Sean Qualls is our featured illustrator for the month of May. The initial post about him included a brief biography, links to interviews, and an overview of some of the stories and traditional tales that he has illustrated. This post provides an overview of some of the many picture book biographies illustrated by Sean Qualls, ordered chronologically according to the life or lives of the people featured.
Picture Book Biographies Illustrated by Sean Qualls
Phillis's Big Test (2008) by Catherine Clinton and illustrated by Sean Qualls. In 1773, young Phillis Wheatley became the first published African American poet. The frame of this story is the day that she was called to account for herself before a group of 18 white men, and during the course of her walk to the examination, she reflects on her upbringing and path towards poetry. Sean Qualls's illustrations convey great depths of emotion in this book, particularly in the subtle expressions of Phillis. This is a great book for introducing students to Phillis Wheatley and for beginning a conversation about slavery and educational opportunities.
Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat: Ella Fitzgerald (2010) by Roxane Orgill and illustrated by Sean Qualls. This lengthy picture books biography goes through Ella Fitzgerald's entire childhood to her membership in the Chick Webb Band and her first number one song. A bibliography is provided at the end.
Before John was a Jazz Giant: a song of John Coltrane (2008) by Carole Boston Weatherford. All about influences and sounds of his life, but nothing actually about him. There is a long Author's Note at the end includes a more factual biography as well as bibliography.
Dizzy (2006) by Jonah Winter and illustrated by Sean Qualls. This rhyming and rocking retelling of the life and influences of Dizzy Gillespie introduces children to bebop and its origins. The rollicking style of the text is meant to convey some of the same feel and chaos of the music, and the illustrations have some of that same vibe, especially that ones that contain visualizations of the music. The Author's Note at the end provides additional context for the story and the rest of Dizzy's life.
The Case for Loving: the fight for interracial marriage (2015) by Selina Alko and illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko. This book represents a collaboration between the husband-and-wife team of Selina Alko and Sean Qualls. The story of Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter and their fight for interracial marriage is presented very much from today's point-of-view but also offers children background about how this fight came to be. The author's note draws the natural connection between the history of this fight and the current battle for recognition of same sex marriages and also shares some of the authors' backstory as an interracial couple.
Collections of Biographies
How We Are Smart (2006) by W. Nikola-Lisa and illustrated by Sean Qualls. This picture book is a collection of a dozen different people. Each two-page spread contains a poem about the person, a quotation from them, and a brief biography. The author's note at the beginning explains about eight different ways to be smart, and the end matter provides more details about each of the eight multiple intelligences. This is a great resource for helping kids think about multiple intelligences.
Giant Steps to Change the World (2011) by Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee and illustrated by Sean Qualls. This inspiration-focused picture book encourages the reader to press on and keep moving forward, and each exhortation is followed by a comparison to a famous person who had to overcome obstacles. The illustrations are an interesting combination of abstract and silhouette, used to add anonymity to the examples and allowing children to see themselves in the story. The historical people are not named directly, but each appears through a quotation in the end papers. It seems like a large oversight that no biographical information was included about any of them, as the power of book really only comes if you know these peoples' back stories already.
Do you have a favorite Sean Qualls book I missed? Or do want to suggest someone for a future featured illustrator? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!