Posts Tagged ‘biography’

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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some-writer-cover-imageSome Writer: The Story of E.B. White, written and illustrated by Melissa Sweet
published in 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
132 pages

E.B. White. His name instantly evokes a response of warmth and nostalgia; of miracles and true friends; of a loquacious cob and his atypical, trumpet-playing son; of so many enthralling moments, lost in story.

I don’t have many distinct elementary school memories, but one that stands out is my third-grade teacher reading Charlotte’s Web charlottes-web-cover-imageto us. How many thousands of children have that shared experience?

A few years ago, I was chatting with a young married couple who were exploring children’s literature in anticipation of their firstborn. They were reading Charlotte’s Web aloud to one another, dumbfounded by the depth, poignancy, and truth in this small novel.

Who was E.B. White?

What kind of childhood did he have?

Where did his bucolic scenes of farm life come from, his genuinely amusing characters, as well as those honestly mourning over loss? 

How did he get started writing and who helped shape his style?

Melissa Sweet has written a fascinating account of White filling in for us the background of this beloved writer and the stories we love. It’s absolutely crammed with the beauty, wonder, color, and whimsy of everything Sweet puts her hand to.


Quotes and excerpts from letters and essays, old family photos, marked-up and crossed-out early versions of manuscripts — all that is here. Add the choice bits of ephemera, singing colors, vintage papers, charming hand-lettering and a bit of old Corona typewriting, all spun together with Sweet’s remarkable savvy for composition — what you get is a feast for the eyes as well as the mind. 


This is not a picture book. That is coming in the Fall of 2017 by the ace team of Barbara Herkert and Lauren Castillo and I cannot wait!

Sneak peek of some of Lauren Castillo's artwork for A Boy, A Mouse, and a Spider!

Sneak peek of some of Lauren Castillo’s artwork for A Boy, A Mouse, and a Spider!

No, this is a meaty biography that adults will thoroughly enjoy as well as would-be authors ages perhaps 11 and up.


If you’ve not read White’s books for yourself, now is the time to do so. Begin with Charlotte’s Web, and no it doesn’t count if you’ve watched the movie. Then check out The Trumpet of the Swan. My least favorite of his trio is Stuart Little — it seems to be a book people either love or really dislike, so tackle that one last. Once you’re enamored with White’s storytelling and wordsmithing, join the rest of us in Melissa Sweet’s lovely biography.

Here’s the Amazon link: Some Writer

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So many women are told their dreams “simply can’t be done.” Today, meet a drummer, a mathematician, a primatologist and others, who persisted and realized their dreams.

Plus a tribute to mothers: In our heart of hearts, we often feel overwhelmed at this epic task — nurturing healthy human beings for our world. Women’s History Month would not be complete without celebrating motherhood.

drum dream girl cover imageDrum Dream Girl:How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music, by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rafael López
published in 2015 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Hot pepper oranges and Caribbean blues saturate the pages of this poetic celebration of Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, the first female drummer in Cuba. As a young girl, the varied drums’ beats tantalized her, but it was taboo for women to play them.

drum dream girl illustration rafael lopez

Winner of the 2016 Pura Belpré Illustration Award, the gorgeous artwork in this book explodes with color and Cuban culture, while the text dances along lithely. Superb introduction to Millo, who became a world-famous drummer, and another example of the odd restrictions women have had to overcome with the help of a key insider. Ages 3 and up.

ada byron lovelace and the thinking machine cover imageAda Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine, by Laurie Wallmark, illustrated by April Chu
published in 2015 by Creston Books

Ada, daughter of the poet Lord Byron, was a brilliant mathematician. From childhood she was mesmerized by numbers and the inventions made possible by their calculations. Ada was a child of privilege, yet had to overcome family dysfunction, a crippling illness, and her society’s conviction that math was no place for a woman.


