Posts tagged ‘biographies’

Coretta Scott King Awards 2014

The American Library Association announced their Annual Youth Media Awards earlier this year, and I’ve been slowly but surely catching up on reading all the winners and honorees. The Coretta Scott King Awards are a set of three awards that honor African American authors, illustrators, and new talent of outstanding literature for children and young adults. I’ll be focusing on the Illustrator and New Talent Awards in this post, with the longer author winner and honorees in a separate post once I finish reading them. I have to say though, there were really no surprises in these categories, as the same people are continually recognized for their contributions.

For the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Book Award, the committee chose one winner and one honoree.
Nelson MandelaTitle: Nelson Mandela
Author/Illustrator: Kadir Nelson
ISBN: 978006178374
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, c2013.
Publication Date: January 2, 2013

The honor was given to Kadir Nelson, who authored and illustrated a picture book biography on Nelson Mandela, published at the very beginning of 2013. Nelson Mandela’s passing at the end of 2013 serves as an ironic footnote to the book’s publication and award recognition. Kadir Nelson’s name has cropped up a host of times, and his work has been recognized over an over again.
Won the 2012 Coretta Scott King Author Award Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans
2012 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor for Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans.
Caldecott Honor for Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine
Caldecott Honor for Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford, for which he also garnered a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award and won an NAACP Image Award;
Won Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award for Ellington Was Not a Street by Ntozake Shange
Won Coretta Scott King Author Award for We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball
Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor for We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball

Are you sensing a theme here? Whenever he writes something, he gets recognized by someone! And most people will say rightfully so. In his newest book, readers see Kadir Nelson’s signature style of life-like renderings from the cover (which mimics the design of his biographies on Coretta Scott King and Martin Luther King Jr.) all the way to the end. Most striking I think is the first page, where we see a young Nelson playing with the village boys and the sun shines forth from behind the hill with such warmth your eye is immediately drawn to the contrasting shadowed silhouettes. The sparse, poetically formatted text supplements the pictures, that carry the light and dark themes throughout the book.

My one complaint about this and other picture book biographies is that very few specifics are included. Annual biography assignments for school children often have a checklist of facts that need to be contained in the books or require an inclusion of a time line. While this would be a great asset to children studying biographies, especially during February’s Black History Month, readers would be hard pressed to find specifics. Would it have been so hard to add a timeline in the back of the book along side the author’s note, or include specific dates in the text instead of “in early 1990″? Or am I the only person getting frustrated by this oversight?

Knock Knock My Dad's Dream for MeTitle: Knock Knock: My Dad’s Dream for Me
Author: Daniel Beaty
Illustrator: Bryan Collier
ISBN: 9780316209175
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Little, Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc. c2013.
Publication Date: December 17, 2013

More recently published Knock Knock: My Dad’s Dream for Me won the Illustrator award. Bryan Collier is another illustrator who has been recognized time and time again, with three Caldecott Honors and four Coretta Scott King Awards over the years. Collier’s collages and Beaty’s text follows a young boy as he experiences the loss of his father’s influence. The author doesn’t specify in the story that the father has been incarcerated until you read the end notes, which I appreciate because it lends versatility to the story and could be used for divorce situations in addition to incarceration. The illustrations follow the boy as he grows into an educated man and an involved father in his own right, but at the end you still see the influence his own father had on him, regardless of or maybe because of his absence.

The more symbolic structure of the illustrations lend the impression this is meant for older audiences, and I can see where this might be a recommendation for patrons specifically looking for material of this nature. Most poignant is the subtle nods to the father’s absence, such as the main character wearing his father’s tie as he peruses his dreams, and an elephant statue peeking out of his office background mimicking the child’s bedroom wallpaper. The ending picture seems slightly out of context with the rest of the story, but although overall I think the less abstract images make the most impact when reading, that last picture makes a memorable ending to a tale of perseverance.

When the Beat Was BornTitle: When the Beat Was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip Hop
Author: Laban Carrick Hill
Illustrator: Theodore Taylor III
ISBN: 9781596435407
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Roaring Brook Press, a division of Holtzbrinck Publishing Holdings Limited Partnership, c2013.

According to the ALA website the John Steptoe New Talent Award was “established to affirm new talent and to offer visibility to excellence in writing and/or illustration which otherwise might be formally unacknowledged within a given year within the structure of the two awards given annually by the Coretta Scott King Task Force.” This award is often overlooked because it’s not awarded every year.

