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An Interview with The Crayon Man Author Natascha Biebow

 

 

AN INTERVIEW WITH

NATASCHA BIEBOW

AUTHOR OF

THE CRAYON MAN:

THE TRUE STORY OF THE INVENTION OF CRAYOLA CRAYONS

(Clarion Books; $17.99, Ages 6 to 9)

 

The Crayon Man cover

 

 

SHORT SUMMARY:

In 1903, a man’s innovative invention appeared in homes in a bright green box for only a nickel – Crayola crayons. In a world where children are given crayons almost as soon as they are born, where the smell of crayons is more recognizable than coffee and peanut butter, what must it have been like to live at a time when crayons were a novelty? The Crayon Man, illustrated by Steven Salerno, is a story of the inspirational inventor Edwin Binney, the man who loved color and nature, who listened and created one of the world’s most enduring, best-loved childhood toys—empowering children around the world to imagine and draw ANYTHING!

 

INTERVIEW:

Colleen Paeff: Happy National Crayon Day! It’s so nice to have the opportunity to talk to you about The Crayon Man, Natascha, because it happens to be the favorite book of one of my favorite 4-year-olds. I have it at my house and every time she comes over, she wants me to read it aloud. 

Natascha Biebow: Wow, that’s so much fun to hear, thank you! 

 

The Crayon Man LovedColor int1
Interior spread from The Crayon Man: The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons written by Natascha Biebow and illustrated by Steven Salerno, Clarion ©2019.

 

CP: I was listening to your interview on the Nonfiction4Life podcast and I loved hearing you talk about the extensive research you conducted. What were some of the highlights of your research process?

NB: I was very fortunate in that my research took me to some really cool places: I visited the inside of the Crayola crayons factory in Easton, PA, and saw first-hand how the crayons are made today with super-speedy machines; I went to the Smithsonian Museum of American History archives in Washington, DC, to view the Binney & Smith company archives; I connected with Binney’s great-granddaughter and so many helpful librarians and experts, who were incredibly generous in fact-checking my research.

 

CP: That sounds amazing! Did you learn anything particularly surprising?

NB: I did! Previously published nonfiction books about the invention of Crayola crayons focused on the manufacturing process and how Binney’s wife, Alice, helped to name the crayons, but none of these delved into Binney as a man and what motivated him. In my detective work researching, I uncovered just how much he loved color and was influenced by nature. Because he worked for a factory that made black stuff – printing ink, dye, lamp black – I was instantly hooked on the contrast: all day long, he was surrounded by black, yet he loved color. THAT was why he wanted to create colored crayons!

 

The Crayon Man bouquetspread int2
Interior spread from The Crayon Man: The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons written by Natascha Biebow and illustrated by Steven Salerno, Clarion ©2019.

 

CP: I’m always hoping to find new tricks for organizing my research. How do you keep information organized as you conduct research?

NB: Ha! I wish I could say I have some amazing system. I know some people use index cards or similar, but the fact is I collate all my references into a folder of printed out articles and notes, etc., and keep an MSWord document with key facts and website links/dates. The best tip is to use EasyBib, which allows you to create a project-based record of all your sources (which is also excellent for when you need to create a correctly-formatted bibliography). 

 

CP: Yes! Thank goodness for EasyBib! You mentioned earlier that you connected with one of Binney’s descendants. What was her reaction to the book?

NB: Crayola kindly put me in touch with Binney’s great-granddaughter, who generously shared her memories and photos. After publication, though, magic happened – Binney’s great-great-granddaughter sent me a fan letter, and she connected me with more relatives. When we met up in person, she shared a precious photo album and stories about other members of the family. Attics were dug into and more photos and artifacts uncovered, including a stunning snap of Alice Binney with her daughters, Dolly and Helen, standing by the 1904 St Louis World’s Fair Crayola display. It’s a rarity, given how few photos were taken then. No smartphones! I really wish we’d have had it in time to include in the book. Now, these family photos and artifacts have been donated to the Smithsonian to be added to their archive, which is fantastic.

 

Binney Crayola St Louis World's Fair
“Dolly, Alice & Helen, Crayola Booth at St Louis World’s Fair 1904 Photo courtesy of the Binney Family”

 

CP: That’s incredible! What do you hope young readers take away from this story?

