Marcia Strykowski

Picture Book Biographies

I’m finally getting around to writing another of my all-time-favorite posts—picture book releases! This time my focus is on picture book biographies. There are an abundance of excellent ones appearing on the scene. I don’t see this type of book ever losing ground in popularity. With their lavish illustrations and informative back matter, picture book biographies are enjoyable for all ages. I’ve read a ton of them, but I’ll limit this alphabetized collection to only those books released within the past year. Fasten your seatbelt, long post of great reads ahead!

A Lady Has the Floor: Belva Lockwood Speaks Out for Women’s Rights was written by Kate Hannigan and illustrated by Alison Jay. Published in 2018 by Calkins Creek. This is an awesome story about a fearless unsung champion who was way ahead of her time. She even ran for president in 1884 and 1888. Belva was a lawyer, teacher, and activist who strongly believed in equality for all. I love the crackled-style folk art illustrations.

Alabama Spitfire: The Story of Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird was written by Bethany Hegedus and illustrated by Erin McGuire. Published in 2018 by Balzer and Bray. Alabama Spitfire is a fascinating look into the creator of one of my favorite novels: To Kill a Mockingbird. Nell’s journey to tell her powerful story is inspiring and the pictures are delightful.

Anybody’s Game: The Story of the First Girl to Play Little League Baseball was written by Heather Lang and illustrated by Cecilia Puglesi. Published in 2018 by Albert Whitman & Company. Very cute story about talented Kathryn Johnston who was determined to play baseball on a boys’ team even if it meant cutting her hair and breaking the rules to get there.

Balderdash! John Newbery and the Boisterous Birth of Children’s Books was written by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Nancy Carpenter. Published in 2017 by Chronicle Books. Wonderful tribute to the ‘father of children’s literature’ for whom the famous Newbery awards were named. The busy illustrations are full of interesting details.

Becoming Bach was written and illustrated by Tom Leonard. Published in 2017 by Roaring Brook Press (A Neal Porter Book). Johann Sebastian Bach was born into a family of great musicians. As one who saw musical patterns all his life, this is the story of how he followed his dreams to become a true Bach. Beautiful illustrations add much to this interesting biography.

Before She Was Harriet was written by Lesa Cline-Ransome and illustrated by James E. Ransome. Published in 2017 by Holiday House. (A Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book).  The illustrations are lavish and lush and go perfectly with the lyrical writing in this gorgeous book about Harriet Tubman who has gone down in history for her exceptional strength and bravery.

Big Machines The Story of Virginia Lee Burton was written by Sherri Duskey Rinker and illustrated by John Rocco. Published in 2017 by HMH Books for Young Readers. I love this special biography filled with information, great illustrations, and real photographs. Whether or not you are already a fan of Katy and the Big Snow, The Little House, Mike Mulligan and the rest of Virginia’s classic winners, you will be after you flip though this delightful book.

Charlie Takes His Shot: How Charlie Sifford Broke the Color Barrier in Golf was written by Nancy Churnin and illustrated by John Joven. Published in 2018 by Albert Whitman & Company. Another amazing story about an unsung hero, who took great risks to open up a national pastime game to all who want to play. Charlie became the first black golfer to win the Professional Golf Association Tournament.

Dangerous Jane was written by Suzanne Slade and illustrated by Alice Ratterree. Published in 2017 by Peachtree Publishers. Great story about Jane Addams, another strong, empathic woman who, rather than sit back and hope for change, stood up for what she believed. Fascinating details of her life from birth up through winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Well done watercolor illustrations throughout.

Danza! Amalia Hernández and El Ballet Folklórico de México was written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh. Published in 2017 by Harry N. Abrams. Duncan’s award-winning illustration style is so fabulous—colorful, unique, and always recognizable. And this fascinating story about the dancer and founder of Mexico’s Folkloric Ballet is no exception.

