Go forth and help

The subjects of these six picture-book biographies for primary and intermediate readers made a difference in the world around them through means ranging from political activism to the arts. To learn about another community helper, see our Five Questions interview with Breanna J. McDaniel and April Harrison about Go Forth and Tell: The Life of Augusta Baker, Librarian and Master Storyteller.

I’m Gonna Paint: Ralph Fasanella, Artist of the People
by Anne Broyles; illus. by Victoria Tentler-Krylov
Primary, Intermediate   Holiday    48 pp.
10/23    9780823450060    $18.99
e-book ed.  9780823457380    $11.99

In this engaging and child-friendly overview of Fasanella’s (1914–1997) life and evolution as a self-taught, working-class artist, Broyles highlights the man’s “rambunctious,” resilient, and independent nature, even as a child. His hard-working Italian immigrant parents had limited resources and a large family to care for. As a boy, Fasanella accompanied his father as he delivered blocks of ice through the tenements of New York City. He listened to his factory-worker mother as she shared her strong beliefs about unionizing to improve working conditions. He was in and out of a Catholic reform school and worked odd jobs throughout the Great Depression before joining a union and learning to paint in his early thirties. He honed his craft and found his voice in his visual representations of family, baseball, and daily existence. He also documented momentous events (the March on Washington, the Kennedy assassination) and their impact on Americans, saying that “any good painting is a social statement” and that “art and politics can’t be separated.” Tentler-Krylov’s dynamic watercolors bring her subject to life in small vignettes at various stages of the times and also place him in boldly colored, expansive scenes that pay homage to Fasanella’s distinctive style. Well-researched back matter includes a timeline of events that are referenced in Fasanella’s paintings, numerous reprints, and a listing of where to see more of the artist’s work. A perfect companion to Levinson’s The People’s Painter (rev. 7/21), a picture-book biography of Ben Shahn. LUANN TOTH

Fighting with Love: The Legacy of John Lewis
by Lesa Cline-Ransome; illus. by James E. Ransome
Primary    Wiseman/Simon    48 pp.
1/24    9781534496620    $18.99
e-book ed.  9781534496637    $10.99

The prolific author-illustrator couple (most recently The Story of the Saxophone, rev. 1/23) teams up again to offer this inspiring picture-book biography of the late human rights and civil rights icon. Cline-Ransome’s reverent narrative gracefully captures Lewis’s (1940–2020) humility and perseverance. Growing up in a farming family in Alabama, young John learned about love from the Bible at an early age. He felt its presence everywhere he went — except when he encountered the discriminatory realities of Jim Crow laws. “Election day meant Whites Only could pick the laws, mayors, and presidents. John hated that colored folks had to stick to picking cotton.” Inspired by a radio sermon delivered by Martin Luther King Jr., Lewis left home at seventeen to attend the American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville. As he learned about practices of nonviolent resistance, his commitment to end segregation through nonviolent protest was unwavering. Beaten and arrested, yet undeterred, he led prolonged sit-ins; rode buses as a Freedom Rider; spoke at the March on Washington calling for jobs and freedom; and led the march at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, that ended in state police violence. Ransome’s distinctive illustrations, created with a combination of found, printed, and purchased paper with pencil drawings, perfectly match Cline-Ransome’s telling and dramatically radiate the magnitude of Lewis’s influence. An author’s note, a timeline, sources for quotations, and a selected bibliography are appended. PAULETTA BROWN BRACY

Amazing Abe: How Abraham Cahan’s Newspaper Gave a Voice to Jewish Immigrants
by Norman H. Finkelstein; illus. by Vesper Stamper
Primary    Holiday    40 pp.
2/24    9780823451647    $18.99
e-book ed.  9780823457724    $11.99

This picture-book biography tells the story of Cahan (1860–1951), cofounder and later editor of the Forverts, the Yiddish newspaper known in English as The Jewish Daily Forward. Finkelstein’s clear text traces Cahan’s journey from the Pale of Settlement — he fled after being questioned by czarist police over his support of workers — to New York, as well as his experiences as a new immigrant before the paper’s founding. The book’s depiction of Cahan’s work on the paper emphasizes his understanding of and advocacy for the needs of other Jews, immigrants, and workers. Stamper’s bustling street scenes, classrooms, and newspaper offices include plenty of instances of print to pore over in multiple languages (Cahan “loved words” in English, Russian, Hebrew, and Yiddish). Back matter includes more information on Cahan and on Yiddish, an author’s note, a timeline, a bibliography, and suggested further reading. SHOSHANA FLAX