Wallmark’s introduction is intriguing and accessible, and Chu’s handsome artwork immerses us in Ada’s world. Read about the woman who wrote the first computer program with ages 5 and up.

paiute princess cover imagePaiute Princess: The Story of Sarah Winnemucca, written and illustrated by Deborah Kogan Ray
published in 2012 by Frances Foster Books, Farrar Straus Giroux

Sarah Winnemucca was not a princess. And her name was not really Sarah. Yet by assuming an identity the White world invented, she was able to wield her strengths for the good of her Paiute people.

This lengthy, fascinating account by award-winning author and illustrator Deborah Kogan Ray introduced me to an amazing person I had never heard of, who worked tirelessly for justice for the Paiute.

paiute princess illustration deborah kogan ray

She was a controversial figure, accepted fully by neither white culture nor her own people. I think that is often the case for peacemakers caught in the middle, searching for the best compromise this world offers. A beautiful, thought-provoking read for ages 8 and up.

irena's jars of secrets cover imageIrena’s Jars of Secrets, by Marcia Vaughan, illustrated by Ron Mazellan
published in 2011 by Lee & Low Books

Irena was a young Polish Catholic woman when World War II broke out and with horror she witnessed the beginnings of the Holocaust. As a social worker, she gained access to the Warsaw ghettos, smuggling in aid for two years until it became clear that Treblinka was in store for all who remained.

irena's jars of secrets illustration ron mazellan

Read the story of how this intrepid woman risked her life to smuggle 2500 children out to safety, and find out what role was played by two glass jars hidden under an apple tree. A riveting account with rich, atmospheric paintings, for ages 5 or 6 and up. Obviously, extermination camps are a part of this narrative, so use your judgement as to the appropriateness for young children.

florence nightingale cover imageFlorence Nightingale, written and illustrated by Demi
published in 2014 by Henry Holt and Company

Demi’s characteristically elegant treatment of her subjects turns here to Florence Nightingale, another child of privilege who used her life to benefit the poor and broken in the world.

florence nightingale interior by demi

Demi traces her life from her birth in Florence, Italy, (I never knew that is how she got her name!) through her calling as a young woman into nursing — an objectionable life for a proper lady, careful study of the care of patients, and blossoming as a leader and innovator in nursing care. It’s a brilliant account, never bogging down yet covering a vast amount of information, accompanied by intricate, appealing illustrations. An inspiration for ages 5 and up.

me...jane cove imageMe…Jane, written and illustrated by Patrick McDonnell
published in 2011 by Little, Brown and Company

This tender story tells of Jane Goodall’s childhood love of the great outdoors and all the wondrous natural world around her. The entire, sparkling account spins out just a few thoughts, like candy floss, magically endearing us to this dear girl, until with one turn of the last page, she is all grown up, living out her dream in Africa.

me...jane illustration patrick mcdonnell

Charming and engaging for children ages 2 and up, the story is followed by a bio written for ages 8 and up, and a wonderful, the watcher cover imagepersonal message from Jane about the opportunity for each of us to make a difference in our world. If you want to learn more about her, follow this up with another excellent account focusing more on her long work in Tanzania:

The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life with the Chimps, written and illustrated by Jeanette Winter, also published in 2011 by Schwartz & Wade and ideal for ages 3 and up.

lullaby for a black mother cover imageLullaby (for a Black Mother), by Langston Hughes, illustrated by Sean Qualls
published in 2013 by Harcourt Children’s Books

Langston’s dark-cherry sweet lullaby, a mother singing to her little dark baby, her little earth-thing, her little love-one, is marvelously illustrated in Sean Quall’s rhythmic, contemporary styling. Twilight purples and midnight blues infuse  the pages, anchored in strong shapes, textures, and inky blacks.

lullaby for a black mother illustration sean qualls

A note about Langston Hughes informs us about his sweet connection with words during a childhood of fractured relationships. Qualls conjectures about the comfort Hughes believed a mother’s lullaby could bring to a lonely boy. Read this with children ages 2 and up, and invent your own lullaby to speak your love.

