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Surprising Biographies of Amazing Creativity

By on April 2, 2017

Pick up a picture book biography of someone you may never have heard of to inspire you and a young person in your life. These outstanding books introduce us to people whose lives enrich our own, giving us role models and opportunities for conversations! Have fun!

by Meribeth C. Shank 

My Story, My Dance: Robert Battle’s Journey to Alvin Ailey

by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James E Ransome

danceThe story of local Liberty City Miami talent, Robert Battle, is inspiring. It celebrates the African-American experience of family, faith and art.

Only the third artistic director for the highly respected and well-loved Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Battles’ early struggles, and warmly supportive family form the framework for this strong picture book biography. He overcame the need for leg braces as a young child. Also, his experiences of the music and faith of his church community, plus his youthful practice of music, dance and martial arts, were important in preparing him for dance classes. These latter influences seized his heart, mind and body, giving direction to his sense of himself.

Ransome’s pastels capture family scenes, karate, and studio practice sessions. Especially important in Battles’ experience and dramatic for his future, is the double page spread of the Ailey dancers he watched onstage. This performance was featured as a high school field trip with his after-school dance class. The colors, costumes and fluid movements of the dancers’ bodies’ in Ransome’s illustrations, partner seamlessly with (wife) Cline-Ransome’s liquid language.

This beautifully conceived and executed life story includes a foreword with photos from Battles himself. There are also an author’s note, an illustrator’s note, bibliography, website, and further reading included at the end.

Simon & Schuster,  $17.99 Interest Level: Grade 2-5
(This book is available to borrow at Miami Dade Public Library: Main Branch, Allapattah, Culmer Overtown, Edison, Lemon City, Little River, Miami Lakes, Miami Springs, N Dade Regional, Opa Locka, West Dade Regional, and S Dade Regional. Also, may be purchased from local and online booksellers.)

Mr. Ferris and His Wheel

by Kathryn Gibbs Davis, illustrated by Gilbert Ford

ferrisGeorge Washington Gale Ferris Jr., a civil engineer who was a designer of bridges, tunnels and roads, had a dazzling idea. He wanted to create a structure for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair that would rival France’s Eiffel Tower from the previous event. Although, Ferris’ decided that his structure would move!

He and his engineering partner, William Gronau worked on a design that used steel as a framework instead of solid walls. This innovative project was devised during a time period that tempted inventors to show off new technologies. However, George had difficulty convincing officials of its safety. Still, there was nothing else that emerged to compete with George’s design. So, officials agreed to his plan, but granted him no money to build his proposed structure.

George tried with no success to get banks’ assistance. Since time was running short, he persisted in getting funding, supplies, parts, and workers in place. The successfully completed Ferris Wheel became a World’s Fair sensation.

Digital mixed media, ink and watercolor illustrations in a somewhat cartoon-like style use colors to evoke an era before electricity. Also featured is the stylized electrical magic of the new invention at night. It could be seen from miles away!

Not a typical biography, this nonfiction picture book is fascinating, well written and researched. Sidebars enhance the story, or explain parts of the text. Sources, bibliography and websites are included at the end.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $17.99
Interest Level: Kindergarten – Grade 3

(This book is available to borrow at Miami Dade Public Library: Main Branch, Allapattah, Culmer Overtown, Edison, Lemon City, Little River, Miami Lakes, N Dade Regional, Opa Locka, West Dade Regional, and S Dade Regional. Also, may be purchased from local and online booksellers.)

Building on Nature: The Life of Antoni Gaudi

by Rachel Rodriguez, illustrated by Julie Paschkis

gaudiAuthor Macy is known for her well-researched and dynamic sports biographies, especially of women. Once more she has chosen a determined achiever to feature, in this dramatically illustrated picture book. Collins’s striking images highlight the difficulties Gertrude Ederle faced, in her history-making swim. His brilliant artwork was created with Prismacolor pencils, and completed with Adobe Photoshop.

As she dodged driftwood, jellyfish, and sharks, Trudy also had to navigate choppy water and strong currents. Instead of the 21-mile crossing, Ederle swam 35 more miles, because the current threw her off course. The Olympic swimmer was in the water for more than 14 hours, on August 6, 1926.

The logistics of how she ate, kept warm, and stayed focused will captivate young readers. Her endurance and single-mindedness stand out, adding depth to the story of her swim across the English Channel.

This is a vigorously illustrated and skillfully written picture book biography, of a groundbreaking event in women’s sports history.

Meribeth Shank works in the Media Center at Miami Country Day School, an independent school in Miami Shores, Florida, has taught classes on Writing Books for Children, and earned her MFA in Writing for children from Vermont College. You can also find her on the web:

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