[review + recipe] Beatrix Potter, Scientist by Lindsay H. Metcalf and Junyi Wu

Sometimes in late summer, especially after we‘ve had a lot of rain, giant white mushrooms sprout up in our woods. Their tops can grow as large as dinner plates if the deer don’t take a bite out of them first.

They seem quite magical; I like to imagine fairies or gnomes using the flat mushroom tops as writing desks or tabletops, happily setting out their acorn teacups for special guests.

I actually became more interested in mushrooms about 20 years ago after learning about Beatrix Potter’s fascination with fungi, and then seeing her incredibly beautiful botanical drawings.

While most everyone knows Beatrix as the author and illustrator of the Peter Rabbit books, and perhaps as an ardent conservationist who helped preserve some 4,000 acres of pristine countryside in the Lake District, few may know she was also a dedicated naturalist who devoted about a decade of her life to mycology (the study of fungi), with a special interest in mushrooms.

I was understandably excited when Beatrix Potter, Scientist (Albert Whitman, 2020) came out last summer, because so far it’s the only picture book biography that takes a closer look at this lesser known aspect of Beatrix’s life.

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[tasty review + recipe] Nacho’s Nachos by Sandra Nickel and Oliver Dominguez

When you’re hungry for just the right snack, there’s nothing more satisfying than biting into a warm, crispy, zesty nacho.

Oh, that satisfying crunch! The gooey cheese and spicy hot hello of jalapeño! Go on, close your eyes as you relish the flavor. Lick your lips, then reach for another. 🙂

Did you know that tomorrow, October 21, is the International Day of the Nacho? Or that 2020 marks 80 years since nachos were first invented? Just who was actually responsible for this eye-closing mouthful of deliciousness?

In NACHO’S NACHOS: The Story Behind the World’s Favorite Snack by Sandra Nickel and Oliver Dominguez (Lee & Low, 2020), we learn how Ignacio Anaya, a resourceful restaurant employee from northern Mexico, fortuitously created this savory treat one fateful afternoon in 1940.

Ignacio, or, “Nacho,” for short, was essentially raised by a foster mother after he lost his parents at a young age. He was a boy with a good appetite who enjoyed his foster mother’s quesadillas, and it was she who taught him how to cook. He was a natural in the kitchen, and in his early twenties he got a restaurant job, performing many tasks such as seating guests, passing out menus, taking orders, and serving meals.

As Nacho went from table to table, people smiled. He had a special talent for making diners happy.

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[review+ giveaway] Joey: The Story of Joe Biden by Jill Biden and Amy June Bates

“America is made of ordinary people capable of extraordinary things.” ~ Certified Bidenism 🙂

 

The very first picture book biography of 2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden begins with his earnest appeal:

“Give me the ball!”

We soon see how this memorable refrain aptly characterizes his competitiveness and willingness to take the lead and carry the burden — whether playing a childhood game of pick-up football or diligently working on behalf of his constituents.

JOEY: The Story of Joe Biden, by Jill Biden (with Kathleen Krull) and Amy June Bates (Paula Wiseman Books, 2020), essentially highlights Vice President Biden’s early years, showing young readers how his middle class upbringing, strong family values, daredevil spirit, fierce determination, and inborn compassion shaped his life as a leader and public servant.

 

 

Reading this book is like sitting down with a good friend who’s sharing favorite family stories about someone she knows only too well. Kids have likely seen Joe Biden on TV; they know he’s running for President, and now, thanks to Jill, they have a chance to view this larger-than-life public figure in a more personal, relatable way.

We first meet Joey as an active 8-year-old, on the move and not the least bit intimidated by a group of older boys playing football. It didn’t matter that he was smaller than all of them, he taunted them anyway. When they couldn’t catch him, “they welcomed him into their game.”

 

 

Joey had such great adventures with his best buddies, Charlie, Larry, and Tommy. Typical boys, everything was a competition. They went to the movies and reenacted their favorite scenes, romped through the neighborhood with Joey’s dogs, and visited the monkey at the candy store. But Joey was also a peacemaker who looked out for others, a natural leader who drew people together by focusing on what they had in common.

Did you know Joey could never refuse a dare? Risk taker extraordinaire, he once “climbed atop a mountain of still-burning coal,” “raced along the pipes high above a river,” and even “grabbed a heavy rope and swung over a construction site, imitating Tarzan — without a net.”

