Tuesday, December 9, 2008


by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Yuyi Morales (Harcourt)
On a ranch in the Arizona desert was a family thriving on eighty acres, until the great drought drove them all to migrant work. Though their crops may have withered, a seed was germinating in young Cesar Chavez. The indignities he experienced as a shy Spanish-speaking student and the grueling conditions are honestly portayed. Children will be stirred by these indignities, and their hearts equally swelled by the huelga, Chavez's peaceful movement against threatening overlords. His three-hundred mile march from Delano to Sacramento was the longest in U.S. history, and resulted in the first ever contract for farmworkers. This is an extremely powerful book that underscores the bravery and resolve it takes to engage in non-violent protest, and rightly puts Chavez on the same scaffolding as Martin Luther King as a champion of civil rights. The lush illustrations roll across double-pages horizontally set, thoughtfully designed as to emphasize distance: how far the people had to travel both spiritually and physically to achieve the goal. A page-turning read-aloud about an important chapter of Latino history that reads aloud as well to second graders as to eighth graders, this is a welcome and well done contribution to the shelves of children's biography. Viva la Causa! (All ages)


WANDA GAG: THE GIRL WHO LIVED TO DRAW by Deborah Kogan Ray (Viking)
Thought of as the mother of the modern picture book thanks to her scrappy 1929 tour-de-force MILLIONS OF CATS, Wanda Gag did not always have it easy, but she always had the drive to succeed. Using primary sources (as she did in TO GO SINGING THROUGH THE WORLD: THE CHILDHOOD OF PABLO NERUDA), the author captures the struggles of young Gag as she followed in the footsteps of her hardworking father. His imaginative dreams were thwarted by his need to support his family, but on his deathbed he fortells, "What Papa couldn't do, Wanda will have to finish." Most teenagers would have would have folded under the weight of caring for six young siblings and a sick mother, but the resourceful Gag not only gets her family through the hard times (two sisters became teachers!), but was published and earned a scholarship to study art in New York, where her creative genius began to truly blossom. This is a story that will truly inspire any creative spirit who encounters it, with lovely cozy-brown soft illustrations reminsicent of Don Freeman; you will have to resist pulling pictures out to frame (or maybe you don't have to resist). The story is penned with a personal touch that allows the reader to warm their own skin against the heat of Gag's passion for art ("I can't help it that I've got to draw and paint forever; I cannot stop; I cannot; cannot, CANNOT...I have a right to go on drawing...") and to genuinely revel in Gag's accomplishments, especially in the face of such hardships. By the last page, any reader would want to be friends with sweet Bohemian Wanda, and bring a basket of ginger cookies to her as she draws in "a sagging farmhouse she called 'Tumble Timbers.'" It's exciting to read about somebody who put dreams first, even when it wasn't easy to do. (7 and up)


ABE LINCOLN: THE BOY WHO LOVED BOOKS by Kim Winters, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter (Simon and Schuster)
They thought he was lazy, this boy who would take a book out of his back pocket to read at the end of each row he'd plow. In fact, bigger things were in store for this young dreamer who was destined to become out 16th president. Readers are treated to a homey glimpse of this hero's boyhood, leaning on his father's lap by the fireside as yarns were spun, splitting wood, shivering with his sister in a drafty log loft. It chronicles both the dark days (like when Abe's mother dies of "milk sickness" when he is nine) and exciting adventures (such as the great wrestling match between him and Jack Armstrong, which was met with cries of "Body slam! Body slam!" by my second grade listeners). The story stops where most others begin, as Lincoln takes his seat at the White House. The unpretentious illustrations are evocative of the period and contain many details that are springboards to discussion, such as what schools were like in pioneer times, and why Lincoln campaigned from a train. And don't forget, in honor of Lincoln's favorite pastime, celebrate his birthday by starting a penny drive fundraiser for your school library! (6 and up)


VINNIE AND ABRAHAM by Dawn Fitzgerald, illustrated by Catherine Stock (Charlesbridge)
"My work has never been a labor, but an ecstatic delight to my soul. I have woked in my studio not envying kings in their splendor; my mind to me was my kingdom, and my work more than diamonds and rubies. If my encouraging words can help any struggling artist to have new hope, I shall be glad..." -Vinnie Ream
With so many men away fighting the Civil War, women were given new opportunities for employment, and fourteen-year-old Vinnie Ream took on work sorting dead letters in the post office. During her noon breaks, she slipped away to the Washington graveyards, cultivating her gift for sculpture. Realizing "I'll have to make my own opportunity if I ever hope to make art," she apprenticed herself out to a famous artist, who could not deny her talent. Soon Vinnie reputation spread, and she was able to sculpt the likenesses of haughty congressmen, always putting out into the universe and into their influential ears her dearest wish: to sculpt the face of the brave President Lincoln, whom she often saw walking among the people despite many threats of assasination. Her wish was eventually granted, but bittersweet. After the deed of John Wilkes Booth, Congress sought to hire a sculptor to create a memorial statue of President Lincoln. Could Vinnie's image of the president as a kind and gentle man compete with other visions of Lincoln as a warrior or saint? Would the bias against her age and gender stop her from giving the gift she wanted to create for her country?