On the Tip of a Wave: How Ai Weiwei’s Art Is Changing the Tide
by Joanna Ho; illus. by Cátia Chien
Primary, Intermediate    Orchard/Scholastic    48 pp.
10/23    9781338715941    $18.99

In this powerful picture book, readers learn about artist/activist/filmmaker Ai Weiwei, the worldwide refugee crisis, and the effects art can have in shining a light on humanitarian issues. Readers meet Ai Weiwei in contemporary times as he helps a large group of newly arrived refugees in boats landing on a Greek beach. Flashing back, the text relates that his own tumultuous childhood in a 1960s Chinese labor camp was when he started making art using ordinary objects. The book’s main focus is on his notable protest artwork, visually referenced on the pages; the story concludes by returning to the plight of current-day “wave riders.” Ho’s vivid, expressive prose and Chien’s bright orange and blue impressionistic pencil and pastel drawings — incorporating waves, life jackets, and documentary photographs — inspire empathy for the refugees, many of whom are young children or families. More straightforward biographical details appear in the back matter; and Ho writes that Ai Weiwei’s “art and activism call on us, the citizens of the world, to lift each other up.” This book is a good companion read for Ho’s Playing at the Border (rev. 9/21) and Gravel’s What Is a Refugee? MICHELLE LEE

Ida B. Wells Marches for the Vote
by Dinah Johnson; illus. by Jerry Jordan
Primary, Intermediate    Ottaviano/Little, Brown    48 pp.
1/24    9780316322478    $18.99

Johnson’s compelling text tells the inspirational true story of a Black suffragist who fought injustice all her life. This biography of Wells begins with her birth in 1862, a year before the Emancipation Proclamation freed her parents. The Fifteenth Amendment nominally enfranchised Black men, but after Ida’s father voted for the first time, his white boss fired him, which led him to open his own business, Wells’s Carpentry. At sixteen, Ida lost her parents and younger brother to yellow fever, and she began teaching and pursuing an education to support her siblings. Wells refused to accept discriminatory laws or the racist treatment of Black citizens on public transportation and fought against the brutal practice of lynching. The last half of the book focuses on her suffrage work, including her founding of the Alpha Suffrage Club and participation in the 1913 march of the National American Woman Suffrage Association — an association that fought exclusively for white women’s suffrage. Wells and other women of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority, including Mary Church Terrell, participated to show that they, too, required the vote. Jordan’s skillfully crafted oil on cloth illustrations effectively capture the historical era in which Wells lived and the determination she showed regardless of the challenge. The detailed back matter — including an author’s note, a timeline, photographs, and source notes — offers readers ample resources for learning more about a person and history that all young people should know. MICHELLE H. MARTIN

Shigeru Ban Builds a Better World [Art for Good]
by Isadoro Saturno; illus. by Stefano Di Cristofaro
Primary    Tra    40 pp.
9/23    9798986640631    $19.99

Thoughtful book design makes a perfect container for this series entry. On heavy stock pages, Saturno and Di Cristofaro introduce young readers to a Japanese architect whose preferred medium is paper. Pritzker Prize winner Shigeru Ban has made a name for himself with his paper-tube constructions used in disaster-relief efforts, including temporary housing and such community buildings as schools and churches. Saturno uses an interactive structure to lead readers into the subject; an offstage narrator encourages a skeptical child to imagine a “house made entirely of paper and cardboard. A house you could live in.” The child, rendered with angular, modernist flair and accompanied by an equally hyper-stylized cat, expostulates, “No way! That would be impossible!” But the narrator beguiles the child with the “very sturdy” paper tubes Ban uses as “bricks,” while Di Cristofaro evokes the tensile strength of his innovative structures with intricate cut-paper renderings in minimalist compositions. An inserted twelve-page booklet made of brown paper contains photographs of Ban’s disaster-relief projects and paragraphs of text describing them; bound in, it is smaller than the surrounding book yet integrated by its medium. A Q&A with the architect, a timeline of his life, and an exhortation to child readers “to think, to be creative, and to help” close the offering. It’s all bound in a sturdy cardboard case that pays homage to Ban’s work. This striking presentation is an effective invitation to children to join Ban in using creativity to solve big problems. VICKY SMITH

From the January 2024 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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