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A feast for the eyes today! Learn about a few great artists while soaking in the masterful work of these authors and illustrators.

jake makes a world cover imageJake Makes a World: Jacob Lawrence, a Young Artist in Harlem, by Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts, illustrated by Christopher Myers
published in 2015 by The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Powerful lines and ravishing color burst from the pages of this brief biography of Jacob Lawrence, a phenomenal talent who immediately attracted the attention of his art instructors from his early teen years in 1930s Harlem.

jake makes a world illustration christopher myers

This personal glimpse of his childhood is exquisitely crafted to reveal his inner world and help us understand the riveting work he did. Christopher Myers draws on Lawrence’s style to flood these pages with radiant energy. Easily accessible to ages 3 and up.

matisse's garden cover imageMatisse’s Garden, by Samantha Friedman, illustrations by Cristina Amodeo with reproductions of artworks by Henri Matisse
published in 2014 by The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Stunning, color-saturated, cut-paper illustrations by Italian artist Amodeo ravish us in this MoMA offering, as we eavesdrop on Matisse’s wonderings and experiments leading to his peerless paper-cut pieces. 

matisse's garden interior friedman and amodeo

This book is simply brilliant. The progression of Matisse’s thought and the progression of his snippings, culminating in gatefold reproductions of his masterpieces — heartbreakingly beautiful. There are gobs of books on Matisse. This one deserves all the superlatives. Ages 4 to Adult.

mary cassatt extraordinary impressionist painter cover imageMary Cassatt: Extraordinary Impressionist Painter, by Barbara Herkert, paintings by Gabi Swiatkowska
published in 2015 by Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt and Company

One of the features of all of today’s books is the remarkable economy of words on the part of these authors, allowing the illustrators to convey the artists’ style and voice, while we, seemingly-effortlessly, learn from their minimal, graceful narratives.

mary cassatt interior herkert and swiatkowska

Barbara Herkert’s lyrical words beautifully introduce us to this determined woman who painted against the odds. Gabi Swiatkowska’s phenomenal artwork mimics Cassatt’s style, cleverly tucking in elements of her paintings and exuding the atmosphere of the era. Absolutely lovely, for ages 3 and up.

the fantastic jungles of henri rousseau cover imageThe Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau, by Michelle Markel, illustrated by Amanda Hall
published in 2012 by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers

Flaming with exotic imagination, here we discover a remarkable, self-taught artist who struggled his whole life to be heard.

the fantastic jungles of henri rousseau illustration amanda hall

Henri Rousseau is the poster child for pursuing what you love and hang all the critics. His dramatic, surreal, dreamings-on-paper were met with derision for most of his life, but Rousseau persisted, and we could say he gets the last laugh. Sensory language and Amanda Hall’s eye-popping exuberant illustrations deliver a delightful vision of this gifted man, for ages 5 and up.

stone giant cover imageStone Giant: Michelangelo’s David and How He Came to Be, by Jane Sutcliffe, illustrated by John Shelley
published in 2013 by Charlesbridge

I was lucky enough to be in Italy a few years ago and I am here to tell you: There is no possible way you can grasp how beautiful Michelangelo’s sculptures are until you are standing a few feet away from them. Absolutely gobsmacked, I was.

stone giant interior sutcliffe and shelley

This short account tells some of the backstory behind his monumental sculpture of David, which only adds to our sense of  bewilderment over how he could produce such a piece. It’s a fascinating look at his process. Shelley’s sunny, appealing illustrations immerse us in Florence — the look of the city, the clothing, the tools. I love the changing images of David as he emerges from the block of marble. Excellent book for ages 4 and up.

the garden of monsieur monet cover imageThe Garden of Monsieur Monet, by Giancarlo Ascari, illustrated by Pia Valentinis
published in 2015 by Royal Academy of Arts

Finally, this handsome look at Monet as he transforms his new place — Giverny — into an artistic paradise.

Ascari introduces us to Monet’s infatuation with light and loving design of his gardens, while also dropping in occasional asides about the world in which he lived. What was the Belle Epoque? What gardening advice did he dispense? What went on in World War I?

the garden of monsieur monet interior ascari and valentinis

Valentinis is a fabulous Italian illustrator whose compositions here are extraordinary. Wow. Every page is a wonder. Share this with kids ages 4or 5 and up.

