I’ve been having fun gearing up for the release in February of my book about a remarkable female athlete, so it was fun this week to find other books about strong women and men.

Cover of Long-Armed Ludy shows a female athlete throwing a shot putLong-Armed Ludy is about the 1922 women’s shot-put world record holder, Lucile (Ludy) Godbold. I loved the folksy, fun-to-read-aloud voice in this book: “When Lucy set off for Winthrop Colleg ein 1917, she was six feet tall and skinnier than a Carolina pine. In fact, if she turned sideways, you’d think she had disappeared. But you could always spot Lucy on the athletic field…sprintin’…scorin’…cheerin’…supportin’…” The story tells not only of her remarkable athletic prowess but also of her struggle against poverty and how friends and classmates made it possible for her to attend the 1922 Women’s Games with their financial contributions. It’s a story with a lot of heart. We see Lucy practicing and working to perfect her skill, we see her sacrificing the chance to eat tasty French pastries, and we see her worrying about her capabilities. I loved learning about her!


Cover of Strong as Sandow shows a strong man flexing his armStrong As Sandow is set just a few years earlier and tells the story of Eugen Sandow and how he came to be the most famous strong-man on earth. The book is divided into sections, each headed by a bold-faced title that gives both the setting and the years. It’s a great way to help kids the structure of the book (and would help easily create class projects–giving groups of kids each a section of the book). I loved learning the story of how Sandow worked to develop his muscles, even when he faced parental displeasure and physical illness. Maybe my very favorite part of the book, though, was the back matter. There, Don Tate talks about the problems he faced in evaluating sources he used to research the book (Sandow was “a manufacturer of his own story”) and he tells his own personal story of how he became a weight-lifter. There’s a great photo of Sandow and an equally great one of Don Tate, the weightlifter. There is also, of course, a set of suggested exercises for kids.

Hooray for books about athletes!

Long-Armed Ludy and the First Women’s Olympics by Jean L. S. Patrick. Charlesbridge: 2017.

Strong as Sandow: How Eugen Sandow Became the Strongest Man on Earth by Don Tate. Charlesbridge: 2017.

Children with book around a globe

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


Cover of book shows female astronaut floating in space near space shuttleMost picture book biographies, unsurprisingly, have a linear structure. Someone did something and then did something else and then did something else. To the Stars! The First American Woman to Walk in Space uses a refreshingly different structure. One spread shows Dr. Kathy Sullivan’s interests and activities as a child or teenager, and then the next spread shows an analogous task in her adult work as an astronaut. This structure invites readers to make thematic connections between disparate parts of her life. I think it would be a fun book to use to make predictions. After reading about a childhood activity, challenge kids to think of how that might have prepared her for her work as an astronaut?

The structure is reflected in the typeface choice. Each spread that shows modern-day life for Dr. Sullivan is printed in italic, emphasizing the shifting timeframe.

The book has lots of dialogue and quotes that are unattributed in the back matter, but since Sullivan is a co-author, I trust them.

There are 2 full spreads of back matter, including a note from Dr. Sullivan and a biographical essay about her. My favorite part, though, was the list of short biographies of 13 other women astronauts. I hadn’t heard of most of them. but even the short glimpse of their lives was fascinating and inspiring.

This is a great companion book to another astronaut book from last year that examined how childhood experiences shaped adult passions–The Darkest Dark.

To the Stars! The First American Woman to Walk in Space by Carmella VanVleet and Dr. Kathy Sullivan, illustrated by Nicole Wong. Charlesbridge: 2016.

Children with book around a globe

I participate every Wednesday in the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

Cover of book shows Esquivel floating above piano keyboards.“Rinty-Tin-Tin!”




This joyous picture book biography of quirky composer Esquivel rejoices in the weird sounds he incorporated into his music. It tells the story of his childhood in Mexico, his move to the United States, and his experiments with using new sounds in new ways in his music.

The book is full of delightful onomatopoeia. Sometimes the sound words appear within the illustrations. Esquivel surrounded by onomatopoeia.But onomatopoeia also shows up in the text itself:

When Juan Garcia Esquivel was a small boy he lived with his family in Tampico, Mexico, where whirling mariachi bands let out joyful yells as they stamped and strummed.

Or later:

But the singers didn’t sing words–they sang sounds. They’d sing “Zu-zu-zu!” and “Doo!” and “Pow!”

The sounds make you feel like you’re hearing his weird and crazy music as you read.

Duncan Tonatiuh’s illustrations draw a lush world that reminds me of lounge music and the 1960s.

In the Author’s Note in the back matter, Susan Wood talks about how she got interested in Esquivel and described some of the process of her research. In the Illustrator’s Note, Tonatiuh compares his own process to Esquivel’s: Esquivel took familiar folk forms and changed them into new things. Similarly, Tonatiuh uses the imagery of ancient Mexican art and then transforms it to our 21st Century world. He includes a reproduction of one of those ancient pieces of art to show you exactly what he means.

Esquivel: Space Age Sound Artist, by Susan Wood, illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh. Charlesbridge: 2016.

