April 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

People Who Left Their Mark: Picture Book Biographies | JLG’s On the Radar

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People with vision see far beyond the future. The first woman to graduate with a degree in the sciences at the University of California changed the color of a city’s landscape. An illustrator award is given annually in honor of a man who couldn’t stop drawing. A woman who wasn’t allowed to fly commercially found a way to put herself into our history books. The following selections by the editors at Junior Library Guild present ordinary people who did extraordinary things.

Cart that Carried MartinBUNTING, Eve. The Cart That Carried Martin. illus. by Don Tate. Charlesbridge. 2013. ISBN 9781580893879. JLG Level: I+ : Independent Readers (Grades 2–4).

“The cart was old. Its paint had faded. It was for sale outside Cook’s Antiques and Stuff. Nobody wanted it.” That was before it carried something heavier than the burden it bore. The wagon that no one wanted was borrowed for use in a funeral procession. Two mules led it through the streets while thousands of people sang, cried, and grieved. It was the funeral cart that carried Martin Luther King, Jr. whose spirit could not be contained in the coffin that bound him. Reading a newspaper article inspired Bunting’s latest picture book―a powerful tale of the modest artifact that now motivates men to remove their hats.

Tree LadyHOPKINS, H. Joseph. The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever. illus. by Jill McElmurry. S & S/Beach Lane. 2013. ISBN 9781442414020. JLG Level: BE : Biography Elementary (Grades 2–6).

When Kate Sessions first saw San Diego’s City Park (as it was then called), it looked like the rest of the desert town―there was very little green. She became a tree hunter, asking for seeds from gardeners all over the world. Soon Kate’s seedlings were growing all over the city. In 1909, city planners met to discuss the upcoming Panama-California Exposition. Kate was hired to plant thousands of trees in what was now called Balboa Park before the visitors arrived in 1915. Could the young gardener (the first woman to graduate with a science degree from UC) prepare a treeless city park in such a short time? Hopkins’ first picture book explores the powerful impact of a woman who changed the landscape of San Diego.

Randolph CaldecottMARCUS, Leonard S. Randolph Caldecott: The Man Who Could Not Stop Drawing. illus. by author. Farrar/Frances Foster. 2013. ISBN  9780374310257. JLG Level: BE : Biography Elementary (Grades 2–6).

Seventy-five years ago, a new award was established to celebrate the most distinguished work by an American children’s book illustrator. Seventy-seven years earlier, the man for whom the award was named took his first job at age fifteen. He was hired as a clerk in a British bank. Though the job was stable, especially for a young man who had experienced health issues, banking was not his heart’s desire. More than anything he loved to draw. Whenever he could, he doodled ―even on his banking papers. He knew that he would have to move to London where editorial cartoons could give him the break he needed. Armed with a small portfolio, Caldecott took the opportunity to share his work with important editors. One of them liked his art, publishing the first of many illustrations in London Society. As his popularity rose, the artist was approached to take over the work of retiring illustrator, Walter Crane. His new job would be to create the drawings for children’s toybooks. Completely changing the format, style, and design, his first book immediately sold the first printing’s 10,000 copies. From doodles as a young boy, he became the most sought-after illustrator of his time. Today, his name is recognized by children and librarians all over the country. His name was Randolph Caldecott.

DaredevilMcCARTHY, Meghan. Daredevil: The Daring Life of Betty Skelton. illus. by author. S & S/Paula Wiseman. 2013. JLG Level: BE : Biography Elementary (Grades 2–6).

In 1942 women weren’t allowed to be commercial pilots, but Betty Skelton was determined to fly. She became a stunt pilot, calling it “aerobatic flying.” Turning her plane upside down, she became known for her daring ribbon cuts, using her propeller to slice the banner. She flew barefoot and took her dog, Little Tinker. In 1951, Skelton broke an altitude record, soaring an amazing height of 29,050 feet―higher than the top of Mount Everest. From there she drove racecars, continuing her need for speed and record-setting daredevil deeds. McCarthy’s fascinating account includes quotes, a time line, and an extensive bibliography of a woman who became “The First Lady of Firsts.”

For audio/video versions of these booktalks, please visit JLG’s Shelf Life Blog.

Junior Library Guild is a collection development service that helps school and public libraries acquire the best new children’s and young adult books. Season after season, year after year, Junior Library Guild book selections go on to win awards, collect starred or favorable reviews, and earn industry honors. Visit us at www.JuniorLibraryGuild.com.


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Deborah B. Ford About Deborah B. Ford

Deborah is the Director of Library Outreach for Junior Library Guild. She is an award-winning teacher librarian with almost 30 years of experience as a classroom teacher and librarian in K–12 schools.