I LOVE non-fiction kid-lit. A good picture book biography will have me crying for days!
Here’s a round-up of a few non-fiction kidlit titles I read recently, short and quick and digestible!
You already know this made me cry. It’s a powerful recounting of this relatively well known story but focusing on Mamie, her upbringing, and the brave chooses she kept making in her life that changed so much for generations to come. The illustration style didn’t particularly draw me in, but there’s a line in the author’s note that stopped my breath: “She wrote history with the blood of her son.” Great for older elementary school readers or even older readers looking for an introduction to Mamie.
Violet Velvet Mittens with Everything: The Fabulous Lie of Diana Vreeland by Deborah Blumenthal and illustrated by Rachel Katstaller
While I love a picture book biography, I need it to have a heart, and this one lacked any beat to it at all. The first person narration made it seem haughty and narcissistic rather than personal and inviting. The structure was bad–not giving readers much actual biographical detail to chew on, rather just musings about color and fashion that they didn’t have an entry point into because of the lack of background. The illustrations were lovely though, of course! The red page and the Met illustration in particular stood out. I can’t imagine a kid enjoying the text, but they might love the pictures.
Fighting for Yes: The Story of Disability Rights Activist Judith Heumann by Maryann Cocca-Leffler, illustrated by Vivien Mildenberger
As someone who has read Heumann’s memoir, I can say this picture book biography does a great job relaying her story and the pivotal parts of it (aka: growing up, teaching license, sit in) for younger readers. It’s a bit wordier than most picture books–even for biographies–and the color palette is dour, but it matches the 1970s vibe of the illustrations pretty well. I was waiting for this to have some sort of gut punch, but it was pretty straight forward and focused on the facts at hand. The letter from Heumannw as a nice touch.
Frank, Who Liked to Build: The Architecture of Frank Gehry by Deborah Blumenthal, illustrated by Maria Brzozowska
Oof, another Blumenthal book that just didn’t work for me. It lacks heart in the writing, and it clearly trying to convey just normal, facts and information for kids, like “Look at these crazy buildings? Who built them? Frank! He was an architect.” Also I don’t think this ever explained what an architect was, or set him in a particular time period or…ugh. Just kind of frustrating. The challah page illustration was awesome,but otherwise the semi-realistic cartoon-esque drawings and the splashy collages just kind of overwhelmed the actual renderings of the buildings on the page. This one also wasn’t structured well. Boo.
Yes We Will: Asian Americans Who Shaped This Country, by Kelly Yang and a team of illustrators
This is absolutely an illustration driven-book, and each little “piece” or “person” is woven through with Yang’s text, but drawn by different illustrators, and the moment or person depicted is given a VERY BRIEF–aka, sometimes one word–descriptor. Jenny Han, author. Jeremy Lin, NBA player, Franklin Chang-Diaz, NASA Astronaut, etc. It’s beautiful and vibrant and colorful and so fun to look at, but all the biographical material is really in the author’s note and therefore might not reach the reader in the way a picture book biography usually does. Seriously though, the illustrations make it worth it regardless.
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