Spot Light • February 2016

Spot Light Books of the Month - January 2015

This month’s 12 (mostly) biographies represent many walks of life and periods of time—most interestingly, some of their paths could have crossed. Their stories challenge us to live a story worth writing about.

(Check out our History’s Stories pages to find these stories and more arranged chronologically.)

*WinnieWinnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-pooh

by Sally M. Walker, illustrated by Jonathan D. Voss
(Henry Holt & Co., 2015 Ages 6-7)
$17.99 retail  $14.39

Publisher Summary  When Harry Colebourn saw a baby bear for sale at the train station, he knew he could care for it. Harry was a veterinarian. But he was also a soldier in training for World War I. Harry named the bear Winnie, short for Winnipeg, his company’s home town, and he brought her along to the training camp in England. Winnie followed Harry everywhere and slept under his cot every night. But who could care for the bear when Harry had to go to the battleground in France? Harry found just the right place for Winnie while he was away—the London Zoo. There a little boy named Christopher Robin came along and played with Winnie—he could care for this bear too! Sally Walker’s heartwarming story, paired with Jonathan Voss’s evocative illustrations, brings to life the story of the real bear who inspired Winnie-the-Pooh.

Make Way for Books  Heartwarming watercolor illustrations depict the delight Harry Coleburn, military veterinarian took in his new charge, Winnifred the black bear. While the storyline follows the endearing role Winnie played among soldiers at military camps, it conveys the critical role animal health, especially the horses’, played during World War I. The well-woven story comes full-circle when Winnie’s story collides with Christopher Robin, who renames the stuffed bear in his care Winnie-the-pooh after the gentle bear he met at the London Zoo. Who better to craft beloved tales of the child-animal bond, than his father, A.A. Milne. Masterful storytelling in a biographical genre.

Gordon ParksGordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America

by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Jamey Christoph
(Albert Whitman & Co., 2015 Ages 6-7)
$16.99 retail  $13.59

Publisher Summary  Gordon Parks is most famous for being the first black director in Hollywood. But before he made movies and wrote books, he was a poor African American looking for work. When he bought a camera, his life changed forever. He taught himself how to take pictures and before long, people noticed.

Make Way for Books  A magazine spread about migrant workers moved then-porter Gordon Parks to buy a camera and teach himself the craft. He sensed injustice, particularly “the unfairness of segregation” and soon learned to tell its story through the lens. His skilled shots eventually landed in major magazines, their first captures by a black photographer. An impactful way to show how the efforts of one man can give voice to those without.

Pullman PorterThe Pullman Porter: An American Journey

by Vanita Oelschlager, illustrated by Mike Blanc
(Ingram Pub Services, 2014 Ages 6-7)
$8.95 retail  $7.16

Publisher Summary  Children and adults under the age of 40 are forgetting about the Pullman Porter. They were very important figures in the history of American. This book will teach children and adults, who the porters were and why they were so important in our history. Porters worked in early train cars, they would look, listen and learn from their predominantly white passengers. They would read the newspapers passengers left behind, listen to conversations and begin to talk to one another. The porter learned how important education was for children and how important it was to take this message home to his children. He eventually landed at the forefront of the civil rights movement.

Make Way for Books  Against the backdrop of the Pullman Car invention (1857) and its African American Pullman porters, readers watch as a seed of the Civil Rights movement takes root—when pitiful living conditions, low wages, and long hours devalue lives of recently-freed men—and grows into a demand for justice. History’s sequence falls into place as well-known figures impact the timeline of this movement: President Franklin D. Roosevelt, his wife, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln’s son, Robert Todd Lincoln, Rosa Parks, and eventually Martin Luther King, Jr. An important legacy shared with relevance and respect.

Keep OnKeep On!: The Story of Matthew Henson, Co-discoverer of the North Pole

by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Stephen Alcorn
(Peachtree, 2015 Ages 7-8)
$7.95 retail  $6.36

Publisher Summary  Many know the story of Robert Peary’s great 1909 expedition to reach the North Pole. Yet few people know that Peary was joined on this grueling, history-making journey by fellow explorer Matthew Henson. Henson was born just after the Civil War, a time when slavery had been abolished, but few opportunities were available for black people. Even as a child, he exhibited a yearning for adventure, and at the age of only thirteen, he embarked on a five-year voyage sailing the seven seas and learning navigation, history, and mathematics. Henson’s greatest adventure began when he accepted an invitation from Robert Peary to join his expedition to the North Pole. The team endured storms, shifting ice, wind, injuries, accidents, and unimaginable cold. Finally on April 1, Peary, Henson, and four Inuit men began the final 133-mile push to the Pole.

