Radiant Child: The Story Of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat (Javaka Steptoe)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Radiant Child: The Story Of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe, a loving biography of the singular artist and the childhood that inspired him.

From the very start, Jean-Michel dreamed of being a famous artist. He would draw and draw and draw, filling pages and sheets of whatever paper he could find with the pictures in his head. What he drew was often strange, even ugly, odd and misshapen, but somehow also beautiful. His stylish, art-loving mother encouraged this passion, drawing with him, reading him poetry, and bringing him to museums so he could be inspired. Even after his mother became mentally ill and was committed, Jean-Michel would visit her, bringing his artwork and promising that he would be a famous artist one day. When he was old enough, he struck out, making his canvas the streets of Manhattan and whatever blank walls he could find. He drew strange and wondrous things that were scary, chaotic, powerful, and beautiful. He eventually became a famous and beloved artist, and was nicknamed what his parents had known him to be from boyhood: the Radiant Child.

Really gorgeous. This is a very admiring biography that captures the style and stories behind Basquiat’s standout artwork. The story focuses on his drive and motivation, yet is honest enough to not shy away from difficult details (with the exception of Basquiat’s death by heroin overdose, which is covered in the appendix). It’s a lesson in how we learn and make art from pain, and well done. The art is gorgeous, using practical backgrounds and employing many of Basquiat’s signature styles to show his journey as a boy and an artist. The length is fine, and JJ especially loved the colorful art. A great introduction to a troubled yet brilliant artist for little readers, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!

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

Brave Jane Austen: Reader, Writer, Author, Rebel (Lisa Pliscou)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Brave Jane Austen: Reader, Writer, Author, Rebel, written by Lisa Pliscou and illustrated by Jen Corace, a picture book biography of the world-famous author.

Little Jane was born to a humble household in England, loving parents, a sister and six brothers, and a household full of the boys her father tutored. Raised in a time when girls were expected to be wives and mothers (and little else), Jane found a passion for stories: the ones her father told by the fire, the ones she read in the family’s extensive library and the ones she soon began to write for herself. The family loved Jane’s stories, especially the one she had written to help heal after a broken heart, and her father submitted it to be published – but no one was interested in publishing work written by a woman. Jane continued to help her family as best she could, but always writing. At last, after years of trying, two of Jane’s books were published and proved to be smashing successes. She went on to write and publish four more, though she sadly passed away at a young age. Still, Jane had the courage to go against the norm and follow her dreams, and is still a much-beloved author 200 years later.

A fantastic introduction to Austen and her works. The story touches on all the major plot points of Jane’s life: her childhood illness, her brief and tragic romance, the sources for her inspiration and creative style and so on, giving a richly detailed look at what made Jane so unique, especially for her time. The soft yet colorful art captures the feel of the Regency era, and gives Jane’s expressions a spark that little dreamers can connect with. The length is definitely for older bookworms, though JJ was engaged nearly all the way through. A great way for little ones to learn of this literary pioneer, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!

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

Grace Hopper: Queen Of Computer Code (Laurie Wallmark)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Grace Hopper: Queen Of Computer Code, written by Laurie Wallmark and illustrated by Katy Wu, a wonderfully geeky and girl-powered biography of the programming pioneer.

Grace always loved to try new things. As a child, she was so curious to understand how clocks worked that she dismantled every clock in their home to find out. When she put together a dollhouse and realized that it had been designed without stairs, she built her own electric elevator for it. A lover of math and science, she worked hard to learn how to read and write code, even inventing a way to convert code written in English to the ones and zeroes of the programming language. She was undeniably vital to the early age of computers: when the Navy forced her to retire at sixty, they soon realized that her expertise was so critical that they offered for her to come back… for another twenty years! Grace was a brilliant programmer who changed the way we communicate with computers – more than worthy of her nickname, “Amazing Grace”!

Wonderful! Grace Hopper was a name I’ve heard every Women’s History Month, but I admit I knew little about her work, and this book was incredibly enlightening! From lessons on perseverance and curiosity to the absolutely delightful story of how the phrase “computer bug” came to be, each page explores a different aspect of Grace’s life. Real quotes from Hopper are worked into the cheerful and inviting illustrations that capture Grace’s positive attitude and playful nature. The length may be stretching it for the littlest readers, however – even JJ was starting to get antsy near the end. But overall, this is a fun, uplifting and inspiring story of a clever and adventurous woman of science, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!

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

Who Says Women Can’t Be Computer Programmers?: The Story Of Ada Lovelace (Tanya Lee Stone)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Who Says Women Can’t Be Computer Programmers?: The Story Of Ada Lovelace, written by Tanya Lee Stone and illustrated by Marjorie Priceman, a biography of the visionary mathematician.

Ada was born into a troubled home – her father, the famous poet Lord Byron, was known for his terrible behavior, so her mother left him when Ada was only a month old. Hoping to deter Ada from her father’s “madness”, Lady Byron encouraged rigorous studies, especially in mathematics. Ada had a passion for math and a scientific mind, but also a poetic soul, yet both were considered unsuitable at the time for a lady. Fortunately, Ada made a true friend in inventor and engineer Charles Babbage; both were creative thinkers, and loved bouncing ideas back and forth in the “poetical sciences”. Babbage had devised the “Analytical Engine”, a machine that could calculate impossibly large numbers, and was trying to raise money for it. Ada wanted to help, and Charles suggested that she write notes on a paper about his machine. She did, but her understanding of the science and math behind it far exceeded what even Babbage had thought it capable of. She posited that the machine could do anything they were able to tell it to do, and wrote an algorithm that became the first published for a computer – making Ada the first-ever computer programmer.

Wonderfully educational. The story covers the important aspects of Ada’s life and scientific contributions, and the language is not dumbed down for kids. The swirly-twirly art is old school, but works beautifully here, capturing the way poetry and science combines in Ada’s mind; numbers seem to dance through the air around her. The length is best for slightly older bookworks, though JJ made it through fine, and we enjoyed 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.)

Mighty Jackie: The Strike-Out Queen (Marissa Moss)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Mighty Jackie: The Strike-Out Queen, written by Marissa Moss and illustrated by C.F. Payne, a girl-powered true story of the one of the first female professional baseball players.

On a sunny day in April of 1931, a small minor league team called the Chattanooga Lookouts were preparing for an exhibition game with one of the best major league teams in the country: The New York Yankees. Reporters and fans filled the stands, many to see the Lookouts’ pitcher: Jackie Mitchell. As a little girl, Jackie was told by nearly everyone that girls couldn’t and shouldn’t play baseball – but her father believed in her, as did her neighbor Dizzy Vance (a professional pitcher himself), so they trained her. Jackie practiced relentlessly, and at the age of only seventeen, found herself in front of a jeering crowd, up against one of the most talented ball clubs in history. But what Jackie did next was extraordinary – she struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig back-to-back, stunning the crowd and making baseball history.

Very, very cool. I was vaguely aware of Mitchell, and was pleased to hear about this book when it was recommended to us so that we could learn more (as depressing postscript, Jackie’s success embarrassed many of baseballs higher-ups, and her contract was voided a few days later by the baseball commissioner, who declared the game “too strenuous” for women. Mitchell continued to play for small clubs, but retired six years later, tired of being used as a novelty). The story on its own is uplifting and empowering, and centers on the theme that greatness takes hard work and belief in oneself as well as opportunity. The illustrations are lovely, using a nostalgic, realistic style that fits the humble and determined protagonist. A good length, and JJ was enthralled by the end. An awesome story about an inspiring female athlete, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!

(Thanks to Christine Nault for the recommendation!)