a fiesta of fine folks

Today’s post is the last of my biography bonanza.
I hope you’ve found lots of interesting options to add sparkle your reading stacks and enrich your lives.
If you’ve missed the earlier posts, you’ll find them here, here, here, and here.
You can also find hundreds more fabulous, hand-picked, stories of peoples’ lives in my
Biography Index
with links to my reviews.

Itzhak: A Boy Who Loved the Violin: The Story of Young Itzhak Perlman
written by Tracy Newman, illustrated by Abigail Halpin
published in 2020 by Abrams Books for Young Readers

Beloved violinist Itzhak Perlman is the subject of this radiant story. Even as the child of poor immigrants in Tel Aviv, Itzhak was ravished by music, pleading with his parents for a violin at age 3. After surviving an attack of polio, a great deal of physical therapy was required in order for him to regain the use of his arms and hands, though his legs remained paralyzed.

Perlman stubbornly chose optimism and his parents responded with the gift of a violin. Immediately Perlman showed the world his unique approach to music. As a child prodigy the joy he communicated through his performances captivated audiences. This account focuses on these early years of Itzhak’s life, winding up with his performance at age 13 on the Ed Sullivan show which brought the house down and ushered in a lifetime of violin brilliance.

I am a huge fan of Abigail Halpin’s artistry and here she infuses every page with the vibrancy and warmth that characterizes Perlman and his music-making. It’s a gem of a book for ages 4 and up. An Author’s Note continues the biography for older children and adults focusing attention on the obstacles Perlman had to overcome because of his disability and his advocacy for children with special needs. What an amazing human!

Nacho’s Nachos: The Story Behind the World’s Favorite Snack
written by Sandra Nickle, illustrated by Oliver Dominguez
published in 2020 by Lee & Low Books

There are some things in the world that somehow seem like they’ve just always been there.  Like no one actually had to invent them; they just…appeared one day, some way.  Like nachos.

But nachos, of course, required a cook to dream them up, and this is that guy’s story. Ignacio Anaya, who was nicknamed Nacho, was born in northern Mexico in 1895. He grew up loving the delicious food made by his foster mother, and began working in restaurants as a young man. At one restaurant, the Victory Club, a group of high-society women were bored with the usual fare and asked their server, Nacho, to whip up something different for them. And the rest is history.

Such tasty history! “Nacho’s Special” became such a universal favorite that we don’t even realize we’re crediting him every time we order those cheesy chips. Make a batch with the included recipe and share this zesty, fascinating story with kids ages 5 and up.

Hard Work, But it’s Worth It: The Life of Jimmy Carter
written by Bethany Hegedus, illustrated by Kyung Eun Han
published in 2020 by Balzer + Bray

I was in high school when Jimmy Carter ran for and won the presidency of the United States. I remember being intrigued by his story, perspectives, and peace-initiatives at that time, but I have been even more impressed with the profound humanitarian work he and Rosalynn have undertaken in the years since his term in office. He is truly a man devoted to peace and justice.

So I was glad to see this biography telling about his life as a hard-working farm kid, as a young White teen disturbed by the injustices of the segregated South, and as an adult bucking those racist systems in business and then politics. Only a few pages of this account are devoted to his four short years in the White House, while double that many tell about his humanitarian work in the subsequent four decades!

From peanut farmer to Nobel Prize winner and well into his nineties, Carter’s life has been one of hard, honest work. Read this with kids ages 6 and up. An Author’s Note and Timeline fill in many more details for older children and adults.

Lotte’s Magical Paper Puppets: The Woman Behind the First Animated Feature Film
written by Brooke Hartman, illustrated by Kathryn Carr
published in 2020 by Page Street Kids

Over one hundred years ago, a little girl named Lotte was born in Germany. As a child she was enamored with cinema and shadow puppets. Soon, with a little pair of sharp scissors, she began creating her own intricate silhouette figures.

Next, Lotte engineered a special set up with panes of glass, lights, and a camera and began making elaborate stop-motion films.  In fact, a decade before Walt Disney filmed Snow White, Lotte made the first ever, feature-length, animated film. It was called The Adventures of Prince Achmed.

Her life and art sadly intersected with Hitler’s rule and the devastation of WWII, but even then Lotte persisted in her craft, resisting the demands of the Nazis regarding what she created, bringing a ray of hope to those around her. Told in a whimsical, lilting narration, and paired with gorgeous, magical, cut-paper illustration work, this is a story that will tantalize children and perhaps set them to dreaming and creating their own puppets, films, or other pieces of art. Share it with ages 4 and up.

Sprouting Wings: The True Story of James Herman Banning, the First African American Pilot to Fly Across the United States
written by Louisa Jaggar and Shari Becker, illustrated by Floyd Cooper
published in 2021 by Crown Books for Young Readers

James Banning was just a young boy the first time he heard about the Wright brothers and their new-fangled flying machine, but the flying-bug bit him hard!  He was 12 when he had his first chance to see a real birdman fly into his dusty Oklahoma stomping grounds, and yeah, he sneaked his way onto the rickety airplane seat and held the wheel in his brown hands and dreamed he was aloft.

It took a lot of years, a lot of persistence, and a whole lot of moxie to overcome the obstacles to gaining his pilot’s license as a Black man, to learn the death-defying feats of a barnstormer, and to pursue his goal of becoming the first Black man to fly across the country.

His success in that endeavor also required an immense groundswell of support from ordinary folks and humble communities who fed, housed, repaired, transported, and helped fund him. The story of his incredible trip and the wonderful Americans who made it possible is an encouraging, heartwarming delight. A great read about someone I’d never met before, to share with ages 6 and up.


Coming up on Orange Marmalade — later this week I’ve got a trio of books with razzamatazz pages; soon enough I’ll have the last of my yard restoration updates for 2021, a lot of brand new picture book gems to tuck into as the days turn chillier, some November reads plum full of gratitude, another great list of excellent reads on race, a few exciting middle grade novels…so much good stuff!

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