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[review + recipe + giveaway] Kamala Harris: Rooted in Justice by Nikki Grimes and Laura Freeman

 

Kamala Harris is precisely the vice presidential nominee we need at this particular moment in time. Being chosen to run alongside Joe Biden in the most consequential election of our nation’s history is a notable, glorious, glass-ceiling-shattering triumph.

Senator Harris hadn’t fully entered my radar until I  saw her grill Brett Kavanaugh in the Supreme Court Senate Confirmation Hearings in 2018. Wow! She was tough, articulate, whip smart, and definitely someone to watch. Early last year, I eagerly read her memoir, The Truths We Hold: An American Journey (Bodley Head, 2019), and was wholly inspired by her compassion, work ethic, professional accomplishments, and steadfast commitment to social justice and public service.

 

 

Just two weeks after she was chosen to be Vice President Biden’s running mate, a new picture book biography, Kamala Harris: Rooted in Justice by Nikki Grimes and Laura Freeman (Atheneum BFYR, 2020), officially hit shelves. Talk about perfect timing!

But then, everything about Kamala’s life story (her immigrant background, family history of political activism, impressive barrier-breaking, step-by-step rise in the ranks) suggests she was almost divinely destined to be the first African-American and first South Asian-American female candidate to run on a major party ticket during these turbulent times of systemic racism, economic inequities, public health crises, criminal injustices, and gender discrimination.

Thanks to Nikki Grimes’s succinct, artfully crafted free verse narrative, and Laura Freeman’s vibrantly gorgeous art, young people not only have an engaging overview of Harris’s life from birth to her withdrawal from the 2020 presidential nomination, but also an inspiring portrait of her character and true essence as a human being.

Grimes frames Kamala’s story as a conversation between a black mother and daughter. First grader Eve is upset because a boy in her class called her stupid for wanting to be President when she grows up. Eve’s mom says he’s wrong, and proceeds to tell her all about Kamala, a girl from right there in Oakland who hopes to be President one day.

 

Life is a story
you write day by day.
Kamala’s begins with a name
that means “lotus flower.”
See how her beautiful smile
opens wide, like petals
fanning across the water’s surface?
But you don’t see the flower’s roots. Her roots.
They grow deep, deep, deep down.
Let me show you.

 

Freeman’s beautiful double page spread provides a dramatic entrée into Kamala’s world, depicting her amidst pink lotus blossoms as a happy toddler, sensitive child, intent student, and an adult glowing with confidence. Grimes uses the floral/roots metaphor to great effect, as it prepares the ground for tracing the origins of Kamala’s ancestry, guiding principles and political aspirations. We sense this story will be an edifying blossoming, as we dig below the surface to learn how Kamala grew into the strong, determined leader, truth seeker, trail blazer, and role model she is today.

Young readers will especially appreciate the many pages devoted to Kamala’s early formative years: how her Jamaican father met and married her Indian mother in Berkeley before Kamala was born in Oakland, how they took her with them on civil rights marches, where she repeatedly heard words like “freedom,” “justice,” and “peace” even before she understood what they meant.

After her sister Maya came along, they enjoyed “faraway adventures together,/like visiting their grandparents in Zambia,” soon learning that “fighting for justice/ran in the family.”

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[review + recipe] On Wings of Words by Jennifer Berne and Becca Stadtlander

 

Each bird, bee, blossom, butterfly — was a source of joy and wonder for young Emily Dickinson. In this beautiful new picture book biography, aptly illustrated with a butterfly motif, we witness her singular metamorphosis from a keenly observant child into one of the most original and innovative poets in American literature.

On Wings of Words: The Extraordinary Life of Emily Dickinson by Jennifer Berne and Becca Stadtlander (Chronicle Books, 2020), traces Dickinson’s life from her birth on a snowy December evening in 1830 until her death in May 1886, with a unique focus on how her writing liberated, challenged, and sustained her, and why she eventually chose a life of solitude in order to be her truest self.

Berne’s lyrical narrative is artfully interwoven with Emily’s own words, creating an intimate sense of immediacy as we become privy to the poet’s “letter to the World.”

 

 

We first see how young Emily “met the world,” exploring her natural surroundings with great curiosity and affection. Nothing was too small or insignificant to warrant her full attention, and she “found new words for everything she was discovering.”

The bee is not afraid of me,
I know the butterfly . . .
The brooks laugh louder
when I come.

Emily loved so many things — her brother Austin, her school friends, and most of all, books, for each “was an adventure, a distant journey on a sea of words.” From early on, she was intense and passionate, with strong desires, deep thoughts, and heightened emotional highs and lows.

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