An informative look at an inventor and his invention’s impact.

JOHN DEERE, THAT'S WHO!

In 1836, John Deere—then a young, white Vermont father and blacksmith—moved to Illinois to settle debts brought on by two forge fires—and wound up inventing a superior plow.

Deere was an excellent blacksmith whose plow improvement was purely pragmatic: many of his farming customers were ready to give up on Illinois, and he needed their payments to bring his family to him from Vermont. Farmers accustomed to sandy soil discovered that the Midwest’s rich, black soil stuck to their easily pitted, heavy iron plows—causing frequent pauses to scrape off what they called “gumbo.” Deere tinkered with a discarded steel blade from a sawmill, thinking that a shiny, curved, lightweight plow might “slice through gumbo.” Soon overcoming skeptics by demonstrations and giving samples to farmers, John Deere’s “singing plow” became wildly popular. By 1838 he had moved his family to his side and had established a manufacturing company still in existence. The only missing piece in Maurer’s tale is a sudden leap from “steel was rare that far west and too pricey” to the big success story; readers must make their own deductions. Otherwise, the text is smoothly conversational and has just enough details to interest without overwhelming. The illustrations are gorgeous: semiprimitive paintings with deliberate crackling for an aging effect. The winding patterns of rivers and plows are especially noteworthy.

An informative look at an inventor and his invention’s impact. (glossary, additional facts, bibliography) (Picture book/biography. 5-9)

Pub Date: March 28, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-62779-129-8

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2016

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Utterly compelling.

WHEN I WAS EIGHT

The authors of Fatty Legs (2010) distill that moving memoir of an Inuit child’s residential school experience into an even more powerful picture book.

“Brave, clever, and as unyielding” as the sharpening stone for which she’s named, Olemaun convinces her father to send her from their far-north village to the “outsiders’ school.” There, the 8-year-old receives particularly vicious treatment from one of the nuns, who cuts her hair, assigns her endless chores, locks her in a dark basement and gives her ugly red socks that make her the object of other children’s taunts. In her first-person narration, she compares the nun to the Queen in Alice in Wonderland, a story she has heard from her sister and longs to read for herself, subtly reminding readers of the power of literature to help face real life. Grimard portrays this black-cloaked nun with a scowl and a hooked nose, the image of a witch. Her paintings stretch across the gutter and sometimes fill the spreads. Varying perspectives and angles, she brings readers into this unfamiliar world. Opening with a spread showing the child’s home in a vast, frozen landscape, she proceeds to hone in on the painful school details. A final spread shows the triumphant child and her book: “[N]ow I could read.”

Utterly compelling. (Picture book/memoir. 5-9)

Pub Date: April 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-55451-490-8

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Annick Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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26 FAIRMOUNT AVENUE

            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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