Review: Graphic Biographies: Steve Jobs


Title: Steve Jobs Graphic Biography (Saddleback’s Graphic Biographies)

Publisher:  Saddleback

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Fast-paced and easy-to-read, these softcover 25-page graphic biographies teach students about historical figures: those who lead us into new territory; pursued scientific discoveries; battled injustice and prejudice; and broke down creative and artistic barriers. These biographies offer a variety of rich primary and secondary source material to support teaching to the standards.
Using the graphics, students can activate prior knowledge–bridge what they already know with what they have yet to learn. Graphically illustrated biographies also teach inference skills, character development, dialogue, transitions, and drawing conclusions. Graphic biographies in the classroom provide an intervention with proven success for the struggling reader.


When I first received this review book, I wasn’t impressed.  At 25 pages, it seemed skimpy, and I didn’t think a graphic novel about Steve Jobs would hold my attention, even at such a low page count.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  If you know me, you know how much I love gadgets, most of which Steve Jobs was directly responsible for.  He had such a vision of what technology would and should be, and he had the drive to make his ideas transform the world.  His contributions to technology have touched the lives of almost everyone, and there aren’t many people who can make that claim.  To me, Steve Jobs is a lot like Walt Disney; he saw a void in the entertainment world, and he aggressively moved to fill it, despite set backs and the skepticism of others.  When he passed away last year, I was surprisingly upset, and I was left to wonder what other wonderful ideas he might have had, what other ways he could have changed my world. 

This graphic biography is part of Saddleback’s collection of fast-paced and easy to read glimpses into the lives of famous historical figures.  It’s marketed to struggling learners, and because everyone is aware of Apple products and almost everyone owns at least one, I think that this book will appeal to even the most reluctant of readers.  It would also be appreciated by Middle Grade readers.  It is a very easy to read book, and it is packed with the highlights and even the rare failures that made up Jobs’ career.   I found the material extremely compelling, as I was there for many of Steve’s product launches.  My mom had an Apple computer, and I wasted many, many hours playing Tetris on it when I should have been doing homework instead.  I still love Pixar movies, and I wonder how different Disney would have been without Toy Story and Monsters, Inc to enrich both their movie catalog and their theme parks.  Where would I be without my iPhone and iPad? Probably reading more, but most assuredly Tweeting, texting, and blogging less.

While I enjoyed the written material, I found the artwork functional at best.  These are no frills illustrations that follow along with the text, but offer nothing more.  The prose was occasionally stiff and unnatural.  At 25 pages, the $7.95 price point is also exceptionally steep, so you might want to check this out of the library.   Despite these nitpicks, I thought this was an informative and interesting read.  I am definitely in the minority about this, so you might want to sample a copy at the bookstore before you purchase.

Grade:  B

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: Paiute Princess by Deborah Kogan Ray



  Title: Paiute Princess

  Author: Deborah Kogan Ray

  Publisher:  Farrar Straus Giroux

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Born into the Northern Paiute tribe of Nevada in 1844, Sarah Winnemucca straddled two cultures: the traditional life of her people, and the modern ways of her grandfather’s white friends. Sarah was smart and good at languages, so she was able to link the worlds. As she became older, this made her a great leader. Sarah used condemning letters, fiery speeches, and her autobiography, Life Among the Piutes, to provide detailed accounts of her people’s turmoil through years of starvation, unjust relocations, and violent attacks. With sweeping illustrations and extensive backmatter, including hand-drawn maps, a chronology, archival photographs, an author’s notes, and additional resource information, Deborah Kogan Ray offers a remarkable look at an underrepresented historical figure.


I have had Paiute Princess on my TBR for a while now, and after reading Black Elk’s Vision, I was inspired to pick it up.  Sarah Winnemucca’s life is told through vivid, lush illustrations that accompany the moving prose of her life.  From her early childhood gathering food with the women of her tribe to her struggles to keep her traditional way of life from being erased by the encroaching white settlers, all Sarah wanted was the peaceful life her tribe had enjoyed for generations.  This was not be to, however, and she was forced to watch as her people were moved from their tribal homelands to reservations.  Once on the barren lands allotted to the Paiute tribes, they suffered from the corruption of the men running the Indian Agency.  Hardship and hunger became her new way of life, and Sarah used every scrap of cleverness she could muster to lobby for aid for her people. 

