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Seriously, you should totally read this.

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Mind Your Manners, Alice Roosevelt! by Leslie Kimmelman

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Kimmelman, L., & Gustavson, A. (ill.) (2009). Mind your manners, Alice Roosevelt!. Atlanta: Peachtree. ISBN: 9781561454921

Annotation: Teddy Roosevelt could handle almost anything. Except his oldest daughter, Alice, who liked to break rules and get into mischief.

Reaction: This picture book is as much about Teddy as about Alice, but it did have some fun facts about the President’s daughter, including that she owned a pet snake at one point!

The art is detailed and reflects the mischievousness of Alice and the whole of Roosevelt family. Gustavson’s depictions of Alice and her family’s antics are really my favorite part of the book, making it a much more enjoyable read than the text alone.

This book is not quite as much fun as What To Do About Alice, which focused more on Alice’s exploits rather than her father trying to get her to behave, but it was a good read. I enjoyed the way it depicted the family, and I think it’s always fun to see “behind the scenes” in the lives of famous people.

Media Used: Oil on prepared paper

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Stitches by David Small

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Small, D. (2009). Stitches: a memoir. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN: 9780393068573

Annotation: At 14, David is taken into surgery to have a lump in his throat removed. After two surgeries, he wakes up to find one of his vocal chords has been removed, he can’t talk and he has a huge scar across his throat. Then he discovers that his parents are hiding the fact that the lump was cancerous.

Reaction: I wasn’t expecting to like this book; I didn’t really know what it was about, but something about the blurb on the cover turned me off, not that I can remember now what it was. But some of my Picture Books classmates really enjoyed it, since I already had it checked out, I figured I might as well read it. I was quite pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this quiet, moving memoir. Small’s story is a little heartbreaking, but it’s also a little heroic. He managed to work through his family issues and become a successful illustrator and author.

His illustrations in this are beautiful and set the tone for the story. He allows the pictures to handle all the descriptive heavy lifting, using short declarative sentences for most of the book. I love the grey washes that are the only color; it adds to the feeling of melancholy that pervades most of the story.

I would recommend this for graphic novel loving high school kids. The themes and tone are a bit mature; nothing really offensive, but just really heavy subject matter.

Media Used: None listed, but it appears to be ink and watercolor, similar to So You Want to be President?

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Jazz Age Josephine by Jonah Winter

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Winter, J., & Priceman, M. (ill.) (2012). Jazz Age Josephine. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers. ISBN: 9781416961239

Annotation: Josephine was a natural performer and became a hit on Broadway, but as an African American woman in the 1920’s, she only received humiliating roles. So she moved to Paris, where she was embraced as a symbol of the American Jazz Age.

Reaction: I didn’t know anything about Josephine Baker before reading this story, but as I learn more, her life was fascinating. She used her natural skills to change her own life, and she held onto her dignity by not performing the degrading acts New York audiences wanted to see. She became hugely famous in France, and then had a major role in the 1960’s Civil Rights movement. More than that, Wikipedia says she helped the French Resistance in WWII and earned a military honor. I feel like this is a woman that more schools should teach, as she is a great role model. I think this book would be great to use in a classroom to teach 5th graders about different styles of poetry as well as history of both the 1920’s and as a segue into the Civil Rights Movement.

This is a long poem, full of repetition, rhythm and rhyme. Winter’s style and Priceman’s illustrations made me think of those fast, frantic jazz songs. It felt like a scene in some movie, a whirlwind of sound and movement. I love the way Winter includes onomatopoeia by spelling out the jazz music Josephine dances to in Paris: “Boh doh doh-dee-oh,” “boodle-am boodle-am boodle-am SHAKE!” and more.

I loved Priceman’s art in this book. She used lots of bright colors and fluid lines to get across the tone of the story and movement that makes up Josephine Baker’s history. The reader can imagine all the illustrations going on to finish the dance steps drawn. The art is full of energy and excitement. Also, looking at pictures of Josephine, Priceman really captured her smile and expressive eyes.

Media Used: Gouache and ink

Author’s Website: None

Illustrator’s Website: None


Jimi: Sounds Like a Rainbow by Gary Golio

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Golio, G., & Steptoe, J. (ill.) (2012). Jimi: Sounds like a rainbow: a story of the young Jimi Hendrix. Boston: Clarion Books. ISBN: 9780618852796

Annotation: Growing up in Seattle, Jimmy Hendrix saw music and colors all around him, and when he received his first guitar, he learned how to combine the two into a new experience. Forty years after his death, his music is still influential in the lives of many.

Reaction: I am pretty familiar with Jimi Hendrix’s music, though not what I would necessarily consider a fan (in the “fanatical” sense of the word), but no one can deny the effect his music has on it’s listeners. He uses his guitar in ways that very few people today are able to, and he pulls huge emotion from the strings. I LOVE that people are writing picture books about artists like him, and I will definitely be on the lookout for books about other influential, modern musicians.

This is a fascinating look at his early life and the circumstances that lead him to becoming one of the greatest guitarists in the world. I immediately handed it to my Feller because he’s a lover of Jimi’s music and would enjoy reading such a short biography. Golio presents a lot of information about Hendrix that the casual fan, like myself, wouldn’t know and gives a quick, easy to digest description of where he came from.