NB: Edwin Binney had a knack for listening and making what people needed. He loved nature and turned to it for inspiration. Binney was also a generous entrepreneur who gave back to his community. His flair for innovation, creativity, persistence, and ability to listen are all attributes that future generations will need to make our world a better place. In this fast-paced world of ours, where kids are so often on devices, I’d love it if the book were to encourage kids to just doodle with crayons or to be inspired to look more closely at nature, ask curious questions and invent something.

 

CP: Wonderful! I know it will. You’re a writer, but you’re also an experienced editor who has worked on a number of award-winning books. How did you get started in editing?

NB: I studied Developmental Psychology at Smith College and have always loved writing and editing (I edited our high-school newspaper). I wanted to combine my interest in words and young children’s development so after I graduated, I decided I would start with the 6-week Radcliffe Publishing course (now Columbia Publishing course) so I could learn about children’s publishing. Soon after, I moved to London where I had family, and was lucky to land a job as an editorial assistant at a very small, independent publisher. It was the perfect place to get hands-on experience in all the aspects of how a book is made, before moving on to more senior editorial roles. 

 

CP: That sounds like a good place to start. Was it your interest in editing that led you to start coaching writers through your Blue Elephant Storyshaping business?

NB: Yes, after several years in senior commissioning roles in-house at large publishing houses, I decided I wanted to spend less time on managerial and budgeting tasks and get back what I was most passionate about – hands-on editing and storyshaping. So now I coach and mentor authors and illustrators at all levels to help them fine-tune their work pre-submission, doing all the creative thinking and editing that I love; I am also developing a small, independent list as the Editorial Director of Five Quills, which is a huge privilege! I love the collaborative process of the picture book journey. A key part of this is helping creators to tease out the stories they want to tell.

 

CP: It sounds like you’re getting to do all the things you love! Are there any particular books you’ve edited that we should be on the lookout for?

NB: Always! Five Quills is thrilled to launch some very talented debuts – Paul Morton’s Bug Belly, a hilarious chapter book series about a greedy frog, who is an ingenious inventor; I Am Nefertiti by Annemarie Anang and Natelle Quek, an empowering, joyful picture book that celebrates identity and belonging; and Lottie Loves Nature by bestselling author Jane Clarke and James Brown, an exciting new eco-adventure series for younger readers.  

 

CP: Those sound wonderful! How do you divide your time between writing, editing, and coaching?

NB: My editing business – coaching and mentoring authors and commissioning and editing for Five Quills – is my day job. I feel very fortunate to be doing work I am passionate about and that I enjoy. Alongside this, I try to carve out time each week to at least noodle away at my new writing projects. Sometimes, I am writing when I’m not writing – in my head, on journeys, waiting for my son’s tennis lesson, as I fall asleep at night . . . In the summer when school is out, I earmark time to work on larger writing projects that involve research. I also spend time each month doing virtual school visits. Connecting with young readers is a fun, rewarding aspect of promoting your work and a source of inspiration. And then there is volunteering as Co-Regional Advisor SCBWI British Isles, which is a daily commitment. Some advice I got from Tim Grahl was to plan out your days so that you can be more focused and not distracted by ‘bitty’ tasks. That works well for me. But some days, the list just doesn’t get done, so my motto is to be kind to myself, eat some chocolate (dark), and try again tomorrow. 

 

CP: That’s such good advice. And I think being kind to ourselves (and eating dark chocolate!) is key to doing good work. It sounds like you’ve created a perfect combination of structure and ease. I was very impressed when you received the 2019 Stephen Mooser Member of the Year from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) to recognize your contribution as Regional Advisor since 1998, building the British Isles region into the largest international region of the organization. What an accomplishment! But now I know you also received the MBE (Most Excellent Order of the British Empire), which was presented by HRH Prince Charles himself. That must have been exciting! Tell me about it. How did you get it? What was the ceremony like? How on earth did you decide what to wear?!

NB: Yes, it was all incredibly exciting and also a bit surreal. I am fortunate to work with a very talented and generous team of dedicated volunteers, some of whom decided to nominate me for the MBE. It takes a couple of years for the Queen’s approval. It was a complete surprise and is, of course, a huge honor. I didn’t know who would be presenting the award until the actual day of the investiture at Buckingham Palace. My son scored the day off school and my mom, partner, and uncle were guests. Figuring out what to wear was an interesting challenge – a day jacket and fancy hat are de rigueur, and of course, if you know me, they had to be . . . blue! The ceremony is held in the stunning Ballroom at Buckingham Palace. I met some fascinating people from all kinds of professions and voluntary services, who were also being recognized for honors. The investiture is meticulously choreographed. We were briefed about how to approach the royals: HRH Prince Charles would say a brief word to each of us, pin on our medals, shake hands, and then we should back away – no mean feat if you’re wearing heels. I was so afraid I would trip up or get muddled! Afterward, I signed a copy of THE CRAYON MAN and asked a staff member to pass it on to HRH Prince Charles. Later, I got a thank you note from his office! The MBE is really an award to celebrate with ALL the hard-working volunteers who have contributed to making the British Isles the largest international region of SCBWI. 

