Dangerous Jane: The Life and Times of Jane Addams, Crusader for Peace (Suzanne Slade)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Dangerous Jane: The Life and Times of Jane Addams, Crusader for Peace, written by Suzanne Slade and illustrated by Alice Ratterree.

As a child, Jane had her fair share of sadness and pain; after losing her mother at age 2, she contracted spinal tuberculosis at age 4, leaving her with a twisted spine. Isolated from other children, she sought solace in books and her father’s love, and it was on a business trip with him that she first noted the dire conditions of the poor communities near her home. Resolving to dedicate her adulthood to helping those in need, Jane travelled the world, studying the conditions of those in poverty and the systems created to assist them. Returning home to Chicago, she and Ellen Starr founded Hull House, a settlement house that assisted the poor with education, childcare, and work. From there, Jane would turn her efforts to international peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts – efforts that led her to be seen as a controversial figure, winning a Nobel Peace Prize AND being declared the “most dangerous woman in America” by the FBI. Yet all that mattered to Jane was helping others, and she served the people of the world the rest of her life, advocating human rights and world peace.

An intriguing figure like Addams deserves attention from young readers, and this picture biography makes a great start. Covering Addams’s life in broad strokes, readers are given solid insight into her motivations and a portion of her activism, as well as the impact it had on her life. However, it’s what the biography doesn’t talk about that disappoints; Addams’ work in early feminism and woman’s suffrage is not mentioned, nor is the fact that she was a queer woman (her first partner, Starr, is referred to in the backmatter as her “college friend”). The artwork is detailed, and the illustrator distinguishes Addams from the sepias with a signature green. The length is best for older elementary and middle-grade readers; while JJ enjoyed the art, the story began to drag for her. Overall, this is a nice spotlight of a worthy subject – I only wish it had been a little more bright. Otherwise, Baby Bookworm approved.

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

Dr. Fauci: How a Boy From Brooklyn Became America’s Doctor (Kate Messner)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Dr. Fauci: How a Boy From Brooklyn Became America’s Doctor, written by Kate Messner and illustrated by Alexandra Bye, a biography of one of the most notable names of the last year, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

As a boy, Anthony had an insatiable curiosity for the world around him, and his family encouraged him to question and learn all he could. Anthony took this to heart, and absorbed all he could from the world around him; not only information, but the importance of values like determination, perseverance, empathy, and cooperation. Anthony worked his way through college and medical school to become Dr. Fauci, working at the NIAID on efforts to combat diseases like AIDS and, most lately, the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Fauci is proud of his efforts, and how the global health community came together to develop a COVID vaccine, but he knows there will always be more problems to solve – and more to learn.

Informative and inspiring. Covering Fauci’s early life and career in a series of impactful moments and themes, Messner’s text does a wonderful job of painting a picture of how “America’s doctor” developed his passions for medicine and helping people in a way that is brisk yet engaging enough for young readers. The art is similarly charming and straightforward, using layout and color cleverly to create a great sense of mood on each spread. Backmatter includes information on vaccines and a message from Fauci himself encouraging young scientists. The length is best for K+ bookworms, and JJ enjoyed the art immensely, especially the breathtaking spread of sea creatures in the night sky. A lovely look at a modern hero of the scientific world, and we loved it. Baby Bookworm approved!

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

Pocket Bio: Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks, and Martin Luther King, Jr. (Al Berenger)

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Hello, friends! Our books today are from the Pocket Bio series by Al Berenger, specifically three notable figures in civil rights: Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Each book gives the reader a brief history of the subject’s early life, their influences, their actions, and their legacies. Mandela’s focuses on his imprisonment and triumphant election as president of South Africa after his release – the first election he was able to vote in – and touches briefly on his Nobel win and the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Parks’s includes her famous bus ride, and King’s looks at his involvement in the Montgomery bus boycott, the Selma march, and his “I Have A Dream” speech.

