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Archive for the ‘non-fiction’ Category

All the books in today’s post have one thing in common: they make readers wonder.

 Children love to discuss crazy scenarios, what-ifs, and imagine-thats. Their funny bones are tickled by nonsensicalness. They love to stump one another with riddles. Children also mull all manner of existential ideas. Posing deeply philosophical and spiritual questions is not just something adults do.

All of it is rich food for the mind. Open up the gate to wondering with these curious titles.

Imagine a City, written and illustrated by Elise Hurst
originally published in Australia; first American edition published in 2014 by Doubleday Books for Young Readers

Elise Hurst’s marvelously imaginative realm opens up the boundaries between the real and the magical, fuses them together so seamlessly that you might expect to see rabbits reading the daily news on your next subway trip or carp-zeppelins zumming through the sky over your city.

Imagine this sort of place! Imagine fantastical bridges and a Narnia-like jumble of human and animal citizens. Imagine “a world without edges” and gargoyles taking tea.

Many illustrators would choose to use waterfalls of color to bring such a place to life, but Hurst masterfully captures our hearts with her gorgeous pen-and-ink work. Somehow that makes this dreamland all the more real.

With so much to absorb on every page and so much fantasy to expand our thoughts, this is a gem for ages 3 and up.

If I Was a Banana, written by Alexandra Tylee, illustrated by Kieran Rynhart
first published in New Zealand by Gecko Press in 2016

“If I was a banana I would be that one, all yellow and fat and full of banana.”

What a wonderful thought to think! Of course that would be just the sort of banana to be. Who would want to be one of those brown, oozy, gloopy ones? Yecch. A plump, bright banana would be my choice, too.

Alexandra Tylee clambers right inside a small boy’s mind and considers all kinds of ordinary pieces in his world — a bird, a cloud, a ladybug — from a refreshingly childlike perspective. The honest, artless, vulnerable thoughts here are precious as gemstones and offered only when there is leisure and trust and space for such things.

Rynhart’s handsome illustration work is, again, muted, displaying a commendable respect for these intriguing ideas which might seem otherwise merely shallow and silly.

Quietly happy, I’d love to see this one slow folks down to a pondering pace. Share it with ages 4 and up.

The Liszts, written by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Júlia Sardà
published in 2016 by Tundra Books

I am realizing as I write this post how international this group of authors and illustrators is! No Americans thus far. Hmmm…does that mean anything about this subject matter? I wonder. Here we have a Canadian author and Spanish artist. Fantastic.

This book is pure delight, from the marvelously eccentric characters created by artist Júlia Sardà to the highly-original story of these list-making Liszts.

This offbeat bunch, who somehow resemble a mash-up of Gatsby-era Russian aristocrats and the Addams family, love to make lists. Great lists. Ever-so-long lists of admirers and ghastly illnesses, kinds of cheese and dreaded chores.

The Liszts become so encumbered by their lists, however, that they are unable to entertain any person or notion not on the list. Their lists have become a barricade, as it were, to anything new.

Edward, the middle child (hallelujah for a heroic middle child!) makes quite a different sort of list, however. His is a list of questions. And because his mind is awash with questions and possibilities, his world opens up in startling, wonderful ways.

I love the way this off-the-wall tale unbolts the doors on an exultant, curious, open mindset that welcomes a thirst for new ideas. And I love the handlettered text and phenomenal illustration work here. A clear winner for ages 5 and up.

Why am I Here?, written by Constance Ørbeck-Nilssen, illustrated by Akin Duzakin, translated from the Norwegian by Becky Crook
originally published in Norway in 2014; first US edition published in 2016 by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers

The most pensive book on today’s list is this highly-unusual title coming to us from Norway.

Crediting children with the deep, soul-searching thoughts which they do indeed muse about if given adequate time, space, and freedom from the noise and frenzy of our culture, Ørbeck-Nilssen poses the existential and important questions of a young child. Duzakin portrays the child in such a way that it could be a boy or girl — a nice touch.

He wonders why he is here, “in this exact place.” She asks what would it have been like if she had been born as someone else, in some far distant place?

What would it be like to be homeless? Or in a land where war rages? What would it be like to dwell in the desert or the Arctic? What would it be like if home was washed away in a flood? Why are we here, anyway? Why am I me?