Make Way for Books  From a Maryland cabin to the top of the world, Matthew Henson knew how to take advantage of opportunities, prove himself, and become a partner in exploration and accomplishment. An unforgettable look at an adventurer who deserves to be known by readers, young and old.

Jack's PathJack’s Path of Courage: The Life of John F. Kennedy

by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Matt Tavares
(Disney Press, 2010 Age 6-8)
$17.99 retail  $14.39

Publisher Summary  John F. Kennedy was a popular, charismatic president, beloved by many. But he didn’t always believe he had the strength or courage for that office. As a child he was sickly and also overshadowed by his strong, capable, athletic older brother Joe. After Joe Jr.’s death John had to work hard to live up to his own expectations and to those of his father. He overcame pain and self-doubt to see the country through one of the most difficult crises in its history. Doreen Rappaport once again combines real-life quotes with her own lyrical prose to create a moving portrait of a beloved figure. Matt Tavares’ stunning artwork vividly depicts this unique time in history.

Make Way for Books  Follows the formative years of the highly regarded President, including his competitive childhood, remarkable acts of bravery while in the military, and the significant events of his presidency. Will help readers see courage as the overriding theme of JFK’s life.

Frederick's JourneyFrederick’s Journey: The Life of Frederick Douglass

by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by London Ladd
(Disney Press, 2015 Age 7-8)
$17.99 retail  $14.39

Publisher Summary  Frederick Douglass was born a slave. He was taken from his mother as a baby, and separated from his grandparents when he was six. He suffered hunger and abuse, but miraculously, he learned how to read. Frederick read newspapers left in the street, and secretly collected spellings from neighborhood children. Words, he knew, would set him free. When Frederick was twenty, he escaped to the North, where he spread his abolitionist beliefs through newspaper articles, autobiographies, and speeches. He believed that all people —regardless of color or gender—were entitled to equal rights. It is Douglass’s words, as well as his life, that still provide hope and inspiration across generations.

Make Way for Books  Compelling, life-sized, carefully-detailed illustrations, punctuate the depth of Frederick Douglass’s devotion to justice and liberty for all. The dark pain of loss at a young age translated into grim determination to learn words because “…Frederick sensed that words had power. …he traded food for words.” In a world growing more accustomed to byte-sized snippets of communication, Rappaport reminds us to value speaking well, because there is hope in words. A rivoting story that unfolds easily with Douglass’s own phrases scattered throughout, still challenging, still inspiring.

Helens Big World Martin's Big Words

See also Helen’s Big World and Martin’s Big Words

Ada Byron LovelaceAda Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine

by Laurie Wallmark, illustrated by April Chu
(PGW, 2015 Ages 8-12)
$17.99 retail  $14.39

Publisher Summary  Ada Lovelace, the daughter of the famous romantic poet, Lord Byron, develops her creativity through science and math. When she meets Charles Babbage, the inventor of the first mechanical computer, Ada understands the machine better than anyone else and writes the world’s first computer program in order to demonstrate its capabilities.

Make Way for Books  This is a richly layered biography, best enjoyed by late elementary ages. Ada Byron Lovelace possessed an inquisitive mind that relished numbers, patterns, and challenge. However, she grew up during a time when measles and cholera puzzled the medical community, and both left her very ill. It was also a time when men were more readily associated with the mathematical work and invention for which Ada obviously possessed natural talent. A closing author’s note and timeline shed additional light on this woman’s significant accomplishments, all of which occurred before her death at the age of 36. A truly inspiring life whose contributions to the computer and its language should be known by today’s tech-savvy kids.

