Posts Tagged ‘biographies’

Last month I posted a number of enticing books covering art history and appreciation for children. Those were broad titles, whetting our appetites for art and introducing the expanse of art- making around the world and through time.

Today I’ve got a few biographies that zoom in on just one artist, each one a work of art in itself.

Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, written and illustrated by Javaka Steptoe
published in 2016 by Little, Brown and Company

Winner of the 2017 Caldecott Medal, this is a fresh, urban, vigorous look at the life and art of Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Steptoe’s innovative illustration work, painted on rough, textured pieces of found wood scavenged from around New York City, sizzles with color, strength, and a contemporary, diverse world. His unconventional approach aptly conveys the ethos of Basquiat.

At the same time, Steptoe’s straightforward text narrates the tempests of Basquiat’s life and the powerful hunger he had to voice through his art what was in his soul — urgent, messy, painful, important ideas that required jarringly new forms, lines, and approaches.

Steptoe communicates all of this with enough subtlety to make it accessible to young elementary children, concluding his brief bio with Steptoe victorious. In his excellent back-matter, he provides more detail about the difficulties of Steptoe’s life including his death due to drug addiction at the age of 27. For many children, this artist’s life and work will reflect their reality with incisive clarity. For others, this keen book offers an essential bridge into the experience of many fellow travelers.

Mr. Matisse and his Cutouts, written and illustrated by Annemarie van Haeringen, translated from the Dutch by Jan Michael
first published in Holland in 2015; English edition published in 2016 by NorthSouth Books

Matisse is a marvelous artist for young children to enjoy with his eye-popping colors and his can-do attitude that led him to one extraordinary artistic discovery.

This brief bio features a zesty text with words that sparkle. Its focus is Matisse’s adaptation to his great physical limitations and the momentous new art he created.

That all those glorious cut paper works of his are in response to illness — doesn’t that make the explosive gladness of them even more stunning?

Van Haeringen’s pages zing with the color and courage of Matisse himself. It’s a grand welcome into his artwork, with a short Author’s Note to fill in more details of Matisse’s life. Ages 3 and up.

Frida Kahlo and the Bravest Girl in the World, written and illustrated by Laurence Anholt
published in 2016 in the U.S. by Barron’s

Laurence Anholt has created a lovely series of artist biographies all featuring a child in the artist’s life. This one is his warm tribute to Frida Kahlo and a little girl named Mariana.

Mariana’s family were great friends of Frida’s and Kahlo painted each of their portraits. Mariana is anxious to have her portrait done as well, but everyone says she’s too young to sit still so long. Her brother takes it one step farther and tells her she’d be too scared to go to Frida’s house on account of the skeleton she keeps above her bed!

This does indeed squelch Mariana’s eagerness! When the day finally comes to go to Kahlo’s house for her portrait, Mariana is very nervous.

As the gracious Frida gets to know dear Mariana and paints her portrait, she tells her about herself, her tragic accident, and the way she started painting as a result of those lifelong injuries.

With it’s tropical-colored illustrations and brilliantly-composed narrative, this is an excellent introduction to a truly brave woman, for ages 5 and up.

Antsy Ansel: Ansel Adams, A Life in Nature, written by Cindy Jenson-Elliott, illustrated by Christy Hale
published in 2016, Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt and Company

One of the few children’s biographies of Ansel Adams, this well-crafted book introduces children to one of the greatest photographers whose fiercely-high energy propelled him out of doors and eventually into the art of photography.

Adams was a restless, fidgety kid who would likely be on meds were he in classrooms today. Instead his father pulled him out of school and pushed him into the great outdoors. Adams thrilled to the Pacific coastal area where he lived and learned an enormous amount through all his explorations.

When he arrived at Yosemite Valley at age 14, “it was love at first sight.” The roar of water and dramatic light spilling and splaying upon the rock walls transfixed him. Ansel’s parents gave him a camera on that trip, and the rest of the story is well known!

Beautiful cut-paper illustrations bring to life the rugged, dappled, soaring, wilderness as well as the running, leaping, energy of Ansel Adams. A lengthy afterword tells much more about his life and work. Ages 4 and up.

Keith Haring: The Boy Who Just Kept Drawing, written by Kay A. Haring, illustrated by Robert Neubecker
published in 2017 by Dial Books for Young Readers

Drop into the contemporary art world with this affectionate, spirited exploration of Keith Haring’s innovative work. I love that this is written by his sister. She brings a unique, intimate knowledge of the inner-tickings of Haring and his lifelong zeal for drawing.