Children with book around a globe

I participate every Wednesday in the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

Cover of Whoosh! shows African American inventor with a super-soaker

[Quick note before today’s book: There is a giveaway of my book, Mountain Chef, today at “From the Mixed-Up Files.” Come on over and enter!]

In Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-soaking Stream of Inventions, Chris Barton paints a portrait of the temperament of an inventor. We watch Lonnie Johnson from his childhood on up facing the problems of creating something new: testing, trouble-shooting, revising, and just plain keeping track of loads of gear.

In addition to telling the story of how Johnson came up with the super soaker, the book tells about his contributions to the US space program and NASA’s Galileo probe. It can be tricky to condense an entire life to 32 pages, but Barton’s retelling stays focused on his theme–what Johnson had to do to invent–and is lively throughout.

I was surprised that the book didn’t talk at all about the scientific principles behind the super soaker. The back matter sends the curious reader to the internet to unravel that mystery.

I loved the back matter’s call to action: “…if you want to better understand how Lonnie Johnson himself works, then you’ll put this book down, step away from the computer screen, and get permission to take something apart.”

The back matter also talks about Barton’s experience interviewing Johnson and the widow of one of his co-workers.

Don Tate’s cartoon-style illustrations are appealing. Just keep the pages away from those super-soakers!

Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-soaking Stream of Inventions by Chris Barton, illustrated by Don Tate. Charlesbridge: 2016.

Children around a globe.




Check out the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge at Kid Lit Frenzy.

Cover of book shows Asian man leading a donkey through California mountains.The National Park Service is 100 years old this month. Who created it?

Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir may be its spiritual fathers, but Muir had  already died and Roosevelt was long out of power before the National Park Service was created. There were many people–some of them famous and some of them not–who actually did the work to get the National Park Service created. My book, Mountain Chef: How One Man Lost His Groceries, Changed his Plans, and Helped Cook up the National Park Service celebrates one of them.

Tie Sing was a Chinese American chef who specialized in cooking on the trail. He was hired in 1915 to cook for a  two week glamour camping trip that was intended to convince congressmen, millionaires, writers, and moviemakers, to get behind the push for a National Park Service. The campers were stunned by the scenery, entranced by the air, and utterly bowled over by Tie Sing’s cooking. This book tells about what happened when his carefully-made plans were ruined by mishaps on the trail and about how he used his unique talents to do his own lobbying for the wilderness he loved.

I hope that kids who read about Tie Sing will think more broadly about the everyday people who help make big things happen!

I can’t say enough good things about Rich Lo’s beautiful art in this book. In fact, I have so much to say about it, that I’m going to write another post next week specifically about the process of creating art for a nonfiction picture book.

Park ranger Yenyen Chan and author Annette Bay Pimentel signing Mountain Chef at Yosemite.Annette Bay Pimentel holds Mountain Chef on the top of Sing Peak, with her daughter and husband.This past week I had the great pleasure to participate in a week-long event honoring Tie Sing at Yosemite. I spoke at the fourth Sing Peak Pilgrimage, sponsored by the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California. I also got to give a Junior Rangers presentation about Tie Sing, sign some early-release books along with Ranger Yenyen Chan (who was the expert reviewer of my book), and take a three-day backpacking trip, along with my daughter and husband, to climb to the summit of Sing Peak, which is named for Tie Sing.

It was a great early birthday party for my book, and I’m looking forward to more events this fall!

If you’re interested, you can read the Kirkus review of the book.

As of yesterday, the book is available from independent bookstores, like this one in my hometown, or from Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Mountain Chef: How One Man Lost His Groceries, Changed His Plans, and Helped Cook up the National Park Service,  by Annette Bay Pimentel, illustrated by Rich Lo. Charlesbridge: 2016.

Cover of book showing William Shakespeare writing with a quill pen.If you were transported back 400 years to Elizabethan England, it’s possible you’d have a tough time tuning your ear to the accent spoken around you. But if you slipped into the Globe Theatre to catch a play by that popular Shakespeare fellow, you’d feel amazement at how many words and phrases you still use. Like the word “amazement” itself.

In Will’s Words: How William Shakespeare Changed the Way You Talk, Jane Sutcliffe tells a double story. She explains theatre conventions of the seventeenth century–male actors, few props, audience etiquette (or lack thereof). In the process of describing Elizabethan theatre, she highlights common words and phrases that Shakespeare coined: excitement, all of a sudden, fashionable, hurrying, and many more.

Every spread has text about Shakespeare’s theatre that includes bold-faced words and phrases invented by Shakespeare that are now in common usage. Each spread also has a sidebar that defines those words or phrases and tells where they come from in Shakespeare’s ouevre. I wished that the sidebar had included the actual Shakespearean quote and some comment about what his innovation was. For example, Shakespeare often added prefixes or suffixes that allowed him to use old words in new ways.

But I loved–and was amazed!–at seeing how much of my everyday language is actually Shakespearean. The book wasn’t intended to be browsed, but I thought it read well when I focused on the highlighted words and phrases while enjoying the illustrations.

