stories of Dahlov Ipcar where I learned most everything I’ve told you. You should read their articles for yourself as they are really well done, have photos, and encompass even more fascinating information. Those are linked here and here.
Many of Ipcar’s books are being reprinted just now it seems, and one new title, Farmyard Alphabet, came out just a few years back, so I hope you have some luck finding her work in libraries and bookstores. I believe she has at least 30 titles, in addition to her glorious paintings and murals on display in many museums.
The Ebola crisis engulfing several West African nations hits close to my heart.
When our children were young, we lived in Guinea, the country where this terrible epidemic began. In fact, my husband was visting Guinea in March when the news broke that Ebola had been identified there, and we have been following the story closely ever since.
As well, the mission we served with, SIM, is heavily involved with treating Ebola patients in Liberia. It’s our dear friends and former colleagues who are grappling first hand with this monumental health crisis.
West Africa mostly flies under the radar for Americans. With so much news coverage just now, I thought I’d encourage you to explore this region with your children — a land with a rich, exotic history, tropical delights, and warmhearted people, yet also a region that has seen decades of shattering conflict and the grievous use of child soldiers.
I’ve chosen to limit myself to books set in four countries affected by Ebola — Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria. Beginning with the king of a medieval empire…
Sundiata: Lion King of Mali, story and pictures by David Wisniewski
published in 1992 by Clarion Books
Told by a griot — an oral historian of West Africa — this is the dazzling story of the first king of the mighty Mali empire, whose vast realm included present day Guinea. “Listen, then,” our griot says, ” to the story of Sundiata, the Lion King, who overcame all things to walk with greatness.”
Sundiata was born to the homely second wife of a great king in fulfillment of an old prophecy. Though weak from birth, Sundiata was strong in spirit and threatened to displace his older half-brother as heir to the throne. The wicked, spiteful queen conspired against Sundiata until finally he and his poor mother fled for their lives.
As they departed their homeland, Sundiata’s mother told him: “When you are a man, you will return and set all things right.”
Sundiata’s weary wanderings took him across burning desert sands, past caravans of traders, along the banks of the Niger River, until one day he was summoned by his people to lead them in an epic battle against a sorcerer king.
David Wisniewski’s dramatic cut paper illustrations sweep us into this tale of splendor. The brilliant cayennes and lapis lazuli and gold, the geometric patterns of Islam, voluminous African robes, sandswept landscapes, eerie witches, thundering cavalries, all create a heightened sense of drama. His lengthy Author’s Note is fascinating, summarizing the historic facts surrounding Sundiata and his extensive research for the illustrations.
Terrific read for ages 4 and up.
Mansa Musa: The Lion of Mali
by Khephra Burns
illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon
published in 2001 by Gulliver Books
Some years after the death of Sundiata, a new ruler arose who became the Malian Empire’s most famous king.
Mansa Musa (King Musa) is legendary for his extravagant pilgrimage across the Sahara to Mecca. His retinue numbered in the tens of thousands and fairly dripped with gold. He lavishly distributed thousands of pounds of gold along the way, returned with loads of books, scholars, and architects, and made a mark on the world that would never be forgotten. Recently, he was named the wealthiest man in the history of the world.
Khephra Burns has written a mesmerizing, imagined account of Mansa Musa’s boyhood and accession to the throne. In beautiful, evocative language, Burns wafts us into the land of jinns and date palms, sandstorms and Tuaregs, spinning a tale of magical realism that introduces desert customs, the medieval streets of Cairo, and the jaw-dropping wealth of this 14th-century ruler.
The brilliant team of Leo and Diane Dillon illustrated this book. Their sumptuous paintings richly portray the landscapes and clothing, patterns and architecture of the empire, but far more than that, they capture the mood of lonely deserts, terrifying Tuareg raids, exotic markets, and royal splendor.
It’s a longer-than-usual story for a picture book, suited to ages 7 through adult. A fascinating, brief history of Mansa Musa can be found at this link, if you want to know more.
Anna Hibiscus, by Atinuke, illustrated by Lauren Tobia
first published in the U.S. in 2010 by Kane Miller
Anna Hibiscus is a delightful little girl who lives in Nigeria where “the trees are full of sweet, ripe fruit” and the city is full of “lagoons and bridges and roads, of skyscrapers and shanty towns.”
