Serviceable as assignment fodder or as a gateway to more searching studies.

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A PICTURE BOOK OF ALEXANDER HAMILTON

From the Picture Book Biographies series

A short, occasionally revealing profile of an immigrant who got the job done.

Joining other children’s-book creators attempting to ride the Broadway phenomenon’s coattails, Adler creates a distant, even staid, portrait of Hamilton’s character. Opening and closing with accounts of the Burr duel, he also drops in a few too many names without sufficient context. Still, along with noting his subject’s major public achievements in war and peace and making some references to his private life, he does frankly note in the main narrative that Alexander was born to unmarried parents and in the afterword that he was taken in for a time by a family that may have included a half brother. (The author also makes a revealing if carelessly phrased observation that he helped to run a business in his youth that dealt in “many things,” including “enslaved people.”) Collins’ neatly limned painted scenes lack much sense of movement, but he’s careful with details of historical dress and setting. Most of his figures are light skinned, but there are people of color in early dockside views, in a rank of charging American soldiers, and also (possibly) in a closing parade of mourners. Multichapter biographies abound, but as a first introduction, this entry in Adler’s long-running series won’t bring younger readers to their feet but does fill in around the edges of Don Brown’s Aaron and Alexander: The Most Famous Duel in American History (2015).

Serviceable as assignment fodder or as a gateway to more searching studies. (timeline, bibliography, notes) (Picture book/biography. 7-9)

Pub Date: Dec. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8234-3961-4

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Holiday House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2019

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Weirdly fascinating.

THE PIG WAR

HOW A PORCINE TRAGEDY TAUGHT ENGLAND AND AMERICA TO SHARE

“This is a true tale about two mighty nations, an ill-fated pig, and a most unusual war. It is also a story about sharing.”

That opening, in black, sans-serif lettering, is followed by further text that’s broken up by red-inked headings for date, setting, characters, and mood. Continuing a jaunty, lighthearted tone that proceeds throughout the text, it informs readers that the mood is “About to change, for the worse.” The verso sports an antique-looking map of the Western Hemisphere with a detail of San Juan—a Pacific Northwest coast island of, in 1859, ambiguous provenance inhabited both by British employees of the Hudson’s Bay Company and a few American settlers. (The original, Indigenous residents are relegated to a parenthetical mention in the author’s note and figure not at all in the story.) As the story begins, an American named Lyman Cutlar angrily kills Brit Charles Griffin’s pig as it eats from Cutlar’s potato patch. Cutlar apologizes and offers to pay for the pig but then refuses to pay Griffin’s exorbitant asking price. Enter authorities from both nations in an escalation that eventually involves scores of warships. When war seems inevitable, Gen. Winfield Scott is sent by President James Buchanan to mediate. The text is true to its introduction, and it also pursues the idea that hotheadedness leads to disastrous consequences. Vocabulary, verbosity, and content suit this for older elementary, independent readers. The storytelling goes a bit flat at the end, when Cutlar is mentioned but not Griffin. Colorful, stylized art against apparently distressed surfaces is an impeccable complement. (This book was reviewed digitally with 10-by-20-inch double-page spreads viewed at 42.6% of actual size.)

Weirdly fascinating. (photographs, timeline, resources, artist’s note) (Informational picture book. 7-9)

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-68437-171-6

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Calkins Creek/Boyds Mills

Review Posted Online: Sept. 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2020

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Disappointingly lackadaisical.

WHEN SPARKS FLY

THE TRUE STORY OF ROBERT GODDARD, THE FATHER OF US ROCKETRY

Punctuated—unsurprisingly—by explosions, an account of the groundbreaking rocketeer’s childhood and first experiments.

Fueled by an early interest in hands-on science nurtured by his parents and sparked by reading The War of the Worlds, Goddard’s ambition to “build something that would soar to space” led to years of experimentation and failure analysis. Finally, in 1926, a brief but successful flight pointed the way to “every shuttle that has blasted into space, every astronaut who has defied gravity, and every man who has walked on the moon.” Fulton occasionally skimps on scientific details (in one childhood trial Robert “emptied a small vial of hydrogen into a pan”; even in the backmatter, there’s no explanation why, as he notes in his journal, “Hydrogen and oxygen when combined near a flame will ignite”). Still, she highlights the profound curiosity and determined, methodical effort that ultimately earned her subject a well-deserved place in the pantheon of scientists and inventors. Scientific gear in Funck’s cartoon illustrations often looks generic, and in one scene he depicts a rocket that is markedly different from the one described in the adjacent narrative. Moreover, his explosions look like fried eggs, and most come with oddly undersized if all-capped onomatopoeia (“BOOM!”; “POP!”) that underplays both the melodramatic potential and the real danger to which Goddard must have exposed himself. Goddard and his family are white.

Disappointingly lackadaisical. (afterword, list of sources) (Picture book/biography. 7-9)

Pub Date: July 3, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4814-6098-9

Page Count: 40

Publisher: McElderry

Review Posted Online: March 27, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018

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