 

MBE award NB
Natascha Biebow holds the MBE award at her Buckingham Palace investiture.

 

CP: That sounds so wild! What is one thing you wish more aspiring children’s authors understood about breaking into this business?

NB: I love elephants – they have thick skins (which allow them to keep cool). We authors also need thick skins to keep cool (heads), because this is a business that requires a huge amount of perseverance to weather its ups and downs. Sometimes, it’s incredibly challenging to stay positive and to keep re-imagining your work until an editor says ‘yes’ to your book. Aspiring authors sometimes don’t realize publishing is a slow, long game. Even when you do secure a book deal, the work is just beginning! However, I feel very fortunate to be able to be part of the business of making children’s books, and to be doing something I love – writing!

 

CP: What’s next for you, Natascha?

NB: I have a number of books out on submission, and am constantly dreaming up new ideas. 

I am also writing a young fiction chapter book series, which is a bit of a steep learning curve, but fun.  

 

CP: It sounds like you have lots of good things in store for readers! Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me.

NB: Thank you for inviting me to celebrate National Crayon Day on GoodReadswithRonna.com! 

 

Natascha Biebow Author PhotoBRIEF BIO: 

Natascha Biebow’s favorite crayon color is periwinkle blue because it makes her heart sing.  She loves to draw and make stuff, just like the inventor of the Crayola crayons. She lives in London, where she writes, edits, coaches, and mentors children’s book authors and illustrators at Blue Elephant Storyshaping, and is the long-time Regional Advisor of SCBWI British Isles. In 2018, she was awarded an MBE for her services to children’s writers and illustrators. The CRAYON MAN: THE TRUE STORY OF THE INVENTION OF CRAYOLA CRAYONS is the winner of the Irma Black Award for Excellence in Children’s Literature, voted for by children, and an NSTA Best STEM book and JLG Gold Selection. She loves true stories and is currently working on more nonfiction picture books, a chapter book series, and a novel. Find her at www.nataschabiebow.com

CLICK HERE TO BUY THE BOOK


LINKS: 


THE CRAYON MAN Book Trailer: www.youtube.com/watch?v=ED2Poiah-Ok

THE CRAYON MAN KidTimeStorytime read-aloud: youtu.be/nFS6Ey75MS0

Website: www.nataschabiebow.com

Instagram: @nataschabiebow

Facebook: www.facebook.com/nataschabiebow

YouTube: www.youtube.com/channel/UCdIqcSoV-30W_C2xAVLzBKw

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/natascha-biebow-90183626/

Free Picture Book Craft Tips: www.blueelephantstoryshaping.com/blogs-craft-tips-for-you/

 

ABOUT INTERVIEWER COLLEEN PAEFF:

Colleen Paeff received a Bachelor’s Degree in set design for theater from California State University Fullerton, before becoming a bookseller, preschool teacher, and newspaper columnist. (She never did become a set designer!) Eventually, she figured out how to combine books, kids, and writing into one career––as a children’s book author. Her debut picture book, The Great Stink: How Joseph Bazalgette Solved London’s Poop Pollution Problem (illustrated by Nancy Carpenter), won the SCBWI’s 2022 Golden Kite Award for Nonfiction Text for Young Readers and was named a 2022 Robert F. Sibert Informational Fiction Honor Book. Colleen lives in Los Angeles, CA and Brooklyn, NY. Learn more about her at www.colleenpaeff.com or visit her on Instagram and Twitter @ColleenPaeff. 

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An Interview with The Stars Beckoned Author Candy Wellins

 

 

AN INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR CANDY WELLINS

ABOUT HER PICTURE BOOK

THE STARS BECKONED:
EDWARD WHITE’S AMAZING WALK IN SPACE

(Philomel; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

starsbeckoned cover scaled

 

 

                    ★                      ★                     ★   

 

SHORT SUMMARY:

The Stars Beckoned: Edward White’s Amazing Walk In Space, written by Candy Wellins and illustrated by Courtney Dawson, is a lyrical picture book biography of Edward White, the first American to walk in space, and an ode to the beauty and wonder of the stars that brought him there.

