Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Bringing Books To All - Grateful

art by Sarah S. Brannen

         Visit Alyson Beecher on Wednesdays for Non-Fiction Picture Books at Kidlit Frenzy.  From her and others, you will discover and want to celebrate terrific nonfiction picture books!  Here are two about men whose life's work has entertained children for a long, long time. I know that I am grateful!
        I grew up reading books about Oz, but in all these years, I've never read about L. Frank Baum's life. Thanks to Kathleen Krull, it's now available in a new biography of him. It's rather a surprise story, a rags-to-riches one. Baum grew up in a wealthy family, and according to the text, had all the indulgences one might imagine. He and his brothers were even given their own printing press from which they wrote and printed a monthly newspaper about the family life, the "Rose Lawn Home Journal". Frank grew up trying all sorts of things, finally settling on being an actor, where in order to belong to a troupe, he was required to bring along thousands of dollars of costumes. He never got a part, soon moved on to other enterprises, all seeming to go nowhere, and resulting in quite a loss of money.
        After telling stories as a young man and in his married life to his children, and after being poor because he continued to make bad investments, finally, finally Frank figured out that he could write the "told" stories. That invented name "OZ" came from looking at his file cabinet one day when asked where his wonderful creatures came from, and he saw O-Z! Once again, late in life, L. Frank Baum became rich and gave children favorite story after story.
        Kevin Hawkes' illustrations fill most right-hand pages, sometimes double-pages with foreground action and background settings, letting the art add much to the story. The text pages have added illustrations that connect to the text as well, like the ferris wheel from the 1894 World's Fair and a few chickens (another of Frank's failed projects). 
        In the backmatter: an author's note, sources and a list of the Oz books.

      I imagine many know the story of Dr. Seuss' challenge to write a story with only a list of 236 words, those being early readers' words. Judy Sierra and Kevin Hawkes have now told it with inspiration from Seuss himself with fun facts about Seuss' writing habits and choices, along with a taste of Seuss' art illustrating them. For instance, Sierra writes that every morning after breakfast, Ted (as known to his friends) climbed stairs to his studio to write. Hawkes shows that with a whimsical Seuss-like staircase, a couple of fun animals following, including one pink, furry animal with a pencil. I loved the way Hawkes slid his own creative illustrations a la Dr. Seuss as Sierra told this fun story. He shows Ted with the hats he said inspired his work. He shows fading ideas, a "creature" in a tall hat (sound familiar?), a fish jumping out of a bowl. He adds in the pots of brushes and pencils. Seuss thought he might write a story about birds, but alas, that word was not on the list! But then, "why not let the cat juggle instead? He can juggle the stuff on the list. Yes, he can!" 
       There is a brief mention of another challenge Dr. Seuss achieved, that from Bennett Cerf to write a beginning reader with only 50 words. And he did! Do you know which one it is?
       It's a special book telling about the birth of The Cat In The Hat, plus it includes an author's note, an illustrator's note, and that long, long list of books written and illustrated by the beloved Dr. Seuss.


  1. I enjoy reading nfpbs about writers and seeing how their sitautions inspire their stories.

    1. Yes, this time, there are parts of that in both books! Thanks, Earl!

  2. I'm intrigued by the OZ book, I'll be on the lookout for that one!

    1. I enjoyed learning about Baum, Michele, hadn't know much at all. Hope you enjoy it, too.


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