Stack Overflow: Get Real

Today’s Stack Overflow: a collection of picture books about real people, from Star Trek to the Supreme Court. Most of these, except where noted, are a little longer than your typical picture book, so plan accordingly if you use them for a read-aloud storytime. They are all picture books and are okay to share with toddlers, but because of the subject matter and amount of content, they’re also great for middle-grade readers, too.

Fascinating: Leonard Nimoy

Fascinating: The Life of Leonard Nimoy by Richard Michelson, illustrated by Edel Rodriguez

Who was Leonard Nimoy before he became Spock? This picture book paints a picture of Nimoy’s childhood and early adulthood, giving readers a glimpse of who he was leading up to the iconic role he’s most famous for. The book talks about his parents: immigrants and outsiders, who felt like aliens in America. It describes how Nimoy peeked during a Rosh Hashanah prayer, and then taped his fingers together so he could imitate the gesture he’d seen the priests use as a blessing. Richard Michelson knew Nimoy professionally—he was the gallerist for Nimoy’s fine-art photography—and got to know him well, and it’s clear from the book that he has a great fondness and love for his subject matter.

Six Dots: Louis Braille

Six Dots: A Story of Young Louis Braille by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Boris Kulikov

Before reading this book, I actually didn’t know much that much about Louis Braille, who invented the Braille alphabet system for the blind. I was surprised to find that he invented it while he was still a child, on his own, without much support. The book focuses more on what happened before he invented the system, and why: how he lost his sight but was determined to read and write on his own. He worked hard so he could attend the Royal School for the Blind, only to find that it was far from luxurious … and when he was finally granted access to the books for the blind, he was extremely disappointed in the enormous waxy letters.

Six Dots not only tells Braille’s story, but also sends a message to kids that they can do big things and have an impact on the world, even as kids. It took Louis Braille a lot of hard work and persistence, but his efforts paid off and continue to make a world of difference to the blind even to this day. The book is written in first-person, as if Braille is telling you his story himself.

I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg

I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy, illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley

Whether you agree with Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s positions in various Supreme Court cases, you have to admit that she’s a fascinating person, and one who has had a significant impact on the world. Ginsburg obviously is not afraid to speak her mind—and to disagree. This picture book follows Ginsburg from her childhood in Brooklyn to law school and, eventually, to the Supreme Court. The book makes a case for speaking up for what you believe in, and I really love the hand-drawn typography in the book, which highlights all the different ways Ginsburg disagreed, protested, resisted, did not concur, and objected. I particularly appreciated the book for the way that it shows how Ginsburg overcame a lot of prejudice to get where she is today. Plus I learned about her special dissenting collar.

Be the Change: Ghandi

Be the Change: A Grandfather Ghandi Story by Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus, illustrated by Evan Turk

This phrase from Ghandi is frequently repeated: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” But what does that mean, and how does it play out? Arun Gandhi, one of Gandhi’s grandsons, tells a story of Gandhi from his own perspective: as a child, struggling to understand how throwing away a tiny pencil can hurt anyone. And it’s not just a simple “and then I learned my lesson” story, either: Arun explains how Gandhi helped him draw a “tree of violence,” linking together both physical and passive violence, to understand how little actions have big repercussions. In the back of the book, there is a “Be the Change Pledge” that you and your children can make together. The artwork in the book is a mixture of painting and collage, including stitching, and rather than going for strict realism, it conveys the mood of the story.

Lift Your Light a Little Higher: Stephen Bishop

Lift Your Light a Little Higher: The Story of Stephen Bishop, Slave-Explorer by Heather Henson, illustrated by Bryan Collier

This entire book was a bit of a revelation to me. Mammoth Cave, in Kentucky, was a popular tourist destination even in the early 1800s, and many of the guides were slaves. Stephen Bishop became the best known—he was the first to map the cave and to cross the “Bottomless Pit.” Being a slave, he was not allowed to learn to read and write, but by giving tours and watching people sign their names in the cave with candles, he taught himself to read and write. Unfortunately, not a lot is known about Bishop, but Henson tells the story with some poetic lines from Bishop’s point of view, and Collier’s artwork combines watercolor and collage.

Roy's House: Roy Lichtenstein

Roy’s House by Susan Goldman Rubin, art by Roy Lichtenstein

This book is more regular picture-book length, and the text invites the reader to come into Roy’s house and explore the rooms, looking at the things on the counters and the walls. Roy, of course, is Roy Lichtenstein, and all of the illustrations in the book are his artwork. It’s a fun way to introduce kids to Lichtenstein’s artwork and Pop Art. In the back, there’s an Author’s Note that tells a little bit about Lichtenstein, as well as a page that shows thumbnails of all of the artwork and gives a little more detail about each one.

Disclosure: I received review copies of these books.

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