Thursday, April 13, 2017

Surprising Biographies of Amazing Creativity (FAMILY magazine reviews)

Pick up a picture book biography of someone you may never have heard of to inspire you and a young person in your life. These outstanding books introduce us to people whose lives and enrich our own, giving us models and opportunities for conversations! Have fun!

My Story, My Dance: Robert Battle’s Journey to Alvin Ailey 
by Lesa Cline-Ransome 
illustrated by James E. Ransome
            The story of local Liberty City Miami talent, Robert Battle, is inspiring. It celebrates the African-American experience of family, faith and art.
Only the third artistic director for the highly respected and well-loved Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Battles’ early struggles, and warmly supportive family form the framework for this strong picture book biography. He overcame the need for leg braces as a young child. Also, his experiences of the music and faith of his church community, plus his youthful practice of music, dance and martial arts, were important in preparing him for dance classes. These latter seized his heart, mind and body, giving direction to his sense of himself.
            Ransome’s pastels capture family scenes, karate, and studio practice sessions. Especially important in Battles’ experience and dramatic for his future, is the double page spread of the Ailey dancers he watched onstage. This performance was featured as a high school field trip with his after-school dance class. The colors, costumes and fluid movements of the dancers’ bodies’ in Ransome’s illustrations, partner seamlessly with (wife) Cline-Ransome’s liquid language.
            This beautifully conceived and executed life story includes a foreword with photos from Battles himself. There are also an author’s note, an illustrator’s note, bibliography, website, and further reading included at the end.

Simon & Schuster, $17.99
Interest Level: Grade 2-5

Mr. Ferris and His Wheel  
by Kathryn Gibbs Davis 
illustrated by Gilbert Ford
            George Washington Gale Ferris Jr., a civil engineer who was a designer of bridges, tunnels and roads, had a dazzling idea. He wanted to create a structure for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair that would rival France’s Eiffel Tower from the previous event. Although, Ferris’ decided that his structure would move!
            He and his engineering partner, William Gronau worked on a design that used steel as a framework instead of solid walls. This innovative project was devised during a time period that tempted inventors to show off new technologies. However, George had difficulty convincing officials of its safety. Still, there was nothing else that emerged to compete with George’s design. So, officials agreed to his plan, but granted him no money to build his proposed structure.
            George tried with no success to get banks’ assistance. Since time was running short, he became persistent in getting funding, supplies, parts, and workers in place. The successfully completed Ferris Wheel became a World’s Fair sensation.
            Digital mixed media, ink and watercolor illustrations in a somewhat cartoon-like style use colors to evoke an era before electricity. Also featured is the stylized electrical magic of the new invention at night. It could be seen from miles away!
            Not a typical biography, this nonfiction picture book is fascinating, well written and researched. Sidebars enhance the story, or explain parts of the text. Sources, bibliography and websites are included at the end.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $17.99
Interest Level: Kindergarten – Grade 3

Building on Nature: The Life of Antoni Gaudi 
by Rachel Rodriguez 
illustrated by Julie Paschkis
            Beginning with Gaudi’s early life, readers see his delight in the natural world and his involvement in his family’s business as a metalsmith. Throughout his life - he trained as an architect – he includes nature both inside and outside his creations. Several of his imaginative, playful constructions, are featured. Among these are Vicens House, Guell’s Palace, Casa Batllo, and Casa Mila.  Descriptions use inviting twists of language and are partnered with sparkling, intricate illustrations.
            The gouache artwork is colorful, flowing, wild, and beautifully strange. The storyline is similarly simple and lyrical, with crazy details that suggest Gaudi’s colorful, striking and original structures.
This picture book biography is an inviting exploration into a daring artist’s feats of elaborate creativity. An author’s note, websites, and selected bibliography are important back matter.

Henry Holt, $19.99
Interest Level: Kindergarten – Grade 4

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