An important story only partially realized.

BEAUTIFUL SHADES OF BROWN

THE ART OF LAURA WHEELER WARING

Laura Wheeler Waring saw “brown [as] a rainbow” and painted it that way.

Growing up in turn-of-the-20th-century Connecticut in a middle-class African American household, Laura works for “hours mixing and blending” paints in order to replicate the shades she sees in her family members. Determined to pursue a career in art, she studies at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and then in Paris, honing her craft. Attending a concert given by a young Marian Anderson, Laura vows to paint the singer someday. A 1944 commission for “portraits of important African Americans” finds her painting the likenesses of Alice Dunbar Nelson, James Weldon Johnson, W.E.B. Du Bois—and Marian Anderson. Churnin ably conjures the painter’s process, thrillingly describing Laura’s painstaking combination of shades to create just the right browns for each subject. She is less adept at helping readers understand the barriers Laura must have faced, saying only that “there weren’t portraits of African Americans in museums” during Laura’s childhood and that her art education was undertaken among mostly white peers; one sentence in her author’s note acknowledges the limited opportunities available to African Americans of Laura’s time. While the evocation of Laura’s joy in her art is admirable, skimming over the everyday injustices she must have faced paints only half her picture. Marshall’s illustrations are appropriately painterly, capturing the play of light on her characters’ brown faces.

An important story only partially realized. (timeline, further reading) (Picture book/biography. 5-8)

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-939547-65-1

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Creston

Review Posted Online: Nov. 10, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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Blandly laudatory.

I AM WALT DISNEY

From the Ordinary People Change the World series

The iconic animator introduces young readers to each “happy place” in his life.

The tally begins with his childhood home in Marceline, Missouri, and climaxes with Disneyland (carefully designed to be “the happiest place on Earth”), but the account really centers on finding his true happy place, not on a map but in drawing. In sketching out his early flubs and later rocket to the top, the fictive narrator gives Ub Iwerks and other Disney studio workers a nod (leaving his labor disputes with them unmentioned) and squeezes in quick references to his animated films, from Steamboat Willie to Winnie the Pooh (sans Fantasia and Song of the South). Eliopoulos incorporates stills from the films into his cartoon illustrations and, characteristically for this series, depicts Disney as a caricature, trademark mustache in place on outsized head even in childhood years and child sized even as an adult. Human figures default to white, with occasional people of color in crowd scenes and (ahistorically) in the animation studio. One unidentified animator builds up the role-modeling with an observation that Walt and Mickey were really the same (“Both fearless; both resourceful”). An assertion toward the end—“So when do you stop being a child? When you stop dreaming”—muddles the overall follow-your-bliss message. A timeline to the EPCOT Center’s 1982 opening offers photos of the man with select associates, rodent and otherwise. An additional series entry, I Am Marie Curie, publishes simultaneously, featuring a gowned, toddler-sized version of the groundbreaking physicist accepting her two Nobel prizes.

Blandly laudatory. (bibliography) (Picture book/biography. 6-8)

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2875-7

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

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An inspiring introduction to the young Nobel Peace Prize winner and a useful conversation starter

MALALA'S MAGIC PENCIL

The latest of many picture books about the young heroine from Pakistan, this one is narrated by Malala herself, with a frame that is accessible to young readers.

Malala introduces her story using a television show she used to watch about a boy with a magic pencil that he used to get himself and his friends out of trouble. Readers can easily follow Malala through her own discovery of troubles in her beloved home village, such as other children not attending school and soldiers taking over the village. Watercolor-and-ink illustrations give a strong sense of setting, while gold ink designs overlay Malala’s hopes onto her often dreary reality. The story makes clear Malala’s motivations for taking up the pen to tell the world about the hardships in her village and only alludes to the attempt on her life, with a black page (“the dangerous men tried to silence me. / But they failed”) and a hospital bracelet on her wrist the only hints of the harm that came to her. Crowds with signs join her call before she is shown giving her famous speech before the United Nations. Toward the end of the book, adult readers may need to help children understand Malala’s “work,” but the message of holding fast to courage and working together is powerful and clear.

An inspiring introduction to the young Nobel Peace Prize winner and a useful conversation starter . (Picture book/memoir. 5-8)

Pub Date: Oct. 17, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-316-31957-7

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Aug. 2, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2017

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