Besides being a tribute to a woman who never gave up, this is an extraordinary story of friendship and admiration, of two parallel lives converging in a way that resonates through all time. The graceful writing in this book lends itself to smooth storytelling, and almost euphoric levels of inspiration. Have a hanky handy; I cried twice during the reading, just rooting for Vinnie and celebrating her achievement as the youngest and first woman to receive a commission from the U.S. government. Stock makes watercolors look easy, with varied layout, an expressive style that captures Vinnie's indomitable energy and what surely was also a loveliness about her, and also evokes the flavor of the period. Capped off with a stirring author's note and a manageable list of both print and internet resources, this unassuming picture book biography was never boring, and achieves a level of excellence will truly take readers by surprise. It's the best Civil War period piece to hit the children's shelves since Patricia Polacco's PINK AND SAY. (7 and up)

WE ARE THE SHIP (Negro League ballplayers)

"We look back and wonder, 'How did we do all that?' It's simple. We loved the game so much, we just looked past everything else. We were ballplayers. There was nothing we would have rather spent our time doing."
Imagine that you are child in the box seats of the great baseball game of history, and sitting right beside you, giving the play-by play, is a man who had been around the block and around the bases of the Negro leagues of the early 20th century, a man who wanted to whisper to you all the secrets, truths and legends of his day before it fades past memory; imagine that can really happen, that such a gift can be given, and you have a sense of the spell cast by this formidable book. The dust is stirred, the crowd is heard, and the crack of the bat and the sting of the mitt sings, sings, sings in these pages. Via first-person voice (which takes a little getting used to, but then becomes incomparably warm and confiding), readers discover a parallel sports universe, a dream manifested by some powerhouse business visionaries who created a league of their own, with rules that bent (six foot curve balls, sharpened spikes for sliding, umpires chased over center-field fences?!) and heroes that were larger than life. Descriptive and well-researched chapters celebrate the greats, Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell and beyond, and allow us to travel across the country with them as far as the Jim Crow flies, across the border to Cuba, and then, so bravely across the color line. Stoic painted portraits capture the serene beauty and almost loneliness of the field, the power of every sinewy muscle of the bat-swinging, ball-throwing arms, the dignity of every set jaw, and a double-page fold-out group portrait of the "First Colored World Series" will take. Your breath. Away. Nelson managed to match if not out-do the stirring visual tribute he gave in Ntozake Shange's ELLINGTON WAS NOT A STREET, and proved that his pen is as mighty as his brush. (And that's pretty mighty!)

A grand slam of sports history, African American history and All-American history, it's sure to sweep the ALA awards series and is the perfect gift for any baseball fan, but even more than that, it contains a piece of America that every child deserves to know. (8 and up)

MANFISH (Jacques Cousteau)

by Jennifer Berne, illustrated by Éric Puybaret (Chronicle)
As a boy, Jacques Cousteau fantasized what it would be like to breathe beneath water. Later in life, all things converge as he combined his love of film and his amazing invention of the aqualung to show the world the undersea worth exploring...and worth saving. Smooth, flat art style against glossy paper goes far to capture the silky quiet of the sea, and the brilliant vertical fold-out that allows the reader to virtually and visually dive down into the depths of the ocean is a surprise. An inspiring life story clearly told for young readers across the grade levels, this beautiful book is a real catch. (6 and up)

WHAT TO DO ABOUT ALICE? (Alice Roosevelt)

WHAT TO DO ABOUT ALICE? by Barbara Kerley, illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham (Scholastic)

"I can be president of the United States, or I can control Alice. I cannot possibly do both." -- Theodore Roosevelt

Plans were being made to send the irrepressible Miss Alice Roosevelt to Miss Spence's boarding school to become a proper young lady. "Alice was appalled. The idea completely shriveled her." But with a little consistent effort, Alice manages to get herself homeschooled. Let loose in the library, the dear little autodidact "taught herself astronoy, geology, even Greek grammar. She read Twain, Dickens, Darwin, and the Bible, cover to cover." But what better home to school in than the White House? As her father's career rose to the highest power, Alice (and her pet snake Emily Spinach) make the move to D.C. Her high spirits and propensity not to listen to her father made headlines, and a difference in what women started to think they could do...and what fun they could have doing it. The goodwill ambassador and serious party girl gets celebrated here in a way that will have little girls snorting at the poor little Paris Hilton. Some of the most charming pictures seen since McKinley's time happen here, and fans of Shana Corey and Chesley McLaren's YOU FORGOT YOUR SKIRT, AMELIA BLOOMER will appreciate the retro feel of the characters laid out with crisp, dynamic line and composition. Favorites pics include Alice having a tantrum with her head beneath a pillow, or zipping from shelf-to-shelf beneath a stuffy stuffed moose-head in the library; honestly, it makes me want to write something just so Edwin Fotheringham can draw it. What to do about Alice? Read about her days spent making the point: well-behaved women rarely make history. (6 and up)


by Anna Harwell Celenza, illustrated by JoAnn Kitchel (Charlesbridge)
American composer George Gershwin discovered by reading the newspaper that he was scheduled to debut a jazz concerto at a concert to be attended by the world's musical elite in a matter of five weeks, a publicity stunt pulled by an ambitious promoter. It seems like an impossible task, until George tunes in to the tempo of New York. "Klezmer, foxtrot, ragtime and blues. My concerto will be a tuneful kaleidoscope--a rhapsody about the music that surrounds me!" This is a wonderfully readable picture book biography celebrates how an artist synthesized what was around him in order to create a masterpiece; as George heard music in the train moving on the track, can children hear the music that surrounds them? This book also includes a CD recording of Gershwin performing Rhapsody in Blue in 1925! Everyone in America needs to know this piece of our cultural heritage outside of the commercial ditty co-opted for American Airlines, and this sure is a delightful way to receive it. (6 and up)


by Anne Broyles, illustrated by Anna Alter (Charlesbridge)
One of the great joys of reading is learning something you really didn't know before, and I really didn't know that some members of the Cherokee tribe who were trying to assimilate with European settlers owned African-American slaves (though not without controversy within the tribe). This is the true story of one young African-American girl who, as a result of being enslaved in a Cherokee family, accompanied them on the Trail of Tears, a five hundred mile genocidal treck in freezing weather. She was rescued by a man who saw her by chance, tracked her down and bought her freedom, raising her as one of the family. The growing and blooming of flowers through the story is a moving and hopeful allegory, and the stark differentiation of a life under another's thumb compared to a life of freedom and inclusion is effectively drawn. A powerful, interesting book that retells a painful chapter in American history through the eyes of a brave child. (7 and up)

