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Picture Book Biographies

Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down

I love reading biographies. Perhaps its sheer nosiness, but I am fascinated by the stories of how someone famous came to be. Unfortunately, finding time to read a 400 page adult biography and keep up with children and teen literature is practically impossible. Luckily, I can combine the two, especially when the biography is a picture book! 

Although it captures only one small part of their lives, Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down by Andrea Davis Pinkney with illustrations by Brian Pinkney, is a biography of sorts. At a Woolworth lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, David, Joseph, Franklin and Ezell sat waiting to be served. The law, you see, had a recipe for segregation, but these “kids had a recipe, too. A new brew called integration.” This husband-wife team always does stellar work, but this is one of my favorites from recent years. The lyrical prose flows so well into the movement filled illustrations. You can almost see the teens shaking with fear as they sit waiting and as the protest grows so does the lunch counter in the illustrations. People sit waiting to be acknowledged at a counter curving around the two-page spread and off into the distance. The final counter spans three pages, with one huge difference. This time there’s, “a doughnut and coffee, with cream on the side” for them all. 

Uncle Andy'sCan you imagine if Andy Warhol was your uncle? That’s the case for James Warhola who shares reminiscences about his happy visits to New York in Uncle Andy’s.  His father never called ahead when he visited with James and his five siblings so it would be a surprise. James would sleep on the top floor surrounded by towers of hand painted Campbell’s soup boxes. One of the favorite activities was racing Uncle Andy’s twenty-five cats, all named Sam, up and down the stairs of the five-story house. James actually got to help his uncle with his giant paint-by-number sailboat painting. Every morning, the children would wait anxiously for Uncle Andy to awaken from his night on the town and once, when a sister burst in a little early, Uncle Andy let out a shriek because he didn’t have his wig on yet! The anecdotes delightfully humanize a man most see as an enigma.  

What to Do About Alice? How Alice Roosevelt Broke the Rules, Charmed the World and Drove her Father Teddy Crazy!What to Do About Alice? How Alice Roosevelt Broke the Rules, Charmed the World and Drove her Father Teddy Crazy! is by Barbara Kerley. She had a joy for life that many felt was inappropriate for a young woman of her time. “Father called it ‘running riot. Alice called it ‘eating up the world.’” When her father became president, she embraced her role as goodwill ambassador traveling to Puerto Rico and even to Asia. She was beloved and Alice became a popular name for baby girls, the press followed “Princess Alice’s” every move and there was even a color created—Alice Blue—that matched her eyes. Seeds of Change

Seeds of Change
by Jen Cullerton Johnson is the story of another woman who stepped outside expected behaviors. Wangari Maathai grew up in Kenya and convinced her parents to break tradition by sending her to school. She ended up studying science in America and returned to her country to find it changed. Big corporations had bought up much of the land and cut down the trees. As a result, soil was being washed into water supplies that then dried up, leaving no water for family gardens. Women had to walk farther and farther away from their villages to find firewood. Wangari had an idea—plant seedlings to save the land and people. Trouble ensued, but Wangari persisted, changing the face of her country for the better and earning a Nobel Peace Prize.