Tomorrow marks the 50th anniversary of the groundbreaking Apollo 11 mission. To celebrate this momentous celebration, I am happy to share some fantastic space books! (And don’t forget to enter the giveaway!)
Reaching for the Moon: The Autobiography of NASA Mathematician Katherine Johnson
Author: Katherine Johnson
Published July 2nd, 2019 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
The inspiring autobiography of NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson, who helped launch Apollo 11.
As a young girl, Katherine Johnson showed an exceptional aptitude for math. In school she quickly skipped ahead several grades and was soon studying complex equations with the support of a professor who saw great promise in her. But ability and opportunity did not always go hand in hand. As an African American and a girl growing up in an era of brutal racism and sexism, Katherine faced daily challenges. Still, she lived her life with her father’s words in mind: “You are no better than anyone else, and nobody else is better than you.”
In the early 1950s, Katherine was thrilled to join the organization that would become NASA. She worked on many of NASA’s biggest projects including the Apollo 11 mission that landed the first men on the moon.
Katherine Johnson’s story was made famous in the bestselling book and Oscar-nominated film Hidden Figures. Now in Reaching for the Moon she tells her own story for the first time, in a lively autobiography that will inspire young readers everywhere.
Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11
Author: Brian Floca
Originally Published April 9th, 2019 by Richard Jackson Books
Brian Floca explores Apollo 11’s famed moon landing with this newly expanded edition of Moonshot!
Simply told, grandly shown, and now with eight additional pages of brand-new art and more in-depth information about the historic moon landing, here is the flight of Apollo 11. Here for a new generation of readers and explorers are the steady astronauts clicking themselves into gloves and helmets, strapping themselves into sideways seats. Here are their great machines in all their detail and monumentality, the ROAR of rockets, and the silence of the Moon. Here is a story of adventure and discovery—a story of leaving and returning during the summer of 1969, and a story of home, seen whole, from far away.
Hidden Figures: Young Readers’ Edition
Author: Margot Lee Shetterly
Published November 29th, 2016 by HarperCollins
This edition of Margot Lee Shetterly’s acclaimed book is perfect for young readers. It is the powerful story of four African-American female mathematicians at NASA who helped achieve some of the greatest moments in our space program.
Before John Glenn orbited the earth, or Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of dedicated female mathematicians known as “human computers” used pencils, slide rules, and adding machines to calculate the numbers that would launch rockets, and astronauts, into space.
This book brings to life the stories of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden, who lived through the Civil Rights era, the Space Race, the Cold War, and the movement for gender equality, and whose work forever changed the face of NASA and the country.
Moon’s First Friends: One Giant Leap for Friendship
Author: Susanna Leonard Hill
Illustrator: Elisa Paganelli
Published May 7th, 2019 by Sourcebook Jabberwocky
A heartwarming story of a friendship-seeking moon that also celebrates the extraordinary 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing!
From high up in the sky, the Moon has spent her whole life watching Earth and hoping for someone to visit. Dinosaurs roam, pyramids are built, and boats are made, but still no one comes. Will friends ever come visit her?
One day a spaceship soars from Earth…and so does her heart.
Includes bonus educational pages about the moon mission!
One Giant Leap: The Story of Neil Armstrong
Author: Don Brown
Published September 24th, 2001 by HMH Books for Young Readers
As a young boy, Neil Armstrong had a recurring dream in which he held his breath and floated high above the people, houses, and cars. He spent his free time reading stacks of flying magazines, building model airplanes, and staring through the homemade telescope mounted on the roof of his neighbor’s garage. As a teenager, Neil became obsessed with the idea of flight, working odd jobs to pay for flying lessons at a nearby airport. He earned his student pilot’s license on his sixteenth birthday. But who was to know that this shy boy, who also loved books and music, would become the first person to set foot on the moon, on July 20, 1969. Here is the inspiring story of one boy’s dream – a dream of flying that landed him more than 200,000 miles away in space, gazing upon the awesome sight of a tiny earth hanging suspended in a perfectly black sky. On the thirtieth anniversary of the moon landing, Don Brown’s expressive story reveals the achievement of this American legend, Neil Armstrong.
Previously Reviewed and Recommended:
**Thank you to Milena at Simon & Schuster for providing the books for giveaway!**
“Creating Words and Pictures for The Spacesuit – How Authors and Illustrators Work Together”
Alison Donald: Just like the Apollo program, a book is a product of a collaboration of a team. I’ve always wished I could draw. I can see parts of my story unfold vividly in my head. But I don’t have the necessary skills or talent to actually draw what I want to the quality that I want.
