Category Archives: Biographies

Book Review: The Extraordinary Mark Twain (According to Susy)

I’ve been having a great deal of fun reading all sorts of biographies lately.  This picture book biography of Mark Twain is told through the eyes of his 13-year-old daughter, Susy.  Susy details a lively and entertaining view of her papa.  If you know me, you might know about my obsession with miniature things.  I easily fell in love with the little mini book excerpts entitled “Journal” placed throughout the book. These little books contain the actual written words from Mark Twain’s daughter.  The end notes include information about Mark Twain, including a selected time line of his life, a detailed bibliography, some information about his daughter Susy and a great teaching guide for writing your own biography.

Title:  The extraordinary Mark Twain (according to Susy)

Author:  Barbara Kerley

Illustrator:  Edwin Fotheringham

Publisher:  Scholastic Press

ISBN:  978-0-545-12508-6


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Book Review: Drawing From Memory

This graphic novel is Allen Say’s own autobiography that follows his journey from a young child who loved to draw and read comic books to a young artist during WWII who became an apprentice under Noro Shinpei, Japan’s leading cartoonist.  Allen was shunned by his father at an early age who didn’t understand or value his artistic talent.  When his parents separated, Allen was furnished with his own apartment at the age of 12 as a quiet place to study (and create art!)  Both the historical context and the relationships Allen forms on his quest to developing and embracing his love for art make this an intriguing book to read.  The author’s note at the end of the book includes real photographs and some follow-up notes as to what happens to Allen later in life.

Today, Allen Say lives right here in Portland, Oregon.  He is a well-loved and respected artist who has won the Caldecott Medal for “Grandfather’s Journey” as well as a Caldecott Honor and the Boston Globe Horn Book Award for ” the Boy of the Three-Year Nap”.

Title:  Drawing from memory

Author/Illustrator:  Allen Say

Publisher:  Scholastic Press

ISBN:  978-0-545-17686-6


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Book Review: The Man Who Walked Between The Towers

This is a lovely book that not only introduces young readers to the amazing french tightrope acrobat, Philippe Petit, but also subtly pays tribute to the memory of the twin towers.  Follow Philippe as he secretly plans how to disguise himself and sneak up to the top of the unfinished twin tower buildings.  Filled with suspense and wonder, readers are drawn into the adventure of suspending the cable between the towers and Philippe’s one hour “performance” dancing along the wire while police waited for his arrest at either ends.  The book closes with a sentiment of remembering not only the towers but also this amazing moment in history on the morning of August 7, 1974.  This Caldecott Award-Winning book has been made into an animated video by scholastic and narrated by Jake Gyllenhaal.

Title:  The man who walked between the towers

Author/Illustrator:  Mordicai Gerstein

Publisher:  Roaring Book Press

ISBN:  0-7613-2868-8


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Book Review: Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade

An inspiring book about a boy who loved to figure out how things moved and later, the man who never outgrew his love for toys and became the original puppeteer of Macy’s parade.  This engaging picture book provides a lot of historical detail surrounding the origins of the Macy’s parade and the dazzling balloon puppets for which it is known.  While the story will appeal to inquisitive young minds, the illustrations really make this book a winner.  Melissa Sweet utilizes her award-winning collage style to incorporate colorful illustrations with her own handmade toys modeled after some of Tony Sarg’s original designs.  The back of the book includes an author’s note about Tony Sarg, information about the artwork included in the book and a very nice bibliography.  Balloons Over Broadway has won several awards including a 2012 Caldecott Honor and the Sibert Award for the most distinguished informational book published in the U.S.  There is also a fun activity kit to accompany the book with puppets and masks for children to make.

Title:  Balloons over broadway:  The true story of the puppeteer of Macy’s parade

Author/Illustrator:  Melissa Sweet

Publisher:  Houghton Mifflan Harcourt

ISBN:  978-0-547-19945-0


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Book Review: Me… Jane

I absolutely love this book!  Instead of a typical biography that covers the life span of the person highlighted, this book allows readers to become acquainted with young Jane Goodall.  She was a curious little girl who loved the outdoors and learned as much as she could about plants and animals through books and by exploring the world around her.  After reading her favorite book, Tarzan, Jane dreamed of living with the animals in Africa and when she grew up her dream came true.  The book is richly enhanced by the addition of some of Jane’s own drawings, photos of Jane, and a short section in the back about her life and a message from Jane, herself. Beyond the charming tale of young Jane, I immediately fell in love with the incorporation of faded stamps to accompany the charming water colored illustrations.  I encourage you to share this book with others and see for yourself why it has won the 2012 Charlotte Zolotow Award for best picture book.  You can also listen to a short interview with the author and find out more about this wonderful book.

Title:  Me… Jane

Author/Illustrator:  Patrick McDonnell

Publisher:  Little, Brown and Company

ISBN:  978-0-316-04546-9


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Picture Book Biographies

I happen to have three award-winning/honored books in my stack today that are all picture book biographies.  Picture book biographies are a wonderful way to introduce history to young children.  When done well, the narrative and illustrations draw the reader into the story, allowing them to imagine what life was like, instead of talking at them.  Like any good biography should, accurate research and information is included.  However, the enticing format of the picture book makes this information readily accessible to even the very young child.  Do you have a favorite picture book biography?  How have the little ones in your life responded to them?  Be sure to look for my upcoming reviews of three noteworthy picture book biographies:

Me… Jane by Patrick McConnell

Balloons Over Broadway by Melissa Sweet

The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordicai Gerstein




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