February 22, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

A Banker, a Painter, and a Music Maker: Inspirational Picture Book Biographies │ JLG’s Booktalks to Go

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Why do painters paint what they do? Why do singers sing what they sing? What makes a man hit a ball in more than 50 straight games? Digging into someone’s past allows readers to connect to their future. Whether it’s a well-known name like Joe DiMaggio or a less-known figure like Muhammad Yunus, the subjects in the following biographies selected by the editors at Junior Library Guild will inspire kids to overcome obstacles.

Spic and spanKULLING, Monica. Spic-and-Span!: Lillian Gilbreth’s Wonder Kitchen. illus. by David Parkins. 32p. Tundra. 2014. ISBN 9781770493803. JLG Level:  BE : Biography Elementary (Grades 2–6).

Running a family with 11 children is no easy feat. Add a full-time job for the widowed mother, and it seems impossible. Yet Lillian Gilbreth was an expert at efficiency. Her space-saving, step-saving factory ideas could be used in the home. In 1927, she took out her pencil, redesigned her kitchen, and reinvented herself. Her efforts changed the way our kitchens work today.

Canadian author Kulling writes of her journey to publishing on her website where there are also links to her other biographies. Teach kids how to say her name by sharing the author pronunciation on Teachingbooks.net. Prepare for sharing the book by reading the background information and author chat on Jama’s Alphabet Soup, “an eclectic feast of food, fiction, and folderol.” A visit to Parkins’s website shows a collage of his picture books. Let children guess which book before you click on the snippet. On the publisher’s page, you’ll find additional information about the author and illustrator, as well as a plethora of reviews. Random House of Canada provides a teacher’s guide correlated with Common Core State Standards.

Iridescence of birdsMACLACHLAN, Patricia. The Iridescence of Birds: A Book About Henri Matisse. illus. by Hadley Hooper. 40p. Roaring Brook. 2014. ISBN 9781596439481. JLG Level: NEK : Nonfiction Early Elementary (Grades K–2).

Where does inspiration come from? In a French village often filled with grey skies, Henri Matisse had a mother who filled his home with color. From painted plates to red carpets on the walls, the young artist mixed paints, weaving his own tapestries. He brought bold color with light and movement into modern art.

With one long question and one short, MacLachlan introduces the famous artist to young children. Though she doesn’t have a website, the renowned author’s legacy is found on many websites including Macmillan’s. Share the author video produced by HarperKids with your patrons. Share the hardest thing about her name by listening to the author audio pronunciation at TeachingBooks.net. View the illustrations on Hooper’s website. You can also follow her on Twitter. Combine a lesson or storytime in your makerspace with ideas from a Pinterest search or direct readers to learn more about Matisse from a self-guided study on Matisse for Kids.

Hello I'm johnny cashNERI, G. Hello, I’m Johnny Cash. illus. by A.G. Ford. 40p. Candlewick. ISBN 9780763662455. JLG Level: BE : Biography Elementary (Grades 2–6).

“Hello, I’m Johnny Cash.” Known as J. R. as a boy, Cash used music to soothe his soul when his family’s poverty became hard to bear. When his oldest brother died from an accident, it broke J.R.’s heart. Singing was the only way he could live through the loss of Jack. He used music to protect him, pouring out his sorrow into lyrics and chords. His brother Roy told him, “Someday you’re going to be somebody.” Some singers are one-hit-wonders. Others become legends. Introducing himself at every concert became a formality.

Neri’s free verse biography tells life’s hardships of the legendary Johnny Cash. Complete with video, links, and photos, readers will find an amazing backstory on the author’s website. You can follow him on Twitter. Introduce the subject by showing the book trailer or visiting the official Johnny Cash website. Read a biography and view Ford’s work on the illustrator’s website. You can also follow him on Twitter. Look inside the book on Candlewick’s website. Share the author’s rejection story that’s posted on The Writing Barn and readers can learn that projects worth doing often encounter obstacles along the way.

