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Kids Picture Book Biography – Feed Your Mind by Jen Bryant

FEED YOUR MIND: A STORY OF AUGUST WILSON

Written by Jen Bryant

Illustrated by Cannaday Chapman

(Abrams BYR; $17.99, Ages 6-9)

 

 

Starred Review – School Library Journal

Jen Bryant, who has won numerous awards for her books for children, which include biographies of poet William Carlos Williams, and Charlotte’s Web author E.B. White, has written the biography of August Wilson. The picture book, presented in two acts and 48 pages, is an inspiring and lyrical introduction to the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning Black playwright who died in 2005.

Young readers are probably unfamiliar with Wilson’s work and Bryant writes mostly about his early years at school and the beginning of his career.

 

FYM Interior2

Interior spread from Feed Your Mind written by Jen Bryant and illustrated by Cannaday Chapman, Abrams Books for Young Readers ©2019.

 

Frederick August Kittel, Jr. was raised with a sister and single mother, who cleaned houses. His mother, Daisy, made sure Frederick learned to read, telling him, “If you can read, you can do anything – you can be anything.” Bryant tells about the racism Wilson and his family experiencedbrick-throwing, name-calling, fights, and accusations of cheatingdriving Wilson from school after school, setting him on a course of self-education, reading all day in libraries. Wilson finds the “universe opens wide” when, as a teenager, he encounters Black authors Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, and Ralph Ellison.

His first paid writing job was completing his sister’s homework; he bought a used typewriter, composing poems after he finished washing dishes at the diner. The talk and stories of Black men in his community, many working at menial jobs, provided the dialogue for his poems and plays. Working odd jobs in a soup kitchen, Wilson listened to stories. “Who’s there? What are they saying … and why?” he asked himself, and these figures became characters in his dramas.

 

FYM Interior3

Interior spread from Feed Your Mind written by Jen Bryant and illustrated by Cannaday Chapman, Abrams Books for Young Readers ©2019.

 

Debut illustrator Cannaday Chapman uses a limited color palette of earth tones to show the expressions on Wilson’s face and his connection to his environment.

Bryant includes a detailed Author’s Note explaining her interest in Wilson, her extensive research, and her process for writing the book. Students will enjoy her description of spreading her pages down her hallway. Feed Your Mind is an important book about an author of color, who endured poverty and racism, and whose life shows the power of literacy and community.

  • Guest review by Julia Wasson, veteran educator and curriculum developer.

Read another picture book biography here.

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The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jen Bryant with illustrations by Melissa Sweet

NOW A 2015 CALDECOTT HONOR BOOK!

The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus
, written by Jen Bryant and illustrated by Melissa Sweet, (Eerdman’s Books for Young Readers, $17.50, Ages 6-10) is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

✩Starred Reviews – Publishers WeeklyKirkus Reviews
Junior Library Guild
Selection

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The Right Word: Roget and his Thesaurus by Jen Bryant with illustrations by Melissa Sweet, Eerdmans 2014.

List: index, inventory, agenda, series, menu, outline, docket. If you like to make lists, be sure to put this wonderful book about Peter Mark Roget on the top of your next one. A marvelous new nonfiction collaboration from the terrific team of Bryant and Sweet, here is the story of a man whose book resides in countless homes, schools, and libraries. The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus will boost your appreciation for this indispensable reading and writing reference tool as well as for the man who created it.

Young Peter’s early life was challenging. His family moved often following his father’s death in 1783, but Peter found that books were always plentiful, faithful friends that he did not have to leave behind. He began writing his own book, a list of Latin words and their English meanings. The list helped him study and gave him a sense of comfort and order while his mother fretted and worried.

Bryant’s lovely, lyrical text walks a well-balanced route through Peter’s shy teen years, medical school, marriage and family. While practicing medicine, Peter continued amassing words until his book of lists was completed. Always collecting, revising and perfecting, Roget’s lifelong dedication eventually created an organized, easy to use tool. In 1852, the first thousand copies of Roget’s Thesaurus flew off the shelves.

Sweet’s collage style illustrations are jaw-droppingly gorgeous, drawing fine threads of Roget’s story into focus with richness and clarity. I have studied the pages of this book for days, and still discover unique text samples and detailed subtleties in the pictures that amaze me. This is truly a book to savor over and over, noting fresh gems each time.

Indeed, in The Right Word we learn that thesaurus comes from the Latin and Greek roots meaning treasury. I cannot imagine a more apt description of this spectacular picture book biography. Be sure to note the extensive author and illustrator notes, timeline, bibliography and endpapers that will make this treasure an indispensable resource.

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
  • Where Obtained:  I borrowed a The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus from my local library and received no compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

Download discussion guide here.

Read our review of Bryant’s and Sweet’s book A Splash of Red here.

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A Mind Full of Pictures

“Make a Picture For Us, Horace!”

Horace? Have you ever heard of Horace Pippin?

Take your children on a journey back in time to learn about a man compelled to make pictures from a very young age. I let A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin ($17.99, Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, ages 5-8) simply wash over me as I read about an artist whose works I now so want to discover and enjoy.

9780375867125From the team behind the Caldecott Honor-winning A River of Words (that would be Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet) comes this remarkable, uplifting story of an African American WWI veteran who couldn’t stop drawing even with a war wound that badly damaged his right arm. I found myself rooting for this determined and resourceful man and was thrilled when fame finally caught up with him.

There are just so many interesting elements in this absorbingly written and creatively imagined and illustrated picture book. These include newspaper headlines, quotes, glimpses of the artist at work, some of his art and back pages with notes galore from both author and illustrator, further reading suggestions, websites and a map of where in the U.S. you can see Pippin’s art. Suffice it to say you will not be disappointed when reading about Horace’s youth in first Pennsylvania then New York, his assorted trials and travails following WWI all the way up to his eventual recognition some four plus decades later as a folk artist when he was once again living in Pennsylvania. The way this award-winning team of Bryant and Sweet have managed to capture the essence of all that was Horace Pippin, from his love of the feel of charcoal to his impressive drive to retrain himself to draw inspired by an iron poker, deserves tremendous praise.

I cannot say enough wonderful things about A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin  and am delighted Pippin’s talent has been brought to the fore so everyone can have the opportunity to admire and enjoy his unique American art.

Reviewed by Ronna Mandel.

If you are interested in reading more about other celebrated African Americans, please click here.

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