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Happy President’s Day!

Can’t think of a better way to celebrate the holiday than by singing the praises of Maira Kalman’s brand new picture book biography about Thomas Jefferson.

I pretty much adore everything Maira does, and I’ve been fascinated by our red-haired, violin-playing, wine-guzzling, pea-loving, Renaissance Man foodie President ever since I first visited Monticello years ago.

In Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything (Paulsen/Penguin, 2014), Ms. Kalman has accomplished the seemingly impossible, capturing the genius, complexity, contributions, contradictions, and affecting humanness of our third President in just 40 glorious pages.

Her disarming conversational narrative, peppered with just the kind of offbeat detail kids love, is fueled by a contaigious enthusiasm for her subject. She begins:

Thomas Jefferson had red hair and some freckles (about 20 I think), he grew to be very tall and oh yes, he was the third President of the United States . . .

What was he interested in?

EVERYTHING.

I mean it.

EVERYTHING.

She mentions Jefferson’s love of books, music, flora and fauna, and that he could speak seven languages. She spotlights the ingenious design of his beloved Monticello,”a Museum of his Mind” with its famed vegetable garden, citing Jefferson’s advocacy of a mostly vegetarian diet. Though he lived a good life, “full of work and love,” it was tinged with sadness: his wife Martha died young and four of their six children didn’t live to adulthood.

(click to enlarge)

(click to enlarge)

She details Jefferson’s role as a Founding Father and author of the Declaration of Independence, brilliantly humanizing other illustrious figures like Franklin, Adams and Washington via singular details: Ben’s crazy great hat, John’s fiery temper, George’s false teeth. Then it’s all about Jefferson’s presidency (Louisiana Purchase, Lewis & Clark Expedition), before sensitively introducing the topic of slavery.

The man who said of slavery
“This ABOMINATION MUST END”
was the owner of about 150 slaves.

The MONUMENTAL MAN had MONUMENTAL FLAWS.

She tells it straight and true, and does not shy away from mentioning that Jefferson likely had children with Sally Hemings, and what a sad thing it was when people felt the need to hide their background by passing for white. Her despair over these painful issues and puzzlement over Jefferson’s hypocrisy are deftly conveyed in a way that respects young readers and will likely win their trust.

I love how Maira’s hand-lettering alternates with the standard font to highlight asides, personal thoughts and select facts. These words just brim with personality, keeping things from sounding too textbook-y, ultimately strengthening the intimate bond between author and reader.

Illuminated and expanded by vibrant and whimsical gouache paintings rendered in striking jewel-tones, Kalman’s account of Jefferson as President, scholar, statesman, architect, scientist, botanist, connoisseur, author, inventor, and plantation owner is recommended for readers of all ages who appreciate spirited storytelling and creative nonfiction infused with wit, wisdom, and the excitement of discovery.

Who better to tell about the man who was interested in “everything” than a writer and artist who herself is endlessly curious and so brilliant at curating the idiosyncratic ‘everythings’ she encounters in her own life?

If you want to understand this country and its people and what it means to be OPTIMISTIC and COMPLEX and Tragic and Wrong and Courageous, You Need to go to Monticello.

Walk around the house and the gardens.
The linden trees might be in bloom, filling the air with their delicious perfume.
Maybe you will lie down under a tree
and fall asleep thinking about
LIFE, Liberty and the Pursuit of EVERYTHING.

Five Big Soup Spoons for this one!

*   *   *

♥ Call Me Ms. Pudding ♥

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“All I can do is be me, whoever that is.” ~ Bob Dylan

Hey, hey! Today is Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday!!

We could celebrate by listening to 70 of our favorite Dylan songs, singing “Like a Rolling Stone” seventy times, or by letting out 70 WooHoo’s! for this brand new picture book biography, When Bob Met Woody: The Story of the Young Bob Dylan (Little, Brown, 2011). (I vote for all of the above.)

Honey Babe, I was soooooooo excited when I first heard this book was coming out, but disappointed when I couldn’t get my hands on a review copy — until the ever thoughtful and generous Jules of 7-Imp offered to share hers (kiss kiss hug hug love on that beautiful woman). Now, I’m no longer a sad-eyed lady of the lowlands, because I’ve devoured Gary Golio’s wonderful words and pored over Marc Burckhardt’s crackerjack illustrations.

Though there are several middle grade Dylan biographies, and two recent picture books illuminating his song lyrics — Man Gave Names to All the Animals illustrated by Jim Arnosky (Sterling, 2010), and Forever Young illustrated by Paul Rogers (Atheneum, 2008) — Golio’s is the first trade picture book biography featuring the iconic music legend.

Even a casual fan knows there are tons of books published about Dylan (latest count: approximately 1000 titles in English), including biographies and retrospectives, songbooks, photo albums, graphic interpretations of his lyrics, collections of articles and interviews, academic analyses of his ouevre by hardcore Dylanologists, even an encyclopedia containing every bit and bob about Bob. And of course, there’s Dylan’s own critically acclaimed memoir, Chronicles, Volume One (S&S, 2005). So Mr. Golio’s task must have been quite daunting, sifting through the available resources and creating a narrative captivating enough to interest young readers who’ve probably never heard of our favorite Archbishop of Anarchy. And then there’s that little matter of Dylan fabricating parts of his life, especially his early years.

