Pocket Bios: Anne Frank, Frida Kahlo, & Marie Curie (Al Berenger)

Hello, friends! Our books today are three more from the Pocket Bios series by Al Berenger: Anne Frank, Frida Kahlo, and Marie Curie.

As with previous installments in the series, each book walks the reader through a concise look at its subject’s life, including notable events, works, and accomplishments. Each page focuses on a different event or time period, accompanied by an illustration on the opposite page, and all three books include backmatter with maps, timelines, and more.

As with the three that we reviewed for Black History Month, these biographies are fairly well-done (if occasionally faulty) primers for these remarkable women. Curie’s is strongest, covering her quest for education despite her gender, her romance with Pierre Curie and their work together, her two Nobel prizes, and her premature death (though little effort is given to describing her actual work). Kahlo’s is also quite good for the same reasons, but suffers greatly from not showing her actual art, romanticizes her tumultuous relationship with Diego Rivera, and completely ignores her open bisexuality. And while it tries to capture her indomitable spirit, Anne Frank’s is a mess in terms of tone; illustrations of Hitler surrounded by saluting Nazis, or of Otto Frank weeping despondently over the deaths of his daughters, portrayed in the series’ bright, bobble-headed character style is cringingly inappropriate. As with previous books in this series, these aren’t bad as primers, but picture book biographies have been done far better for each woman. Otherwise, the lengths aren’t bad, even for small bookworms, and JJ enjoyed them okay. I would say skip Frank’s, but Kahlo and Curie are Baby Bookworm approved.

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

Frida Kahlo And Her Animalitos (Monica Brown)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Frida Kahlo And Her Animalitos, written by Monica Brown and illustrated by John Parra, a lovely storybook primer on the beloved artist.

Frida Kahlo had many passions, and two of them were painting and animals. She had many pets throughout her life: a parrot, spider monkeys, two turkeys, three dogs, a black cat, an eagle, and even a baby deer. The animals reflected much of Frida’s nature and history: she was curious and clever like a monkey, independent and resilient like a cat, and loved growing up in a lovely blue home the color of her parrot’s feathers. Even through sickness, injury, and loneliness, Frida took comfort in her animals and her art. And even today, her home is a sanctuary for the animals that inspired her.

This was a unique and sweet way to introduce Frida to a younger audience, and mostly succeeded in doing so. The layout of the story – introducing the animals first, then connecting them to various times, events, and themes of Kahlo’s life – is very engaging for little ones, and feature a loving look into Frida’s relationships with her family, her pets, and her culture. The art is lovely, combining a vintage storybook style with Frida’s own color palette. However, one quibble: not ONE of Kahlo’s painting was featured! The backmatter includes a photo and recommendations for paintings to look into, but no samples of Kahlo’s actual art can be found. It was a noticeable omission, and a disappointing one. Otherwise, the length was fine, and JJ enjoyed the illustrations, so we’re still going to recommend this one, but perhaps as a supplement to a fuller lesson on Kahlo and her work. Baby Bookworm approved!

Top 5: Women’s History Month

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Hello, everyone! It’s the end of the month, so it’s time for another Top 5 list! As you may know, March is Women’s History Month, so we thought we’d spend this Top 5 taking a look at some of our favorite kidlit biographies of notable women. Some challenged stereotypes to serve their nation, some fought for the rights of women and children, and some made their mark with art and dance, but all of them were brave, dedicated and hardworking women who made an impact on the world. Celebrating these real-life female icons and role models sends the important message to our little girls and our little boys that women are strong, women are important, and women can do anything.

So, without further ado, here are our Top 5 Women’s History Month biographies:

1. On Our Way To Oyster Bay: Mother Jones And Her March For Children’s Rights (Monica Kulling)

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Told through the eyes of two young cotton mill workers, On Our Way To Oyster Bay relates the tale of elderly activist Mary Harris “Mother” Jones’ protest march to Oyster Bay, NY, to raise awareness for worker’s and children’s rights. As a biography, it really only covers a slice of Mother Jones’ work, but captures the essence of who she was as a leader and organizer, and her passion for and dedication to the people she was representing. The young protagonists give little readers characters they can relate to, and the book does a fantastic job of showing a glimpse of what life was like for children, and child workers, in the 1900’s in a way that is striking, but not so graphic as to be frightening. The art by Felicita Sala is colorful, lively, and draws you into the world of Mother Jones and her fellow protesters. The story leaves the reader with the lesson that you must fight for your beliefs, even in the face of disappointment or difficulty, and that. be you man or woman, young or old, your voice matters.

