For some reason, I tend to gravitate towards biographical picture books. It’s weird, because, unlike Lin-Manuel Miranda, I don’t read
many biographies. I mean, wikipedia exists so why bother? Anyway, let’s do this.
If you want more explanation as to what these posts are about, click here.
Young Frederick Douglass: The Slave Who Learned to Read (1994) by Linda Walvoord Girard / Paintings by Colin Bootman: Let’s start with the positives. The best thing about this book are the “paintings.” They’re big, bold and detailed, particularly in regards to the characters’ faces and what they’re feeling. I could have spent another half an hour pouring over the pictures. Overall, this is a great book about Frederick Douglass’s life and his quest for “literacy.” There are definitely lessons young people could learn from Douglass’s dedication. I just feel like the “story” ended a bit abruptly. It pretty much ends with an escaped Douglass reaching New York. Walvoord provides a nice, concise little summary of the rest of Douglass’s life, but I wish more on Douglass’s achievements after freedom could have been incorporated in the picture book more. Frankly, I think the play Ossie Davis wrote a couple decades before this book does a better job in detailing Douglass’s life for young people. But, hey, that book doesn’t have lovely pictures.
Touch the Sky: Alice Coachman, Olympic High Jumper (2012) by Ann Malaspina / Illustrations by Eric Velasquez: As the title says, this book is about Alice Coachman, who became the first black woman to win an Olympic Gold Medal in 1948. This is a lovely story, told through a breezy, yet inspirational, free verse by Malaspina. The oil paintings are filled with action and fluidity. Overall, this is a perfect book. I don’t think there’s anything I would change. The book was published a couple years before Coachman passed away so it doesn’t mention her death. Otherwise, this book does a great job detailing this woman’s background and accomplishments.
Hoop Genius: How a Desperate Teacher and a Rowdy Gym Class Invented Basketball (2013) by John Coy / Illustrations by Joe Morse: This book is about James Naismith, who invented a little game called basketball in 1891 for a college in Massachusetts. The book is simple, an easy read for a 7 or 8 year old. It’s an interesting story (a story I was familiar with before I read this). However…I gotta be honest…I wasn’t feeling the illustrations. They’re strange, jarring,block-y, and lack emotion or even movement. All the “students” look like buffed up middle aged men. I like Morse’s use of color (making the faces “black and white”while making the clothes colored red and blue.) But the actual drawings themselves…not feeling them. So, I wouldn’t fully recommend this one, but, again, it’s an interesting story and I can’t imagine there being many other picture books about it.
Basketball Belles: How Two Teams and One Scrappy Player Put Women’s Hoops on the Map (2011) by Sue Macy / Illustrated by Matt Collins: This book, narrated by player Agnes Morley, gives an account of the first intercollegiate women’s basketball game in 1896. I think this book is more successful than the book above. One, I really love the text in this book. It’s in first person and it reads like narration. I could almost hear Morley tell this story in her own words. And two, the pictures, big, bright and colorful, are really well done. It’s funny seeing how women dressed to play basketball (with their long sleeves sweaters, high socks and bloomers). The story is self-contained, simple, and actually pretty exciting for 32 pages. It definitely gets an “A” from me.
Ida, Always (2016) by Caron Levis an Charles Santoso: So…this was a tearjerker. And, my experience reading it was especially poignant considering I read this the day after the Orlando shooting. This beautiful picture book based on a true story is about two polar bears, Gus and Ida, who live in a zoo in the center of a big city. When it becomes clear that Ida’s going to die soon, Gus has to find a way to deal with the ultimate death of his best friend. It’s a beautiful story about life, death, friendship, love, sadness and memories. And I think this is the perfect book to give to children, because it talks about death in a sensitive and uplifting, yet straightforward, way. Levis’s text is well written. Santoso’s digital illustrations are Caldecott-worthy. I mean, the polar bears looked so real, not at all cartoony. I could see myself in these animals. This is a book that will probably make a lot of “Best of” lists at the end of the year. And I’m thankful my library was able to grab a copy, even though it only came out a few months ago. But…I might just purchase a copy for myself!