Thank goodness for illustrators. Illustrators can read a text and bring it to life. I was lucky to have Ariel Landy illustrate my latest book: ‘The Spacesuit – How a Seamstress Helped put Man on the moon”. But, do we actually work together? The answer is yes, but indirectly though illustration notes.
When I submitted ‘Spacesuit’ to my publisher Maverick Arts, I included a few illustration notes. I really wanted a 1960’s feel to book. I also wanted it to be fashionable. Afterall, it’s about seamstresses who were fashioning one of the most important garments in world history!
I identified when sewing machines and spacesuits needed to be in the text and I asked for the seamstresses to be crowded around the tv watching Neil Armstrong on the moon (spoiler alert! Sorry!).
I researched the A7L spacesuit and provided diagrams. I also provided photographs of the actual seamstresses at the factory of Playtex / ILC dover for reference.
Then, I sat back while Kim, my fabulous editor / designer found an illustrator.
It’s an exciting day when a sample spread arrives in my inbox. Here was Ariel’s sample spread for the Spacesuit:
Editors / designers have a much better sense of layout, how much text should be on a page, and they know more about colour palettes than I do. Kim worked with Ariel and then shared Ariel’s sketches with me.
I acted as another pair of eyes to make sure the pictures were factually correct.
It’s a just right fit when authors can weigh in on visual details that are relevant to the story (thanks Kim!).
Otherwise, it’s nice to leave it to the illustrator to create her own magic.
And as you can see, Ariel certainly did!
Ariel Landy: Happily, for me, by the time I got the story so much research for The Spacesuit had already been done, both by Alison and the editing team at Maverick. When I read the story for the first time, I had a briefing from our editors complete with photographs of Ellie and the talented ladies who actually worked on the spacesuit in various stages. I relied heavily on these primary sources to draw many elements of the story such as the pink factory coat that Ellie wears while working on a small sewing machine, and ‘Sweet Sue’ and ‘Big Moe’, the giant sewing machines brought in to help the seamstresses sew the many, many layers of the spacesuit! Also, fortunately for me, I had fact-checkers at Maverick to catch some of my anachronisms, such as coloring in the TV screen that shows the moon landing, when it likely would have been in black and white.
Of course, the internet is the ultimate research tool! There were so many accessible photos of the spacesuit at my fingertips, both on its own and adorning the astronauts. I was also fortunate to see the documentary Apollo 11, which happened to have a limited run in New York City just as I was working on the coloring stage of the illustrations. The film is all real color footage from the launching of the rocket that brought the brave astronauts to the moon. It was chock full of real spectators sporting the most wonderful 60s clothing and hairstyles. After seeing it I couldn’t wait to go back and tweak my characters!
I feel really lucky to have had such a great writing and editing team collaborating at different stages to make such a special book! Thanks team!
The Spacesuit: How a Seamstress Helped Put Man on the Moon
Author: Alison Donald
Illustrator: Ariel Landy
Published June 18th, 2019 by Maverick Arts
About the Book:There is a competition to make the spacesuit for the first moon landing! Ellie, an ordinary woman, is asked to lead a team of other talented seamstresses. No one believes they can win, but they are determined to try.
Based on the incredible true story behind the spacesuit that astronauts wore on the first moon walk and the team of women who sewed it together.
Don’t miss the other Blog Tour stops!
Monday, July 15th: Publisher Spotlight Blog
Tuesday, July 16th: YA Books Central
Wednesday, July 17th: Randomly Reading
Thank you so much for this guest post about this incredible true story!
Sonny’s Bridge: Jazz Legend Sonny Rollins Finds His Groove
Author: Barry Wittenstein
Illustrator: Keith Mallett
Published May 21st, 2019 by Charlesbridge Publishing
Summary: This groovy, bebopping picture book biography chronicles the legendary jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins’s search for inspiration on the […]
Sonny’s Bridge: Jazz Legend Sonny Rollins Finds His Groove
Author: Barry Wittenstein
Illustrator: Keith Mallett
Published May 21st, 2019 by Charlesbridge Publishing
Summary: This groovy, bebopping picture book biography chronicles the legendary jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins’s search for inspiration on the Williamsburg Bridge after quitting the jazz scene in 1959.