These heartfelt concerns certainly land on young children, though they may not articulate them in just this way. What a beautiful tendency, to consider what life would look like in someone else’s situation. Duzakin’s dreamy, emotive illustration work conveys wonder and transports us masterfully into others’ scenarios. He imbues the pages with tenderness and respect. A lovely entry point into conversation and compassion for ages 6 and older.

The Curious Guide to Things That Aren’t, written by John D. Fixx and James F. Fixx, illustrated by Abby Carter
published in 2016 by Quarto Publishing

Finally, this quirky (American!) book features riddles — guessing games you might say — all leading to answers that are intangible. No chickens crossing roads. No orange-you-glad-I-didn’t-say-banana. These clues will lead you to answers such as darkness, breath, an itch, or yesterday.

There’s one for each letter of the alphabet. Traipse through the book reading the clues and guessing together — What is it? Flip the page to learn the answer and find out a little bit about air, reflections, fog, and other “things that aren’t” as well as the way we use these words figuratively.

Crammed with curiosity and the odd tidbits that tickle the mind, this book was begun by the author’s parents and lovingly brought to us with Abby Carter’s clever, friendly illustrations and appealing design. For little brainiacs, ages perhaps 5 and up.

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Today’s Women’s History Month post highlights motherhood, one of the most challenging, exhausting, all-encompassing responsibilities on the planet, with few accolades and really lousy hours but so much possibility.

Does this qualify as false advertising?!

Often moms in children’s literature are background characters, yet even there we notice some flashes of genius. For instance, there’s Ferdinand the bull’s mother,

who initially worries about her son sitting quietly just smelling the flowers, but “because she was an understanding mother, even though she was a cow, she let him just sit there and be happy.” Way to go, mom. Individuality starts here.

I adore the moms in several of Jonathan Bean’s stories — At Night and Big Snow — who empathetically care for their children while giving them space and freedom to explore and dream and be.

One of my favorite storybook moms is Alfie’s mother, whose house is always unapologetically mussy, whose hair has not seen a salon recently, whose breakfast table is a jumble of milk splotches, egg smears, and the odd sock. Hers is a happy, creative household and she makes no pretense of keeping it all completely under control. Plus, she gets her kids out of doors a LOT!

The women in the following books (gleaned from my archives) are not famous for their accomplishments, yet live quietly heroic lives, nurturing small human beings with love, wisdom, courage, creativity, patience, cunning, fortitude, conviction, selflessness, empathy, resilience, comfort, contentment, and the list goes on.

Represented here are tired mothers, grandmothers, single moms, veiled moms, nannies, adoptive mothers, refugee mothers, harassed mothers, black, white, latino and native mothers, camping moms, berry-picking grandmas, hospitable mothers…

To all of you coping with the demands of motherhood, perhaps quailing before the superhero women featured in most Women’s History Month posts — hats off to you and the epic job you do every day!

Tromping around outdoors moms…

Alfie Weather

Oh so tired moms…

Are You Awake?

taking time to listen grandmas…

The Baby on the Way

uber clever moms…

Bread and Jam for Frances

hardworking single moms…

A Chair for My Mother

deeply religious moms…

Deep in the Sahara

profoundly there-for-you nannies…

The Friend

warmhearted grandmas…

Grandma’s House

bighearted adoptive moms…

Hattie Peck

magically creating spring moms…

How Mama Brought the Spring

incredibly brave refugee moms…

The Journey

wise in life grandmas…

Last Stop on Market Street

harassed but not quitting moms…

Leave Me Alone!

ordinarily awesome moms…

My Mom

spunky world-opening grandmas…

Nana in the City

lively ditch the rules grandmas…

Peeny Butter Fudge

carrying you with me moms…

A Ride on Mother’s Back

creative, content grandmas…

Sunday Shopping

canoeing, camping moms…

Three Days on a River in a Red Canoe

berry-picking grandmas…

Wild Berries

hospitable, merciful moms…

A Year of Borrowed Men

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A friend of mine recently related that she had been stopped cold one day when her four-year-old daughter declared, “Girls can’t be heroes. Only boys can.”

This shocked young mama promptly sewed her daughter a cape and held a Hero Day. Together they found lots of ways that even a four-year-old could be a hero-in-training.

Little girls (and boys) pick up the most unfortunate things at such early ages from the ocean of air they live in called our culture. One of those is, sadly, a feeling of limitations on what girls are allowed to dream of doing and becoming.

Enter this gem of a book chock full of heroic women.

