I recently gave a 5×5 book favorites presentation at the Children’s Literature Network’s electrifying Books for Breakfast gathering in Plymouth, Minnesota to dozens and dozens of children’s authors, illustrators, and children’s literature enthusiasts. A 5×5 presentation is booktalking five books in five minutes. Since my current writing project is Biographies to Read Aloud for Huron Street Press, I went that route.
There was one biography I got my hands on just a few days before the presentation. I gave it little more than a shout-out at the gathering. Here is a more developed presentation of this award-winning book:
It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw by Don Tate and illustrated by R. Gregory Christie. Lee & Low, 2012.
Bill Traylor started drawing for the first time at the age of eighty-five years old. He was born a slave in Alabama. He worked hard but was able to enjoy some free time, swimming with friends. Bill started to store these memories “deep inside himself.” After the Civil War, Bill and his family stayed on the farm as sharecroppers. He grew up through good times and bad and he always “saved up memories.” When Bill was an old man, he moved to the city and was homeless. “One day in early 1939 he picked up the stub of a pencil and a piece of discarded paper and began to pour out his memories in pictures.” A local artist named Charles Shannon noticed Bill’s work and brought him art supplies. Charles also arranged for an exhibit of Bill’s works. “Bill Traylor shared his memories with the world.”
Bon Appétit!: the Delicious Life of Julia Child by Jessie Hartland. Schwartz & Wade, 2012.
Julia Child was a tall gangly girl, with “VERY big feet,” who enjoyed dangerous skating games and playing pranks (she once painted a college dorm toilet seat with red paint). She got a job with the Office of Strategic Services during World War II. One of her jobs was to help develop a shark repellent to keep them away from underwater explosives. She fell in love with a co-worker Paul Child and they discovered they liked exploring new foods and restaurants together. One time, she said, “They have fish-head soup, ox tongue with tripe, snails, frogs, pig intestines, jellyfish with fish belly, pigs’ ear with fish roe. Let’s order it all! I’m hungry!” Another example of humor concerns a time when we see Julia’s perspective while cooking on her television show. The cue card lady is holding up a sign that reads, “You have spinach in your teeth.”
Brothers at Bat: the True Story of an Amazing All-Brother Baseball Team by Audrey Vernick and illustrated by Steven Salerno. Houghton Mifflin, 2012.
The Accera family consisted of four girls and twelve boys, “twelve baseball-playing brothers.” In fact, they had more boys than baseball positions out on the field. “Their high school baseball team had an Accera on it twenty-two years in a row. We meet Anthony, nicknamed “Poser” because of the way he stood at the play, and Alfred, a solid catcher even though he lost the use of one eye in a baseball accident. In 1997, a special honor was held for the Accera family at the Baseball Hall of Fame. On the way home from the ceremony, their bus broke down. While the waited, the all played baseball. “That ball soared from grandfather to granddaughter, from father to son. From brother to brother.”
Just Behave, Pablo Picasso! by Jonah Winter and illustrated by Kevin Hawkes. Scholastic, 2012.
Pablo’s painting skills as a young man were evident right away. We see depictions of his paintings as he went through his blue period and then his rose-colored paintings. He was very successful and then, he changed his style once again. This time, he was influenced by African masks. “They seem to have some magical, wonderful power that realistic paintings do not have.” The masks inspired to paint a new style, “different from any other painting in the world.” This style is known as Cubism, an important direction in the history of art. Pablo was hurt by the negative reaction to his new paintings, but he resisted all efforts to go back to realistic paintings. When people said that what he was doing didn’t make any sense, Pablo replied, “The chief enemy of Creativity is ‘good sense’!”
Martin de Porres: the Rose in the Desert by Gary D. Schmidt and illustrated by David Diaz. Clarion, 2012.
A young African former slave brought her newborn baby to a priest in Peru to be baptized. “‘Who is this child?’ asked the priest. ‘He is a rose in the desert,’ said Anna.” She names her child Martin. The boy grew up in the barrios, “where the slaves and poorest Indians lived.” His father, a Spanish royal conqueror, came into Martin’s life long enough to take him out of the barrios. Martin was apprenticed to a cirujano, a surgeon, to learn how to “take out teeth, to bleed a patient with leeches, to set broken bones, and to cut hair.” A man who Martin healed gave the boy lemon tree seeds as a gift. The tree grew the next morning and gave fruit spring, summer, fall, and winter. Word spread about Martin’s healing powers and miracles. Martin eventually became “the first black saint in the Americas…the patron saint of interracial relations, social justice, those of mixed race, public education, and animal shelters.”
Noah Webster & His Words by Jeri Chase Ferris and illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch. Houghton Mifflin, 2012.
Noah Webster was “‘full of CON-FI-DENCE’ [noun: belief that one is right].” He knew he shouldn’t be a farmer like his father. When he was caught reading instead of doing his chores, “Noah was red-faced with EM-BAR-RASS-MENT [noun: shame; confusion].” Noah decided to write the first American “DIC-TION-AR-Y [noun: a book listing words in ABC order, telling what they mean and how to spell them].” He started it in 1807, studying and traveling to accomplish his dream. Noah finally finished his last entry: “‘ZY-GO-MAT-IC [adj.: related to the cheekbone].” He was “EC-STAT-IC [adj.: filled with pleasure; delighted; thrilled]!” The American Dictionary of the English Language was published in 1828, when Noah was seventy years old.