Dorothea Lange: The Photographer Who Found the Faces of the Depression was written by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Sarah Green. Published in 2017 by Albert Whitman & Company. Interesting introduction to one of the leading documentary photographers of the twentieth century. The illustrations do a good job of reflecting the time period.

The Flying Girl: How Aída de Acosta Learned to Soar was written by Margarita Engle and illustrated by Sara Palacios. Published in 2018 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers. Both the pictures and the poetic words soar in this colorful tale of another little-known champion who broke through barriers. Aída became the first woman to fly a motorized aircraft.

Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos was written by Monica Brown and illustrated by John Parra. Published in 2017 by North South Books. The lively and colorful acrylic paintings were a perfect choice for bringing this fabulous Mexican artist to life. Unlike other picture books about Frida, this one also stands out for its focus on her pets.

Girl Running: Bobbi Gibb and the Boston Marathon was written by Annette Bay Pimentel and illustrated by Micha Archer. Published in 2018 by Nancy Paulsen Books. This depiction of a determined young runner gives nice details of the obstacles Bobbi overcame in order to participate as the first woman runner in the Boston Marathon. Fun collage pictures have added mile markers that follow the marathon route.

Grace Hopper, Queen of Computer Code written by Laurie Wallmark and illustrated by Katy Wu. Published in 2017 by Sterling. A cheerful positive message of going after what you want in life. Laurie’s done it again with choosing a strong female character who wanted to know how things worked. Vivid cartoon-style digital illustrations with quotations from Grace throughout add much to this lovely book.

Imagine That! How Doctor Seuss wrote The Cat in the Hat was written by Judy Sierra and illustrated by Kevin Hawkes. Published in 2017 by Random House Books for Young Readers. Although there have been plenty of Dr. Seuss biographies, this book was unique in that it focuses entirely on The Cat in the Hat and how it came to be written. As you can tell by the brilliant cover, this is a fun read!

Joan Proctor, Dragon Doctor: The Woman Who Loved Reptiles was written by Patricia Valdez and illustrated by Felicita Sala. Published in 2018 by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers. Yet another fascinating woman scientist I knew nothing about. Her uncommon interest in reptiles (she even brought her crocodile to math class one day) gives a humorous twist to this story of being true to oneself.

John Ronald’s Dragons: The Story of J. R. R. Tolkien was written by Caroline McAlister and illustrated by Eliza Wheeler. Published in 2017 by Roaring Brook Press. Really, who could resist opening a book on the life of this masterful storyteller? The lovely depictions of the English countryside bring a dreamy quality to Tolkien’s boyhood and fascination with dragons. Great back matter, as well!

Karl, Get out of the Garden! Carolus Linnaeus and the Naming of Everything was written by Anita Sanchez and illustrated by Catherine Stock. Published in 2017 by Charlesbridge. From his start as a curious young boy, Linné ended up naming more than 12,000 species of plants and animals. His Latin classification system was accepted and used by scientists across the globe. A lovely, well done introduction on an important aspect of biology.

The Legendary Miss Lena Horne was written by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Charlotte Riley-Webb. Published in 2017 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers. Beautiful art brings Lena’s story to life. Her constant determination and struggle against racism is an important aspect that bears retelling. 

Lighter than Air: Sophie Blanchard, the First Woman Pilot was written by Matthew Clark Smith and illustrated by Matt Tavares. Published in 2017 by Candlewick. Lovely writing complements the soft watercolor and ink paintings of this charming story of a woman who took to the skies. 

Long-Armed Ludy and the First Women’s Olympics was written by Jean L. S. Patrick and illustrated by Adam Gustavson. Published in 2017 by Charlesbridge. This was a fun read. The paintings are well done with super writing to match. Told with humor, I enjoyed learning about this strong athlete.

Mae Among the Stars was written by Roda Ahmed and illustrated by Stasia Burrington. Published in 2018 by Harper Collins. A gorgeous picture book, inspired by the life of Mae Jemison, the first African American woman to travel in space.

