Have you heard of Wikirace?
It’s a game of sorts. You pick a subject that has a wikipedia page. Then pick another, completely unrelated subject, also with a wikipedia page. Then race your friends to see who can get from one to the other via links, in the fewest jumps?
In other words, what links might lead you, step by step, from a page about the sousaphone to one about the Zambezi River? Or in other words, everything is related in some wild degree or another.
Today, rather than wikirace, we’re playing bookie-race, linking disparate subjects in a sequence of jumps from book to book. Ready? We’ll starting with some rockstar women and see where we end up!
She Persisted Around the World: 13 Women who Changed History, written by Chelsea Clinton, illustrated by Alexandra Boiger
published in 2018 by Philomel Books
Following up on their American version, Chelsea and Alexandra bring us thirteen fascinating women from around the world and as much as I enjoyed the first title, I like this selection even better.
I think it’s the increased variety in walks of life we see when we broaden our horizons beyond the U.S. that appeals to me. These women hailing from Mexico to New Zealand, Canada to Egypt, involved themselves in education, astronomy, chemistry, athletics, law, and more in such inspiring, courageous ways.
One short paragraph on each woman along with Boiger’s dignified artwork, means the book moves right along. Ages 5 and up.
The book concludes by spotlighting the work of Malala, which leads us to…
Free as a Bird: The Story of Malala, written and illustrated by Lina Maslo
published in 2018 by Balzer + Bray
I’ve featured a couple different picture book biographies of Malala in the past, but this one quite captivated me.
Maslo’s spare text flutters lightly through Malala’s life from her birth through her childhood in Pakistan and the beginnings of the troubles with the Taliban. Malala’s outspoken fight for girls’ education leads to the attack on her life which is treated masterfully for very young children, a wordless storm of color and form conveying distress, but forgoing details.
The account concludes as Malala takes on her role of campaigning around the world for educational rights. Maslo’s crisp, clear compositions, her striking use of color, and the motif of free flight ribboning throughout the story are all appealing. Ages 5 and up.
Malala was required to flee from her home in Pakistan, which is also true of the man in our next book…
The Secret Kingdom: Nek Chand, a Changing India, and a Hidden World of Art, written by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Claire A. Nivola
published in 2018 by Candlewick
Nek Chand was born and grew up in a tiny village near the Himalayas in what is now Pakistan. At the time, this region was part of British India. Nek loved his homeland, taking special delight in constructing monumental sand castles, complete with stone, stick, and clay landscaping on the banks of the village stream.
With the Great Partition of India, Chand’s Hindu family became one of the millions of refugees sorting themselves out along religious lines. His new life in a crowded city left him desolate, craving the solitude, beauty, and creativity of his past. Thus, Chand began collecting bits and scraps of all kinds of materials, from pieces of broken pottery to twisted wrecks of bicycles.
Once his collection was large enough, Chand began fashioning an incredible landscape, a secret kingdom in the forest. You have to see it to believe it!
Rosenstock’s spellbinding text guides us through the beauty, barrenness, and renewal of Chand’s life, while Claire Nivola’s always-ravishing illustration work — aaah! it is absolutely gorgeous!! — treats us to compelling landscapes and creative spaces. A gem for ages 6 and up.
Just as Nek Chand collected interesting things, so does a fella named Hector in…
Hector the Collector, written by Emily Beeny, illustraed by Stephanie Graegin
published in 2017 by Roaring Brook Press
This charming pup, Hector, has discovered something marvelous in his world. It’s something that I’ll bet you have seen and perhaps overlooked in your comings and goings: something small, smooth, hard, with a knobbly little bit on one end. It’s…
…an acorn. Once Hector begins noticing acorns, he becomes quite enamored with them, collecting them from hither and yon, noting the ways they’re the same, and the ways they differ. When his secret acorn stash is discovered at school, a lovely conversation opens the doors to learning about his friends’ interesting collections, and the many ways things are collected by people around the world.
This book is brilliant, shining a quiet light of wonder on the ordinary, and revealing so many things to be truly fascinating. Share it with ages 2 and up and prepare for some collections to grow in your household.
Hector loves acorns, as do the subjects of our next book:
Squirrels, written and illustrated by Brian Wildsmith
published in 1974 by Franklin Watts, Inc.
There are gobs of books about squirrels, but I wanted to take this opportunity to introduce those of you who have never met Brian Wildsmith to his extraordinary art.
Wildsmith died in 2016 leaving a legacy of gorgeous, distinguished books for children, books that spritz and swizzle colors effusively, with artwork that handsomely, imaginatively captures the quintessence of forms and texts which comment sparingly, dialogue intelligently, with their child audience.
His book about squirrels is one of my favorites. I love the juxtaposition of his straightforward, intriguing observations about real squirrels, with wildly exuberant splashes of color, burbling foliage, and elegant, delicate renderings of these bushy-tailed fellows. Every image transfixes me.
You will learn interesting things and fall in love with the whole idea of squirrels. Ages 2 and up.
Okay. I’ll exit the bookie race there, although I had lots of great ideas of where to hop to next, such as Philippa Pearce’s fairy tale, The Squirrel Wife. Moving from famous women to squirrels in just four jumps was quite a fun project for me.
Where would you jump next? Can you make your own bookie race? Could your kids? It’s a fun little challenge that stretches our minds and limbers up our ability to make surprising connections. Why not have a go at it this summer?