The True West & Forgotten Founders (Mifflin Lowe)

Hello, friends! Our books today are The True West and Forgotten Founders, written by Mifflin Lowe and illustrated by Wiliam Luong, a set of anthology titles that seek to illuminate forgotten heroes.

When we think of cowboys, what do we think of? Or how about the rebels of the American Revolution? The sad fact is that when the history books get written, women and minorities tend to be left out, even if they played pivotal roles in how history was made! These titles shine a light on some of the forgotten figures who shaped the early days of the United States as well as the American West; women, BIPOC, and more.

Ambitious yet uneven. The core concept of biographical compilations like these are solid, and I love any book that covers lesser-known heroes such as Sybil Ludington, Bass Reeves, or Jackson Sundown; I also learned about quite a few more figures I’d never heard of. Yet while both books have noble, and necessary, intentions, their execution is uneven at times and incomplete at others. First, despite being billed as a more inclusive look at history, mention of LGBTQ+ identities are nonexistent; for instance, Baron von Stueben, a publicly gay military leader who played a major part in organizing the first Continental Army, is only briefly mentioned (his sexuality is not). Uncomfortable truths, such as slavery and indigenous genocide, are breezed over quickly or ignored entirely, such as in the entry about the Escalante Expedition, which led to the construction of the Californian Spanish missions. The inclusion of entries on Wild Bill Hickok and Buffalo Bill Cody, both relatively well-known white male historical figures, is puzzling. So while the artwork and design of the books are stunning, the written content feels incomplete. We did enjoy perusing both titles, and we did learn a lot, but I couldn’t help but notice the missed opportunities for representing history through a more honest and inclusive lens. Still, while I wouldn’t call these perfect, they are absolutely worth the read: they do give a great deal of insight into some the forgotten elements of both eras. So overall, Baby Bookworm approved.

(Note: Copies of these books were provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

Great Lives in Graphics (Button Books)

Hello, friends! Since it’s the holiday season, we’re bringing you some BONUS gift guide reviews this month! For today’s review, we have the Great Lives in Graphics series by Button Books, an eye-catching look at famous figures from history.

In these slim yet delightfully comprehensive and detailed volumes, readers can learn about historical figures like Cleopatra, Martin Luther King, Jr., Anne Frank, and more! Learn about the discriminatory laws of King’s time, compare what Stephen Hawking and Einstein had in common, see layouts of the secret annex that Frank lived in while in hiding, find out how Cleopatra achieved her legendary signature makeup look, and more. Pages packed with infographics and fun facts cover not only the lives of these luminaries, but the worlds they lived in and the legacies they left behind.

Informative and engaging. Infographic layouts are always a great approach to make learning fun, and these middle-grade biographical titles are as entertaining to look at as they are to read. The information presented covers both the elementary and the esoteric; for instance, kids can learn about the world’s deadliest snakes in addition to Cleopatra’s venomous demise. The four subjects pictured are available now, with biographies on Nikola Tesla, Frida Kahlo, Jane Austen and more coming in the new year. We would absolutely recommend this for curious middle-grade readers, especially those interested in world history. Baby Bookworm approved!

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

Lift As You Climb: The Story of Ella Baker (Patricia Hruby Powell)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Lift As You Climb: The Story of Ella Baker, written by Patricia Hruby Powell and illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, a powerful biography of the passionate civil rights icon.

Growing up in segregation-era North Carolina, Ella Josephine Baker was raised by the words and stories of her grandparents. Her preacher grandfather spoke of freedom, cooperation, and community, imploring his congregation to consider: “What do you hope to accomplish?”. Her grandmother spoke of life under slavery, and her defiance of marrying for love rather than at the command of her slave master – who also happened to be her father. Drawing inspiration from the pride and community of her home, Ella established her own personal creed, “Lift as you climb.” With this tenet firmly in mind, Ella set out on a life’s mission to improve the lives and rights of her fellow African Americans, through her work with the NAACP, the SCLC, the Freedom Riders, and in the living rooms and churches of anyone who gathered, listening to her words and her simple query – what do you hope to accomplish?