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I’ve covered a number of titles on U.S. presidents over the years. You can find them in the Subject Index if you wish. This year, I felt weary of New Angles on Abe and Words about Washington. I decided to go spelunking for books on some of the women within the inner circle of the presidency.

And I found some fascinating titles! First up, because I am a mother and think mothers are terrific…

first mothers cover imageFirst Mothers, by Beverly Gherman, illustrated by Julie Downing
published in 2012 by Clarion Books; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

This delightful catalogue of All the Presidents’ Mothers contains breezy introductions to everyone from Mary Ball Washington — mom to George — all the way to Stanley Ann Dunham — mom to Barack.

Not only can you find out random facts such as which mom loved to shoot a rifle, or which mom joined the Peace Corps, but as the centuries roll by you can watch their hairstyles, fashions, occupations, and homes reflect the changing times. I was completely drawn into the wide-ranging personalities, backgrounds, struggles, and circumstances of these women.

first mothers interior gherman and downing

Accompanied by lighthearted, engaging illustrations, including a few quips and cartoons to keep things upbeat, every page has a sunny, welcoming design. Check out this book for yourself, and  share it with kids age 6 and up. 

Dolley Madison cover imageDolley Madison, by Kathleen Krull, illustrations by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher
published in 2015 by Bloomsbury

Dolley Madison, with her exotic turbans, effervescent White House parties, charming manners, and strong opinions, is a perfect candidate for this well-written series of biographies on Women who Broke the Rules. 

Read her life story, from her Quaker upbringing and early widowhood, to the gala events she presided over in Washington, and her epic moment of saving Washington’s portrait from the marauding British! 

dolley madison illustration steve johnson and lou fancher

Krull’s writing is crystal clear, engaging, and perfectly-paced. Warm illustrations help us see Dolley’s world and her winning self. Fantastic read for ages 8 and up, or read it aloud with kids even a bit younger. 46 pages.

what to do about alice cover imageWhat to Do About Alice? by Barbara Kerley, illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham
published in 2008 by Scholastic Press

Here the sub-title is “How Alice Roosevelt broke the rules, charmed the world, and drove her father Teddy crazy!” 

That gives us a great hint as to the tone of this zesty book about one rambunctious gal! For, as we know, Teddy Roosevelt was no push-over. He was a hearty fellow, as comfy on a charging horse as a babe in a cradle. But Alice! Alice he could not control.

what to do about alice illustration edwin fotheringham

Follow the whirlwind Alice from morning piggyback rides to dancing the turkey trot at diplomatic balls. The zippy text is marvelously matched by Fotheringham’s dynamite, jazzy, retro illustrations. An outstanding collaboration and loads of fun for ages 6 and up.

eleanor cover imageEleanor, written and illustrated by Barbara Cooney
published in 1996 by Viking

Eleanor Roosevelt wins the prize, I believe, for Most Books about a First Lady. Her life was an unexpected series of lows and highs, yet in the end she shines out as an outstanding person who overcame immense struggles. Perhaps that is why so many loved her.

This biography by the masterful Barbara Cooney examines only her childhood through about age 18. In Cooney’s snowfall-quiet, intrepid prose, we learn the deeply-sad truths about Eleanor’s early days, her mother’s ugly behavior towards her, the series of deaths which rendered her an orphan, and Eleanor’s compassion for the impoverished ones in her world.

eleanor illustration by barbara cooney

We also see the powerful impact of one teacher who changed the course of Eleanor’s life. It’s a gorgeous, moving story. When you’ve finished, and want to find out “what happens next,” I suggest you turn to Doreen Rappaport’s biography, Eleanor, Quiet No More. It’s a handsome picture book that briefly drops in on her childhood, then spends most of its time on her adult years and accomplishments. 

