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Friday, May 6, 2016

Staff Reads: Picture Book Bios

I've been reading a lot of children's books lately. Middle grade and YA books can be a lot of fun, but picture books might just be my favorites. The illustrations pull me in and the simple stories keep me coming back for more. I'm especially fond of picture book biographies. I've always been a bit of a history nerd and I learn great little tidbits about people I've never heard of (or don't know enough about.)

Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton was written and illustrated by Don Tate. (He illustrated another of my recent favorites, a wonderful picture book biography about Mississippian John Roy Lynch.) Poet follows the true story of the first African-American to be published in the South. Horton taught himself to read as a child; as an adult, he began writing beautiful, heartbreaking poems that spoke against the institution of slavery. He was in his 80s when he finally became a free man because of the Civil War. It's a powerful tale and the illustrations are just as powerful. It won the 2016 Ezra Jack Keats author award. Grades 2-5.

One civil rights activist that I truly admire is Mississippi native Fannie Lou Hamer. I was very pleased to see her story told in Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer. The author, Carole Boston Weatherford, is actually slated to be at this summer's Mississippi Book Festival. The illustrator, Ekua Holmes, created amazing mixed-media collages which perfectly capture the rhythm and themes of Weatherford's poetic tribute to Hamer. I was particularly taken by this quote:
I was so hungry to learn. My mother drilled this into me. When you read, she said, you know--and you can help yourself and others."
The book was named a 2016 Caldecott Honor Book. Grades 6 and up.

Emmanuel's Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah was particularly satisfying. I'd never heard the story of this Ghanaian who, though born with a deformed foot, mastered bicycling at a young age and went on to bike across his country. He raised awareness for those with disabilities in Ghana and is invested in furthering the education of the children of his country, abled and disabled.
He knew her last words had been a gift. He would honor them by showing everyone that being disabled does not mean unable.
The text by Laurie Ann Thompson paints evocative pictures of Ghana, while the illustrations by Sean Qualls are exceptional. The book won the 2016 Schneider Family Book Award for children. Kindergarten-2nd grade.

The children's book market has exploded since I was a child. The plethora of picture books available now is a little daunting. Sometimes I feel like I'll never be able to read all the great new books out there, but I'll certainly give it my best shot. Until next time, happy reading!

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