Alary, Laura. The Astronomer Who Questioned Everything: The Story of Maria Mitchell. Kids Can Press, 2022. Unpaged. 978-1-525-30348-7. $18.99. Grades K-3.
This picture book biography is the story of a female pioneer in the fields of both astronomy and education. Maria Mitchell was born on Nantucket Island in 1818. Her father was an astronomer/mathematician and her mother a librarian. As Quakers, they believed in the equality of all people and so they encouraged their daughter’s quest for knowledge. Maria’s father taught the young girl how to use and repair a telescope and nautical instruments. She recorded all her observations in a notebook. As a young woman, she opened a school for the island children and then became a librarian. One day Maria learned that the King of Denmark was offering a prize for the first person to find a new comet. The young astronomer spent hours on the roof searching the skies with her telescope and her perseverance paid off when she sighted one. Maria left for Europe, where she received many accolades and gave lectures to scientific societies. Vassar, a new women’s college, offered her the position of Professor of Astronomy and she accepted. At that time, some opposed college education for women, but Maria was not deterred. She took her students outside to observe the stars and encouraged them to question everything. In the author’s note, Alary provides more details about Mitchell’s life and points out that she was a “woman of firsts”- first female astronomer, scientific consultant hired by the US government, and among the first college professors. Rooney’s artwork is done in collage and has amazing detail.
THOUGHTS: Young inquiring minds will enjoy reading about this scientist who faced challenges and never stopped asking questions. Perfect as a read aloud and for STEM units. This is a must-have for elementary collections.
Biography Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member 92, 921, 520.92
Gutman, Dan. Wait! What? Teddy Roosevelt Was a Moose? Norton Young Readers. 978-1-324-01564-2. 106 p. $16.95. Gr 3-5.
Brother and sister duo Paige and Turner narrate this anything-but-ordinary biography of Teddy Roosevelt. Roosevelt was America’s 26th President, but he is also remembered for his love of animals, his interest in conservation, his hearty appetite, his love of fierce competition, and much, much more. This highly conversational biography includes spot illustrations on almost every page as well as headshots of Paige and Turner, so readers always can tell who is narrating. The siblings talk readers through each stage of Roosevelt’s life in different chapters, highlighting important events from his childhood, presidency, and post-presidency. In addition to traditional, expected facts, they also detail surprising tidbits, such as how he ran his own “Roosevelt Museum of Natural History” when he was a boy and how he enjoyed skinnydipping in the Potomac River. He also is credited for making football a safer sport, for reading a book a day, and for writing textbooks for the US Navy.
THOUGHTS: Hand this title, and others in the “Wait! What?” series, to fans of the “Who Was” biographies and to students who are interested in trivia and off-beat humor.
Kamanda, Ali, and Jorge Redmond. Black Boy, Black Boy: Celebrate the Power of You. Sourcebooks, 2022. 978-1-728-25064-9. 32 p. $17.99. Grades K-2.
Black Boy, Black Boy is a picture book that showcases many famous inspirational men in Black history. Some of them are ones the reader might be familiar with and some are a little lesser known. This book encourages black boys to dream big and become whoever they want to be. At the end of the book, there are short paragraph biographies about each person who is featured in the book. The illustrations are gorgeously done by Ken Daley who has done many other pictures.
THOUGHTS: This book is a must purchase for any elementary or public library collection. This book introduces the reader to famous people they might not be familiar with which makes this book a great starting off point for doing some further reading.
Picture Book Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy
Bonsignore, Gregory. That’s Betty! The Story of Betty White. Henry Holt and Company, 2022. 978-1-250-79660-8. $18.99. 48 p. Grades PreK-3.
When Miss Cruz assigns a presentation on a “trailblazing woman” one student decides he will pick Betty White as his topic. Though his classmates do not know who Betty White is, and his teacher and two dads each try to persuade him to pick a more traditional topic, the unnamed male student sticks to his idea. He adores Betty White and wants to learn more about her life. When our young researcher enlists the assistance of a librarian, he begins to find plenty of material on his unconventional topic choice. As he pours through resources at the library, a smartly dressed woman in a large hat and sunglasses appears from behind the stacks. She knows an awful lot about Betty White and engages the student in discussions about the many trailblazing accomplishments of the pioneering television star. When the student fears his topic may be too different from his peers’ presentations, the woman in the hat encourages him to follow Betty’s example of making unconventional choices and believing in himself. The presentation is a huge success, and the lady from the library even makes a surprise appearance to cheer on the student. It isn’t until she drives away from the school that the teacher, class, and student realize the mystery woman was Betty White herself. Includes timeline and bibliography.