I am not sure how to rate this book, because it made me feel many, many emotions, mostly sadness and despair.  Once again, I wonder how I would have handled the cruel fate handed out to Sarah Winnemucca and her people.  They were stolen from, lied to, and left without the resources to provide for themselves after their land was taken away, often after the murder of women, children, and the elderly.  This chapter in the story of this nation makes me angry and upset because I know that we are better than that; we are supposed to be the good guys.  After learning about the struggles Sarah faced, and the courage she displayed, I doubt that I would  have been as clever and resourceful as she was.  Could I have been an Army scout, riding into danger and helping the people who were responsible for stealing my way of life away from me?  Could I have left my family for extended periods to study with people who viewed me with suspicion and dislike? I don’t think so.

The story ends on a hopeful note, but after reading the included information at the back of the book, it was clear that Sarah was not accepted in either the world of the Paiute or the world of the white settlers.  She walked firmly between the two, searching for a place where she belonged.  Her grandfather was a wise man, but not even his initial acceptance of the settlers and his letter of friendship from explorer John Charles Fremont could save the tribal lands of his people.  I think what bothered me the most about this picture book was learning that, after fighting for the rights of her people, Sarah died in 1891.  She was 47.  The government was still enacting legislation to liberate the traditional homelands of native peoples and forcibly stamp out their cultures.  This continued until 1934.  This bothered me.  A. Lot.

Grade:  B/B+

Review copy provided by publisher

Subscribe in a reader

Cover Shot! Buffalo Bird Girl by S D Nelson

Cover Shot! is a regular feature here at the Café. I love discovering new covers, and when I find them, I like to share. More than anything else, I am consumed with the mystery that each new discovery represents. There is an allure to a beautiful cover. Will the story contained under the pages live up to promise of the gorgeous cover art?

I seem to be on a Native American reading kick.  The last three picture books I read were biographies of prominent Native Americans, and even though I find  them heartbreaking, I can’t stop reading them.  I am drawn to the strength of character that each possessed, and wonder how I would have carried on if I were in their shoes.  Not nearly as well, I am sure.  I don’t know much about the Hidatsa, so I am looking forward to reading Buffalo Bird Girl by S D Nelson.

This fascinating picture book biography tells the childhood story of Buffalo Bird Woman, a Hidatsa Indian born around 1839. Through her true story, readers will learn what it was like to be part of this Native American community that lived along the Missouri River in the Dakotas, a society that depended more on agriculture for food and survival than on hunting. Children will relate to Buffalo Bird Girl’s routine of chores and playing with friends, and they will also be captivated by her lifestyle and the dangers that came with it.

Using as a resource the works of Gilbert L. Wilson, who met Buffalo Bird Woman and transcribed her life’s story in the early 20th century, award-winning author-illustrator S. D. Nelson has captured the spirit of Buffalo Bird Girl and her lost way of life. The book includes a historical timeline.

In stores October 2012

Subscribe in a reader

Review: Gandhi: A Manga Biography by Kazuki Ebine


Title: Gandhi: A Manga Biography

Author: Kazuki Ebine

Publisher: Penguin

ISBN: 978-0143120247


May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

The life of a true twentieth-century hero told in a vibrant graphic novel format.

Through his quietly powerful leadership and influential use of nonviolent resistance in India’s struggle against the British Raj, Mahatma Gandhi became one of the most revered figures of the modern era. While history has recorded Gandhi’s words and deeds, the man himself has been eclipsed by maxims of virtuosity that seem to have little resonance in our everyday lives. In Gandhi, the third volume in our exciting new manga biography series, created in conjunction with Emotional Content, Kazuki Ebine combines a gripping narrative with stunning illustrations to share Gandhi’s inspiring and deeply human story with a whole new generation of readers.

Developed in conjunction with Emotional Content.


This book was so disappointing!  I do enjoy learning more about history and historical figures, so I was intrigued to see that Penguin is releasing a series of manga biographies.  I found the first two that I read interesting, but Gandhi is so marred with typos and awkward dialog that I just could not get engrossed in this book.  The pacing is also problematic, but I will be fair and say that it would be very difficult to pack all of anyone’s life into a 192 page graphic novel.  I felt that both The 14th  Dalai Lama and Che Guevara suffered from pacing issues as well, but not to the degree as in Gandhi.

