Since the likeliest audience for this is kids who have seen the Hobbit films, it’s a good reminder that the book came first.



The story of a boy who dreamed of dragons and found a way to bring them to life.

Tolkien grows from dapper lad to dapper young man in Wheeler’s cleanly drawn scenes as, tucked into views of carefully rendered buildings and landscapes (the illustrator appends lengthy notes), glimpses of scaly figures from treasured old tales or new fancies join evocative curls of smoke and architectural details to hint at the constant presence of dragons in his imagination. An account of his halcyon early days describes his loving mother and good friends and, critically, playing at making up his own language with his cousin. McAlister then tersely carries him through his subsequent unhappy youth, wartime, marriage, and academic career on into Middle Earth and The Hobbit—where at last, deep under the Lonely Mountain, “John Ronald found his dragon.” Two portraits of Smaug rearing up in red and golden splendor cap the narrative. A long authorial note plus a catalog of dragons from Tolkien’s novels, quotes from his essays, and a bibliography will well serve readers looking for more about the man’s life and outlook. It’s better written than Alexandra Wallner’s 2011 profile, though as a general gateway to Tolkien’s realms, the focus on his dragons makes it not so broad.

Since the likeliest audience for this is kids who have seen the Hobbit films, it’s a good reminder that the book came first. (afterword, bibliography) (Picture book/biography. 7-10)

Pub Date: March 21, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-62672-092-3

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Roaring Brook Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2016

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A picture book worth reading about a historical figure worth remembering.


An honestly told biography of an important politician whose name every American should know.

Published while the United States has its first African-American president, this story of John Roy Lynch, the first African-American speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives, lays bare the long and arduous path black Americans have walked to obtain equality. The title’s first three words—“The Amazing Age”—emphasize how many more freedoms African-Americans had during Reconstruction than for decades afterward. Barton and Tate do not shy away from honest depictions of slavery, floggings, the Ku Klux Klan, Jim Crow laws, or the various means of intimidation that whites employed to prevent blacks from voting and living lives equal to those of whites. Like President Barack Obama, Lynch was of biracial descent; born to an enslaved mother and an Irish father, he did not know hard labor until his slave mistress asked him a question that he answered honestly. Freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, Lynch had a long and varied career that points to his resilience and perseverance. Tate’s bright watercolor illustrations often belie the harshness of what takes place within them; though this sometimes creates a visual conflict, it may also make the book more palatable for young readers unaware of the violence African-Americans have suffered than fully graphic images would. A historical note, timeline, author’s and illustrator’s notes, bibliography and map are appended.

A picture book worth reading about a historical figure worth remembering. (Picture book biography. 7-10)

Pub Date: April 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8028-5379-0

Page Count: 50

Publisher: Eerdmans

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2015

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            The legions of fans who over the years have enjoyed dePaola’s autobiographical picture books will welcome this longer gathering of reminiscences.  Writing in an authentically childlike voice, he describes watching the new house his father was building go up despite a succession of disasters, from a brush fire to the hurricane of 1938.  Meanwhile, he also introduces family, friends, and neighbors, adds Nana Fall River to his already well-known Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs, remembers his first day of school (“ ‘ When do we learn to read?’  I asked.  ‘Oh, we don’t learn how to read in kindergarten.  We learn to read next year, in first grade.’  ‘Fine,’ I said.  ‘I’ll be back next year.’  And I walked right out of school.”), recalls holidays, and explains his indignation when the plot of Disney’s “Snow White” doesn’t match the story he knows.  Generously illustrated with vignettes and larger scenes, this cheery, well-knit narrative proves that an old dog can learn new tricks, and learn them surpassingly well.  (Autobiography.  7-9)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-399-23246-X

Page Count: 58

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1999

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