I'm Emily Reynolds.
With the weather still too chilly out to be actively engaged in gardening, beach-hopping, and hiking in March, let's delve into BIOGRAPHIES! There are so many incredible retellings of favorite heroes' and heroines' lives, so it's almost ridiculous to pick only six, but here are my half-dozen recommendations to keep us all occupied happily for another month or so!
1) Ordinary, Extraordinary Jane Austen
Written by Deborah Hopkinson,
Illustrated by Qin Leng
What a thrill I had to stumble across such a singular gem online—a picture book biography of everybody’s sweetheart regency writer--ROCKSTAR, JANE AUSTEN!
The following review from Goodreads will whet your appetite so much, you’ll be clamoring out the door this very afternoon to get your hands on a copy at your local library!
Thank you, beloved Goodreads, for telling our bibliophilic friends exactly what they wanted to know about this treasure--much better than I ever could! See the full synopsis at Goodreads here:
However, gentle reader (as Jane might say), you must promise me this one thing for tipping you off with such a piping hot title…COME BACK to the COMMENTS at the bottom after reading the book and leave your impressions of the book with us! Please, pray tell! A ha’penny for your thoughts?
2) Louisa May and Mr. Thoreau's Flute
Written by Julie Dunlap and Marybeth Lorbiecki, Illustrated by Mary Azarian.
As today, March 6th, is the day Louisa May Alcott passed from this world (one hundred and thirty-two years ago) in the year 1888, we’ll celebrate her first steps on her journey
to become the writer we love!
The prose of Louisa May and Mr. Thoreau’s Flute is a delight (“words seemed trapped inside her, like fish under ice”), as are the homey illustrations by one of my favorite Caldecott medalists, Mary Azarian. You can see more of Mary Azarian’s woodsy, gorgeous books here: https://www.maryazarian.com/lightbox2.04/books.html
If you enjoy Little Women in any form (e.g., book, movie, play), you’ll devour this fictionalized tale of how Louisa’s dear friend, Henry David Thoreau, inspired her first attempts at mingling words together--to capture ideas and create poetry.
And the next time, you have two minutes to rub together over a lunch break, here’s a link to a beautifully in-depth editorial review by Publishers Weekly:
Don't forget to COMMENT below if you've already read this book,
and have your own review to share with other Louisa May Alcott fans...
3) The Underground Abductor,
Written and Illustrated by Nathan Hale
Part of the Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales series (https://www.nathanhaleauthor.com/#/hazardous-tales/), this graphic novel is based on the remarkable life and heroic adventures of Harriet Tubman.
This specific title in the set is a perennial favorite of my own kids. I’m talking, someone between the ages of 6-17 is usually reading this book on any given day at our house. (If another sibling hasn’t hogged-it-away under his or her bed first--that's when I haven't loaned it out or hidden it to shake things up a bit!)
One fact about Harriet Tubman brought to light by this book for my family, was that Harriet suffered from narcolepsy. (And I thought it was just a sleep-deprived parent thing. But, no…) The fact that Harriet overcame this major physical obstacle to lead over three hundred souls, through the exposure of the wilderness, for hundreds of collective miles, to freedom…is a wonder.
These books aren’t just loved by kids either. My husband Matt usually indulges in reading the latest arrival to our home collection before the kids do. Some of the books deal with difficult realities such as amputation, or horrific oddities like as cannibalism (e.g., The Donner Dinner Party—we don’t keep that particular book laying out on the shelf just yet—it’s a bit much for our younger set still).
I was too immature in high school to absorb much about the horrific events of the World Wars in my history classes. So again (*I’m blushing*), my first real understanding of the causes, locations, and battles of WWI came through reading Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood by Nathan Hale when my home-schooling sister, Celestia, introduced me to them as an adult. Learning hard core history from visual graphic novels, folks! Hey. It works!
Nathan Hale is a #1 New York Times bestseller, and Eisner nominated writer and illustrator who makes assimilating history like eating a slice of chocolate cake with ganache. You'll see! In fact, the kids are constantly asking when the next installment of the series will be out, so we’ve been known to pre-order them for the closest birthday whenever there’s news of an upcoming release.
(End paper maps with the Relatable Hangman's snark, as well as the historically-fictional Nathan Hale's no-nonsense facts. The perfect blend of fun and learning! I just love it!)
