Ultimately, the heroine in this story is more complicated than the text makes out.

AWAY WITH WORDS

THE DARING STORY OF ISABELLA BIRD

A daring Victorian woman raised in England leaves ladylike behavior behind to travel the world and write.

The child of an English clergyman, Isabella Bird suffers from fragile health and depression. Thwarted by constrictive social mores, she is unable to go to school or spend time in nature. A doctor suggests she cure her aches with fresh air, and she is suddenly allowed to ride horseback in the countryside with her father. When she receives correspondence from her uncles in Colonial India, as well as letters from Christian missionaries in Africa, her adventurous spirit becomes further piqued. Still sick but responding well to the outdoors, Isabella is prescribed a long sea voyage. From all over the world, she collects stories for her publications. Mortensen describes Isabella as “like a wild vine stuck in a too-small pot,” yet Isabella seems unable to criticize Victorian society, and her Eurocentric attitude and lack of self-awareness shine through in some of her quoted observations about other cultures. She calls the land in Cheyenne territory “nameless” and celebrates how people are “free as the winds” there, exoticizes a meal in Malaysia, and depicts Chinese locals as violent. While Isabella’s imperialistic perspective is historically accurate—and fairly quiet in this picture book—it will quickly become appallingly apparent to any young reader inspired by the book to seek out Isabella’s actual writing. Caldwell’s illustrations are clean and beautiful.

Ultimately, the heroine in this story is more complicated than the text makes out. (author’s note, timeline, sources, bibliography) (Picture book/biography. 5-8)

Pub Date: March 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-68263-005-1

Page Count: 36

Publisher: Peachtree

Review Posted Online: Dec. 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2019

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A lovely 20th-anniversary tribute to the towers and all who perished—and survived.

SURVIVOR TREE

A remarkable tree stands where the twin towers of the World Trade Center once soared.

Through simple, tender text, readers learn the life-affirming story of a Callery pear tree that grew and today still flourishes “at the foot of the towers.” The author eloquently describes the pre-9/11 life of the “Survivor Tree” and its heartening, nearly decadelong journey to renewal following its recovery from the wreckage of the towers’ destruction. By tracking the tree’s journey through the natural cycle of seasonal changes and colors after it was found beneath “the blackened remains,” she tells how, after replanting and with loving care (at a nursery in the Bronx), the tree managed miraculously to flourish again. Retransplanted at the Sept. 11 memorial, it valiantly stands today, a symbol of new life and resilience. Hazy, delicate watercolor-and–colored pencil artwork powerfully traces the tree’s existence before and after the towers’ collapse; early pages include several snapshotlike insets capturing people enjoying the outdoors through the seasons. Scenes depicting the towers’ ruins are aptly somber yet hopeful, as they show the crushed tree still defiantly alive. The vivid changes that new seasons introduce are lovingly presented, reminding readers that life unceasingly renews itself. Many paintings are cast in a rosy glow, symbolizing that even the worst disasters can bring forth hope. People depicted are racially diverse. Backmatter material includes additional facts about the tree.

A lovely 20th-anniversary tribute to the towers and all who perished—and survived. (author's note, artist's note) (Informational picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: Aug. 31, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-316-48767-2

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2021

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A picture book more than worthy of sharing the shelf with Alan Schroeder and Jerry Pinkney’s Minty (1996) and Carole Boston...

BEFORE SHE WAS HARRIET

A memorable, lyrical reverse-chronological walk through the life of an American icon.

In free verse, Cline-Ransome narrates the life of Harriet Tubman, starting and ending with a train ride Tubman takes as an old woman. “But before wrinkles formed / and her eyes failed,” Tubman could walk tirelessly under a starlit sky. Cline-Ransome then describes the array of roles Tubman played throughout her life, including suffragist, abolitionist, Union spy, and conductor on the Underground Railroad. By framing the story around a literal train ride, the Ransomes juxtapose the privilege of traveling by rail against Harriet’s earlier modes of travel, when she repeatedly ran for her life. Racism still abounds, however, for she rides in a segregated train. While the text introduces readers to the details of Tubman’s life, Ransome’s use of watercolor—such a striking departure from his oil illustrations in many of his other picture books—reveals Tubman’s humanity, determination, drive, and hope. Ransome’s lavishly detailed and expansive double-page spreads situate young readers in each time and place as the text takes them further into the past.

A picture book more than worthy of sharing the shelf with Alan Schroeder and Jerry Pinkney’s Minty (1996) and Carole Boston Weatherford and Kadir Nelson’s Moses (2006). (Picture book/biography. 5-8)

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-8234-2047-6

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Holiday House

Review Posted Online: Aug. 7, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2017

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