Rollins is one of the most prolific sax players in the history of jazz, but, in 1959, at the height of his career, he vanished from the jazz scene. His return to music was an interesting journey–with a long detour on the Williamsburg Bridge. Too loud to practice in his apartment, Rollins played on the New York City landmark for two years among the cacophony of traffic and the stares of bystanders, leading to the release of his album, The Bridge.
Written in rhythmic prose with a bebop edge, this picture-book biography of Sonny Rollins’s journey to get his groove back will delight young and old fans alike.
About the Author: Barry Wittenstein has worked at CBS Records, CBS News, and was a web editor and writer for Major League Baseball. He is now a New York City elementary-school substitute teacher and children’s author. He is the author of The Boo-Boos That Changed the World: The True Story About an Accidental Invention (Really!) and Waiting for Pumpsie. Barry lives in the Bronx.
About the Illustrator: Keith Mallett studied art at Hunter College in New York City. Keith’s work was commissioned to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s historic breakthrough into major league baseball, has graced the cover of Chicken Soup for the African American Soul, and has been featured in many movies and TV shows. He is the illustrator of Take a Picture of Me, James VanDerZee and How Jelly Roll Morton Invented Jazz. Keith lives in San Diego, California.
Praise: “An appropriately jazzy picture-book biography of African-American musician Sonny Rollins. It impresses from the endpapers, which mirror a vinyl LP in its paper sleeve and then playing on a turntable, to the liner notes about Rollins’ seminal album “The Bridge” in the back.” -Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“The life of jazz legend Sonny Rollins pulses with the rousing spontaneity of his music in Wittenstein’s free verse biography. Readers witness Rollins’s career as an acclaimed musician followed by his explosive success and the subsequent reincarnations of his art.” -School Library Journal, starred review
Review: The rhythm of the writing in Sonny’s Bridge automatically gets you toe tapping while reading. It captures the feeling and flow of jazz which truly sets the stage for Sonny’s story because in the end this is the story of Sonny Rollins and his path to finding his musical voice.
In addition to the rhythm in the writing, the illustrators images bring the words to life using movement, color, and line to show the power of the music.
Together, the words and music bring Sonny’s story to the readers in a way that will illuminate his struggles and his triumphs.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Because of the rhythmic writing, this will be an amazing read aloud! And then the students can listen to The Bridge.
We are lucky to be living in a time with so many wonderful biographies out there about amazing people and a lot of them happen to be musicians, so what a great opportunity for book clubs or jig saws to look at different musicians and how they became who they are/were and how they changed not only musical history but sometimes even history.
- Why does Sonny find the bridge to be the best place for him to practice?
- Why did Sonny take off two years and how did it change his life?
- How did Sonny’s life correspond with Black Americans’ fight for equal rights?
- How did the illustrator show Sonny’s music through is artwork?
- Why would some want the bridge to be renamed Sonny’s Bridge?
- After listening to The Bridge, how did the author capture the feeling of jazz in his writing?
Creator Corner with Barry Wittenstein from KidLitTV:
Read This If You Love: Music (specifically jazz), Jazz Day by Roxane Orgill, Trombone Shorty by Troy Andrews, Little Melba and her Big Trombone by Katheryn Russell-Brown, Ella Fitzgerald by Andrea Davis Pinkney, Duke Ellington by Andrea Davis Pinkney, Hip Hop Lollipop by Susan Montanari, The 5 O’Clock Band by Troy Andrews, Born to Swing by Mara Rockliff, Muddy by Michael James Mahin, Stand Up and Sing by Suanna Reich
**Thank you to Charlesbridge Publishing for providing a copy for review**
Yogi: The Life, Loves, and Language of Baseball Legend Yogi Berra
Author: Barb Rosenstock
Illustrator: Terry Widener
Published February 5th, 2019 by Calkins Creek
Summary: The life and famous words, such as “it ain’t over till it’s over,” of Major League Baseball player and New York Yankee Lawrence “Yogi” Berra are celebrated in this nonfiction picture book.
Yogi Berra loved his family, his neighborhood, his friends, and, most of all, baseball. He was crazy for it, ever since he was a young kid playing with friends in an abandoned dump. But baseball didn’t love him back–at least not at first. Yogi was different. He didn’t have the right look. When he finally made it to the major leagues, Yogi faced pranks and harassment from players, sportswriters, and fans. Their words hurt, but they made Yogi determined to show all that he could do. This book looks at the talents, loves, and inspirational words of this celebrated New York Yankee and American icon, who earned a World Series ring for each finger and made baseball love him back.
