Observing nature…

Heckert, Barbara. A Boy, a Mouse, and a Spider: The Story of E.B. White. New York: Christy Ottaviano Books / Henry Holt and Company, 2017.
Who was the author of the classic novel Charlotte’s Web? What was his childhood like?  What challenges did he overcome? What inspired him to write children’s stories? The design of this picture book – illustrated by Caldecott winner Lauren Castillo – is unfortunately weakened by the font, which does not match the style of the pictures. Nevertheless, this biography is still recommended for curious readers 8 years old and up. 

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“There’s no limit to how complicated things can get, on account of one thing always leading to another.” – E.B. White

Reaching the stars…

McCully, Emily Arnold. Caroline’s Comets: A True Story. New York: Holiday House, 2017.
Caroline Herschel was born in Germany in 1750. Her father and brothers were musicians but she – being a girl – was kept busy doing housework. Everything changed when she was 22 years old. She joined her older brother in England and became a professional singer and then an assistant to her brother, who had become an astronomer for King George III. Later, she also earned a salary as an astronomer for the king.  Before she died in 1848, she had discovered 8 comets and become a star among scientists.
Quotations from Caroline’s diary are embedded in this incredible story of the first woman to discover a comet. The gently old-fashioned pen, ink, and watercolour illustrations enhance this picture book biography for readers 9 years old and up.

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Setting the record straight…

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” – Mark Twain

Kerley, Barbara. The Extraordinary Mark Twain (According to Susy). New York: Scholastic Press, 2010.
This is a frank biographer and an honest one; she uses no sandpaper on me.” That’s what Mark Twain said about his own daughter, who secretly – when she was thirteen years old – kept a journal about her adored papa. Author Barbara Kerley tells the whole story in this intriguing picture book biography. Varying-sized fonts, humorous full-page illustrations by Edwin Fotheringham, and sample diary entries complete with misspellings help to tell this delightful account of one of the most well-known American writers. A timeline, author’s note, and tips for writing a biography complete this picture book highly recommended for all who have enjoyed the tales of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. 

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“It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.” 

Picture books for writers

“The human race has one really effective weapon, and that is laughter.”

Humorous stories

Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”

 

Chasing challenges…

Buzzeo, Toni. A Passion for Elephants: The Real Life Adventures of Field Scientist Cynthia Moss. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers, 2015.
Cynthia Moss was not afraid of big things. Born in 1940, she grew up to become on of the most important elephant researchers in the whole world. This colourfully illustrated picture book will be appreciated by readers – and listeners – 7 to 14 years old. The smoothly flowing language and cheerful pictures will inspire writers and artists to create their own works of art. The courage and determination portrayed in this biography will encourage everyone to work hard to reach their goals in life.

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Growing stronger…

Tate, Don. Strong as Sandow: How Eugen Sandow Became the Strongest Man on Earth. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge, 2017.
Eugen was a weakling, small and puny, without any athletic ability to attract fame. Born in Prussia, his father took him to visit art galleries in Italy, where he was astonished at the physiques portrayed in the statues. Could he ever become as strong as those ancient athletes? While his father wanted him to strengthen his mind, he joined the circus in order to strengthen his body. By the time Eugen was in his early twenties, he was ready to challenge the strongest men in the world. In London in 1889, he reached his goal and sailed into the world of fame.
This beautifully written 40-page picture book biography by an award-winning illustrator and former bodybuilder is recommended for readers 8 to 14 years old. It includes a lengthy bibliography and additional information, including exercises to build strength. A great book for action-oriented students who like sports.

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Calling for justice…

Schmidt, Gary D. Martin de Porres: The Rose in the Desert. Boston: Clarion Books, 2012.
His father was a Spanish nobleman. His mother was a slave. Born into poverty and sent to work as a servant, there was no bright future for Martin. But miracles happen. And miracles followed this boy from Peru. The lemon trees he planted bore fruit all year long. The bread he gave to the poor never ran out until everyone was fed. The people he treated were healed.  He quietly died in a monastery in 1639, but miracles continued and he was named as the first black saint in the Americas in 1962. Born to be forgotten, Martin de Porres is now known as the patron saint of social justice. This beautiful picture book biography – illustrated by David Diaz – is highly recommended for people of faith and for all those who carry within themselves a reverence for mystery.

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Making reading fun!

Sierra, Judy. Imagine That! How Dr. Seuss Wrote The Cat in the Hat. New York: Random House, 2017.
Imagine this assignment: write a story that makes reading fun and that uses only 50 different words! That was the inimitable Theodore Geisel’s task in 1954: write something fun for children in the first grade.  Of course, he did it. In fact, he created 47 books in all. This nonfiction picture book illustrated by Kevin Henkes will fascinate readers young and old. And maybe even inspire some budding writers and artists.

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Ideas for making reading fun!

The Boy on Fairfield Street: How Ted Geisel Grew Up to Become Dr. Seuss by Kathleen Krull with paintings by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher (New York: Random House, 2004). A heart-warming picture book biography with softly coloured full-page illustrations and small drawings by Dr. Seuss. The old-fashioned style of the paintings and the gentle rhythm of the words create a story that feels like a memory told by a grandparent. Additional information about Dr. Seuss’s adulthood is provided at the end of the book. Highly recommended for readers and listeners 8 years old and up. (Kathleen Krull has written many biographies, both picture books and chapter books, and they’re all a joy to read. Her flowing style of writing makes the informative content sound like someone talking to you, telling you about someone you might like to meet.)

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