As early-learner primers for these historical figures, these aren’t terrible. King’s is the most informative, making note of his early influences (Jim Crow south, his father’s religious work, his study of Ghandi, etc.) and even his courtship with Coretta Scott. His murder is mentioned (though not depicted), and the book ends on a note of surprising honesty, noting that racism is still a problem that needs to be fought, but King’s work made great strides and encourages us to make more. Mandela’s book is serviceable, delving into the racist policies of Apartheid and mentioning the violent, often deadly protests that took place, but glossing over the reformation years pretty heavily. Most disappointing is Parks’s book, which relies almost solely on her arrest; the bus boycott that follows is made to seem entirely the idea of MLK (Parks volunteered to be the face of the boycott at great personal risk and sacrifice), and her work as a secretary and investigator with the NCAAP gets zero mention. Likewise, the bobble-headed illustrations are just okay – engaging for younger readers but occasionally at odds with the tone of the subject matter (a scene depicting a meeting of Mandela’s Spear of the Nation militant group is laughable). The length is fine, the backmatter – maps, timelines, etc – is a nice addition, and JJ enjoyed them for the most part. Somewhat uneven, and definitely only a jumping-off point, but worth a browse. Baby Bookworm approved!

(Note: Copies of these books were provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

Brave Ballerina: The Story Of Janet Collins (Michelle Meadows)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Brave Ballerina: The Story Of Janet Collins, written by Michelle Meadows and illustrated by Ebony Glenn, the true story of the remarkable dancer who became the Metropolitan Opera’s first black prima ballerina in 1951.

Born in 1917 in New Orleans, Janet Collins found a passion for dance at an early age. Her tradesmen parents paid for her ballet lessons by making costumes for recitals, and Janet worked hard to improve her craft each day. Yet despite her obvious talent, each ballet academy turned her away at the door, refusing to accept a black student. Continuing to train, mastering new styles and learning from any instructor who would teach her, Janet was finally accepted to a ballet company – only to be told that she would need to paint her skin white to match the other dancers. Janet refused, continuing to work and train and perform where she could until finally, a company saw her skill and talent. Earning her place as prima ballerina at the Met in 1951, Janet Collins was able to step out on stage as herself and do what she was born to – dance.

Powerful. I admit to never having heard Collins’ story before, and it’s a testament to Meadows’s rhyming text and Glenn’s artwork that, by the time the story was through, the reader feels as though they have joined Collins in her journey. The passion for dance bursts from her face and form in each illustration of her in motion; the frustration and shame of the prejudice leveled against her is palpable; the glorious final spread of her beaming onstage before a cheering audience is triumphant. The text is succinct enough to keep the story moving at a brisk pace, yet never glosses over or rushes – each beat feels important and necessary. A beautiful story of perseverance, determination, and pride, and we loved it. Baby Bookworm approved.

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

Stories for Boys Who Dare to Be Different: True Tales of Amazing Boys Who Changed the World without Killing Dragons (Ben Brooks)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Stories for Boys Who Dare to Be Different: True Tales of Amazing Boys Who Changed the World without Killing Dragons, written by Ben Brooks and illustrated by Quinton Winter.

A short-biography anthology, this collection aims to recognize men and boys throughout history, both famed and more obscure, who made an impact on history in non-“traditionally masculine” ways. Included are familiar names such as Louis Braille, Frederick Douglass, and Frank Ocean, as well lesser-known figures such as Rick Van Beek, the triathlete who competes as a team with his disabled daughter, and Charles Fourier, creator of the term “feminism”. Each entry highlights how the subject used their intelligence, courage, empathy, creativity, and dedication to contribute to society.

As a concept, I ADORE this. While there is no shortage of male biographies for kids, Brooks is careful to focus on figures or accomplishments that are overlooked for not being traditionally masculine: Writer John Green is celebrated for his books, but also for the community of young activists he and his work inspired; Surfer Eddie Aikau is lauded for his athletic ability, but more so his dedication to lifeguard and rescue work. There are occasional stumbles: often the language reads vague in the pursuit of making the stories kid-friendly (I was greatly puzzled by the inclusion of actor Jessie Eisenberg, until research revealed that the book’s language choice of “worried” and “nervous” were euphemisms for Eisenberg’s OCD and other severe anxiety disorders). I also wished there were an introduction and/or some backmatter that could have made the collection feel more cohesive. Otherwise, the illustrations are simply STUNNING, and capture each subject with passion and awe. And while this is likely not for a single sitting, this largely inspiring and moving compilation is worth the commitment, especially if it spreads that message that greatness comes by many means, not just to the big and strong. Baby Bookworm approved!

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review).