What pops off the page, besides the seemingly indefatigable artist, his bottomless spring of ideas and incessant experimentation, is his generosity of spirit. Haring died as a young man, but in his brief career he exploded onto the world art scene while simultaneously keeping his bearings as a fellow human being seeking to bring healing to the world through art. 

Neubecker’s robust illustration work is the perfect match for his subject. Lengthy afterwords tell lots more about Haring and the pieces of his art appearing in the book. Ages 5 and up.

What Degas Saw, written by Samantha Friedman, illustrated by Cristina Pieropan
published in 2016 by The Museum of Modern Art

This handsome book exudes all the top production quality you’d expect from MoMA.

Gorgeous illustration work from Italian illustrator Pieropan spreads turn-of-the-century Paris before us with its cobblestones, wrought-iron tracery, horse-drawn carriages, and hustle-bustle. This is the world in which Degas lived. This is what he saw.

Samantha Friedman takes all of these sights and helps us see how they turn up in Degas’ famous paintings. A peek into the milliner’s shop metamorphoses into his At the Milliner’s.

His many visits to the Opera House of course turn into the ballerina paintings we know so well. Minimal text is needed here as the concept is so well conceived. Wondering-aloud types of questions serve to engage children even more in the paintings. It’s like an art appreciation lesson in a book, for ages 3 and up.


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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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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:


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


“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.


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.


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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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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images-25Western notions of femininity have traditionally been a bit frilly and swoony, with a generous ladle of helplessness thrown in for good measure.

The title of my blog today comes from Jane Austen, who famously said, “I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures. None of us wants to be in calm waters all our lives.”

The women in today’s list, my final Women’s History Month post, were anything but preening, wispy li’l thangs. Intrepid, strong, courageous, daring, determined — those aren’t words for the Boys Only Club. Read their stories, beginning with:

the bravest woman in america cover imageThe Bravest Woman in America, by Marissa Moss, illustrations by Andrea U’Ren
published in 2011 by Tricycle Press

Ida Lewis grew up with the ocean for a backyard. Her father was lighthouse keeper on Lime Rock off of Newport, Rhode Island. Ida hankered to share in his work from the time she was a young girl, and her keen father was good enough to hand her the oars and tell her to row for all she was worth.

the bravest woman in america interior moss and u'ren

Years of blisters and aching muscles later, with her father too ill to help, Ida’s stamina, courage, and lessons in ocean rescue paid off as she manned the lighthouse and rowed out into tumultuous seas time and again, dragging shipwrecked sailors out of the icy water to safety. This epic story will rivet the attention of kids ages 5 and up. U’Ren’s arresting artwork echoes the valor of Lewis, who once said, “Anyone who thinks it is un-feminine to save lives has the brains of a donkey.” Amen, Ida!

nurse soldier spy cover imageNurse, Soldier, Spy: The Story of Sarah Edmonds, a Civil War Hero, by Marissa Moss, illustrations by John Hendrix
published in 2011 by Abrams Books for Young Readers

Sarah Edmonds just might win the award for Most Audacious Female on the list today. At age 16, in order to escape an arranged marriage, Edmonds chopped off her hair, pulled on some trousers, and began living life as a man. Three years later we find her enlisting in the Union Army as private Frank Thompson.

nurse soldier spy illustration john hendrix

Frank/Sarah was a sharp-shooting, good-natured soldier, a nurse with nerves of steel, and an intrepid friend, dashing into hails of bullets to rescue his/her mates. And that’s just the beginning of it! I promise you do not want to miss the story of this patriotic, kindhearted, determined woman. John Hendrix’s engaging illustrations are packed with period detail and vivid characters. Don’t miss the author and illustrator notes where you will learn more about Edmonds and about how better to appreciate the art of picture books. Ages 5 and up.

Fearless Flyer cover imageFearless Flyer: Ruth Law and Her Flying Machine, by Heather Lang, illustrated by Raúl Colón
published in 2016 by Calkins Creek

Ruth Law was an aviator who performed theatrical acrobatics in those early, flimsy-looking bi-planes, dipping and loop-de-looping and spiraling towards earth in death-defying dives. Yet her greatest accomplishment, requiring the most courage, endurance, strength, and nerve, was a flight from Chicago to New York City.

