From Caged Bird to Poet
of the People,

Maya Angelou

Lee & Low Books
(pub. 8.13.2019) 
48 pages

A True Tale with

A Cherry On Top   

A uthor: Bethany Hegedus
and illustrator: Tonya Engel
C haracter: Maya Angelou

     "Maya Angelou's life was defined by transformation and perseverance. From her early days as a passionate reader in Arkansas, through her work as a freedom fighter with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, to her triumphant rise as a post of the people, Maya Angelou did more than survive. She thrived, and along the way she became an inspiration to millions. 
     In honor of the 50th anniversary of Angelou's classic I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and with a foreword by her grandson Colin Johnson, Rise! celebrates the luminous life, spirit, and legacy of a truly phenomenal woman."

T antalizing taste: 
"The sights, sounds, and smells of San Francisco 
   delight Maya.
She floats through the fog,
   a cocoon of creativity that blankets the city.
Maya's love of language now moves within her,
   rhythm, rhyme,
   meter as music.
Before long, Maya earns a scholarship
   to the California Labor School.
There she dons black tights
   and learns to occupy space
   with her long limbs.
Maya the dancer,
   the performer,
        is born."

And something more: The Foreword by Colin Johnson, Maya Angelou's grandson, states that as my grandmother "moved past the pains of her own childhood and managed that pain, she came to believe: 'My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.'" And Bethany Hegedus, the author of Rise! and owner of The Writing Barn in Austin, Texas, is someone who also shares a powerful message: "What I learned after surviving 9/11 and during the 12 years it took for Grandfather Gandhi [her first children's biography] to be published was to keep being creative, believe in your vision, be resilient, and believe in the power of story to heal."


Our Flag Was Still There

The True Story 
of Mary Pickersgill
and the Star-Spangled

A Paula Wiseman Book
(Simon and Schuster)
(pub. 5.21.2019) 
48 pages

A True Tale with
A Cherry On Top   

A uthor and illustrator:  Jessie Hartland
C haracter:Mary Pickersgill

 verview from the jacket flap
     "If you go to the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History  in Washington, D.C., you can see a massive American flag: it's thirty feet tall and forty-two feet long. That's huge! But how did it get there? And where did it come from? Well...
     The story of that giant flag begins in 1812 and stars a major on the eve of battle, a seamstress and her mighty helpers, and a poet named Francis Scott Key. This isn't just the story of a flag. It's the story of the poem that became our national anthem, 'The Star-Spangled Banner.'
     Dynamically told and stunningly illustrated, this fascinating and true story is brought to life by Jessie Hartland."

T antalizing taste: 
     "The year was 1813. Only thirty years had passed since America's thirteen colonies fought long and hard for independence form Great Britain ... and we wanted to be free.
     But in 1813 we were once again at war with England ... And the British were on their way to capture Baltimore...There stood Major George Armistead, ready to lead American troops to defend Fort McHenry... George wanted to send a big message to the British:This land  belongs to America!
     'It is my desire to have a flag so large that the British will have no difficulty seeing it from a distance.'
     Lucky for George, not far away ... lived Mary Pickersgill.
     Mary had learned the flag-making trade from her widowed mother, who had also made blankets and uniforms during the Revolutionary War."

And something more: Jessie Hartland's Author's Note explains that "the flag discussed in this book was the second official version of [the American flag]. It had fifteen stripes and fifteen stars, acknowledging the two newest states at that time: Kentucky and Vermont. In 1818, the United States Congress passed an act to revert to the flag's original design, with thirteen stripes to honor the original thirteen colonies, and to continue adding a star from each new state.
     Major Armistead's heirs gave the flag to the Smithsonian Institution on the condition that it never be loaned out. They wanted the flag always on view ... The museum has kept its word with one notable exception: Fearing enemy attack during World War II, the flag was moved temporarily out of the city for safekeeping."


The Bluest of Blues

Anna Atkins and 
the First Book of Photographs

Abrams Books for Young Readers
(pub. 2.12.2019) 
48 pages

A True Tale with

A Cherry On Top   

A uthor and illustrator:  Fiona Robinson
C haracter: Anna Atkins

      "A gorgeous picture book biography of botanist and photographer Anna Atkins- the first person to ever publish a book of photography.
     After losing her mother very early in life, Anna Atkins (1799-1871) was raised by her loving father. He gave her a scientific education, which was highly unusual for women and girls in the early 19th century. Fascinated with the plant life around her, Anna became a botanist. She recorded all her findings in detailed illustrations and engravings until the invention of cyanotype photographs in 1842... Weaving together histories of women, science, and art, THE BLUEST OF BLUES will inspire young readers to embark on their own journeys of discovery and creativity."

