Picture Book Biographies

Anyone who knows me knows that I love picture books.  Not just because I have a child.  Some of them are just fabulous, especially some of the biographies of real, interesting people.  Here’s a couple recent purchases I made at a Scholastic Book Warehouse sale (dangerous!):

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Me…Jane by Patrick McDonnell is a gorgeous little first biography of Jane Goodall.  She’s pictured on the cover with her stuffed toy chimpanzee, and immediately inside on the title page is an actual photo of Jane with same monkey.  The story has very simple, spare text, about a little girl who had a dream and pursued it.  The book feels expansive and peaceful, an inspiring place to be:

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The text on this spread reads:

It was a magical world

full of joy and wonder,

and Jane felt very much

a part of it.

At the end there is a transformation from child to adult, and from illustration to photo that gives me chills each time I read it.  The writer/illustrator of the book also writes a comic strip about a dog called Mutts, so some of you might recognize his drawing style. McDonnell is also on the board of directors of the Humane Society of the United States, so he’s very involved in animal welfare.  There’s more detailed information in the back about Jane Goodall and her foundation, as well as a note from her about people making a difference.

The other biography is called Balloons over Broadway: the true story of the puppeteer of Macy’s parade by Melissa Sweet.

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For anyone who’s ever watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, this book is a revelation.  Tony Sarg, a puppeteer, was the one who started it all, after Macy’s asked him to provide a parade celebration specifically for the immigrants who worked at Macy’s, the largest department store in the world in 1924.  They missed their own holiday celebrations and Sarg provided a street party the likes of which had never been seen before.  The parade drew so much attention that Sarg endeavored to find a way for everyone to see the celebration, which led him to invent a sort of inverted marionette, the helium balloon characters we see today.

One of the most exciting things about this story is that Sarg was never trained to do any of the things he did.  He just invented on the fly, to make objects move the way he wanted them to, first with his famous marionettes and then with the articulated balloons.  Sweet does a gorgeous job of giving the reader a feel of being in Sarg’s workshop of toys and inventions, and she even made some toys herself just for the collages in this book:

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Now, if only I could find a way to watch the parade on television without being subjected to those awful Broadway show previews, doofus commentators (although Ed Asner was a bit snarky last year), and television “celebrities.” All I want to see is the balloons and the marching bands.  Why do they always skip to commercial when the marching bands come on?  Don’t even get me started.  Anyhoo, if you have any nostalgic feeling for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, or know someone who does, check out this book.

Ready…Go!

Yes, I’m starting a new blog, just about my reading habits. Habit? Is it a plural habit? I do read more than (way more than) one thing at a time, so perhaps it is. Anyhoo, I wanted to start a new thingee for the new year, and this is it.  I have probably an average of 30 books checked out from my library at any one time, and that’s just on my card. On my daughter’s homeschool card, we’ve usually got another 50. Do I read them all?  Well, yes, sometimes.

Other times, like now, I feel like I’m in a reading slump.  I’m still reading, but nothing is grabbing me.  I’ve started a few books and thought, Meh, and put them back down.

I only received one book for Christmas this year, which, frankly, feels quite bizarre.  My family has always loaded up on books for Christmas, not just for me, but for everyone.  In fact, I did give everyone else books for Christmas (except for my librarian, for whom I got a mug that says “Keep Calm and Ask A Librarian”).

The book I received is really interesting so far, so I’m not complaining.  I’ve wanted it for a while now, like over a year, and my library didn’t have it (the horror!).  It’s called The Economy of Prestige by James P. English, and it’s all about cultural prizes.  Some are literary and some are artsy, but all are part of this popular culture economy that we’ve created.  The Nobel Prize was created around 1900, and it was really the first and only big prize.  Since then it’s exploded.  English is not taking a stand on them being bad or good, just examining how they all came into existence and what’s that meant for our culture.  Maybe it sounds very dry to you, but I’m interested in the prizes.  I mean, haven’t you ever wondered? There have been times when I wanted some good recommendations, and thought I’d just go look at some prize lists, but there are literally hundreds of them!  What are they all for? Best in terms of what?  Who judges them? I have a friend who’s working through both the Hugo and the Nebula winners because he loves Sci-Fi (actually we’re in a sci-fi book group together), but he’s finding the lists very uneven in terms of quality.

Over the last year, I’ve gotten my most reliable reading recommendations from Michael Kindness and Ann Kingman, of the podcast Books On The Nightstand. I do love to listen to reading/bookish podcasts, and so I’ve tried a lot of them.  This is my favorite one.  It’s weekly, the podcasters are two friends who work in the publishing industry, so they know a lot about books, and it’s only a half hour long, so they get in and out fast with no blather.  I’ve gotten to know their tastes well enough that I know I’m pretty much going to like something if they recommend it. I also became a subscriber to Audiobooks.com because of their recommendations, and I like that they talk about which performers are good at audiobooks, because a rotten narrator can really ruin a story, whereas a good one can really bring a book to life.  One of my favorite audiobooks is Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman.  Lenny Henry, a comedian by profession, performs the book, and I wish he’d do more, because he is hilarious to listen to, the way he does all the different voices. Another favorite is Going Postal by Terry Pratchett, performed by Stephen Briggs.  Again with the variety of voices.  Now whenever I think of certain characters, they are forever tied to those wonderful performances.

Then Michael and Ann did an episode with Simon Savidge, who was smart and funny, so I recently started listening to a couple podcasts he’s in: The Readers with Thomas and Gav, and a book club discussion, Hear…Read This, with Kate, Gav, and Rob. Simon also has a reading blog, Savidge Reads. These are all a lot of fun.  Simon laughs a lot and I love that, he’s very joyous about reading.

So instead of reading like I usually do, I’m OD’ing on podcasts about reading.  I think I go in cycles like this.  Anyone else do this?