Tag Archives: biography

Girl power — now with comics!

brazenI know.  I’m a total sucker for exactly this kind of book – cool stories about smart women, fun facts, charming and engaging illustrations.

You might say I’ve been glowing and gushing about a lot of books lately, and you’d be right.  This one is really, really good.  Really.  There are a few women I knew already and many I didn’t, but all of their stories are compelling and just plain fun to read.  I read the whole thing in two days, but I could easily see reading one biography a day, or just going back and rereading the book several times to look for little details I missed.

It might be especially wonderful to me–I do love me some women’s history–but the format is one that would appeal to all kinds of people from teens to old ladies with open minds.  It’s the way it’s told that really made it come alive.  And although some people might be uncomfortable with its discussion of controversial topics, others might find that to be a great selling point.  We all know there are nice books about super amazing women out there, but somehow they don’t all sing, do they?  Too much dense text on the page?  Boring pictures?  Not much zing?

I don’t know what it is, but this one has exactly the right combination of all the things I want to read, maybe more than once.

Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World by Pénélope Bagieu

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Girl power — rebels and visionaries

what would sheIt feels like there have been just loads of books about interesting women coming out in the last few years–rebel girls, mathematicians, Hidden Figures, and all–but it’s never enough when you come across a really good one.  I wasn’t expecting much from this one, but it delivered in content, art and discussion potential.  The biographies are short and highly readable, full of interesting tidbits, and very colorful, both in descriptive words and engaging art.  Sometimes the “what would X do?” questions seem a little forced, but it’s maybe a fun way to translate everyday situations into lifetime decision-making skills.  The message is always “never give up,” whether those words are used or not.  So persist some more, friends.  Get out there and lead the future.

What Would She Do? 25 true stories of trailblazing rebel women by Kay Woodward and many illustrators.

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Girl power with style

bloomHere’s what I love in a picture book biography:

  • People who persist and overcome obstacles to do amazing things
  • Imagination
  • Dreams
  • Beautiful art

This book has everything I like, along with a lot of shocking pink and some really fun fashion.  Elsa Schiaparelli said NO to the expected and used her imagination, persistence, and dreams to overcome in wild and interesting ways.  I might not be looking for a hat that looks like a shoe myself – although I’m sure I could find a way to rock one along with my favorite cardigan – but we can all appreciate who she was and what she achieved.

Bloom: A Story of Fashion Designer Elsa Schiaparelli by Kyo Maclear and Julie Morstad

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Girl power with science and butterflies

girl who drewMaria Merian very definitely did not grow up in a time and place that valued her skills and abilities as a scientist and an artist.  She managed to find ways around the many expectations put upon her as a woman in the late 1600s, learning to draw and paint from her father and then using that as a way to further her interest in science, eventually leaving her husband and moving to a religious community and then Amsterdam and then traveling the world.

It’s not just that the illustrations are – not surprisingly – wonderful in this book.  Maria’s story is a well-written, dramatic tale, full of interesting details, explanatory sidebars, and a clear picture of what Maria’s daily life might have held.  You go, girl.

The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science by Joyce Sidman

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Of dreams and stars and unhelpful adults…

maeOne of Mae Jemison’s teachers suggested that she should maybe think about becoming a nurse instead of an astronaut.  Since the book’s about the first African-American female astronaut, we know how that advice worked out.  It’s an inspirational story, sweetly illustrated and simply told, and it’s a nice addition to any collection of biographies – of people who have overcome, of African-American leaders, of girls and women who resisted stereotypes, of dreamers.

I’m not picking on nurses or teachers here.  Nursing is a great profession for anyone.  So is teaching, and it’s actually the rare teacher now (I think) who would tell a little girl that she should maybe change her goals to fit with something more socially appropriate.  As an adult, it’s a good reminder of the impact we have in children’s lives and that they sometimes remember for a very long time when we show them that we don’t think they can be who they’re hoping to become.  It’s more helpful to support them, while letting them know what they actually have to accomplish to reach that goal.  As kids, we don’t really understand all the steps it takes to become an astronaut or a teacher or a nurse, but the right adult(s) can help a child nurture that dream into reality.

Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed and Stasia Burrington


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Dreams big and small

My friend Danette was the tightrope walker in the kindergarten circus – walking carefully across a rope taped to a table –and since that looked pretty fun, I thought for a while I’d be an acrobat or a dancer.  (I was not impressed with my role as a somersaulting bear.  She had a much better costume.) My total lack of coordination and inability to even do a cartwheel did not slow me down in dreaming of what I could be.

Later, I thought maybe I’d write songs and be a rock star in spite of – again – my lack of ability and talent in that area and the added problem of paralyzing stage fright.  Scientist.  Nope.  International businesswoman. Nope.  Social activist.  Still working on that one.

