Picture Book Showcase #4

It's time for another Picture Book Showcase!!

The theme of the last Showcase was illustrator Melissa Sweet. We are changing it up once more to a broader theme. This week's theme is:


I realize that we just recently did some biographies with the random history books in the very first Picture Showcase, but I found some more really good biographies that I really want to share with you all. I checked these out last month and thought they were all great reads. They cover all kinds of people, from authors and musicians, to inventors and cowboys. Each of these books I've selected has earned a Lone Star rating of ✯✯✯✯, for different reasons

Let's take a look at the books!

Brave Jane AustenJust Like Beverly
The Journey That Saved Curious George Clean Sweep! Frank Zamboni's Ice Machine
Elvis is King!Elvis: The Story of the Rock and Roll King
Bill Pickett: Rodeo-Ridin' Cowboy Rough, Tough Charley


  • Brave Jane Austen by Lisa Pliscou, Jen Corace (Ill.)
  • Just Like Beverly: A Biography of Beverly Cleary by Vicki Conrad, David Hohn (Ill.) 
  • The Journey That Saved Curious George: The True Wartime Escape of Margret and H. A. Rey by Louise Borden, Allan Drummond (Ill.) 
  • Clean Sweep! Frank Zamboni's Ice Machine by Monica Kulling, Renne Benoit (Ill.)
  • Elvis is King! by Jonah Winter, Red Nose Studio (Ill.) 
  • Elvis: The Story of the Rock and Roll King by Bonnie Christensen
  • Bill Pickett: Rodeo-Ridin' Cowboy by Andrea D. Pinkney, Brian Pinkney (Ill.)
  • Rough, Tough Charley by Verla Kay, Adam Gustavson (Ill.)


Brave Jane Austen (2018) focuses on famous British author Jane Austen, author of Pride & Prejudice and Sense & Sensibility. Jane Austen is one of my favorite classic authors, so when I found this one I just had to read it. The art is cute, as the illustrated characters all look like little old fashioned dolls due to their facial features. The book tells about the life of Jane Austen: her childhood, school, writing, the family dynamics she lived in, the world she lived in socially, her publishing history, up until her passing. The book covers the full course of her life and mentions some of the difficulties she had as a writer since writing was not considered ladylike. This is a very good introductory to one of the best authors I've ever read and to gender roles of the past, and how women even then were subverting them in positive ways. I really enjoyed how accessible this book made all these themes and told Jane Austen's story. 

Just Like Beverly (2019) is a book about children's author Beverly Cleary. I have enjoyed Beverly Cleary's work for a long time and I was surprised to see how similar our educational paths are at this point. She studied English and then library studies to become a librarian, before writing stories that children actually wanted to read. I didn't know much about her past before this book, so it was a good opportunity to learn about an exceptional children's author. The story really gets across the point that a child can be successful in their educational pursuits with the right approaches and materials. The illustrations are very nice and youthful, emphasizing how important it is for children to be considered instead of just instructed and pulled along.  

The Journey That Saved Curious George (2005) talks about the adventures that Margret and H. A. Rey had before having to escape from Europe during World War II. It talks about their youth, how they both ended up in Rio de Janeiro and how their lives changed because of Hitler taking over journey. It is an unbelievable story that shows how Curious George came to be named George and was actually published, after having been carried through France, Portugal, Brazil, eventually on to the United States. They rode bikes out from France and took ships away from Europe, all to escape the war that was slowly making its way to France. The most impressive thing about this book isn't just that they escaped wartime Europe, but also how their adventures through their lives following their passions allowed them to be able to escape. There are some photographs of the Reys and their documents, as well as early drafts and illustrations of their famous book characters, in addition to original illustrations. This was a story I knew nothing about, even though I am definitely a fan of Curious George (my mother has the full collection of Curious George stories and used to read them to me at bedtime). I hadn't realized that the curious monkey had also been an intrepid traveler! 