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, compiled by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo, illustrated by sixty female artists from around the world
published in 2016 by Timbuktu Labs
203 pages

One hundred, one-page stories of heroic women are gathered in these pages and I am telling you, your heart will burn with gladness as you read them! Women from ancient times and in the news today. Women from all corners of the globe and every race.

Illustration by Elizabeth Baddeley

 Dancers and doctors and film directors. Spies and scientists and war heroes. A race car driver. An orchestra conductor. And my personal favorite, a poet/baker. 

Cora Coralina, Poet and Baker, illustration by Elenia Beretta

The stories are super short. Each takes about a minute to read. They’re written with a hint of the fairy tale about them. Once there was a curious girl…or Once upon a time there was a girl who…making them tasty as can be for a bedtime snack.

It is no small feat to capture these women’s lives and contributions in such a short passage, retaining her individuality, highlighting something that glints with fascination, and reading not like a wikipedia article but rather an enticing sneak peek at a life you’ll certainly want to explore further. I thoroughly enjoyed reading my way through the whole volume but be aware that these are far from in-depth. That’s how we get 100 of them!

Miriam Makeba, illustration by Helena Morais Soares

Accompanying the stories are a-ma-zing full-page portraits created by an international collection of women artists. Oh, their work is stunning. I love the variety of styles and immense strength exuding from each one.  Riveting. 

At the close of these accounts there’s space for the book’s owner to write her own story and draw her own portrait. A brilliant touch. 

I’d peg this book for ages 7 and up. There is one account of a young, transgender girl, but beyond that there is no discussion of sexuality. Issues such as depression, violence, child marriage, the Holocaust, are softened with tact. It was funded by crowdsourcing and is not available through Amazon. You can order a copy by heading to their website here, and I hope many of you will.  

Margaret Thatcher, Serena and Venus Williams, and Michaela DePrince, illustrations by Debora Guidi.

 

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When I read biographies of women, I am often flabbergasted by the variety of activities once considered off-limits to females.  Such perverse undertakings as riding a bicycle, voting, being a nurse, were scandalous not so very long ago.

1967 -- Women were not allowed to run the Boston Marathon.

1967 — Women were not allowed to run the Boston Marathon.

What a concerted effort there has been to convince us that women are simply not apt to be strong, athletic, brave, scientific, reliable, level-headed, smart, capable.

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I am grateful for the determined courage of so many women who buck the constraints of gender and racial restrictions to pursue their dreams, gifts, and callings, opening the door for all of us who follow.

Mary Jane Patterson, the first African American woman to graduate with a Bachelor’s degree!

Thankful for women and men who choose to expand opportunity rather than hinder, honor rather than degrade, spotlight rather than ignore, listen rather than silence, empower rather than oppress.

Today I’ve got a dozen+ biographies of women whose stories inspire us. There are lots more in my Subjects index under Biography which I encourage you to seek out. Plus, I’ve put links to last year’s Women’s History posts at the end of today’s blog.

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Around America to Win the Vote: Two Suffragists, a Kitten, and 10,000 Miles, written by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by Hadley Hooper
published in 2016 by Candlewick Press

Roaring with lemon-yellow verve, this is the account of Nell Richardson and Alice Burke, who in 1916 set out in their jaunty yellow car to drive around America. That was a skyscraper-tall order in those days of “bumpy, muddy, unmapped miles” when automobiles were still newfangled contraptions.

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Their purpose was to campaign for the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment giving the vote to women. This creative, lively telling is plum full of optimism and joy in both text and Hadley’s retro prints. Afterwords tell more about early automobiles and the women’s suffrage movement. Fantastic for ages 5 and up.

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Miss Paul and the President: The Creative Campaign for Women’s Right to Vote, written by Dean Robbins, illustrated by Nancy Zhang
published in 2016 by Alfred A. Knopf

Convincing Woodrow Wilson and the U.S. Congress to support women’s suffrage required dogged determination and out-of-the-box creativity so good thing Alice Paul owned copious amounts of both qualities.

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Planning lavish parades, plunking herself down across the president’s grand desk for a chat, unfurling scrolls down the marble steps of the Capitol with banner-large lettering, organizing massive letter-writing campaigns. Check, check, check, and check. This spirited account of a spirited woman will bolster a can-do attitude in all its readers, ages 5 and up!

I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark, written by Debbie Levy, illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley
published in 2016 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

This fabulous biography of Justice Ginsburg pulses with strength and determination. Text, typography, and illustrations work together masterfully to present a portrait of one who faced down stinging discrimination based on both her gender and her Jewish heritage.

