Summary: Readers familiar with the Hilde Cracks the Case series will already be acquainted with Hilde Lysiak, who wrote this memoir at the age of 14. The daughter of a New YorkDaily News reporter, she started tagging along with her dad when she was 4. When the family moved to suburban Pennsylvania, Hilde knew enough about journalism to start her own newspaper. She started off with human interest stories, but was soon reporting on more serious issues, including a local murder that she got an exclusive on (and also described how police were trying to cover up the crime). Hilde and her somewhat unconventional family were targeted by social media critics, and she has dealt with depression and an eating disorder. Ultimately, she opted to discontinue her journalism career, but has continued to speak out about the importance of a free press. 163 pages; grades 4-8.
Pros: This book came to me via interlibrary loan right before I came down with Covid, and it was a perfect read while I was home. Hilde is an engaging writer who doesn’t shy away from difficult times she’s had, and I found her determination and hard work inspiring. I also admired her family’s do-your-own-thing approach to raising their kids, which seems to have been successful.
Cons: I was a little sad to learn that Hilde has discontinued her journalism career and look forward to hearing about what she does next.
Summary: This biography of Henry David Thoreau looks like a nature journal, with lots of watercolor sketches of the flora and fauna Henry observed through a year in Concord. A timeline running along the bottom of all the pages takes the reader through changes he would have seen through the seasons. Beginning with his childhood and continuing through his years as a teacher, writer, activist, and naturalist, the story of Henry’s life is closely tied to Concord and the surrounding countryside. Includes additional information about Thoreau’s Kalendar that he was working on at the time of his death which was a record of his observations of nature over many years, and which has been used recently to track climate change. There are also instructions for making your own Kalendar and a fairly extensive list of resources. 96 pages; grades 3-6.
Pros: This beautiful volume combines lots of illustrations with an engaging narrative that integrates the seasons of the year with the story of Thoreau’s life. The additional information makes his work relevant today and encourages kids to pursue their own explorations of the natural world.
Cons: While Henry’s abolitionist work is celebrated here, there’s no mention of the disturbingly racist ideas of his mentor Louis Agassiz.
Summary: Raised by her grandparents in Lithuania, Lena Himmelstein learned sewing from her grandmother and from her grandfather, the definition of real success: helping another person. When she was 16, Lena followed her older sister to America, where she got a job as a seamstress. She studied English and fashion and married a man named David Bryant, who died shortly after the birth of their son. To support the family, Lena bought a sewing machine and started her own business. When a pregnant woman asked for a gown that would grow with her, Lena remembered her grandfather’s advice and found a way to help her customer. Her reputation grew, and soon she opened her own shop and a bank account. At the bank, she accidentally signed her name as “Lane” instead of Lena. Lane Bryant became famous for clothes made to help women of all sizes and shapes. “Everyone said Lena was a great success. And when she thought about her grandfather, she knew that it was true.” Includes an author’s note and a list of sources. 32 pages; grades K-4.
Pros: Mara Rockliff’s engaging writing and Juana Martinez-Neal’s fashionable illustrations bring Lena Himmelstein Bryant’s story to life, with a heartwarming emphasis on how helping others is the true definition of success.
Cons: Too bad this wasn’t released in time for Women’s History Month.
Summary: Born into a family of Brazilian rubber tappers, Chico Mendes loved the Amazon rainforest where he grew up. He was fortunate to receive some education, and when the government shifted its economic priorities from rubber production to agriculture, Chico became one of the leaders in the movement to stop the burning of the rainforest. He and other rubber tappers organized protests and gained some victories in their movement to slow the forest’s destruction. His outspokenness antagonized the wealthy ranchers, and he began receiving death threats. On December 22, 1988, he was assassinated outside his home. His legacy continues with the worldwide attention he brought to the destruction of the Amazon rainforest. Includes facts about the rainforest, a glossary, and an index. 48 pages; grades 2-5.
Pros: This biography of Chico Mendes does an excellent job of putting his work and life in the context of this history of the region. The brilliant colors of the illustrations are a perfect way to portray the Amazon rainforest.
Cons: The cover and format of this book led me to believe it would be a picture book, but it’s a longer nonfiction book with a fair amount of text.
Summary: “I was born hungry, not a cook,” Julia Child said of her early days. Her family employed a cook, so young Julia never had to learn to prepare food. With a hunger for adventure, Julia volunteered for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) during World War II, where she was sent to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and met her future husband, Paul Child. Paul had lived in France and introduced Julia to fine food and wine. After getting married, the couple moved to Paris, where Paul worked at the US embassy and Julia threw herself into learning French cooking. She signed up for classes at Le Cordon Bleu and read French cookbooks at night. The book ends with her opening L’Ecole des Trois Gourmandes (The School of the Three Hearty Eaters) with two French friends and a picture of Julia on TV. Includes a two-page author’s note with photos that gives more information about Julia’s television career, an extensive list of resources, and a recipe for scrambled eggs (Oeufs Brouillés) . 40 pages; grades 1-5.
Pros: Alex Prud’homme’s grandfather was Paul Child’s brother, and he worked with Julia Child on her memoirs. His intimate knowledge of her life makes for an engaging picture book, with mouth-watering descriptions of food that are enhanced by the illustrations (often accompanied by the word “Yum!”).
Cons: I was sorry that the story ended just as Julia’s career as the French Chef was beginning.