Those illustrations are a treat: ink and watercolor pictures with loving and lavish detail.

This clever focus on common everyday words is a great introduction for young readers to Shakespeare and why they should care about what he wrote 400 years ago.

Will’s Words: How William Shakespeare Changed the Way You Talk by Jane Sutcliffe, illustrated by John Shelley. Charlesbridge: 2016.

Children around a globe.


I participate in the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge, hosted by Allyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzy.

Portrait of Annette Bay PimentelI’m getting antsy for the publication date of Mountain Chef: How One Man Lost His Groceries, Changed His Plans, and Helped Cook Up the National Park Service.  But my book is on the way!

It tells the true story of Tie Sing, a Chinese American chef who lived in a time of intense anti-Chinese feeling but quietly and persistently carved out a remarkable career for himself. And despite all the obstacle American society threw at him, he loved America deeply. He became personally invested in the lobbying effort to create a National Park Service.

Plus the book has early morning sunrises, fortune cookies, and plummeting mules.

I know the book is really on its way now because the first review just appeared. Hoorah!

Cover of The Impossible Voyage of Kon-Tiki showing a balsa wood ship.When I was little I devoured my parents’ books about the amazing voyage of Kon-Tiki. But I don’t think my children have ever heard of it. Deborah Kogan Roy’s new book, The Impossible Voyage of Kon-Tiki, tells a new generation the thrilling story of a quirky anthropologist’s attempt to recreate an ancient sea voyage.

Thor Heyerdahl wanted to prove that South Sea islands could have been populated by peoples from South America, so he built a balsa seacraft and sailed with a small crew from Peru. It was a dangerous, even quixotic, expedition. But it succeeded!

Roy tells the story clearly and economically. She doesn’t waste time with Herdahl’s childhood or schooling. The book starts with his realizing that nobody is going to take his theory seriously unless he proves it was at least possible.

Every spread has a well-chosen quote from Heyerdahl’s writing set in larger print. It’s a great way to get Heyerdahl’s voice into the book without bogging down the tempo of the story-telling.

I love the back matter, too. All of the quotations are attributed, and there’s a great bibliography. I enjoyed reading the essays about continuing debates over Heyerdahl’s theory and about Heyerdahl’s life. Endpapers give a map of the voyage.

Youtube has footage from the Kon-Tiki voyage.

The Impossible Voyage of Kon-Tiki by Deborah Kogan Roy. Charlesbridge: 2016

Cover of book Trapped! A Whale's Rescue“The huge humpback whale dips and dives. Her sleek black sides shimmering, she spyhops, lobtails, flashes her flukes.” Robert Burleigh’s vivid language drew me into his book. Quickly, his beautiful descriptions of everyday life in the sea shift into a suspense filled drama. The humpback whale becomes entangled with fishing nets. Can she survive?

We see humans acting humanely but without denying the wildness of the humpback in the dramatic ending to this book.

I eagerly turned page after page of this book. The page breaks come at moments of highest suspense and the language is rich but economical. This book would be a great mentor text for effective picture book page turns, for how to build suspense, and for how to use vivid words in descriptions.

This story is based on news articles of an actual event. The back matter gives more information about that original event, about the limits of whale rescue, and about humpbacks.

This is a great read with beautiful paintings by Wendell Minor. And it’s tragically timely, too. This news report appeared six months after the book was published, but it could have been the source of the book.

Trapped! A Whale’s Rescue, by Robert Burleigh, illustrated by Wendell Minor. Charlesbridge: 2015.

muirBiographers face an alluring temptation: to tell an entire life. In this book, Julie Danneberg resists the allure and instead tells the story of one intense night in her John Muir’s life. And in the process, we learn all about who the man was.

John Muir settled in Yosemite early, early. He lived in a cabin and then in a sawmill in Yosemite Valley. He would live anywhere as long as it kept him close to the spectacular scenery he loved. One night he hiked to Yosemite Falls and managed to slip behind the waterfall when wind briefly blew it away from the cliff face. That transcendent  moment, seeing the world through the spray of the waterfall, was immediately followed by near-death when the wind dropped and the water returned to its usual path, pounding down on John Muir. Danneberg describes the scene brilliantly: we feel hushed with awe and then stricken with terror and then, finally, amazed with Muir at the grandeur of nature.

The main text is written in present tense and the words are vivid and muscular. The book is designed to have layered text: nearly every spread has, in addition to the main text, a block of text in smaller font, written in past tense, and with an explanatory tone, that adds lots of interesting details about Muir. I’m very glad they’re not included in the main text–interesting as they are, they would have muddied it and slowed down the pace of the story. I read the book through once, ignoring all of the smaller font passages. Then I flipped back to the front and read it through again, this time reading all the smaller font. It’s a method I highly recommend.

Danneberg excels at finding tiny moments that illuminate a life. Her book Monet Paints a Day gives us a vivid portrait of Claude Monet, through the lens of a single day of painting. Here she does the same for John Muir.

John Muir Wrestles a Waterfall, by Julie Danneberg, illustrated by Jamie Hogan. Charlesbridge: 2015.