Category Archives: biography

Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix

Standard

by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and June Jo Lee, illustrated by Man One

51x5VdFuh3L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

new doc 2017-11-04 19.30.49_1

new-doc-2017-11-04-19-30-49_2.jpg

new doc 2017-11-04 19.30.49_3

Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix is a kid-friendly biography of Roy Choi, a famous food truck chef who was born in Seoul, South Korea. The book recounts how Roy and his family moved to Los Angeles when he was two years old and how his experience as an immigrant influenced his upbringing. His mom made traditional Korean food like kimchi, and bibimbap; her food was so good that Roy’s family opened up their very own restaurant. Roy loved having Dumpling Time at the restaurant, where the whole family would sit down together and fold the dumplings to be cooked later that day. The book discusses how Roy’s parents closed their restaurant and had a more successful life in the jewelry business. Even with this prosperity, Roy felt like more of an outcast without the cultural anchor of the restaurant in his life. He eventually found his place in culinary school and started working in fancy restaurants. After a while, a friend encouraged him to open a Korean taco truck. Roy wanted to “remix the tastes” that were so important to him, combining traditional Korean flavors with dishes that everyone would love. He opened Kogi BBQ Truck, and at first people scoffed at the idea. Eventually, the food truck became very successful, and Roy loved seeing how his food brought diverse people together. Kogi expanded to a whole fleet of food trucks, and Roy even opened a restaurant called Locol in an underserved neighborhood. The book ends with Roy showing other people how to make their own food and cook with sohn-maash, or love.

Man One created the illustrations for this book in an incredibly unique way. He spray-painted canvases to create the backgrounds, then digitally uploaded them. He added in pencil drawings of people and all the landscape details, resulting in vibrant and alluring pictures throughout the book. Even the endpapers show images of ramen noodles, a small detail that really ties into the heart of the biography. I love how the authors included explanations of Korean words and foods that I wouldn’t have otherwise known. This allows them to tell the story in an authentic way, not dumbing it down or “Americanizing” it, while still allowing the reader access to all of the important concepts. I also appreciate that the authors didn’t glorify Roy Choi’s experience. They include parts about how isolated and different he felt, and how he lost his job at a fancy restaurant before opening his food truck. They also mention the doubt, based in racism, that people had of Roy’s idea. The inclusion of “Korean guys can’t do tacos” in the dialogue of the book underscores how stereotypes influence every aspect of our culture, including our thoughts about food. Roy Choi is an honorable person in my eyes; he became very successful and purposefully chose to continue serving people instead of making his food exclusive to the wealthy. He could have easily chosen to open a restaurant with a months-long waiting list, but he decided to make his food accessible to everyone. Roy serves as a great role model for children for a variety of reasons. He overcame the challenges of being different than most people in LA, chose a challenging and unconventional path to follow his passion, and gives back to the community when he is able. Overall, this is a sweet biography of a man who didn’t take no for an answer and persevered until he reached his goal.

Maddie Geller

Advertisements

Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library

Standard

Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Eric Velasquez, tells the story of Arturo Schomburg, a black man living in the Harlem Renaissance. Schomburg collected books, music, art, and other works from Africa and people of African descent to bring to light these often forgotten historical documents and figures. The book follows Arturo’s life from a young black boy in Puerto Rico, curious about the contributions his ancestors made to history, through his journey to New York, and his years of researching and collecting the artifacts of “Africa’s sons and daughters.” When his collection became too big for him to keep, he sold it to the New York Public Library, where it soon became the “cornerstone of the Division of Negro History, Literature and Prints.” Arturo Schomburg left a legacy that lives on today; his work has acted as a beacon for scholars all over the world. Through the use of poetry with titles reflecting both the different chapters of Schomburg’s life and the many black historical figures whose work he collected, as well as amazingly realistic illustrations, Schomburg beautifully captures the essence of a man who was always busy working to make sure that his people had their rightful place in history. Written for an older elementary school audience, the book also extends the prime picture book age to include these older children.

new doc 2017-10-24 20.02.15_1

Schomburg gives readers short biographies of many black historical figures, some of whom are well-known today for their contributions to the history of our country. However, while many of these men and women have become household names, their full stories often go untold. The book attempts to bring light to some of the lesser-known aspects of their lives.

new doc 2017-10-24 20.02.15_2

In addition to giving readers more details about many already well-known black historical figures, Schomburg also features many “whitewashed” historical figures: those who were descended from slaves or of African descent but whose ties to Africa are left out of popular history.

new doc 2017-10-24 20.02.15_3

new doc 2017-10-24 20.02.15_4

The book ends by returning to focus on the life and legacy of Schomburg himself. As written in the final poem of the book, “Epitaph: 1938”: “There was no field of human endeavor / that he did not till with his determined hand… / or that he did not water with a growing sense / of African heritage and awareness.”

new doc 2017-10-24 20.02.15_5

This book is sorely needed in the world of children’s literature, because it features not only a wide range of black historical figures and those with African heritage, but also the man who made sure that these men and women had their rightful place in history. This book should be read in all schools to ensure that the youth of today get to know this incredible man, and that they can feel the pride of seeing themselves represented in history.

