Smartypants biographies with zing

You might not guess this from all the reading I supposedly do, but I have an extremely short attention span.  One of my former co-workers used to joke about how easily distracted I was by “shiny objects”.  We could be talking about some huge problem we were trying to solve, and suddenly my mind would make a connection to something about women’s history or a book I’d read a few weeks before.  Often the connection was not an especially clear one.  And there were not usually shiny things around.  Still, you get the idea.  I can be a little scattered.

As time has gone on, this has only gotten worse.  Not only do I live with two people who are constantly making references to movies, tv shows and music, but there’s all the technology.  Between the smart phones and iPads and Google Maps, getting through any adult nonfiction is pretty hard, and even middle grade books longer than 200 pages sometimes look overwhelming.

But lately, thanks to the Common Core movement, there have been a heap of new nonfiction picture books.  (I know many people loathe the Common Core, but hey—here’s one good thing about it!) These are perfect for me–pictures to look at, sometimes really amazing art, facts about people I either don’t know or don’t know much about, appendices with extra information, HOORAY!  I think every nerdy kid and adult should just make a pile of these and then sit and enjoy.  It’s hard to be distracted from this amazing stuff, whether it’s technical drawings or Matisse’s cutouts or art about the art of photography.

If you’re so inclined, the following three are especially good ones:

Antsy Ansel: Ansel Adams, A Life in Nature by Cindy Jensen-Elliot and Christy Hale.  You might wonder why you even need illustrations if you’re doing a book about Ansel Adams, but these take the story of his life to a whole different level.  It’s also a wonderful reminder of how we don’t all fit within the same educational boxes, and when someone special is set free to do what they need to do, the results can be amazing.

Mr. Matisse and His Cutouts by Annemarie van Haeringen.  Again, it seems like with Matisse’s art, you wouldn’t need much else to make a book pop.  But the way Matisse’s color and imagination exploded is so wonderfully displayed here!   I love the idea of Matisse in a wheelchair flying along, scissors reaching to the sky.  Ha!

Ada Lovelace:  Poet of Science by Diane Stanley and Jessie Hartland.  You had me at hello with that title, people.  Poetry and science AND math together!  Whew!  There’s so much good information in this book, too.  It deals with the reality of Ada Lovelace’s daily life at a time when women were kept out of scientific inquiries, but it also somehow expresses the sheer joy she found in learning new things and figuring stuff out.

So these are on my stack.  Find your own.  Learn a little.  Look a little.  Capture your quiet spot.  Make a pile.  And read, my friends.  Just read.

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