Tag Archives: biography

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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For library nerds and all the Goody Two-Shoes sorts out there…

balderdashHow have I lived this long without knowing the story of the “real” Little Goody Two-Shoes?  Apparently, she was a raggedy little girl who always bettered herself despite misfortunes.  And of course, she ended up with a rich husband who had a coach and six.  Holy cats!  Why didn’t anyone tell me this?

Calling someone a goody two-shoes was still quite a popular way to taunt nerdy girls in my youth, although it was directed less at the smarts of the girl in question and more at being a rule-follower of any kind.  All kinds of things stay hidden in the back of your brain for years, and I never thought to look into where that particular taunt came from.

Then, today, I was zipping through an awesome new picture book about John Newbery, and there she was!  John Newbery published some of the first books specifically written for children, including The History of Little Goody Two-Shoes.  No one’s sure who wrote the book, but it was a hit, and Newbery went on to publish many other children’s books.  Some 150 years later, his name was the one attached to the American Library Association’s Newbery Medal — to recognize the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children each year.  And while this book, despite excellent illustrations and a fun story, might not seem like the first thing a kid would pick out, it’s got a lot of discussion starters and eye candy for slightly older kids, especially those who love learning about history and books.  And now I can think about that childhood teasing in a whole new way, too.  Nicely done.

 


 

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Sculptures and graffiti and murals, oh my!

keith-haringThere’s a Keith Haring piece in the sculpture garden up the road from me.  Red, yellow and blue dancing figures are intertwined and turning around each other.  People like to take pictures there – I’ve done it, too—mimicking the actions of the figures.  There’s something bright and joyful about it, even on very gloomy and gray days.

This book is a little like that, twisting and turning through Keith Haring’s life.  What was it like for him growing up?  How did he end up doing murals and making graffiti and becoming a successful artist?  Examples of his work are scattered throughout the illustrations, and it’s a bright and joyful journey.  Take a look.

Keith Haring: the boy who just kept drawing by Kay Haring and Robert Neubecker

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Wild about nature

out of schoolThank you, Anna Comstock, for spending your whole life showing us the value of science education.  I didn’t know you did that.  My high school biology teacher must have been a fan, since I still remember his enthusiasm for taking science outside, even when we were stuck in a basement room without much natural light.  For our big project of the year – to collect and identify 50 examples of something – he approved everything from wildflowers to road kill (pictures only) to wheat samples, but it had to be something you found outdoors. That would have been right up Anna’s alley.

Some of my happiest memories are of being outside, seeing some beautiful part of the landscape, finding hidden flowers, taking a walk around the block and seeing what’s new and green, or going to a nearby lake to look at an eagle’s nest, stick my toes in the water, or look over the bridge to see what’s below.

So her life and her work is a wonderful chapter of history to share with kids before going on a nature walk.  “More about Anna” fills us in with additional details about her life and career, so this book is also a way to talk about changing roles in society, since she was clearly ahead of her time in keeping her profession after marriage and becoming a university professor.

Out of School and Into Nature: The Anna Comstock Story by Suzanne Slade & Jessica Lanan

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Legendary

the-legendary-miss-lena-horne-9781481468244_lgLena Horne may have become a star, but her life wasn’t without hardship.  She grew up between her grandmother, who hoped for a respectable life for her, and her parents, who used her talent to pay the bills.  Being African American meant that even when she was headlining for white bands, she sometimes had to go in through the back door and sleep in the bus.  Standing up and speaking out meant that she was blacklisted.  Her talent took her around the world, but the challenges just kept coming.  Being a trailbreaker is hard work.

It’s a wonderful story of a life, and the art which accompanies it makes the words even brighter.  Enjoy!

The Legendary Miss Lena Horne by Carole Boston Weatherford and Elizabeth Zunon

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