the biography bonanza continues!

Today’s is the second post of my weekly biography blitz.
Be sure to catch up with the amazing people we met last week
as well as mingling with today’s crew.

Mornings with Monet, written by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Mary Grandpré
published in 2021 by Alfred A. Knopf

Monet is well-known and loved for his extraordinary studies of light — the way it shimmers on water; the way it casts a scene in drowsy lavender or ignites the sky in a peach glow; the way it refracts in dimples of color on snow.

This fabulous account takes us on an early morning painting expedition with Monet and his assistant.  Really early morning — 3:30 a.m. early. That’s what time you’ve got to roll out of bed, walk down to the river, load up the skiff with all the gear, clamber aboard the floating artist studio, and begin work if you want to have a chance at capturing the glories of such a skitterish element as light.

Monet changes canvases each time the light changes, working on each one only as long as the light matches a particular painting. Eventually there’s no more to be done on the river, and it’s time for breakfast.

Beautifully written, revelatory of Monet’s process, and illustrated in a gorgeous water-lily palette.  As we lean into Monet’s morning’s work, the illustrations even imitate his impressionistic paintings. An afterword provides more information about Monet’s life work. Ages 4 and up.

Paper Son: The Inspiring Story of Tyrus Wong, Immigrant and Artist
written by Julie Leung, illustrated by Chris Sasaki
published in 2019 by Schwartz & Wade

Take a look at the background landscape in this still from the Walt Disney film, Bambi:

See that muted elegance, the lines echoing those of Chinese scroll paintings, the sweeping tree branch, the gentle strokes of lush grasses. The man responsible for that iconic style is Tyrus Wong. This book tells his remarkable story.

As a young boy, Tyrus immigrated to America with his father, entering as a “paper son” in an intense, frightening, lonely set of circumstances. He pursued art from an early age. When he was able to study at a school in L.A., he focused in part on the artistry of the Chinese Song dynasty. It was during his stint in the animation department at Disney Studios that Tyrus heard about the challenges artists there were facing in developing backgrounds for Walt’s new film, Bambi. When Tyrus showcased his ideas for an East-meets-West style, Walt fell in love with it as art critics have ever since.

That seems like an obvious start to fame and fortune, but it was not to be. Follow this extraordinary man’s journey to find out the rest of the story. Leung’s graceful text is matched by Chris Sasaki’s stunning illustration work that echoes Tyrus Wong’s artistic sensibilities. A superb biography for ages 6 and up.

Manfish: A Story of Jacques Cousteau, written by Jennifer Berne, illustrated by Éric Puybaret
published in 2008 by Chronicle Books

I grew up mesmerized by The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau on our black-and-white television set. Jacques was such a celebrated explorer, discoverer, and advocate for our oceans, yet I imagine that many young children today have little or no acquaintance with him.

Dive into this graceful account tracing his love of the sea beginning with his childhood in France, as well as his youthful experimentation with mechanics and cameras that led him to invent the aqualung and pioneer  undersea photography and filmmaking.

Discover the way Cousteau dazzled the world with this vast, little-known, oceanic sphere. If only we had taken his words more to heart. An environmental hero’s story that’s perfect to share with ages 4 or 5 and older. Follow it up by watching one of his early films.

William Still and His Freedom Stories: The Father of the Underground Railroad
written and illustrated by Don Tate
published in 2020 by Peachtree

William Still was born free in New Jersey in 1821, the child of a formerly enslaved couple. As a young boy he helped a man escape slave-catchers, guiding him a harrowing twenty miles through thick woods. He heard stories from his parents of their lives in bondage and the children they’d had to leave behind when they fled.

Many years later, William headed up the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society, a position which introduced him to those who escaped on the Underground Railroad and told him their stories — including his own brother! William recognized that recording these folks’ accounts was important not only to help reunite families but to set down the history of the enslaved. It was a dangerous undertaking but he persisted, and when the Civil War was over, he published a collection of those stories called The Underground Railroad.

I am so grateful to have been introduced to this brave, insightful, justice-centered man. His story, as a keeper of stories and a teller of stories, is rich, weighty, and inspiring. Read it to enrich your own life and share it with ages 6 and up.

My Wild Life: Adventures of a Wildlife Photographer, by Suzi Eszterhas
published in 2020 by Owlkids Books

A lot of us who watch David Attenborough’s films or a National Geographic special dream of being a wildlife photographer. It seems such a magical job, seeing and capturing on film the glories and astonishments of animals in their natural habitats.

Suzi Eszerthas held that dream from the time she was a young girl, and now she’s been a professional wildlife photographer for more than twenty years. I think she’d agree that it’s often magical, but of course it’s also arduous! In this fascinating photo-essay, she tells us what her job is like, the ins and outs of how she goes about filming everything from silverback gorillas to cheetahs, polar bears to humpback whales.

With plenty of her own color photographs dazzling up the pages, Suzi relates stories of her encounters in far flung places, whether flying in helicopters or scrabbling about on her belly in the mud. Although the text is longer than a usual picture book, it’s concise and lively enough to hold the attention of young children. I thoroughly enjoyed this and think it will thrill and inspire kids ages 6 and up.

Building Zaha: The Story of Architect Zaha Hadid, written and illustrated by Victoria Tentler-Krylov
published in 2020 by Orchard Books

Zaha Hadid was a trailblazing, award-winning, Iraqi-British architect whose building designs swerved and soared and floated, harmonized and beautified and stunned.

Trace the arc of her life as she marveled over mosques in her Baghdad home, wondered over floating reed houses in the Sumerian wetlands, muscled her way through maths, challenged protocols, questioned status quos, pushed past prejudices, and finally made her mark on the architectural world.

This biography, written and illustrated by an architect, features a gorgeous surge of vibrant line, vigorous color, and confident, sweeping energy. It’s a remarkably handsome account that communicates equally in art and text. Informational and inspirational for ages 6 or 7 and up.

I’ll be back next week with round three of these tremendous biographies.
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