Beautiful Shades of Brown: The Art of Laura Wheeler Waring by Nancy Churnin

Happy Juneteenth 2020!

Beautiful Shades of Brown: The Art of Laura Wheeler Waring

Nancy Churnin, Author

Felicia Marshall, Illustrator

Creston Books, Biography, Feb. 4, 2020

Suitable for Ages: 6- 11

Themes: Laura Wheeler Waring, Artist, African American, Biography

Opening: “Laura loved the color brown. She loved her mother’s chocolate-colored hair, her father’s caramel coat, and all the different browns in the cheeks of her younger sister and brothers.”

Synopsis:

As a 10-year-old girl, Laura spent hours mixing and blending colors to find the perfect shades of brown to paint pictures of her parents, brothers and sister and friends. She dreamed of being an artist and exhibiting her artwork in museums. But she didn’t see any artists who looked like her. In 1897 she didn’t see artwork of African Americans. So she created her own gallery, and hung her painting on the walls of her room where her family could view her art.

Her dreams continued to grow. By the time she finished high school, she applied to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. She was accepted. Her dreams didn’t stop there. After she graduated she went to Paris to study art and the great artists.  Word of her talent spread and she was commissioned to paint the portraits of accomplished African Americans — poets, authors, diplomats, activists and singers, including her inspiration, Marian Anderson.

Today Laura Wheeler Waring’s portraits hang in Washington D.C.’s National Portrait Gallery, where children of all races can admire the beautiful shades of brown she captured.

Why I like this book:

Well done Nancy Churnin! Beautiful Shades of Brown is a celebration of brown Americans, as readers will discover in Churnin’s polished and richly textured narrative about Laura Wheeler Waring’s ordinary, but extraordinary life. Children will find her journey inspiring.

Waring is the perfect role model for little girls who have big dreams. Determined and committed to pursuing her passion, young Laura began to manifest her dreams. She was self-confident, believed in her gift, and welcomed each opportunity that came her way. Most important, she was paving the way for girls and women to live their dreams.

Felicia Marshall’s illustrations are rich, beautiful, expressive and soulful. My favorite illustration shows the joy Waring feels as she paints Marian Anderson’s red gown and remembers the day she first heard her sing.

There’s an informative Author’s Note, and the book is further enhanced by reproductions of seven of Waring’s portraits from the National Portrait Gallery.

Resources: Encourage children to draw or paint a picture of a family member. If they use paints, suggest that they mix colors together to create more interesting faces, hair and clothing.

Nancy Churnin is the author of several picture book biographies, including South Asia Book Award winner Manjhi Moves a Mountain and Sydney Taylor Notable Irving Berlin, the Immigrant Boy Who Made America Sing, both Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People. Visit Churnin at her website.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

Queen of the Diamond: The Lizzie Murphy Story

Queen of the Diamond9780374300074_p0_v2_s260x420Queen of the Diamond: The Lizzie Murphy Story

Emily Arnold McCully, Author and Illustrator

Farrar Straus Giroux Books, Biography, Feb. 17, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 5-8 years

Themes: Lizzie Murphy, Baseball, Women baseball players

Opening: “In 1900, baseball was America’s national pastime…In Warren, Rhode Island, there were several amateur teams and Lizzie Murphy followed all of them. Her father had played on one as a young man. Her brother, Henry, was a shortstop on one of the best boys’ teams. To sharpen his game, he played catch with Lizzie.”

Book Jacket Synopsis: Lizzie Murphy was good at baseball. In fact, she was better than most of the boys. But she was born in 1894, and everyone said baseball was not a game for girls.

Lizzie practiced with her brother anyway, and then she talked her way onto the local boys’ team, first as a batboy, then as a player. Everyone was impressed by her hard catches and fast pitches. By the time she turned fifteen, she playing for two different amateur boy’s teams. When she turned eighteen, Lizzie did something else that women didn’t do, she signed with a professional baseball team determined to earn her living playing the game.

Why I like this book:

  • It’s time to play ball and I can’t think of a more inspiring story to share than Emily Arnold McCully’s Queen of the Diamond.  Lizzie Murphy’s true story can only happen in America. It is historically accurate to the 1900 time period.
  • The story is definitely character-driven with Lizzy, a strong, self-confident and determined eight-year-old, who believes in herself, her abilities and follows her dream to play a boy’s game. Lizzy defies the social mores of the time.  Her father is supportive, her mother says “It’s not a game for girls.”
  • McCully also shows the inequality that Lizzie faces when she is signed with a major league team. Even though Lizzie is a phenomenon, draws large crowds and fans, the manager won’t pay her. She confronts him, demands equal pay and her team supports her.  Professional baseball  is her job for the next 17 years and she’s paid the same as men.
  • The narrative is a bit wordy, but it doesn’t feel inappropriate for the time period.  In fact I wanted to know the detail. I loved baseball as a girl and could catch a mean hardball.  I would have worn out the pages in this book if I had a copy.
  • McCully’s acrylic pen and ink drawings are warm, expressive and emotive. She captures the attire worn during the early 20th Century. Lizzie plays baseball in dresses and wears high-topped laced shoes.

Resources/Activities: There is a very  interesting Author’s Note at the end about Lizzie and women playing baseball.  Take children to a baseball game, if they’ve never attended a game. If they are interested in playing, sign them up for local Little League team. More girls are showing interest in playing Little League.  There are also Softball Little Leagues for girls. Visit Emily Arnold McCully at her website.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

Boy Who Harnessed Wind9780803735118_p0_v1_s260x420The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer. Authors

Elizabeth Zunon, Illustrator

Dial Books for Young Readers, Biography, 2012

Suitable for: Ages 6-9

Themes:  William Kamkwamba, Science, Windmills, Irrigation, Children Making a Difference

Opening/Synopsis“In an a small village in Malawi, where people had no money for lights, nightfall came quickly and hurried poor farmers to bed.  But for William, the darkness was best for dreaming.”   William Kamkwamba, is a 14-year-old boy who lives in a drought-stricken area of Malawi in Africa.  He’s a curious boy interested in trying to figure out how car engines run and radios transmit music.  He loves to study science and mechanics.  When a drought hits his village and many people starve and die, William wants to help.  He goes to a nearby library donated by Americans where he learns that windmills can produce electricity and pump water.   He envisions a  windmill outside his home pulling electricity from the breeze and bringing light to the dark valley.  He sets to work to build electric wind to bring light to his village and water to soak the ground and grow crops to feed the village.  The villagers think he’s crazy.

Why I like this book:  This is a powerful and true story about how a boy’s dreams, imagination and mechanical talents save his village.   I love this book because it encourages and empowers children to imagine and dream big.  They too can make a difference like William.   It also introduces children to the Malawi culture which is unlike their own.  The book is written by the now grown William Kamkwamba, who is a student a Dartmouth College.  The book has a lyrical feel to it and Elizabeth Zunon’s illustrations are simple, bold and stunning.

Resources:  There are back pages of information about William Kamkwamba.  Also Alliant Energy Kids  teaches kids about alternative energies and powering toys with wind power.  Visit Kids and Energy for more activities and resources about alternative power sources.

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Friday, December 14, is the anniversary of the date in 1954 that the UN General Assembly recommended there should be a Universal Children’s Day.  All of those participating in author Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book Friday, are doing out part to raise awareness of the plight of children around the globe and to promote the welfare of children in the world by posting books which focus on multicultural/multiracial issues, human rights, and/or children who have helped to change the world in some way.