Today I have three new picture book biographies to share, all nominees in the Cybils non-fiction picture book category. What I like about all three of these are that they are short and simple enough for young elementary kids but also packed full of information. And they all have great illustrations, although in three very different styles.
This first one is the story of Noah Webster, creator of the first American dictionary. There are a lot of fascinating details about the creation of that famous dictionary. It took 20 years and was 2000 pages long at completion. He studied twenty different languages and read almost every book in the Yale University library while working on it. The author gives us a broader picture of his life instead of just focusing on the dictionary. I appreciated this as I knew very little about Webster and I imagine the same is true for others. Webster was very involved in politics and government and education. He wrote several other textbooks that were widely used for many years, served in his state legislature and was friends with many prominent politicians including George Washington. I especially liked that in the text the author embeds dictionary style definitions for some of the harder words in an obvious homage to her subject.
Barnum Brown turned a childhood love of collecting shells and stones and fossils into a career as one of the most successful fossil finders in history. From the Author’s Note at the end of this book we learn that when he “arrived at the American Museum of Natural History in 1897, it did not have a single dinosaur speciman. When he died in 1963, the museum had the largest collection of dinosaur bones in the world.” Many of those were unearthed by Barnum himself. He is most well known for discovering the first Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton. I have always had a fascination for dinosaurs so I loved this story. I also loved the illustrations which are done in a style I would describe as surrealistic/realistic.
“It’s hard to believe this isn’t a fairy tale.” said David, age 6 in the middle of reading this book. He’s right. This story is too charming to be true. But it is. Brothers at Bat tells the story of the Accera family who lived in New Jersey at the turn of the twentieth century. There were 12 brothers (and 4 sisters) who loved baseball and went on to form an all-brother semi-pro baseball team. By the time they played their last game in 1952 they held the record for the longest playing all-brother team in baseball history. (Surprisingly to me there were 29 teams made up of all brothers who played between 1860 and the 1940’s.) I really liked that this book celebrated people who were part of something extraordinary but who aren’t really famous (The Acceras have been recognized by the Baseball Hall of Fame and the uniform of one of the brothers is on display there but they still aren’t well-known.) The combination of thick non-glossy paper and vintage-style illustrations goes perfectly with the story.
One thing all three of these books have in common is that they are all about people that had some degree of talent but who were truly successful because of their perseverance. Webster stuck with his goal to create a dictionary for 20 years. It took Barnum Brown years to achieve his dream of discovering a brand new species of dinosaur and then seven more years to clean it and put it together for display once he found it. And the Accera brothers just did something they loved but thought ordinary until it became extraordinary.
Nonfiction Monday is hosted this week at The Flatt Perspective.