Thursday, March 11, 2010

Non-Fiction Picture Books?

Why, yes! There is such a thing! This morning I read Seabiscuit the Wonder Horse, by Meghan McCarthy, and Two Bobbies: a True Story of Hurricane Katrina, Friendship, and Survival, by Kirby Larson and Mary Nethery, illustrated by Jean Cassels.

Seabiscuit tells the story of an ugly, unappreciated horse. He is wild, lazy, angry and stubborn. A racehorse who hated to run, he seemed doomed to a life of losing. But Charles Howard, a millionaire with an eye for potential, thought Seabiscuit just might be more than he seemed. He also thought that about "Silent Tom" Smith, the horse trainer he hired for his stables and he thought that about John "Red" Pollard, the jockey he hired to ride Seabiscuit.

Up until Mr. Howard bought Seabiscuit, the horse had lost every race he'd ever run. After training with Silent Tom and Red Pollard, he began winning. Mr. Howard wanted there to be no doubt that Seabiscuit was the fastest horse ever, so he challenged the most famous horse in the world, War Admiral, to race against Seabiscuit.

Meghan McCarthy's cartoon-like illustrations are a fun counterpoint to her text. The horses are all a little pop-eyed, with Seabiscuit the worst. He also has a nervous grin in almost every picture, showing he knows how unattractive he is and hoping you'll forgive him for it and like him anyway. I promise, you will. Especially after you read the Author's Note in the back.

Two Bobbies is much less fun, and more moving, given that we are all familiar with Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. Jean Cassels illustrations are realistic, and beautifully rendered. A dog and a cat survive the hurricane together, and show up at a construction site four months later, hungry and tired. The dog has a long length of chain attached to her collar. One of the construction workers, Rich, trims the chain, but leaves enough to drag the ground because the cat seems to like following the jingle. After a week, the construction boss shows up an demands the animals be removed from the site. Rich takes them to the Best Friends Animal Society, where the two are split up. They are named Bobbi and Bob Cat for their bobbed tails. Bobbi howls and barks all night, and Bob Cat paces his cage. Eventually, the shelter volunteers put the two in a larger cage where they touch noses and seem very happy to be reunited.

The volunteers soon realize that Bob Cat is very special, and Bobbi even more so. A search for their families turns up nothing, so the Best Friends Animal Society arranges to have their story told on national television. Hundreds of people contact Best Friends wanting to adopt the two. They find a home. The authors' note in the back gives a few more details which very young children will probably not understand, but grown-ups and older children will have much to think about.

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