The Columbus Dispatch’s Nancy Gilson shares her reviews of some unusual subjects in new picture-book biographies.
First up is Before There Was Mozart: The Story of Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-George (Schwartz & Wade, 40 pages, $17.99, ages 5 to 9) by Lesa Cline-Ransome and illustrated by James E. Ransome. Although the text can be confusing — the story skirts the issue of a child born to a white plantation owner and his black slave — the story of Boulogne is fascinating. He was born in 1739 in the West Indies; educated at a violin school in Paris; and later performed, conducted and composed, inspiring a young Wolfgang Mozart. The painted illustrations by James Ransome augment the text, which was written by his wife.
And then we have Just Being Audrey (HarperCollins, 32 pages, $16.99, ages 4 to 8), written by Margaret Cardillo and illustrated by Julia Denos. The winsome star of Funny Face, My Fair Lady, Roman Holiday, Sabrina and many more films is profiled in a picture book that stresses the beauty, charm and grace of Audrey Hepburn. The story begins with the actress's childhood in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands during World War II and continues into her later years, when Hepburn became a spokeswoman for UNICEF. Denos' colorful illustrations nicely capture the star's distinctive face.
And finally, there’s Me . . . Jane (Little, Brown, 40 pages, $15.99, ages 3 to 6) by Patrick McDonnell. One might guess that, when Jane Goodall was young, she was fascinated with Jane of the Tarzan stories. This book neatly combines a child's love for the outdoors and imaginative spirit with events in Goodall's childhood that led her to become a champion of chimpanzees and environmental protection. McDonnell, creator of the comic strip Mutts, combines charming drawings of the young Jane with actual drawings and animal puzzles created by Goodall as a child.