I loved learning more about how Ruth’s early resistance to narrowly-drawn boundaries prepared her for a career of profound objecting and dissenting.

And, at this moment in our culture, I am especially glad Debbie Levy includes Ginsburg’s dear friendship with one whose ideas were so often adamantly opposed to her’s, Justice Scalia. Oh, for more friendships across the divides. Excellent, lengthy Author’s Note. This is a strong choice for ages 7 and up.

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Ada Lovelace, Poet of Science: The First Computer Programmer, written by Diane Stanley, illustrated by Jessie Hartland
published in 2016; a Paula Wiseman Book from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

The daughter of Lord Byron, Ada was an irrepressibly curious tinkerer, an imaginative, out-of-the-box thinker, from childhood on. Her friendship with Charles Babbage, the designer of what was essentially the first computer, led to her brilliant collaboration with him and her writing of the first computer program in 1843.

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Ada’s story has recently been told in two wonderful books. This one, written by Diane Stanley, reads beautifully, effortlessly, and is illustrated in Jessie Hartland’s delightful, colorful, sunny, style, full of quirk and bustle. Largely accessible to ages 6 and up.

Another equally great choice is:

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Ada’s Ideas: The Story of Ada Lovelace, the World’s First Computer Programmer, written and illustrated by Fiona Robinson
published in 2016 by Abrams Books for Young Readers

The text in this book delves a bit more into the mathematics of what Ada worked out and has just a slightly more elevated feel — more technical, more sophisticated language. It’s better suited to slightly older children, I’d say.

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Robinson’s artwork is fantastic, mirroring the creativity and inventiveness of Ada with its cut-paper designs, mechanical and mathematical references; even the end-papers launch us into the story with their spread of hole-punched programming cards. Ages 8 and up.

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Caroline’s Comets: A True Story, written and illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully
published in 2017 by Holiday House

Caroline Herschel was another early female scientist. In fact, she was “the first professional woman scientist,” who teamed up with her brother William in the 1700s to make groundbreaking discoveries in the field of astronomy.

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Such obstacles she overcame as a woman in that society to pursue science! Such perseverance, attention to detail, wonder over the skies, and love of learning were hers to enjoy and employ, making her mark on the world. McCully is one of the best of the best in children’s nonfiction. Her beautiful account of Herschel’s life and legacy is a joy to read, easily accessible to ages 6 and up.

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Florence Nightingale: The Courageous Life of the Legendary Nurse, by Catherine Reef
published in 2017 by Clarion Books
161 pages

This lengthy biography of the groundbreaking nurse, Florence Nightingale, might put you off with its serious look and bulk, but for girls ages 12 and up who are interested in her life or in a medical career, it’s a fabulous, absorbing read. Excellent choice for adults as well.

For me, the images of The Lady with the Lamp somehow reduced Florence Nightingale to a kindly little helper in the soldiers’ wards when in reality she was an incredibly stalwart person who agonized in her struggle against her family’s and society’s small-minded ideas of what was suitable for a woman to do. Nursing the sick certainly wasn’t one of the proper occupations of a lady, but Nightingale felt called to it and would not relent.

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“Why, oh my God, cannot I be satisfied with the life which satisfies so many people?” she asks. The journey was lonely and difficult. Her courage, fearlessness, iron strength and will turned the field of nursing upside down. I loved bumping into others in this account whose stories I’ve included in my blog previously, including Elizabeth Blackwell, Alexis Soyer, and John Snow.

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Joan of Arc, written and illustrated by Demi
published in 2011 by Marshall Cavendish Children

Demi’s regal, detailed, gold-leaf illustration work is perfectly suited to this story of the unlikely medieval French warrior.

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From her childhood in France with her sensitive heart and early devotion to God, we watch stunned as Joan’s teen-age visions propel her to undertake dangerous journeys, deliver messages that appeared crazy, and lead the French army to dumbfounding victories. Her tragic downfall, burning at the stake, and canonization complete this thought-provoking biography. Ages 7 and up.

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Malala: Activist for Girls’ Education, written by Raphaële Frier, illustrated by Aurélia Fronty, translated by Julie Cormier
first published in France, 2015; first US edition 2017 by Charlesbridge

Aurélia Fronty’s stunning artwork zooms this account of Malala straight past previous children’s biographies about her. Wow. Gorgeous pages, exploding with brilliant color and gorgeous textile patterns make it irresistible!

