Historical Nonfiction Picture Books of Interest

During the holiday break, I stopped at the local library to browse. I found three nonfiction picture books that piqued my interest. These are perfect additions to school libraries.

Aaron and Alexander written and illustrated by Don Brown, Roaring Book Press, 2015

Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton were born a year apart. Don Brown, the author and illustrator, compares the similarities in their lives. Both men were orphaned at an early age. Aaron was taken in by his wealthy uncle. Alexander was taken in by a merchant. Both were bright young men who went to college. Both displayed courage as they fought in the Revolutionary War. Both became lawyers who sometimes worked together. Both became politicians, and that was where their likenesses ended. Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton had very different political views. Aaron politely approached people to ask them for their support. Alexander wrote articles and pamphlets that were insulting. The two became political enemies. Through a series of events, Aaron and Alexander continued to butt heads. When Alexander called Aaron “despicable,” Aaron wanted an apology, but none came. Aaron challenged Alexander to a duel. This duel was the demise of both men. Alexander Hamilton lost his life, and Aaron Burr lost his political career.

This book provides information about two important men in the history of our country, but it’s also a cautionary tale. These were two accomplished men, who had much to offer, but because of differences of opinion and more importantly, what one might call foolish pride, their lives were destroyed. It’s something to think about.

Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery that Baffled All of France written by Mara Rockliff and illustrated by Iacopo Bruno, Candlewick Press, 2015.

I’ve always been fascinated by Benjamin Franklin. Among other things, Franklin was a statesman, inventor, scientist, and humorist. He was brilliant. In Mesmerized, Mara Rockliff chooses to explore Ben’s approach to science and other new ideas of the time. Ben is sent to France to convince King Louis the Sixteenth and Marie Antoinette to send much-needed money and soldiers to America to help with the Revolutionary War. While there, Ben hears about the remarkable Dr. Mesmer who claims to have discovered a new force that can do many amazing things – even control thoughts. The French people are enthralled with the thought that their ills can be cured with the wave of Dr. Mesmer’s wand instead of going to a doctor. The king needs someone to help explain this new phenomenon.  Ben Franklin puts on his scientist hat and utilizes his scientific method, which is still used today. He observes, forms a hypothesis, tests the hypothesis, observes the results, and draws conclusions. Ben proves Dr. Mesmer’s force was not what he claimed it to be, and discredits him. The king is happy and provides America with the support requested by Ben. Iacopo Bruno’s over-the-top illustrations are colorful and cleverly executed. Combined with the end pages, you’ll be mesmerized by this book.

W Is for Webster: Noah Webster and His American Dictionary written by Tracey Fern and illustrated by Boris Kulikov, Farrar Straus Giroux, 2015

From his youth on, Noah Webster loved words – big words. Noah’s father knew he would never make a good farmer so he agreed to send Noah to college. Noah enjoyed school and studied hard. When the Revolutionary War began, he volunteered to be a soldier without much success. Eventually, Noah became a school teacher. Noah detested the British textbooks being used in the schools. He thought the newly independent America should have its own language. He was the one to do it. He started with a speller in which he included everyday words and simplified the spelling of other words. The speller was a success, but Noah saw a need for a dictionary with words unique to America. This was not as easy to accomplish as he had thought. He started by writing a small dictionary which was not well-received. Then he set to work on a big dictionary. He collected words, traced their origins, and wrote the definitions. Year after year Noah worked on his dictionary. He sold his expensive house and moved into a small cottage in order to provide for his wife and eight children while he continued to work on his dictionary. He spent years researching and traveling to libraries in America and Europe. He was passionate about bringing his work to completion. Twenty-five years after he began his project, An American Dictionary of the English Language, was complete. The time was right for his project. Congress made it its standard reference book. Revised editions of the dictionary are still used today. Readers will enjoy Boris Kulikov’s imaginative and whimsical illustrations that include words, letters, and comical facial expressions.

Each book includes author notes with additional information, sources, and a bibliography. These are worth checking out!

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