About the Creators:
Barb Rosenstock is best known for her many picture book biographies, including Thomas Jefferson Builds a Library, Ben Franklin’s Big Splash,The Streak, Dorothea’s Eyes, and Blue Grass Boy, all published by Calkins Creek. Her other recent titles include a picture book about Vincent Van Gogh, Vincent Can’t Sleep, and a picture book about Vasily Kandinsky, The Noisy Paint Box, which won the 2015 Caldecott Honor Medal. She lives outside Chicago with her family. Visit her at barbrosenstock.com.
Terry Widener is the award-winning illustrator of many picture books on athletes, including The Streak: How Joe DiMaggio Became America’s Hero, Girl Wonder: A Baseball Story in Nine Innings, American Champion Swimmer: Gertrude Ederle,and Lou Gehrig, The Luckiest Man. He is also the illustrator of The Kite That Bridged Two Nations by Alexis O’Neill. He lives in McKinney, Texas, with his wife and is the father of three grown children. Visit him at terrywidenerart.com.
*“This excellent character study will be useful as a model for students writing research-based biographies since it includes extensive author’s notes, baseball statistics, a note about Yogi-isms, and secondary quotes about the man himself, but it will loved most of all by Yankees fans.” –School Library Connection, starred review
“(T)his picture-book biography…does an excellent job covering Berra as both baseball player and cultural icon. Widener’s illustrations…ably capture Berra’s short stature and big personality. Thorough back matter concludes the book, including a double-page spread of Berra’s ‘amazing’ stats, a bibliography, an author’s note, several photographs, and source notes.” –The Horn Book
“Rosenstock covers all the bases, focusing on Yogi’s great love of baseball, his determination to succeed, and, most of all, his longing for baseball to love him back. His perplexing, witty, and wise ‘Yogi-isms’ are incorporated in the text as well as appearing in large, hand-lettered blurbs within the illustrations. Widener’s colorful, muscular acrylic cartoons…beautifully capture his essence. A loving homage to a charismatic baseball hero.” –Kirkus Reviews
“(A) loving tribute to New York Yankee baseball legend Yogi Berra. Back matter documents his amazing career… and complement the storylike text that introduces a simple Italian kid from Saint Louis who loved his family, loved his friends, and really, really loved baseball. The illustrations capture the wistful, nostalgic mood… readers will come away with an appreciation for both the amazing athlete and the humble, unique individual. Source notes, a bibliography, and additional background information elevate this offering into viable research material, making this an entertaining and worthy addition to sports biography collections.” –Booklist
Review: I am always so impressed with Barb Rosenstock’s multi-faceted biographies.
- You can tell she is a historian because of the accurate and well-represented history of whomever she is writing about as well as the detailed and interesting back matter that is included in her books. This one particularly is impressive with its research notes, statistics, Yogi-isms, and quotes about Yogi.
- You can tell she is a master storyteller because her biographies are never dry history but are instead a beautiful narrative that brings the subject and their story to life.
- You can tell she is a caring person because of the themes she incorporates within her stories and the people she chooses to write about.
- With Yogi, you can tell she is a baseball fan because she represents the sport with the heart that those of us who love baseball can feel.
All of this, paired with an illustrator that brings movement and emotions to life, lends to a very engaging picture book biography!
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This text is a perfect addition to the classroom with its many uses across literacy, history, physical education, and math!
Educators’ Guide provided by the publisher:
- How did the author incorporate “Yogi-isms” throughout the narrative? Choose one quote and explain how it fits in with the story.
- Read the quotes about Yogi in the backmatter. Find evidence from the story to support the statements made by these individuals.
- Make a list of character traits that Yogi Berra displayed in the story. Find evidence to support these traits.
- Words hurt. But Yogi wouldn’t let them stop him. What does this tell you about him?
- In what way do you think Yogi Berra impacted the players around him the most?
- What makes Yogi Berra one of the best baseball players ever? Use evidence to support your statements.
- Why do you think his parents let him go play baseball but not his brother?
- In what way did the author and illustrator compare Yogi’s job as a gunner’s mate during World War II and his job as a catcher in the MLB?
Read This If You Love: Baseball, Picture Book Biographies, Quotable Quotes
Don’t Miss the Other Stops on the Blog Tour!
