April 22, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Visionaries: Picture Book Bios on Baker, Jefferson, and More | JLG’s Booktalks to Go

Get the latest SLJ reviews every month, subscribe today and save up to 35%.

A jazz dancer who broke the race barrier. A social outcast who claimed his pottery was the greatest art ever created. A pastor who found homes for orphaned boys and made them famous. A man who couldn’t resist collecting and reading books. These four Americans faced insurmountable obstacles, yet their work left a trail of inspiration to all who read about them. The following biographies, selected by the editors at Junior Library Guild, will inspire your readers to follow their dreams. Remember to check out the resources at the end of each booktalk.

Mad Potter GREENBERG, Jan and Sandra Jordan. The Mad Potter: George E. Ohr, Eccentric Genius. Roaring Brook. 2013. ISBN 9781596438101. JLG Level: BE : Biography Elementary (Grades 2–6).

George E. Ohr promoted himself as “unequaled, unrivaled, undisputed, greatest art potter on earth.” He even put signs up all over town. The eccentric Biloxi artist had bulging blacksmith arms and a bushy mustache that was long enough to tuck behind his ears. Never quite fitting in, he took his art ware to the World’s Fair. He won a silver ribbon, but no one bought his unusual work. After his death, an antiques dealer was invited by Ohr’s children to look at “our daddy’s pots.” Would his pottery really be, as he claimed, worth its weight in gold?

Authors Greenberg and Jordan paint the picture of a man who knew himself and stayed true to his passion. Filled with excerpts from his 1901 autobiography, vintage photographs, and examples of Ohr’s work, The Mad Potter presents an extraordinary picture of an artist who never gave up his dream. Watch a video about Ohr from the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art, which was originally designed by Frank Gehry. Read an article about the eccentric genius in Smithsonian magazine. Mississippi History Now has created a lesson plan about the Mad Potter. Students may want to know more about Rookwood Pottery, which was one of the first companies to mass produce pottery.

JosephinePOWELL, Patricia Hruby. Josephine. illus. by Christian Robinson. Chronicle. 2014. ISBN 9781452103143. JLG Level: BE : Biography Elementary (Grades 2–6).

Josephine dressed the performers, but meanwhile learned all the dances. When she saw an opportunity to take their place, she stepped in and danced. Just a kid, Baker ran away from home to join the Dixie Steppers. Once, she even hid in a costume trunk rather than be left behind. Dancing was in her blood and fame was just around the corner. Her biggest obstacle was not, however, her age or her talent. It was her skin color. Yet, Josephine Baker was not about to let prejudice stop her. “I shall dance all my life…I would like to die, breathless, spent, at the end of a dance.”

Powell, a storyteller and dancer herself, introduces readers to the colorful, real-life character of Josephine Baker. The exuberance of the age is vibrantly illustrated by Christian Robinson, who has worked for Pixar Animation Studios. Chronicle Books has produced a charming book trailer with lively music that will set your toes to tapping. Kids will want to know more about the girl who refused to take no for an answer. They can find more information at Biography.com. A Civil Rights activist, Baker even wrote to Martin Luther King, Jr., offering her support. She was one of the only women to speak at the March on Washington. And, yes, there is video of Josephine doing her banana dance, but you may just want to watch that yourself.

Hey CharlestonROCKWELL, Anne. Hey, Charleston!: The True Story of the Jenkins Orphanage Band. illus. by Colin Bootman. Carolrhoda. 2013. ISBN 9780761355656. JLG Level: NE: Nonfiction Elementary (Grades 2–6).

Not every band starts in a garage. In 1891 one group started on a street corner in downtown Charleston, South Carolina. Reverend Jenkins was a pastor who often turned bad circumstances into good ones. With the donation of old instruments, he hired the best instructors to teach the orphanage’s wards how to play music. Making the songs their own, they added a dance beat to their marches that folks called “rag.” Those kids became known as the Jenkins Orphanage Band, leaving the streets to perform in New York City and even in London, England. Wherever they went, listeners asked the boys to “give us some rag.”

Rockwell tells the story of a former slave who made a difference in the lives of kids left to fend for themselves. The Jenkins Institute continues to promote and support families. Bootman is a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor-winner. A lesson plan has been prepared by Lerner Books, along with a CCSS unit on musicians. Don’t miss the video at SCIWAY of the band playing a rousing march. They also have a great article on the history of the orphanage with pictures of the old and new buildings. During the time of the Orphanage band, the Charleston dance was invented. People around the world continue to do this jazz-age dance, and even create videos.

Thomas Jefferson Builds a LibraryROSENSTOCK, Barb. Thomas Jefferson Builds a Library. illus. by John O’Brien. Calkins Creek. 2013. ISBN 9781590789322. JLG Level: BE : Biography Elementary (Grades 2–6).

Which president had red hair, played the fiddle, read Latin and French (among other languages) and collected almost 10,000 books in his lifetime? Thomas Jefferson. In fact, he built three major libraries―just for himself. “All that is necessary for a student is access to a library,” he said in 1790. It’s no wonder then, that he wrote at least 19,000 letters, lent books to some of his friends, and sold them to others. What would happen when the largest public library lost its collection in a fire? Thomas Jefferson would come to their rescue.

Though the title works as an excellent read aloud, the small print on each page adds interesting facts and quotes for older readers. Rosenstock provides a CCSS-correlated educator’s guide for use in several subject areas. A book trailer is embedded as well. Kids may be surprised to learn that illustrator John O’Brien has created covers for the New Yorker magazine and serves as Senior Lifeguard in North Wildwood, New Jersey. Take your readers on a field trip to Monticello on their website. And remember to explore the Jefferson exhibit at the Library of Congress.

In an effort to organize these links, I have created a LiveBinder. All websites will be posted within the LiveBinder, along with the accompanying booktalk. As I write more columns, more books and their resources will be added. Simply go to JLG Booktalks to Go where you will see LiveBinder blue tabs. Each blue tab is a book title. Under each blue tab are gray subtabs with links to media, websites, and other related documents. Everything you need to teach or share brand new, hot-off-the-press books is now all in one place. Please visit JLG’s new LiveBinder, JLG Booktalks to Go.

For library resources, tips, and ideas, please visit JLG’s Shelf Life Blog.

Junior Library Guild (JLG) 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. (NOTE: JLG is owned by Media Source, Inc., SLJ’s parent company.)




Curriculum Connections

This article was featured in our free Curriculum Connections enewsletter.
Subscribe today to have more articles like this delivered to you every month.

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.