SANDY'S CIRCUS (Alexander Calder)

by Tanya Lee Stone, illustrated by Boris Kulikov (Viking)
With a few masterful twists of wire, an artist entrances the Parisian audiences with his playful scrap circus, and a world of joy and play. An angel-like muse seems to follow Calder from page to page. I found myself wishing there were more photos of Calder's actual work included (see Melissa Eskridge Slaymaker's BOTTLE HOUSES: THE CREATIVE WORLD OF GRANDMA PRISBEY), as I was not sure that a child would be able to recognize Calder or his work based on this book alone (a concern that was confirmed when a child noted that the man in the photo has a moustache and the man in the drawings does not), but supplemented with additional images, this book makes for a very exuberant introduction to the inventor of the first mobiles. Play on, playa! (6 and up)


by Malka Drucker, illustrated by Elizabeth Rosen (Dutton)
From the well-known such as Harry Houdini, Albert Einstein, Leonard Bernstein and Gloria Steinem, to the lesser known and the modern (Henrietta Szold, Hadassah founder; Abraham Heschel, civil rights advocate; Judith Resnik, astronaut; and a very moving closure of the book with a tribute to Daniel Pearl, the journalist, and a poem by an Arab Muslim), Twenty-one thoughtfully selected personalities are presented and given a colorful portraiture in word and in picture. A fine addition to multicultural collections, a great gift book for Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, high holidays and a must-have for Jewish American Heritage Month in May (what, do you want to wait until the last minute?) (9 and up)

BUFFALO MUSIC (Mary Ann Goodnight)

BUFFALO MUSIC by Tracey E. Fern, illustrated by Lauren Castillo (Clarion)

"The heat that summer fell heavy as an angry fist. the trails were deeps with dust. The grass cracked like glass underfoot. And everywhere, far as the eye could see, the bleached bones of the buffalo glistened white in the sun."

During the terrible pioneer massacres of the buffalo, Mary Ann Goodnight had the foresight to cultivate the first captive buffalo herd, helping to save the species. Succinct, captivating writing with both strong description and dialogue hits hard but without any unncessary prosaic fuss, making anyone who reads it aloud seem like a seasoned storyteller, and a thoughtful bibliography with young readers in mind will keep kids following the buffalo trail. Homey illustrations accent the tender heart and common sense of a woman who made a big difference. (6 and up)

A RIVER OF WORDS (William Carlos Williams)

A RIVER OF WORDS: THE STORY OF WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet (Eerdmans)
What a beautiful tribute to the poet who brought us a red wheelbarrow upon which so much depends and the apologetic eating of plums, a man who worked hard all day as a busy doctor, and then fled to a world wallpapered in his own imaginings when the moon rose. The story captures not only the romance and beauty of being a poet, but the bravery and hard work as well; it's hard not to fall just a little bit in love wit ol' William. Illustrator Melissa Sweet has a lot of titles out these days (TUPELO RIDES THE RAILS, CARMINE: A LITTLE MORE RED and BABY BEAR'S BOOKS to name a few), all consistently darling, but I this one in particular has a texture that goes beyond Sweet's sweetness, that I hope will warrant a closer gander by awards committees for the subtle and ecelectic genius she brings to books; she is one of those very gifted illustrators whose pictures truly bring something more to the text. Here, she weaves the words of the poet in and out of her artwork like a fine and golden thread. Thorough and affecting, this book also includes a timeline, notes from the author and the illustrator, and poems on the endpapers. (7 and up)


by James Rumsford (Houghton Mifflin)
The mighty trees that bear the name Sequoyah are tall and strong, but the Cherokee man, a disabled metalworker in the early 19th century, dreamed of standing with equal authority among his people. He tried to contribute to his tribe by developing a language so that their words of would not disappear with the coming of the white man. He drew hundreds of signs to create a language, but superstitious people were afraid of his symbols, and burned his cabin down with all his work inside. This only inspired Sequoyah to create a shortcut: an alphabet. Look inside this book to see the language that he created, as well as bold and beautiful woodcuts. The writing comes around in full circle like the seed to a tree to a seed again. Well-researched and compelling, this is an outstanding contribution to the genre of children's picture book biography, as well as an inspiring tribute to both the power of the word and the genius of a man. Read this along with Susan Roth's DO, RE, MI, and have children try to invent their own language to fill a void where communication is needed! (7 and up)

FOOTWORK (Fred and Adele Astaire)