Monday, 3/18 Mile High Reading
Tuesday, 3/19 Book Q&A’s with Deborah Kalb
Wednesday, 3/20 Mrs. Knott’s Book Nook
Thursday, 3/21 Behind the Scenes @BMP
Friday, 3/22 Anatomy of Nonfiction
Monday, 3/25 The Nonfiction Detectives
Wednesday, 3/27 KidLit Frenzy
Thursday, 3/28 Celebrate Picture Books
Friday, 3/29 Unleashing Readers
**Thank you to Boyds Mills Press for providing a copy for review and giveaway!**
Taking Cover: One Girl’s Story of Growing Up During the Iranian Revolution
Author: Nioucha Homayoonfar
Foreward by Firoozeh Dumas
Published January 1st, 2019 by National Geographic Children’s Books
Summary: In the mid 1970’s Nioucha Homayoonfar’s French mother and Iranian father made a decision that would change her life forever. At the age of five, Nioucha and her parents moved from Pittsburgh to her father’s homeland of Iran, at the time a modern, bustling country where people from different religions co-existed peacefully and women and men alike pursued the highest level of education and professional opportunities. A new school, new language, and new friends took some time to get used to. But none of that compared to the changes that Nioucha experienced during and after the Iranian revolution of 1979. Once the Ayatollah took control, full robes and head scarves were required, religion classes became mandatory and boys were no longer allowed to interact with girls. Her life continued to be filled with family, friends, pop music and even her first boyfriend (although both the music and the boyfriend were strictly prohibited), but Tehran had become barely recognizable as bombs were dropped on her neighborhood, loved ones and even Nioucha herself were kidnapped, acquaintances were executed and day by day, their freedom was chipped away.
Publishing in time for the 40th anniversary of the Iranian revolution, Taking Cover reveals the extraordinary story of Nioucha’s struggle to adjust, to understand and to figure out her place in the world while unrest and oppression swirled around her. Additionally, this title is a unique blend of coming-of-age storytelling and history. Coupled with a thought-provoking forward by New York Times best-selling author Firoozeh Dumas (Funny in Farsi) Taking Cover encourages readers to take a deeper look at the importance of protecting religious, political, and social freedoms while Nioucha’s vivid descriptions of Iranian life — the food, the smells, and its customs — exposes readers to a country and culture rarely written about.
Review: Generally, our system of history education and media focus do not set up Americans with great global information which is evident in the many nonfiction and historical fiction books I’ve encountered in my recent lifetime that have taught me so much about the world. This is one of those books.
This memoir does a special thing in being a beautiful narrative that at its heart is about a young girl growing up but is also addresses the true prejudice against women in Iran as well as teach some basics about the Islam faith and the Iranian Revolution. It is hard to balance these objectives but Taking Cover does it really well which makes it perfect for middle school readers because the story will engage them while they are exposed to a time period and place that they may know little about, as I did.
Side note: Is anyone else really impressed by the vivid memories that some have of their childhood? That is another thing I took away from this book–I remember a lot less than others! Excerpts from the memoir would be wonderful as a mentor text about writing about memories using imagery.
Side note: I would love to do a memoir book club with diverse voices including Taking Cover! I was thinking Born a Crime (the new young reader edition), Hey Kiddo, Open Mic, and March Book One-Three. What other titles do you know of that would fit this idea?
Educators’ Guide provided by the publisher:
Flagged Passages: “CHAPTER 1: Fury 1986 (Part 1)
Javabe ablahan khomooshist. -Persian Proverb
Silence is the best answer to fools.
I knew I was in trouble when the white jeep made a U-turn. Driven by the Zeinab Sisters (or the Black Crows, as I called them), it raced toward me and screeched to a stop.
My mother was pushing my brother in a stroller. She had already crossed the street, but I’d lagged behind. So when the ‘Moral Police’ pulled in front of me, I was all alone. Their job was to ensure that all women and girls dressed in a manner dictated by Islam. To set an example, these four were covered head to toe in black chadors, and some even wore gloves.
The Black Crow sitting in the back seat jumped out and grabbed my arm without saying a word. I caught my mother’s eye just as I was being pushed inside the jeep. Maman stood helplessly, screaming across the traffic for the Crows to let me go.” (p. 11)
Read This If You Love: Memoirs, Learning about unreported history, Expanding your knowledge of the world
**Thank you to Karen at Media Masters Publicity for providing the book for review!**
A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks
Author: Alice Faye Duncan
Illustrator: Xia Gordon
Published January 1st, 2019 by Sterling Children’s Books
Summary: “The combination of biography and Brooks’ own poems makes for a strong, useful, and beautiful text . . . A solid introduction to a brilliant writer”—Kirkus.
