Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, is introduced to a new generation in this vibrant picture book. While this biography is brief, it succeeds in conveying the essence of Franklin’s life. The oil paint illustrations by Frank Morrison draw readers into the story, their richness implying the importance of her family, faith, community and music. The rhyming couplets on each two-page spread succinctly summarize aspects of Franklin’s history, the rhyme scheme unifying the book. Understandably, the abbreviated format does not allow for deeper exploration of her life, and no mention is made of darker events such as her parents’ separation, her mother’s death before Aretha was 10 years old, or the children she bore at age 12 and 14. (The information about her parents is mentioned in the Author’s Note following the story text.) The book accomplishes its intended purpose beautifully, celebrating the life of a revered talent. Hopefully a nearby adult will pair a reading of the book with an introduction to Franklin’s glorious music.
THOUGHTS: A lush, inspiring introduction to a musical icon and activist. With a motion picture biography slated for release in August 2021, this could be a timely purchase.
Novesky, Amy. Girl on a Motorcycle. Viking, 2020. 978-0-593-11629-6. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-5.
In 1973, a young woman in Paris dreams of seeing the world. So she gets on her motorcycle and takes off, becoming the first woman to solo circumnavigate the world on a motorcycle. This is the story of Anne-France Dautheville and her remarkable journey. Beginning in Canada, the 28-year-old white woman rides across North America, Japan, India, on to Turkey, back to Europe, and eventually, home. Anne-France’s magnificent style shines through the poetic text and gorgeous, soft-hued, yet bold illustrations. Her path leads her through myriad cultures and experiences. “I want the world to be beautiful, and it is beautiful. I want people to be good, and they are good.” This book will certainly ignite wonder and curiosity about the world and its people in readers, as well as deep admiration for Anne-France.
THOUGHTS: A beautiful book that does justice to a remarkable woman. In addition, it is a much needed reminder that the world is, indeed, beautiful and good. Highly recommended for elementary libraries.
Fulton, Kristen. Flight for Freedom: The Wetzel Family’s Daring Escape from East Germany. Chronicle Books, 2020. 978-1-452-14960-8. $17.99. Grades 2-4.
There are two sides in Germany, the right side and the wrong side. Peter is aware that he was born on the wrong side of Germany, where there are more strict rules and uncomfortable uniforms, and having nice food can be near impossible. While other kids can be watching cartoons on the right side of the wall, Peter is watching news stories and programs. Peter, however, has found the secret his parents have hidden away. With his family, Peter knows that life can be different and will be different for them. Each night, Peter and his family go into the attic to slowly piece together their way to freedom… through a hot air balloon.
THOUGHTS: The illustrations in this book are absolutely stunning. The back of the book contains real information on the hot air balloon the Wetzel family created to help secure their freedom. Older readers will appreciate the story and the history behind it.
325 International MigrationRachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD
Bruchac, Joseph. One Real American: The Life of Ely S. Parker. Abrams, 2020. 978-1-419-74657-4. 242 p. $18.99. Grades 5-10.
Abenaki author Joseph Bruchac chronicles the unique life of Ely Parker in this engaging biography. Parker (given the Senaca name Ha-sa-no-an-da at birth) was born on the Tonawanda Seneca Reservation in western New York in 1828. Educated in “English” schools, he became a translator for his tribal leaders in their negotiations with the United States government while still a teenager. Though he wanted to become a lawyer, racist policies of the time kept him from achieving this goal. Instead, Parker became an engineer, working on canals in various states. During the Civil War, Ely received a commission in the Union Army where he served as a general, working on engineering projects as well as administrative tasks. He was soon promoted to General Grant’s personal secretary. It was in this capacity that Ely Parker found himself present in the room at Appomattox when Lee surrendered to Grant. The official terms of the surrender were written in Parker’s own hand. Following the war, he continued his association with Grant, serving as commissioner of Indian Affairs during Grant’s presidency. Bruchac incorporates numerous quotes from Ely’s extensive writings within the text and numerous photographs accompany the text.
THOUGHTS: Despite his many accomplishments, Ely Parker is little known today. Hopefully this title helps to rectify this situation. Sure to be a hit with biography fans or Civil War researchers, this title deserves a spot on library shelves. Highly Recommended.
Moss, Caroline. Become a Leader Like Michelle Obama (Work It, Girl). Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2020. $15.99. 978-0-711-24518-1. 56 p. Grades 3-6.
A beautiful, appealing biography on Michelle Obama. The text details Michelle Obama’s life from her early years living with extended family in a tiny Chicago house to her role as First Lady and beyond. Moss’s narrative writing is easy to read and really brings Michelle to life but does, of course, take some liberties as readers follow Michelle through her days that include imagined thoughts and conversations. Interesting back matter includes a section called “Become a leader like Michelle! 10 Key Lessons from Michelle Obama’s Life” that highlight points like, “Not everyone needs to believe in you if you believe in yourself,” and “New friends can help you grow!” along with examples of these points from Michelle’s life. There are also questions to check for understanding and resources for further reading. Sinem Erkas’s illustrations, done in paper, add color and fun to the book.