She is part of a big, extended family including her Canadian mom, Nigerian dad, and two slightly-troublesome twin baby brothers.
In this sunny chapter book, perfectly suited to readers ready to move into a first chapter book, Anna interacts joyously with her loving family and enjoys their modern, middle-class, African way of life. Gently humorous stories of a beach vacation, a visit from an auntie who lives across the ocean, a failed attempt to sell oranges, and her dream of seeing snow, endear us to Anna Hibiscus, her entire hubbub of a family, and her Nigerian culture.
Atinuke, who spent her childhood in both Nigeria and the UK, is a superb storyteller. I loved the African dialect and syntax which sounded familiar to my ear. I loved the very positive view of African culture. I loved the setting in modern Lagos. I loved the big, happy family Anna is a part of. And I loved Lauren Tobia’s charming, lighthanded drawings which perfectly suit the mood of the story.
There are a number of other Anna Hibiscus titles in this series, so if you like it, you can search for more.
Son of a Gun, by Anne de Graaf, photographs by Anne de Graaf
English edition published in 2012 by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers
The series of civil wars which tore Liberian society to pieces from about 1989 to 2005 are a heartbreaking slice of Liberian history. Rebel soldiers and Liberian government forces fought one another and subjected the Liberian people to unspeakably brutal violence. Perhaps the worst of it, if there can be any “worst” was the kidnapping and forced deployment of tens of thousands of boys and girls as child soldiers by the guerilla fighters.
A heavy topic, to say the least.
Dutch author Anne de Graaf has written a powerful account of a brother and sister, ages 8 and 10, cast into the horrific role of killers at an age when they should have been learning in school and playing on the beautiful beaches of Monrovia. It is a realistic, harsh, tragic story, and not for the young. I would recommend it for ages 12 to adult.
Told with alternating narrators, we witness terrifying days and nights when they are “forced to live a nightmare.” You will begin to appreciate the mountain that is theirs to climb in order to regain peace of mind and soul, return to school and normalcy, and become part of a healthy society once again.
The story is about 80 pages. Additionally, there are pages of photographs and end notes about Liberia’s climate, food, daily life, education, history, wars, and child soldiers.
Be Patient, Abdul, written and illustrated by Dolores Sandoval
published in 1996 by Margaret K. McElderry Books
Abdul is a seven-year-old boy from Freetown, Sierra Leone. His dream is to go to school, but his family cannot afford the school fees. So, Abdul sells oranges.
The problem is, many days there are simply not many buyers. Abdul trudges along the roads and into the busy markets, but still, he earns a pitiful amount of money towards his schooling. His parents only say: Be patient. By and by, you will earn enough to go back to school.
I like this story because it doesn’t paint an unrealistic, easy solution to Abdul’s difficulties. It is not easy for a young boy to earn enough money for school fees. People don’t just snap up his oranges so everything can be sunny for Abdul. Instead, there are a lot of discouraging days, and only the admonition to have patience.
Meanwhile, we get to see a lovely smattering of Sierra Leonian culture, including King Jimmy Market, evening prayers, the historic cotton tree in the town center, independence parade stiltwalkers, the ever-present taxis, ladies’ clubs, and more. In the end, Abdul’s father is able to provide for him to return to school, which is an appropriate and sweet solution.
It’s a pleasant, quiet little story, for ages 4 and up, and one of the very few I could find set in Sierra Leone.
Although I never use my blog as a money-raising platform, today I want to offer some links to three organizations on the Ebola frontlines. These ordinary people are tackling a major global health crisis with limited resources. If you want to help, you might consider a donation to one of them.
SIM has been working in West Africa for over 100 years. These are the folks that built ELWA hospital and with Liberian co-workers are managing the Ebola care unit there. They are a nondenominational, Christian mission with top-notch financial integrity and accountablility. That link is here.
Samaritan’s Purse is a well-known, nondenominational, Christian relief organization with world-wide projects, including ten years in Liberia. They are partnering with SIM in Ebola care, including a vital, public health education campaign. The link is here.
