The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks

Abrams Books for Young Readers

(pub. 4.7.2020) 

48 pages

A True Tale with

A Cherry On Top   

A uthor: Suzanne Slade
       and illustrator: Cozbi A. Cabrera
C haracter:  Gwendolyn Brooks

"Gwendolyn Brooks (1917–2000) is known for her poems about 'real life.' She wrote about love, loneliness, family, and poverty—showing readers how just about anything could become a beautiful poem. Exquisite follows Gwendolyn from early girlhood into her adult life, showcasing her desire to write poetry from a very young age. This picture-book biography explores the intersections of race, gender, and the ubiquitous poverty of the Great Depression—all with a lyrical touch worthy of the subject. Gwendolyn Brooks was the first Black person to win the Pulitzer Prize, receiving the award for poetry in 1950. And in 1958, she was named the poet laureate of Illinois. A bold artist who from a very young age dared to dream, Brooks will inspire young readers to create poetry from their own lives."

T antalizing taste: 

"Gwendolyn grew up in the big city of Chicago with little money to spare.

Yet her family owned great treasure - a bookcase filled with precious poems.

Each night, her father read fine poetry aloud, passionate and proud. Nothing sounded sweeter to Gwendolyn than Father's deep voice reciting the rhythmic words.

Gwendolyn memorized those lines - fine words in time to share with her big-hugging aunts."

And something more:  As an author who values primary sources, I appreciated Cozbi A. Cabrera's Acknowledgement: "A special thank you to the staff at the University of Illinois of Urbana-Champaign's Rare Book and Manuscript Library, where all of Ms. Brooks's personal papers are archived. Holding her handwritten papers and notebooks in my very hands was like her message in a bottle - so overwhelming and tender, it reverberates. Doing the research for the illustrations illuminated just how Gwendolyn Brooks overshadowed and transcended lack, limitation, oppression, and every established boundary line with the power of her discipline and the persistence of her love." 


Perkin's Perfect Purple

How a Boy Created Color with Chemistry

Disney Hyperion

(pub. 10.6.2020) 

56 pages

A True Tale with

A Cherry On Top   

A uthor: Tami Lewis Brown
       and Debbie Loren Dunn
       and illustrator: Francesca Sanna
C haracter: William Henry Perkin

"Many years ago, the color purple was available only to a privileged few. Making purple was tricky. The dye was concocted from a certain snail, and later, from plants, bugs, and rocks. Then it had to be soaked in minerals and . . . urine! The process was very complicated and expensive (not to mention smelly!).

Until 1856, when a boy named William Henry Perkin invented a new way. While testing a hypothesis about a cure for malaria, he found that his experiment resulted in something else -- something vivid and rare for the times: synthetic PURPLE. Perkin, a pioneer of the modern scientific method, made numerous advances possible, including canned food and chemotherapy. But it was his creation of purple that started it all."

T antalizing taste:    

"This is how it happened.

William's father was a successful carpenter.

His brother, a proud architect.

Young William dreamed of being an artist, a musician, a photographer, or a botanist ...

William was interested in everything!

When he was twelve, a friend showed him experiments with crystals, and he knew this was far more exciting than any other subject.

He began to collect glassware and equipment, and set up a lab in his house, in Shadwell, East London.

There he mixed and measured, experimented and examined."

And something more:  The Authors' Note explains "the color of our world is not the only thing William changed. The dyes that followed from Perkin's discovery allowed medical researchers to stain invisible bacteria and microbes, leading to cures for tuberculosis, cholera, and even anthrax. Methods he and others developed for changing the molecular structure of organic compounds, a process known as 'Perkin's Synthesis,' yielded synthetic smells and tastes that never existed before. Our world looks, smells, tastes, and feels different because of William Perkin."



The Curious Story of Edward Gorey


(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

(pub. 3.24.2020) 

 40 pages

A True Tale with

A Cherry On Top   

A uthor: Lori Mortensen
       and illustrator: Chloe Bristol
C haracter:  Edward Gorey

"Known for, among other things, wearing a large fur coat wherever he went, storyteller Edward Gorey was respected for both his brilliance and his eccentricity. As a child, he taught himself to read and skipped several grades before landing at Harvard (after a brief stint in the army). Then he built a name for himself as a popular book illustrator. After that, he went on to publish well over one hundred of his own books, stories that mingled sweetness and innocence, danger and darkness, all mixed with his own brand of silliness"

T antalizing taste:

"When publishers turned him down, Edward launched his own company, Fantod Press.