Margaret and the Moon: How Margaret Hamilton Saved the First Lunar Landing was written by Dean Robbins and illustrated by Lucy Knisley. Published in 2017 by Knopf Books for Young Readers. Excellent combination of good writing and fun illustration with real pictures of Margaret at the end of this entertaining read.

Melvin the Mouth: Young Mel Blanc…before he was the Man of 1,000 Voices was written by Katherine Blanc and illustrated by Jeffrey Ebbeler. Published in 2017 by Charlesbridge. Fun to learn more about the man behind famous cartoon voices, such as Porky Pig, Bugs Bunny, and Woody Woodpecker.

The Music of Life: Bartolomeo Cristofori & the Invention of the Piano was written by Elizabeth Rusch and illustrated by Marjorie Priceman. Published in 2017 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers. This lively book, filled with fascinating details, is sure to please all music lovers.

Ordinary, Extraordinary Jane Austen is written by Deborah Hopkinson and illustrated by Qin Leng. Published in 2018 by Balzer & Bray. Being the Story of Six Novels, Three Notebooks, a Writing Box, and One Clever Girl, this absolutely lovely book is a must for all Austen fans. At the end, each of her famous works is given a brief summary, including special quotations pulled from the novels.

Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist was written by Jess Keating and illustrated by Marta Alvarez Miguens. Published in 2017 by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky. Great colorful inspiring story for young adventurers.

Strange Fruit: Billy Holiday and the Power of a Protest Song was written by Gary Golio and illustrated by Charlotte Riley-Webb. Published in 2017 by Millbrook Press. A powerful book dealing with difficult themes during a dark time in U. S. History, just before the Civil Rights Movement.

Strong as Sandow: How Eugen Sandow Became the Strongest Man on Earth was written and illustrated by Don Tate. Published in 2017 by Charlesbridge. Fun pairing of bright outlined illustrations with this intriguing story. Interesting back matter includes Tate’s own time as a bodybuilder.

Vincent Can’t Sleep: Van Gogh Paints the Night Sky was written by Barb Rosenstock and illustrated by Mary Grandpre. Published in 2017 by Knopf Books for Young Readers. One can never have too many books about Vincent Van Gogh and this one is spectacular—gorgeous and lyrical!

Who Says Women Can’t Be Computer Programmers? The Story of Ada Lovelace written by Tanya Lee Stone and illustrated by Marjorie Priceman. Published in 2018 by Henry Holt & Company. Another fine book on Ada with bright whimsical illustrations and a solid storyline.


What great times we live in to have all these amazing people from history finally getting long overdue recognition for their grand efforts in making this a better world. What do you think? Aren’t picture book biographies a wonderful invention? Did I miss any of your favorites?

Roller Boy Cover Reveal

I am so excited to share the cover illustration for my upcoming novel geared toward readers aged 9 to 14. Roller Boy will be released by Fitzroy Books in late September. After working on the inside text for so many months (years!) I have to admit I was nervous about how the cover would turn out. Months ago I’d discussed possible ideas with my publisher—things I liked and things I didn’t like about covers. One idea in particular had caught my fancy, a wraparound city scene. But then I didn’t hear anything more, and didn’t see sketches. What would they come up with for Roller Boy? I wondered.

Covers are so important and there are some that just don’t work, either because they are poorly executed and designed, goofy cartoons aimed at the wrong age group, or the main character looks totally unlike how he is described in the book, or…, well, you get my point, the possible problems are endless. Would this be my new cover?Or how about this one? At least it shows a roller skate…As you can see, there are all sorts of ghastly possibilities when it comes to covers. BUT, I’m happy to say…I LOVE the completed Roller Boy cover!