 

INTERVIEW:

Colleen Paeff: Hi Candy! Congratulations on the release of your second picture book, The Stars Beckoned: Edward White’s Amazing Walk In Space (illustrated by Courtney Dawson)! You’ve said that when you started writing this book you weren’t really a space buff. Do you think that helped or hindered you during the research process?

 

Candy Wellins: I hope it helped!  Most of what I knew about the history of NASA came from THE RIGHT STUFF, which does a good job of covering Project Mercury and I think everyone has a basic understanding of Apollo, but the Gemini missions are kind of like the forgotten middle children of the NASA missions. Not the first ones and not the flashy ones, but certainly important ones. I read the transcript of the entire Gemini IV mission–pages and pages of technical jargon—but once you get to the heart of the mission and “hearing” the astronauts speak, it’s pretty riveting.  

 

CP: Would you consider yourself a space buff now?

 

CW: No, not a space buff by any means. Maybe an above-average space enthusiast at best!  

 

 

CP: I’m always impressed by authors who can tell a story in rhyme, but I’m especially impressed by authors who can tell a nonfiction story in rhyme! Was rhyming something that was a part of The Stars Beckoned from the beginning or did it come later in the revision process?

 

CW: I knew I wanted to tell Edward’s story for a while and I didn’t have a plan whatsoever. I only wrote in prose at that point and I tried a few things, but didn’t like them at all. A writer in my critique group shared a biography written in verse that I thought was just lovely. It made me want to do something biographical in verse just to try it.  Edward came to mind immediately. I had done a lot of the preliminary research and, honestly, if you’re going to get your feet wet in rhyme, might as well do it with someone who has a very rhymable last name like White. The opening lines came to me pretty quickly and I just let the story take me where it needed to go.  

 

CP: Edward White’s children gave you feedback as you worked on the story, right? How did you get in touch with them and were they immediately open to you writing about their dad?

 

CW: During one of my many Google searches of Edward’s name, I found a post his granddaughter made celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of his spacewalk. She is a realtor so I was able to find contact information easily and reached out to her. She put me in touch with her dad and aunt and I shared the manuscript with them. It was important to me that the book be as historically accurate as possible. They were especially helpful as we moved into the illustration phase–getting hair colors, clothing choices and airplane models exactly as they were was important to all of us. Most Americans know the names of other “first” astronauts like Alan Shepard, Neil Armstrong and Sally Ride, but I feeland I think his children would agreeEdward has been somewhat forgotten by history. I hope my book can change that just a bit because he really was amazing and did important work.  

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Out of This World: The Surreal Art of Leonora Carrington by Michelle Markel

 

OUT OF THIS WORLD:
THE SURREAL ART OF LEONORA CARRINGTON
Written by Michelle Markel
Illustrated by Amanda Hall
(Balzer + Bray; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

Out of This World: The Surreal Art of Leonora Carrington bk cover

 

 

Starred Review – Booklist

 

Named as one of Amazon’s Best Nonfiction Books for January 2019, Out of This World: The Surreal Art of Leonora Carrington engages us from the opening lines where we’re told that “Leonora’s parents wanted her to be like every other well-bred English girl. But she was not.” Carrington’s amazing history unfolds with her love of drawing at age four. In the early 1900s, women were expected to be proper ladies then wives. Yet even with few opportunities, Carrington boldly forged a life which allowed her imaginative spirit to flourish.

This is the second picture-book collaboration between Michelle Markel and illustrator Amanda Hall. (The first, also about a significant figure from art history, was award-winning and critically acclaimed The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau). Once again, Hall’s art infuses vibrant color and lively images. She succeeds in conveying “the spirit, themes, and sensibility [Carrington] explored in her creative output without attempting to re-create any of her actual imagery.”

 

int spread of Mexico by Amanda Hall from Out of This World by Michelle Markel
Interior illustration from from Out of This World: The Surreal Art of Leonora Carrington written by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Amanda Hall, Balzer + Bray ©2019.