No one had ever seen books like Edward's before.

He wrote strange stories with curious titles like 

    The Unstrung  Harp,

    The Abandoned Sock,

    The Wuggly Ump,

    The Galoshes of Remorse,

    and The Gashlycrumb Tinies ...

Instead of drawing colorful, happy-go-lucky pictures, Edward used pen and ink to draw seas of sketchy black lines, as if the stories were set in a time and place long ago."

And something more:  The Author's Note explains that as a  child prodigy, Edward "began drawing by the age of one and a half and taught himself to read by the age of three. Since his books have a dark side, people think he must have had a tragic childhood too. But Gorey admitted his was as happy as anyone's and included playing neighborhood games of kick the can and Monopoly, going to the movies, and reading all kinds of books from comics to horror. His favorites included The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, books by A.A. Milne, and Agatha Christie mysteries."


Wood, Wire, Wings

Emma Lilian Todd Invents an Airplane

Calkins Creek

(Boyds Mills & Kane)

(pub. 2.25.2020) 

48 pages

A True Tale with

A Cherry On Top   

A uthor: Kristen W. Larson
       and illustrator: Tracy Subisak
C haracter: Emma Lilian

    "Emma Lilian Todd's mind was always soaring--she loved to solve problems. Lilian tinkered and fiddled with all sorts of objects, turning dreams into useful inventions. As a child, she took apart and reassembled clocks to figure out how they worked. As an adult, typing up patents at the U.S. Patent Office, Lilian built the inventions in her mind, including many designs for flying machines. However, they all seemed too impractical. Lilian knew she could design one that worked. She took inspiration from both nature and her many failures, driving herself to perfect the design that would eventually successfully fly. Illustrator Tracy Subisak's art brings to life author Kirsten W. Larson's story of this little-known but important engineer."

T antalizing taste: 

     "Lilian spent hours considering the crows circling overhead, studying the angle of an albatross's wing, and constructing models that hung like chandeliers from the ceiling.

     Before long, her airplane took over her apartment - then it took over her life.

And something more:  The Author's Note explains that "while many early airplane designers competed to fly faster, higher, and farther, Lilian focused on making airplanes a practical form of transportation, like the trolley... She also became the Aeronautic Society's first woman member and founded the Junior Aero Club in America, which taught children the science of flight and encouraged invention. After her airplanes' successful flight, Lilian donated it to the New York National Guard, making the Guard the first state military to have an airplane."


Saving the Countryside

The Story of Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbit

Little Bee Books

(pub. 1.28.2020) 

40 pages

A True Tale with

A Cherry On Top   

A uthor: Linda Elovitz Marshall
       and illustrator: Ilaria Urbinati
C haracter:  Beatrix Potter

"Growing up in London, Beatrix Potter felt the restraints of Victorian times. Girls didn't go to school and weren't expected to work. But she longed to do something important, something that truly mattered. As Beatrix spent her summers in the country and found inspiration in nature, it was through this passion that her creativity flourished. 

There, she crafted The Tale of Peter Rabbit. She would eventually move to the countryside full-time, but developers sought to change the land. To save it, Beatrix used the money from the success of her books and bought acres and acres of land and farms to prevent the development of the countryside that both she and Peter Rabbit so cherished. Because of her efforts, it's been preserved just as she left it.

This beautiful picture book shines a light on Beatrix Potter's lesser-known history and her desire to do something for the greater good."

T antalizing taste: 

"The Tale of Peter Rabbit was of no interest to most publishers. One publisher considered it, but he took such a long time and Beatrix could not keep waiting.

So, using money she'd earned from drawing Benjamin Bouncer on holiday cards, Beatrix had 250 copies of the Tale of Peter Rabbit printed.

She put the books up for sale. Every copy sold.

She order more copies. They sold, too!

The Tale of Peter Rabbit was such a success that, at last, the publisher made her an offer. Beatrix Potter struck a deal!

