Picture Biographies Round-Up: Beverly Cleary, Aretha Franklin, George Washington Carver, and More!

Picture Book Biographies Round-Up, February 2020 edition

This Picture Book Biographies Round-Up includes the following titles: Just Like Beverly (Beverly Cleary), Anna & Samia, A Voice Named Aretha, Patricia’s Vision, The Secret Garden of George Washington Carver, and Magic Ramen (about Momofuku).

This list is arranged in order from BEST (put this on hold ASAP at your local library) to fair (worth checking out from the library if the topic/person interests you, but not a necessary purchase).

Just Like Beverly Cover Image

Just Like Beverly: A Biography of Beverly Cleary by Vicki Conrad and illustrated by David Holm

Calling all fans of Henry Huggins and Ramona Quimby! From her humble beginnings in Yamhill, Oregon, to her first published novel, Just Like Beverly shows readers who Beverly Cleary was. And you know what? She was a lot like her characters. Ramona readers will recognize Ramona in the little girl who sung about the dawnzer light. Henry Huggins is based on a story she heard as a girl about a boy and his dog on a streetcar. The artwork in this lovely book echoes the early illustrations for the Henry and Ramona books. A substantial author’s note full of more information on Cleary plus a timeline wrap up the book. A delight for fans of Cleary’s work, Just Like Beverly would make a great introduction to her work or a delightful way to revisit some favorite stories. Little Bigfoot, 2019.

Secret Garden of George Washington Carver cover

The Secret Garden of George Washington Carver by Gene Barretta and illustrated by Frank Morrison

Morrison’s artwork makes this biography. Full of both movement and stillness, Morrison’s artwork alternates between moving portraits of Carver mixed with lush garden landscapes. Barretta’s text hits the sweet spot of information mixed with style in just the right amounts of both. This biography will work well as a read aloud or independent read for elementary students of all ages. Timeline and bibliography round out the book. Note: there is no substantial mention of Carver’s faith, the only improvement needed. Katherine Tegen Books, 2020.

Magic Ramen Cover

Magic Ramen: The Story of Momofuku And by Andrea Wang and illustrated by Kana Urbanowicz

Fancy ramen is available in restaurants. Whole ramen cookbooks are published these days, outlining the time consuming process that goes into making the perfect bowl of noodles. But instant ramen is a different beast altogether, and someone, once upon a time, figured out how to create it. Nissin, the company that makes both the packets of instant ramen as well as the “cup of noodles” versions, was founded by Momofuku after a lifetime of experimentation. Moved by soup kitchen lines in post-war Japan, the Taiwanese man got to work, trying to create nutritious, tasty food that could be made simply with hot water. This picture book is a great testimony to perseverance, creativity, and the importance of using your gifts on behalf of those in need. Go ahead and make some instant ramen to enjoy during your story time with your young elementary students! little bee books, 2019.

Patricia's vision cover

Patricia’s Vision: The Doctor Who Saved Sight by Michelle Lord and illustrated by Alleanna Harris

I learned this year (after 30+ years of eye exams) that the device on the cover of this book is a pheroptor. (I learned this from my eye doctor, not from the book, unfortunately). However, children who are familiar with the eye doctor will enjoy this look at a woman who sought to restore sight for the blind and prevent others from going blind. Patricia Bath invented the first laser that removed cataracts, provided braille keyboards for blind children in Africa, and worked towards “community ophthalmology.” This biography is “empowering” and shines a humanist light on one person’s achievements in the face of difficulty. It’s not a bad book, but it reads like so many other picture book biographies today. Author’s note and bibliography offer more information on Dr. Bath. Age range: upper elementary. Sterling, 2020.

Anna and Samia cover

Anna & Samia: The True Story of Saving a Black Rhino by Paul Meisel

Written to be read by children (or to young children), the text in Anna & Samia is not as robust as these other biographies. Children will enjoy the sweet story of a woman who rescued a baby rhino and raised it to live independently. Reminiscent of Born Free, Anna feeds Samia less and less, leaves her alone for longer periods, and finally sets her free. The story doesn’t end there, though: Anna works to create a rhino sanctuary to help preserve the endangered animals. A short author’s note offers more information about both Anna and Samia as well as rhinos in general. Illustrations offer gentle comic relief as Samia grows much too large to live in Anna’s home–or ride in her car! Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2019.

A Voice Named Aretha cover

A Voice Named Aretha by Katheryn Russell-Brown and illustrated by Laura Freeman

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Betsy is the Managing Editor at Redeemed Reader. When she reads ahead for you, she uses sticky notes instead of book darts and willfully dog ears pages even in library books. Betsy is a fan of George MacDonald, robust book discussions, and the Oxford comma. She lives with her husband and their three children in the beautiful Northwest.

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