THOUGHTS: Very cute story that does a nice job of highlighting the many accomplishments of Betty White, while subtly championing the causes she held dear – inclusion, diversity, charitable work, and being an LGBTQIA+ ally. Wonderfully detailed illustrations by Jennifer M. Potter. Listed as K-3 this would be a wonderful read aloud for students through 8th grade.
Picture Book Biography Anne McKernan, Council Rock SD
Bryant, Jen. Fall Down Seven Times. Stand Up Eight: Patsy Takemoto Mink and the Fight for Title IX. Quill Tree Books, 2022. 978-0-062-95722-1. $17.99. 48 p. Grades K-4.
Patsy Takemoto was born in the Territory of Hawaii in 1927. Her Japanese-American family taught her about the customs of her heritage. “Fall down seven times, stand up eight” is a traditional Japanese saying. Patsy understood the importance of persevering from a young age. Always eager to learn, Patsy graduated at the top of her high school class and hoped to become a doctor. She attended college at the University of Nebraska, and was shocked to find that although she was born in the United States, she was housed in the dormitory for international students along with other students of color. Patsy advocated for integrated housing and was successful in convincing the University to make a change. Upon graduation Patsy applied to medical schools, but was rejected because she was a woman. The University of Chicago accepted her into their Law School. Patsy graduated and became a lawyer. After marrying and starting a family of her own, Patsy returned to Hawaii and began her career in politics, eventually being elected to the US Senate. Here she co-sponsored Title IX legislation, which gives equal access to federal funded education for women and men throughout the United States. This book is illustrated by Toshiki Nakamura.
THOUGHTS: Patsy Takemoto is an often overlooked American hero. Young audiences may not realize that women have not always been allowed to receive an education. This is an important story that is told in easy to understand language for younger students. The picture book format would work well as a read aloud for secondary students studying the history of our country and women’s rights. The themes of persevering and working hard for equality are prevalent throughout the story.
Picture Book BiographyAnne McKernan, Council Rock SD
Giang, Kristen Mai. The Rise (and Falls) of Jackie Chan. Crown Books for Young Readers, 2022. 978-0-593-12192-4. $18.99. 40 p. Grades PK-3.
Cheng Long, or Jackie Chan as he is more commonly known, was born in China to poor, hard-working parents. Jackie’s father tried to instill the values of discipline and hard work into his young son, but Jackie struggled as a student and often found himself in trouble. When his parents were forced to find work in Australia, Jackie was enrolled in the China Drama Academy where he studied martial arts, acting, singing, and acrobatics for the next ten years. The training was often brutal and other students bullied Jackie, but with hard work and persistence he became one of the Academy’s premier performers, traveling throughout China. As Chinese Opera fell out of popularity, martial arts movies became all the rage. Jackie worked as a stuntman, eventually meeting Bruce Lee. As his career took off, Jackie developed his own style of martial arts stunts infused with a great deal of physical comedy. Illustrated by Alina Chau, with amusing onomatopoeia action words scattered throughout the story. Includes a Glossary of Chinese characters with Mandarin and Cantonese pronunciations, Bibliography, and Author’s Note, which further explores Jackie Chan’s extensive career.
THOUGHTS: This delightful picture book biography has a number of wonderful messages. Hard work and persistence are important, but so are staying true to yourself and sticking up for your friends. A wonderful selection for fans of martial arts, physical comedy, and movie legend Jackie Chan.
Picture Book BiographyAnne McKernan, Council Rock SD
Yang, Kelly, and various illustrators. Yes We Will: Asian Americans Who Shaped this Country. Dial Books for Young Readers, 2022. 978-0-593-46305-5. unpaged. $18.99. Grades K-3.
Yes We Will, a picture book biography by acclaimed middle grade and young adult author Kelly Yang, explores the many ways that Asian Americans have found to belong and thrive in the United States. Yang opens with a little information about the Transcontinental Railroad and the Chinese Exclusion Act, establishing some essential historical context. She then transitions to spotlighting individuals and their accomplishments. Very spare text accompanies showstopping illustrations by fifteen different artists. For example, “We’ll soar to new heights” is paired with Dan Santat’s two-page illustration of NBA player Jeremy Lin flying toward the hoop. Featured individuals include I.M. Pei, Kamala Harris, Vera Wang, Sunisa Lee, Yo-Yo Ma, and many others. Each illustrator’s style is perfectly matched to their subject. An Author’s Note provides more detail on each luminary, including notable quotes, firsts, and awards.