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Frier unreels a lucid, strong narration of Malala’s life, her relentless pursuit of education for girls. Journey from her childhood, past her attack, through the Nobel Prize, before dipping briefly into her current activism. 8 pages of back matter provide lots more information about Pakistan, the Pashtun people, worldwide education for girls, Islam, other historical peacemakers, and Malala’s ideas. Inspirational and eye-opening for ages 7 and up.

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Tallchief: America’s Prima Ballerina, written by Maria Tallchief with Rosemary Wells, illustrated by Gary Kelley
published in 1999 by Viking

Maria Tallchief was born on an Osage Indian Reservation in 1925 and went on to become one of the greatest American-born ballerinas.

Music and dance coursed through her from the time she was a little girl. Maria was fortunate enough to have parents who supported her dreams. Against all odds, with a fierce work ethic, years of relentless practice, and a love of the dance-music language of ballet, Maria rose to the top.

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Rosemary Wells sat down with Tallchief before her death and helped record her life experiences through her joining the Ballets Russe at age 17. It’s a lovely, fascinating narrative, handsomely illustrated. Ages 7 and up.

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Night Flight: Amelia Earhart Crosses the Atlantic, written by Robert Burleigh, illustrated by Wendell Minor
published in 2011; a Paula Wiseman Book by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

When I was a little girl, Amelia Earhart was one of my great heroines. I loved reading about her.

This poetic account of her solo night flight across the Atlantic in May, 1932, illustrates the grit and marvel that mark Earhart’s life. Terrible storms. Broken instruments. Iced-over wings. Seemingly certain disaster. Freezing cold. Toxic fumes.

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With skill and tenacity, Earhart manages to pull through this tremendously difficult adventure. Taut, gripping text from an award-winning author and images from Wendell Minor that strap us right in the cockpit make this a winner for ages 7 and up.

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Nothing by Trouble: The Story of Althea Gibson, written by Sue Stauffacher, illustrated by Greg Couch
published in 2007 by Alfred A. Knopf

Althea Gibson broke the color line in international tennis, winning the Grand Slam in 1956 and the Wimbledon in 1957-58.

All that strength and energy had to be channeled in the right direction, however. As a child, she was “the tallest, wildest tomboy in the history of Harlem,” so they say, who ran right into trouble every way she turned. Sport was just what Althea needed, yet even there, learning to reign in her high emotions and carry herself like a true champion — those were tough lessons.

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Stauffacher spins a vivid account and Couch’s meaningful, vibrant illustrations swirl with the mad energy and spirit of Gibson. Great read about an athlete I knew nothing about. Ages 6 and up.

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America’s Champion Swimmer: Gertrude Ederle, written by David A. Adler, illustrated by Terry Widener
published in 2000 by Gulliver Books, Harcourt Inc.

Gertrude “Trudy” Ederle didn’t learn to swim until she was seven years old. At that time, immediately following her near-drowning in a pond, her father tied a rope around her waist, plunked her in the river and told her to “paddle like a dog.”

Turned out Trudy was a masterful swimmer who loved competition! She began long-distance swimming when she was just 16 years old, swam on the 1924 Olympic team, and then began work on the ultimate challenge — the English Channel. When a newspaper chided her, saying that she and other women ought to forget such things and admit they would “remain forever the weaker sex” it spurred Ederle on all the more.

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But what a formidable challenge! Read her harrowing experiences and triumphs in this riveting biography. Handsome illustrations capture the tumultuous swim and the 20’s era. Ages 6 and up.

Here are links to last year’s Women’s History posts. There are many more bios in the Subject listing as well so don’t miss out!

Baby, we’ve done a lot for the world

Frailty, thy name is not woman!

Marching to our own heartbeats

Embracing a worldful of callings

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Six Dots: A Story of Young Louis Braille, written by Jennifer Bryant, illustrated by Boris Kulikov
published in 2016 by  Alfred A. Knopf

On one hand, Louis Braille doesn’t need any introduction. His name speaks for itself. It must be among the most recognizable in the world.

On the other hand, the story of his childhood, appalling accident that led to blindness, quest for learning, and sheer brilliance and dogged persistence in developing a written code to uncloak the world for the blind — this fascinating story does need telling and hearing.