 

This book introduces surrealism to kids in a fun manner, yet Carrington’s plight is also understood. Instead of conforming to her society’s ideas about a woman’s place in the world, Carrington’s paintings, sculptures, and writings shaped a path that brought wide recognition in her lifetime. Additional, fascinating details are summarized in the back matter.

@ChristineVZ and @WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

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Where’s Your Hat, Abe Lincoln? by Misti Kenison

 CELEBRATING PRESIDENT’S DAY
WITH A NEW BOOK ABOUT OUR 16TH PRESIDENT,
ABE LINCOLN

 

 

Cover image of Clara Barton, Abe Lincoln, Frederick Douglass from Where's Your Hat Abe Lincoln?Where’s Your Hat, Abe Lincoln?
Written and illustrated by Misti Kenison
(Jabberwocky Kids; $9.99, Ages 3-5)

It’s never too early to introduce children to one of America’s greatest presidents, Abraham Lincoln. In this colorful,
28 page board book, part of the Young Historians series, Abe cannot find his signature tall stovepipe top hat. Rather than presenting the board book with lift-the-flap pages to reveal where the top hat might be, Kenison’s chosen to use the book as a way to also show youngsters what Lincoln’s contemporaries were doing during the time period of 1845-1881. Kids will get a glimpse of Frederick Douglass writing a book, Clara Barton aiding Union soldiers, as well as Thaddeus Stevens, Harriet Tubman, Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee, Sojourner Truth and William Seward. After Abe’s search has come to a successful conclusion, he travels to Pennsylvania to give his Gettysburg Address only to be greeted by all the other famous people who have filled the book. Parents, caregivers and teachers will appreciate the back matter timeline and brief descriptions of all the individuals included in Where’s Your Hat, Abe Lincoln? and can use the book as a way to share Lincoln’s most important first line from the Gettysburg Address that ends with “… and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Pair this with Kenison’s Young Historians board book, Cheer Up, Ben Franklin! for another great addition to your home library.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

 

 

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Nadia, The Girl Who Couldn’t Sit Still by Karlin Gray

 

NADIA: THE GIRL WHO COULDN’T SIT STILL
Written by Karlin Gray
Illustrated by Christine Davenier
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; $17.99, Ages 6-9)

 

Nadia by Karlin Gray cover photo

 

Nadia: The Girl Who Couldn’t Sit Still introduces us to Nadia Comaneci in the village of Oneşti, Romania, when Nadia is a young girl. In the humorous, vibrant illustrations, the reader experiences Nadia’s love of climbing trees and her impatient and fearless attempts at roller skating and bicycle riding. When Nadia clambers up the family’s Christmas tree and sends it toppling over, Nadia’s parents sign her up for gymnastics lessons.

 

Nadia_by_Karlin_Gray_int2
Interior artwork from Nadia: The Girl Who Couldn’t Sit Still by Karlin Gray with illustrations by Christine Davenier, HMH ©2016.

 

From there, Nadia is spotted one day at school by gymnastics coach, Bela Karolyi, and joins his new gymnastics school. Six-year-old Nadia diligently practices her moves until she masters them. We are shown her failures during early competitions but Nadia perseveres and makes the 1976 Romanian Olympic team. In this competition, though Nadia shines, the audience is astounded when her score reads only 1.00. We soon discover the scoreboard had not been programmed to display numbers above 9.99. Instead of a 1.00, Nadia had scored a perfect 10.00! She goes on to repeat her astounding score seven more times, winning five Olympic medals.

Though parents may be familiar with the story of Nadia Comaneci, Nadia: The Girl Who Couldn’t Sit Still retells Nadia’s story in an approachable manner for a new generation. Children will follow Nadia’s journey up to age fourteen, when she wins Olympic gold. Nadia grows from a girl who can’t sit still to one who learns to harness and direct that energy. She gives new meaning to the old adage, “practice makes perfect.”

 

Nadia by Karlin Gray interior image of Olympics
Interior artwork from Nadia: The Girl Who Couldn’t Sit Still by Karlin Gray with illustrations by Christine Davenier, HMH ©2016.

 

When the 2016 Summer Olympics open, families will be following gymnastics teams and rooting for their favorites. Reading Nadia’s story is an inspirational and timely accompaniment.

