Recent picture book purchases seem to be connected by being tributes to artists, authorsand illustrators. We learn about the background, work and artistry of these cultural heroes through clear biographical detail. For the most part, these books wouldn’t necessarily be children’s choices, but we are lucky to have such artistic, informative, nonfiction selections available in our classroom, school and community libraries. Wouldn’t be surprised if any of the titles below receive Caldecott

NOTE: especially noteworthy is that several of these titles include poetry or are presented in free verse style*.

FREEDOM OVER ME by Ashley Bryan *

Bryan acquired a collection of slave-related documents, dating from 1820’s to the 1860’s. Freedom Over Me presents fictionalized autobiography for each of eleven slaves. Each monologue, presented as free verse poem is paired with another poem that presents the slave’s dreams. Ashley Bryan’s portraits for the slaves are powerful and the dream illustrations are colourful, energetic and evocative of African lives and culture.  History, autobiography, narrative, poetry, art: This is a beautiful creation of a picture book.

I AM NOT A NUMBER by Jenny Kay Dupuis, Kathy Kacer; Illus. Gillian Newland

Jenny Kay Dupuis is a member of Nipissing First Nation and along with author Kathy Kacer has written a story that can be used to build understanding and ignite conversation about residential schools. I Am Not a Number is an important historical fiction picture book, narrated in the first person and based on the experiences of Dupuis’s grandmother.

ARE YOU AN ECHO? The lost poetry of Miuzu Kaneko narrative and translation by David Jacobson, Sally Ito and Michiko Tsuboi; Illus. Toshikado Hajiri *

Misuzu Kaneko’s poems are part of every child’s curriculum at Japanese elementary schools and in this picture book we are given an overview of the writer’s life (1903-1929). She gained some fame by having her poems published in magazines but when a troubled marriage and a sickness tormented her, she ended her life. Samples of her poems accompany biographic text and in the second half of the book we are presented with a selection of her 512 poems accompanied by Japanese translation. (Day and Night: “After day comes night, / after night comes day/ From where I can see this long, long rope, / it’s one end, and the other?”)

THE TREE IN THE COURTYARD: Looking through Anne Frank’s Window by Jeff Gottesfeld; Illus. Peter McCarty

As Anne Frank writes in her diary, a horse chestnut tree outside the window of the attic in which her family is hiding, serves as a witness and innocent bystander to WWII events and the life of the the Frank family. The tree died the summer Anne Frank would have turned eight one (2010). In the Afterword to the book, we learn that saplings and seedpods from the tree have been planted around the world. The simple narration, the succinct overview of historical events and the sepia-like tones of McCarty’s illustrations add to the strength of this picture book.

JAZZ DAY: The Making of a Famous Photograph by Roxane Orgill; Illus. Francis Vallejo *

For a magazine article celebrating American jazz, graphic designer, Art Kane decided together as many jazz musicians as he could on  August 12, in 1958 (btw: my birthday). Fifty seven musicians were included in the famous Jazz Day photo. In this picture book, author Roxanne Orgill provides snapshots of the event, the community and the artists who participated in this historic photo told through free verse poetry. Vallejo’s illustrations illuminate the text, capturing time, place and action. A bonus of the book is the inclusion of the Great Day in Harlem photograph. Jazz Day is Horn Book Award winner, 2016.

A POEM FOR PETER by Andrea Davis Pinkney; Illus. Lou Fancer & Steve Johnson *

This picture book tells the story of Ezra Jack Keats and pays tribute to the groundbreaking Caldecott book The Snowy Day (1962), recognized to be the first picture book to portray an African-American child. (“With you, Ezra tore off the blinders./ Yanked up the shades./ Revealed the brilliance/ of a brown-bright day.”)

IDEAS ALL AROUND by Philip C. Stead *

In 2011, Philip C. Stead (author) and his wife (illustrator) won the Caldecott Medal for A Sick Day for Amos McGee. In this book, Stead takes a walk with his dog in his community in an attempt to get ideas for a story to write. The book narrates one day in the life of the author/ artist and in this sense it is autobiographical.  Stead’s snapshots and illustrations invite readers to pay attention to the natural world around them, the people in their community where ‘ideas are all around’ worthy of attention and tribute through art and word and story.

RADIANT CHILD: The story of young artist Jean-Michel Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe

I think my first introduction to Basquiat was the picture book Life Doesn’t Frighten Me at All where painting by this artist were matched up with thoughts in the poem by Maya Angelou.  A very special book.  I have since seen films and exhibits featuring this remarkable artist. Basquiat’s art is executed in a bold, primitif, collage-style and in this picture book, Steptoe is inspired by the originals, echoes the artist’s style to accompany  short text which highlights the story of a young man who came to love art, create art and grew in fame from the streets to international galleries. Basquiat died on August 12, 1988 (btw: my birthday).

SOME WRITER: The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet

He was born Elwyn Brooke White, known as En, called Andy by family and friends,  but the world of children’s literature knows the author of Stuart Little (1945) , Charlotte’s Web (1952)and The Trumpet of the Swan (1970) as E. B. White. Thorough research into the life and work of E.B. White is presented through photographs, poetry, letters, poems and collages. We learn about his life as a son, student, husband, father, friend, essayist, and columnist (New Yorker and Harper’s magazines) and throughout the book are presented with words to cherish about living and authoring (“All that I hope to say in books, all that I ever hope to say, is that I love the world.”) If I were lucky enough to have someone create a biography of my life, I would love to have Melissa Sweet create the images to tell my story. (I’d be satisfied with one page by this illustrator).  Melissa Sweet is ‘Some Artist’, certainly worthy of Caldecott recognition for this special biography.

Some Writer!: The Story of E. B. White



BOOKS FOR LIVING by Will Schwalbe

This book is not a picture book, nor an autobiography but Schwalbe’s presents 26 essays describing how certain books informed his life both inside and outside the reading experience. The book is a lure to add titles that Schwalbe suggests to your bookshelves but more importantly it is an invitation to consider how reading matters in your life. Was pleased to note that three chapters are devoted to what are considered children’s literature classics (Stuart Little by E.B. White,  The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery and Wonder by R. J. Palacio). As Schwalbe (author of The End of Your Life Book Club) takes on a journey of the books that are important, readers can’t help think about their own literary journeys, their own autobiographies shaped by reading.  For me, the list would start with Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, Abel’s Island by William Steig, A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachael Joyce etc. etc. etc. What books would be on your list?


Books for Living