There's clever banter in each book, between The British Provost, the original Nathan Hale (yes indeed, the one and only Revolutionary War spy who said, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country”), and the silly but lovable Hangman. Kids can’t help but seek out these books for more forays into mankind’s fascinating past.
(There's a "Hazard Level" warning on the back cover of each book that tells parents what wild chaos is about to ensue within, while concurrently giving kids a sneak preview.
Interesting side note: Nathan Hale, the author, was born in 1976. Which is certainly why his lovely parents gave him his fabulous name. Could he be a descendent of the Nathan Hale, I wonder...If only the fact-checking babies at the end of each Hazardous Tales book could
COMMENT below to ascertain this fact…
And, if any of you haven’t seen the movie yet, based on Harriet Tubman's uncommon life, here’s a link to a montage of scenes from the powerful film from last fall, Harriet:
4)The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever
Written by H. Joseph Hopkins,
Illustrated by Jill McElmurry
My personal librarian coach--really just my friend Christa (who’s always loaning us magically-obscure books from her own well-stocked home library) introduced me to this story. You can sneak a peek at Christa’s lovely hand-made block print cards here at: http://cardsbychrista.com/.
The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever is the picture book bio of Katherine Olivia Sessions, who grew up more than one hundred years ago among the giant Redwood forests of California. After moving to the stark desserts of San Diego to teach school, “Kate” began her life-long journey to collect and plant hundreds of varieties of palms, ferns, and succulents that would make the coast of California the inviting place it is today.
I remember the first time I traveled to San Diego as an eleven year-old girl, and breathed in the lush atmosphere of a tropical place. It felt as if I was on another planet! Little did I know then, that the whole environment of bright blooms and gorgeous greenery was there because of one
industrious horticulturist—Katherine Olivia Sessions--
and her desire to make her place a greener, more welcoming home.
If you’d like to be reminded of how each life can influence others in positive ways—for generations to come—check out this cool biographical sketch on San Diego’s most beloved gardener:
5) Some Writer! The Story of E. B. White
Written by Melissa Sweet
All right, bookworms! Here's a bouquet of balloons for your Friday! The author/illustrator of this work, the talented Melissa Sweet, was gracious enough to humor me by sharing with us what most impressed her while creating this gift-to-the-world of a biography. In her own words,
"...Because I read all of White’s work, I found interesting things about him every day I worked on this project. But the thing that impressed me the most was his conviction for how he lived his life. He never compromised his integrity or beliefs. That continues to inspire me.
Melissa (you can take a gander at her radiant collage work here: https://www.melissasweet.net/ ) thanks so much for sharing with us a personal insight into what made E.B. White tick as a genuine, salt-of-the-earth human being! Not to mention, what you learned on your own journey to research such a beloved writer.
Reading through Ms. Sweet's book, feels like turning the pages of a sacred family photo album. And being privy to E.B. White's deepest thoughts and journal entries is pretty. cool. indeed. Melissa's genius use of vibrant splashes of contemporary hues, make the book inviting to any generation of readers. I've always loved her design choices, so to see Melissa employ her joie de vivre by illuminating a bio of E.B. White is just joy!
The funny thing is, until reading through this book, I didn't know E.B. White had such strong connections to Maine. His words:
Mr. White, that's the identical buzz I get every time we drive up the forest-lined I-95. After crossing over the Piscataqua River Bridge that connects Portsmouth, New Hampshire and Kittery, Maine, there's something tingly in the air.
Cruising up that long parting of the ocean of towering trees on either side is galvanizing. And the forest--it spreads out over the hills like the thick quilts laid over an old, worn-out bed.
When I first felt the stirrings to put words together on a page for myself...my writing buddy and sister-in-law, Amelia Kynaston, gifted me a yellowed copy of an ancient booklet, entitled, The Elements of Style, by William Strunk, Jr.
Imagine my surprise then, to read Melissa Sweet's account in this book, of how Elwyn (aka, "E.B.," "Elwyn Brooks," or "Andy") studied under Professor William Strunk, Jr., at Cornell University. CRAZY! Amelia and I often used to send one another quotes from our favorite parts of "Strunk," such as one line in particular that Melissa highlights (given as direction to Strunk's students):
"Omit needless words."