Read more about author Karlin Gray here.
Read more about illustrator Christine Davenier here.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success www.Write-for-Success.com

@WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

Co-editor of and writer for SCBWI’s Kite Tales https://SCBWIKiteTales.wordpress.com/

 

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The Hole Story of The Doughnut by Pat Miller

THE HOLE STORY OF THE DOUGHNUT
Written by Pat Miller
Illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; $17.99, Ages 6-9)

 

The Hole Story of The Doughnut by Pat Miller book cover

In The Hole Story of the Doughnut by Pat Miller, the beloved doughnut’s history is traced back to 1847. Hanson Crockett Gregory, an American born in Maine, was only thirteen years old when he went to sea. At age sixteen, while working as a cook’s assistant on the Ivanhoe, Gregory decided to try something new. Their typical breakfast of sweet fried dough was known as “sinkers” because the middles remained raw and heavy with grease, making them “drop like cannonballs” in the stomach. Using the lid of a pepper can, Gregory cut holes from the center of the dough. By lightening them up, they emerged from the bubbling lard fully cooked, browned, and sweet.

 

Interior spread of first doughnut invention from The Hole Story of The Doughnut
Interior artwork from The Hole Story of The Doughnut by Pat Miller with illustrations by Vincent X. Kirsch, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt ©2016.

 

These new treats became known as “holey cakes;” Gregory’s mother sold large batches of them on the docks to hungry sailors. To offset the simple origins of the doughnut, sailors invented wild tales about how Captain Gregory’s invention occurred while he was wrestling with stormy seas or rescuing sailors who had fallen overboard.

 

Interior spread of sailors eating doughnuts from The Hole Story of The Doughnut
Interior artwork from The Hole Story of The Doughnut by Pat Miller with illustrations by Vincent X. Kirsch, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt ©2016.

 

The colorful pages of The Hole Story of the Doughnut utilize a doughnut-shaped theme and lively illustrations to depict historical scenes with interest and humor. The tale brings us full-circle in Gregory’s life. In an interview with Gregory at age sixty-nine, he seemed amazed at the fuss over his now world-famous invention claiming he had merely invented “the first hole ever seen by mortal eyes.” A hole which has made a mighty impression.

Both children and adults should find this history of the doughnut to be a fun and interesting read. The next time I eat a “holey cake,” I’ll think back upon the story of Captain Gregory and be thankful we’re not still eating “sinkers.”

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success www.Write-for-Success.com

@WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

Co-editor of and writer for SCBWI’s Kite Tales https://SCBWIKiteTales.wordpress.com/

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Two Friends: Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass

 

TWO FRIENDS:
SUSAN B. ANTHONY AND FREDERICK DOUGLASS
Written by Dean Robbins,
Illustrated by Sean Qualls & Selina Alko
(Orchard Books/Scholastic; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

TwoFriendscvr

 

Two Friends is an excellent and inspiring new picture book about the friendship between Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass. It’s told in such an immediate way that the reader is drawn right into the lives of these two legendary figures as they have tea together. Susan’s life is summed up best by the sentence, “And Susan had many things to do.” She really did. Author Dean Robbins looks back on Susan’s childhood noting that she did not get the education she wanted or deserved. This enables illustrators Qualls and Alko to portray Susan B. Anthony’s life in gorgeous and yet deceptively simple illustrations that show childhood pictures of Susan’s life at home that they’ve imagined her drawing. Susan’s journey to get the vote and to fight for equality got some mixed reactions by her peers, but it never stopped her.

 

Two Friends Interior Spread 1
Two Friends by Dean Robbins, Illustrations © 2016 by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko, used with permission from Orchard Books/Scholastic.

Having taken us into Susan’s life, the illustrations return the reader back to these two friends talking over tea. Frederick Douglass tells Susan B. Anthony his exciting news about his newspaper. These magical words float across the page, “We are all brethren. Right is of no gender… of no color… Truth is of no color…” Frederick’s life is told as simply and as truthfully as Susan’s. Born a slave, he dreamed of learning to read and write. Qualls and Alko portray Frederick Douglass with a look of determination on his face as he reads a book. Like Susan, he wonders why some people have rights and others don’t. The illustrations clearly tell us that he has beautiful dreams of having something more. “The right to live free. The right to vote,” is what he is aiming for, something both Douglass and Anthony have in common. He was met with the same fate as Susan. Some of his peers liked what he had to say, but others didn’t. Frederick is shown standing proud while delivering a speech.

 

Two Friends Interior Spread 4
Two Friends by Dean Robbins, Illustrations © 2016 by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko, used with permission from Orchard Books/Scholastic.