Acclaimed writer Alice Faye Duncan tells the story of poet Gwendolyn Brooks, the first Black author to win the Pulitzer Prize.
SING a song for Gwendolyn Brooks.
Sing it loud—a Chicago blues.
With a voice both wise and witty, Gwendolyn Brooks crafted poems that captured the urban Black experience and the role of women in society. She grew up on the South Side of Chicago, reading and writing constantly from a young age, her talent lovingly nurtured by her parents. Brooks ultimately published 20 books of poetry, two autobiographies, and one novel. Alice Faye Duncan has created her own song to celebrate Gwendolyn’s life and work, illuminating the tireless struggle of revision and the sweet reward of success.
A Message from Alice Faye Duncan:
“Dear Teachers and Librarians:
Welcome to my FIRST virtual book signing. In this media presentation you will see AND hear me read my new book A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks. It is the poet’s biography told in 9 short poems. Gwendolyn Brooks and her pursuit of words is lesson in audacity, tenacity and victory. Her life is a journey that young readers can use to navigate this trying world.”
About Alice Faye Duncan: Alice Faye Duncan writes books for young readers and adults. HONEY BABY SUGAR CHILD is a mother’s love song to her baby. The lyrical text sings and swings just like music. One must read it aloud with LOVE, JOY and SOUL!
MEMPHIS, MARTIN AND THE MOUNTAINTOP (The 1968 Sanitation Strike) is a lyrical combination of poetry and prose that explores Dr. King’s assassination and his last stand for economic justice in the city of Memphis. The illustrator is Caldecott Honor recipient, Gregory Christie.
12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS IN TENNESSEE is a child’s travel guide across the Volunteer State (GO VOLS!). Two cousins in ugly holiday sweaters visit important landmarks throughout the state, while traveling in a mini-van called the “Reindeer Express.” The illustrator is Mary Uhles.
A SONG FOR GWENDOLYN BROOKS will debut in January 2019. This is the first picture book biography to explore the life and times of Chicago poet–Gwendolyn Brooks. In 1950, Miss Brooks was the first African American writer to receive a Pulitzer Prize.
Have you heard the name, “Pinkney?” Alice’s book–JUST LIKE A MAMA will make its debut on Mother’s Day (2019). The illustrator is Charnelle Pinkney Barlow. Her grand father is Caldecott illustrator, Jerry Pinkney. Charnelle is a master artist too. Get ready to be charmed with impressive images and a lyrical text.
Thank you so much to Alice Faye Duncan for sharing this amazing reading with us! The Virtual Book Signing, more about Alice and her books, and FREE LESSON PLANS for her books can all be found on her website: https://alicefayeduncan.com/.
Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers
Author: Deborah Heiligman
Published April 18th, 2017 by Henry Holt and Co.
Summary: The deep and enduring friendship between Vincent and Theo Van Gogh shaped both brothers’ lives. Confidant, champion, sympathizer, friend, Theo supported Vincent as he struggled to find his path in life. They shared everything, swapping stories of lovers and friends, successes and disappointments, dreams and ambitions. Meticulously researched, drawing on the 658 letters Vincent wrote to Theo during his lifetime, Deborah Heiligman weaves a tale of two lives intertwined and the love of the Van Gogh brothers.
About the Author: Deborah Heiligman has written many books for children, including National Book Award Finalist Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith and The Boy Who Loved Math. She lives with her family in New York City.
Accolades: Michael L. Printz Award – Honor, School Library Best Books of the Year, CPL: Chicago Public Library Best of the Best, NYPL Books for the Teen Age, Booklist Editors’ Choice, YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction Finalist, YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction Winner, BCCB Blue Ribbon Award, Boston Globe – Horn Book Award, Kirkus Best Teen Books of the Year, Publishers Weekly Best Books of the Year, Texas TAYSHAS High School Reading List, Horn Book Magazine Fanfare List
“A remarkably insightful, profoundly moving story of fraternal interdependence and unconditional love.” —Kirkus, starred review
“A breathtaking achievement that will leave teens eager to learn more.” —School Library Journal, starred review
“In fittingly painterly language, Heiligman offers vivid descriptions of Vincent’s artwork and life, which grow more detailed and colorful as Vincent’s own artistic style becomes richer and more refined . . . This illuminating glimpse into the van Goghs’ turbulent life and historical period will add compelling depth to readers’ understanding of the iconic painter. ” —Booklist, starred review
“A unique and riveting exploration of art, artists, and brotherly love.” —The Horn Book, starred review
“An intensive exploration of their turbulent lives” —Publishers Weekly, starred review
“This title is a treasure for readers who want to immerse in a roiling domestic drama and who don’t back away from a good cry” —The Bulletin, starred review
Review: I could not stop talking about this book while I was listening to it. That, and that I couldn’t stop listening to the book–I would listen whenever I could, show me what a fabulous book it was. Hieligman does an amazing job making Vincent and Theo’s story come to life through such emotional narrative that the reader cannot help but feel as if we are living alongside the Van Gogh brothers. As someone who loves learning about history and art as well as an interest in brain health, this was a story that was more fascinating than I can even describe.
