Nonfiction picture books for young and older readers: 4 Biographies and a Holocaust book

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There are lots of great picture books for those looking for nonfiction reading material for kids. Biographies about such diverse figures as the first female presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, actor Leonard Nimoy, baseball giant Casey Stengel, and blind Louis Braille would fascinate and inspire readers. A fact-filled book about the Holocaust will — one might hope — inspire in a different manner, inspire young readers to be sure that there is never another holocaust.

In “Six Dots: A Story of Young Louis Braille,” Jen Bryant and illustrator Boris Kulikov (Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers) share the story of the boy who invented the Braille method of reading for the blind. Before Braille did this, the blind were not able to read at all. Braille was blinded at the age of five, and his family was very supportive. They realized that young Braille was very intelligent, and they found a way to send him to a school for the blind. Braille was able to take a method developed by a ship’s captain for communicating in the dark and change it so that it was practical for reading books. What he invented in the early 1800s is still being used today, practically unchanged. The text is written in first person narrative and includes much of what young Braille might have been thinking and experiencing. One particularly impactful illustration shows what a blind Braille experienced using a black background with light blue line drawings. A opened window in the center with yellow shutters shows Louis Braille with his eyes closed — the brightest part of the two page spread.

“Hillary” by Jonah Winter and illustrated by Raul Colón (Schwartz & Wade Books) is a very timely biography about the woman who has worn many hats in her life. Not content to be mother and wife, she worked as a lawyer when her husband was governor of Alabama. She was First Lady when he was elected President of the United States, then she became a U.S. Senator from New York. After running for president and losing the primary to Barack Obama, she became Secretary of State. Then she ran for president, becoming the first woman to run on the ticket of a major political party. The book shows her strengths and tells readers about how confident she is. The text is filled with praise for Hillary, and the illustrations glow with Colón’s signature paintings, which are rich in texture and color.

“Fascinating: The Life of Leonard Nimoy” by Richard Michelson and illustrated by Edel Rodriguez (Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers) is about the actor who became famous for his role in Star Trek. His biography is, indeed, fascinating. From his childhood in Boston as the son of a barber who immigrated from Russia to his journey to Hollywood to pursue his dream of becoming an actor, the book faithfully shares Nimoy’s story. It’s written by a close friend, and Nimoy saw the book after Michelson wrote it. He told Michelson, “It’s wonderful and I’m flattered…It is an amazing piece of work and I love that you decided to do it.” The message of the story and of Nimoy’s life is to follow your dream.

“You Never Heard of Casey Stengel?” by Jonah Winter and illustrated by Barry Blitt (Schwartz & Wade) is the biography of the famous baseball team manager. And this book captures his entire story in lovely and hilarious detail while clearly delineating the myriad complexities of this most amazing man. He once walked onto the field with no pants on. He tipped his hat to fans who were booing him, and out flew a sparrow. He told his team to line up alphabetically by height. He said, “The team has come along slow but fast.” Yet while all of this seeming nonsense was going on, he was amassing an encyclopedic knowledge of the game and its intricacies. He was a creative, daring, brilliant technician and communicator. And all the personal and professional qualities are delightfully illustrated in the words and pictures of “You Never Heard of Casey Stengal?!”

“The Holocaust: The Origins, Events, and Remarkable Tales of Survival” by Philip Steele (Scholastic Books) is a remarkable book in terms of the information contained in it. The beginning text is perfect to set the tone.

“In most schools today, it is the teacher’s job to stop bullying. In Germany in the 1030s, it was often the teacher who was the bully. He would call Jewish pupils to the front of the class and order them to stand with their heads bowed while he mocked them and wrote on the blackboard, “The Jew is out Greatest Enemy.”

The book begins at the beginning of Judaism and gives an abbreviated version of “The Jews in Europe” which covers ghettos and pogroms and intolerance toward Jews. The history of what happened after WWI is explained, and one heading is “Hard Times Breed Hatred.” Jews and non-Jews alike will flinch from the photos of Nazi propaganda depicting Jews as ugly people with shallow foreheads and huge, hyperbolically crook noses. By contrast, a healthy, handsome young blond youth is the ideal Aryan. The book, in neutral text, describes what happened before, during and after the Holocaust. It’s carefully organized and planned, and the text and photos keep the reader’s interest. It’s not a book that young readers will read in one sitting, but it is a book that they will return to over and over. It’s a perfect complement to fiction books like “Number the Stars,” “The Diary of Anne Frank,” and other WWII books.

Please note: All the books reviewed herein were provided by the publishers for review purposes.

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