I can understand why this book was recognized by the committee, as it sheds light on the start of Hip Hop, something that most people have never considered. The story focuses on DJ Kool Herc rise from Jamican music lover peering over the fence at party set-ups to hooking up his father’s super-sized speakers to street lamps and christening the break dance style that evolved during his days of being a DJ. While Laban Carrick Hill includes a personalized author’s note and a partial time line of hip hop in the 1970s and 1980s, just like Kadir Nelson’s picture book biography he avoids specific dates and details.

The pictures by Theodore Taylor III are well drawn, with clean lines showing children what the different break dancing moves look like. His work showcases the old technology of speakers bigger than people, boomboxes bigger than babies, and turntables plugged into one another instead of through wireless connections. It’s almost a time capsule for readers, where parents can talk about the music they used to listen to, and I wish it had a compilation CD that featured some of the “Hip Hop” beats that are discussed in the book. I especially enjoyed the scene of community where Herc is playing street parties in the park and we see people of all ages, including one gray haired woman and a small child with a jump rope, listening to the music. As someone who grew up in the suburbs and didn’t have that type of environment, I’m surprised to find myself wanting to seek out that community network.

This post is in honor of Nonfiction Mondays. Check out the blog for other reviews of nonfiction books.

Bill the Boy Wonder

Title: Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman
Author: Marc Tyler Nobleman
Illustrator: Ty Templeton
ISBN: 9781580892896
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Charlesbridge, c2012.

Bob told Bill that Bat-Man would be published and asked Bill to write it–without credit. Because such an arrangement was fairly typical, and because writing gigs were tough to get, but mainly because Bill was an agreeable sort, he said yes.
With that, Bill took on his second secret identity.
However, he would soon realize that he had been blind about this Bat.

I’ll be the first to admit that while I know slightly more than the uninitiated about comics, I do not follow them religiously like some people I’ve met in my journey. I can have a conversation about the movies, but whether or not they follow the “cannon” or the comic books is beyond what I know. So I was somewhat comforted to find out in my reading this book that MOST people wouldn’t know about this secret second creator of the superhero who become Batman. It’s incredible to think that this story first came to fruition 1939 and is still, over 70 years later, going strong and attracting new followers.

While Nobleman makes a valiant effort to present the facts in an impartial manner, you can tell that this lack of recognition sticks in his craw. Bob Kane hired Bill to do the writing and other artists to do the drawings, and insisted they all work anonymously. Nobleman reveals that even after word got out that Bill wrote the stories and at the very least contributed to the creation of Batman (although it was never proven how much), Bob still would not amend his contract “requiring that he always be listed as the sole creator of Batman.” And then, readers find out in the extensive author’s note that Bill’s only granddaughter wasn’t receiving any of the few royalties that Bill could claim for his contributions to such an iconic piece of our culture. Nobleman’s passion for this topic really shows by the work, and he strongly suggests that the only reason DC Comics hasn’t added Bill’s name is that their hands tied by legalities.

Templeton’s artwork is very eye-catching, and distinctly suited for a story revolving around the early age of comics. With very minimal shading, the bright and bold pen drawings use vibrant colors that really draw readers into the story. The layout also mimics panels of a comic book, although understandably the text boxes are larger than what you usually find in a comic.

The author’s note reveals the research that went into writing this book, with references to interviews, published articles and books, and containing previously unknown photos of Bill. And just like Batman, Nobleman’s research ultimately resulted in “writing” a wrong. While he can’t do anything about the legal side or the past, Nobleman has ensured that future generations will know the truth behind the mask. A definite point of interest considering all the recent Batman movies, this book could serve as a possible bridge for comic book fans to pursue non-fiction titles.

This post is in honor of Nonfiction Mondays. For the entire round-up of all the bloggers who participated, check out Lizann Flatt over at The Flatt Perspective.

The Fairy Ring

Title: The Fairy Ring:  or Elsie and Frances Fool the World
Author: Mary Losure
ISBN: 9780763656706
Pages: 184 pages
Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press, c2012.

