Monday, February 9, 2009

You Read It Here First…

...about many of the 2008 titles that just snagged ALA awards. In particular, Kelly Fineman totally called it—a whole year ago—for We Are the Ship, the Kadir Nelson landmark that was awarded the most honors, including the Sibert Medal for Best Informational Book of the Year.

And now for three new biographies with wildly divergent approaches. “Gertrude is having fun and you’re invited. Don’t be late,” urges what may be the first children’s book to portray the author of “Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.” Gertrude is Gertrude is Gertrude is Gertrude, by Jonah Winter, is a weird word portrait of Gertrude Stein, her partner Alice B. Toklas, and fortunate friends who happen to be famous--Picasso, Matisse, Hemingway. Like the works of the eccentric writer herself, the minimalist text is nonlinear, playful, sometimes downright nonsensical. Calef Brown contributes Maira Kalman-esque paintings that increase the sensation of being at the most fabulous party ever (Atheneum, ages 4-8).

Just look at the breathtaking front cover--all art, no type-- of Eleanor, Quiet No More: The Life of Eleanor Roosevelt, the play of light on ER's face and hair. Gary Kelley’s luminous paintings, on the cover and throughout, reveal a woman you wish you could get to know. Author Doreen Rappaport, in another one of her distinguished books, provides the next best thing-- this accessible, inspirational life story. Each page is punctuated with a pithy ER quote revealing the powerful arc of how she grew from a girl too scared to speak ("I wanted to sink through the floor in shame") to the most outspoken women of her day, proclaiming, "Government has a responsibility to defend the weak" (Hyperion, ages 9-12).

Also check out this cover portrait of our first President, minus his prissy wig and tooth-concealing attempt at a smile. In Big George: How a Shy Boy Became President Washington, he’s towering and broody: "George Washington wasn't afraid of anything, except making conversation." At this late date there isn't much new to say about him, and Anne Rockwell’s detailed text follows a similar drift to Suzanne Tripp Jurmain’s George Did It (2005)—mainly, that it was really hard for GW to do all he did. But Matt Phelan’s pencil and gouache illustrations do give a new angle on the great man-- Superman meets Heathcliff...meets a vampire? (Harcourt, ages 4-8)

Finally, who wouldn’t love a book with this sentence: “If I were an administrator or literacy coach in a middle school, I would encourage my faculty to conduct a school-wide author study of [insert your name here].” Well, Sharon Kane kindly inserted my name into her Integrating Literature in the Content Areas: Enhancing Adolescent Learning and Literacy, but never fear, she mentions plenty of other authors. Her book is packed with 300+ pages of tips for getting literature into the classroom—fiction, poetry, and (saints be praised) “The Why and How of Using Informational Trade Books,” whole chapters on incorporating biographies, how-to books, etc. An amazing resource (Holcomb Hathway, for teachers).

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