Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Picture book biographies that are worth a look

The current Ansel Adams exhibit at the MFA reminded me of a favorite picture book biography: Antsy Ansel: Ansel Adams,  A Life in Nature by Cindy Jenson-Elliott and Christy Hale. The biography tells the reader of Adams' struggles as a traditional student which caused his parents to choose to homeschool him. He discovered photography, particularly outdoor photography, as a way to channel his energy. The book provides wonderful opportunities for discussion and for children of all ages to find something in common with this famous photographer. It gives hope to those who may find school challenging, too!

Girl Running by Annette Bay Pimentel, illustrated by Micha Archer is another picture book biography with a lesson in persistence embedded in it. It tells the story of Bobbi Gibb, the first woman to run the Boston Marathon. Despite a rule prohibiting women from running the race, Gibb chose to train herself for the challenge and slipped into the 1966 running of the Marathon. Readers will find illustrations of familiar places along the route and will note the names of many female runners who followed in Bobbi Gibb's footsteps at the end of the book.

The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life by Lois Ehlert is actually an autobiography of the children's book author/ illustrator. She gives us a glimpse into the ways she creates her beautiful collage illustrations and encourages students to start creating right now! This will be a first grade read aloud in the upcoming weeks after we've read several of Ehlert's picture books. Students like to get an inside look into the life of an author/ illustrator and this picture book is particularly engaging.

We also just added this beautiful narrative about Maria Merian to our collection-- The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian's Art Changed Science by Joyce Sidman. Merian grew up in Germany in the 1600s and was fascinated by the insects she saw. She started drawing what she noticed about them and thanks to her careful and detailed illustrations, scientists were able to expand their knowledge of the life cycle of butterflies and other insects. It's incredible that at a time when women couldn't attend universities, Merian figured out a way to pursue her passion and even publish her illustrations! The illustrations in the book (which include some of Merian's scientific drawings) are numerous and beautiful to browse!

Midnight Teacher: Lilly Ann Granderson and Her Secret School by Janet Halfman and London Ladd profiles Granderson, an enslaved person, who learned to read and write alongside the children in her master's house. She then passed on these literacy lessons to other enslaved people at a time when it was illegal to teach slaves to read and write. She persisted in instructing others in secret until she was lawfully able to run a small school of her own. Her students went on to teach others and form their own schools--her lessons reached far beyond her secret school.

These are just a sampling of the excellent biographies that are being published for children of all ages.