by Bryan Patrick Avery
One of the most anticipated releases among magicians of the past several decades has to be the recently released “The Magic of Johnny Thompson”. Released just last month, it’s sold out everywhere (thank goodness I got my copy). The two-volume set covers the life and the work of one of the most storied legends of magic. Reading through it got me thinking about the ways we can tell true stories without making them feel like lectures or instruction manuals. This month, let’s take a look at a few non-fiction books that tell true stories in new and interesting ways.
“Take a Picture of Me, James VanDerZee”, by Andrea J. Loney and illustrated by Keith Mallett, tells the story of Harlem Renaissance photographer James VanDerZee. Though the story takes us from VanDerZee’s first exposure to photography all the way through his now famous exhibit, Harlem on My Mind, it doesn’t simply read as a collection of facts along a time line. Instead, Loney uses strong imagery and onomatopoeia in the text to create an immersive experience for the reader. The result is a story that makes an emotional connection with the reader while telling the story of an important figure in American history.
Another interesting way to present a biography is to focus on a single event or time in the subject’s life. This is what Carol Boston Weatherford did in “Before John Was a Jazz Giant”, illustrated by Sean Qualls. A Coretta Scott King Honor book, this book tells the story of how jazz great John Coltrane used the experiences of his childhood (family, church, and community) to influence his music. The rhythm of the story, each line beginning with the words “Before John Was a Jazz Giant”, pulls the reader through the book and towards an ending that brings the story to a satisfying conclusion. Coupled with Qualls’ illustration, Weatherford’s story is truly a work of art.
Of course, biographies aren’t the only non-fiction stories to tell. In “We Shall Overcome, The Story of a Song”, written by Debbie Levy and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton, we learn the history of the iconic civil rights song, We Shall Overcome. From its humble beginnings as a song sung by slaves on American plantations through the civil rights movement and beyond, we see the power the song had on those who sang it, giving them hope, bringing them together, and leading the way towards a better world. The book is inspiring, and a treasured reminder that what we create, has the power to change the world.
That’s all for this month, I’m off to spend the day with Johnny Thompson’s book to find some inspiration of my own. Have a great and magical month.
We are so excited to be mixing things up at CBA, 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 Maggie Brown.
And 5th Mondays will feature a surprise reprise from over nine years of archives.