So what I like about these two picture books is the way dreams are a bit fluid for Scott Kelly and Frank Lloyd Wright.  (Possible pun intended.)

Fallingwater is illustrated by LeUyen Pham, one of my favorite illustrators these days, and it’s a beauty.  Frank Lloyd Wright was actually on the other side of his career – in his sixties and a legend though not a very active force in architecture when he was approached by Edgar Kaufman, who dreamed of building a home close to a waterfall on some property he owned.  And inspiration struck and FLW went on to design many more amazing buildings.

My Journey to the Stars follows Scott Kelly’s youth and lack of interest in school until he came across a book which sent him in the direction of being a test pilot, which gave him the motivation to study and achieve, which led him to join NASA with his twin brother, which gave him the opportunity to spend longer than any other American in the International Space Station.  When your dreams have a focus, you can succeed with hard work, he seems to be saying.

Maybe our dreams become real after being sparked by inspiration?  When you find it, you sense some purpose to what you do, and really amazing things might just happen.

Fallingwater by March Harshman, Anna Egan Smucker & LeUyen Pham

My Journey to the Stars by Scott Kelly and Andre Ceolin


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Oh, Mary Anne, sweet Mary Anne

big machinesMike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel and The Little House were favorites of mine.  Imagining Mary Anne digging out a building in just one day – whew! – and watching the changing world grow up around the little house – oh my!  Such fun for a little kid back in the day.

So it’s a joy to see Mary Anne (steam shovel), Katy (snowplow), Maybelle (trolley) and the Little House all over again, and to learn more about the clearly joyful woman who created them.

Big Machines: the story of Virginia Lee Burton by Sherri Duskey Rinker and John Rocco

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Ignorance shackles us like chains

schomburgBeethoven had an African ancestor.  So did John James Audubon, Alexandre Dumas, and Alexander Pushkin.

Arturo (anglicized to Arthur) Schomburg spent a lifetime tracing the history of Africans and their influence around the world.  He read, thought, collected, shared, and challenged society’s views about the past.

It’s an amazing life, and one that includes libraries, making it all the more wonderful, I think.  It’s not a quick read even as a picture book, however, but that’s really for the best of reasons.  The text is detailed and includes such impressive combinations of words that you have to sit and re-read and think about a few of them before moving on to the next page.  And the illustrations are so vivid and beautiful that you really need to look at them more than once or twice.

Schomburg: the Man Who Built a Library by Carole Boston Weatherford and Eric Velasquez

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One architect, one activist, one strong man

I suppose that “architect, activist and strongman” could all work together in the right person.  However, today I’ve been reading nonfiction picture books about three very different people: Zaha Hadid, Jane Addams, and Eugen Sandow.

You might not think they’d have a lot in common, but all faced challenges from people who maybe thought they’d fit in better if they’d grow up and do something just a wee bit more “normal.”  Eugen Sandow, the strong man, grew up not so strong, with people who encouraged him to become a doctor.  He ran off with the circus before eventually becoming a bodybuilder, starting a gym, and working with people on nutritious eating. Jane Addams never seemed particularly interested in following society’s expectations for young women when she was young.  She was shocked by the conditions poor people lived in, founded Hull House, and later ruffled feathers by speaking out for peace during a war, also winning a Nobel Peace Prize.  Zaha Hadid loved to design things even as a child.  She left Iraq to study architecture and mathematics and eventually designed buildings (and shoes and furniture, too) inspired by patterns, shapes, nature, and whatever else sparked her interest.

Take a look.  There’s inspiration all around here.

The World is not a Rectangle:  a portrait of architect Zaha Hadid, Jeanette Winter

Dangerous Jane, Suzanne Slade and Alice Ratterree

Strong as Sandow, Don Tate

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Andrew Carnegie everywhere

ManWhoLovedLibraries_cover_screenRGB_1024x1024My travels around Iowa – checking in on friends, stopping on the way to state parks, seeing what I can see—often bring me to small towns with Carnegie libraries.  I may not work in one, but I can appreciate what a big deal they were (and are) to many small towns and to the community members who used them in the past and still use them today.  Free libraries are a palace of opportunities, right?

Why did Andrew Carnegie love the idea of them so much?  He and his family did not have many opportunities when he was young, although he certainly made the most of those he had, becoming one of the wealthiest people in the United States even as he started life with little in Scotland.

The Man Who Loved Libraries presents a child-friendly version of Andrew Carnegie and his life.  (You can read about his union-busting in a paragraph in the back, but there’s no in-depth look at the darker sides of his success.)  He loved his family, worked hard, and enjoyed school while he could go.  He kept reading even when he was out working, taking advantages of one successful man’s private library to continue learning.

The illustrations are simple and help fill in the story’s ideas.  Worth a look, definitely!

The Man Who Loved Libraries: the story of Andrew Carnegie by Andrew Larsen and Katty Maurey

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