Maya Creamer

Take a Picture of Me, James VanDerZee!

Standard

Andrea J. Loney and Keith Mallett’s New Voices Award Winner Take a Picture of Me, James VanDerZee! is one that, according to author Loney herself, “celebrate[s] the humanity of all children.” In this case, the child celebrated is James VanDerZee, an African-American boy born in 1886 to the former butler and maid of President Ulysses S. Grant. James himself, however, has a different future in mind: He wants to be an artist. James craves a way to “share the beauty he [sees] in his heart,” but his drawings of people never turn out quite right…so he ends up entering and winning a contest for his very own camera. Here, James does something quite mature: he neither gives up on a dream nor remains desperately grasping at an impossibility, instead adapting his plan as he sees and learns new things. Such a nuanced message is not often found in children’s books, and I wonder whether its poignancy stems from the fact that the story of James VanDerZee is a true one.

unnamed-38.jpg

James craves a way to “share the beauty he [sees] in his heart.”

This authenticity is evident in Mallett’s artistry as well. Illustrations in a book that centers on the life of an artist have high expectations to meet – but these delightful images deliver. The pictures of James with his camera are almost reverent, a beautiful glow from the device lighting James’ body and face so that he melts like butter against the soft, dark backdrop of the page.

unnamed-36.jpg

But the book is not all beauty and light. Loney does not shy away from reality, acknowledging in no uncertain terms the racism that James faces. I admire her willingness to speak of “segregation,” of the way that 19th century “customers would not want their portraits taken by a black man” – and also the way that Loney is able to illustrate resilience of black people in the face of these obstacles. James’ foray into the Harlem Renaissance comes alongside vivid depictions that are as jubilant as the “cultural celebration” itself.

unnamed-39.jpg

The book ends with a historical exploration: real photographs, as well as information about James that was not found in the book. It is always my hope that this type of story, told compellingly, will engage children not only in literacy and reading but in history and activism as well; the notes at the end of Take A Picture of Me, James VanDerZee! are ideal to pique a child’s interest in research after being drawn into James’ life through the narrative. 

-Addison Armstrong

She Persisted

Standard
She Persisted

new doc 2017-09-14 11.41.01_1.jpg

She Persisted spotlights 13 women who were game changers and trailblazers in different fields throughout American history. The book also discusses the adversity that girls face, even today. This book would be a valuable addition to any classroom as its characters are diverse in race, socioeconomic background, and influence, it depicts accurate historical experiences of women, and it is inspiring to young girls throughout our society to fight for their passions and to make a difference. Author Chelsea Clinton and illustrator Alexandra Boiger succeed in compiling beautiful, timely stories of women that need to be shared.

new doc 2017-09-14 11.41.01_2

The story begins by showing a young girl in a museum, which is exhibiting portraits of important women in American history (notice Hillary Clinton in the background). The book emphasizes that even though these women where often told “no”, they were able to persist and follow their dreams. This message shows the importance of celebrating strong females who may become important role models in the lives of young women.

new doc 2017-09-14 11.41.01_3

This story highlights both women who we often learn about in school and women who are less known and celebrated. For example, one featured woman is Virginia Agpar, who became a doctor despite her superiors discouraging her and created a critical test for infants. Each woman’s story is depicted with a stunning image showing their amazing feats and hinting at the time period in which they lived. In addition, the book features a powerful quote from every woman.

new-doc-2017-09-14-11-41-01_4.jpg

My favorite section highlights Ruby Bridges because it shows that women do not need to be adults to make a difference. Ruby persisted when she was just a kindergartner, a pioneer for her educational rights. The other women featured in the book are: Harriet Tubman, Helen Keller, Clara Lemlich, Nellie Bly, Maria Tallchief, Claudette Covin, Margaret Chase Smith, Sally Ride, Florence Griffith Joyner, Oprah Winfrey, and Sonia Sotomayor.

new doc 2017-09-14 11.41.01_5

The story closes on a scene where 3 young girls have discovered a favorite pioneering woman and a call to action for the future female leaders of our nation and the world. Our society often puts women down and many times powerful female role models are not brought to the forefront in discussing history in the classroom. This is discouraging for young girls, but this book proves that women of all races and creeds have fought against this societal repression and have made huge strides that we are all thankful for, making it both an educationally and an inspirationally necessary work for children.