Also, I feel personally connected to this book in a fun way. In November, 2016 Deborah Heiligman and I had a dinner at NCTE, and we got talking about art since she had just finished Vincent and Theo. If you didn’t know, my dad has a BA in Art History and a MFA in Museumology and runs art museums (currently the LSU Museum of Art), so I have grown up around art museums my whole life and with art as a big part of it. One of the things we spoke about is the new information that a painting thought to be a self-portrait (right below) was actually the only known painting of Theo Van Gogh that Vincent painted. One thing that made it hard to determine this was that Theo is wearing the straw hat that Vincent is known to wear while Vincent is wearing Theo’s business felt hat. And this is where Deborah’s question came in: “The hats on the cover matched the hats the men are wearing in the photo although those are not actually their hats. Does it matter?” Now although I love art, I am not the expert, so I offered to ask my dad, and he responded with, “I like the cover as it is. I think it causes a questioning that evidences the new research in an interesting way. It defies previous thoughts and expectations.” Thus the cover stayed as is with an explanation on the jacket (below).
But I think what can show you about the book more than just me raving is all of the awards it received, ⇑ see above, and all of the amazing information about how Deborah researched for the book, ⇓ see below, and of course an excerpt from the book, ⇓ also below.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: View Deborah Hieligman’s research for Vincent and Theo and view all the articles & interviews about the book to use with students when reading this nonfiction text. There is so much that can be done with this story and the author’s writing process; use this amazing text in your classrooms, have it in your libraries, read it yourself–however you see fit, but read and share it!
- How were Vincent and Theo’s life parallel with each other?
- In what way were Vincent and Theo’s view of love part of their downfall emotionally?
- Looking at the two portraits above and after reading the article about the portrait being of Theo, what do you believe? What similarities and differences do you see between the two?
- How did Deborah Hieligman take all of the letters and research she did and turn them into a narrative?
- I described this book to my sister as “A love story about two brothers.” Why would I call it a love story?
- How did Theo’s short but mighty marriage set up for the current popularity of Vincent Van Gogh?
- Why did it take so long for Vincent to find art?
- In what way did finding friends in the impressionist art community help Vincent as an artist?
Flagged Passages: “1. TWO BROTHERS, ONE APARTMENT, PARIS, 1887
There was a time when I loved Vincent very much, and he was my best friend, but that’s over now. —Theo van Gogh to his sister Willemien, March 14, 1887
THEO’S BROTHER VINCENT has been living with him for just over a year, and Theo cannot take it anymore.
It is “almost intolerable for me at home,” he writes to their sister Wil in March 1887. Even though Theo has moved them to a larger apartment, this one still feels too small to hold Vincent’s outsized personality and Theo’s desperate need for quiet. He’s dying to tell Vincent to move out, but he knows if he does, Vincent will just be more determined to stay.
Dogged. Contrary. Stubborn. Vincent.
Theo van Gogh is the manager of Goupil & Cie, a successful art gallery on the fashionable Boulevard Montmartre in Paris. Theo is good at his job, but it’s terrifically frustrating for him right now. The owners of the gallery want him to sell paintings in the traditional style because they’re popular and bring in money. Though Theo certainly needs to make money—he has to support himself and Vincent and help their mother—he wants to sell art that is truly exciting to him, paintings by the Impressionists and their crowd, friends of his and Vincent’s: Émile Bernard, Paul Gauguin, Claude Monet, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Soon, maybe even paintings by Vincent himself.