Sometimes Elsie drew gardens in faraway countries.
Once, she drew Titania, the queen of the fairies from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The fairy queen lay sleeping on a bank, her lovely dark hair spread all around her.
Elsie had copied her out of a book illustrated by Arthur Rackham. Arthur Rackham was a real artist, famous for his illustrations of fairies.
But Elsie’s own fairies–the dancing ones that everyone said were so beautiful–were torn up and buried in the beck. The painted paper gnome was long gone. Their photographs lay forgotten in a drawer. For all Elsie knew, no one would ever look at them again.
And maybe that’s what would have happened if, one winter day, Elsie’s mother hadn’t decided to go on an outing. . . . (55-57)

Nine-year-old Frances was tired of being made fun of when she claimed to see fairies in her cousin’s backyard where she was staying during the war. Her older cousin Elsie had an idea to prove that the fairies existed by painting paper fairies and taking Frances’ picture with them. Once the photos were developed, that sure put a stop to the teasing. It was only meant for their parents, but things got out of hand and eventually people were requesting more photos and using these photos as proof that fairies actually existed. Even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who wrote those great mysteries about the detective Sherlock Holmes, thought the pictures were real! What are Frances and Elsie going to do, and how far should they go to save their secret?

This book is somewhat unique in that it is a work of nonfiction but it reads like a novel. Readers are in on the joke from the very beginning as we see Frances and Elsie scheme to trick the adults. But Frances maintained until her death that she had seen real fairies in that glen and that while they had staged most of the photographs, one of them wasn’t staged and was real. Nonfiction typically doesn’t leave questions, but this book does. There’s still a mysterious quality about fairies and their existence that I think the author intentionally attempts to leave open-ended.

I think the other interesting aspect of this story is that they never meant for it to draw international attention to themselves. In fact, they were very hesitant and reluctant to talk to the press, and I get the impression they wanted to bury the story but just didn’t know how. But they also continued to tell people close to them, such as their ultimate husbands and children, so in a way they were continuing the story even as they told their children to never mention it again. Their attitude about it seemed so fluid that’s hard to really know what they were thinking, especially since the trick seemed to last about 60 years until it was conclusively determined to be a hoax. But as I mentioned before, Frances and in turn the author maintains that pestering feeling that something is missing and not quite determined. I think I’ll end with the fact that these uncertainties create a slightly unsettling story out of a very well researched and documented occurrence.

Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass

Title: Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass: The Story Behind an American Friendship
Author: Russell Freedman
ISBN: 9780547385624
Pages: 119 pages
Publisher/Date: Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, c2012.

Douglass and Lincoln had never met, but they had some things in common. They had both risen from poverty and obscurity to international prominence. Both were self-educated. Lincoln, born dirt poor, had less than a year of formal schooling. Douglass, born a slave, wasn’t permitted to go to school. He taught himself to read and write in secret, hiding the few books he was able to get his hands on. And in fact, the two men had read and studied some of the same books.
Even so, in the year 1863 it required plenty of ‘nerve,’ as Douglass put it, for a black man to walk unannounced into the White House and request an audience with the president. [...]
He was determined to wait. (3)

Describing the relationship that Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass had as a friendship might be hard for us to believe, considering they only met each other three times. But since some friendships these days are formed solely through digital communication means like the phone and the Internet, it might not be so hard for people to accept this description as I might think. In this book, Russell Freedman returns to his roots. Having already written a Newbery Medal winning photobiography about Lincoln, I can only imagine the resources he has at his disposal to investigate the relationship between Lincoln and Douglass.

But really the book isn’t just about those three meetings. It covers Lincoln’s and Douglass’s lives before they met up to Lincoln’s assassination. The unique part about this book is it discusses the evolution of Lincoln’s thoughts about slavery. Most students only learn about the Emancipation Proclamation and that Lincoln was against slavery. Freedman’s book shows that Lincoln’s actions and beliefs were never that black and white (pardon the pun). Lincoln maintained during the early part of the war that his only goal was to restore the Union, and didn’t end up issuing the Emancipation Proclamation until over a year into the war. He appears to be a political strategist from the beginning, and he always hesitated before slowly enstating further liberties for African-Americans because of his fear of the public’s response. Douglass had so such fears, and actually fled the country twice to avoid the public backlash against him and his beliefs.

While I can see it being added to numerous African-American History Month reading lists, students will probably have to consult other sources in order to get a complete view of these two influential men and the circumstances that brought them together.

This post is in honor of Nonfiction Mondays. For the entire round-up of all the bloggers who participated, check out Jennifer Wharton over at Jean Little Library.