From the beginning of this graphic novel, the jumps in time are abrupt and confusing.  Gandhi accomplished so much during his 78 years that it is impossible to squeeze all of his character building experiences and the many issues he stood for in the pages allotted.  I feel that book needed to be much longer to truly do justice to Gandhi’s life.  As presented here, details of his personal life are scant, leaving me to wonder about how his family influenced his actions.  They are figures more on the periphery of his life, and I was never given a clear picture of who Gandhi really was.  This version of his life is like reading the Wiki about him – while all of the key moments of his life are briefly touched upon, there is no depth given to any of them.

With the many typos encountered in Gandhi, I was also disappointed with the presentation of the book.  The dialog is so stilted and awkward that it was difficult to read, and it never held my attention for more than a few pages at a time.  The art is adequate and communicates the emotions and difficulties Gandhi encountered during his life, but, like the script recited by the characters in the book, the illustrations are also stilted and awkward.  There is no sense of movement or energy from any of the drawings here, which added to a very bland reading experience.

If you are interested in seeing Gandhi’s life unfold through the pages of a graphic novel, check this book about of your local library.  With the many flaws contained in this book, I find it hard to recommend a purchase.

Grade: D+

Review copy provided by publisher

Spotlight: The Thinking Girl’s Treasury of Real Princesses

If you have been following the blog for a while, you already know that I love history.  Looking into the lives of people who lived hundreds of years ago fascinates me.  What did they wear? What did they eat?  What were their homes like?  When I saw The Thinking Girl’s Treasury of Real Princesses, I wanted to read them.  Desperately. 

I started with Hatshepsut of Egypt, because she is one of my favorite historical figures.  She had the guts to have herself declared Pharaoh!  That is the coolest thing ever!  She wasn’t content to be the Queen of Egypt, or to be the regent – she wanted to be Pharaoh, and through her wisdom and intelligence, she was able to realize her ambition.  Hatshepsut ruled for 22 years, and she ushered in a period of wealth and exploration.  You can still visit some of her monuments today, and that is one of the most intriguing aspects of history for me.  Can you imagine walking through the remains of a temple that was built 1500 years ago?! 

I was unfamiliar with the other princesses in the series, so I was looking forward to learning about them.  I decided to read the series in timeline order, since Hatshepsut was the oldest of the women spotlighted in the books.  Artemisia of Caria was next.  She lived around 500BC.  Artemisia is interesting because she commanded a war ship in a culture that didn’t give any rights to women, and more shocking, she spoke her mind to Xerxes, the Persian king known for his very bad temper.  This lady had guts!

The Mongols are another culture that holds a lot of interest for me.  Besides being nomadic and fierce, the Mongols’ lives revolved around their horse herds.  Sorghaghtani of Mongolia was married at a young age to one of the sons of Genghis Khan, and she was the mother of Kublai Khan, the man who founded the Yuan Dynasty of China.  The Mongols lived hard and fought hard, but Sorghaghtani taught all four of her sons the value of diplomacy.  Through her teachings, they expanded their empire and increased their herds and their wealth.

Qutlugh Terkan Khatun of Kirman lived a rough life.  Known for her beauty and compassion, she was often kidnapped or the pawn of princes.  Rescued from a life of slavery by a merchant when she was a young girl, Qutlugh went on to marry into royalty, only to have her world fall apart several times.  Through all of the challenges, she never lost her compassion, and when she finally found lasting happiness, she never forgot to be thankful and kind to her subjects. 

All of the books in this series for children ages 9 – 13 are easy to read and packed with entertaining and interesting facts.  I loved the page layouts, and the mix of illustrations and photographs.  Each book starts with a pronunciation guide, a map of where each princess lived, and a timeline showing her place in history.  Then, in easy to understand language, their lives are explored within the cultural context of their time.  Other facts include what each woman would have worn, a typical diet, and where appropriate, a family tree.

These bright, bold books are sure to please young history buffs, as well as form a springboard for further reading into the lives of these powerful, intelligent, and influential women from the past.  There aren’t enough history books out there, and I think books of this type are one of the most underrepresented segments on the market.  That depresses me, because I love to read about how other people lived.  Don’t you wonder what it would have been like to have lived 1500 years ago?