T antalizing taste: 
     "Anna dedicates herself to creating an herbarium, a collection of dried plants... She is proud of her herbarium, but it is not accessible to a wide audience. Illustrating and publishing it would take far too long - her seaweed collection alone amounts to over 1,500 examples.
     Anna thinks, if only there was a quick, accurate way to copy her collection ...
     Anna listens carefully as Sir John [Herschel] introduces his most recent discovery: the cyanotype print. This process doesn't need a camera, just two chemicals, paper, water and strong sunlight...
     Anna, inspired, sees a ... purpose for cyanotypes. She can't wait to get home and experiment ...
    As if by magic, the seaweed appears, white against the bluest of blues. Every bubble and bobble, tendril and root, frizz and wrinkle is visible."

And something more: The Author's Note explains that she signed her books "with only her monogram, A.A... For years after her death, some people assumed that 'A.A' meant 'Anonymous Author.' ... the misunderstanding may have led to her being rarely acknowledged until historians of photography in the twentieth century further researched her beautiful and scientific books."


Sonny's Bridge

Jazz Legend Sonny Rollins
Finds His Groove

(pub. 5.21.2019) 
 40 pages

A True Tale with

A Cherry On Top   

A uthor:  Barry Wittenstein
and illustrator:  Keith Mallett
C haracter: Sonny Rollins


     "Sonny Rollins started playing the sax as a kid in Harlem in New York City. He rocketed to the top of the jazz world. Imagine the pressure.
     So he stopped playing professionally. Took a step  back. Turns out he wasn't sure he was worthy of all that fame.
     Practicing at home disturbed  his neighbors. So you know what he did? He went up on the Williamsburg Bridge. He and Henrietta - his saxophone - played there every day, rain or shine. For more than two years!
     Sonny thought about who he was and what he wanted. Took some of the pressure off. Then he decided he was ready to go back to the recording studio.
     The results? Sonny made one of his best-selling albums, The Bridge. Turned out that Sonny's time on the bridge to think things through solidified Walter Theodore "Sonny" Rollins's place in jazz history."
T antalizing taste: 
      "Misty night.
      Summer night.
      East River New York City night.
      You hear that? 
           Hear what? 
      That. THAT!
           Somebody's playing the saxophone. So what?
      So that's Sonny Rollins, that's what."

And something more: In his Author's Note in SONNY'S BRIDGE, Barry Wittenstein writes: "I have a confession to make. For me, jazz was an  acquired taste ... I even ventured into the music business as a nonperforming songwriter. My only cut that ever got airplay was a pop/jazz song by a singer signed to GRP Records, a jazz label. So, maybe jazz resonated with me more than I'd suspected.
     Now, after a lifetime, the image of Sonny Rollins playing sax on a New York City bridge is one that still tugs at my heart."


The Important Thing About Margaret Wise Brown

Balzer + Bray
(Harper Collins)
(pub. 5.21.2019) 
48 pages

A True Tale with

A Cherry On Top   

A uthor: Mac Barnett
      and illustrator:   
         Sarah Jacoby
C haracter: Margaret Wise Brown

 verview from front flap: 
     "What is important about Margaret Wise Brown?
      In 42 inspired pages, this biography by award-winning writer Mac Barnett vividly depicts one of the greatest children's book creators who ever lived: Margaret Wise Brown, the author of Goodnight Moon, The Runaway Bunny, and The Little Fur Family. Illustrated with sumptuous art by rising star Sarah Jacoby, this is essential reading for children's book lovers of every age."

T antalizing taste: 

     "Margaret Wise Brown lived for 42 years.
      This book is 42 pages long.
      You can't fit somebody's life into 42 pages,
      so I am just going to tell you some important things.

     The important thing about Margaret Wise Brown is that she wrote books ...
     Over 100 books were written by Margaret Wise Brown.

     It can be odd to imagine the lives of the people who write the books you read, like running into your teacher at the supermarket.
     But authors are people.
     They are born and they die.
     They make jokes and mistakes.
     They fall in love and they fall in love again.
     They go to the supermarket to buy tomatoes,
     which they keep in the bottom drawer of their refrigerators,
     even though tomatoes should stay out on the counter.
     But which of these things is important? And to whom?"