THOUGHTS: While this inspiring book can be read in minutes, it’s worth rereading to fully appreciate the stunning and varied artwork, as well as the range of achievements. Yes We Will is also a great way to kick off biographical research on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders from the past and the present.
Pimentel, Annette Bay. Pura’s Cuentos: How Pura Belpré Reshaped Libraries with Her Stories. Abrams, 2021. 978-1-419-74941-4. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades PreK-2.
Born in Puerto Rico, Pura Belpré grew up listening to her aubeula’s stories. When, as an adult, Puera left the island to move to New York City, she carried the stories of her aubeula and her homeland with her. In New York, Puera found a job at the 135th Street Library working with children. Belpré loved leading storytimes at the library, but rules said she could only tell stories from printed books. This meant the wonderful stories of her youth told to her by her abuela could not be shared because they were not written down. When she makes her case to her bosses, they agree that she can share her stories. Soon Puera is conducting outreach to the surrounding community, inviting all children to the library where she regularly leads bilingual storytimes, telling cuentos, some from print books, others not. Eventually Belpré wrote her stories down in book form and they were published, reaching an even wider population. Pimentel’s lyrical retelling of Puera Belpré’s story will introduce this important figure in librarianship to new audiences. The text is primarily in English, but Spanish words and phrases are incorporated at various points throughout the story. Magaly Morales’ vibrant digital illustrations capture Belpre’s energy when storytelling and interacting with children.
THOUGHTS: This engaging biography shines a spotlight on an important figure in librarianship. Belpre was a trailblazer who strove to make public libraries more inclusive and welcoming to all. This title would pair well with Belpre’s story Pérez y Martina, which is referenced several times in Puera’s Cuentos.
Todd, Traci N. Nina: A Story of Nina Simone. Christian Robinson, illustrator. G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2021. 978-1-524-73728-3 p. 56 p. $18.99. Grades 2-5.
The world knew her as Nina Simone, but she was born Eunice Katherine Waymon. Born in North Carolina to a family that surrounded themselves with music, Eunice learned to play the piano very early. She was a musical child that would find rhythm in all aspects of her life, playing piano at the church where her Mama preached or playing Jazz music with her Papa at home. Author Traci N. Todd and illustrator Christian Robinson have created a gorgeous picture book biography about the life of Nina Simone. With a supportive family and community and an influential piano teacher, Nina started playing and singing in bars and concert halls. Audiences were enthralled with her sweet and soulful voice. But as the Civil Rights Movement gained momentum, Nina’s voice took on a powerful tone, almost booming, and her music became a powerful protest against racial inequities. She was known not only as a brilliant musician but an influential activist. Amplifying Nina’s humanity with direct and straightforward text and bold and brilliant artwork, Todd and Robinson created a compelling and masterful piece of art. The ending is powerful, perfect, and hopeful.
THOUGHTS: This picture book is so attractive, and it pulls the reader into each page with the story and the illustrations. Learning about Nina and her life from childhood to adulthood was a joy! From the dedication at the beginning of the book to the author’s note in the back of the book, there is much to absorb! I was sad to see it end! This book is recognized as a 2022 ALA Notable Children’s Book and has received several other accolades and praises. Nina should not be missed!
Borden, Louise. Full Speed Ahead! America’s First Admiral: David Glasgow Farragut. Calkins Creek, 2021. 978-1-684-37905-7. 224 p. $18.99. Grades 5-9.
“Full speed ahead!”…it’s probably a phrase that most of us have heard before. Yet many may not know that this phrase became part of American popular culture after it was spoken in a Civil War naval battle by Union Rear Admiral David Farragut. Author Louise Borden chronicles Farragut’s life and career in her biography in verse Full Speed Ahead! Farragut first joined the navy as a midshipman at age nine. He steadily rose through the ranks and distinguished himself on missions around the world, including in the War of 1812, in the Caribbean, around Cape Horn, and in the Atlantic. When the Civil War broke out, Farragut devoted himself to the Union cause. He led the naval fleets that captured the Confederate strongholds of New Orleans and Mobile Bay. After the war, he was promoted once more and became the first ever Admiral in U.S. Naval history. The text is supplemented by numerous photographs, paintings, drawings, letters, and maps.
THOUGHTS: A biography told in verse of a 19th century naval hero might not be the first choice of those browsing the library shelves, so some booktalking may be required for this title. But history buffs who take a chance on the title will be rewarded with an engaging life story of an American hero. An additional purchase for libraries with history fans.