Fearless Flyer interior lang and colon

That may not sound like much to us today, but this account of her journey in which she broke the record for longest non-stop flight, brings us right into the cockpit with her, icicles dangling from her hair and all! to discover the painful hardships and narrow scrapes involved in her venture. Witness Law’s keen mechanical knowledge of her plane which paved the way to success, and her outstanding perseverance. All this in an inferior plane to what male pilots were flying, because they wouldn’t sell the newest model to her as a woman! Colón’s artwork is ravishing, as always, flooded with the golden, sunlit fields and turquoise skies Law surveyed as she flew. Ages 6 and up.

how kate warne saved president lincoln cover imageHow Kate Warne Saved President Lincoln, by Elizabeth Van Steenwyk, illustrated by Valentina Belloni
published in 2016 by Albert Whitman and Company

In 1856, Kate Warne showed up at the famous Pinkerton’s Detective Agency offices, told them she was looking for a job, and convinced them that she, as a woman, would make the ideal addition to their force.

how kate warne saved president lincoln illustration valentina belloni

Warne was right — she could slip into female company and winkle out information like nobody’s business. And she played a key role in saving President-elect Lincoln’s life from murderous conspirators. This intriguing, upbeat story of the country’s first woman detective is just right for ages 5 and up. For older readers, hand them The Detective’s Assistant, a delightful piece of historical-fiction about Warne that I reviewed here.

the daring nellie bly cover imageThe Daring Nellie Bly: America’s Star Reporter, written and illustrated by Bonnie Christensen
published in 2003 by Alfred A. Knopf

Nellie Bly shouldered her way into the world of journalism when women were normally assigned the tea-party beat. Nellie wanted to cover serious news. Beginning by investigating the real lives of working women, she went on to expose corruption in the Mexican government, then took perhaps her most risky assignment, going undercover in an insane asylum, a world filled with horrific abuse.

the daring nellie bly interior bonnie christensen

It was Bly’s venture to beat Phineas Fogg’s around-the-world travel record that made her much more than a household name — she was “the best known and most widely talked of young woman on earth” after her triumph. Bly made use of her journalistic opportunities to draw attention to critical social issues. This handsomely-illustrated account is a bit on the long-ish side; try it for kids ages 7 or 8 and up.

skit scat raggedy cat cover imageSkit-Scat Raggedy Cat: Ella Fitzgerald, by Roxane Orgill, illustrated by Sean Qualls
published in 2010 by Candlewick Press

Ella Fitzgerald did not battle ocean storms, enemy soldiers, murderous villains, or frustrating shipping delays. Her struggles were with poverty,  the early death of her mother, a father whose ill-treatment drove her from home, an abusive orphanage, and a desperate longing for love.

skit scat raggedy cat interior orgill and qualls

Fitzgerald had to be tough. This isn’t the kind of toughness we wish for anyone to need, but it’s the kind of toughness required of too many young women. Fitzgerald worked the crowds, overcame the embarrassment of her raggedy appearance, pressed on despite fear and nervousness, and rose to stardom. Share her tail of grit and glamour, illustrated in Sean Quall’s striking, cool-urban artwork, with ages 7 or 8 and up.

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So many misconceptions about the frailty of women’s judgement, stamina, intellect have been invalidated over the years. What fallacies do you still encounter? Here are five more biographies to help set the record straight:

elizabeth started all the trouble cover imageElizabeth Started All the Trouble, by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Matt Faulkner
published in 2016 by Disney Hyperion

In 1840, Elizabeth Cady Stanton began her life-long fight for women’s rights. Organizing, writing, speaking, convening, she championed the cause, then passed the torch along to others, who inspired still others.

elizabeth started all the trouble interior rappaport and faulkner

One of the most scandalous, divisive, hard-earned rights Stanton and her colleagues campaigned for was the right for women to vote!  Ludicrous as it seems to us now, this was once an outrageous notion.

elizabeth started all the trouble illustration matt faulkner

Doreen Rappaport traces a lively narrative of suffragists and trailblazers in this fantastic new book. Matt Faulkner’s riveting compositions are packed with strong personalities. Highly recommended for ages 6 and up.

look up cover imageLook Up!: Henrietta Leavitt, Pioneering Woman Astronomer, by Robert Burleigh, illustrated by Raúl Colón
published in 2013, a Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Henrietta Leavitt thirsted for understanding about the stars in an era when astronomy was a field reserved almost exclusively for men. Her opportunities for using the best equipment were limited by her gender. Instead, she was assigned tedious work as a virtual human computer.

