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.

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