Rachel Platt

I Dissent – Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark

Standard

2016-12-08-19-59-49

I Dissent – Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark

Written by Debbie Levy

Illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley

I Dissent uses the life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the first Jewish woman on the US Supreme Court, to tell a powerful story speaking up for what is right. The book tells Ginsburg’s story, from her humble upbringing to her numerous accomplishments as a judge, celebrating each and every disagreement that shaped her legacy. Ultimately, readers of this book learn that making a difference requires hard work and a willingness to question the status quo.

One part of the writing style that makes I Dissent both compelling and engaging is that it is told through a collection of anecdotes that help the reader to gain a sense of Ginsburg’s character. Some of the stories it tells are small – like when Ginsburg protested by writing with her left hand or was kicked out of the chorus because of her poor singing skills – while others are key events in her life – like when Ginsburg chose to go to law school, even though there were very few girls in her class. These stories help young readers to relate to the future Supreme Court justice, and see that they are never too young to take a stand.2016-12-08-19-59-493

In addition to telling Ginsburg’s story, I Dissent provides an introduction to the workings of the Supreme Court. It explains how Ginsburg became a justice, and her role in writing the opinions during cases. The book also exposes readers to an array of courtroom vocabulary – throughout her story, Ginsburg dissents, objects, resists, disapproves, and disagrees. Further, the book refers to real-life court cases that are meaningful to even the youngest readers, such as racism and discrimination. I Dissent exposes its readers to the significance of the judicial branch – a topic that may seem distant or abstract to children.2016-12-08-19-59-494

The images presented in this book are extremely powerful because of their variety. On one page, Ginsburg is shown as a kind and loving mother, and on the next, a determined justice who is unwilling to conform to societal standards. At the beginning of the book, she is illustrated as a spunky yet ordinary little girl. At the end, she takes on the posture and demeanor of a superhero, complete with word art that mirrors the style of comic books. The diversity of ways in which Ginsburg is presented is important because it shows that none of these identities are mutually exclusive. Ginsburg does not need to sacrifice her family to be successful in her career, and she does not need to be timid to be kind. Through Baddeley’s illustrations, Ginsburg is presented as a real and well-rounded individual to which any child can aspire.2016-12-08-19-59-492

I Dissent would be a perfect book for teachers to bring into their classroom, because it provides a human view of government that will engage students in a way that their textbooks may not. Teachers can also use the text to talk about relevant social issues: I Dissent illuminates issues like racism and sexism, and encourages students to think about what laws and social norms in their own lives they might disapprove of. In this way, I Dissent could accompany a powerful lesson for middle grades students that strengthens their critical and evaluative thinking skills. Finally, the book sends an important message, especially to young girls, that speaking up does not make you stubborn, bossy, or disagreeable. Rather, having the courage to disagree is necessary in making a difference.2016-12-08-19-59-491

Post by Sami Chiang

Free Fridays: Dear Malala, We Stand With You

Standard

malala cover

In light of recent events around the world, the nation, and Vanderbilt campus, I would like to share a book that I feel promotes love, understanding, peace, and strength in the context of people from different cultures coming together for a common purpose. Dear Malala, We Stand With You holds a special place in my heart. In 2012, when a then 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai was shot in response to her activism for girls’ rights, I held my breath awaiting news on her status. Her courage, her desire to speak out, and her passion for education throughout her recovery and continuing through the years are just a sample of why she is my personal hero. I loved her autobiography, I Am Malala, and was so impressed by how genuinely compassionate and open-minded this young girl was. What impresses me even more, though, is the number of girls around the world who have supported Malala in her fight for equality for girls and who have taken her words to heart. This is shown beautifully in this children’s book, which features pictures of girls around the world who have decided to stand with Malala in her fight.

malalaThe text of this book is written by Rosemary McCarney, the leader of Plan International Canada, with the help of the Plan International team. Presented as a letter, parts of which are taken from the Dear Malala video campaign made by Plan International, the text takes the perspective of the girls of the world, assuring Malala and the world that they are ready to fight for equality, opportunities, and empowerment for themselves and their global sisters. It is a compelling demonstration of solidarity and understanding. It does refer to some heavier topics, including violence, discrimination, early marriage, and poverty, but not in a way that is inappropriate for children. Rather, by leaving the references as just that and not defining or delving into these topics, McCarney and Plan International allow for teachers, parents, guardians, or other older readers to engage with younger readers, answer their questions, and help them understand parts of the world of which they might not be aware.