Knucklehead

Title: Knucklehead: Tall Tales and Mostly True Stories About Growing Up Scieszka
Author: Jon Scieszka
ISBN: 9780670011063
Pages: 106 pages
Publisher/Date: Viking, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group, c2008.

The first time I heard the name Knucklehead, it wasn’t being used as a particularly good name. I think it was my dad, finding that his toast tasted like melted green plastic army man, who first asked the question, “What Knucklehead put an army man in the toaster?”
The answer was Jim. He was trying to get one of his riflemen to aim a little higher. But that didn’t seem like the best answer. So Jim, me, Tom, Greg, Brian, and Jeff all said, “I don’t know.”
Over the years, there were a lot more questions. (105)

Since he grew up in Flint Michigan, I tend to count Jon Scieszka as one of “our” authors, even if he doesn’t live in the state anymore. So I have a soft spot for his work and his accomplishments. His autobiography of his time in Michigan growing up as one of six brothers is a laughable account. Proof that biographies don’t have to be about stuffy old dead people, Scieszka instead relates tales of boyish high-jinks like making money by charging your siblings and friends for various things, getting in trouble for using bad words, and all aspects of sibling rivalry and one-upmanship including Halloween costumes, grades, and sharing your room.

This is one of my go-to books for parents who are serving as guest readers in the upper elementary schools. Filled with dozens of very short stories, most kids and especially the boys find quite a bit to laugh about, and parents can read as many or as few as necessary to fill their time slot. Teachers and librarians should take a look too.

Amelia Lost

Title: Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart
Author: Candace Fleming
ISBN: 970375814989
Pages: 118 pages
Publisher/Date: Schwartz & Wade Books, an imprint of Random House, c2011.

The fear in Earhart’s voice made Leo Bellarts’s skin prickle. “I’m telling you, it sounded as if she would have broken out in a scream. . . . She was just about ready to break into tears and go into hysterics. . . . I’ll never forget it.”
Seconds turned into minutes. Minutes became an hour. But the sky above Howland Island remained empty.
And in the radio room, Leo Ballerts and the other crew members sat listening to the “mournful sound of that static.” (5)

Amelia Earhart is probably one of the most well-known female pilots due to her unsolved disappearance. During her flight over the Pacific Ocean, she lost radio contact and was never heard from again. Rather than entertain ideas of what might have happened after that assumed fatal flight, Fleming instead focuses on Amelia’s accomplishments and the reports of what was heard over the radio.

I’ve read quite a bit regarding Amelia Earhart’s flight, so I already knew a few of the more interesting tidbits. I already knew that Eleanor Roosevelt was friends with Amelia Earhart, and they had taken a flight together. I knew that Earhart was inexperienced with the plane and the radio systems on the plane when she planed to fly around the world.

But Fleming was still able to provide infrequently revealed information and her research skills impressed me. Like did you know that people as far away as Florida picked up Amelia’s voice on the radio? And that Amelia Earhart had 5,000 stamp covers in the nose of her plane that she refused to jettison because it was a financial fundraiser for the flight? It’s these fascinating aspects of the flight that really bring Amelia Earhart to life and will encourage readers to find out more. What also impressed me about this book was that Fleming was not afraid to portray Amelia’s flaws. She brings up the less than flattering and questionable purchase of an airplane with funds that were donated to Earhart’s “Fund for Aeronautical Research” for developing “scientific and engineering data of vital importance to the aviation industry.” (85)

I would have liked to have seen more details regarding her early life, but overall, it’s an intriguing look that tries to dispel the myths from the truth and set the record straight for students.

This post is in honor of Nonfiction Mondays. For the entire round-up of all the bloggers who participated, check out Tammy Flanders over at Apples With Many Seeds .

Friday Feature Scribbling Women Blog Tour

I’m part of my first blog tour!

The publisher, Tundra Books, is running a huge giveaway contest during the blog tour!
The prize: A collection of Marthe Jocelyn books – for the very young to young adults!
All you have to do is follow the blog tour and leave a comment on any of the participating blogs, but it must be on their “Scribbling Women” blog tour posts. So go visit their posts!
Details: Here’s the best part, you can leave a comment on ALL of the blogs and that will count as 31 entries! Spamming doesn’t count, so one thoughtful comment per blog please.
Dates: Contest starts on Monday, March 28, 2011 and closes on Sunday, April 10, 2011 at 11:49pm EST. One winner will be randomly selected and announced on Monday, April 11, 2011 to receive the prize.

