Picture book biographies provide young children with glimpses into the lives of notable men and women. The following books highlight people whose accomplishments in the arts, on the seven seas, and on the world stage are inspirations to us all.
Arun Gandhi, grandson of the Mahatma, tells of visiting Sevagram, India, as a child in Grandfather Gandhi (co-written by Bethany Hegedus). Young Arun, who gets fidgety during prayers and who angers easily while playing soccer with village children, feels he will never live up to the Gandhi name. After he confides this to his grandfather, Gandhi tells Arun that he, too, often feels anger but that he has learned to channel it for good. Unusual for its child-centered and intimate portrait of Gandhi, the graceful narrative is nearly outdone by Evan Turk’s vivid mixed-media illustrations, rendered in, among other materials, watercolor, paper collage, and handspun cotton yarn. (Atheneum, 4–7 years)
In the early 1800s, young Ellen Prentiss (1814–1900) learned to be a keen and fearless sailor on her father’s trading schooner. Captain Prentiss also taught Ellen navigation, and later she and her husband, Perkins Creesy, traveled the world’s oceans. When the Creesys took command of The Flying Cloud to transport passengers from New York to the California Gold Rush, Ellen accepted the accompanying challenge to smash the record for shortest voyage around Cape Horn. In lively, nautically infused text, Dare the Wind by Tracey Fern details the adventures of this remarkable woman. Ink and watercolor illustrations by Emily Arnold McCully reflect the resplendent blues and greens of vast, changeable oceans. (Farrar/Ferguson, 4–7 years)
One of the pioneers of abstract art, Vasily Kandinsky experienced “colors as sounds, and sounds as colors,” a neurological condition called synesthesia. Concentrating primarily on the artist as a child and young adult, Barb Rosenstock, in The Noisy Paint Box: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art, takes known events and embellishes them with dialogue and specific sounds for the colors (“He brushed a powerful navy rectangle that vibrated deeply like the lowest cello strings”). Illustrator Mary GrandPré does a fine job showing color and sound as abstractions while presenting the artist and his surroundings in a more realistic manner. (Knopf, 4–7 years)
Lesa Cline-Ransome’s Benny Goodman & Teddy Wilson: Taking the Stage as the First Black-and-White Jazz Band in History begins in the early decades of the twentieth century, when Benny Goodman was a working-class Jewish boy growing up in Chicago and Teddy Wilson was a middle-class African American boy living in Tuskegee, Alabama. Jazz brought them together when their paths crossed at a party, and their styles melded so well that they soon began to record together, along with Gene Krupa on drums, as the Benny Goodman Trio. The story is recounted here in short bursts of text, almost like jazz riffs, accompanied by pencil and watercolor illustrations by James E. Ransome that capture distinctive moments in the subjects’ lives. (Holiday, 4–7 years)
From the March 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.