look up illustration raul colon

But that did not stop her from painstakingly studying on her own, leading to a monumental discovery. Read the story of the woman who was said to have “the best mind at the Harvard Observatory.” Another beautiful collaboration by Burleigh and Colón. Ages 5 and up.

dolores huerta cover imageDolores Huerta: A Hero to Migrant Workers, by Sarah Warren, illustrated by Robert Casilla
published in 2012 by Marshall Cavendish Children

Teacher, listener, friend. Organizer, defender, peacemaker. Dolores Huerta filled many roles in her work, campaigning on behalf of migrant workers in California.

dolores huerta illustration robert casilla

Raise your awareness of the unjust treatment of farm laborers and your gratitude for the calloused hands that put food on your table with this warm account of Huerta’s groundbreaking work. Ages 4 and up.

sacagawea cover imageSacagawea, by Liselotte Erdrich, artwork by Julie Buffalohead
published in 2003 by Carolrhoda Books

Kidnapped at age 12 and transported far from home. Adapting to a new language and culture. Married off, age 16, to a Frenchman. Volunteered by that husband for a strenuous, treacherous journey to be undertaken while she carried, birthed, and nursed her first-born.

sacagawea erdrich and buffalohead

Sacagawea is the subject of many biographies but I love this one for its humanizing rather than mythologizing of her and the handsome, dignified paintings by Ponca artist Julie Buffalohead. Ages 4 and up.

here come the girl scouts cover imageHere Come the Girl Scouts: The Amazing All-true Story of Juliette “Daisy” Gordon Low and Her Great Adventure, by Shana Corey, illustrated by Hadley Hooper
published in 2012 by Scholastic Press

Daisy was an adventurous soul from the time she was a small girl. As a young woman, she ditched dinner parties to go fishing and favored elephant riding to etiquette lessons.


At the age of 51, she launched the Girl Scout movement, championing a life of service, physical activity, conservation, respect, and full engagement in a juicy life for girls. Her story is fascinating, illustrated in a bold, jaunty style, peppered with Girl Scout maxims. A joyful treat for ages 5 and up.

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March is Women’s History Month. I’m hoping to share some weekly lists on this subject all month long…we’ll see how time allows.

There are gobs of biographies already in the Orange Marmalade archives, so if you’re looking for ideas to celebrate the intelligence, creativity, passion, insight, kindness, skill, fortitude of women throughout history — check out the Subject Index.

liberty's voice cover imageLiberty’s Voice: The Story of Emma Lazarus, by Erica Silverman, illustrated by Stacey Schuett
published in 2011 by Dutton Children’s Books

I’ll open with the story of the poet who penned the lines engraved on the Statue of Liberty:

Give me your tired,your poor
Your huddled masses yearning to breath free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

Given the xenophobic rhetoric being flung around our country today, it’s the perfect time to be reminded that this voice of altruism and refuge is what it looks like to be a great nation.

liberty's voice interior silverman and schuett

Read about Emma’s well-to-do upbringing in New York and her life-changing encounter with a flood of Jewish victims of violence in Russia seeking sanctuary in the U.S. Kaleidoscopic color infuses these pages making it a most appealing book to share with children ages 5 and up.

solving the puzzle under the sea cover imageSolving the Puzzle Under the Sea: Marie Tharp Maps the Ocean Floor, by Robert Burleigh, illustrated by Raúl Colón
published in 2016, a Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

From early childhood, Marie Tharp loved maps. Certainly trotting about the country with her mapmaker father had something to do with that. 

Tharp had to overcome gender stereotypes in order to pursue her love of science, then went on to pioneer the way in mapping the bottom of the world’s seas.

solving the puzzle under the sea interior burleigh and colon

Such an intriguing pursuit! Her story is presented beautifully here by a talented, award-winning team. Ages 6 and up.

a passion for elephants cover imageA Passion for Elephants: The Real Life Adventure of Field Scientist Cynthia Moss, by Toni Buzzeo, ill. by Holly Berry
published in 2015 by Dial Books for Young Readers

One of the highlights of my life involved watching elephants from the open veranda of a lodge in Tsavo National Park, Kenya. What a glory, elephants!

a passion for elephants interior buzzeo and berry

Cynthia Moss has spent a lifetime observing, learning about, and protecting these enormous creatures. Her story is vividly told and energetically illustrated here in this top-notch account. I really enjoyed this; a delightful choice for ages 4 and up.

shining star cover imageShining Star: The Anna May Wong Story, by Paula Yoo, illustrated by Lin Wang
published in 2009 by Lee & Low Books

