To start things off, here's my own nonfiction post for the day, a review of a biography of L. Frank Baum:
The Road to Oz: Twists, Turns, Bumps, and Triumphs in the Life of L. Frank Baum has a nice Emerald City green cover by the talented Kevin Hawkes, and it's written by the equally talented Kathleen Krull, author of Lives of the Musicians: Good Times, Bad Times (and What the Neighbors Thought), along with Lives of the Artists, Lives of the Writers, and Lives of Extraordinary Women. Another series she's written is Giants of Science, biographies of figures such as Leonardo Da Vinci, Isaac Newton, and Marie Curie. Krull has a clear, reader-friendly style and a knack for telling people's life stories using just the right details. You may have also come across her picture book biographies of Hilary Clinton and Cesar Chavez. Of course, I have a friend whose favorite Krull biography is a picture book called Fartiste, about a Frenchman who farted so musically that he gave concerts. No, really.
Lyman Frank Baum grew up in the 1860s in a wealthy home, on an estate, actually. He daydreamed and read endlessly; he also wrote and printed a monthly family newspaper together with his brother Harry. Frank grew up to be a dabbler—he tried working in the theater, as a traveling salesman, a news editor, a window dresser, and in numerous risky enterprises. One after another his efforts failed, in a seemingly endless combination of poor choices and plain old bad luck.
Meanwhile, Baum married and raised a rowdy houseful of boys. Besides sharing songs and games and jokes and contests, he used to tell stories to his four sons. He published a few books and amassed plenty of rejection slips, till finally, in 1900, he published The Wizard of Oz. Though his money troubles never completely went away, he found a great deal of success and acclaim with the popularity of the Oz series and a musical based on the books.
Kevin Hawkes' illustrations complement the text beautifully. I especially like the title page, which shows the yellow brick road surrounded by fields of red poppies, with the Emerald City gleaming in the distance. (According to Krull, the most famous city in Oz was inspired by Chicago, particularly the 1893 World's Fair, also by an odd little joke about horses and sawdust.) Hawkes's L. Frank Baum is the perfect blend of gentle and playful. The illustrator also brings an unfamiliar historical era to life, making it intriguingly accessible.
I found Krull's biography poignant and inspiring—here is a man who was really bad at providing for his beloved family, but he just kept trying. Eventually, his riskiest work of all paid off with the success of The Wizard of Oz. Krull quotes Baum as saying, "If I am to do any good in the world, my highest ambition will be to make children happy." By today's standards, which often defines people by their incomes and business results, L. Frank Baum was mostly a failure. But who hasn't heard of The Wizard of Oz? Who hasn't seen the movie, even if they haven't read the book? We hear a lot of talk about Narnia and Middle Earth, but I suspect the best-known fantasyland of all is Oz. I very much appreciate Kathleen Krull's lovely biography of the creator of Dorothy, the Tin Woodman, the Cowardly Lion, the Scarecrow, and the Wicked Witch of the West.
Nonfiction Monday Links:
Jill at The Well-Read Child presents a review of Chee-Lin: A Giraffe's Journey, a picture book by James Rumford. Did you know the Chinese brought a giraffe back home from Africa before Columbus even set sail to the Americas?
From Bookends, it's a review of The Anne Frank Case: Simon Wiesenthal's Search for the Truth by Susan Goldman Rubin. This long picture book for older elementary students shows Wiesenthal's research quest in response to Holocaust deniers.
In Need of Chocolate reviews Dolphin Talk, a title from my favorite science series for first and second graders, Let's Read and Find Out.
Roberta of Wrapped in Foil gives us a review of Secrets of a Civil War Submarine: Solving the Mystery of the H.L. Hanley by Sally M. Walker. This YA title should bring home why being asked to crew a prototype for a submarine was a worrisome proposition.
The Book Chook offers up a review of a picture book in rhyme called By Jingo! An Alphabet of Animals by Aussie author Janeen Brian.
Wendie Old tantalizes us with her invitation to a panel discussion featuring 18 nonfiction writers at the upcoming ALA Convention in Chicago. Visit her site, Wendie's Wanderings, to learn more about the presenters and their workshop, titled "Nonfiction Blog Blast: Booktalks for Reluctant Readers."
Thanks to everyone who participated in this week's Nonfiction Monday!