FOOTWORK: THE STORY OF FRED AND ADELE ASTAIRE by Roxanne Orgill, illustrated by Stéphanie Jorisch (Candlewick)
Before becoming tap-dancing king of the silver screen, Fred Astaire was on toe shoes atop a wooden wedding cake, playing the role of best friend and brother in his Vaudevillian family. Sensitive ink lines and watercolor washes capture the grace of the dancers and the tin-pan alley feel of the era. Hard knocks and high points mark the lesser-known part of Astaire's career, lending a new appreciation of the man leading Ginger Rogers, climbing staircases in slow motion, dancing with brooms, performing origami with his feet and dancing on the ceiling. Read, and then watch THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT to choreograph a few good steps toward a knowledge of Hollywood musicals. (7 and up)


by Deborah Chandra and Madeleine Comora, illustrated by Brock Cole (Farrar Straus and Giroux)
What was the biggest challenge for the father of our country? The invasion of British troops? Winter at Valley Forge? No, it was toothaches that ultimately brought poor George Washington to his knees! Starting at age twenty-four, Washington lost a tooth a year (spitting out two as he crossed the Delaware) and by the time he took office, he had only two chompers left! No wonder he didn't smile for his portraits! Told in witty verse, we follow the immortal general as he battles this mortal and mortifying malady. The watercolors are glorious and humane. This book shows that even the most powerful people are prone to an Achilles' heel (or molar), and incorporates all sorts of fascinating and downright juicy history. A timeline is included at the end, along with a photograph of Washington's last set of dentures carved from hippopotamous ivory. It is unusual to find history told in a way that is so accessible and compelling to young children. How resonating is this book? After we first readthis some years ago, my son came up to me wiggling a tooth and announced joyfully, "Ma! I'm just like George Washington!" (6 and up)

DO RE MI (Guido D'Arezzo)

"A thousand years ago, if you heard a song and wanted to hear it again, you would have to remember it by heart. If you forgot the song, it could be lost forever. A thousand years ago, no one could write down even a single note of music. There were no notes. there were no staffs, no clefs, no sharps, no flats. there was no writen music at all." Luckily, a thousand years ago, there was also Guido d'Arezzo, a music-loving monk who was resilient in his efforts to create a musical language, despite resistance from choirmasters who felt his efforts might put a tidy end to their jobs. Through persistence and the support of a few good friends, Guido was able to reach his epiphany and give his gift to the world...a gift that touches us every day, every time we hear music on the radio, in an elevator, on a commercial, on a favorite CD. Of course, why wouldn't we want every child to know the biography of someone whose impact on the arts is so far-reaching? It's hard to find a picture book that can be read to a wide range of age levels, or one that so tidily integrates both the arts and character education, but this book accomplishes both. Susan Roth's highly textured handmade paper collage illustrations are interesting, if not altogether effective (one illustration of a line of angry monks in white hoods brought something else to mind altogether). Still, Roth is always one to take chances, with a unique creative energy that is sure to influence other artists, young and old. My favorite of her many projects remains LEON'S STORY, written in conjunction with Leon Walter Tillage, a school custodial engineer who shares his recollections of post-reconstruction and civil rights (wow, some truly amazing sections to read-aloud and a must-have for any month, but certainly black history month, for ages 9 and up). Susan Roth's titles are ones that I always find both useful and joyful, and this latest tribute continues to hit a high note. (6 and up)


BE WATER, MY FRIEND: THE EARLY YEARS OF BRUCE LEE by Ken Mochizuki, illustrated by Dom Lee (Lee & Low)

In every passionate pursuit, the pursuit counts more than the object pursued.
--Bruce Lee

Young Bruce Lee doesn't like to sit still at school. But at the school of the martial arts master, he doesn't have to. When Bruce uses his new skills to fight others, his sage teacher ignores him, then advises him. "Big branches of a tree snap under the weight of snow, while weaker and suppler reeds bend and survive." What lessons are there in this master's riddles? How can Bruce learn to be calm while exchanging blows and kicks, how can he learn to be gentle in his world where so many blows were thrown? It is not until he tries to lay his fist on water that he realizes his own power to break through anything in the world. The enlightenment of this wild child is gradual and believable, and so hopeful, as children often make mistakes and need chances at a fresh start. Older children will be inspired by this book as well as younger children, so share it in high school classrooms along with the third grade! Sepia-colored renderings from acrylic/wax scratchboard are unusual, and evocative of the time period. This beautiful multicultural biography with universal appeal packs a real one-two punch. (7 and up)


by Pat Mora, illustrated by Beatriz Vidal (Knopf)
This exquisite volume pays homage to the great poet of the seventeenth century and one of the greatest booklovers of all time. While children today still recite her poetry throughout the Spanish-speaking world and her face appears on Mexican currency, many North American girls will find a new and worthy heroine between these bindings. Juana Inéz is a child prodigy, her thirst for knowledge so great that she follows her sister to school when she is three years old and learns to read. So begins an unusual childhood for her time; though girls were not permitted at university, at ten years old she went to Mexico City where she was privately tutored, ultimately becoming a lady-in-waiting at the viceroy's palace and wowing the court and an assemblage of forty scholars. She ultimately left the palace and became a nun so that she could concentrate on her pursuit of knowledge and create one of the largest libraries in all of the Americas, and one glorious day, her own book of poetry would be added to those shelves. Children will be inspired by her cheerfulness and insistent spirit, and intruiged by how someone so long ago could have had such modern sensibilities. Nearly every page is graced with borders of delicate fruit and flowers, and the illustrations are crisp and elegant, painted using small brushes under a magnifying glass. A jewel of a book about a jewel of a woman. (7 and up)


