Month: January 2015

Patriotic Cookies

9780544130012_hresGingerbread for Liberty!: How a German Baker Helped Win the American Revolution
By Mara Rockliff
Illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015, Boston, $17.99)

Not all of America’s Founding Fathers were landowners, politicians, or generals. One little known figure in the American Revolution was a jovial baker. Christopher Ludwick, a German-American resident of Philadelphia, baked bread for the Continental Army. A fierce patriot, he refused to accept payment for his services. When George Washington put Ludwick in charge of Hessian prisoners of war, the baker’s kindliness –and his delicious food – persuaded many of them to fight for the Continental Army. In his civilian life, he was one of Philadelphia’s most charitable businessmen, donating free bread and gingerbread to the poor, especially destitute children.

In Gingerbread for Liberty!, Mary Rockliff and illustrator Vincent X. Kirsch introduce children – and many adults – to Ludwick. Rockliff’s simple narrative conveys the baker’s heartiness and warmth. Kirsch’s illustrations make the picture-book biography particularly appetizing: all scenes and characters – ships, soldiers, animals, and the bakeshop itself – appear as elaborately decorated gingerbread cookies. A reminder that generosity and kindness have their own power, this captivating book is a fitting tribute to an almost forgotten American patriot.

-Dorothy A. Dahm

Nursery Beats

9780152053079_hresThis Jazz Man
By Karen Ehrhardt
Illustrated by P.G. Roth
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006, Paperback edition 2015, Boston, $6.99)

Although many people believe jazz is an acquired taste, Karen Ehrhardt and illustrator P.G. Roth have made the genre entrancing to the youngest readers and listeners. In This Jazz Man, they introduce children to some of jazz’s most famous and innovative figures. The text, set to the tune of “This Old Man,” celebrates Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, and other legendary jazz musicians. Jazz beats float over Roth’s mixed media portraits of the artists. Children will enjoy searching for the music-loving mouse who appears in each spread, one of the book’s more whimsical touches. Brief profiles of each musician follow the verse narrative. This Jazz Man should have readers and listeners of all ages snapping their fingers and tapping their toes.

-Dorothy A. Dahm

One Thrilling Ride

 9780547959221_hresMr. Ferris and His Wheel
By Kathleen Gibbs Davis
Illustrated by Gilbert Ford
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014, Boston, $17.99)

A staple at carnivals and amusement parks, the Ferris Wheel debuted at the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893. An American engineer named George Ferris designed the ride, which he hoped would rival the Eiffel Tower, which had been the principal attraction at the previous World’s Fair. However, fair authorities scoffed at his idea; they found the concept of a huge rotating wheel improbable. Nonetheless, with no funding from fair officials and amidst much heckling from the public, Ferris built his wheel. When the fair opened in June 1893, the Ferris Wheel dazzled everyone with its velvet seats, electric lights, and views of three states.

 In Mr. Ferris and His Wheel, Kathleen Gibbs Davis and illustrator Gilbert Ford reveal the ride’s history and celebrate this marvel of engineering. Davis captures the suspense of the building process even as she stealthily educates readers about various principles of engineering. Asides in small font, rather like textboxes, offer additional information without disrupting the narrative. Ford’s illustrations, particularly his depictions of the Ferris Wheel at night, are dreamscapes: illuminated by then novel electric lights, the fairgrounds might be a fairy metropolis.

 Mr. Ferris and His Wheel is an interesting look at the story behind a familiar ride. It should also encourage young readers and listeners to be curious about how things are designed and built.

-Dorothy A. Dahm