Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Review: How We are Smart

How We are Smart, written by W. Nikola-Lisa and illustrated by Sean Qualls, is a unique picture-book biography. Instead of focusing on one person or a like group of people, W. Nikola-Lisa profiles a number of talented people of all different backgrounds and eras in order to demonstrate the ways people can be smart.

Working from the theory of multiple intelligences, Nikola-Lisa classifies his subjects as being smart in one (or more) "basic ways people can be smart": body smart, logic smart, music smart, nature smart, people smart, picture smart, self smart, word smart. Each biography consists of a quote, a poem, and a short paragraph about the subject. Wonderful illustrations (see the cover to the left for examples) accompany each biographical sketch. Subjects include Maria Tallchief ("of Osage Indian and Scotch-Irish ancestry...regarded as America's first prima ballerina"), Annie Jump Cannon ("the first woman awarded the National Academy of Sciences' Draper Gold Medal"), Matthew Henson (born in 1866 to "free African American parents," with Robert Peary the first to reach the North Pole), I.M. Pei (the architect), and many more.

I'm not entirely sure I fully subscribe to the specifics of multiple intelligences, but I do agree there are many ways people can be smart. And this book makes a strong case to children that creativity and independent thinking is also important. I highly recommend How We Are Smart. Don't let its title throw you off--kids ages six to eleven will really enjoy this book. The biographical subjects are interesting and the illustrations compelling. Highly recommended.
As an aside here, I have to mention that this book cheered me up a bit in the midst of a depressing political cycle. These "smart" Americans are of all different backgrounds and have all lived and worked successfully in the U.S. during the past two centuries.