Helen's EyesHelen’s Eyes: A Photobiography of Annie Sullivan, Helen Keller’s Teacher

by Marfe Ferguson Delano
(National Geographic Children’s Books, 2015 Ages 9-11)
$7.99 retail  $6.39

Publisher Summary  Frederick Douglass was born a slave. He was taken from his mother as a baby, and separated from his grandparents when he was six. He suffered hunger and abuse, but miraculously, he learned how to read. Frederick read newspapers left in the street, and secretly collected spellings from neighborhood children. Words, he knew, would set him free. When Frederick was twenty, he escaped to the North, where he spread his abolitionist beliefs through newspaper articles, autobiographies, and speeches. He believed that all people —regardless of color or gender—were entitled to equal rights. It is Douglass’s words, as well as his life, that still provide hope and inspiration across generations.

Make Way for Books  Had Annie Sullivan never been associated with Helen Keller, her life would still have been remarkable. This account follows Sullivan from a childhood of poverty and hardship through her amazing accomplishments with her better-known student. This is a powerful retelling of an amazing and accomplished life!

Tortoise and SoldierThe Tortoise and the Soldier: A Story of Courage and Friendship in World War I

by Michael Foreman
(Henry Holt & Co., 2015 Ages 9-11)
$13.59 retail  $16.99
Paperback edition coming November 2016

Publisher Summary  As a boy, Henry Friston dreamed of traveling the world. He thought he was signing up for a lifetime of adventure when he joined the Royal Navy. But when World War I begins, it launches the world, and Henry, into turmoil. While facing enemy fire at Gallipoli, Henry discovers the strength he needs to survive in an unexpected source: a tortoise. And so begins the friendship of a lifetime. Based on true events, and with charming illustrations, this story of war, courage, and friendship will win the hearts of readers.

Make Way for Books  A biographical account of Henry Friston that flows with ease. While it chronicles this noble character and how his dreams for world travel eventually merge with military service, the story’s compelling appeal stems from the way Michael Foreman chose to tell it — through the eyes of an aspiring reporter who sought the truth, persisted over time, experienced intergenerational friendship, and grew from its wisdom.

Lost on Mountain in MaineLost on a Mountain in Maine

by Donn Fendler, edited by Joseph B. Egan
(Harper Collins, 1992 Ages 9-11)
$5.99 retail  $4.79

Publisher Summary  Based on the true account of a boy’s harrowing journey through the vast wilderness of the Katahdin Mountains, Lost on a Mountain in Maine is a gripping survival story for all ages. With rainstorms, black bears, and his fear of being lost forever, Donn’s journey is a physically, mentally, and emotionally charged story told from the point of view of the boy who lived it.

Make Way for Books  [This one’s an autobiography, not to be missed.] While impatience may have led to his predicament, Donn’s patience and tenacity enabled his survival for nearly two weeks. Throughout the ordeal, he never gave up hope, believing Someone was watching over him. A truly inspiring story of faith, hope, and struggle set in a wilderness rarely traveled by humans.


Growing up in Coal CountryGrowing Up in Coal Country

by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
(Houghton Mifflin, 1999 Ages 9-11)
$9.99 retail  $7.19

Publisher Summary  Based on personal interviews, newspaper accounts, mining inspection records, and other original sources, a portrait of life in the Pennsylvania coal mines and “patch villages” tells the heartbreaking but life-affirming story of children and adults for whom this region represented a way of life.

Make Way for Books  [Though not a biography, it is nonfiction that reads like a generalized biography] This stunning collection of photos and commentary chronicling the coal industry of Northeast Pennsylvania in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s evokes compassion for those families dependent upon mining jobs for survival. From interviews of former miners, Susan Bartoletti shows the plucky spirit of the youngest workers (often under 10 years old), the tragic consequences of a slip-up, the desperate living quarters of the large families, and eventually the organized strikes that led to union formations. An informative and thought-provoking work at a challenging reading level.

Kids on Strike
See also Kids on Strike




kids at workKids At Work

by Russell Freedman, photographs by Lewis Hine
(Houghton Mifflin, 1998 Ages 12-14)
$9.95 retail  $7.96

Publisher Summary  Photobiography of early twentieth-century photographer and schoolteacher Lewis Hine, using his own work as illustrations. Hines’s photographs of children at work were so devastating that they convinced the American people that Congress must pass child labor laws.

Make Way for Books  In his trademark photobiographical style, Freedman chronicles the life and accomplishments of Lewis Hine, schoolteacher turned activist and his fight against child labor in the early 1900’s. Haunting photographs taken by Hine highlight the well-developed text, breathing life into this man’s story



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