WHAT ATHLETES ARE MADE OF by Hanoch Piven (Atheneum)
Photographed collage illustrations a la Joan Steiner's LOOK-ALIKES utlizes everyday objects in ingenious ways to create fantastic portraits of twenty three sport superstars representing both genders and a variety of sports and cultural/racial backgrounds. Babe Rith has a hot dog for a mouth (he did eat eight of them at Coney Island one afternoon), David Beckham has pink nail polish bottle for a nose (he painted his nails to match his girlfriend's), and every page has such a thoughtful visual detail to point out and discuss. Though the clever pictures will be pored over again and again, the anecdotes are equally strong: Once when [Mohammed Ali] was on a plane, the flight attendant told him to fasten his seat belt. 'Superman don't need no seat belt,' he bragged. 'Well, Superman don't need to airplane,' she shot back. Ali fastened his seat belt." Also inspiring is how Pele pressed the pause button on the war between Biafra and Nigeria for two days just by playing his game, and the advice given to children by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: "You should have dreams as students in addition to having dreams as athletes." A "post game recap" at the end of the book contains real photos, stats and career highlights for every game-player named. A strong addition to any biography or sports collection, it's also a fantastic read-aloud. I know, because I had the pleasure of having a sixth grade boy read it to me cover-to-cover, ofhis own accord, because he thought it was that good. This is the kind of book boys battle to be next in line to read.Do you need another reason to get your hands on this one? Home run, goal, touchdown! (7 and up)

FRIDA (Frida Kahlo)

by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Ana Juan
This phantasmagoric picture-book tribute to artist Frida Kahlo celebrates the imagination that helped her endure her troubled life, and allowed her spirit to endure after death. The author portrays the loneliness and misfortune that plagued Kahlo in brief and straightforward text, balanced by amazing illustrations in which everyday things seem to fly, and eyes and smiles peek out in unexpected places. The double-paged spreads are surreal, wild in color and splayed with motifs from Kahlo's work and Mexican folk art. Through it all, Kahlo's character eminates a calm in the fray. Her eyes are illustrated as sleepy, often closed, as if this story of her life was a dream she once had. This book is ambitious and accomplished, a fitting tribute to a woman who knew how to turn her pain into something beautiful. An outstanding picture book for older readers. (9 and up)

THE SNOW BABY (Marie Ahnighito Peary)

by Katherine Kirkpatrick (Holiday House)
I read this book on an airplane, and literally had people craning over the aisle to see the beautiful and unusual photographs of the great junior adventurer, Marie Ahnighito Peary, whose daddy Lt. Admiral Robert Peary was hell-bent on winning the race to the North Pole. An intimate and very complete look at a family on a mission, the book captures the adventure of racing down cliffs, dodging avalanches, relocating a meteorite, witnessing a walrus slaughter and being trapped amidst icebergs and midnight blizzards, as well as the dualities of Marie's frustratingly genteel life in the states and the free spirited one spent amidst her Inuit friends. Children who love non-fiction history or survival stories in the vein of Gary Paulsen will whoop with joy and disappear with the book as fast as a dog-sled will carry them, however, my one compunction is that there was nothing distinctively for children in the writing style; the straighforward essay-like text peppered with facts, long names and geography may leave some children with less prior knowledge in the dust (or the snow, as the case may be), only suggesting all the more that this is a book to be shared. The photos are plentiful, evocative and gorgeous and go far to take the reader away to the snowy landscape, with Marie at the helm (see page 31, she looks so marvelous with those buttons up and down her hood). The details of the lives are moving, from Peary's African-American companion Matthew Henson becoming an uncelebrated clerk after accompanying Peary on his celebrated adventure; the devoted wife Josephine Peary who suffered the loss of a child and followed her husband literally to the end of the earth, only to discover he was messing around with some chick named Allakasingwah; and the controversy against Peary's claim that he ever was first at all. At the core of this story with its very adult conflicts is the optimistic and confident child who finds friends all around the world, and will find a friend in readers today, a century later. Overall, this is a compelling, well-researched book that reads like a treasured photo album with a narrator to tell you the stories behind the people. Make the discovery! (8 and up)

BOTTLE HOUSES (Grandma Prisbey)

BOTTLE HOUSES: THE CREATIVE WORLD OF GRANDMA PRISBEY by Melissa Eskridge Slaymaker, illustrated by Julie Paschkis (Henry Holt)

Grandma Prisbey needed a place to keep her pencil collection, her doll collection, and herself! So she drove down to the dump to find materials for a house, and what she found was bottles of all shapes and sizes. Using these materials, she built a little spot of heaven, complete with wishing well, singing tree, and pyramid. Colorful and folksy illustrations accentuate this inspiring true story of a woman who was able to build a wonderful world using what was available to her, and photographs at the end will leave readers with eyes as big as bottle-bottoms. The spirit of independence shines through every page like colored glass, and the text is full of gems from Grandma Prisbey herself: "What some people throw away I believe I could wear to church," and "They call me an artist even though I can't draw a car that looks like one. But I guess there are different kinds of art." I guess so, Grandma…and this book qualifies! (6 and up)

SHOLOM'S TREASURE (Sholom Aleichem)

