Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Who Was

Labreque, Ellen. Who Was Che Guevara?
June 4th 2019 by Penguin Workshop
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Born to a well to do family in Argentina in 1928, Ernesto Guevara was a sickly child, but did well in school. After the death of his grandmother, he became interested in medicine and hoped to help people in his country. When on a motorcyle trip with a friend while in medical school, he saw how bad things were for the rural poor, and tried his best to help others when he could. Seeing leper colonies in particular made him question the help that the government provided to people in need. In school, he met Hilda Gadea, whom he later married, and she introduced him to Communist revolutionaries. This sparked an interest in social justice, especially in Guatemala, where many food companies owned by US companies exploited local workers. He had plans to plot an overthrow, but these were discovered,and he went to Mexico. He decided to pursue being a revolutionary, and got entangled with Fidel Castro's politics in Cuba. After Castro came to power, Guevara, now know as Che, was the Minister of Industry for years. He eventually left that position and went to Bolivia, where he was killed. 

Also included in this book was interesting information about the famous photograph of Guevara that can still be found on t shirts. Knowing this history was interesting, especially since I had a friend in college who bore a striking resemblance to Guevara during this time period!

It's difficult to write biographies for children of controversial figures, but Labrecque strikes a good balance. She mentions in the beginning that not everyone agreed with Guevara's politics or methods, but also does a good job at showing how, at least in the beginning, Guevara was motivated by his desire to help others. I still struggle to understand Castro's position in Cuba; he certainly did many bad things to many, many people, but he was in power for so long that there must have been some backing for his regime. By focusing on the individual, this Who Was book gives an overview of a problematic but influential figure that doesn't paint him as all good or all evil, which I think is true of most people. 

Vegara Little People, Big Dreams, Meltzer's Ordinary People Change the World, and Clinton's She Persisted biography series are all popular with young readers, and biographies are a great way to learn history while focusing on the contribution of individuals. 

Pollack, Pam. Who Was Celia Cruz? 
August 4th 2020 by Penguin Workshop
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Born to a poor family in Cuba in 1925, Cruz was surrounded by the love and support of her Afrocuban family, who made sure that she had everything she needed. Interested in singing from a young age, she sang lullabies at home and eventually entered contests and sang in public. She went to school to become a teacher, but after she finished college, found work touring with a variety of bands. During the tumultuous time when Castro was cementing his power in the 1960s, Cruz went to Mexico City on tour with a band, and was informed by the leader that they would not be returning to Cuba. Devastated because of the ill health of her parents, Cruz wanted to return, but her mother told her not to. She continued to work in the music industry for years, collaborating with young people like Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine in the 1990s. She was married to band leader Tito Puente, and completed 76 albums before her death in 2003. 

I had never heard of Celia Cruz and am not familiar with her music, but her story of perseverance and resilience is one that young readers will find inspiring. One of my frequent complaints is that there are 100 different biographies on some people, like Frida Kahlo, when it would be far more interesting to read biographies about less covered individuals. This is a great example of an influential and accomplished person who hasn't been written about very much. I only saw three other books on Cruz when I checked my library supplier's catalog. 

The who was series makes biographies accessible, and the somewhat silly covers (the big heads on the little bodies) appeal to readers, who ask for the books by that description! The books are a good length (about 100 pages), have appealing line illustrations, and include a timelines at the back of both the individual's life and world events, which is very helpful. 

Reading biographies is a great way to learn about history, so hand this WhoHG book from Penguin Workshop to readers who can't get enough of the Vegara Little People, Big Dreams, Meltzer's Ordinary People Change the World, or Clinton's She Persisted biography series.

Ms. Yingling

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