And there are numerous biographies of Braille for children. This newest one by Jen Bryant, though, tells it exceptionally well, ushering us right into Braille’s experience. As Bryant says in her Author’s Note, she wanted to answer the question, “What did it FEEL like to be Louis Braille?” By digging into the emotions of Braille’s story rather than only the facts, she gifts us with this superb book.

Boris Kulikov’s inspired illustration work plunges us into darkness right alongside Louis, then gorgeously illuminates his world.  Little wonder it received a 2017  Schneider Family Book Award, a category honoring the artistic expression of the disability experience for children.

Braille spent years slaving over his code, determined to craft one efficient enough to give the blind opportunity to read anything and everything available to sighted persons. And he did this as a child, producing his nearly-final code at age 15. What a fitting story to share with children, ages 6 and up.

A Q&A at the end of the book reveals lots more about Braille and his marvelously curious, inventive mind.

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Several weeks ago I came across an article on the BBC highlighting a new book of photography by Steve McCurry. The theme of McCurry’s project, displayed in this stunning book, is reading. Readers, to be more precise.

I immediately requested it through my library and have thoroughly enjoyed meandering through it.

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On Reading, by Steve McCurry
published in 2016 by Phaidon Press

Even if you don’t know the name Steve McCurry, you know his photography. One of National Geographic’s most heralded photographers, McCurry’s most famous shot is probably Afghan Girl, taken in 1984.

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On Reading is the result of his personal interest in capturing the faces, postures, environments of people around the world caught up in the act of reading. For forty years as he’s globe-trotted, he’s had his eye out for these images.

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Paul Theroux, in his foreword, comments that “readers are seldom lonely or bored, because reading is a refuge and an enlightenment…It seems to me that there is always something luminous in the face of a person in the act of reading.”

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Indeed, McCurry wondrously captures the focused absorption of readers old and young, rich and poor, from widely disparate cultures in this collection. It is gorgeous, immensely satisfying, and heartening.

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McCurry himself was inspired by the earlier work of Hungarian-born photographer André Kertész who spent over 50 years observing and photographing readers. His work was likewise published in a book entitled On Reading, published in 1971 by Grossman Publishers. I checked that one out from my library, too!

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The compelling, black-and-white photographs in this small book span the years 1915-1970. About half of them are from the 1960’s and most were shot in New York City and Paris.

The differences in the worlds and perspectives of these two books, despite their common theme, is remarkable. The work of Kertész has a much more spur of the moment, snapshot sense, whereas McCurry’s are bold, immersive, with subjects generally much closer to us.

Venice (young man reading on canal side), September 10, 1963

Venice (young man reading on canal side), September 10, 1963

I love seeing the small dramas taking place on all these tiny stages in the world. On a particular day now long gone, an anonymous person was caught up in reading during one unscheduled moment, now frozen in time for us to contemplate.

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Esztergam, Hungary, 1915

McCurry and Kertész both saw so much in this ordinary, transportive, monumental act. I love the way photographers help me see, and particularly how these two have helped me see the magic of reading woven through time and across cultures.

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war-diaries-1939-1945-cover-imageWar Diaries, 1939-1945, written by Astrid Lindgren, illustrated with family photos
first published in Sweden, 2015; first U.S. edition published in 2016 by Yale University Press

When I first heard late last year that Astrid Lindgren’s diaries from the World War II years were being published in the U.S., all my must-read buttons began flashing at once! Now I’ve read it, I want to pass on to you this remarkable piece of adult non-fiction.

Lindgren is Sweden’s most famous children’s author. Many

Astrid Lindgren Foto: Jacob Forsell Kod: 14 COPYRIGHT PRESSENS BILD

Astrid Lindgren Foto: Jacob Forsell Kod: 14
COPYRIGHT PRESSENS BILD

Americans are sadly limited in their familiarity with her books, Pippi Longstocking being the only title immediately connected with her. Lindgren, though, has written dozens of wonderful stories, many of which have been translated. In fact, almost 100 different languages host at least one of her works.  In addition, the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award is among the most prestigious awards in children’s literature worldwide. You can read all about it here.

So, of course, as a lover of children’s literature, I am fond beyond words of Lindgren. Our family has immensely enjoyed reading aloud many of her books and we treasure our common memories of feisty Lotta, daring Bill Bergson, those darling children of Noisy Village, intrepid Ronia, and other equally vivid characters.

