I was never much one for history, preferring even today, to live and learn vicariously through faction. Fortunately, thanks to the talents of some remarkable picture book creators, biographical accounts of famous and not so famous people literally come alive, enhancing history in the most beguiling way. I am elated to share some of the non-fiction picture book standouts available today and to admit, I am richer for them.
There are about ten books in this fascinating illustrated series spotlighting some of history’s most notable female figures in arts, science, aviation, and commerce. From Frida Kahlo and Amelia Earhart to Marie Curie and Agatha Christie, each beautifully crafted book presents the story of these women from their childhood to their most well-known achievement. Vegara’s narratives are sincere and informative without being overtly florid or overloaded with facts and each book contains a pictorial time line of the featured woman at the end allowing readers to match their story with actual dates. The common theme that you can be whomever you wish to be and do whatever you wish to do, is what makes this series so attractive for young readers, and older ones thirsting for a sense empowerment. An absolute inspiring joy to collect and cherish.
Quarto Group UK February 2016 – March 2018
Refreshingly clean of dull, droll facts, this account of Ella’s rise to fame in the 50s is both brisk in prose and bright in presentation. Hancocks’ accompanying illustrations capture the era perfectly again without too much froth and bubble but plenty of bounce and colour. Ella’s relationship with the mighty Marilyn Monroe is both unanticipated (if you weren’t aware of their affiliation as I was not) and gratifying. This is an empowering tale of friendship, emphasising the conviction that ‘a little courage could go a long way’. An excellent addition for the non-fiction picture book shelf.
Quarto Group UK March 2017
Sumptuously illustrated and eloquently crafted, this non-fiction focus on outback legend, Sidney Kidman is a treasure to experience. Sidney’s illustrious life from his humble beginnings with a one-eyed horse to his reign as one of Australia’s greatest pastoral pioneers is portrayed with humble honesty in a way that invigorates and enthuses. Few youngsters today appreciate the unique rags to riches tales that shaped our nation’s early history, yet with stories like these, they are able to not only learn more about their country’s provenance but also enjoy the adventure and hardships of the past through the drama of pictorial narrative. This would make a thrilling classroom read for primary schoolers.
MidnightSun Publishing May 2017
This picture book has the feel of a graphic comic book, the humour of a comedy festival and enough history to satisfy renaissance art aficionados. Loosely based on the remarkable artistic genius of Leonardo da Vinci, the tale begins with Danny da Vinci’s birth (Leo’s nephew) and coincidental friendship with Mick Angelo. They subsequent forays in sculpture, invention and painting eventually lead to da Vinci’s desire to enter the Duke of Milan’s art exhibition. It’s Danny’s moaning sister, Lisa who comes up with the ideal subject for Danny to paint. This gently delivered parody humorously parallels the sub-story of Danny’s dog – Picasso, whom tragically, no one really understands. Whatley’s cartoon-esque pictures go hand in hand (always a challenge to draw properly!) with classically inspired sketches and Smith’s playful narrative. Tons of allure for older primary aged readers resides in the pages of this book.
ABC Books 2017
Shout Out to the Girls: A Celebration of Awesome Australian Women Various Contributors and Illustrators
If a compendium of contemporary, capable, charismatic women sounds dull and dusty, think again. This collection of incredible Aussie women who have shaped our history and continue to forge our future is an inspiring expression of thanks for all that they have done and all that they are. Designed to appeal to both young boys and girls, it features 50 outstanding women with an illuminating account of their lives and a full-page colour illustration of them by various local Australia artists. Each story and accompany artwork sings with colour and verve, succinctly capturing each woman’s most dazzling moments and ethos. This is by no means a complete account of all of our shining beauties but it does capture some of our brightest and most inspiring. From songstress Sia to Magda Szubanski, Kylie Kwong to Rosie Batty, Olivia Newton-John to Yassmin Abel-Magied, this is one biographical round up you’ll spend many enjoyable moments pouring over. Share it together with your young person or offer it as a gift they are sure to value.
Penguin Random House Australia February 2018