by Bryan Patrick Avery
There are many ways to perform a magic trick. The cups and balls, considered to be magic’s oldest trick, is performed by nearly every magician. Houdini is known for saying the he considered no man to be a magician if he couldn’t adequately perform some version of this classic trick. What’s so interesting about the cups and balls, and perhaps one of the reasons it has stood the test of time, as that every magician performs it differently. Some use heavy metal cups, some use ordinary coffee mugs (see Lance Burton). The trick is traditionally performed with three cups, but some of magic’s most notable names (like David Williamson) use only two. The point is, the variety of methods and tools used to perform the affect make it an entertaining experience for the spectator.
The same is true when it comes to non-fiction books for kids. This month, let’s take a look at three picture book biographies which all do the same thing (tell the story of a notable figure in history) but in very different ways.
Martin’s Big Words, written by Doreen Rapaport and illustrated by Brian Collier, is a multi-award winning biography of Martin Luther King, Jr. His story is told by mixing scenes from his life with the powerful words from his speeches and writing. Combining that with Brian Collier’s stunning artwork, Martin’s Big Words becomes a captivating story of one of the twentieth century’s most important figures.
Sometimes, of course, fewer words can be just as powerful. This is the case in Viva Frida, written and illustrated by Yuyi Morales with photographs by Tom O’Meara. With just one or two words per spread, in both English and Spanish, and a stunning mix of paintings and photography, Morales takes us on a journey through Frida’s search for inspiration. We see Frida at work, alongside her husband, and with the animals she loved so dearly, as she embraces her search. While many biographies tell us about a person, Morales’ work shows us who Frida was. A masterful piece of art in itself, Viva Frida, a Caldecott Honor book, is an extraordinary biography which will thrill readers of all ages.
As a child, I was fascinated by Jacques Cousteau. When I first heard about Manfish, written by Jennifer Berne and illustrated by Eric Puybaret, I couldn’t wait to read it. I was not disappointed. Berne’s book tells Cousteau’s story brilliantly, capturing the sense of wonder and discovery that drove Cousteau. There is an almost childlike perspective, which we seem to lose as adults, that Berne uses, which makes Cousteau’s work even more accessible to kids. Puybaret's beautiful illustrations, paired with the almost lyrical text, make Manfish a joy to experience. As a bonus, Berne has included some suggestions for young readers who want to learn more about Jacques Cousteau. It’s a terrific way to extend the experience of the book into readers' lives.
Well, that’s all for this month. I’m in the throes of revising two picture book biographies, so I’ve got my work cut out for me. Have a very magical month!
We are so excited to be mixing things up at the Children's Book Academy, beginning with some delicious additions to the Blogfish. Meet our awesome new bloggers!!
Here's our lineup:
1st Mondays begin with Clear Fork/Spork editor/art director, former agent and former kidlit professor Mira Reisberg PhD who is also the Director of the Children's Book Academy.
2nd Mondays will feature super smart Melissa Stoller whose career is taking off with several new books.
3rd Mondays will feature Bryan Patrick Avery, published writer, man of mystery, and professional magician among other things.
4th Mondays will feature the fabulous debut author/illustrator Sarah Momo Romero.
And 5th Mondays will feature awesomely irreverent and super funny Aussie author Brydie Wright.
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