Clean Sweep! (2016) tells the story of Frank Zamboni, who would create the namesake machine found all over the world at ice rinks and hockey arenas. Back before Zamboni machines were used, ice was resurfaced manually and it took a much longer time. This book relates the life of Frank Zamboni and his family. Frank and one of his brothers, Lawrence, did electrical work at a shop they opened. They were doing a set of particular maintenance jobs involving wells and water pumps, but eventually decided to get into the ice-making business, make a skating rink, and due to their continuous raising the bar, decided to make a machine that would make ice resurfacing faster. The illustrations are really smooth and I found the story to be really interesting. As a hockey fan, I see Zambonis resurface ice all the time, so it was really cool to see how such a famous machine came about to such popular use. This one may not be a super interesting topic to a lot of people in general, but it is a really interesting story that's worth a read. 

Elvis is King! (2019) is a book about Elvis Presley that features clay characters for its illustrations. The clay characters were created by Red Nose Studios and I think that they are a really unique approach to illustration. Generally speaking, I really like claymatian films, like Tim Burton has done. The illustrations are basically similar to those films, except that they aren't animated (since its a book) and its brighter in color than Burton's work. The book tells the story of Elvis and how he became the musical sensation and icon that he was. It starts with his childhood and tells us about his family, as well as his hardships. The story is told in short free verse episodic snippets on each page. What I like about this book is that it is unique in how it is presented. I've never read a Red Nose Studios illustrated book before and have never seen this style used. The lighting of the images is visually intriguing. The story is straightforward and while it isn't the most poetic in general, it gets the job done. For Elvis fans and for readers who like to see something different in illustration, this is a goody. 

Elvis: The Story of the Rock and Roll King (2015) tells the same general story as Elvis is King! but with collage and oil illustrations and longer free verse sections. It also includes more specific dates for each episode of Elvis's life. It covers his youth and family, perceptions his classmates had of him, recording at Sun Records, and his first performance. I really like the illustrations in this book too. I think it is interesting how the same biographical story can be told very differently, within the same story medium. I am a fan of Elvis and have just now been learning about his life. Each book I read and each video I watch just makes his life and accomplishments all the more impressive. For young music enthusiasts or fans, this book, and the other Elvis selection above, are great reads to experience. 

Billy Pickett: Rodeo-Ridin' Cowboy (1999) is the story of Bill Pickett, the most famous black rodeo cowboy and performer that ever there was. This is the oldest book in this week's Showcase, but it is just as worthwhile as any of the other, newer books. Pickett was a Texan through and through, and was unique in how he approached steer wrestling. When he was a young kid, he quit school to be a ranch hand, and invented bulldogging. Originally, to wrestle stray cattle, a cattleman would have the help of a bulldog, but Bill Pickett figured he could do the job just as good as any bulldog, all by himself. Pickett is a very interesting figure and a really cool Texan cowboy to read about. This book taught me a lot that I didn't know and I think more people in general should know about Bill and his bulldogging, as well as other rodeo stunts that landed him in the ProRodeo Hall of Fame. It's an older book, but don't discount it based on age alone. The story is a good one and the illustrations are excellent, coming from a 2 time Caldecott Honor winner. 

Rough, Tough Charley (2007) presents the story of Charley Parkhurst, a cowboy in the 1800s with a pretty big secret that was hidden until the day that Charley died. The book is written in "cryptic rhyme", a style unique to Verla Kay. I have to say that I wasn't the biggest fan of the cryptic verse used to tell the story, because it really slows things down and makes you re-read it to understand it. There is a section at the back that provides a timeline of Charley's life, which helps to clarify the events in the story. This one requires at least 2 read-throughs: 1 to experience the story and 2 to see how different the story is once you know the big secret and the context of the events. What I DID really like about this book was the secret and how it emphasizes the ways that people could get around things, even in the past when societal rules were perceived as being very strict. I also really like the illustrations. The illustrations and general story are what put this one over the edge for me. The cryptic poetry feels jarring to me, but at the same time, it fits thematically with how big of a secret Charley kept. This is another book illustrated with oils, and I think that each page is very well executed. The horses all look good, there is plenty of texture on different parts of the images, and the tone are all just right for the setting of the story. 

Final Thoughts 

So it looks like we've come to the end of another Picture Book Showcase. See if you can find any of these books at your local library to share with your kiddos if any of the topics strike your fancy or if your curiosity gets the better of you check them out to read yourself! As always, let me know what you thought in the comments below and feel free to comment or e-mail me suggestions for other illustrators or themes that you'd like to see covered in a future Showcase. 

Also, Happy Thanksgiving, I hope you have a wonderful holiday with your families!

See you at the next review!