Cover of book shows Dorothea Lange sitting on top of a jeep with her camera.Recently I talked with a writer friend about a new project, her first attempt at a picture book biography. She started telling me all sorts of fascinating details about her subject’s life, and then stopped and asked, “How do you decide what to keep in?”

Carole Boston Weatherford’s new picture book biography, Dorothea Lange: The Photographer Who Found the Faces of the Depression, answers my friend’s question. The book covers much of Lange’s life, from childhood to professional success, but everything in the book connects to the idea that Lange felt empathy for the poor and the powerless. The book centers on one theme in Lange’s life and gives example after example of her laser focus on seeing people and situations that were invisible to others.

In fact, the opening spread is about Lange’s ability to empathize:

“Because childhood polio left her with a limp and a rolling gait, Dorothea knew how those les fortunate felt without ever waling in their shoes. Kids called her “Limpy.””

We see Lange struggling with fear as she walksEm the dangerous streets of her childhood, see her struggling to regroup after being the victim of a robbery, and see her turning away from rich clients to snap photos of unemployed men in a bread line. I don’t know all the details Weatherford had to leave out of her book, but she consistently makes sure every detail she does include ties back to this theme of empathy in Lange’s life.

I loved the simple, clear writing in this book, and the illustrations had completely won me over by the end. Sarah Green, the illustrator, has the unenviable task of recreating some of Lange’s photos in illustration form, but Lange’s famous Migrant Mother photo is reproduced in the back matter.

This is a lovely, easy-to-read biography that shows how empathy can change the world.

Dorothea Lange: The Photographer Who Found the Faces of the Depression by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Sarah Green. Whitman: 2017.

Children with book around a globe

 

I participate every Wednesday in the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge at Kid Lit Frenzy.

parksThis book tells the story of the photographer behind the iconic photo American Gothic and how he came to shoot it. It was an image I recognized, but I hadn’t known anything about Gordon Parks before I read this book.

The story is written in present tense and moves briskly and passionately. The story starts with Parks’ remarkable survival at birth, but it moves quickly into the story of how he found his subject and how he set up the shot. The illustrations are lovely.

I also loved the sans serif typeface in the book. Its pared-down, modern look fit both the subject of the book and also the tone of the book. It’s a lovely book to read and to hold and it tells an important story.

Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America, by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Jamey Christoph. Albert Whitman: 2015.

Tomorrow is Election Day here. I’ll be going to the polls, grateful that I have the right to cast a ballot.

This book is the story of Susan B. Anthony’s illegal vote in 1872 when she cast a ballot in the presidential election. The book tells an important story and it’s beautifully constructed. Malaspina doesn’t try to tell us about all the great things Anthony did in her long life; the book tells just about that one vote and its dramatic consequence (spoiler: the consequence was NOT women getting the vote!).

Instead of using wordy transitions between scenes in the book, Malaspina heads sections with their time and place: “Rochester, New York, November 1, 1872.” She also repeats a refrain to keep the book organized and connected: “Outrageous. Unvelievable. True.”

The book comes alive with the richly-textured sensory detail she uses: she “jumped up to grab her purse and wrap”; they “hoisted their skirts”; “Miss Anthony’s heels tapped faster and faster.”

After you cast your ballot, sit down and share this book with a child.

Heart  on Fire: Susan B. Anthony Votes for President by Ann Malaspina, illustrated by Steve James. Albert Whitman, 2012.