Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday - On a Beam of Light

Author: Jennifer Berne
Illustrator: Vladimir Radunsky
Publisher: Chronicle Books (April 23, 2013)
Audience: 2nd to 5th grade
Source: Purchased
biographical *nonfiction * scientists

Description from GoodReads:
A boy rides a bicycle down a dusty road. But in his mind, he envisions himself traveling at a speed beyond imagining, on a beam of light. This brilliant mind will one day offer up some of the most revolutionary ideas ever conceived. From a boy endlessly fascinated by the wonders around him, Albert Einstein ultimately grows into a man of genius recognized the world over for profoundly illuminating our understanding of the universe. Jennifer Berne and Vladimir Radunsky invite the reader to travel along with Einstein on a journey full of curiosity, laughter, and scientific discovery. Parents and children alike will appreciate this moving story of the powerful difference imagination can make in any life.

My thoughts on this book:
I have read a few children's biographies on Albert Einstein.  Many were well done.  However, Berne's On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein seems to have captured my attention on a different level.  Maybe it has to do with Radunsky's quirky illustrations that seem to spotlight Einstein's unique personality. Or maybe it just is the Berne's ability to write about Einstein in a personal way for young readers.  There is enough description of Einstein's early years and schooling to give readers a sense about Einstein.  Adults who know more of Einstein's background should feel that just the right balance of highlights from Einstein's life is mixed with some of the things that made Einstein such a great physicist. 

"He was racing through space on a beam of light"...doesn't the image above perfectly capture Berne's text?!

There is something about this picture of Einstein walking without shoes and licking an ice cream cone that made this a favorite image of mine.  I guess it felt like it captured Einstein's unique personality which always seemed to hint at his inner child.

Berne includes some great notes on the end page which can be used to encourage further learning and research.  Can I just say this is a wonderful book and you should go out and buy it?  Seriously, add it to your classroom or school library.  Read it aloud to kids.  However, no matter what you do, don't miss this book.

For more information about Jennifer Berne: website | publisher page

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Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday - Gandhi: A March to the Sea

Author: Alice B. McGinty
Illustrator: Thomas Gonzalez
Publisher: Amazon Children's Publishing (April 2, 2013)
Source: Copy for Review
Nonfiction * Biographical * Polictical Activitst

Description from Amazon:
Mohandas Gandhi’s 24-day March to the Sea, from March 12 to April 5, 1930, was a pivotal moment in India’s quest to become an independent country no longer ruled by Great Britain. With over 70 marchers, Gandhi walked from his hometown near Ahmedabad to the seacoast near Dandi. The march was a non-violent means to protest the taxes that Great Britain had imposed on salt-not the salt that the Indians could get from the sea, but the salt that Great Britain forced them to buy. Gandhi believed that peaceful protests were an effective way to challenge British law, and his peaceful but ultimately successful movement became known as Satyagraha.

My thoughts on the book:
In  Gandhi: A March to the Sea, McGinty has written about one of the most significant events in India's history with a special spotlight on the brave leadership provided by Mohandas Gandhi when he embarked on a 24 day march that proved instrumental in India's fight for independence from British rule.  The story is not meant to be a comprehensive biography on Gandhi nor a detailed report of all of his civil rights work in India.  However, with that said, young readers will be able to form some idea of who Gandhi was and what he believed from reading the story. 

I truly appreciated that way this story highlights the important elements of Gandhi's march.  The text and illustrations communicated the power of Gandhi's message as well as the work of others who joined Gandhi. 

Readers will recognize the Thomas Gonzalez' distinct illustrative style from his beautiful work in 14 Cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy.  His paintings depicting Gandhi's march and the format of the book places this squarely alongside the works of fellow painters, Kadir Nelson and Bryan Collier.    

The end of the book provides readers with a few source notes and some additional books.  Though there are not extensive facts at the end of the book, the curriculum guide mentioned below does contain additional information.

This book definitely earns its place on the shelves of school and classroom libraries, and should be read to children.  

Amazon Children's Publishing has created a curriculum guide.  Click here to check it out.

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Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday - A Splash Of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin

Author: Jen Bryant
Illustrator: Melissa Sweet
Publisher: Knopf/Random House (January 8, 2013)
Source: Personal Copy
Read Aloud Level:  2nd to 4th grade
Independent Reading Level: 3rd to 5th grade
Art * Biographical * Nonfiction

Description from GoodReads:
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 thoughts on the book:
The second picture book biography from the team of Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet looks at the life and art of Horace Pippin.  The book begins with Pippin's birth and childhood in West Chester, Pennsylvania at the end of the 19th century.  From the time he was a child until an injury in World War I, Pippin drew for people.  Often using charcoal and scraps of paper.  It took years for Pippin to regain his ability to draw after his injury.  He developed a new technique to accommodate his injured arm and began to work with paints and other materials. With the support of the painter, N.C. Wyeth, Pippin's work began to be viewed by people in an exhibition.  The world became aware of Pippin as an artist at this point.

Bryant's storytelling is supplemented by quotes from Pippin and those who knew of him and his work.  As I read the words Bryant had written, I sensed her appreciation and admiration for Pippin.  Readers will feel the partnership and the journey undertaken by author and illustrator.  Both Bryant and Sweet confirm this in their endnotes.  Sweet utilizes watercolor, gouache, and collage in her illustrations which bring both depth and texture to each illustration.

The picture above of Pippin drawing as a young child and the one below of the art supplies he won in a contest are two of my favorite pictures in the book. 

The end of the book contains a Historical Note on Horace Pipping, notes from the Author and Illustrator, Quotation Sources, and further Resources.  I am excited to introduce Horace Pippin to students and thankful to be able to do it with this particular book. I look forward to seeing this picture book biography in classrooms and school libraries.  

Look for A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin at a local independent bookstore or community library near you.

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