Thanks to Alyson Beecher's Non-Fiction Picture Book Challenge at Kidlit Frenzy, everyone shares wonderful non-fiction picture books. We learn much from authors who write about special topics.
How do we learn about people who have accomplished extraordinary things? Is it about raw talent, then persistence in achieving goals? Is it that they will not quit when they have a clear vision of what they want? I'm not sure, but the following two books tell of two who have achieved greatness in spite of obstacles, and have not stopped even after first successes. It is terrific to have authors researching and writing stories of past "heroes", and the illustrators who illuminate the words so beautifully.
Matt Tavares tells that at five, Jean François Graveled (The Great Blondin) gave his first public performance on a tightrope. He then went on to join a circus troupe, but never felt satisfied, was always looking for something that had never been done before. His troupe visited Niagara Falls, and there began his challenge. First he needed to obtain permission to cross from the U.S. to Canada, and with some helpful farmers on both ends, got it. With guide ropes holding the three-inch-wide rope steady, he crossed the 1100 feet to the other side. In the middle, crowds held their breath as he sat down in the middle, did a few amazing tricks, then lowered twine down to a waiting ship. They attached a bottle which he raised up, held it high in a toast, then finished the crossing. Amazed, relieved, cheering, Blondin again surprised them all. He crossed back to the U.S., a second crossing! He did this for several years, adding more tricks each performance. The book includes a four page pull-out spread showing Blondin in numerous dangerous poses, like driving a wheelbarrow, and walking on stilts! Tavares' illustrations fill the pages with excitement, including the crowd's reactions along with The Great Blondin's coolness as he walked. There is added information in an author's note with a bibliography.
When I read of the injustices faced by African-Americans I hold admiration for their strength in pursuing their passions no matter what. This is the story of Vivien Thomas, starting through need as a medical researcher, hired again at another hospital, one that was even more segregated than the first one, in a place where he struggled to find a decent home for his family in that "whites-only" world. In this story of his life by Gwendolyn Hooks, he seems so smart, so discerning and thoughtful in his learning and study. He was given a task by the doctor he worked with to solve the problem of what were called "blue babies", those who were born with heart defects that caused oxygen problems from the heart to the lungs. Through his painstaking research, his thorough practice, he developed an idea and the instruments to repair one of the defects, and to persuade doctors to operate on infants. He never got to go to medical school, but pioneered this surgery, thus saving thousands of babies' lives from then on. There is additional information about this particular surgery, and about Vivien Thomas in the back matter, along with a glossary and a source list. I enjoyed seeing the action from the words in Colin Bootman's illustrated pages, especially enjoyed the emotions shown on the faces.