Friday, February 17, 2017

PPBF: Pioneers and Inventors

There's no official Perfect Picture Book Friday today, so let me recommend some books celebrating Black History Month instead:

Today's theme is Trailblazers!

Dear Benjamin Banneker, by Andrea and Brian Pinkney
Dear Benjamin Banneker
Written by Andrea Davis Pinkney
Illustrated by Brian Pinkney

HMH Books for Young Readers, 1994
Grades 1-4, 1550 words 1100L

Biography, Inventors, Nonfiction, Abolition

No slave master ever ruled over Benjamin Banneker as he was growing up in Maryland along the Patapsco River. He was as free as the sky was wide, free to count the slugs that made their home on his parents' tobacco farm, free to read, and to wonder: Why do the stars change their place in the sky from night to night? What makes the moon shine full, then, weeks later, disappear? How does the sun know to rise just before the day?

As much as this is an introduction to the amazingly diverse talents of Benjamin Banneker, it is a spotlight on his efforts to fight the injustice and sins of slavery. Written in a lengthy, picture storybook style of the 90s, it is nevertheless well-crafted. Between striking pictures and piercing words, this biography gives a picture of life and thought during the late 18th century.

Teacher link has compiled lesson plans and biographical resources for this book.

What Color Is My World?
The Lost History of African-American Inventors
What Color Is My World?

Written by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Raymond Obstfeld
Illustrated by Ben Boos and A. G. Ford

Candlewick, 2012
Ages 8-12, 96 pp, 880L

Biography, Inventors, Nonfiction, History

"You've got to use your imagination," Mama encouraged us.
That's what adults always say when something looks really awful but they want you to say something nice anyway.
Mama smiled weakly and waited for us to say something nice.
And waited.
More Waiting.
Finally, my twin sister, Ella, shook her head. "My imagination must be low on batteries because all I can see is some creepy old house out of some old horror movie."
Thank-you, Ella." Mama frowned. Then she turned to me. "What do you think, Herbie?"
"It's great, Mama. Very, uh, roomy."
The ideas and talent behind this book are first-class. The execution, maybe not, but this is a book deserving of attention for its kid-appeal, its engaging content, its rare subject matter, and its optimistic mission. The book is immense in scope, attempting to tell "the lost history of African-American Inventors." The format is daring, encompassing a narrative about a contemporary African-American family, a secondary narrative: the contents of a character's journal, short biographical portraits of numerous inventors, and more lengthy historical anecdotes. Add a few comic-style pages, foldouts, and a mysterious handyman, and you can see why I think this book over-ambitious. But I appreciate the content. I applaud the author's passion that there's "more to our history than slavery, jazz, sports, and the civil rights marches." This is a book I would have loved as a kid. As an adult, I was fascinated by the diverse inventions and saddened by the unjust struggles the inventors had to overcome. I would have liked to see the book include an index of some sort and biographical information on all four of the book's creators. The story about the family was a little contrived, but I'm sure the intent was to bring readers to this book. Indeed, I hope to find this book, and many like it, on kids' shelves across America.

With Books and Bricks,
by Suzanne Slade and Nicole Tadgell
With Books and Bricks: How Booker T. Washington Built a School

Written by Suzanne Slade
Illustrated by Nicole Tadgell

Albert Whitman & Company, 2014
Grades 2-5, 1000 words, 830L

Biography, Non-fiction

From Sunrise to sunset, young Booker worked hard. He carried water to the fields. He carried corn to the mill. He carried rocks from the yard.
All day long, Booker carried heavy loads with a heavy heart because he was a slave.

Beautifully written, never sentimental, this forthright telling of the herculean effort to build the Tuskegee Institute is a testament to human ingenuity and determination. The illustrations are packed with emotion. The rare origin of the school is a compelling story which opens conversations. Booker T. Washington was a remarkable man who deserves this spotlight, but his students, too, are remarkable for their willingness to work for their dreams. While no one should be barred from opportunity to improve, I wonder how many of us today would work so hard or value our futures so highly?

Fancy Party Gowns,
The Story of Fashion Designer Ann Cole Lowe
Fancy Party Gowns
Written by Deborah Blumenthal
Illustrated by Laura Freeman

Little Bee Books, 2017
Grades preschool-3, 40 pp, 830L

Biography, Non-fiction, Fashion

When she was old enough to thread a needle, Ann Cole Lowe's momma and grandma taught her how to sew.

Wisps of cloth would fall from their worktables like confetti, and Ann would scoop them up and turn them into flowers as bright as roses in the garden.

Ann's family came from Alabama. Her great-grandma had been a slave, so her family knew about working hard just to get by.

Ann also knew that doing what you love could set your spirit soaring.

I love the quirky illustrations in this book. The text is written in a lyrical voice, painting word-pictures without overwriting. Fascinating snippets from the subject's life piece together a compelling portrait of an unsung African American. The author inspires readers with the recurrent phrase, "Ann thought about what she could do not what she couldn't change."  In the author's note, Blumenthal admits, "While researchers of Ann's life will find inconsistencies in her biography, what is never in dispute is the extent of her talent." From precious evenings beside her mother to lonely afternoons in a New York college classroom, Lowe stitched her dreams into reality. Unrecognized and underpaid, Lowe nevertheless pioneered a path for career women who would follow. This book is inspiring and worthwhile.

Don't forget:
Susanna Leonard Hill's Second Annual Valentiny Writing Contest has preempted her regularly scheduled Perfect Picture Book Friday event. My entry was posted last week. Voting starts Monday. Winners will be announced next Friday.

Next week:
Picture books on the Civil Rights Movement.

Coming soon:
PPBF review of  Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World about Kindness

Check out these and other Perfect Picture books at your local library.

Reviewed by Joanna
Reviewed by Joanne

Written by PPBF reviewer Vivian
From Sally's Bookshelf

Have you reviewed a Perfect Picture Book along this theme? Please leave the link in the comments below. Thanks!

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