SHOLOM'S TREASURE: HOW SHOLOM ALEICHEM BECAME A WRITER by Erica Silverman, illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein (Farrar Straus Giroux)
Little Sholom's life is no picnic, shivering while he studies in the crowded, icy kheyder, abandoning plans of lucrative treasure-hunting when his best friend moves away, and the slings and arrows of a short-tempered, sharp-tongued stepmother are almost more than the unfortunate fellow can bear. Luckily, his ability to notice and imitate the idiosynchrocies of those around him is a source of laughter and light, and allows Sholom to stand out first in his home, and then for the whole wide world to see. This realistic and compelling story of the boyhood of the author of the short stories that would someday inspire Fiddler on the Roof does a dandy job of recreating the life and struggles of the shtetl, and Gerstein's busy frames further bring the vignettes into focus. Literary legacy aside, though, this biography successfully brings to life a very real little boy who likes to make people laugh and maybe gets into a little bit of trouble here and there. Know any little boys like that? (7 and up)

I COULD DO THAT! (Esther Morris)

by Linda Arms White, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter (Farrar Straus Giroux)

From an early age, independent and confident Esther McQuigg has been saying "I can do that." When her mother dies and the family is left to take care of one another, she says "I can do that." When she turns nineteen and it occurs to her to run her own millinery shop, she thinks, "I can do that." She can attend an abolitionist church, she can try to claim land in Illinois, she can raise her son Archy on her own, and she can move to the wild, wild western Wyoming territory. And finally, when it is time to vote in the first territorial elections, why, Esther takes out her trusty teapot and uses her influence to finagle a way she can do that, too. This picture book biography voices tells the true story of a spunky suffragette who became the first female judge, and the first woman in the United States to hold a political office, and the woman who influenced legislature that allowed women in her territory to be able to vote. Homey, wry colored-chalk illustrations are a perfect match to the text; the montage of women receiving the news of their hard-won right springs off of the page. This book is a jubilant celebration of what a can-do attitude can achieve. Tea-pot endpapers also serve as a timeline of the achievement of women's rights throughout the frontier territories. "There are still some countries where women's voices are not heard," the author's note points out. Can this be fixed? I have a feeling some little girl will read those words and think, "I can do that." (7 and up)


THE ADVENTUROUS CHEF ALEXIS SOYER by Ann Arnold (Farrar Straus Giroux)
Ze special tonight is ze culinary delight Alexis Soyer, ze king of ze kitchen, ze man who revolutionized what a kitchen can do for ze world, don't you see! Oh, you don't? Then you must read this picture book biography which follows Soyer from a rakish cooking school student to the celebrated chef of Europe's artistocracy, to the savior/foodie during the Irish potato famine and the Crimean War. Faithful to French fashion, there is a love story baked in, but what really carmelizes this book are all the interesting advances Soyer suggested, making him a notable inventor and humanitarian as well as a great chef. There are things in all of our kitchens that we can attribute to Soyer's innovations, read and find out what they are! Yes, the pen and ink with watercolor illustrations are yummy: detailed and delicate. The map of Soyer's dream kitchen is captivating to explore. This is a noble story of an epicurean life, and one that will inspire children who are destined to make unconventional contributions. (8 and up)


TRAVELING MAN: THE JOURNEY OF IBN BATTUTA, 1325-1354 by James Rumford (Houghton Mifflin)
Told in first person voice, here is the story of Ibn Battu, the great traveler of his age, covering over seventy five thousand miles. Yes, seventy-five thousand! Across Morocco, China, Russia, Tanzania, and all during a time when people still believe the world was flat. Sound daunting? Not to Battuta; he advised a child who said "I wish I could go where you went, see what you saw," that "You can...all you do is take the first step." I opened this book up to a double-page spread of a camel caravan trudging through the Hindu Killing Mountains, and it took my breath away as sure as a blast of cold air from their snowy peaks. Besides stunning illustrations, beautiful Arabic lettering (which the author learned by studying from a master calligrapher in Afghanistan) and ancient Arab maps, this book shows a gamut of one man's struggles, emotions, faith and imagination. And to top it off, the book is still accessible enough to share with the whole family or classroom. Besides meeting all the criteria for a four-star picture book, it also includes excellent maps and a glossary. Battu's treasures were his travels, and you will treasure this reading trip as well. (7 and up)


by Jim Haskins, illustrated by Benny Andrews (Candlewick)

Martin Luther King once said: "If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven played music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well." On that note, Westley Wallace Law was called to be a mail carrier, and let us say, here lived a great mail carrier who used his connection with his community to foster communication between the races, and who led the Great Savannah Boycott of 1961, which desegregated the city, the first in all of the South. Let us say, here is a great and beautiful book about this great and beautiful man, an admirable, stirring story that too few people know, and that belongs in every collection. (7 and up)


by Don Brown (Roaring Brook)
In 1899, it was not uncommon for boys to work as "newsies," peddling the consignment copies of newspapers published by millionaires Hearst and Pulitzer. When those magnates decided to charge an extra penny against their workers' wages, this was more than the little boys could bear. "I'm trying to figure how ten cents on a hundred papers can mean more to a millionaire than it does to newsboys," Kid Blink tried to figure. "If they can't spare it, how can we?" So begins the wa r between the newsies and the moguls, and a war it is, complete with protests, battles, leaders and ploys, many led by surprisingly articulate and earnest children. Peppery dialects and sobering history help to bring this early union battle to life in sepia tones. You wouldn't go wrong to share every one of Don Brown's wonderful picture book biographies with children, always affecting, but this one packs a special punch. Youths of our day will surely be inspired by Kid Blink's righteous indignation and awed by his bravery…can you imagine a child speaking his heart to a mob of five thousand? It was done. (6 and up)


by Sue Stauffacher, illustrated by John Holyfield (Putnam)
When legendary songstress Bessie Smith’s train car pulls into Emmarene’s small town, her world is filled with glamour. She peeks under the tent to see Bessie perform, but from her vantage point, she is also able to see the white-hooded Klansman sneaking up to perform a nefarious deed. When Emmarene runs in to warn Bessie, the performer’s courageous response is not what anyone expects, especially the Ku Klux Klan. Bold paintings capture both the dark night and bright spirits; there was something especially chilling in the illustration of Klansman painted on their horses. Taking a cue from Bessie, this story depicts its underlying racial theme with unusual bravery and candor for a children’s book. Being based on real events and ending relatively happily, this powerful read-aloud is all the more thrilling. (7 and up)


