Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Non-Fiction Picture Books Help Us Know!

Visit Alyson Beecher on Wednesdays for Non-Fiction Picture Books at Kidlit Frenzy.  Thanks to her hosting and sharing and those who add their posts discover and celebrate terrific nonfiction picture books!  I always learn from these books, am happy that they are more and more available today for children, really for every reader!

Tomorrow, Valentine's Day, the Cybils Awards will be announced. I am one of the Poetry Judges, am excited to see all the winners!
            African Americans have had to fight for their freedoms all the years since they arrived here as slaves. Every time I read another book, even in recent time periods, I am saddened and angry by the stories that kept our citizens from full lives. Just imagine if it were different, how much richer everyone's lives would have been or would be if every person could be in the world adding their expertise without fighting for it.
             Here in these picture books are two more stories of those we would not have heard without wonderful authors and illustrators telling about past lives that need to be known.

            The name Walter Dean Myers caught my eye on this book on the shelf at the library. It was published in 2008 and Myers died in 2014. We readers are fortunate he gave us many a wonderful story, fiction and non, including this one. Here, he introduces the extraordinary Ida B. Wells. who as teacher, writer, leader worked her entire life to better the lives of African Americans. She was consulted by Susan B. Anthony, lead an African-American women's group in the women's march at Woodrow Wilson's inauguration. She was one of the organizers of a group that eventually became the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peoples.

              Ida was born three years before the Emancipation Proclamation, still grew up in a poor black family, but did get to go to school. The book says her mother also went with her for a while in order to learn to read the Bible. By the age of sixteen, her parents and one sibling had died of yellow fever and she took on the raising of her family, taking the teacher's test and traveling six miles on a mule to teach. That was her beginning, but realizing the harm done to her people, she began to protest, to call for more action, especially against lynchings. She wrote a book titled The Red Record for which Frederick Douglas wrote the introduction. 

            Is this enough to show that history books could have written about this amazing woman long ago? We should know about her life! She never stopped writing, protesting and pioneering for equal rights. Thanks to Walter Dean Myers for the writing and Bonnie Christensen for the gorgeous watercolor paintings. There is a timeline at the back and a double-page spread of important quotes by Ida B. Wells, like "I'd rather go down in history as one lone Negro who dared to tell the government that it has done a dastardly thing than to save my skin by taking back what I have said." She died in 1931 at the age of 68 and there is a postage stamp created in her honor.

          Ernest Everett Just died ten years after Ida B. Wells at the age of 58. His story is similar in some ways in that he fought injustices to African Americans through his work. He refused to give in to what people (especially in the U.S.) thought he should be doing, instead was determined to see science through his own observations, fighting against other well-known white scientists, working hard to prove his discoveries. He saw the whole, where others saw only parts. And he noticed details others failed to see. With fabulous illustrations by Luisa Uribe showing what he did throughout his life and what he saw, this is the story of his life of persistence and accomplishments. His discoveries about the cell in the 1930s continue to be important even in today's science. The book shows his childhood working hard in his studies, his fierce determination to keep going. I enjoyed that Melina Mangal included explanations of his ground-breaking work in showing how cells directed their own development, a controversial idea at that time. Eventually, he moved to France which gave more freedom in his work, but was caught when the Nazis invaded. He managed to get free, moved back to the U.S., but died within the year. It is another life story I am glad to know. 

There is quite a bit of backmatter added: an author's note, more about Ernest Everett Just's science, an illustrator's note, a timeline, glossary, and source notes. Also, there are two great photos of Mr. Just.

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