First and second page

The pictures in this book are all striking portraits of girls from around the world. Each line or phrase from the letter is paired with a photograph from a different photographer, and the subjects range from a single hand holding a pen to a crowd of children letting go of balloons. The pairings of the text and the photographs is done quite intentionally, using symbolic representations of what the text is saying and specific facial expressions and body language of different girls to convey the message of the text. Most of the photographs incorporate bright, pleasant colors, and the decorative aspects of the cover and informational pages are done in bright orange and hot pink, which work well to show the energy the girls have. It seems as though it could help readers get excited about the work Malala has done and in learning more about other cultures and the issues that girls face.Screenshot 2015-11-19 23.47.56

As if this book wasn’t wonderful enough, it also provides a brief introduction to Malala, essential for readers who are not familiar with who she is. Following the text of the book are selections fro the speech that she gave to the UN on her 16th birthday (fun fact: July 12, 2013 was the first official Malala Day!), and a list of associated organizations and movements that encourage donating to or participating in their causes. Overall, this book does a wonderful job of incorporating multiple dimensions of the huge issues that face girls worldwide, and it manages to do so in a way that appeals to readers of all ages due to its bold and powerful text photography and text. This is such an important book for bringing up world issues and the idea of cultural differences and similarities and issues of gender with children. Children of all ages should be able to see themselves somewhere in this book, as it is so widely encompassing. Young children, not just girls, need to be exposed to the challenges that girls face where they live and elsewhere so that they can learn to appreciate what they have, understand how to advocate for what they don’t, and develop empathy for those who don’t have what they have and use that as fuel for change.

Malala-yousafzai-2

 

For educators or others interested in discussion questions or activities related to this book, check out the Random House Educator’s Guide for Dear Malala, We Stand With You.

Additionally, be sure to check out the Dear Malala campaign video.

~ Reviewed by Katie Goetz

Trendy Tuesday: Viva Frida

Standard

Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales

81qZ1CDM8+L

Viva Frida (which translates to Frida Lives) by Yuyi Morales is one of the hottest children’s books out right now.  Since being released just a little over a year ago, Viva Frida has won several awards, like the Caldecott Honor and the Pura Belpre 2015 Illustrator Award, and has been mentioned on numerous popular book lists including The Association for Library Service to Children’s Notable Books for 2015 list. Viva Frida is based on the life of artist Frida Kahlo who is famous for her self portraits. This book looks at Frida’s life through poetry; using very few words to describe her big inspirations for painting.

27childrens-1-master675Viva-Frida

So why is Viva Frida getting so much attention?

The first thing that makes Viva Frida so unique and memorable is that it’s not quite a biography, but it’s not quite a poem.  It’s a little of both!  The illustrations contain a lot of images that were relevant to Frida’s life and art.  For example, her pet monkey, the blue house she lived in, her husband Diego, and the bird/flying motif. While the text does not provide specific biographical information about Frida, it does mention some of her inspirations and motivations behind her artwork. The text is not a narrative biography, but rather a poem.  This poem contains a mere 32 English words (27 Spanish) so you really have to squeeze all of the meaning out of each word. I found it helpful to go back and reread the poem after reading the biographical information at the end of the book.

The second reason VIva Frida really stands out is that it’s written entirely in Spanish with English translations below.  Beyond making this book more memorable, it begins to expose children to a language that may be different than what they’re used to.  Additionally, having the text in Spanish reflects the author’s respect for how Frida “unapologetically filled her paintings with old and new symbols of Mexican culture in order to tell her own story” (Morales 29). Again I think children who speak Spanish will love reading a book like this that crafts their language so beautifully.

Viva-Frida_that-I-love-spread

Viva Frida is written entirely in Spanish with English translations.

IMG_1683

Morales’ attention to detail really shines

The third thing that makes Viva Frida truly outstanding is the illustrations. Crafted in stunning color, these illustrations were created primarily with stop-motion puppets and photography. The attention to detail Morales had with the scenes she photographed is incredible.  Coupled with her use of computer imaging software, Morales created breathtaking illustrations for Viva Frida that reflect classic Mexican art and culture (Including the works of the real Frida); for which she received a Caldecott Honor.

Overall this trendy book is definitely worth checking out.  I would recommend it for ages 8-10 because the reader does need to be able to read between the lines a little bit to understand the story. Although readers may call this book overly simplistic, Viva Frida shows Children’s Literature that beauty and worth is often found in the simple things in life.

Viva-Frida_I-live-spread

-Michaela Royer