But these modern painters don’t bring in enough money, so it’s a constant battle with his bosses. Theo haspersuaded them to let him set up a little display of Impressionists on the entresol. The entresol is not the ground floor, and it’s not the first floor. It’s the floor in between. It’s as if the paintings are there, but not quite yet, a glimpse into the future. It’s a start. But he spends his days working hard and comes back to the apartment at 54 Rue Lepic exasperated and exhausted. What he needs at home is rest and peace, but instead he gets VINCENT.
Theo loves his brother’s brilliant mind, his gregariousness, even his fiery temperament. Vincent can be a good antidote to Theo’s own inwardness and tendency to melancholy.
But after so many months of the cold Parisian winter spent indoors with Vincent, Theo is a wreck both mentally and physically. A few months back, in December, he was actually paralyzed—he couldn’t move at all for a few days. Although Theo knows he can’t blame his bad health on his brother, to get better he needs a break from Vincent’s gusts, his squalls, his constant talking and lecturing.
And, to make matters worse, lately Vincent has been furious at him. “He loses no opportunity to let me see that he despises me and I inspire aversion in him,” Theo tells Wil.
A portrait done of the brothers at this time would be sizzling with streaks of red-orange paint.
* * *
WHEN VINCENT AND THEO were young, growing up in the village of Zundert in the Netherlands, their father, a pastor, had written a special prayer. All the Van Gogh children had to memorize it and recite it when they left home:
“O Lord, join us intimately to one another and let our love for Thee make that bond ever stronger.”
Theo has valiantly been living up to that prayer. He’s been Vincent’s best friend for most of the last fifteen years, ever since they made a pledge to each other on a walk. And through many ups and downs and storms, for the past seven years, Theo has been giving Vincent money for paint, pencils and pens, ink, canvases, paper, clothing, food, and, until he moved in, rent.
On March 30 Vincent turns thirty-four; on May 1 Theo will be thirty. They’ve made it this far in their journey together—how can Theo kick him out now?
* * *
VINCENT AND THEO VAN GOGH look a lot alike: They both have red hair, though Vincent’s is redder, Theo’s more reddish blond. Vincent has freckles; Theo does not. They are both medium height—around five feet seven—but Vincent is broader, bigger; Theo slighter, thinner. They have pale blue eyes that sometimes darken to greenish blue. They are definitely brothers.
But they couldn’t give more different impressions.
Vincent in his workman’s clothes spends his days painting, outside if it’s not too cold, or inside the apartment. He is covered with Parisian soot and grime, overlaid with splatters and spatters of paint: ochre, brick red, orange, lemon chrome, cobalt blue, green, black, zinc white.
He doesn’t bathe often, which is typical for a nineteenth-century man, but it’s even less often than he should. He stinks—of body odor, dirt, food, paint, turpentine, wine, and tobacco. He usually has a pipe in his mouth, though he has very few teeth left, and those that are left are rotten.
And yet Vincent looks healthy: he’s robust, sturdy, and vehemently alive. Passion pours from him, as if the world he’s trying to capture is inside him, bursting to come out.
Theo is tidy, well dressed in a suit, looking very much the proper Parisian businessman. His features are finer, more refined. He would be handsome if he weren’t so sick: he’s thin and pale; he looks as though the life is being sucked out of him. He feels that way, too.
* * *
IN MANY WAYS, Vincent’s move to Paris has been good for both brothers. Thanks to Theo’s influence, to the artists he’s met, and to his own tenacious work, Vincent’s paintings are better than ever: they are imbued with color and light and Vincent’s own particular style.
And Vincent has given Theo more of a life. He’d been lonely in Paris, so lonely, and now, even though he doesn’t have a wife and family, Theo at least has a circle of friends through Vincent. For that he is grateful. So even though he’s desperate, Theo doesn’t kick out his brother. Yet.
In April, Theo acknowledges to another sister, Lies, that he’s been ill, “particularly in my spirit, and have had a great struggle with myself.” If he were well, he could deal with Vincent.
In fact both brothers do better with sun and warm air and hours spent outside. The Parisian days are getting longer—by minutes, anyway. If only spring would arrive! But there’s still too much gloom outside and in.
Gloom and fire.
It’s as if there are two Vincents, Theo has told Wil. He knows both sides of his brother very well. Sometimes Vincent is ebulliently happy and kind, sometimes furiously angry and difficult. He has a huge heart, but he’s stubborn and argumentative.
Vincent argues not only with Theo, and with himself, but also with friends and people he admires. One cold and fiery night in the near future, Vincent will fight with another roommate. And that argument will end in blood.
Read This If You Love: History, Art, Brain health, Van Gogh, Heiligman’s writing
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