Moving. The life story of a somewhat lesser-known figure of the civil rights movement is beautifully related through rich, expressive yet educational text and beautiful African American folk art-inspired illustrations. While not inappropriate for the intended age-range, the text is refreshingly frank about the black experience during the Civil Rights movement, describing the fire-bombing of buses, police brutality, and even the sexism against women within the movement itself. The repetition of key phrases and concepts tell a story of perseverance and leadership, one that will inspire any reader, young or old. The length is best for slighter old bookworms, but JJ was fascinated by the steady rhythm of the text and the beautiful artwork. A fantastic biography of a oft-unsung hero, and we loved it; Baby Bookworm approved!

(A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

A Thousand Glass Flowers: Marietta Barovier and the Invention of the Rosetta Bead (Evan Turk)

Hello, friends! Our book today is A Thousand Glass Flowers: Marietta Barovier and the Invention of the Rosetta Bead by Evan Turk.

As a young girl, Marietta longed to learn the art of glass-blowing, her father’s trade and one considered exclusive to men. Yet despite her brothers’ teasing, her father was supportive and patient, and Marietta bravely faced the hot and exhausting work of learning how to craft the beautiful glass. Visiting a wealthy patron with her father, she views a rare piece of Roman millefiori glass, a technique lost centuries earlier. Years later, she is reflecting on her childhood experiences with her father and the art he shared with her, and she attempts to recreate the intricate glass she once saw, inventing the rosetta bead, which would go on to become a valuable global trade of the Renaissance era.

Fascinating. I had never heard of Marietta or the history of the rosetta bead before, and felt incredibly enlightened to hear about such an incredibly influential female artist. Particularly appreciated is the focus on Marietta’s courage in learning glasswork, not only because it was not considered a suitable trade for women at the time, but because of the physical fortitude and skill it took to master. The artwork – inspired by the subject’s time and the glasswork she created – is warm and its subjects compelling, though the soft focus of the glassworks make it difficult to appreciate the details that made them so famous. Also, the length is best for patient bookworms; JJ started getting the wiggles near the end. Yet this is a fascinating story to be sure, especially for lovers of art and women’s history; Baby Bookworm approved!

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

Alice Across America: The Story of the First Women’s Cross-Country Road Trip (Sarah Glenn Marsh)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Alice Across America: The Story of the First Women’s Cross-Country Road Trip, written by Sarah Glenn Marsh and illustrated by Gilbert Ford.

From when Alice Ramsey was a little girl, she loved to go fast. Graduating from horses to the relatively-new invention of automobiles in her adulthood, she surprised many by becoming a skilled driver and racer, eventually being approached by an auto manufacturer. They had an offer: drive across the United States in one of their cars, to show that they were so easy to operate, “even a lady could do it”. Alice agreed, bringing three friends along for the nearly-4000 mile journey. Using mostly-unpaved roads and pathways in a vehicle lacking all modern convenience, the four girls rattled from New York to San Francisco over the course of two months, learning how to solve problems, whether storms, and rely on each other to keep the little car going.

Interesting! Alice’s story is certainly one I wasn’t aware of and, despite it’s mildly sexist impetus, was a pretty exciting tale of female fortitude, ingenuity, and friendship. Each spread gives an account of challenges the four ladies faced along the way, from broken or overheated parts, flooded rivers, bedbug-ridden hotels, and escaped criminals, making the reader feel like they are right beside the women on their exciting journey. Alice herself is portrayed as level-headed and no-nonsense, and she makes for a strong central figure. The folk-art style illustrations capture the scenic drive from city to mountains to redwoods forests beautifully, though the human characters occasionally sport unusual features or facial expressions. The length would be best for elementary-aged bookworms, but JJ enjoyed the ride. A warm and enjoyable girl-power tale, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)