Today I’m reading picture book biographies of two trail-blazing female artists: Zaha Hadid, an architect; and Amalia Hernandez, a dancer

The World Is Not a Rectangle introduced me to Zaha Hadid.

I loved learning about this architect I’d never heard of, and found myself falling down an Internet rabbit hole of looking at her designs!

The book starts with her childhood in Baghdad, Iraq, where she explored the countryside, thought about ancient cities, and lived with Persian carpets. We follow her to London and get a glimpse of her architectural training and then see her set up shop as an architect, making design after design that is not built. But “Hadid means iron in Arabic, and Zaha is strong as iron. She keeps on working–one plan after another. ‘I made a conscious decision not to stop.'”

And eventually her persistence pays off. In the most wonderful pages of the book, Winter draws the buildings Hadid designed, with their flowing, organic shapes, next to the natural features that inspired her designs.

I loved reading Danza! by Duncan Tonatiuh not because it was unknown but because it was about such a very familiar institution–ElCover of Danza! shows Mexican folk dancers Ballet Folklorico de Mexico. When I was an exchange student in Mexico, we of course went to a performance, and I have seen similar dances in the United States. But I had never known about the passionate dancer behind the institution: Amalia Hernandez.

The book tells the story of Hernandez’ early dance training and how that eventually led her to looking for a way to put traditional Mexican dances on the stage. Tonatiuh’s art is spot-on for this project. His profile characters and the carefully detailed costumes he puts on them, along with the set and stage details he includes capture my memory of that night when I watched El Ballet Folklorico better than any photographs I’ve ever seen.

I loved the extra details he shares in the back matter–including the controversy over the way some people saw her as appropriating folk dances.

The World Is Not a Rectangle: A Portrait of Architect Zaha Hadid by Jeanette Winter. Beach Lane Books: 2017.

Danza! Amalia Hernandez and El Ballet Folklorico de Mexico by Duncan Tonatiuh. Abrams: 2017.

Children with book around a globe

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

 

cover of book--black with words "The Secret Project"I was excited to get my hands on The Secret Project. Who could resist that mysterious cover? And I love nonfiction picture books that interpret tough moments in history for kids. What could be a tougher moment to interpret than the Manhattan Project and the creation of the atomic bomb?

The book is gorgeous and carefully composed. But it totally surprised me. I expected it to be a biography of the scientists who worked to create the atomic bomb. I expected it to explain why creating the atomic bomb seemed important at the time and why some of those scientists have, in the years since then, come to have deeply conflicted feelings about what they created.

But the book doesn’t do that. In fact, the scientists are never individualized or named. In the illustrations, they remain silhouettes, figures always in the shadows or in darkness. One illustration about their “research on a metal called uranium…and research on a metal called plutonium” shows diagrams of atoms and firework-like blasts inside the outline of a head.Silhouette of a head. Inside are fireworks and diagrams of molecules.

While the scientists remain shadowy, the people around them are full color and individualized. We see children at school, a landscape artist painting, a Native craftsman carving, even Los Alamos support staff arriving at the facility “to cook, to clean, to guard.” We see New Mexico locals in their colorful clothes on the roadway toward Los Alamos and in the town square. Ultimately, this book is not about the scientists who created the atomic bomb but about how that invention changed the world for everyday people.Native craftsman carving dolls.

The conclusion of the book is dramatic and sobering. We see silhouetted scientists crouching in a bunker and then turn to a spread that is simply words, counting down from ten.

The next two spreads show the violent red and yellow mushroom cloud growing and expanding, and the final spread of the book is simply blackness.

It’s a beautifully illustrated book, but has very serious content. I don’t think it’s a book to hand to a kid to read on his or her own, but it’s definitely a book worth sharing with children–especially older ones–and one that might prompt a lot of discussions with caring grown-ups about America’s past and about unintended consequences.

The Secret Project by Jonah and Jeanette Winter. Beach Lane Books: 2017.

 

Children with book around a globe

 

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

 

Cover of book, showing some bugs in grass.Nonfiction for very, very young readers is tricky. But Angela DiTerlizzi cracks the code in the delightful book Some Bugs. In fewer than 100 words, she gives us a wonderful glimpse of the wide variety of things insects can do.

The wonderful rhymes give the book a feeling of playfulness.

Some bugs sting.

Some bugs bite.

 Some bugs stink.

And some bugs FIGHT!

Simple words and simple predictable rhymes. Yet the scientific concepts conveyed are astonishingly sophisticated: insects have many different shapes and behaviors; insects live all around you; observation is an important scientific skill.

The illustrations match the playfulness of the text. Every insect has big, heart-warming eyes. But they’re also obviously insects. After the main text is over, there is one exuberant spread where every insect shown in the book is labeled by name.

This is a great nonfiction title for preschoolers or for beginning readers.

Some Bugs by Angela DiTerlizzi, illustrated by Brenda Wenzel. Beach Lane Books: 2014.

Children around a globe.

 

 

 

I participate in the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge at KidLit Frenzy.

cornell

 

 

 

 

 

This lovely book gives us a child’s-eye glimpse of the process that folk artist Joseph Cornell followed in creating his assembled boxes. Winter builds the story around a special exhibition especially for children that Cornell set up at the end of his life. In addition to examining the magical boxes, hung at a child’s eye level, the children got to eat brownies and drink soda pop. (The back matter has wonderful photos of that exhibition and of Cornell talking to kids at it).

The narrator is appropriately childlike–no “Joseph” or “Cornell” here but a respectful “Mr. Cornell”–and while a few biographical details emerge in the telling (for example, Cornell cared for his disabled brother), the book is mostly a celebration of how an artist creates. In many ways, it’s much closer in spirit to Viva Frida and The Iridescence of Birds than it is to a traditional artist biography. It’s even written in the subjunctive tense, like The Iridescence of Birds:

If you had lived on Utopia Parkway not so long ago…

The story is haunting and dreamlike, and the language is always clear and economical. Probably much like Cornell’s boxes!

Mr. Cornell’s Dream Boxes by Jeanette Winter. Beach Lane: 2014.