Eleanor, Quiet No More, by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Gary Kelley

Eleanor, Quiet No More, by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Gary Kelley

Both are excellent choices for ages 5 and up.

vinnie and abraham cover imageVinnie and Abraham, by Dawn FitzGerald, illustrated by Catherine Stock
published in 2007 by Charlesbridge

In the Things I Never Knew category, this book takes the cake today.

Vinnie Ream was a young woman who showed a knack for sculpture from her childhood days in the Wisconsin territory. When her family moved to Washington, D.C. during the Civil War, she carried her sketchbook with her everywhere, captivated by the features of all the faces hurrying past.

vinnie and abraham illustration catherine stock

One face intrigued her above all — that of Abraham Lincoln. The sorrow etched in it. The craggy features.

Vinnie Ream, amazingly, became an apprentice sculptor, which was not considered proper territory for a “mere girl.” Read this fascinating story of her rise to fame, and find out which impressive sculpture of hers you can still see in the U.S. Capitol rotunda.

Catherine Stock’s always-lovely watercolors are what drew me to this book originally. I love everything she does! Read this one with ages 4 and up.

miss lady bird's wildflowers cover imageMiss Lady Bird’s Wildflowers: How a First Lady Changed America, by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by Joy Fisher Hein
published in 2005 by Harper Collins

Finally, this account of Lady Bird Johnson.

How did she get that nickname?

How did she come to deeply cherish the  Texas Bluebonnet?

Where did she roam in her wilderness ramblings as a child?

miss lady bird's wildflowers illustration joy fisher hein

What cause did she take up as First Lady and how has that brought beauty to us all?

Read about the wildflower legacy of this far-seeing woman and become inspired to bring beauty to a patch of the world near you. Brilliantly colorful illustrations are fitting for this blossom-filled story. Ages 4 and up.

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February is long gone, but does this mean we don’t read black history titles? No, it does not.

March is Women’s History Month. And what do you know — there’s a sweet overlapping of these emphases…

… in these three exceptional new books you won’t want to miss.

my name is truth cover imageMy Name is Truth: The Life of Sojourner Truth, by Ann Warren Turner, illustrated by James Ransome
published in 2015 by Harper ~ Harper Collins Publishers

Sojourner Truth was a large, imposing figure with “a heart of gold and a tongue of flame.” This new biography beautifully captures in word and image her suffering, determination, warmth, and strength.

She began life as Isabella, one member of a large enslaved family in New York State, witness to her parents’ heartbreak as their many children were sold off “like horses.”

Isabella herself was also sold from one master to another, loaded down like an ox and viciously beaten, until one day she ran for freedom. Her new life was that of a preacher, and to mark that newness, she took a new name: “Sojourner because I travel far and long” and Truth because of her work proclaiming God’s truth wherever she went. 

my name is truth illustration james ransome

The lyrical narrative of this account radiates vigor and dignity, while James Ransome’s handsome watercolors portray a sturdy, resolute, warm cast of characters.  A lengthy Author’s Note provides quite a bit more information. Beautiful pairing of text and artwork for ages 4 or 5 and up.

chasing freedom cover imageChasing Freedom: The Life Journeys of Harriet Tubman and Susan B. Anthony Inspired by Historical Facts, by Nikki Grimes, illustrated by Michele Wood
published in 2015 by Orchard Books ~ Scholastic

Nikki Grimes often gives us poetry, but here she uses her vivid imagination and power with words to create a conversation between two women who were contemporaries and who did indeed meet up at various times — Harriet Tubman and Susan B. Anthony.

It’s a fascinating piece of historical fiction, set in 1904 at a convention for women’s suffrage in Rochester, New York. Sipping on tea in Susan’s parlor, these two phenomenal persons talk chasing freedom illustration michele woodtogether about their callings, rigorous efforts, hardships, sorrows, and dreams. 

Accompanying their narratives are stately paintings in acrylics and oils. Careworn, somber faces dominate these pages, as well as motifs from American patchwork quilts.

Mini-biographies of fellow activists of the era, and additional notes giving historical background to many elements mentioned by the women, are included, as well as an Author’s Note describing how Grimes composed this material.

