Saturday, February 3, 2018

Five Fabulous Picture Book Biographies (Authors)

As I spend my Saturday afternoon reading these picture book biographies, so many of my childhood and young adult memories came rushing back.  My favorite book while growing up was The Cat and the Hat.  I demanded this book be read so much that my grandfather dreaded it!  As a child I was mesmerized by the story of The Hobbit. 

Unfortunately, I did not truly experience the full wonders of children’s literature until I took a course in college.  There, I read Charlotte’s Web for the first time as well as Ezra Jack Keat’s charming books.  After that course, Newbery winners and authors were my staple for many years. 

It was a delight to read the origin stories of the authors and their beloved books. 

Judy Sierra, author
Kevin Hawkes, illustrator
Teacher's Guide

Publisher Summary:
Have you ever wondered how the great Dr. Seuss wrote his most famous book?  Did you know that for The Cat in the Hat, he wasn't allowed to make up the fun words he was know for like oobleck and it-kutch and hippo-no-hungus?  He could only use worlds from a very strict list. 

This bouncy account of Ted Geisel’s fascinating creative process and early career proves that sometimes limitations can be the best inspiration of all!

Why It Is Fabulous:
The story begins with a predicament:  Boring school reading books.  This problem prompts Dr. Seuss to write his masterpiece—The Cat in the Hat—and many other early reading books.  Children (and some adults) will want to mimic Seuss’ means of inspiration (wearing a crazy hat).  Young (and old) writers will be encouraged to learn that he wrote the book with a limited list of words, and he had to revise, revise, revise. The author-illustrator team provides an appealing glimpse into the whole process of publication as well as the quirky personality of Dr. Seuss.  This biography will mesmerize readers and inspire writer’s of all ages.  

Caroline McAlister, author
Eliza Wheeler, illustrator

Publisher Summary:
John Ronald was a boy who loved horses. 
And trees.
And strange sounding words.

But most of all John Ronald loved Dragons.

Before J.R.R. Tolkien wrote The Hobbit, he was a young boy who saw dragons in the world all around him.  The ideas of dragons thrilled him.  He liked to imagine dragons when he was alone, and with his friends, and when life got hard or sad.  But as much as he looked for a dragon, he never actually found one, until one day, when he was a grown man but still very much a boy at heart, he decided to create one of his own.

Why It Is Fabulous:
I was engrossed in this biography from the first page to the last.  Tolkien began as an ordinary child with an imagination.  He went through difficulties.  He worked hard to reach his goals as an adult.  Nevertheless, Tolkien never lost his childhood love of dragons.  His imagination helped to ease his mind in difficult times and to entertain others in peaceful ones.  The author and illustrator of this biography collaborate perfectly to demonstrate that even the most ordinary parts of a person’s life can work together to create something memorable. The Author’s Note, The Illustrator’s Note, and A Catalogue of Tolkien’s Dragons are equally fascinating in understanding the origin story of the man who created some of the most timeless epics, beloved by generations of children and adults. 

Michelle Markel, author
Nancy Carpenter, illustrator

Publisher Summary:
This book’s for you.
Every page, every picture, and every word was designed for your pleasure.
Lucky, lucky reader.
Be glad it’s not 1726.
Back then, children had to read preachy poems and fables, religious text that made them fear that death was near, and manuals that told them were to stand, how to sit, not to laugh, and scores of other rules. 
Because the future champion of children’s books was just a lab.

Why It Is Fabulous:
Most children will not know who John Newbery is, nor his weighty impact on their education.  However, Balderdash brings history and his legacy to life on each exuberant retro-cartoon illustrated page. The pictures help capture the era while the playful typography adds stylish flair.   The child-centered story provides a glimpse into early children’s stories and marketing, ultimately revealing the dynamic legacy of John Newbery. 

Barbara Herkert, author
Lauren Castillo, illustrator

Publisher Summary:
When Elwyn White lay in bed as a sickly child, a bold house mouse befriended him.  The pair conducted many expeditions to the attic and horse barn together.  When the time came for kindergarten, an anxious Elwyn longed for home, where animals friends of all sorts awaited him at the end of each day.  Propelled by his fascination with the outside world, he began to jot down his reflections in a journal.  Writing filled him with joy, and words became his world. 

Years later, E. B. White left city life and journeyed to the farm of his dreams, where he filled his stories with one-of-a-kind animals—a mouse, a pig, and a spider. 

Why It Is Fabulous:
The soft watercolor and textured illustrations depicted this treasured author’s life in an charming way for young readers.  Seeing how the various pieces came together to inspire some of the most enduring children’s stories is a delight.  Children will relate to his sensitive demeanor and love for animals.  Most importantly, White demonstrates how it is important to never forget your passion or overlook the smallest things.

Andrea Davis Pinkney, author
Lou Fancher and Steve Johnson, illustrators

Publisher Summary:
The story of The Snowy Day begins more than one hundred years ago, when Ezra Jack Keats was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. The family were struggling Polish immigrants, and despite Keats’s obvious talent, his father worried that Ezra’s dream of being an artist was an unrealistic one. But Ezra was determined. By high school he was winning prizes and scholarships. Later, jobs followed with the WPA and Marvel comics. But it was many years before Keats’s greatest dream was realized and he had the opportunity to write and illustrate his own book.

For more than two decades, Ezra had kept pinned to his wall a series of photographs of an adorable African American child. In Keats’s hands, the boy morphed into Peter, a boy in a red snowsuit, out enjoying the pristine snow; the book became The Snowy Day, winner of the Caldecott Medal, the first mainstream book to feature an African American child. It was also the first of many books featuring Peter and the children of his — and Keats’s — neighborhood.

Why It Is Fabulous:
From the stirring lyrical language to the stunning mixed media collages, each element expertly weaves a tale of the author-illustrator with the birth of his groundbreaking character, Peter.  Keats knew the sting of poverty, witnessed the depression, experienced the war, and understood discrimination.  He used his talent both to show the harsh realities and to inspire generations of multicultural children.   His bold act of featuring an African American child (in an urban setting, no less) on the cover “tore off the blinders” and helped pave the way for more diversity in children’s book publishing. This bio-poem tribute to the author and his darling picture book character is a masterpiece. 

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