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graphics by goldtrout

Break out the ham, grits, and pecan pie.

Don your prettiest orange and white.

It’s time to waltz around the Tennessee ballroom, because THE book I’ve been dying to read ever since I first heard about it back in 2007, is finally out today!! Let’s hear it for our favorite Knoxville girl, Kerry Madden, on the official release of Harper Lee (Up Close) (Viking, 2009)!!

        
          HARPER LEE (UP CLOSE) by Kerry Madden,
          (Viking, 2009), Ages 12+, 224 pp.

*cartwheels* *backflips* *wild cheering and moonpie munching*

I absolutely adore Kerry’s writing. You probably know her Maggie Valley trilogy: Gentle’s Holler, Louisiana’s Song, and Jessie’s Mountain – all written in beautiful, lyrical prose that sings of family life in the hills of Appalachia with so much heart and passion. Now she’s written a biography of Harper Lee, whose book, To Kill a Mockingbird, is probably my favorite novel of all time. *swoons*

As Kerry mentions in her book’s Foreword, Harper Lee (who goes by her first name, "Nelle"), is a fiercely private individual, who doesn’t believe in biographies of those still living. Her sometimes reply to interview requests is, "Hell no." Undaunted, Kerry respectfully undertook the challenge of unearthing details about Nelle’s life by visiting Monroeville, Alabama, several times to dig through courthouse archives and interview friends, colleagues, and town residents. 

           
 
Aside from its powerful and enduring message of truth, justice and tolerance, To Kill a Mockingbird has always resonated with Kerry on a very personal level. Growing up as the daughter of a football coach in the South and Midwest meant that she often moved from place to place. "Each time I reread the book or showed my own children the film, I found home all over again. I could roam the streets of Harper Lee’s ‘Maycomb’ and hear the voices of Jem and Scout and Dill calling to each other. I had a cousin just like sniveling cousin Francis. I beat up a boy like Cecil Jacobs."

So far, it looks like Kerry’s created a real winner — Harper Lee (Up Close) recently received a starred review from Kirkus

A narrative both well paced and richly detailed-even reproducing two of Lee’s stories for her college literary magazine and excerpting a recent letter to O magazine, not included in Charles Shields’s excellent I Am Scout (2008)-this biography will appeal to fans of the novel and to newcomers. Readers will find a fascinating portrait of an independent young woman stubbornly going her own way to become the one thing she wanted to be: a writer. Extensive source notes and an excellent bibliography round out this superb biography, one of the best in the Up Close series.

To Kill a Mockingbird has sold over 30 million copies to date, and is standard reading in English classes across the country. A biography written especially for young people about the woman who wrote this beloved classic will prove invaluable in countless ways. Thank you, Kerry, for all your work in completing this book. Today, we congratulate you on a stunning accomplishment. Bravo!!

Before I run out to purchase my copy (as you should, too), let’s slurp deep (with great feeling and gusto), some of this celebration soup prepared especially in Kerry’s honor:


Today’s Special: Nelle Harper Lee Green Pea (one bowl to last a lifetime). 

And, there’s nothing like a little MoonPie ala Madden:

photo by lla

For more about Kerry and her books, visit her official website and Live Journal blog, Mountain Mist.

She posted the book’s Foreword on her blog recently, and it can be found here, along with this post and this one, detailing more about her research trips to Monroeville, Alabama.

Check out this review by Julie M. Prince at YA (and Kids) Book Central.

Okay now, run out to your local indie, or click through to your fave online bookseller and order Harper Lee (Up Close)!!

More Soup of the Day posts here.

*Photo of Nelle Harper Lee from Johnny Quixote’s photostream.

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            BRING ME SOME APPLES AND I’LL MAKE YOU A PIE,
            by Robbin Gourley (Clarion, 2009),
            Picture Book for ages 4-8, 32 pages.


Are you ready for a taste of spring?

Open this scrumptious new picture book about award-winning chef, Edna Lewis, and you’ll be delighted and nourished by the bounty within.

Bring Me Some Apples and I’ll Make You a Pie, the first children’s book by artist, food writer, and art director, Robbin Gourley, lovingly chronicles a year of Lewis’ childhood on a farm in Freetown, Virginia. Lewis (1916-2006), a proponent of regional, fresh-from-the-field, pure ingredients, was well ahead of her time as a pioneer in the natural foods movement, and one of the few female (let alone African American) chefs in the culinary industry. She was largely responsible for bringing southern cuisine to the attention of the culinary world.

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Go ahead. Reach out and grab one.

Then munch to your heart’s content, because February is National Snack Food Month!

Potato chips are America’s favorite snack food — to the tune of over $6 billion worth consumed every year. But for all the chips we’ve inhaled in our lifetimes, how many of us know who invented them?

    
      GEORGE CRUM AND THE SARATOGA CHIP by Gaylia Taylor,
      pictures by Frank Morrison (Lee and Low, 2006),
      Picture Book for ages 5+, 32 pp.

Enter, the perfect picture book biography, George Crum and the Saratoga Chip, by Gaylia Taylor, illustrated by Frank Morrison (Lee and Low, 2006). Like the perfect chip with just the right snap and crunch, this story, about a biracial chef who inadvertently invents these crispy rascals back in 1853, is both satisfying and inspiring.

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