HOW BEN FRANKLIN STOLE THE LIGHTNING Rosalyn Schanzer, illustrated by Ingrid Godon (HarperCollins)
Although the life of Ben Franklin offers enough fodder for several biographies, the author chose to focus on his scientific inquiry to create a picture book children are sure to get a charge out of. Schanzer's conversational tone coupled with a sense of suspense as to exactly what invention allowed Franklin to steal lightning from the sky make this story a page-turner. Franklin is depicted as a visionary, initiating the first fire department, first lending library, being the inventor of bifocals, the second hand on the clock, odometers…the list goes on and on and on, the book clearly making the point that there is no American today that is not touched daily in one way or another by this man's initiative. The cartoonish illustrations show Franklin in all sizes and in all sorts of poses, versatile and jolly, fitting to the man and lots of fun for the lucky reader. From the endpapers featuring Franklin's original drawings for possible experiments to the detailed end notes, the author's enthusiasm for her subject is clear, and contagious. This book offers young children a truly great American hero, and an example of someone who made the most of time by loving to learn and sharing what he learned with all who would benefit. And what exactly did he invent that "stole lightning" and saved countless lives (including his own family's)? Read it and see! A little chatty-chat about electrical safety wouldn't be out of order, either. (6 and up)

UNCLE ANDY'S (Andy Warhol)

by by James Warhola (Putnam)
Young readers can hop in a car and join in a reading road trip based on the author's real-life recollections of a childhood visit from rural Pennsylvania to his uncle's avante-garde art world in New York City. Uncle Andy, though clearly not expecting them, welcomes them into his playland of cats, wigs and boxes of Campbell's soup. Uncle Andy's appreciation in the junk his father brings him from the junkyard teaches his nephew that "art is something that is all around us, all the time." Uncle Andy's understated cries of "ooooohs!" and "faaaabulous!" merit imitation and the clean, detailed illustrations are delightful. Ultimately, though, the charm of this book is not so much the voyeuristic insider's view into the artsy-fartsy world of Andy Warhol (granted, it is mighty fun), but the underlying excitement of visiting a relative far away, and the impact that a "black sheep" can make on a family. Surprisingly touching, honest and inspiring, this book deserves a lot more than fifteen minutes of fame. A significant contribution to both picture book biography and arts education collections. (6 and up)


by Emily Arnold McCully (Farrar Straus Giroux)
Oney Judge was considered "like another one of our children" according to the first First Lady Martha Washington, with a few exceptions: Oney would not be allowed to learn to read, to earn money, and would be denied the liberties of being a free citizen. George Washington planned to free the slaves he "owned" upon his death, but Martha Washington had no such intention. Martha was careful to make sure none of the slaves from her household stayed in Philadelphia for longer than six months, lest they be granted their freedom, and intended to trade her servants around, separating their families. Knowing this, her seamstress devised a plan to escape to New Hampshire, so that she could live with a free black family. But even as she tried to live her life independent of the Washingtons, a prideful Martha was hard pressed to give up machinations to get her back, especially once Oney had a baby that Martha considered her "property." Through the cooperation of many diverse allies, Oney repeatedly manages to give the big wigs the slip, but page after page we root for her to find the peace from flight she so deserves. This is a perfect example of a picture book for older kids, a story of injustice thwarted that is made all the more chilling by its basis in fact. (7 and up) Older audiences (11 and up) will want to check out a master of historical fiction's take on the situation, via Ann Rinaldi's TAKING LIBERTY.

Also of interest:
by Ellen Levine, illustrated by Kadir Nelson (Scholastic). Being denied freedom upon the death of his master, and being separated from his wife and children, it seems Henry Brown has nothing else to lose. With the help of an abolitionist, he concocts a plan to mail himself to freedom in a wooden crate, which he manages to do after surviving a harrowing voyage. This amazing true story pulls no punches when it comes to the pain this main endured before his decision to escape in this daring and dangerous manner, or the hope that managed to survive in this remarkable man's heart, even after all the unthinkable adversity he experienced. I don't think I could ever love any of Kadir Nelson's illustrations more than I did in ELLINGTON WAS NOT A STREET by Ntozake Shange, however, the power of the oil paintings in this offering is undeniable. (7 and up)

MOTHER TO TIGERS (Helen Delaney Martini)

MOTHER TO TIGERS by George Ella Lyon, illustrated by Peter Catalanotto
(Farrar Straus Giroux)
Helen Delaney Martini had three babies...baby tigers, that is! When her husband, a zookeeper at the Bronx zoo brought home animals that needed special care, they thrived under Helen's loving touch. When the tigers grew up, she realized there would always be zoo babies who needed nurturing, and started the first zoo nursery! "Before Helen arrived, no tiger born at the zoo ever survived. She raised twenty seven." So the next time you visit the big cats in the zoo, just think, that they may be grandcubs of Helen's wards! This compelling picture book biography of the Bronx's zoo's first woman zookeeper will touch the heart of any animal lover, and is accented with dramatic illustrations in torn paper panels. (7 and up)


