Just Like Beverly

Conrad, Vicki. Just Like Beverly. Seattle, Washington: Little Bigfoot, an imprint of Sasquatch Books, 2019.
Runaway Ralph. Ramona the Pest. Henry and Ribsy. Most readers know these characters so well that they almost seem like real people in our memories. But who was their creator? Who was Beverly Cleary? A little farm girl who didn’t like reading and wasn’t good at it until her second grade teacher kindly helped her learn. Then her mother gave her a book with characters who were funny and had adventures, who reminded her of her own life, and she finally discovered the joy of reading. But how did she become a writer? This picture book biography – appended with six pages of additional information and a timeline – is cheerfully recommended for everyone who has enjoyed Cleary’s wonderful classics of children’s literature.

More biographies of writers

A Life Electric

Westergaard, Azadeh. A Life Electric: The Story of Nikola Tesla. New York: Viking, 2021.
When people think of a Tesla, they think of a car that is very expensive. But who was the real Tesla? Was he wealthy?
Born in 1856 in a small village high in the mountains of what is now Croatia, young Nikola loved animals and books and coming up with inventions. When he was twenty-six, he he had a new idea: a motor that could send electric currents forward and backward along a wire. We now know that as alternating current and Nikola Tesla was the person who invented the AC induction motor. But even though he moved to America and patented many electrical inventions, he never became wealthy. Why? This picture book biography – with extensive additional information and a bibliography – provides the answer. It tells the story of a man with an incredible mind who became known for his kindness towards all living creatures. Highly recommended for readers 7 years old and up.

More books to expand your general knowledge

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The Crayon Man

Biebow, Natascha. The Crayon Man. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019.
Coloured oil pastel pencils were invented in 1834 by the Staedtler company. Coloured art pencils were invented in 1924 by Faber-Castell and Caran d’Ache. In between those two dates – in 1903 – coloured wax crayons were invented by Edwin Binney, a man who loved colour. Binney had already invented an inexpensive gray slate pencil and a white chalk pencil that wasn’t dusty. He’d invented a wax crayon, but it was black and he wanted colour. So he and a team experimented using ground up rocks and minerals. They tried adding clay and wax. They tried heating the mixtures and letting them slowly cool. Finally, they were ready with a box of eight: blue, brown, green, orange, red, violet, yellow, and – of course – black. Crayola crayons became famous!
Supplemented by a two-page illustrated step-by-step explanation of how crayons are still made in Pennsylvania, a one-page biography of additional information about Binney, and a bibliography for curious readers, this picture book is happily recommended for readers six to eleven years old. 

P.S. As a source of information for students doing research to expand their general knowledge, this book is great. As a read-aloud for young children, it will still be interesting but the small boxes of additional information in a smaller font on six of the pages disrupt the flow of the story. I wish that the author had found a way to either include the information in the main text or put it in an appendix. I also wish the designer of the book had chosen a more cheerful font for the story. But otherwise, this is a wonderful biography to encourage readers to be curious about the everyday objects all around them. 

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A way to use picture books with students in grades 6 to 8

Do You Remember?

Smith, Sydney. Do You Remember? Toronto: Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press, 2023.
How do we hold on to the ones we love once they are gone? By remembering them. By sharing our memories with the people who are still with us. By recalling events that once seemed insignificant but now have become precious. This deeply touching picture book by an award-winning author and illustrator tells the story of a young boy remembering his father. Snuggled up together with his mother in a new apartment, the two of them quietly recall a picnic, a birthday, a move to a new city. Softly coloured illustrations – sometimes with no words – help to tell a story of loss and resilience for readers five years old and up. Most highly recommended.

More books illustrated by Sydney Smith

More books about grief

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