Monday, January 21, 2013

Top Ten Picture Book Biographies: 9 Fascinating People and 1 Dog

Recently at the Nerdy Book Club, Alyson Beecher (Program Support Specialist for Reading & Literacy with the Pasadena Unified School District in California) posted her list of top ten picture book biographies. She points out that nonfiction picture books are a great way to give students background knowledge in a concise way. While her list is a great one, my taste is a little different, so I wanted to share my own top ten picture book biographies. 

I tend to favor brightly-illustrated books about cool people who are often unknown. So without further ado...

Abby's Top Ten Picture Book Biographies: 9 Fascinating People and 1 Dog 

Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy's Parade by Melissa Sweet (Houghton Mifflin, 2011). Millions watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade every year, but I bet not many of them know about Tony Sarg, American immigrant and inventor, who created the iconic floating balloon puppets. This is a great story to share around Thanksgiving time or any time!

Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman by Marc Tyler Nobleman, illustrated by Ty Templeton (Charlesbridge, 2012). Years of sleuthing by the author went into writing this book about Bill Finger, the almost completely uncredited writer and co-creator of the Batman comic books. Comic-style illustrations pair nicely with the subject matter to illuminate this unsung contributor. 

The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer's Bright Ideas and Brand New Colors by Chris Barton (Charlesbridge, 2009). Did you know that it's possible to INVENT A COLOR? That's just what Bob and Joe Switzer did when they invented fluorescent paint and the neon colors seen today in traffic cones, highlighters, and many other items.  

Harlem's Little Black Bird: The Story of Florence Mills by Renee Watson, illustrated by Christian Watson (Random House Books for Young Readers, 2012). Although there are no existing recordings of Florence Mills, she was a famous singer and dancer in her day, performing around the country and abroad (including performing for the Prince of Wales). It's speculated that if not for racial issues, Florence Mills would have been hailed as one of the great performers of the 20th century. 

I and I: Bob Marley by Tony Medina, illustrated by Jesse Joshua Watson (Lee & Low, 2009). In striking verse and vibrant paintings, this book brings Bob Marley to life for new generations.

I, Matthew Henson: Polar Explorer by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Eric Velasquez (Walker Children's, 2007). Born in 1866, Matthew Henson traveled to China, Japan, North Africa, Russie, and Spain before embarking with Robert Peary, the man who "discovered" the North Pole. Henson's contributions to the discovery of the North Pole were downplayed because of his race, but he was posthumously awarded the National Geographic Society's most prestigious award in 2000. 

The Incredible Life of Balto by Meghan McCarthy (Alfred A. Knopf, 2011). Have you heard of Balto, the dog who lead sled teams to fetch medicine for the dying children of Nome, Alaska? Do you know what happened to him after that? Meghan McCarthy tells his story. I especially love her detailed author's note where she talks about tracking down facts amid conflicting reports. 

Mermaid Queen by Shana Corey, illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham (Scholastic Press, 2009). Annette Kellerman was an Australian swimmer who invented water ballet and transformed the world of women's sports. I was drawn to this book for it's brilliant, colorful illustrations, and found a little-known bit of women's history. 

Of Numbers and Stars: The Story of Hypatia by D. Anne Love, illustrated by Pam Paparone (Holiday House, 2006). Hypatia was not like other fourth-century girls. At a time when few girls were educated, Hypatia's father taught her to read and write, and when she discovered mathematics, her interest was piqued. Hypatia became a respected scholar and a symbol of women's education for generations to come. 

Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat: Ella Fitzgerald by Roxanne Orgill, illustrated by Sean Qualls (Candlewick, 2010). Ella Fitzgerald, raggedy and poor, wouldn't give up her dream of singing on stage. She had something inside her that made people want to get up and dance. The words of this book ring with rhythm and beg to be read out loud. It's a story about rising up from your circumstances and never giving up your dreams. 

And there you have my top ten picture book biographies. What are your favorites?