This work has a serious tone, and is of great value for anyone ages 6 to adult. It is a longish text which would need to be read in episodes to those at the younger end of the spectrum.

28 days cover image28 Days: Moments in Black History that Changed the World, by Charles R. Smith, Jr., illustrated by Shane W. Evans
published in 2015 by Roaring Brook Press (A Neal Porter Book)

Geared for the 28 days of February’s annual Black History Month celebrations, this is a phenomenally artistic, compelling, and energetic collection.

Each bold entry features one important figure or moment from black history. The book is organized in chronological order. First up is Crispus Attucks who was killed in the Boston Massacre on March 5, 1770, and last is Barack Obama. One extra leap-year day is dedicated to you, the reader. Here are men and women, athletes, politicians, soldiers, an astronaut, pilot, explorer, doctor, singer, and some schoolchildren. 

The entries feature brief summary captions, many forms of poetry, excerpts from historic documents, acrostics, eulogies, and brief biographical sketches. It’s a joyous, creative variety that makes the pages sparkle.

28 days moments in black history smith and evans interior image

Shane Evans’ brilliant collage work booms with glorious strength, dramatic color, and surging energy. Stunning work. They could create posters out of every one of these pages. 

Super resource to dip into again and again, for ages 5 to adult.

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I’m getting a jump on Thanksgiving this year in hopes of giving you time to track down these lovely titles before the holiday (with apologies to my Canadian friends!)

thanks a million cover imageThanks a Million, poems by Nikki Grimes, illustrations by Cozbi A. Cabrera
published in 2006 by Greenwillow Books

For Nikki Grimes, the words, “thank you” are powerful. They not only bless the ones we thank, but they arise from deep places inside us as we recognize gifts we’ve been given.

We can be thankful for new friends who make us feel less like lonely strangers, for an author whose story comforts our thanks a million illustration cozbi a. cabrera 001unspoken wounds, for kind neighbors, for shelter even when that shelter is bleak. We can thank people who seem to shrug off our thanks, or our dad whose gesture of love we took for granted. Praise comes from the very trees, from those who cannot speak, and from all of us around the Thanksgiving table.

Grimes’ poems are brief, widely varied in structure,  accessible to children ages 4 or 5 and up, yet richly human and authentic.  They are written in the voices of children, but these children are thoughtful, perceptive, acknowledging the realities of a broken world that is still good, recognizing the wealth of love and friendship.

Cozbi Cabrera’s acrylic paintings are strong, vibrant, anchored in the real world, augmenting the thrumming pulse of life that runs through this book, thoroughly multi-cultural. Beautiful. No puny, saccherine thanks here. Highly recommended.

nickommoh cover imageNickommoh! A Thanksgiving Celebration, by Jackie French Koller, illustrated by Marcia Sewall
published in 1999 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

As you perhaps know, the Narragansett people were one of the tribes of Native Americans who for long years lived in the area we now call New England, and who welcomed the Pilgrims, helping them survive their crash course in North American living when they arrived in 1620.

What most of us have remained ignorant of is the rich culture of this people and the thanksgiving celebrations which were woven into their society. Jackie French Koller has worked with Dr. Ella Sekatau, Tribal Ethnohistorian of the Narragansett Indian Tribe, to bring us nickommoh by jackie french koller and marcia sewallthis fascinating, gorgeous account of a typical thanksgiving feast in the Narragansett tradition. Nickommoh is a word meaning “give away” or “exchange” and was used for these gatherings due to the custom of giving away excess food, furs, and clothing to those in need during these harvest celebrations.

The frost coats the fields, the people in their mocussinass come from far and near, lodges are built, games are played, venison and clams and berry cakes are cooked. Old and young prepare for the great dance. The Creator and Life-giver is praised. In poetic, graceful prose, stuffed with interesting detail and sprinkled with Narragansett words, Koller draws us into their lively, creative, gladsome festival which likely was an influence in the original Pilgrim thanksgiving celebration.

