This Best & Brightest list was created by Denver Public Library librarians to celebrate our favorite recently published children's biographies. Enjoy!
Muddy : The Story Of Blues Legend Muddy Waters
1st - 5th grade. McKinley Morganfield loved to play in the Mississippi mud. He loved it so much, his Grandma Della nicknamed him “Muddy.” But there was something McKinley loved more than mud, and that was music. This picture book biography traces blues legend Muddy Waters’ roots in the Mississippi Delta working as a “backbusting, soul-breaking” sharecropper through his move north to Chicago and struggles to make it as a musician. Mahin’s lyrical narrative and Turk’s dynamic mixed media illustrations work seamlessly together to present a vivid portrait of this pioneering African-American musician. Includes additional information in a detailed author’s note, as well as suggestions for further reading and listening.
John Ronald's Dragons : The Story Of J.r.r. Tolkien
Kindergarten - 3rd grade. Even readers unfamiliar with J.R.R. Tolkien will appreciate this simple picturebook biography about the master storyteller. John Ronald was a boy who loved dragons and strange-sounding words. As a child, his mother entertained him and his brother with stories about knights and dragons. As a young man, he was sent to fight in World War I, where he witnessed the devastation of battle. It was as a professor at Oxford that he first penned the words, “in a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” This book gives just enough biographical information to maintain the reader’s interest, while not overwhelming the audience with dates and events. An ideal read for lovers of fantasy and dragons, this book will appeal to young fans of Tolkien and even those who haven’t yet discovered his work. Likely, many potential readers will be tempted by the fanciful illustrations of dragons alone.
Vincent Can't Sleep : Van Gogh Paints The Night Sky
Preschool - 3rd grade. Like Vincent Van Gogh’s life, Vincent Can’t Sleep: Van Gogh Paints the Night Sky is a study in beauty and struggle. Van Gogh suffered insomnia throughout his life. While he lay awake, he studied the sky, imagining the swirls and starlight shapes we associate with some of his most famous work. Author Barb Rosenstock explores questions the artist asked himself: “Does darkness have a texture? / Thick? / Thin?…Is the night sky at rest? Or do 11 stars pulse like a beating heart?” GrandPré uses acrylic, pen and watercolor to introduce young readers to Van Gogh’s life and works, ending with a beautiful final spread that reimagines The Starry Night. An excellent introduction to the artist for young readers, with back matter that includes sources, recreations of artwork and an author’s note.
Maya Lin : Thinking With Her Hands
3rd - 8th grade. Best known for designing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial while still a college student, this biography explores that pivotal first professional project and showcases the breadth of Maya Lin’s work since. Divided into chapters named for the natural materials she utilizes in her work, the first chapter, “Clay”, introduces readers to young Maya growing up in Ohio. The daughter of Chinese immigrants, her poet mother and ceramicist father both taught at Ohio State University. Later chapters focus on Lin’s projects beyond memorials, such as the Storm King Wavefield in Cornwall, New York (“Earth”) and The Box House in Telluride, Colorado (“Wood”). The book’s clean design with color photographs and quotations in bold from Lin beside the text make for an attractive and accessible introduction to this architect and artist.
The Music Of Life : Bartolomeo Cristofori & The Invention Of The Piano
Preschool - 5th grade. The Music of Life: Bartolomeo Cristofori & the Invention of the Piano is a vibrant introduction to the invention of the world’s most popular musical instrument. In 17th-century Italy, Bartolomeo Cristofori wants to improve the prevailing instruments of his day, the harpsichord and clavichord. Harpsichords only produce a sound that is loud, and clavichords only produce soft sounds. Cristofori wants musicians to be able to “play a pounding march, then drop down to a lovely lullaby.” Hearing the hammers of goldsmiths and silversmiths in the city of Florence gives Cristofori an idea that gives rise to his invention, the pianoforte (today simply called the piano). After telling the story, author Elizabeth Rusch discusses, page by page, the extensive primary and secondary sources she used in writing the book. Readers are also invited to listen to recordings of surviving and replica pianos. Marjorie Priceman’s illustrations are bright and messy. This book will appeal to music lovers, as well as a wider audience.
Strong As Sandow : How Eugen Sandow Became The Strongest Man On Earth
1st - 5th grade. Friedrich Wilhelm Müller was a weakling. He longed to look like the Roman gladiators he saw on museum trips he took with this father. Author-illustrator (and former competitive bodybuilder) Tate traces Friedrich’s journey from small, sickly boy to his transformation into Eugen Sandow, the strongest man on earth. Along the way, readers criss-cross the globe and the Victorian Era with Sandow as he moves from circus acrobat to art school model to strongman to health and fitness promoter. Includes detailed afterward and author’s note, as well as an extensive bibliography and suggested exercises for readers to try.
Danza! : Amalia Hernández And El Ballet Folklórico De México
1st - 5th grade. Growing up in Mexico City, Amalia “Ami” Hernández loved to dance -- in the living room, in the kitchen, everywhere! She studied ballet as a young girl and then modern dance as a young adult in the 1930s. She eventually became both a dance teacher and choreographer. Her choreography was strongly influenced by the folkloric danzas from different regions of Mexico. She fused elements of this traditional art form with both ballet and modern dance and founded her own company to perform these innovative dances. Even though Hernández died in 2000, her company, El Ballet Folklórico de México, continues to perform both in Mexico and internationally. Tonatiuh’s hand-drawn and digital collage illustrations reflect the varied regional dances’ movements, styles and costumes. Includes detailed author’s note, glossary of both Spanish and English words, bibliography and index.
The Legendary Miss Lena Horne
Preschool - 3rd grade. Gorgeous illustrations and eloquent text tell the story of the inspiring life of Lena Horne in The Legendary Miss Lena Horne by Carole Boston Weatherford. Lena’s life was often one of stark contrasts. For example, while singing on armed forces radio shows, Lena was denied a cup of coffee but was asked for autographs on the way out. But Lena seized every opportunity to shine, paving the way for black stars who now command more respect and a higher salary than Lena ever could have dreamed. Zunon’s oil paint and cut paper collage illustrations capture Lena Horne’s beauty, anger, power and stardom. Published in the year Lena Horne would have turned 100 years old, this book is a worthy tribute to a fascinating woman.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg : The Case Of R.b.g. Vs. Inequality
1st - 3rd grade. Presented as a case trial, readers of Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Case of R.B.G. vs. Inequality get to know the obstacles RGB faced on her way from a young bookworm to the influential second female Supreme Court Justice. Author Jonah Winter and illustrator Stacy Innerst together create a portrait of a determined, dignified, intelligent woman. Born in Brooklyn in the 1930s, RGB was discouraged by her father from attending college or working. Even after being accepted to Cornell University, Ruth could not be seen studying or risk peer rejection. Ruth sitting under the bathroom sink in her dormitory, books spread across the tile floor, studying in secret, is one of the memorable images Innerst creates using gouache, ink and Photoshop. The verdict of the book? “Because she did not give up, because she refused to let other people define her limitations as a person, Ruth Bader Ginsburg has herself become a symbol of justice in America. Backmatter includes a glossary and author’s note.