And another tried and true favorite,
"If you don't know how to pronounce a word, say it loud!
Tough advice that I obviously still struggle to implement. But so sage, no? My favorite quote of all from the book is what Melissa says of Elwyn's learning to express himself:
(Does anybody else use T.P. to mark their favorite passages in books?)
So, don't forget to put this study of E.B. White's oeuvre on your list to bring home from your next library jaunt! And if you think this book appears too dense for readers who've enjoyed Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little, remember what E.B. says about taking on big things:
"It has been ambitious and plucky of me to attempt to describe what is indescribable...[But] a writer, like an acrobat, must occasionally try a stunt that is too much for him." (Melissa Sweet, pp. 134, Some Writer! The Story of E.B. White)
6) Discovering Nature’s Laws: A Story about Isaac Newton
Written by Laura Purdie Salas,
Illustrated by Emily C.S. Reynolds
If you’ve made it down this far, you are in for a laugh. Because the gorgeous book by Melissa Sweet we just reviewed, makes this last straight-laced little nonfiction piece look like saw dust. And I should know as it was one of my first illustration babies. As I was reconsidering my list of figures whose bios I thought would be enjoyable this week , my titles kept fluxing.
At one point yesterday, I deleted two titles I’ve been planning on since September. Yesterday morning, after filling the 5th spot, I had one last hole to cover for my sixth book to review. I thought, Who else would we all really love to learn about through children’s books? I’ve already got Jane Austen, Louisa May Alcott, Harriet Tubman, Katherine Olivia Sessions, E.B. White. Hmmm…learning about the life of Alfred Einstien or Isaac Newton would be really cool. Wait a minute...I ILLUSTRATED a book about Isaac Newton--you dummkopf, Emily!
In all honesty, that was my actual thought process. I am a discombobulated scatter-brain! How does my family put up with me?! (Maybe I don’t really want to consider
that question right now. Or ever...)
But, here you go anyway, my own self-serving recommendation of my own book! Ha ha! Talk about sheepishness. (Really, though, it's a very out-of-the-way little tome. Your library certainly doesn’t stock it, but…on the rare chance that they do, Laura Purdie Salas (see her 130+ other books here: https://laurasalas.com/) did a great job researching Mr. Newton's life, habits, and personality.
(Young Isaac Newton drawing birds, animals, people, ships, and plants, etc. on his attic bedroom walls at Woolsthorpe Manor near Grantham, England.)
Ms. Salas, serves us up a juicy slice into the life of Isaac Newton’s proverbial fallen apple with her account of his progression from lazy non-farm boy, to fighter in school, to achiever in academia, to being knighted by the Queen. And this book actually makes a decent resource for a third-grader's nonfiction book report...Maybe I'll show it to my own third grader! (I don't know if she's ever noticed it on the shelf in our family room before. It's not exactly Polly Diamond and the Magic Book,
which, she adores, by the way!
From reading the manuscript before illustrating the story, I learned Isaac built sundials in almost every room of the home where he lodged while at school.
"He put pegs right into the walls to show hours. He tied strings along the wall to mark the sun's shadow on different days. Isaac even invented a ceiling dial." (-Laura Purdie Salas, pp. 10, Discovering Nature’s Laws: A Story about Isaac Newton)
And here's an illustration where I forgot to finish drawing-in the pattern on the rug (WHOOPS!):
Anyway, if one of your kids is studying Isaac Newton's Principia and the Laws of Inertia (as my 8th grader is at present--building a Rube Goldberg machine to entirely over-run our living room for a solid week!), chapter 5 has a great explanation of the principle. Enjoy!
Whatever you end up reading this season, DON'T FORGET to enter for a chance at winning a free watercolor painting from my WATERCOLOR GALLERY SALE ITEMS by COMMENTING BELOW on what your all-time favorite biography is--children's picture book, or otherwise! Or tell us all why YOU deserve an original piece of artwork to hang on your walls.
I'll read the comments below anonymously to my kids (without revealing names of friends or family) to give them an unbiased chance at voting on which commenter they think deserves the painting of his or her choice. The winning selection will receive the painting (one of four of their choice) to be announced on the homepage on Friday March 13th!
Happy reading, bookish friends! Can't wait to hear your biography recommendations in the comments below...