Marcia Sewall’s striking illustations are rendered in scratchboard and gouache. Bold, handsome black outlining and an earthy palette of bark browns, golden maize, splashes of clay-reds, plus the brilliant blue  ocean and star-studded night skies make incredibly handsome images. They generate a rich sense of community and happiness and connection with the land. Such beautiful work!

An Author’s Note and glossary of Narragansett words complete this excellent addition to your Thanksgiving reading list. Ages 4 and up.

sarah gives thanks cover imageSarah Gives Thanks, by Mike Allegra, illustrated by David Gardner
published in 2012 by Albert Whitman & Company

Sarah Josepha Hale is largely responsible for you having an official Thanksgiving Day holiday. She’s also responsible for turning Mount Vernon into a National Historic Landmark, fighting against slavery, and writing a poem I bet every one of you knows by heart. If you haven’t met her yet, it’s high time you do!

In 1822, Sarah was a young widow and mother of five living in New Hampshire. She had hankered for education since she was a child, and not being allowed to attend college (why would women want to sarah gives thanks illustration david gardnerdo such a thing?!) she educated herself by reading and reading and reading some more. She was a published writer early in her married life and went on to become editor of the most widely read magazine in the country where she promoted her wonderfully feminist views. If you were around in the mid-1800s, you probably knew of Sarah.

So, when this ball-of-fire determined we should have a national holiday devoted to appreciating what we have and giving thanks for it, you just know she’s not going to quit until it’s in place. It took her thirty-six years to get that final signature from President Lincoln himself, but Sarah did it. She was thankful, and so am I!

I believe it was last year I reviewed another title about Sarah Hale which you can read here. Both of these are outstanding accounts of her life. This one is beautifully illustrated in rich watercolors with paper texture showing through. The compositions are engaging and lively, with a bit of humor, lovely period detail, and a gently aging Sarah. It’s a splendid book for ages 4 and up. 

thanksgiving at our house cover image2 001Thanksgiving At Our House, written and illustrated by Wendy Watson
published in 1991 by Clarion Books

This jolly family is about to celebrate Thanksgiving. The relatives are coming, so they’re busy scouring the house, ironing party clothes, making place cards, and roasting a huge turkey.thanksgiving at our house illustration wendy watson 001

As batches of visitors arrive, the day fills up with cousins everywhere,  pies and pies, singing grace, taking naps, and playing outdoors in the first snowflakes of the season.

Wendy Watson brings us a lighthearted, tradition-filled, large family holiday in this little charmer. Bits of story are interspersed with snippets of nursery rhyme and poems that twinkle-toe along as sweet and delicious as whipped cream on warm apple pie. Darling, warmhearted pictures with oodles to look at will put a smile on the face of young listeners, ages 3 and up.

hardscrabble harvest cover imageHard Scrabble Harvest, written and illustrated by Dahlov Ipcar
published in 1976 by Doubleday & Company

Awhile back I wrote a blog post about Dahlov Ipcar and her imaginative, colorful artwork and children’s books, such rich gifts to us arising from her creativity,  long life of connection with the land, and broad experimentation with line and color and artforms.

Here’s one more of her titles that’s perfect for sharing at Thanksgiving. Dahlov knew full well the hardscrabble work of farm life, yet she loved it just the same. Stemming from her hardscrabble harvest illustration dahlov ipcarexperiences working the Maine farmstead with her husband and sons, this joyful book begins with the long odds of the farmer, planting his garden, then desperately trying to protect his growing vegetables from all the critters licking their lips in anticipation! From crows to raccoons to rabbits, nibbling here, thieving there, it’s an uphill battle!

Still, as harvest-time comes, there are bushels of apples and tomatoes to haul in, wagonloads of pumpkins and squashes to store, jellies to put up, turkeys to fatten, and a beautiful Thanksgiving dinner to share with the relatives. 

Ipcar’s masterful compositions and patterning are compelling, energetic, full of life and joy and the richness of the earth. With brief, rhyming text and bold illustrations, it’s a timeless book for sharing with small persons ages 2 and older.




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