Monday, December 21, 2009

Non-Fiction Monday: Picture Book Biographies

Seriously, this was the season for biographies! I was flipping through my review shelves, trying to figure out what to post for this week's Non-Fiction Monday and realized I had 6 picture book biographies, waiting for some attention. I figured I could share them all with you best, just by doing some short reviews of each. Enjoy!

The Goose Man: The Story of Konrad Lorenz, written and illustrated by Elaine Greenstein

"This is the true story of a boy who loved animals and grew up to be a man who love to learn about animals. He learned so much from studying geese that he became a famous scientist, and he shared his knowledge with the world."

Ok, so Konrad Lorenz was an odd man. And I'm not saying that flippantly, truly Lorenz was slightly odd, believing he understood the language of geese, even going so far as to "know what to hiss back" when annoyed geese parents were hissing at him. And maybe he did! He did, after all,  win the Nobel Prize in 1973.

Animal lovers and budding scientists will get a lot out of this book, especially those fascinated with birds. I wasn't too into the illustrations, but that's just a personal preference.

The Goose Man: The Story of Konrad Lorenz
Elaine Greenstein
32 pages
Non-Fiction Picture Book
Clarion Books
January 2010
Review copy received from publisher

Testing the Ice: A True Story About Jackie Robinson by Sharon Robinson, illustrated by Kadir Nelson

"When Jackie Robinson moves his family from New York City to Connecticut, the beautiful lake on their property is the center of everyone's fun. The neighborhood children join the Robinson kids for swimming and boating. But oddly, Jackie never goes near the water.

In a dramatic episode that first winter, Jackie is called upon to test the ice on the lake to make sure it's safe for ice-skating. But why, Sharon wonders, is he always so afraid to go near the water?"

I was lucky enough to Sharon Robinson and Kadir Nelson speak about this book at the National Book Festival in September, making the experience in reading it even better. Between the amazing history infused with family relationships and the absolutely awesome work of Kadir Nelson, this book is a must-have.

It was so nice to read a book that incorporated so many different aspects. You get a little baseball, a little African-American history, and a little bit about overcoming your fears. The author's note is really nice too. And goodness, you could stare at Kadir Nelson's work all day (about as long as you could stare at cutie Kadir Nelson!).

Testing the Ice: A True Story About Jackie Robinson
Sharon Robinson
40 pages
Non-Fiction Picture Book
Scholastic Press
October 2009
Review copy received from publisher

Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story, written by Paula Yoo and illustrated by Lin Wang

"Born in 1905, Anna may Wong spent her childhood working in her family's laundry in Los Angeles's Chinatown. Whenever she could afford it, Anna May slipped off to the movies, escaping to a world of adventure, glamour, and excitement. After seeing a film being shot in her neighborhood, young Anna May was hooked. She decided she would become a movie star.

Anna May struggled to pursue an acting career in Hollywood in the 1930s. There were very few roles for Asian Americans, and many were demeaning and stereotypical. Anna May made the most of each limited part. She worked hard and always gave her best performance. Finally, after years of unfulfilling roles, Anna May began crusading for more meaningful roles for herself and other Asian American actors."

This one was really delightful to read! I hang my head as I admit that I had never heard of Anna May Wong, but Yoo did an awesome job at portraying this young woman and definitely peaked my interest into learning more about her.

From her childhood dreams of becoming an actress to the roles she actually stared in, Wong was determined to do her best. The author's note, with an actual photo of Wong, shed even more light on this woman that just had a spark in her eyes. She came from a hard-working family, working in her father's laundry, and became this beautiful star of movies. Quite the story!

I'm going to have to dig up some of her movies to actually watch in her action. Budding actors and actresses should definitely pick this one up. Dreams can come true!

Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story
Paula Yoo
32 pages
Non-Fiction Picture Book
Lee & Low Books
May 2009
Review copy received from publisher

It's a Snap! George Eastman's First Photograph, written by Monica Kulling, illustrated by Bill Slavin

"George Eastman had a new hobby: photography. The year was 1877, and photography was not as easy as you might think. It cost a lot and the equipment was bulky, but George was about to change all that. What he lacked in formal education, George more than made up for in ingenuity: he invented dry plates, film, and the Brownie camera! The rest is history."

George Eastman lived in Rochester, NY, not far from where I grew up, so his story gets a special place in my heart!

Nobody really believed George could succeed at photography, especially because he left school at age 14. Perserverance definitely paid off for him, as he continued to work, determined to make taking photos easier for every day people. He truly changed the way memories were made. And when his inventions made him rich, he made sure to give back to his community, first building a low-cost dental clinic. Pretty nice!

This is a great book to show kids that we didn't always have digital cameras. A nice introduction to a photography unit for younger children.

It's a Snap! George Eastman's First Photograph
Monica Kulling
32 pages
Non-Fiction Picture Book
Tundra Books
August 2009
Review copy received from publisher

In the Belly of an Ox: The Unexpected Photographic Adventures of Richard and Cherry Kearton, written and illustrated by Rebecca Bond

"They would have to be sneaky and clever. They would need veils and disguises. And they would probably have to endure hunger and thirst, insect stings, and rainstorms, and wade through bogs and rope down precipitous cliffs.

But, if the brothers succeeded, they would accomplish something no one ever had before."

Another photography book for you.  And such a fun one...adventurous! These brothers figured out how to best photograph birds, immersing themselves into the bird habitats by designing and building "hides." These camouflaged methods of hiding themselves away from the sight of the animals, some amazing photos were taken, some of which are showcased in the back of the book.

This one was pretty impressive. It was definitely not a story I had heard of before, but their methods are so cool! You could use this book to start all sorts of projects, encouraging your students or children to build their own hides and photograph animals in their environment. Could be a lot of fun!

In the Belly of an Ox: The Unexpected Photographic Adventures of Richard and Cherry Kearton
Rebecca Bond
32 pages
Non-Fiction Picture Book
Houghton Mifflin
November 2009
Review copy received from publisher

Cromwell Dixon's Sky-Cycle, written and illustrated by John Abbott Nez

"The beginning of the twentieth century was a golden age of invention. The electric lightbulb, skyscrapers, and automobiles changed the world forever, but nothing was quite so dramatic as humans' newfound ability to fly.

In the years that followed the Wright brothers' famous flight, countless people caught the fever, and one young boy, Cromwell Dixon, was no different. Cromwell hatched a plan to create an amazing flying bicycle and chased his dream with determination and imagination. In 1907, at the age of fourteen, Cromwell mounted the Sky-Cycle that he had designed and built with the help of his mother, and he flew off into the sky."

This was my favorite read of the day. I loved reading about a young boy with a creative imagination that really wanted to acheive something great, if a bit silly. He worked towards the impossible and indeed succeeded! And seriously, who would have thought to fly a bike?? But it's fun!
I loved the illustrations and the hilarious expressions on some of the characters faces. 

From dreaming about flying things to actually building a flying machine in his backyard, Cromwell Dixon certainly knew what he wanted. Read this one to your imaginative kids and see what you can get them to dream about inventing. Have them draw pictures of what they would like to invent!

Cromwell Dixon's Sky-Cycle
John Abbott Nez
32 pages
Non-Fiction Picture Book
Putnam Juvenile
May 2009
Review copy received from publisher

Thanks for sticking with me through all of those! Hopefully you found something you could utilize in your library or classroom.

To learn more about any of these titles, or to purchase, click on the book cover above to link to Amazon. I am an Associate and will receive a tiny commission for your purchase. Thanks!

1 comment:

3T said...

I feel the same way about Kadir Nelson's artwork - nice to know he is just as stare-worthy:)