Summary: Clara Barton’s role in the battle of Antietam is documented in her own words, poems written by the author, and realistic illustrations of battlefront scenes. She nurses men (including one who is shot as she is giving him water), helps doctors, and cooks gruel from Indian meal she unexpectedly finds used as packing material. At the end of the ordeal, she’s put on a makeshift bed in the back of a wagon and driven 80 miles back to Washington, where she collapses from exhaustion and typhoid fever. Includes several pages of additional biographical information about Clara Barton, a bibliography, and a list of places to visit. 40 pages; grades 2-5.
Pros: The narrative and illustrations combine to portray the horrors of war, as well as the tirelessness that Clara Barton brought to the battlefield. The extensive back matter will help researchers understand more about Barton’s life.
Cons: Kids will need some prior knowledge of the Civil War and Clara Barton’s life to understand what is going on.
Summary: Growing up in Hawaii, Patsy Takemoto learned about her family’s Japanese heritage, including the expression “fall down seven times, stand up eight” that meant persisting in the face of adversity. Patsy faced adversity over and over again, being rejected from medical schools despite excellent grades, struggling to get a job as a lawyer after graduating from the University of Chicago law school, and being defeated in a bid for Congress. On her second try, though, she won, and in 1965, Patsy Takemoto Mink became the first woman of color in the U.S. Congress. Her personal experiences of discrimination, as well as letters she got from women all over the country, led her to fight for civil rights. She cosponsored Title IX, a bill requiring schools to treat men and women equally. It passed, but another bill was introduced that would have made sports exempt from the ruling. After a fierce fight, that bill was defeated, and Title IX became the law. Includes an author’s note, timeline, and bibliography. 48 pages; grades 1-5.
Pros: This excellent biography tells the story of a woman who may not be known to many but who helped bring about changes that have had a positive impact on girls and women all over the country.
Summary: As a child in Georgia, Alma Thomas loved observing the bright colors around her and making things with her hands. She and her three younger sisters weren’t allowed to go to the white school or library, so their parents filled their house with books and teachers. When Alma was 15, her family moved to Washington, D.C. to give their daughters more opportunities, and Alma graduated from high school and college, where she studied art. She taught for many years before retiring at age 69 and pursuing her own art. Using the bright colors she had loved as a child, she created paintings inspired by nature and by space travel. Alma was the first Black woman to have a solo show at the Whitney Museum in New York. Years after her death in 1978, Barack and Michelle Obama chose one of Alma Thomas’s paintings to hang in the White House, the first artwork there by a Black woman. Includes notes from the author and illustrator, photos, a timeline of events in Alma’s life and the United States during her lifetime, and a list of sources. 40 pages; grades K-4.
Pros: I had never heard of Alma Thomas, but I loved her story and the illustrations inspired by her art. While the intended audience may not appreciate the fact that Alma’s art career took off after she turned 70, I found that inspiring.
Cons: It seemed at odds with the theme of the book that the photo of Alma was in black and white.
Summary: Mary Katharine Goddard grew up in the Connecticut colony with her parents and younger brother William. Unlike most girls of the time, she learned to read and write alongside her brother. When her father died, she and her mother moved to Providence, Rhode Island, while her brother served an apprenticeship as a printer. He started several newspapers but had the unfortunate habit of abandoning them to move onto other endeavors. Mary Katharine learned the business and took over the papers, first in Providence, then in Philadelphia, and finally in Baltimore. When William started a new project, creating a postal service for the colonies, Mary Katharine took on additional responsibilities as postmaster of Baltimore. She was known as a loyal patriot, so when the Continental Congress decided to print a copy of the Declaration of Independence with the names of the signers, they gave her the job. Usually, Mary Katharine used the name M. K. Goddard for her printing work, but for the Declaration she used her full name, the only name of a woman to appear on the document. Includes an author’s note, list of important terms with definitions, and a list of sources. 40 pages; grades 2-5.
Pros: This is a great resource to add to American Revolutionary War units, featuring a little-known but fascinating woman who seems to have been way ahead of her time. The author’s note gives lots of additional information, including the fact that Mary Katharine had an enslaved woman who helped her run her business (and to whom she granted freedom and left all her possessions when she died).
Cons: I saw this recommended for kids as young as 5, but the text-heavy story, small font, and need for some historical context make it a better choice for older kids.
A handful of picture book biographies about women arrived for me at the library this week, and since March is Women’s History Month, I’ll be featuring them for the rest of the week.
Published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
Summary: Maria Anna Mozart, known as Nannerl, tells the story of her life growing up with her younger brother, Wolfie. The two of them took to music at an early age and were playing concert halls in cities across Europe from the ages of five and ten. Nannerl also loved composing, but her father forbade it, saying that writing music was only for men. When Nannerl turned eighteen, she was told that touring was over for her and that she would stay home and get married. Wolfie continued to tour, and their correspondence grew less and less frequent until one devastating day when she learned of his death. Nannerl lived for almost forty more years, returning to Salzburg and her beloved harpsichord. Includes an author’s note explaining that this book is creative nonfiction, not a strict biography; also, a timeline, glossary, and list of books and online sources. 40 pages; grades K-4.
Pros: This is a fascinating story made more interesting by being told in Nannerl’s voice. The illustrations are a beautiful addition, particularly the ones that show the music created by the Mozarts.
Cons: A quick look at Wikipedia tells me there is a lot more to Maria Anna’s story and her relationship with her brother and father than this book is able to cover.