We are delighted to join the Nonfiction Picture Book meme 2016 hosted by Alyson Beecher @ Kid Lit Frenzy. We would also be linking our nonfiction choices with our reading themes throughout the year.
I am glad to find these two picturebook biographies of one of America’s First Ladies who was fearless in speaking her mind: the inimitable Eleanor Roosevelt.
Story and Pictures by: Barbara Cooney
Published by: Puffin Books, 1996 Book Awards: ALA Notable Book, Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year, An IRA-CBC Children’s Choice Book
Bought a copy of the book (Library Sale). Book photos taken by me. (ISBN13: 9780140555837)
I am a fan of Cooney’s picturebook biographies: from Emily Dickinson (written by Michael Bedard but with Cooney’s art) to Miss Rumphius. In this book, Cooney shares the privileged but largely-sorrowful childhood of Eleanor Roosevelt. She was regarded as ugly by her own mother and left a large part of the time to the care of her nanny who spoke only French.
The first part of the book is a sobering reminder of how one may have so much yet never truly feel abundant. Eleanor has always been made to feel like an outsider even in her own home. Cooney went into details about Eleanor’s father who was depicted as fun and accepting but also unreliable and too wild for a seeming-conservative and cheerless family. Despite this, her earliest memories was not just of opulence, but also of community service to the less fortunate, particularly during Thanksgiving Dinner where she went with her father at age six to serve food to disadvantaged children.
This experience planted the seeds of what would eventually become her advocacy later on in life. She was orphaned at age ten and was shown to live with her extremely wealthy but also very cold Grandmother with the huge house, and a lovely summer home in Tivoli. The story culminated during Eleanor’s time in Europe when she met Mademoiselle Souvestre, the headmistress of Allenswood, a school near London, the woman who changed her life, opened her eyes to the world, and gave her voice back to her.
As can be seen in some of the images, this picturebook is quite text-heavy, but I really didn’t mind. Cooney has a way of telling a story that makes the reader want to sit up and read more. I also like how this particular picturebook biography focused on just Eleanor the young girl and the young woman – before she met her husband who would eventually become the President of the United States.
Eleanor, Quiet No More: The Life Of Eleanor Roosevelt
Written by: Doreen Rappaport Illustrated by: Gary Kelley
Published by: Disney Hyperion Books, 2009 Book Awards: Arkansas Diamond Reading List, Platinum Award, Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Tennessee Volunteer State Book Reading List. Bought a copy of the book. Book photos taken by me. (ISBN13: 9780786851416)
Doreen Rappaport is well known for her picturebook biographies (PBBs). I was particularly in awe of Helen’s Big World: The Life Of Helen Keller illustrated by Matt Tavares. Similar to the format of that PBB, Rappaport has also interwoven her own storytelling with Eleanor’s own voice that can be heard quite loudly in practically all the pages of this exquisitely-illustrated book. Even the endpapers are a tribute to this formidable woman with a distinct voice:
The story begins with a mention of Eleanor’s father who was said to adore her, and her mother who thought she was ugly. I like how she was depicted to take refuge in books at that age when she felt like she did not belong in her own family:
Unlike Cooney’s version, however, which ended with Eleanor and her teacher Marie Souvestre’s special affinity and her time in London, Rappaport included details regarding Eleanor’s relationship with her husband (who apparently was a “rich distant cousin”), and her mother-in-law who seemed to be particularly domineering and controlling – contributing to Eleanor’s silence during the early years of her marriage:
Eventually, though, she managed to find her voice by establishing her own space with her family quite far from Roosevelt’s mother. I especially liked this image where Eleanor was shown to be quite actively involved in her husband’s affairs:
As I read the book, she struck me as a strong-willed woman who knew her own mind, firm in her resolve to champion the rights of the underprivileged, and decisive in giving voice not just to herself but to those who are silenced and disenfranchised. She was a beautiful and brilliant woman. It was a privilege to know her life through these two beautiful books.