First, here’s the back cover blurb:

Mateo always assumed he’d make the baseball team with his buddy Jason, but when only Jason makes the team, his mood sinks low. So low, he knows he has to do something about it. But what? What can he be good at?
When Mateo wins free lessons, he discovers he’s pretty good at roller-skating. And it doesn’t hurt that the most beautiful girl he’s ever laid eyes on happens to be Roller City’s star skater. But still, roller-skating? No way can Jason find out Mateo is whirling around in girly skates–anybody halfway to cool would be hanging at a skate park, on boards or blades.
Other issues stacked against him are the strong reservations of his mother, who feels Mateo should be spending his time studying, not skating, and his inability to eat gluten—no more grabbing a pizza with the guys.
Despite these conflicts, Mateo keeps his sense of humor and channels his innermost strength into an incredible ride on roller skates that just might take him all the way to regionals.

Drumroll please…


Here it is!

And the beautiful full cover spread:
What do you think? I can’t stop looking at it and all I can say is thanks to Fitzroy Books for producing such a gorgeous cover!

The next step in this exciting process will be my publisher sending out Advance Reader’s Copies to various major review sites. Please cross your fingers that they’ll enjoy reading about Mateo and his wild ride on roller skates, and as always, thanks for your interest and support!

Walking for Writers

We’ve all heard we have to “get into the chair” to accomplish our work. We’ve also all heard we have to “walk 10,000 steps” to stay healthy. ‘They’ say that sitting is the new smoking—yikes. Since there are only so many hours in a day, how can we possibly achieve this on a daily basis?

I’ll be the first to admit there’s no way I can squeeze in 10,000 steps, on vacation, easy, but every day, no way. BUT, I can do less, 7,000 if I push it. And I think getting up out of the chair frequently is just as important. This is not as easy as it sounds. Especially if there’s a deadline looming, whether real or self-imposed. 

I’m finding if I plan on taking a long walk, it looms over me. I’ll tell myself just one more paragraph, just one social media comment. But, if I break it up into several short walks (which in the long run is healthier than all at once anyway), it seems much easier to accomplish. And I often come back with new insight on whatever writing problem I may have been trying to tackle.

Few people know how to take a walk. The qualifications are endurance, plain clothes, old shoes, an eye for nature, good humor, vast curiosity, good speech, good silence and nothing too much. Ralph Waldo Emerson

If we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have found the safest way to health. Hippocrates

It is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable. Socrates

We do not stop exercising because we grow old – we grow old because we stop exercising. Kenneth Cooper

Physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body, it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity. John F. Kennedy

Some of us have tried setting a timer to get ourselves writing, maybe we need to do it all day long—thirty minutes in the chair, thirty minutes out, etc.

What do you think? Do you have any tips on getting your work done AND keeping fit at the same time?

American Library Association Awards 2018

Congratulations to all the winners for this year’s ALA awards! There are so many wonderful new books released each year and it’s certainly not easy to stand out in the crowd. Here are a few winners from the children’s books categories who did stand out.

John Newbery Medal for the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature: Hello, Universe written by Erin Entrada Kelly, is the 2018 Newbery Medal winner. A funny and poignant neighborhood story about unexpected friendships. The book is published by Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

Randolph Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished American picture book for children: Wolf in the Snow, illustrated and written by Matthew Cordell is the 2018 Caldecott Medal winner. A heartwarming adventure about helping others. The book was published by Feiwel and Friends, an Imprint of Macmillan.

Coretta Scott King Book Awards recognizing African American authors and illustrators of outstanding books for children and young adults: Piecing Me Together, written by Renée Watson, is the King Author Award winner. A timely, important, and deeply moving novel. The book is published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Award to affirm new talent: The Stars Beneath Our Feet, written by David Barclay Moore, is the Steptoe Author Award winner. A debut novel that celebrates community and creativity–soon to be a movie. The book is published by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC

Michael L. Printz Award for excellence in literature written for young adults: We Are Okay, written by Nina LaCour, is the 2018 Printz Award winner. A beautiful story about grief and the power of friendship. The book is published by Dutton Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers.