Anna May Wong grew up at the turn of the century, the daughter of Chinese immigrants in Los Angeles’s Chinatown. From the get go she was fascinated by drama, enamored with film stars, dreaming of starring in the movies herself.

shining star illustration lin wang

Anna achieved her dream, but was humiliated by the industry’s treatment of Chinese-Americans. After years of taking roles tainted by negative stereotypes of Asians, Wong made a decision to buck the racist system. Read her thought-provoking story, a great follow-up to the discussions surrounding the Academy Awards. It’s long-ish — try it with ages 7 and up.

sonia sotomayor cover imageWomen Who Broke the Rules: Sonia Sotomayor, by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Angela Dominguez
published in 2015 by Bloomsbury

Here’s another in the same series as Dolley Madison, which I reviewed for President’s Day. 

Krull writes snappy biographies, moving us right along without bogging down, yet including vivid anecdotes that make these women human and approachable. Dominguez contributes friendly, warm illustrations that keep the pages welcoming.

sonia sotomayor illustration angela dominguez

Sotomayor had so many hurdles in life — an alcoholic father, juvenile diabetes, an impoverished life in the projects. But her nickname as a toddler was Little Pepper — so that tells you something! She needed all that spunk and drive to become the first Latino member of the Supreme Court. This is a 46-page bio for ages 8 and up.

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what?! it’s a Dylan and Arnosky collaboration

man gave names to all the animals cover image

Man Gave Names to All the Animals, lyrics by Bob Dylan, illustrations by Jim Arnosky
published in 2015 by Sterling Children’s Books

Bob Dylan’s 70’s folk song about the naming of the animals “in the beginning, in the beginning” is a catchy choice for young children. Upbeat. Rhythmic. Nice touches of humor.

man gave names to all the animals bob dylan and jim arnosky

Now the grandpapa of naturalist children’s lit, Jim Arnosky, has illustrated it with color-saturated pages depicting a multitude of animals and plants from around the world. More than 170 creatures crowd onto these few pages. A list of their names is included so you can work at identifying them all, with a link for clues if you need them.

Awesome collaboration, celebrating nature, and allowing you to introduce your kids to two exceptional artists. Ages 2 and up.

welcome back, Dory!!!

Dory and the Real True Friend cover image

Dory and the Real True Friend, written and illustrated by Abby Hanlon
published in 2015 by Dial Books for Young Readers

I fell in love with Dory when Abby Hanlon introduced her to us last year. (Read my review of Dory Fantasmagory here.)

Now she’s back! In all her irrepressible, imagination-up-the-wazoo, no-filter self. Do you know a child like Dory? I know several, and I love their slightly out-of-control, fly’s-eye way of seeing the universe.

Dory and the Real True Friend interior Abby Hanlon

Find out what happens when Dory’s new school year starts and she meets a wondrous girl named Rosabelle! Never fear, Mrs. Gobble Gracker, Mr. Nuggy, and Mary are all back in this sequel, just right for stout, independent readers or for reading aloud to ages 5 and up. It does make more sense if you read the titles in order.

summertime…when the fish are jumping

Bear and Hare go Fishing cover image

Bear & Hare Go Fishing, written and illustrated by Emily Gravett
published in 2014 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Emily Gravett is one of my favorite British author/illustrators. I prepare to smile any time I see her name on a book.

Bear and Hare go Fishing interior Emily Gravett

Bear and Hare are great friends. They’re off on a superb picnic and fishing outing. But crazy catches, mishaps and surprises are in store for these two! Loads of fun accompanied by warm, charming illustrations, for ages 2 and up.

because my grandparents were Swede-Finns!

the best part of a sauna cover image

The Best Part of a Sauna, by Sheryl Peterson, illustrated by Kelly Dupre
published in 2013 by Raven Publications

Finnish immigrants brought their sauna traditions with them to northern Minnesota, igniting a passion held by many; thousands of small saunas perch on the shores of our gorgeous, rocky lakes.

the best part of a sauna interior sheryl peterson and kelly dupre

Coming from a small publishing house in Ely, Minnesota, this story gives a glimpse of the whole north woods sauna experience through the eyes of a little boy. Minnesota artist Kelly Dupre’s gorgeous, bold artwork accompanies this lovely, thoroughly Minnesotan story. Ages 3 and up.

