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Notable picture books

Books | Four picture book biographies

Issue: "Border gridlock," Aug. 9, 2014

On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein

By Jennifer Berne

This biography opens with Einstein’s birth. His parents quickly realized their silent little boy was different from other children, but they loved him “no matter what.” As Berne traces Einstein’s journey into manhood, she highlights in terms a child can understand how his deep thinking and curiosity eventually led him to remarkable scientific breakthroughs. She closes by noting that Einstein left behind many unanswered questions—questions young readers might someday be able to answer “by wondering, thinking, and imagining” just as Einstein did.

Who Says Women Can't Be Doctors?

By Tanya Lee Stone

Today’s generation of young readers may find it hard to believe that at one time women weren’t allowed to do many things. Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors? tells a simple story about how a tenacious Elizabeth Blackwell challenged the medical establishment to become the first woman doctor in America. In this picture book, Stone steers clear of feminist agendas and sticks to history, highlighting the determination Blackwell needed to overcome both obstacles and discouragement. Male students may have intended her acceptance to New York’s Geneva Medical School—after 28 rejections elsewhere—as a joke, but the joke was on them.

The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdös

By Deborah Heiligman

From the time Paul Erdös was a small boy, he had an affinity for numbers: When he was 4 years old he could take the time and date of a person’s birth and, within moments, calculate the number of seconds the person had been alive. By his 20s, Erdös had gained international fame as a man who “thought about math whatever he was doing, wherever he was.” He crisscrossed the globe to work with other mathematicians, discovering new and better ways to do math. Budding mathematicians will find Erdös’ story particularly intriguing. The clever use of numbers and the book’s detailed, vivid illustrations make it a fun read.

Clara and Davie

By Patricia Polacco

In Clara and Davie, Patricia Polacco shares a story from the young life of Clara Barton, the famous Civil War battlefield nurse and founder of the American Red Cross. Polacco—a distant relative of Barton—focuses the story on Clara’s unique personality and gifts while highlighting the special relationship she shared with her older brother Davie. After an accident leaves Davie severely injured, Clara faithfully nurses him back to health, putting into practice fledgling nursing skills that will later blossom into a historic career. The story’s underlying theme of persevering amid challenges provides a worthy role model for young readers.

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