Going through the new books arriving on my library’s shelf this morning, I see a theme. Not only of biographies aimed at children, but also of absolutely FABULOUS illustrations with use of amazing colour. So much so, that I’m dedicating this post not only to the newest biographies for children that have come out this year and feature a varied and outstanding assemblage of noteworthy people from history, but also to the illustrators of these biographies.
These are ones to look out for and pick off the shelf if you see them.
Here we go.
Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters by Michael Mahn
Illustrator: Evan Turk
So this is the story (biography) of Muddy Waters and his rise to fame from a segregated country community to the bustling streets of Chicago. The book deals with the influences of music from Muddy’s childhood and his tenacity to keep with his own style of music, despite the incessant voices around him telling him to conform. The illustrations are wonderful and vibrant and give a great visual for this wordy book. Particularly pay attention to Turk’s depiction of Chicago, the drawings really bring the city to life. Colour, texture and vibrancy will keep children ages 4-8 years enthralled in this legendary story.
You can get a copy here.
Pocket Full of Colors by Amy Guglielmo and Jacqueline Tourville
Illustrator: Briggitte Barrager
In this vibrant tale, Guglielmo and Tourville tell the story of artist Mary Blair. The book itself, illustrated by Barrager, is a page full of colour, which is exactly what Blair was all about. The biography is also wordy, which is why the illustrations give a great visual account and will no doubt keep readers engaged. Keep an eye out for the fabulous stylized drawings, reminiscent of early Disney films (101 Dalmatians for example). This is a punchy and vibrant story about a female artist who did things her way! Readers 4-8 years will enjoy this one, but guess what?, I did too. Grab a copy here.
The Shape of the World: A Portrait of Frank Lloyd Wright by K.L. Going
Illustrator: Lauren Stringer
This biography of architect Frank Lloyd Wright draws upon his influences and experiences as a child and illustrates the way in which these shaped his work as a architect. The story is a simple ‘coming of age’ and shows Wright’s lifetime work, culminating in his reflections of his life’s dream as an old man. The illustrations are simply lovely. Once again vibrancy and colour is the name of the game in keeping readers with the story. This would be a great use of one-on-one story time and would provoke a great discussion for readers about shapes, art style and different hues. Again keep an eye out for the beautiful stylized art-forms in this book. It’s recommended for ages 5-10 years and you can get a copy here.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Case of R.G.B vs. Inequality by Jonah Winter
Illustrator: Stacy Innerst
Check out the illustrations in this biography about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, women’s rights activist and lawyer who inspired a generation of equal rights and social justice advocates to rise against ‘the man.’ The biography is well written, with evidence if you please, and gives a great and passionate account of the Notorious R.G.B’s rise to fame in the the legal world. The illustrations are just plain fun, relying on colour to highlight various events in the story and strong, bold lines to draw the eye. This one is recommended for ages 6-9 years because of the more advanced subject and content of the book. Get a copy here.
Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library by Carole Boston Weatherford
Illustrator: Eric Velasquez
As far as illustrations go, this book is one of many reasons why Eric Velasquez is legendary. You’ll know his work from such titles as The Rain Stomper, New Shoes, As Fast as Words Could Fly, Beautiful Moon, and Our Children Can Soar. The illustrations in this biography live up to any expectations that you might have from Velasquez. They are masterpieces and are truly eye catching for the reader. Velasquez once again knocks it out of the ball park. But also and equally as noteworthy is this wonderful biography by Weatherford, which not only highlights the massive achievements of Afro-Puerto Rican Curator Arturo Schomburg and his outstanding collection of books, art and papers from Africa and its diaspora, but also the achievements of those who contributed to Schomburg’s collection. From poet Phillis Wheatley, to musical composer Alexander Pushkin, to writers from the Harlem Renaissance, this biography offers children a fantastic overview of the whose who of this particular subsect of history. The book should be added to Schombergs collection. It’s aimed at ages 9-12, grab a copy here.
Frida Kahlo and her Animalitos by Monica Brown
Illustrator John Parra
This biography of the famous artist Frida Kahlo is not anything not already seen in other works, but does give a great overview of the artist’s life for children ages 4-8 years. This biography chooses to focus on Kahlo’s many animal companions, and highlight the ways in which her non-human friends contributed to her art and her life. It’s a great, personable account of an artist who contributed greatly to her field, despite some major obstacles along the way. The illustrations somewhat mimic Kahlo’s own work which make them interesting and colourful to look at. Again a great way to introduce art to young audiences ages 4-8. Grab a copy here.
Imagine That! by Judy Sierra
Illustrated by Kenvin Hawkes
Ever wondered how The Cat in the Hat emerged from the mind of Dr. Seuss? Read this fun and fantastical book to find out. Technically this is non-fiction but not biographical, but I’m including it here because this is my blog and I can, so there. The story is sweet and limerick and bounces right off the page. But the illustrations are great! Talk about the Cat coming to life! You’ll see imagination manifest itself in front of you as you read. A great work of art by Hawkes. Just grab a copy of this one here and read it to your child (age recommendation is 3-7 years), or just read it yourself.
Listen: How Pete Seeger Got America Singing by Leda Schubert
Illustrator: Raúl Colón
This biography is about, you guessed it, Pete Seeger; singer, songwriter and social justice seeker. It chronicles the beginning of his musical career, legal troubles, political activism and life-time success. The illustrations are subtle and beautifully drawn. Soft lines, and use of shadow and tone and colour draw the eye. This, once again, proves why picture book biographies are so important. This book is for ages 5-9 years but with the visual cues found here, younger children will be engaged in Seeger’s life story. Get a copy here.
American Gothic: The Life of Grant Wood by Susan Wood
Illustrator: Ross MacDonald
This book is about the creation of the famous artwork American Gothic, the rise of its artist Grant Wood and the introduction of Regionalism as an art style. It’s also an excuse to once again post this picture of the real deal (I saw it when I went to ALA in Chicago this year- read about that here):
The story is great, the picture are fantastic. MacDonald’s illustration somewhat mirror the Regionalism style introduced by the subject of this book. The pictures are simple but lovely. You can get a copy here. Age recommendation is 5-7 years.
Big Machines: The Story of Virginia Lee Burton by Sherri Duskey Rinker
Illustrator: John Rocco
Again, another book on an artist, this time Virginia Lee Burton. This is another non-biography but the book does tell the story of Lee Burton and her time as an artist and particularly as a creator of amazing visual adventures for her children. It’s lovely to see a story which shows the imagination and creativity of an artist brought to life for her two sons. Once again you’ll see Lee Burton’s artistic style reflected in that of the illustrator Rocco, and you will see how pictures bring worlds to life. Grab a copy here for your children aged 4-7.
Mr Benjamin’s Suitcase of Secrets by Pei-Yu Chang
Check out this picture book which is also not a biography, but is a great story nevertheless, about Walter Benjamin, philosopher and writer living in Nazi Germany, who tries to make a grand escape from the country with a mysterious suitcase. Speculate along with other characters in this book about the contents of the suitcase and the whereabouts of Mr. Benjamin. The story is short and the illustrations are lively and interesting with lots of colour and and eye catching shapes which will definitely draw the eye of children in the recommended reading age (4-8 years). Grab a copy here.
Okay, that’s plenty for now folks. I hope that you enjoy these wonderfully interesting masterpieces with your children.
Until next time, happy reading.