Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge

Alyson Beecher over at Kid Lit Frenzy hosts a Non-fiction Picture Book Challenge and has a roundup every Wednesday. This week I read quite a few of the new biographies of women that I bought for my elementary library. Unless otherwise noted, the images and summaries are from IndieBound.

Title: Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story
Author: Paula Yoo
Illustrator: Lin Wang
Publisher: Lee and Low

Summary: Born in 1905, Anna May Wong spent her childhood working in her family's laundry in Los Angeles s Chinatown. Whenever she could afford it, Anna May slipped off to the movies, escaping to a world of adventure, glamour, and excitement. After seeing a movie being filmed in her neighborhood, young Anna May was hooked. She decided she would become a movie star.

Anna May struggled to pursue an acting career in Hollywood in the 1930s. There were very few roles for Asian Americans, and many were demeaning and stereotypical. Anna May made the most of each limited part. She worked hard and always gave her best performance. Finally, after years of unfulfilling roles, Anna May began crusading for more meaningful roles for herself and other Asian American actors. 

Anna May Wong the first Chinese American movie star was a pioneer of the cinema. Her spirited determination in the face of discrimination is an inspiration to all who must overcome obstacles so that their dreams may come true."

My thoughts: I really appreciate learning about people who have done amazing things. I am so happy to find biographies that shed light on people that I may otherwise have missed. Anna May was a persistent person and she was also a trailblazer. In her time, and unfortunately sometimes still today, Asian characters were usually played by non-Asians. She had to compromise early in career and take parts she didn't necessarily like, but later she stood her ground and only took positive roles. She fought for change. This would be an excellent book to introduce when talking about racism or white washing in the media. It is also simply a very interesting biography.

Title: Flying Solo: How Ruth Elder Soared Into America's Heart
Author: Julie Cummins
Illustrator: Malene R. Laugesen
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press

Summary: In 1927, airplanes were a thrilling but dangerous novelty. Most people, men and women, believed that a woman belonged in the kitchen and not in a cockpit. One woman, Ruth Elder, set out to prove them wrong by flying across the Atlantic Ocean. Ruth didn't make it, crashing spectacularly, but she flew right into the spotlight and America's heart. This is the story of a remarkable woman who chased her dreams with grit and determination, and whose appetite for adventure helped pave the way for future generations of female flyers.

My thoughts: There have been many books about women flying, but I never really get tired of them. I love seeing Ruth's spunk. It's also fun to see that even as she was doing these dangerous things, she still enjoyed evening gowns and dressing up. I especially enjoyed the spread at the end that highlights many other women pilots and there is information about them in the author's note which is thorough and informative.

Title: Baby Flo
Author: Alan Schroeder
Illustrator: Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu
Publisher: Lee and Low

Summary: Straight up: Florence was a remarkable child, and that’s a fact. 

Pint-sized dynamo “Baby Florence” Mills was singing and dancing just about as soon as she could talk and walk. She warbled a tune while her mama did laundry. Everywhere Flo went, she strutted through the streets of Washington, D.C. with a high-steppin’ cakewalk. Flo’s mama and daddy knew they had a budding entertainer in the family, so they entered Florence in a talent contest. Baby Flo went on to become an international superstar during the Harlem Renaissance—but first she had to overcome a case of stage fright and discover that winning wasn’t everything. 

Here is the spirited story of that spunky young girl learning to chase her dreams with confidence. A sensation in her time, Baby Flo is back, dancing and singing her way into hearts and history.

My thoughts: I loved seeing the joy Flo found in singing and dancing. It reminded me of Josephine Baker. Florence Mills appears to have had a flat out love of singing. It's fun to see a child succeeding and having fun while accomplishing her goals. The book was very upbeat and the story concluded while Flo was still young. The author's note tells about the rest of her life. While it was mostly positive, I found the end of her life rather tragic as she died at thirty-one. The photograph that shows thousands of people at her funeral definitely shows that she touched many people's hearts and lives.  

Title: Red Bird Sings: The Story of Zitkala-Ša, Native American Author, Musician and Activist
Authors: Gina Capaldi & Q.L. Pearce
Illustrator: Gina Capaldi
Publisher: Carolrhoda Books

Summary: This is a picture book biography of Zitkala-Ša, born Gertrude Simmons Bonnin, a Native American woman at the turn of the nineteenth century. Zitkala-Ša was a writer, editor, musician, teacher, and political activist in a time when even basic education was uncommon among Native Americans.

My thoughts: I really appreciated finding this biography of a Yankton Sioux woman. It is great to see her strength, persistence, and her contributions to the world. Through this book, readers learn a bit about what it was like for Zitkala-Ša to be separated from her family and culture while she was educated at a residential school. We see the conflict as she learns the white ways and begins to lose her feeling of belonging with her family and culture. Books, music and writing were places that she found comfort. 

In adulthood, Zitkala-Ša worked for equality for women and Native Americans. She became an activist and supported American Indian issues. She also received national acclaim for her writing and music. 

The book made me want to read Zitkala-Ša's own works though. I wondered a few times about the word choice I was seeing - whether they were her own or those of the authors since the authors note explains that they have "reworked her language and substituted modern phrasing for clarity." One example of this is on pg. 21 when she was giving a speech and the text says, "I spoke of the noble Indian and urged my audience to accept us as equals." It's not necessarily a big thing, but I wondered if she used the phrase "noble Indian." It is possible since that is a phrasing that was often used. Another instance is p. 14 when the text says, "I was neither a small girl nor a tall one, neither a wild Indian or a tame one." These instances definitely made me curious to find her own words. Besides, she won awards for her speeches and writing, so I am wanting to experience the real deal now.  -- Cover image and summary via Goodreads

I am happy to have all of these illuminating biographies available for my students and am excited to share them next year.


  1. I have seen Red Bird Sings at my campus library--will have to check it out. The Anna May Wong Story has a gorgeous cover and sounds like a really good book to discuss with students. Might have to purchase that one.... Thanks for sharing!

    1. The illustrations are really well done throughout the book and there is plenty of topics to discuss with students. I loved it.

  2. The only one in this list I knew about was Flying Solo, so thank you for introducing me to these new titles! They look great.

    1. Sure thing. I have been on the search for good biographies about women since our shelves were heavily weighted toward men. We have a more balanced collection now compared to last year. :)

  3. These look really good! I feel like Anna May was featured in an adult book I've read... Maybe in a Jamie Ford or Lisa See novel??? I'll have to check these books out!

    1. I had never heard of her before. That's the sad thing. It's why I love these kind of books though. I've always enjoyed biographies and finding out about people's accomplishments.

  4. Such an amazing list. I really want to find the Anna May Wong story. Many Moms in my classroom work in the garment industry - long hours for little pay to make a better life for their children. This book would really resonate for some of my students.

  5. I have never heard of any of these books so thanks for sharing!

  6. What a wonderful list, Crystal. I am so glad I got a chance to visit the Nonfiction Wednesday posts, albeit late to the party. These are wonderful titles and I am most definitely pinning them as I am collecting a text-set on PBBs for a conference presentation later this year. Thanks so much Crystal.