Beatrix made sure that her beautiful little books would not cost too much.  She wanted everyone to be able to buy them."

And something more:  The Author's Note explains Linda Elovitz Marshall's inspiration for writing the book: "In 2018, I participated in a 'literary ramble,' visiting England with a group of children's authors and illustrators.... On arrival in Near Sawrey, in the Lake District where Beatrix Potter had lived, my heart did a flip-flop! It was March, a rather dreary time of the  year, yet the countryside - the hills, lakes, and farms - sang to me. How could it be that, after so many years, the area looked exactly as it did in Beatrix Potter's little books? ...The mystery was solved! The Lake District looked undeveloped and peaceful because of Beatrix Potter. She helped save the area from trains running through it, from farms being split into housing developments, and from the myriad intrusions of the developments of city life....She bought more than four thousand acres of land and donated it all to the National Trust, the United Kingdom organization that preserves places of historical or natural interest. What a woman!"


Patricia's Vision

The Doctor Who Saved Sight

Sterling Children's Books

(pub. 1.7.2020) 

48 pages

A True Tale with

A Cherry On Top   

A uthor: Michelle Lord
       and illustrator:  
Alleanna Harris
C haracter:  Patricia Bath

    "Born in the 1940s, Patricia Bath dreamed of helping people as a doctor, even though that wasn't a  career option for most women at that time —especially African-American women. This empowering biography follows Dr. Bath in her quest to save and restore sight to the blind, and her decision to “choose miracles” when everyone else had given up hope. Along the way, she cofounded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness, invented a specialized laser for removing cataracts, and became the first African-American woman doctor to receive a medical patent."

T antalizing taste: 

     "Dr. Bath couldn't wait to begin her career as an ophthalmologist. She moved across the country join the famed Jules Stein Eye Institute in California. Walking into work that first morning, she had no idea she was the first woman on the faculty! Her eyes widened upon finding her new office ... away from the others, in the basement, next to the lab animals ...

     She marched upstairs and demanded a workspace equal to what the other new professors had.

    'Taking the high road may be arduous and long, but it will lead to justice and triumph.'"

And something more:  At the back of the book, the More About Dr. Patricia Bath explains that "when Patricia applied to college, the interviewer told her that an education was a waste for women....As an intern at Harlem Hospital, Dr. Bath discovered that blindness was twice as common in black patients compared to white patients. She came up with a new idea she called community ophthamology. It offered eye care and blindness prevention to underserved communities. Dr. Bath lived her lifelong goal of helping the blind. Countless people have benefitted from her Laserphaco Probe."


The Efficient, Inventive (Often Annoying) Melvil Dewey

Calkins Creek (Boyds Mills& Kane)

(pub. 11.10.2020) 

40 pages

A True Tale with

A Cherry On Top   

A uthor: 
Alexis O'Neill
       and illustrator:   
Edwin Fotheringham
C haracter:  Melvil Dewey

"Melvil Dewey’s love of organization and words at a very early age drove him to develop and implement his Dewey Decimal Classification system, a school to train librarians, inventions to streamline librarians’ work, and more, leaving a significant and lasting impact in libraries throughout the world."

T antalizing taste: 

     "Melvil Dewey loves putting things in order.

    Oh, no - what's he doing now?

    He's organized the chaos of his mother's kitchen cupboard. And now the cellar.

    There. Nice and neat.      

    Melvil loves keeping track of things.

    He's recording his height. His weight. How much money he has earned.

    Melvil loves books. He tucks his money into this pocket and goes for a ten-mile walk.

    Wait - where is he going?"

And something more: I attended the wonderful virtual release celebration of The Efficient, Inventive (Often Annoying) Melvil Dewey, and later Alexis shared with me the inspiration for the book: "A goofy video about the Dewey Decimal Classification system sent to me by a school library sparked this book about this quirky and controversial creator of the DDC. The number 10 held Dewey in thrall throughout his life. His birthday is on December 10. As a kid, he walked 10 miles from his home in Adams Center to Watertown, New York to purchase a dictionary for a reported $10. He even said, 'I am so loyal to decimals that I even like to sleep decimally” – 10 hours a night!'"