The Thinking Girl’s Treasury of Real Princesses series is written by Shirin Yim Bridges, illustrated by Albert Nguyen.  The books are published by Goosebottom Books, and you can learn more about them by visiting the publisher website here.  All of the titles in the series can be ordered from Amazon – just click the links below!

Hatshepsut of Egypt

Nur Jahan of India

Sorghaghtani of Mongolia

Isabella of Castile

Artemisia of Caria

Qutlugh Terkan Khatun of Kirman

Review materials provided by publisher

The 14th Dalai Lama by Tetsu Saiwai Manga Review


Title: The 14th Dalai Lama

Author: Tetsu Saiwai

Publisher: Penguin

ISBN: 978-0143118152


May Contain Spoilers

Since I have been reading more non-fiction than normal, I was delighted to receive this graphic novel about the Dalai Lama.  I realized that I didn’t know anything about him, and the plight of Tibet was another subject that I am woefully ignorant about.  Reading this manga about the Dalai Lama filled some gaps in my knowledge, and I found it an interesting read as well.

This biographical graphic novel tells the life of Tenzin Gyatso, a child who was declared the 14th reincarnation of the Dalai Lama.  The Dalai Lamas are believed to be living manifestations of the Buddha, and they become the spiritual and political leaders of Tibet.  The entire time I was reading this, I couldn’t help but think what a tremendous burden Tenzin Gyatso was asked to bear.  When he was 5, he was taken from his home and moved to the palace, where he began his studies to prepare for ruling his people. 

With his enormous responsibilities, he didn’t have much of a childhood.  Kept separate from boys his own age, he could only watch from his window as they played.  As he was tutored in his duties, a new threat made itself known.  The Chinese began to subtly take control of Tibet, and there was little the Tibetans could do to stop them.  Just their overwhelming numbers gave the Chinese an almost insurmountable advantage.   It was like a cat trying to take on an elephant.

The book avoids the Dalai Lama’s more controversial decisions, but it does an effective job of introducing a very complex social and political issue.  The Chinese steam-rolled into Tibet, and the young leader was helpless to protect his people or his nation.  It is sobering to think that the Dalai Lama has lived in exile for decades, far longer than he actually resided in his own country, and it is doubtful that he will ever be able to return. 

While I didn’t like the art, facial expressions effectively communicated the tense reactions of the unfolding events to the reader.  There is a lot of dialog, and it flows smoothly and seems natural.  There are some very intense emotional moments, and the young Dalai Lama’s frustration at his inability to drive out the Chinese rings true.

As a springboard for learning more about Tibet, The 14th Dalai Lama provides an interesting, easy to digest look at the Tibetan/Chinese conflict.  

Grade: B

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: Cleopatra Rules by Vicky Alvear Shecter


Title: Cleopatra Rules!

Author: Vicky Alvear Shecter

Publisher: Boyds Mills Press

ISBN: 9781590787182


May Contain Spoilers

I have mentioned many times that I love books set in ancient times, and I find learning about how people lived thousands of years ago fascinating.  I mean, think about it!  There was no texting, instant messaging, or Skype.  No printing presses, antibiotics, or iPods.  No packages with the big smiley. Ugh!  The struggle to survive constant wars, diseases, and Mother Nature would have taken up most of everyone’s time, making me glad that I can sit in my air conditioned house and reflect on the past, instead of experiencing it first hand.  Cleopatra is an especially compelling historical figure, and one who I love reading about.

The problem with reading non-fiction accounts of the past is that they tend to be rather dry and not exactly engaging.  You can toss aside all of those boring biographies about Cleopatra, though, and grab this book instead.  Cleopatra Rules! examines the cunning Egyptian queen’s life, relaying her story in contemporary terms and through the use of photographs of relics from her time.  Ancient Roman and Egyptian cultural aspects are clearly explained, and the narrative zips along at a rapid clip.

While I love fictional accounts of the lives of ancient leaders, I am not always so fond of biographical works, especially for recreational reading.  Cleopatra Rules! follows Cleopatra’s victories and defeats in an entertaining and compelling way.  I painlessly learned all about her, Caesar, and Marc Anthony, and found myself caught up in the text.  The glossy pages, which featured many photos and cultural points of reference, made this an attractive book as well.  Politics of the day are covered in easy to understand terms, and Vicky Alvear Shecter’s narrative made this history lesson fun and memorable.  I wish she had written my Principals of Accounting text!

Grade: B

Review copy provided by the publisher