So, two artists, a wordsmith, an abolitionist and an inventor walk into a bar
Two artists, a wordsmith, an abolitionist and the inventor of television are the subjects of new biographies for children.
The Secret World of Walter Anderson (Candlewick, 48 pages, $17.99, ages 9 to 12) is Hester Bass' story of "the most famous American artist you've never heard of." Anderson studied wildlife along the coast of Mississippi, where the locals called him crazy for his eccentric behavior. But he painted incessantly and left behind a body of work. Many of his pieces were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Some of the proceeds from the book will be used to help conserve the others.
World of Inventors: Leonardo da Vinci (Silver Dolphin, 40 pages, $21.95, age 8 and older) is a biography in a box -- including a build-it-yourself model of a flying ornithopter, one of his inventions. The text by Lorraine Jean Hopping covers the great artist's life but dwells most on his many inventions -- including the flapping ornithopter, intended to simulate avian flight.
Noah Webster: Weaver of Words (Calkins Creek, 40 pages, $18.95, age 8 and older). Who knew that in Middle English webster means "weaver of words"? In her thorough, if wordy, picture-book biography of the proponent of an American language and creator of an English dictionary, Pegi Deitz Shea reveals similar tidbits.
Webster, for instance, lobbied Americans to spell words the way they were pronounced, suggesting giv rather than give and bred rather than bread. He didn't win on those, but he did convert the English spellings of plough and colour to the shorter versions. Monica Vachula's oil-painting illustrations are lush and plentiful.
John Brown: His Fight for Freedom (Abrams, 40 pages, $18.95, ages 9 to 12). The fiery abolitionist looms larger than life in a tale that begins in 1840 and ends just before the Civil War. Brown, hanged after his ill-fated raid on Harpers Ferry, W.Va., didn't live to see American slaves freed. John Hendrix's illustrations are as colorful as the subject of his text.
The Boy Who Invented TV (Knopf, 40 pages, $16.99, ages 5 to 8). In the early 1900s, Philo Farnsworth grew up on a Utah farm without a refrigerator, a car or a radio. How the inquisitive, gadget-loving youngster came to develop one of the greatest inventions of the 20th century is a good story, excitingly told by Kathleen Krull. The book is inventively illustrated by Greg Couch, who incorporates newspaper headlines into his paintings.