a fascinating catalog of people

extraordinary people cover image

Extraordinary People: A Semi-Comprehensive Guide to Some of the World’s Most Fascinating Individuals, written by Michael Hearst, illustrated by Aaron Scamihorn
published in 2015 by Chronicle Books

The woman who gave us Tollhouse Cookies, and an inspirational Canadian marathoner. A famous Japanese collector — of slime molds! And a medieval woman who was an extraordinary composer.

extraordinary people interior1 hearst and scamihorn

Michael Hearst introduces 50 fascinating people from around the world, across time, spanning an incredible range of achievements, including a few whose “achievements” were extraordinarily bad. Each gets an inviting, stylish, two-page spread courtesy of designer Aaron Scamihorn. An outstanding, diverse book to peruse with kids ages 8 and up-up-up.

because you shouldn’t put off until tomorrow what you could do today…according to Aesop

the grasshopper and the ants cover image

The Grasshopper & the Ants, retold and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney
published in 2015 by Little, Brown and Company

Award-winning illustrator Jerry Pinkney has tackled several of Aesop’s fables now, and each one is a masterpiece.

the grasshopper and the ants interior jerry pinkney

Enjoy this ancient tale of the busy ants and the procrastinating, live-for-the-moment grasshopper, while feasting your eyes on Jerry’s absolutely amazing artwork. Plus — don’t miss his intriguing Author’s Note, in which he directs your attention to one last piece of the story you might otherwise overlook. A beauty, for ages 2 and up.

an explosion of sound from someone I’d never heard of

jubilee cover image

Jubilee!: One Man’s Big, Bold, and Very, Very Loud Celebration of Peace, by Alicia Potter, illustrated by Matt Tavares
published in 2014 by Candlewick Press

I am betting that, like me, you have never heard of Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore, a man John Philip Sousa hailed as “the Father of the American Band.”

jubilee by alicia potter and matt taveres

As a bandleader, Gilmore was extremely fond of the huge sound he could get from amassing more than the usual number of instruments. He was also a fellow who dreamed huge dreams — and pulled them off. Read about an almost unbelievable musical spectacle that took place in Boston in 1869. A fascinating slice of American history for ages 6 and up. Handsomely illustrated, and including lengthy additional notes.

the surprising residents of nests

whose nest cover image

Whose Nest?: A Lift-the-Flap Book by Victoria Cochrane, illustrated by Guy Troughton
first published in the U.K.; published in the U.S. in 2013 by Insight Kids

Gorgeous watercolor paintings of eight nests, set in their natural surroundings, dominate the pages of this superb book for young children, ages 2 and up.

whose nest interior cochrane and troughton

Each nest comes with a riddle, introducing its resident. Who could live here? Whose nest is it? Peek into the nest by opening the flaps and meet small creatures such as a dormouse or bumblebee, and others as massive as an eagle. Beautiful language, a welcome beckoning into the curiosities and delights of nature, and exceptional artwork.

so it’s adventure you want, eh?

pigsticks and harold cover image

Pigsticks and Harold and the Incredible Journey, written and illustrated by Alex Milway
first U.S. edition published in 2014 by Candlewick Press

Pigsticks is itching for adventure, and promptly seizes on a plan to travel to the Ends of the Earth. His first task is to hire a handy assistant to tote all the heavy baggage and prepare tasty meals. That turns out to be Harold the Hamster.

pigsticks and harold interior alex milway

Together these two trek through jungles, cross deserts, climb mountains, meeting unexpected and formidable obstacles at every turn. Will they survive the journey? Will they locate the Ends of the Earth? And will Harold ever get to eat his favorite cake? Brilliant first chapter book, heavily illustrated in Milway’s snappy, humorous style. A blast for ages 5 and up.

A second Pigsticks installment is due out in the U.S. this Fall.

a lovely message from some truly wise owls

the happy owls cover image

The Happy Owls, written and illustrated by Celestino Piatti
first English translation 1963, renewed in 1993 and 2013 by NorthSouth Books

Why are these two small owls so happy? Other birds want to know –the greedy ones and the vain ones who scrabble and preen.

the happy owls illustration celestino piatti

Find out what brings such deep contentment to these little owlets  — a simple and beautiful word for us all.

the happy owls illustration2 celestino piatti

This story originated in 1895 with Dutch author/artist Theo van Hoijtema. It was translated into German, and then illustrated in 1963 by Swiss designer Piatti, with his gorgeous, bold lines, patterns, and colors. I wish I could show you every image! A striking book with a lovely message for ages 3 and up.

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