Book review: Grandad Mandela, by Zindzi Mandela, Zazi Mandela, and Ziwelene Mandela, illustrated by Sean Qualls

Mandela, Zindzi, Zazi Mandela and Ziwelene Mandela. Grandad Mandela. Illustrated by Sean Qualls. Frances Lincoln Children’s Books/Quarto Publishing, 2018 (publication date June 28, 2018). Reviewed from NetGalley Adobe e-Pub advance readers edition. 21 pages. $17.99. ISBN: . Ages 4-8. P7Q8

Nelson Mandela’s youngest daughter, now a grandmother, tells her grandchildren about growing up under apartheid and about their great-grandfather and his long fight against apartheid in South Africa.  As she answers the children’s questions, there comes an understanding of how Mandela lived his life in such a way that his principles of peaceful protest and service to the community brought changes to the very government which had imprisoned him for much of his life.  Sean Qualls’ quiet illustrations show prison scenes, police brutality, and white violence against blacks, as well as the village and family life that sustained Mandela through his long and peaceful protest.

Verdict: This biography uses a question and answer format to introduce an important figure in 20th century history to a new generation and provides a sensitive, accurate view of the problems of racism and apartheid in South Africa.  The picture book presentation is clear and accessible for young readers, though the question and answer text occasionally veers toward the didactic.  The lack of additional biographical or historical notes or other back matter is disappointing.  Recommended for elementary and public library collections.

June 2018 review by Jane Cothron.

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Book review: A Boy, a Mouse, and a Spider: The Story of E.B. White., by Barbara Herkert, illustrated by Lauren Castillo

Herkert, Barbara. A Boy, a Mouse, and a Spider: The Story of E.B. White. Illustrated by Lauren Castillo  Christy Ottaviano Books, 2017. $18.99 ISBN: 9781627792455. Unpaged. Gr. K-2. P7 Q10

This exquisitely written and beautifully illustrated book, written by Newport author Barbara Herkert, introduces the author of Charlotte’s Web to young readers.  E.B. White’s early childhood was filled with explorations of nature and interactions with all sorts of animal life, including a “bold mouse” who later became famous as Stuart Little.   Readers will be captivated by this sweet tale, which shows how adult E.B. (now Andy, editor at The New Yorker) moved his young family to a farm in Maine, where he became inspired to write his famous children’s books.  This book would be an excellent introduction to a classroom reading of his chapter books.  Also contains a brief biography and bibliography.

March 2018 review by N.H.S. students, edited and compiled by Liz Fox.

Book review: Blue Grass Boy, by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham

Rosenstock, Barb. Blue Grass Boy. Illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham. Calkins Creek,
2018. $17.95 ISBN 9781629794396. Unpaged. Ages 5-9. P6Q8

I enjoyed learning about Bill Monroe, the father of Bluegrass music, in this picture book biography. From his early years growing up in a big hard working family, to performing in his first band, this story is full of interesting details. Beautiful bold pictures support the text, which includes a two-page biography and actual photos of Monroe and his band. The final page features the lyrics to “Uncle Pen,” a song Bill wrote in tribute to his Uncle Pen, a fiddler, who greatly influenced him as he was growing up.

VERDICT: I highly recommend this book for both school and public libraries. It has a great story
about the roots of Bluegrass Music.

May 2018 review by Denyse Marsh.

Book review: Two picture biographies about Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Krull, Kathleen. No Truth without Ruth: The Life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Illus. by Nancy Zhang. Harper, 2018. $17.99. unp. ISBN 978-0-06-256011-7. Ages 6-9.

Winter, Jonah. Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Case of R.B.G. vs. Equality. Illus. by Stacy Innerst. Abrams, 2017. $18.95. unp. ISBN 978-1-4197-2559-3. Ages 7-10.

Both books begin with the childhood of the person who grew up to be the first Jewish woman Supreme Court judge, highlighting her mother’s life as she was forced to find a job to support her brother in college and then stay home after her marriage. Both authors describe how Ginsburg adored her mother and skipped her high school graduation because of her mother’s death the day before. Other anecdotes, such as Ginsburg hiding in the bathroom to study in college to hide her intelligence from males, are repeated in both books. From there, they diverge: Krull’s concentrates almost entirely on Ginsburg’s legal cases whereas Winter addresses her observation of prejudice while she is young and her devotion to her husband. The real differences between the books are the stylistic approach toward Ginsburg’s activism and the artwork.