2. Me, Frida (Amy Novesky)

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This award-winning picture book biography of Mexican artist and feminist icon Frida Kahlo covers the time period in which Frida had moved to San Francisco with her husband, Diego Rivera. Channeling her homesickness, isolation, and physical and mental health struggles into ecstatically beautiful art, Frida finds herself and her beauty within her talent, expressing herself in ways that no woman in art had before. While the story relies a bit too much on a romanticized version of Kahlo’s marriage (which, in reality, was an absolute mess), the key message is one of self-acceptance, perseverance, and belief in oneself. And in a book about art, David Diaz’s gorgeous Kahlo-inspired illustrations fill every page with life and energy to bursting, and the story of Frida’s unapologetic desire to be herself in person and in her art sends to the message to young readers that we are far more beautiful and powerful as we are, not as the world tries to make us.

3. Doing Her Bit: A Story About The Woman’s Land Army Of America (Erin Hagar)

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While technically not a biography, Doing Her Bit is based on the true story of the Woman’s Land Army, a collective of brave women from all walks of life who volunteered to become farmhands and take up the workload left by men who had shipped out to fight in WWII. Centered around the experiences of a young woman named Helen, it follows the story of a group of these women undergoing backbreaking training to learn how to do farm labor, only to have their efforts refused by farmers who doubt their abilities and value as workers. When the hard-nosed female director of the camp negotiates a chance for the women to prove their mettle, the farmers find that bravery and skill know no gender. Highlighting a lesser-known chapter in women’s history, the story does a great job of making the characters and story accessible, and the art by Jen Hill gives the women personality and life. The overall effect is a story that leaves baby bookworms with the lesson that women are strong, brave, kind, and never ever less than their male counterparts.

4. For The Right To Learn: Malala Yousafzai’s Story (Rebecca Langston-George)

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While the infamous assassination attempt on women’s and children’s rights activist Malala Yousafzai’s life is covered in this kidlit biography (subtly, yet poignantly), the tale of the youngest person to ever receive the Nobel Peace Prize does not focus too much on that event. Instead, the story centers around Malala’s childhood in Pakistan, she and her father’s dedication to education as an inalienable right to every man, woman and child, and the fearless risks Malala took as a young teenager to speak out against the subjection and censorship of her people by the Taliban. The art by Janna Bock is sweeping and emotional, and seems to leap off the page to draw the reader into Malala’s life and world. This is a beautiful and powerful true story of a remarkable young woman, and it is sure to leave any young reader in awe of the power of education and their own voice.

5. Firebird (Misty Copeland)

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Misty Copeland set out to create a unique ballet book for young dancers who looked like her, and she absolutely succeeds. Forgoing the prim, pale pastels of other ballerina tales, Firebird tells the story of Copeland’s rise to the first African-American principal dancer of the American Ballet Theater through her encouragement of a young dancer who is struggling with confidence. Copeland cuts through the idea that the young girl’s goals of being a renowned dancer like her are not achievable, saying that she once stood in the girl’s shoes, and that hard work, dedication, and belief in herself is what led her to greatness, showing that with these qualities, any young dancer (of any color) can shine bright like the Firebird, and inspire the next generation of dreamers to come. With ecstatically vibrant art by Christopher Myers that dances across every page and stylistically lyrical text, this is a ballerina book that breaks the mold.

There it is! A Top 5 that celebrates the women who make their mark on history. Also, we want to include two honorable mentions: I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark, written by Debbie Levy and illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley and I Am Jazz, written by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings and illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas, two phenomenal kidlit biographies about fearless women. The only reason we didn’t include them in this list is because we’ve featured them before, but you should absolutely check them out, because they are wonderful. What do you think? Did we miss any of your favorites? Do you have a picture book biography of an awesome woman you’d like to recommend to us? Let us know in the comments, or message us from our Contact page. Thanks so much for reading, and Happy Women’s History month!

Me, Frida (Amy Novesky)

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Summer Reading Day 47: Today’s book was Me, Frida by Amy Novesky, and as you could probably guess, it’s a children’s book about Frida Khalo. The story covers the period of time in which Frida moved with Diego Rivera to San Francisco and felt out of place and homesick. Eventually, of course, she worked hard, painted, and carved a life for herself by being herself, and all of that is covered here.

The story is a well-written, and leaves the reader with an important moral about perseverance and belief in yourself, even if it relies a little too heavily on Frida’s supposedly devoted and loving relationship with her husband (when in fact, their relationship was a tumultuous mess) as her motivation and validation. And of course, as you would expect from any book about Frida, the art is gorgeous. The length was not even unreasonable for a one-year old. Thumbs up!