Doctors Without Borders, the English branch of Medecins Sans Frontieres, is a worldwide, political-and-faith neutral group who provide health care in every extreme situation you can think of. They are unable to earmark your donation to the Ebola fight, but all their work is vital. That link is here.
Thank you for caring with me about the peoples of West Africa.
Posted in fiction, non-fiction, picture books | Tagged african history, book reviews, child soldiers, children's literature, ebola, freetown, guinea, liberia, malian empire, mansa musa, nigeria, sierra leone, sundiata, west africa | 3 Comments »
Summer has flown by, hasn’t it?! The school year has begun again for many of you. Today, I’ve got a slate of titles that celebrate the joy of learning and shine a spotlight on the creative, devoted, nurturing teachers who open so many doors for us all.
Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation, written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh
published in 2014 by Abrams Books for Young Readers
In 1944, Sylvia Mendez was an eager young girl reporting for her first day of third grade in Westminster, California. Her excitement was short-lived, however. The school secretary took one look at her and announced she would not be allowed to attend. She must go to “the Mexican school.”
Sylvia was an American citizen. She spoke perfect English. She would go on to become a registered nurse, working over 30 years at a Los Angeles medical center. But first, her father would have to win the basic right for Sylvia to attend her neighborhood public school.
Nearly all of us know of the landmark case for school desegregation, Brown vs. Board of Education, which opened schools across the nation to all students, regardless of race or ethnicity. Many of us have never heard, though, of the Mendez family and their struggle for equal opportunity in California which paved the way for that decision.
Duncan Tonatiuh has brought this important, but less familiar case to our attention in this eye-opening book for ages 6 or 7 and up. Using dialogue from court transcripts and his own interviews with Sylvia Mendez, Tonatiuh strikes a dignified, factual tone which seems to underscore how very reasonable the Mendez family’s peaceful request was.
His illustrations, rich with the brown tones of Sylvia’s setting-apart skin, are inspired by Pre-Columbian art, he says in this fascinating interview with Julie Danielson at Kirkus Reviews. Read it to learn more about that as well as his research for this enlightening book.
The Art of Miss Chew, written and illustrated by Patricia Polacco
published in 2012 by G. P. Putnam’s Sons
Trisha is a young girl who struggles to complete her schoolwork on time, but soars when she has a drawing tool in her hand. Luckily for Trisha, her teacher, young Mr. Donovan, recognizes her talent and lands her a prize spot in Miss Chew’s class, in the high school art department.
Miss Chew is an elegant miracle, even dressed in her vivid tangerine smock and covered with paint. Under her guidance, Trisha learns to truly see, and to draw what she sees, gloriously. She flourishes.
Great trouble arises, however, when Mr. Donovan is called away and a substitute teacher comes who thinks art is a silly waste of time. How will Trisha thrive without art class?
In this semi-autobiographical account, Patricia Polacco poignantly conveys the irrevocable impact Miss Chew had on her life. Simultaneously, she gives an eloquent argument for increasing arts education in our schools, rather than shuffling it off the schedule and budget. As always, Polacco’s illustrations are warm and human, masterfully expressing the emotions of this deeply felt story. A warm and valuable story, for ages 6 and up.
Miss Nelson is Missing, by Harry Allard and James Marshall
published in 1977 by Houghton Mifflin Company
One of the Swanson family favorites, spilling over with sillyness and the dire visage of Miss Viola Swamp! Egads!
Miss Nelson is just the sweetest teacher on the planet, but the rowdy kids in her classroom take dreadful advantage of her. Spitballs. Monkey business. Downright belligerence. They are the worst class ever. Something will have to be done, thinks Miss Nelson.
Enter Miss Viola Swamp, a substitute teacher from the grim side of town. She wants no funny business and nobody’s fool enough to give her any lip. For days the kids languish under Miss Swamp’s tyranny, reminiscing longingly of dear Miss Nelson’s sunny disposition.
Just who is Viola Swamp? Where did she come from? What has happened to Miss Nelson? And how will the kids behave if she ever comes back?
One of the classics of kids’ lit, this story is nearly 40 years old and still fresh as ever. Jolly good fun for ages 4 and up.