Title: Scribbling Women: True Tales From Astonishing Lives
Author: Marthe Jocelyn
ISBN: 9780887769528
Pages: 198 pages
Publisher/Date: Tundra Books, c2011

“A quick search in the library and on the Internet told me there were not dozens, but thousands of women who had recorded their lives–joyful, challenging, illuminating, wearisome, and passionate–on countless pages, throughout history and around the world. [...]
Most of ‘my’ women would be surprised to find themselves inside a book. They might not be surprised, however, to know that the title began as a sneer, made by a famous male writer named Nathaniel Hawthorne in a letter to his publisher in 1855, where he complained about what he considered the irritating fad of ‘scribbling women.’
Everyone has trials and sorrows, and moments of boredom or immense delight. But these scribbling women wrote it down, passed it along, told us they were here, and took the time to illuminate their worlds.” (x)

Marthe Jocelyn features eleven relatively unknown women — with one notable exception — who recorded their lives in journals, newspapers, and letters. Through these slivers of every day occurrences, readers are privy to the experiences that in many cases are only recorded in the pages these women wrote. If these pages hadn’t survived, then no one would know about the Chinese court over one thousand years ago, the life on a whaling vessel in the early 1800s, or the failed expedition to the Arctic in the 1920s where the only survivor was a Eskimo woman.

It’s hard to pinpoint what is the most impressive about the lives of these women; the fact that all these are true stories and these women really did the things they claimed, or that accounts of their lives still exist. Jocelyn is right when, in her introduction, she questions whether these types of accounts will continue in the digital age, where so little is printed. The only woman with what I consider a recognizable name was Nellie Bly, who some readers might already know of from her undercover reports that resulted in better standards of care for the mentally insane. But upon reading, I realized that I’d also heard of Harriet Ann Jacobs, a run-away slave of who hid herself for years before finally being able to reunite with her children and Doris Garimara who wrote Rabbit-Proof Fence about her Aboriginal mother’s experience in keeping her heritage alive amongst the white colonists.

However interesting these stories are, they are all just a little weak in my opinion, probably because of the lack of background information available on quite a few of these women. In some instances, these written records are the only thing remaining that these women actually existed. Additional information is nearly impossible to come by. Jocelyn does a good job in connecting the stories together, and weaving the women’s original words into her narration. But I really didn’t feel the fascination that Mary Kingsley must have felt when she spent a night with cannibals, possibly because of this contextual narration. I guess you can’t have the urgency when reflecting on past events, but I thought I would find the stories more gripping and that wasn’t the case.

The title originally gave me the impression of Louisa May Alcott’s character Jo in Little Women, scribbling away in her alcove with that jaunty little hat of hers. And that’s obviously the wrong impression, because the women in these books did everything but lock themselves in an attic. They saw the world in every way possible, and their stories live on through their writings.

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book free from the publisher.

Soar, Elinor!

Title: Soar Elinor!
Author: Tami Lewis Brown
Illustrator: Francois Roca
ISBN: 9780374371159
Pages: Picture Book
Publisher/Date: Farrar Straus Giroux, c2010.

Six-year-old Elinor Smith took her first airplane ride in 1917. Less than fourteen years later, she had become the youngest licensed pilot in the United States, male or female. A successful and acclaimed pilot in her own right, she was “voted the best woman pilot in the United States by the nation’s fliers, selected over Amelia Earhart as well as other women aviators.” (author’s note) This picture book biography focuses almost exclusively on her successful attempt at flying under not one, but all four of the bridges spanning New York’s East River.

While I really would have appreciated more concrete information regarding this widely unknown pilot, the information that is given is presented in a straight-forward manner. Brown provides the background information needed to put the flight in perspective, such as that flying under the bridges was both dangerous and against the law. While younger readers might get confused by the actions of the government, who “issued her a short suspension from flying [then] asked Elinor to name the plane in the city’s honor,” older readers and adults will realize the internal conflict and struggle of recognizing her bravery and skill along with her unlawful actions.

The pictures, by Francois Roca, provide a wonderful perspective. Readers alternately feel as if they are either in the plane with Elinor or watching the plane fly towards them. Her brilliant, bright red plane literally pops from the page. The graphics are engaging and beg for a second look or a lingering gaze.