The mixed media illustrations are eclectic and cluttered, in the best possible way, creating almost abstract scenes from Hendrix’s life. I like the way Steptoe distinguishes the people from the background on what appears to be light, thin pieces of wood or cardboard. I love the way the book changed orientation to fit the lake scene and its crazy array of colors. Steptoe uses lots of bold colors and patterns to illustrate Hendrix’s dream of painting with sound, and it fits with the sound Jimi’s music. I also enjoy the way the text sometimes waves across the page like music floating on the air.

I think it would be fun to read this book to a class of 4th-6th graders as part of a music segment with Hendrix music playing in the background. The class could discuss his music and history, and since the author includes resources about alcohol and substance abuse, also talk about the dangers of alcohol and drugs.

Media Used: Mixed media

Author’s Website

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The Watcher by Jeanette Winter

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Winter, J. (2011). The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s life with the chimps. New York: Schwartz & Wade Books. ISBN: 9780375867743

Annotation: Even as a child, Jane Goodall was a watcher. She wanted to learn things no one ever had, and she set off for Africa to live with the chimpanzees and learn everything she could about them.

Reaction: The illustrations are simple and a little cartoony, which isn’t a bad thing, and the colors used are lovely. Winter uses a lot of teals, blues and greens, giving the art a warm and peaceful feeling, like looking at pictures of tropical paradises. All the scenes of just Goodall with the chimps allow the reader to sort of feel what it might be like to be in her position: no other people around, no modern comforts, but not lonely and enjoying the wilderness.

This book could be used in 4th or 5th grade as part of science unit on animals. Goodall is the premier knowledge on chimpanzees, and this could be read alongside a class learning about primates to introduce the students to the scientist behind what people know.

One of the things that I really enjoy about picture book biographies is the way they have introduced me to so many different historical figures that I had never heard of before or knew very little about. These books are a great opportunity to give kids (and adults!) a quick overview of someone awesome without having to devote a lot of time or effort to a more traditional, long biography. I feel like picture book biographies are an ideal way to interest readers, particularly reluctant readers, in learning more about historical figures and time periods. And since the books are generally so short, it’s easy to give kids book after book until they find something that really clicks with them.

Media Used: Acrylic paint and pen

Author’s Website: None

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Nurse, Soldier, Spy by Marissa Moss

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Moss, M., & Hendrix, J. (ill.) (2011). Nurse, soldier, spy: the story of Sarah Edmonds, a Civil War hero. New York: Abrams Books for Young Readers. ISBN: 9780810997356

Annotation: After finding a home in the United States, Frank Thompson was eager to join the Union Army. What the Army didn’t know was that Frank was really Sarah, who went on to become a valued soldier and did many jobs, including spying on the Confederates.

Reaction: Sarah Emma Edmonds has a fascinating story, and I find it pretty amazing how long she was able to masquerade as a man. She was strong and brave and demonstrated the kind of attitude and drive that we should teach all our children to have. I enjoyed how much of her spirit Moss and Hendrix were able to communicate. Moss describes the beginning of her adventures in the Union Army, which seems to just be the beginning of Edmonds’ exciting life. I think it would fascinating to read more about her and the other women who were involved in the Civil War as soldiers and spies.

The illustrations are bright, hopeful and exciting. And I LOVE the way he used hand-drawn typography from Civil War-era posters to accent the text. It breaks it up and adds some excitement to Moss’s writing.

This book could be used in a 5th grade Civil War unit. The author includes a lot of factual information at the back of the book, as well as a glossary of terms that might be unfamiliar, a bibliography and an index.

Media Used: Pen and ink with fluid acrylic washes on Strathmore Velum Bristol.

Author’s Website

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Mermaid Queen by Shana Corey

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Corey, S., & Fotheringham, E. (ill.) (2009). Mermaid Queen: the spectacular true story of Annette Kellerman, who swam her way to fame, fortune, & swimsuit history!. Location: Publisher. ISBN: 9780439698351

Annotation: Annette Kellerman was one of the early female athletes, learning to swim at a young age to help strengthen her legs. She swam in exhibitions all over the world and pioneered modern women’s swimwear.

Reaction: I sought out this book because I loved all the other books illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham. It was just an added bonus that this one also happened to be about a sassy lady who challenged society’s expectations for women. I had also really enjoyed Here Come the Girl Scouts! by Shana Corey, who seems to have a penchant for writing about strong, real life heroines to whom young readers can look up. This is a Good Thing.

I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I’ll say it again, but it’s so important for girls to have good role models. Adults need to be aware of putting materials in front of kids that feature women being strong, smart and capable, doing things that just Weren’t Done to encourage Kids Today to keep reaching for better and more.

Kellerman found something she loved doing and spent her life traveling the globe trying to make people understand her passion. She encouraged the use of swimming to provide women with exercise to better their health, and when the heavy, bulky women’s swimsuits got in the way, she designed a new suit to make swimming easier and more comfortable, while also preserving a woman’s modesty.

I love Fotheringham’s art in this. He uses lots of bright, bold colors in his backgrounds and employs lots of water inspired imagery to create the feeling of fluidity in his illustrations. His art is playful and fun and he captures the essence of Kellerman’s spirit.

Media Used: Digital Media

Author’s Website

Illustrator’s Website