Annie and Helen, by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Raul Colón
published in 2012 by Schwartz & Wade Books
One of the most famous persons of all time — Helen Keller — was taught by an extraordinary woman named Annie Sullivan. Of her, Helen would say, “At the beginning I was only a little mass of possibilities. It was my teacher who unfolded and developed them.”
Annie was only 20 years old when she stepped into the Keller home and met this wild, demanding, ill-mannered child, locked in darkness and silence, yet fiercely intelligent. The story of how she brought order to Helen’s life, then brilliantly set about building a bridge of communication with her and opening up the world to her, is staggering.
Deborah Hopkinson has written an absorbing account of the first four months of this partnership. Her prose is packed with vivid detail, and excerpts from Annie Sullivan’s letters are interspersed with the narrative.
As always, Raul Colón’s illustrations are riveting, ushering us right into the inner circle of Annie and Helen, their interactions, emotions, and communication. Historic photographs are included on the endpapers, and an Author’s Note fills in some more details.
I love that this book emphasizes Annie’s role as much as Helen’s. It’s an outstanding read, for ages 6 and up.
Billy and Belle, written and illustrated by Sarah Garland
first published in 1992; republished in 2004 by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Finally, here’s a charming story from one of my favorite British author-illustrators, Sarah Garland.
Billy is a young, school-age boy, and Belle is his little sister. It’s an exciting morning at Billy and Belle’s household because it looks like today’s the day that Mum will have their new baby.
Dad’s going to the hospital with her, so kind Mrs. Plum, their neighbor, is walking them to school, and Billy’s heroic teacher is allowing Belle to sit in Billy’s class, just for today.
Today happends to be pet day. Everyone has brought a pet, from a guinea pig right down to a beetle. Belle desperately wants to bring a pet as well, so she nabs a spider. After everyone’s introduced his pet to the class, the teacher wisely puts the lot out in the playground — for fresh air — and directs the children to draw their pets in brilliant color.
This sounds like everything is under control, doesn’t it? But from here, things take a little turn towards mayhem, courtesy of Belle.
Not to worry, though. All’s right as rain in the end, including a lovely homecoming for the sweet new baby and Mum.
Sarah Garland has a knack for seizing on the lovely ordinariness of families and bringing it to endearing life. I am so happy she has given us this loving, multi-racial, realistic family portrait, for ages 3 and up. Please check out her other work as well. If you’re in the U.S., it is harder to find but worth the search.
Posted in non-fiction, picture books | Tagged annie sullivan, art education, book reviews, children's literature, civil rights, education, helen keller, hispanic americans, humorous stories, school, school desegragation, sylvia mendez | 4 Comments »
Charming squirrels, foxes, deer and mice, skate, garden, swim, picnic, rake leaves and toast marshmallows as they amble through an entire year in this adorable new alphabet book.
Each pleasant scene, in natural-woodsy colors, carries enormous appeal for small lap-sitters as well as adult readers. Everyone is friendly. The idyllic days lilt along with lovely creativity, freedom, camaraderie, and oodles of outdoor play. Teagan White has succeeded in creating a world that’s cute, yet mellow rather than saccharine, and I bet a lot of you would like her prints for your nursery walls.
I first saw Teagan’s work when I visited the Annual MCAD Art Sale — a cheek-to-jowl affair when the Minneapolis College of Art and Design throws open its doors for seemingly all of Minneapolis to swarm in and purchase some great, original art. She graduated from MCAD in 2012, I understand. Her gorgeous designs, with a bit of Arts and Crafts feel to them, full of intricacy and tinged with nostalgia, leapt out from among other work at the fair, and I was smitten. Just take a look at her gorgeous flora and fauna prints:
So, when I saw she’d had her first book published, I thought I would introduce her art to all of you.
You should definitely visit Teagan’s website, here. She has a line of textiles as well that look stunning, and she’s producing an unbelievable array of art altogether. I’m not sure when she sleeps.
Adventures with Barefoot Critters is suited to little shavers, ages 18 months and up. Plus, if you purchase the book, there’s a jolly poster on the under side of the bookcover!
Best of luck, Teagan!