Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Bios To Celebrate

    Visit Alyson Beecher on Wednesdays for Non-Fiction Picture Books at Kidlit Frenzy.  From Alyson and others, you will discover terrific nonfiction picture books!
    Three stories that are good to know! from picturebookmonth.com - “Picture books place a human face to historical, political, environmental, and cultural events.” (from Picture Book Month Teacher’s Guide: Why Picture Books Belong in Our Classrooms by Marcie Colleen, 2013)

         I've waited a long time for this from my library. Lots of holds means it is much loved. Now I finally get to read and love it, too! "McKinley Morganfield was never good at doing what he was told" begins this fabulous story. In poetic soundbites, Michael Mahin tells the story of the famous Muddy Waters, born in rural Mississippi, his mother left too soon, grandmother raised. His early music was at church, but he also loved the blues, and though his Grandma Della did not ("You can't eat the blues for breakfast."), Muddy found a half-smashed kerosene can, a wheezy accordion and a tired piece of wire. He just had to make music to feel good! Finally, working in the fields in the day and playing at night wasn't enough. He took off for Chicago! A most poignant goodbye is a double-page spread showing this goodbye.

         Muddy kept on, tried to please those who wanted him to play that "regular" blues, but kept returning to the sound of the Mississippi Delta, "the sound Muddy heard in his heart." Muddy has influenced musicians like Chuck Berry, Bob Dylan, Stevie Ray Vaughn, the Rolling Stones and countless others according to the Author's Note at the back. "He called up the sticky heat of a summer night, the power of love, and the need for connection in a world that was so good at pulling people apart." It was poetry, like these words by Michael Mahin. Evan Turk's illustrations swirl through the pages like Muddy's music, colorful, graceful, and heartfelt. Mahin has added a brief bibliography and "further listening" at the end.

          There are numerous books written about this well-known and courageous, underground-railroad conductor, Harriet Tubman. This book begins with an aged and wrinkled Harriet going back and back to when she lived other lives, all the way back to Araminta. Each part of her life is beautifully illustrated in portraits, showing others, but focusing on Harriet herself. The layers of questions that arise page by page will inspire readers to know more about each part of her life, often as a caregiver, but in very different roles. It is a beautiful book.
         I've read and learned quite a lot about the Harlem Renaissance, but do not remember the name and story of James VanDerZee. In muted brown tones, as Andrea J. Loney tells his story, Keith Mallett shows James as a youth, then growing up and becoming an accomplished photographer in Harlem. He came from a creative family of musicians and artists, but when James tried to draw people, he thought he could not capture them the way he "saw" and "knew" them. One day a photographer came to town with the only camera there and took the VanDerZee's photo. James was hooked. He had little money, sold sachets to try to win the first prize, a camera! He did win, but it appeared to be a sham. The parts didn't fit. James tried again and finally got his camera. He began, developed photos in his closet and people were so pleased. The rest of his career began in New York City. Like other African-Americans, he moved north in the Great Migration, hoping to have a better chance at a good life. 
        First starting as a pianist to make money, James finally landed a job as an assistant photographer. There were ups and downs in his career, shown in realistic portraits rather like photographs by Keith Mallett. Andrea J. Loney's story gives a strong idea of VanDerZee's creativity and focuses on his extraordinary ability to take and create beautiful photographs. There is a wonderful afterword at the back with photos, a list from the illustrator attributing photos used in his art, a bibliography and a list of books for further reading.
Happy Reading Everyone!


  1. Muddy just landed in my mailbox today. I glanced at it, but will definitely have to give it a closer look. I love Harriet. It's a unique way of learning about her. I didn't know James VanDerZee until I got this book recently. His life story is very interesting.

    1. Hope you enjoy Muddy Waters bio. It is beautiful, as are these others. I enjoyed each one a lot. Thanks, Crystal!


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