STRANGE MR. SATIE by M.T. Anderson, illustrated by Petra Mathers (Viking)
I asked my husband, an artist, what he thought of this book, and he said, "If I had read this book as a kid, it would have changed the way I thought life could be." Composer Erik Satie did indeed put the en garde in the avante garde, hanging out with Picasso, tossing his girlfriend out of a window (luckily, she was a circus performer and landed safely), wearing seven identical grey velvet suits, playing jazz on typewriters, producing ballets that required live camels and cannons firing, and fathering the movement known as surrealism. This is a man who, instead of writing instructions in his music like fast, loud or slowly, gave directions like "from the end of the eyes" and "I want a hat of solid mahogany." I don't know if everyone would want Mr. Satie as a friend after reading this book, but he sure was a colorful character, and this comes through very clearly thanks to the affectionate and sympathetic treatment by both author and illustrator. This is a very accessible children's book about a complicated eccentric, in part because of the understated, imaginative artwork that arranges the chaos (look at the drawing of Satie's ideas playing out, quite literally, across stanzas of music) and gorgeous, succinct writing that reads like musical notes; the last page of this book may be the best I have ever read in children's biography. A book that deserves the rave reviews and acceptance that eluded Satie in his lifetime. (6 and up)

KNOCKIN' ON WOOD (Peg Leg Bates)

by Lynne Barasch (Lee and Low)
Sharecropping at the turn of the century was nothing but tedium and toil, and Clayton Bates manages to escape it by dancing up a storm. When he was twelve years old, he gained permission from his reticent mother to work at the cottonseed mill in order to get away from the fieldwork, but on the third day, his left leg was crushed in a machine and had to be amputated. Such a catastrophic misfortune would have crushed many a man's dreams, but for "Peg Leg" Bates, it was his opportunity to step up in the world. This terrific, toe-tapping biography doesn't sugarcoat the bigotry of the times, but uses it as a backdrop to make this man's rise to center stage all the more impressive. Watercolor illustrations capture the fluidity of the dancer's movements (great double-page spread of Peg-Leg practicing his time-step) and the photograph of the real Peg-Leg on the last page will garner applause, and fill your eyes with tears. What an inspiration! (7 and up)


by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, illustrated by Mary Azarian
I read this out loud to first through eighth grade with tremendous success...and why not? Following one's dream is a universal theme fit for any age. Snowflake Bentley chronicles the real life of William Bentley, whose great passion is snow. Though his neighbors scoff at his fascination with such an ordinary phenomenon, his parents, hard-working Vermont farmers, spend all their savings on a camera so that Bentley may photograph snowflakes and eventually publish a book of these images, his "gift to the world." Patience, perserverance and appreciation for the wonder all around us are just a few of the virtues toted in this outstanding volume. A definite "don't miss!" (7 and up)


by Barbara Kerley, illustrated by Brian Selznick (Scholastic)
In 1853, nobody knew what a dinosaur looked like, but thanks to Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, that was about to change. Using his imaginative genius he pieced together the puzzling fossils to create the first life-sized models of dinosaurs! To unveil his masterpieces, Waterhouse sent out invitations inscribed on a pterydactl wing for a dinner party on New Year's Eve. A feast was served inside a gigantic model iguanadon! You'd think everyone would want to be friends with a guy who could throw a party like that, but alas, when then great artist Waterhouse crosses the Atlantic and the corrupt New York politician Boss Tweed, some of Waterhouse's Paleozoic pals come to harm. The truth is stranger than fiction in this fabulous picture-book biography, paying homage to the life of a man who brought imagination to life and art and science together. If you can't physically visit the Waterhouse's creations at the Crystal Palace in Sydenham, England, Selznick's magical and meticulously researched illustrations will take you there. The efforts and execution of this book are a tour de force, and are sure to be the biggest thing to hit your book collection since T-Rex. (7 and up)


by Mordicai Gerstein (Roaring Brook)
So many children have questions about 9/11 and other current events that are so tragic and distressing. This book is an excellent example of how you can use literature to answer questions and address issues that are of interest and concern to children. Here is the true story of Frenchman Phillipe Petit who, in 1974, walked a tightrope between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. The story is compelling and the line illustrations dramatic and humane, making this a children's book that would stand on it's own even without recent events. But in view of the tragedy, the story is all the more potent. This book is a great adventure, but also a reminder that even when terrible things happen, there is something beyond the bad day; look at the whole history of a thing, and you may find hope and inspiration yet. Gerstein has made yet another unique and important contribution to children's literature with this latest endeavor, and like Phillipe Petit, takes a precarious walk with seeming ease. (6 and up)


by Sally Hobart Alexander and Robert Alexander (Clarion)
Before Helen Keller there was Laura Bridgman, the first blind-deaf child to receive a significant education in the English language. Anne Sullivan learned the manual alphabet from her, and the knowledge of Laura Bridgman's accomplishments are what inspired the mother of Helen Keller to seek help for her daughter. Many detailed biographies bury themselves in their own research, but this rich story is truly readable for its intended audience. Little Laura's movement into the land of communication is one of a benevolent spiritual awakening to her, as well as one of secular interest to all. The pages brim with interesting photos that really contribute to an understanding of the experience and the period in history, including a stirring photo of Laura's bust, eyes covered, sculpted by Nathaniel Hawthorne's wife, Sophia Peabody. The co-author is blind and has experienced some hearing loss herself, and contributes a very thoughtful afterword, "If Laura Were Alive Today." (8 and up)