A striking, quirky ode to a unique vision.

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THE STRANGE BIRDS OF FLANNERY O'CONNOR

This picture-book biography, beginning in Flannery O’Connor’s childhood and ending with her untimely death, shines a light on her love of strangeness.

With its memorable opening line, “Right from the start young Flannery took a shine to chickens,” the book celebrates her fascination with life’s peculiarities—and death: “How strange to find something large and beautiful rushing in with all that sadness,” the text remarks about her grief at her father’s passing. Deciding that she wants to write stories “as strange as death,” she chooses staring as a writer’s tool, plumbing the “hidden strangeness” of people and looking for “flashes of good” in complicated characters. After college and a brief stint writing in New York, she is diagnosed with lupus and returns home to Georgia. Alznauer includes some appropriately grim humor, as in young Flannery’s fondness for a photo of a rooster that lived for a month without its head, and classroom humor as well: Flannery flings elastic from her braces at an impatient Sister Consolata. The exaggerated scale and off-kilter perspectives of Zhu’s illustrations align with the book’s focus on eccentricity, adding some imagined characters of color to the mostly white cast of historical figures. The thoughtful design—at 12 inches square, as outsized as its subject—includes a type chosen because its designer, like O’Connor, had a love for drawing birds. Backmatter fleshes out O’Connor’s life and personality and includes a bibliography; it’s not clear if the book’s dialogue is directly quoted or invented.

A striking, quirky ode to a unique vision. (Picture book/biography. 5-18)

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59270-2954

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Enchanted Lion Books

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2020

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Self-serving to be sure but also chock-full of worthy values and sentiments.

SUPERHEROES ARE EVERYWHERE

The junior senator from California introduces family and friends as everyday superheroes.

The endpapers are covered with cascades of, mostly, early childhood snapshots (“This is me contemplating the future”—caregivers of toddlers will recognize that abstracted look). In between, Harris introduces heroes in her life who have shaped her character: her mom and dad, whose superpowers were, respectively, to make her feel special and brave; an older neighbor known for her kindness; grandparents in India and Jamaica who “[stood] up for what’s right” (albeit in unspecified ways); other relatives and a teacher who opened her awareness to a wider world; and finally iconic figures such as Thurgood Marshall and Constance Baker Motley who “protected people by using the power of words and ideas” and whose examples inspired her to become a lawyer. “Heroes are…YOU!” she concludes, closing with a bulleted Hero Code and a timeline of her legal and political career that ends with her 2017 swearing-in as senator. In group scenes, some of the figures in the bright, simplistic digital illustrations have Asian features, some are in wheelchairs, nearly all are people of color. Almost all are smiling or grinning. Roe provides everyone identified as a role model with a cape and poses the author, who is seen at different ages wearing an identifying heart pin or decoration, next to each.

Self-serving to be sure but also chock-full of worthy values and sentiments. (Picture book/memoir. 5-8)

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984837-49-3

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: Jan. 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2019

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A breezy, bustling bucketful of courageous acts and eye-popping feats.

50 IMPRESSIVE KIDS AND THEIR AMAZING (AND TRUE!) STORIES

From the They Did What? series

Why should grown-ups get all the historical, scientific, athletic, cinematic, and artistic glory?

Choosing exemplars from both past and present, Mitchell includes but goes well beyond Alexander the Great, Anne Frank, and like usual suspects to introduce a host of lesser-known luminaries. These include Shapur II, who was formally crowned king of Persia before he was born, Indian dancer/professional architect Sheila Sri Prakash, transgender spokesperson Jazz Jennings, inventor Param Jaggi, and an international host of other teen or preteen activists and prodigies. The individual portraits range from one paragraph to several pages in length, and they are interspersed with group tributes to, for instance, the Nazi-resisting “Swingkinder,” the striking New York City newsboys, and the marchers of the Birmingham Children’s Crusade. Mitchell even offers would-be villains a role model in Elagabalus, “boy emperor of Rome,” though she notes that he, at least, came to an awful end: “Then, then! They dumped his remains in the Tiber River, to be nommed by fish for all eternity.” The entries are arranged in no evident order, and though the backmatter includes multiple booklists, a personality quiz, a glossary, and even a quick Braille primer (with Braille jokes to decode), there is no index. Still, for readers whose fires need lighting, there’s motivational kindling on nearly every page.

A breezy, bustling bucketful of courageous acts and eye-popping feats. (finished illustrations not seen) (Collective biography. 10-13)

Pub Date: May 10, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-14-751813-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Puffin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2015

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