THOUGHTS: Young readers will enjoy the narrative writing style and enjoy learning about Michelle Obama.
Bullaro, Angie. Breaking the Ice: The True Story of the First Woman to Play in the National Hockey League. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2020. $18.99. Unpaged. Grades 3-6.
Manon Rhéaume began playing backyard hockey with her brothers before the age of 5, but it wasn’t until her dad’s team needed a goalie that Manon started playing on a real team. In fact, Manon’s father told her to keep the goalie mask on before taking the ice because people weren’t ready to see a girl play on a boys’ team in 1977. By 1984, Manon’s talent spoke for itself. She was the first girl to play in the prestigious Quebec International Pee-Wee Hockey Tournament, and she continued to prove critics wrong as she played at higher and higher levels of boys’ and men’s hockey. In 1992 Manon became the first woman to play a game in any of the four men’s major US professional sports when she played in a preseason game with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Angie Bullaro’s picture book biography nicely details Manon’s hard work, courage, and perseverance in making her hockey dreams come true. An Afterword by Manon herself encourages readers to work hard no matter what, saying “Don’t let ‘no’ stop you.”
THOUGHTS: An interesting addition to picture book biography collections.
Turk, Evan. A Thousand Glass Flowers. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2020. Unpaged. 978-1-534-41034-3. $17.99. Grades K-2
This nonfiction biography tells the story of Marietta Barovier who came from a family of glassblowers, and her journey to becoming the first woman given permission to open her own furnace in Venice. The story begins with her as a small girl watching her father create glass until he allows her to try, and her passion for glassmaking grows from there. The end of the book contains an author’s note, which really adds to the story as there is not much known of her, because glassblowing was a male dominated industry. Marietta is credited with creating the rosetta bead, which was used as a currency!
THOUGHTS: This is a wonderfully illustrated biography that will introduce readers to Marietta Barovier and the world of glassblowing.
Biography Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy
Denise, Anika Aldamuy. A Girl Named Rosita: The Story of Rita Moreno, Actor, Singer, Dancer, Trailblazer! Harper, 2020. 978-0-062-87770-3. 40 p. $17.99. Grades K-3.
Rosita Alverio lives between a mountain and a rainforest in Puerto Rico. But soon after turning five, she and her mother board a steamship bound for America and a new life. In order to make ends meet, her mother works as a sweatshop seamstress. It is not a lot of money, but there is enough to spare so Rosita can take dance lessons. With her perfect twirls and her charismatic charm, Rosita quickly becomes a minor celebrity. She dances for the troops, acts on the radio, and even records Spanish versions of hit Hollywood movies. But soon, Rosita’s life changes when she meets with Louis B. Mayer, the head of MGM film studios. Shortly after, she becomes Rita Moreno and goes on to become one of the most famous Latinx stars in the world.
THOUGHTS: Fans of Rita Moreno will love this book as it gives a glimpse into the star’s life before fame. However, even readers who do not know of Moreno will appreciate her journey: a real life rags-to-riches story with a Latinx person at the center of it all. Leo Espinosa’s stunning illustrations make it seem as though Moreno is twirling off the page. This is a must-have for elementary librarians looking to expand their biography section.
921 Rita Moreno Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD
Sanchez Vegara, Maria Isabel. Astrid Lindgren. (Little People, Big Dreams). Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2020. 978-0-711-25217-2. $15.99 ea. $912.26 set of 66. Unpaged. Grades K-3.
Astrid Lindgren grew up on a farm in Sweden with her parents and siblings having an idyllic childhood. When she learned to read, however, her world changed and opened up beyond her small farm in Sweden. The book follows Astrid as she grows up and gets married and has children of her own. Karin, Astrid’s daughter, asked for a story about a girl she had named Pippi Longstocking, and Astrid’s career as an author began! At the end of the book, there is a timeline of Astrid Lindgren’s life including pictures from her life, and more information about Astrid’s life.
THOUGHTS: This is a great introductory biography that is a must have for an elementary school collection, especially with the wide range of biographies to pick from in the series.
Biography Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy
Tanzer, Myles. Music Is My Life: Soundtrack Your Mood with 80 Artists for Every Occasion. Wide Eyed Editions, 2020. 978-0-711-24918-9. $19.97. 111 p. Grades 6-12.
Music is my Life was created to help music lovers find more artists to love. Artists are grouped together within chapters titled Get Pumped Up With, Focus With, Fall in Love to, and more. Each artist is featured in a full page spread with biographical information, song suggestions, and information about how each artist’s music will make the listener feel. Every artist is colorfully illustrated in a way that makes the person or band feel accessible and exciting regardless of age or the style of music they produce. Artists include Ariana Grande, Carole King, Prince, Chance the Rapper, and ABBA.
THOUGHTS: A fresh addition to any school library collection seeking to update their music and biography collections. Music is my Life achieves its purpose and those who read it will feel more connected to music than ever before.