Christmas in Noisy Village

Christmas in Noisy Village

That’s what initially drew me to this compilation of her diary entries from 1939-1945, but what I read there goes far, far beyond children’s literature. Honestly, one gets only a glimmer of the beginnings of Lindgren’s illustrious, unexpected career in children’s literature. A glimpse of the publication of her first book, passing mentions of Pippi being written, and her surprise at Pippi’s reception are all tantalizing to come across.

Finnish victory, WWII

Finnish victory, WWII

What took me by surprise was how engrossing it is to read about World War II from a Swedish perspective. Lindgren was deeply thoughtful about the politics and maneuverings of the Scandinavian countries throughout the war. The plight of Finland, in particular, is largely overlooked in American histories, and as a person with Swede-Finn heritage, I was grateful to read about Finland’s intense and heroic plight, squeezed as they were between Stalin and Hitler. Norwegian resistance, Danish resistance, her unease over neutrality and unique perspective on what she believed was gained by that, the massive numbers of refugees welcomed by Sweden during the war — all of this captivated me.

Lindgren’s heart ached when confronted with the immense human toll of the war on populations across Europe. Her entries lament over the vast numbers of hungry and starving civilians, communities ravaged by both Russian and German armies, Jews who were harassed out of their homelands (though she was long unaware of the full extent of the Holocaust), Norwegians executed for their resistance, and German soldiers as well, fighting a war she guessed many of them did not believe in, an extraordinary perspective for someone in the midst of this carnage.

Astrid's war diary

Astrid’s war diary

Because she was employed by the Swedish government as a censor, Lindgren’s work involved reading personal letters written from all areas of Europe by ordinary people struggling to cope with war, loss, and simply putting food on the table. This gave Lindgren a much broader understanding of the impact of the war.  Given the global humanitarian crisis in our world just now, this is a timely read.

Whether you pick it up as a children’s literature aficionado, a fellow Scandinavian, or a history buff, then, you’ll find a great deal to love about this remarkable, personal narrative of those strenuous years.

I decided to re-read Pippi Longstocking in light of this new, fuller understanding of both Lindgren and the context in which she wrote the book. My copy is this wildly colorful edition illustrated by Lauren Child, published by Viking in 2007.

pippi-longstocking-cover-image

I love the effervescent spunk Child introduces to the text through her explosive, personality-laden collages, and the clever manipulation of type to highlight particular shenanigans.

What I discovered was that knowing the circumstances of Lindgren’s life when she wrote Pippi, and the origins of it as bedtime stories for her daughter, made all the difference in how it reads!

What jumps off the page is the obvious appeal of what began as story-spinning for her young daughter, then for many more neighborhood children. Certainly these fantastical adventures and silly stories brought fresh vision and happy thoughts into the hearts of children, some of whom were terribly burdened with anxiety.

pippi-longstocking-illustration2-lauren-child

The life of Pippi is not only chock-full of giggleworthy episodes, it is one with no stultifying rules during a period of annoying rationing and ham-fisted Nazi demands. Free as a bird, she is. Despite having no parents, Pippi is a strong, hopeful, self-sufficient girl. No need to worry about her! In one telling incident, Pippi attends the circus and accepts the ringmaster’s challenge to defeat the strongest man in the world, a fellow not-coincidentally named Strong Adolf. Pippi neatly pins him to the mat in one blink of an eye. Immensely satisfying. European children during WWII had to rise above their circumstances in heroic proportions, and Pippi was certainly a plucky role model.

pippi-longstocking-illustration-lauren-child

Bits and pieces from the Lindgren’s Swedish household are scattered throughout the story, too. Wouldn’t you do that, if you were spinning stories for your child? Coffee is drunk  commodiously! Heart-shaped gingersnaps, August pears, sugared pancakes — lots of delicious food comes to play in this story. Household chores, pippi-longstocking-illustration-detail-lauren-childoutdoor play, making music by blowing on a comb (a trick my Swedish grandfather taught me once upon a time) — choice elements of ordinary life are effortlessly woven into the fantasy.

If you’ve never read Pippi, you really should consider it. It’s a delightful read-aloud for children ages 4 and up. If it has been awhile since you read it, I think you’d enjoy giving it another read keeping in mind the world in which Pippi was born.

Here are Amazon links for both books. I keep forgetting to put these in! I am an Amazon Associate meaning you can do me a favor by clicking through a link on my blog before purchasing something from Amazon. I get a little dab from them each time that happens. Thanks!

Astrid Lindgren’s War Diaries 1939-1945

Pippi Longstocking

 

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