Zhang’s digital art in the Krull book is very colorful and almost pretty at time. Ginsburg, who is much shorter than most people, seems to be equal in height or even loom over others except for the illustration of her with Bill Clinton when he names her justice. Both he and Jimmy Carter are unrecognizable, and Clinton is pictured with gray hair which he didn’t have at that time. Innerst’s gouache, ink, and Photoshop in Winter’s book are more somber with muted shades and a diminutive Ginsburg. The narrative uses the framework of a court case to give biographical information, and a break partway through the book uses pages from yellow pads to show evidence of the “more outrageous nonsense Ruth endured,” beginning with her demotion and loss of wages at her first job after college because she was pregnant. Winter’s book also has a helpful glossary and one-page Author’s Note that gives more about Ginsburg’s life. Krull’s narrative may be slightly more accessible, but Winter’s book is a fuller picture of its subject.

Verdict: Although both books are worth purchasing, I would pick the Winter book if making a choice of just one because it is a fuller depiction of Ginsburg.

Krull: P7Q7; Winter: P6Q9

March 2018 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Bloom: A Story of Fashion Designer Elsa Shiaparelli, by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Julie Morstad

Maclear, Kyo. Bloom: A Story of Fashion Designer Elsa Shiaparelli. Illus. by Julie Morstad. Harper, 2018. $17.99. unp. ISBN 978-0-06-244761-6. Ages 5-8. P7Q9

Growing up in Rome during the end of the 19th century, the only bright colors that Elsa saw outside her home were the flowers outside. Her mother called Elsa’s sister “bella” (beautiful) and Elsa “brutta” (ugly), perhaps because of the seven moles on one side of her face. Yet Elsa developed her adventurous nature with the help of a beloved uncle who said to her, “Let’s fly.” And fly was what Elsa did with her imagination as her world of pretend developed her adventurous fashion designs under her last name, Schiaparelli. Elsa’s failures turned to successes, and her bold fashions changed women’s styles during the 1920s and 1930s as well as influencing styles throughout the 20th century. Two pages at the end list her innovations in dress design as she followed her motto, “Dare to be different.”

Verdict: The shift in Morstad’s watercolor, gouache, and pencil crayon illustrations from the drabness of her childhood to the vivid colors of her adult life greatly contribute to the narration’s depiction of Elsa’s courage in following her dream despite her mother’s harshness.

March 2018 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Walking in the City with Jane: A Story of Jane Jacobs, by Susan Hughes, illustrated by Valerie Boivin

Hughes, Susan. Walking in the City with Jane: A Story of Jane Jacobs. Illus. by Valerie Boivin. Kids Can Press, 2018. $18.99. unp. ISBN 978-1-77138-653-1. Ages 7-10. P5Q5

As a child, Jane Jacobs was curious about her surroundings, and as an adult she was an activist who explored the ecosystems of cities and tried to preserve them. One of her success stories is keeping an expressway from invading a Manhattan community.

Verdict: The book lacks a sense of place or time. Although it begins in the early 20th century, the clothing styles don’t reflect the era. The dress worn by Jane’s elementary school teacher is almost identical to the one Jane wears decades later. The colored photoshop illustrations with grotesque faces have a flat feel as does the narration that gives no sense of her character. Hughes concentrates more on her activism to the detriment of any understanding about her personality, and the gaps in her personal life, for example little information about her marriage. The font is also very small for that proposed age of readership.

March 2018 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: A Boy, A Mouse, and a Spider: The Story of E.B. White, by Barbara Herkert, illustrated by Lauren Castillo

Herkert, Barbara. A Boy, A Mouse, and a Spider: The Story of E.B. White. Illus. by Lauren Castillo. Christy Ottaviano/Holt, 2018. $18.99. unp. ISBN 978-1-62779-245-5. Ages 6-9. P7Q5

This narrative beginning with the author’s life shows his motivation for writing two of his classic children’s books, Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web, and a depiction of him as a farmer when he becomes an adult who just tossed off a couple of books.

Verdict: The author’s use of literary allusion comparing E.B. White to a piper leading “his little family toward his dream in Maine” brings images of the Pied Piper luring children away from their families and doesn’t relate to his extensive career or his other books. The occasionally awkward text uses terms unfamiliar to younger readers such as “musty” and “dapper,” and the brown ink, watercolor, foam print textures, and Adobe Photoshop have thick outlines and appear muddy. The three-page author’s note at the end of the book describes how he lived with fear as a child, information which could have been included in the story about White to help readers better understand him. A better book about White is Melissa Sweet’s Caldecott Honor book, Some Writer!: The Story of E. B. White. 

March 2018 review by Nel Ward.