January brought a whole slew of new nonfiction picture books. Perfect timing to give me a big headstart on the nonfiction picture book challenge before reading will have to take a backseat in February. A couple, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind and The Worst of Friends I’ve taken time to review individually. Here’s a quick roundup of others I had a chance to read.
A Boy Called Dickens by Deborah Hopkinson and illustrated by John Hendrix focuses on the difficult time that Charles Dickens worked in a blacking factory and lived alone while his family was in the debtor’s prison Marshallsea. John Hendrix The soot of London permeates the artwork and despair Dickens felt during this period of his life. Hopkinson weaves characters from Dickens’ stories into the narrative making connections between his experiences during this period to his later writing.
Words Set Me Free: The Story of Young Frederick Douglass by Lesa Cline-Ransome and illustrated by James E. Ransome is a great connection for literacy programs during African American History Month. While detailing Douglass’ early life, the focus is on how he learned to read and write (and was prevented from doing so) and how he shared this knowledge with others.
Freedom Song: The Story of Henry “Box” Brown by Sally M. Walker and illustrated by Sean Qualls imagines the role that songs may have played in this famous escape from slavery. It was hard to read this without comparing to the superior Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine and illustrated by Kadir Nelson.
Levi Strauss Gets a Bright Idea: A Fairly Fabricated Story of a Pair of Pants by Tony Johnston and illustrated by Stacy Innerst is a tall tale take on the invention of blue jeans. Innerst’s illustrations on denim are fabulous and lend this book to accompanying art projects. Johnston has written a rousing tale of the Gold Rush that is great fun as long as adults make clear that this is a tall tale based loosely on facts.
Two titles to consider with President’s Day coming up are George: George Washington, Our Founding Father by Frank Keating and illustrated by Mike Wimmer and Those Rebels, John & Tom by Barbara Kerley and illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham. George is a serious first-person view of George Washington’s character development with each page anchored by one of the “Rules of Civility” Washington wrote during his life. On the other hand, Those Rebels brings whimsy to the influence of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson on the founding of the United States. Fotheringham’s illustrations complement this really engaging look at their friendship and accomplishments.