And something more: I was stunned to read in this book that Margaret Wise Brown's books (such as GOODNIGHT MOON) were originally not included in the NYC library (and therefore other libraries) because the head librarian, Anne Carroll Moore, thought Brown's books were the wrong kind of books or specifically "truck" meaning worthless or garbage. She even stamped these books with "NOT RECOMMENDED FOR PURCHASE BY EXPERT". 
     Of course, I needed to read more about this exclusion, and I learned that Mac Barnett's research was accurate. But I also liked the perspective provided in Elizabeth Bird's post on School Library Journal titled "The Quintessential Librarian Stereotype: Wrestling with the Legacy of Anne Carroll Moore". The wonderful Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. Her post concludes with "As we move forward, let’s tip our hat to what [Moore] did right, acknowledge what she did wrong, and work to help promote, help, and support the new generation of children’s librarians out there that are facing 21st century challenges, the like of which the world has never seen before." 


Jackson Pollock

Splashed Paint
and Wasn't Sorry

Phaidon Press
(pub. 6.15.2019) 
48 pages

A True Tale with

A Cherry On Top   

A uthor and illustrator:  Fausto Gilberti
C haracter: Jackson Pollock

     "Jackson Pollock was unlike any other painter. When he painted, he moved. He dripped, splashed, and poured paint over canvases that were rolled out across the floor. And he wasn't sorry!
      An inspiring story about one of the most important contemporary artists who ever lived."

T antalizing taste: 
     "Jackson actually painted by walking around a huge canvas that was spread out on the floor.
     Sometimes he painted in drips.
     Sometimes he painted by whirling his arms around.
     He splashed paint using brushes, sticks, and spoons, or poured it straight out of a can!
     Jackson was careful with his drips and splashes, making sure the paint landed exactly where he wanted.
     He painted with the energy and grace of a dancer.
     He painted with rhythm and order, concentrating on every movement, until the very last drop of paint fell on the canvas."

And something more: The back flap includes an interesting early story about Jackson Pollock: "New York City... he met his future wife, Lee Krasner, who was also an artist. He also met Peggy Guggenheim, ... art collector, who asked him to paint her a mural. Pollock was so excited that he took down a wall in his house to bring a 20-foot mural inside to paint. Peggy loved his mural and invited him to have an exhibition at her gallery."
     Fausto Gilberti, the author and illustrator, wrote that he "splashed lots of ink and paint while illustrating this book, and he certainly wasn't sorry."


Terrible Times Tables

A Modern Multiplication Primer

Cameron + Company
(pub. 8.6.2019) 
80 pages

A True Tale with
A Cherry On Top   

A uthor:  Michelle Markel
 and illustrator: 
                  Merrilee Liddiard
C haracters: School Children & The Times Tables


     "Inspired by a Victorian math primer, Terrible Times Tables is a modern take on learning one’s multiplication tables, from numbers 2 to 10, featuring elementary school themes of homeroom, field trips, cafeteria food, holidays, and recitals. Featuring a reluctant narrator and a few unwitting critters, learning math has never been so much fun or amusing.

T antalizing taste: 

      5 x 1 is 5
      A roach - and it's alive. 
              [illus. of girl carrying lunch tray with big bug]

      5 x 2 is 10
      Mystery meat again.

      5 x 3 is 15
      My nose has grown a bean. 
               [illus of boy with bean stuck in nose]

      5 x 4 is 20
      Don't worry kids, there's plenty.
               [illus of lunch lady]

      5 x 5 is 25
      Never look her in the eye."

And something more: Terrible Times Tables falls outside of my usual focus on picture book biographies. But I couldn't resist the fun, humor and creativity of this book (plus the publisher, the wonderful Cameron + Company, also published the picture book I wrote, Boats on the Bay). I asked the author to share something autobiographical about writing this book. Michelle Markel kindly shared her inspiration and the connection to her research for a biography of Randolph Caldecott:

"True confession: I’m not a huge fan of math, so books about it rarely capture my attention. However, several years ago, while researching 19th century children’s literature for a bio of Randolph Caldecott, I came across a Victorian blockbuster called  Marmaduke Multiply’s Merry Method of Making Minor Mathematicians. It consisted of illustrated couplets for each “multiplication fact” - all random, sometimes grim or snarky,  i.e. “6 x 8 is 48/Dear Aunt, your dress is out of date.”).  I loved the mixture of art, poetry, math, and occasional gloominess.  Lights started flashing!  I wanted to use those ingredients for my own version of Marmaduke.  I hope kids have as much fun reading Terrible Times Tables as I had writing it!"