CosmobiographyRASCHKA, Chris. The Cosmobiography of Sun Ra: The Sound of Joy Is Enlightening. illus. by author. 40p. Candlewick. 2014. ISBN 9780763658069. JLG Level: BE : Biography Elementary (Grades 2–6).

“Sun Ra always said that he came from Saturn.” He believed that music is what holds us all together. Refusing to join the military and neglecting to pay his bills, he immersed himself in music. Creating a group called the Sun Ra Arkestra, he blazed a trail in the industry, wearing fabulous robes and publishing independently rather than recording on a single label. He lived his dream, and his music lives on.

Raschka’s artwork harmonizes with the text, telling an alien version of the musician that renamed himself. Listen to Raschka talk about the history of his name on TeachingBooks.net. Read his biography and download the author notes on Candlewick. Check out Raschka’s interview on Reading Rockets. Readers can learn more about musician at the Sun Ra Arkestra website or on NPR.

StreakROSENSTOCK, Barb. The Streak: How Joe DiMaggio Became America’s Hero. illus. by Terry Widener. 32p. Calkins Creek. 2014. ISBN 9781590789926. JLG Level: SE : Sports Elementary (Grades 2–6).

With Europe at war, Americans were worried that they would have to join the fight. Baseball took them away from their troubles. Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak took them even further away. With his favorite bat, Betsy Ann, the hitter tied the record of 41 hits. Then the famous game bat went missing. Could he keep the streak going―without Betsy Ann?

With another 2014 hit on her hands (Big Franklin’s Big Splash: Calkins Creek, 2014; and The Noisy Paint Box: Knopf, 2014), Rosenstock delivers another home run. Visit her new website where you’ll learn 10 Important Things, more on her books, and information about author visits. She can also Skype! Follow her on Twitter. Show the trailer to introduce the book before using the educator’s guide to present it. A visit to Widener’s website reveals the illustrator’s connection to baseball in his biography. Rosenstock’s back matter websites, such as the Baseball Hall of Fame, are included in the title’s tabs in JLG’s Fall 2014 LiveBinder.

Twentytwo centsYOO, Paula. Twenty-two Cents: Muhammad Yunus and the Village Bank. illus. by Jamel Akib. 40p. Lee & Low. 2014. ISBN 9781600606588. JLG Level: NE : Nonfiction Elementary (Grades 2–6).

When people borrow money, they usually borrow thousands. In Bangladesh, Yunus learned that women were borrowing 22 cents to purchase materials for making stools they sold at the market. With high lending rates, their profit was a mere two cents. Borrowing caused a cycle of poverty they couldn’t overcome. Someone needed to find a reasonable way to lend money to these women. Yunus decided to do it himself, launching Grameen Bank, otherwise known as the village bank.

Read the author’s blog and biography on Yoo’s website. You can also follow her on Twitter. Lee & Low provides author and illustrator bios on their website. Book Dragon, an initiative by the Smithsonian, features the biography in their efforts to provide books for the “multi-culti reader.” You can read Yunus’s Nobel Peace Prize Speech of 2006 at NobelPrize.org. Share the online resources suggested by the author by using the Smore included in JLG’s Fall 2014 LiveBinder.  

Additional Resources

The resources for the above titles have been organized in a new JLG Booktalks to Go: Fall 2014 LiveBinder. Titles are sorted by interest level, PreK-3, 3-6, 5-8, and YA. Check out our award-winning Spring 2014 LiveBinder which organizes resources for spring releases. All websites are posted within each LiveBinder, along with the accompanying booktalk. As I write more columns, more books and their resources are added. Everything you need to teach or share brand new, hot-off-the-press books is now all in one place. Booktalks and resources are also included on JLG’s BTG Pinterest board.

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.)

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.

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  1. Helen Foster James says:

    Great article! Thank you!