As a big fan of Amelia Earhart’s, it’s become apparent to me that she is simply the most well known due to her untimely disappearance. Amelia Earhart was not the only female pilot during the years she flew, and it’s amazing how many stories are still relatively unknown. The author’s note in the back sets the record straight and provides photos of Elinor and her flight. Brown also sites her sources, although most of them seem to be intended for adults.

This post is in honor of Nonfiction Mondays. For the entire round up of all the bloggers who participated, check out Anastasia Suen over at Picture Book of the Day where — ironically enough — she also is featuring Soar, Elinor!.

Wonder Horse

Title: Wonder Horse: The True Story of the World’s Smartest Horse
Author: Emily Arnold McCully
ISBN: 9780805087932
Pages: Picture Book
Publisher/Date: Henry Holt and Company, LLC, c2010.

Born Bill Key a slave on a plantation in 1833, “Doc” Key’s way with animals soon became well-known. An Arabian mare that he saved from a circus whipping soon gave birth to a homely horse. Named Jim Key, Doc recognized how smart his horse was after he opened the drawer the apples were kept, ate them all, and then shut the drawer. Curious how smart the horse really was, Doc taught him to recognize letters, colors, and simple math. Wanting to spread his message that animals have feelings and require kindness, Doc took his show on the road and had Jim perform for audiences. But was it all a hoax, as one newspaper questioned, that an uneducated former slave could teach an animal all these things?

I had never heard of Jim or Doc Key, and I thoroughly enjoy finding these unknown stories to share with others. Caldecott Award winning author and illustrator Emily Arnold McCully expounds on what few facts we have regarding this story in an author’s note after the story. Featuring a photo of Doc and Jim, you see how accurately she portrayed the couple in her artwork. I thought she did a great job of combining the stories of Doc and Jim, although that makes it difficult to put it in the biography section. This book is an African-American biography that doesn’t hit you over the head with African-American rights, slavery, or prejudice, something that I really appreciate and might make it suitable for younger readers. Horse nuts are also sure to pick it up with that cover and title, although they might be a little suprised by the first few pages that focus on Doc before Jim.

Jimi Sounds Like a Rainbow: A Story of the Young Jimi Hendrix

Title: Jimi Sounds Like a Rainbow: A Story of the Young Jimi Hendrix
Author: Gary Golio
Illustrator: Javaka Steptoe
ISBN: 9780618852796
Pages: 32 pages
Publisher/Date: Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, c2010.

The cover should give you a clue that this picture book just explodes with color! At times, the double page spreads are a little overwhelming, but they are also so engaging that you sometimes forget to read the text. Is it collage? Is it painted? Is it wood, paper, paint, or a combination of the three? Whatever it is, and however it was done, it is very cool.

The text is also accessible for the intended audience, which I feel is probably early elementary students. Beginning the story when Jimi Hendrix was 14, it talks about how he started playing his “one-string ukulele”, could “imitate guitars and trumpets with his mouth and hands”, bought his first used guitar for five dollars, upgraded to the cheapest electric guitar after joining a band, and finally “played for audiences far and wide.” It handles very few details in the text, saving them for the “More About Jimi Hendrix” which follows the text. Instead, it stresses how Jimi grew up observing the world and trying to infuse his music with the life, color, and vibrancy he found around him.

For older readers, there is an author’s note that details how Jimi Hendrix died of an overdose and what effect the drug use might have had on his career. Personally, I think this portion of the book was a little over the top. The author informs readers “As a clinical social worker who has worked with hundreds of teens and adults suffering from addiction problems, I have seen how alcoholism and substance use often follow physical or emotional abuse, depression, childhood poverty, and the loss of one’s parents at an early age.” It sounds like he is diagnosing or evaluating Jimi Hendrix, which I don’t think fits the tone of the rest of the biography. The added resources regarding substance abuse, while nice to have, seem like overkill. People are not reading this book for a “told you so” tale of substance abuse. The illustrator’s note talks about his inspiration, but offers little information about how the engaging pictures were produced, simply stating that he “used plywood [he] found at The RE Store in Ballard, a Seattle neighborhood.” and that he “layered and used bright colors” Don’t miss the very last page, which offers a list of sources and resources.

A solid interpretation of this musician’s life, the pictures alone are worth a look at this book. The lyrical text ends the story with Jimi Hendrix’s own words: “Don’t let nobody turn you off from your own thoughts and dreams.” In January, the book became a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book. Don’t feel too bad for illustrator Javaka Steptoe, since he’s already previously won the award.

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