Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday – 10/14/15

nonfictionNonfiction Picture Book Challenge 2015 is a weekly celebration of imaginative children’s nonfiction materials hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy.

Here’s what I’ve come across this week:

Title: Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery that Baffled All of France
Author: Mara Rockliff
Illustrator: Iacopo Bruno
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Publication Date: 2015
Genre/Format: Nonfiction/Picture Book 
Publisher’s SummaryThe day Ben Franklin first set foot in Paris, France, he found the city all abuzz. Everyone was talking about something new—remarkable, thrilling, and strange. Something called . . . Science!

But soon the straightforward American inventor Benjamin Franklin is upstaged by a compelling and enigmatic figure: Dr. Mesmer. In elaborately staged shows, Mesmer, wearing a fancy coat of purple silk and carrying an iron wand, convinces the people of Paris that he controls a magic force that can make water taste like a hundred different things, cure illness, and control thoughts! But Ben Franklin is not convinced. Will his practical approach of observing, hypothesizing, and testing get to the bottom of the mysterious Mesmer’s tricks? A rip-roaring, lavishly illustrated peek into a fascinating moment in history shows the development and practice of the scientific method—and reveals the amazing power of the human mind.

My Two Cents: I really enjoyed this engaging and stylish picture book! The illustrations and overall design are superb, and will certainly capture the imaginations of a slightly older picture book audience. Blending history and science, Mesmerized introduces readers to the pragmatic Benjamin Frank, the enigmatic Dr. Mesmer (for whom the term “mesmerized” was coined), and the basic applications of the scientific method. Proving that neither history nor science need be boring, this is a fascinating study in the early days of modern scientific inquiry. I would have to say that the book’s strongest features are its stunning  illustrations and captivating design. Were the information presented in a more conventional way, it might come across as dry, but Iacopo’s unique style vividly brings these historical events to life. Highly recommended for school-aged children.

Title: A Splash of Red : The Life and Art of Horace Pippin
Author: Jen Bryant
Illustrator: Melissa Sweet
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Publication Date: 2013
Genre/Format: Nonfiction/Picture Book 
Publisher’s Summary: As a child in the late 1800s, Horace Pippin loved to draw: He loved the feel of the charcoal as it slid across the floor. He loved looking at something in the room and making it come alive again in front of him. He drew pictures for his sisters, his classmates, his co-workers. Even during W.W.I, Horace filled his notebooks with drawings from the trenches . . . until he was shot. Upon his return home, Horace couldn’t lift his right arm, and couldn’t make any art. Slowly, with lots of practice, he regained use of his arm, until once again, he was able to paint–and paint, and paint! Soon, people—including the famous painter N. C. Wyeth—started noticing Horace’s art, and before long, his paintings were displayed in galleries and museums across the country.

Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet team up once again to share this inspiring story of a self-taught painter from humble beginnings who despite many obstacles, was ultimately able to do what he loved, and be recognized for who he was: an artist.

My Two Cents: Beautiful. That’s really the only way to describe this powerfully moving picture book biography. Horace Pippin was a selfless, hardworking man who overcame a life of hardship to realize his dream of being an artist. Pippin stayed true to himself and to his artistic vision, creating art not to become famous or to impress others, but because it was what was in his heart. A beautiful celebration of art as a form of personal expression and a means for maintaining emotional and psychological well being. Sweet’s intricate yet childlike mixed-media collage illustrations capture Pippin’s signature style of  “pure expression”. A historical note provides additional biographical information on this unsung American treasure.

Title: The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever
Author: H. Joseph Hopkins
Illustrator: Jill McElmurry
Publisher: Beach Lane Books
Publication Date: 2013
Genre/Format: Nonfiction/Picture Book 
Publisher’s SummaryKatherine Olivia Sessions never thought she’d live in a place without trees. After all, Kate grew up among the towering pines and redwoods of Northern California. But after becoming the first woman to graduate from the University of California with a degree in science, she took a job as a teacher far south in the dry desert town of San Diego. Where there were almost no trees.

Kate decided that San Diego needed trees more than anything else. So this trailblazing young woman singlehandedly started a massive movement that transformed the town into the green, garden-filled oasis it is today. Now, more than 100 years after Kate first arrived in San Diego, her gorgeous gardens and parks can be found all over the city.

Part fascinating biography, part inspirational story, this moving picture book about following your dreams, using your talents, and staying strong in the face of adversity is sure to resonate with readers young and old.

My Two Cents: “No woman had ever graduated from the University of California with a degree in science. But in 1881, Kate did.” If you haven’t already discovered through my constant posts, I adore inspirational picture book biographies, especially those that celebrate unsung or less familiar individuals who did unusual things. No two dreams are alike, and people can change the world in all sorts of different ways. Kate Sessions pursued her passion for nature, turning a barren city into a lush park and inspiring generations to look at trees in a whole new way. She challenged conventions and stuck her tongue out at gender expectations, breaking barriers and living her life her own way. Like Horace Pippin, Sessions didn’t set out to change the world, but rather to express herself and stay true to her dreams. I love books that encourage children to think beyond the tired “be yourself” platitudes, and inspire them to instead strive to be the very best version of themselves that they can be, even if it means going against the grain and challenging other people’s expectations. Beautiful, beautiful stuff.

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10 thoughts on “Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday – 10/14/15

    • I sometimes find that I love either the text or the visuals in a picture book, with the other element being less strong, but recently I’ve been discovering a whole range of really fantastic books that excel in all aspects – very awesome!

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    • Thanks so much for your kind words, I’m glad you enjoyed my reviews, I really enjoyed writing them – I used to wonder if I’d run out of interesting books to write about, but that doesn’t seem at all likely! 🙂

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    • Mesmerized is pretty spectacular, I highly recommend checking it out! PBs are so versatile, I love how authors and illustrators are really pushing the boundaries of the genre in exciting new ways. Thanks for stopping by! 🙂

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