Schneider Family Book Award for books that embody an artistic expression of the disability experience:

Silent Days, Silent Dreams, written and illustrated by Allen Say and published by Arthur A. Levine Books, an Imprint of Scholastic Inc., wins the award for young children (ages 0 to 8).

Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess, written by Shari Green and published by Pajama Press Inc., is the winner for middle grades (ages 9-13).

You’re Welcome, Universe, written and illustrated by Whitney Gardner and published by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC is the winner for teens (ages 14-18).

Each of the above mentioned prestigious prizes has honorable mentions, as well. There were also lifetime achievement awards and other honors announced today. For the complete listing, click here.

Congratulations again to everyone involved in the business of making beautiful books for children.


Hans Christian Andersen’s Paper Art

I’ve been busy writing and editing, hence the gap between posts this month, but I’ve also been thinking about the art of paper-cutting. I’ve always found this craft fun to do and fascinating to see displayed. I went to a wonderful exhibit of paper cutting at the Currier Museum in Manchester, NH, last May. As usual, I’m kicking myself for not taking notes, but I was allowed to take pictures which I hope to share at some point. Since way back around the fourth century in China, people have been cutting paper into patterns. Not only to be useful but for decorations, too. This folk art spread through the trade routes of the Middle East and eventually trickled into Europe. By the seventeenth century, paper cutters in Switzerland, Italy, Germany, Poland, and Holland were developing individual cutting styles depending on their region. All this leads us to the extremely talented Hans Christian Andersen (1805 – 1875). Although better known for screen and stage adaptations of The Little Mermaid, The Snow Queen, Thumbelina, The Emperor’s New Clothes, The Princess and the Pea, The Ugly Duckling, and many other beloved stories, the Danish storyteller’s paper cutting abilities were just as imaginative and clever as his wonderful fairy tales. About 1,000 of these beautifully detailed illustrations still exist in museums around the world.

Hans carried a huge pair of long heavy scissors with him everywhere he went. Often a crowd would gather and he would snip whole whimsical scenes while reciting his tales to attentive audiences. At the end of the story he’d carefully unfold his intricate work for all to see.I’ve done a lot of paper cutting with very tiny pointy scissors and I can’t imagine accomplishing anything as detailed and brilliant as the above full fairy tale from circa 1864.

The below painting is by Karl Hartmann (1818-1857).One of many sculptures of HCA, this one in New York City. Do you have a favorite Hans Christian Andersen story?

Five Favorite Children’s Books

I’ve been tagged to nominate my top five children’s books. Thank you, Jennie!

1. Thank whoever’s nominated you and share their blog link.
2. Let us know your top five children’s books.
3. Nominate 5 people to do the same.
4. Let your nominees know you nominated them.

It’s near impossible to choose only five, so I’ll purposely limit myself by skipping all the brilliant middle grade and YA books, as well as all the newest picture books. Instead I’ll choose from the same picture books I most likely have mentioned before—the first ones that made me pause and say, WOW, imagine being able to create such wonder.

Here they are, a few of my favorite children’s picture books:

Who could not love Miss Rumphius with her beautiful intentions and her cozy home by the sea?
Farmer Palmer’s Wagon Ride is tremendously funny and clever with brilliant word choices!
I haven’t read Oma and Bobo in way too long but I’ll always remember the characters and emotions of this sweet story.
Frances is such a wise little character and she’s adorable to boot.
Library Lion–a
perfect union of author and illustrator resulting in an array of emotions and rich character development.

Interesting to note, all of the above are way over the word count for today’s requirements. 🙂

My nominees to post their own list of favorite children’s books (if they choose to do so!):

Rhonda at The Thankful Heart
Barbara at Book Club Mom
Cindy at
Lynn at Whimsical Words
Diana at Myths of the Mirror

Please be sure to visit my nominator Jennie at her wonderful blog:

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