 

The two friends have promised to assist each other in gaining the rights they deserve. One illustration that just may be my favorite depicts Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony in a circle of support, surrounded by so many loving friends of all colors. In another, as seen above, a charming blue and white tea set remains visible on the table between them as they discuss their plans. Two candles on the table glow, symbolizing each of their luminary presences to readers. So many things they both have to do, but friendship and tea comes first! My mother loves children’s books and as I showed her this one she said, “That’s the most beautiful children’s book I have ever seen. It’s my favorite one now.” High praise from someone who is a writer herself, and has very high standards! It is stunningly perfect in text and illustrations. I love the bit of peach that shines though Frederick’s hair and suit. Equally pleasing is the same peach in Susan’s cheeks and dress. Even both their skin tones have a bit of that lovely color that seems to join them together visually as united in their causes. Two Friends is simple enough for a small child to understand, and a wonderful conversation prompter about the important contributions of both these great people. I can think of no better picture book published recently that would be more important to add to your child’s library. Highly recommended!

  • Reviewed by Hilary Taber
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I am Albert Einstein by Brad Meltzer

I am Albert Einstein, (Dial Books for Young Readers, $12.99, Ages 5-8) by Brad Meltzer with illustrations by Christopher Eliopoulos, is reviewed by Dornel Cerro.

I-Am-Einstein-cvr.jpgWith I am Albert Einstein, the latest title in this fun and engaging Ordinary People Change The World biography series for young children, Meltzer turns his attention to this world-renown public figure and explores the obstacles Einstein overcame to become one of the world’s greatest scientists.

Because Einstein thought in pictures, he had difficulty learning how to speak and was thought to be “dopey.” Instead of playing with the other children, young Albert prefered to do quieter things that allowed him to think. The gift of a compass fascinated him. The more he thought about it the more he wondered “why did the universe behave the way it did?” Later, a geometry book led to advanced math which led to his study of calculus at the age of 15.

When he was 28, he came up with a concept that linked motion and gravity and worked on it for eight more years. While Meltzer is referring to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, for which he won the Nobel Prize in Physics, the author also explains the concept in kid-friendly words and Eliopoulous’s comical illustration brings further clarity.

While the lack of references along with Eliopoulos’ fictionalized bubble speech asides may limit the value of book for informational needs, the book’s (and the series) value lies in the characteristics that made Einstein famous: taking the time to think and not being afraid to ask questions, especially “why?” As such it is an inspirational read-aloud and can be a springboard to discussions on the character and quality of (everyday) heroes. Meltzer uses Einstein to encourage children to be curious, just as he was, because curiosity “… can take you places no one’s ever been, and let you do things no one’s ever done … the more questions you ask, the more answers you’ll find. And the more beauty you’ll uncover in the universe.”

Back material includes photos of Albert Einstein as a young boy and as an older man, sailing a boat, riding a bike, and the famous one of him sticking out his tongue, which will surely get a laugh from the children. See Meltzer’s Book TV presentation of the series and visit the Ordinary People Change the World website which proclaims “we can all be heroes.” Recommended for children ages 5-8.

Links to other books we’ve reviewed in the series:

I am Abraham Lincoln

I am Amelia Earhart

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Let’s Celebrate Independence Day! In 1776 by Jean Marzollo

IN 1776
Written by Jean Marzollo
Illustrated by Steve Björkman
(Scholastic; $ paperback prices vary, Ages 7-10)

 

 

In 1776, by Jean Marzollo and illustrated by Steve Björkman, while first published in 1994 by Scholastic, is still relevant today as we look forward to July 4th in 2017.

This paperback, part of the Scholastic Bookcase series, is a great book to bring out this holiday before all the BBQs and fireworks get started so youngsters can understand just exactly what it is we are celebrating. Told in easy to understand rhyme, “The colonists were angry, because they had no say, when the British king gave orders, three thousand miles away.” Kids will learn in simple language how, as colonists of Great Britain, Americans refused to be burdened with more taxes levied by King George III without representation. When the British marched on Lexington and Concord, fighting broke out. Soon the seeds of independence were sown, “So their leaders met in Philly, in June and in July. They picked some men to tell the king, “We must be free – here’s why!” The American Revolution or the War of Independence was bravely fought under the guidance of its leader, General George Washington and the rest as we say, is history.

“On the Fourth of July, in seventy-six, after a long and heated morn, The Declaration was approved, and the U.S.A. was born.”

Happy 4th of July everyone! 🇺🇸

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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