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.


Review:

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: Crazy Horse’s Vision by Joseph Bruchac & S D Nelson

 

 

Title: Crazy Horse’s Vision

Author:  Joseph Bruchac & S D Nelson

Publisher: Lee and Low

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Joseph Bruchac tells the compelling story of how a young boy named Curly seeks a vision in the hope of saving his people – and grows into the brave and fierce warrior Crazy Horse. Sioux artist S. D. Nelson’s paintings, in the traditional ledger style of the Plains Indians, evokes the drama and the tragedy of this important American figure.

Review:

My fascination with the lives of Native Americans continues.  I haven’t read many picture books about Plains Indians, so discovering new reading material at the library has been fun.  Crazy Horse’s Vision is my favorite to date.  It doesn’t cover much of the conflict between white settlers and the Lakota, instead focusing on Crazy Horse’s childhood.  The tone is more upbeat than my previous forays into the lives of famous Native Americans, and the paintings are breathtaking.  I love S D Nelson’s use of color; these illustrations are big and bold, the vivid hues jumping off the pages and demanding more than a second glance.

Introducing readers to Crazy Horse, the book follows the carefree days of his youth.  Though lacking in stature, he was a charismatic child with a thirst for adventure.  Exploring one end of the Lakota territory to the other, where he led, the other boys followed.  From his first buffalo hunt to the taming of his pinto horse,  bright visuals accompany his childhood triumphs.   When trouble brews between his people and the white settlers, Crazy Horse is desperate to help protect his band.  Striking out on his own, he seeks a vision to give him the wisdom to help the Lakota during the troubled times that are fast approaching.

Gorgeous illustrations document Crazy Horse and his childhood vision quest.  I found this an interesting look at one of the fiercest Lakota warriors.  Remembered for his prowess in battle, Crazy Horse was also kind and generous, as well as a man of few words.  The prose is interesting and highly readable, but the bold, vivid illustrations are what held my attention and kept me flipping through this book time and again. The paintings are beautiful and made this a delight to read.

Grade:  B+

Review copy obtained from my local library

 

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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.

Review:

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

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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

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Review: Black Elk’s Vision: A Lakota Story by S D Nelson

  

   Title: Black Elk’s Vision: A Lakota Story

   Author: S D Nelson

   Publisher: Abrams

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Told from the Native American point of view, Black Elk’s Vision provides a unique perspective on American history.

From recounting the visions Black Elk had as a young boy, to his involvement in the battles of Little Big Horn and Wounded Knee, as well as his journeys to New York City and Europe with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, this biographical account of Black Elk—an Oglala-Lakota medicine man (1863–1950)—follows him from childhood through adulthood.

S. D. Nelson tells the story of Black Elk through the medicine man’s voice, bringing to life what it was like to be Native American in the mid-to-late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. The Native people found their land overrun by the Wha-shi-choos, or White Man, the buffalo slaughtered for sport and to purposely eliminate their main food source, and their people gathered onto reservations. Through it all, Black Elk clung to his childhood visions that planted the seeds to help his people—and all people—understand their place in the circle of life.

The book includes archival images, a timeline, a bibliography, an index, and Nelson’s signature art.

Review:

I read two books recently about young children victimized by war, and they both broke my heart.  In Black Elk’s Vision, a picture book based on Black Elk Speaks by John Neihardt, warfare destroys not only Black Elk’s home, but also his people’s entire way of life.  From the cover to the last page, this colorful book is striking and thought provoking.  It doesn’t pull any punches, either.  From Little Big Horn to the massacre at Wounded Knee, Black Elk’s story is compelling and unforgettable.  From the vast plains, hunting buffalo, to the hardship of a walled reservation, his words remain steady and engrossing.  I am not sure that I would be as forgiving as Black Elk, Great Vision or not.  Manifest Destiny is such an ugly chapter in the history of this country, and I find it painful to read many accounts of settlers as they steamrolled over everything in their path to conquering the West. 

There are several parts of this book that I found disturbing, and I am sure that I will find them hard to forget.  Before the white settlers flooded like a tsunami over the Great Plains, there were an estimated 30 million bison.  Thirty million.  By 1889, there were about a thousand.  The numbers are mind-numbing.  Worse, diseases brought by Europeans wiped out hundreds of thousands of Native Americans. And that was before the settlers began to intentionally drive them off of their ancestral homelands.   Thinking about the massive loss of life is nauseating.   Thinking about a twelve year old boy forced to defend his life, as well as the lives of his family, is also upsetting.  Thinking about having everything you owned, every belief and physical possession, even your way of life, torn away  also merits deep contemplation.  I would not have survived nearly as well, or lived nearly as gracefully, as Black Elk. 

I found Black Elk’s Vision a compelling read.  Interspersing colorful acrylics with vintage photos of the events described in Black Elk’s narrative, I found this book hard to put down.  I also found myself going back to key passages, illustrations, and photos to ensure that I absorbed everything.   From the photograph of Black Elk on the cover to the portrait of his family near the end, this is a haunting book.  Black Elk believed that all of us have a part in the circle of life.  We can all hold weapons of destruction or the sacred water of life.  Each of us carries the power to nurture or destroy.  Black Elk choose the cup of life, and he wished that all of us would choose it as well.    

Grade:  B+

Review obtained from my local library

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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.

Review:

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