New in the Biographic Series

Biographic Picasso
Natalie Price-Cabrera
Biographic Audrey
Sophie Collins
Biographic Marilyn
Katie Greenwood
Biographic Marley
Liz Flavell
Biographic Beatles
Viv Croot
Ammonite Press

Here’s a look at five new titles in the enormously engaging Biographic series that features great people and their lives through infographics.

Natalie Price-Cabrera looks at the life and art of Pablo Picasso dividing it into four sections, Life, World, Work and Legacy and this same structure is used for the other titles too.

Picasso was most definitely a boundary breaker and I love his comment quoted in the book, “My mother said to me, ‘If you are a soldier, you will become a general. If you are a monk, you will become the pope.’ Instead, I was a painter and became Picasso.” We’re given a look at what was going on in various parts of the world in 1881 when he was born; a family tree (again a feature of all the books except the Beatles) and several time lines.

Pretty much everyone knows that Picasso was a pioneer of Modernism but did you know that his full name has 20 words in all? Or that he’s currently THE most stolen artist in the world clocking up 1,147 artworks that have gone missing ; that’s out of the total of more than 150,000 he created during his life. Wow!

Next is the totally cool fashion icon, movie star winner of an Emmy, an Oscar, a Grammy and a Tony, Audrey Hepburn presented by Sophie Collins. I was amazed to learn that she spoke 6 languages – English, Dutch, Flemish, French, Italian and Spanish, speaking in all of them on behalf of UNICEF. She was supposedly able to talk to animals too. She broke her back after being thrown from a horse while filming The Unforgiven, and she once had a pet deer called Pippin. Seemingly animals played quite a part in her life.

Katie Greenwood’s choice of icon is movie star Marilyn Monroe, born 3 years earlier than Audrey Hepburn but sadly had a much shorter life, dying at just 36 from barbiturate poisoning. Amazing to think that she was reading To Kill a Mockingbird at the time of her death, having been born in the same year as its author, Harper Lee.

On a happier note, Marilyn was at one time THE most famous movie star on the planet. Moreover, she performed 10 shows during the course of 4 days to 100, 000 troops serving in Korea in 1954.

I’m a huge fan of the music of singer/songwriter Bob Marley, Liz Flavell’s subject for her latest musician Biographic. As with the other titles, this one is full of fascinating bits and pieces including that his music inspired some 7,000 prisoners of war to escape and that he was shot at twice while trying to bring about peace between two political groups.

Marley was almost as much in love with football as he was with music and would organise his musical tours to coincide with football matches in various parts of the world. Bob Marley was another icon who died far too young – at just 39 – from a brain tumour. More cheerfully, in 1980 to celebrate the independence of Zimbabwe, Bob performed before 40,00 people including Prince Charles, Robert Mugabwe and Indira Gandhi, forfeiting his fee so the gig could be free to everyone who attended.

Last and definitely not least, the most famous pop group of all time, The Beatles are presented by Viv Croot. It was interesting to be reminded of the array of musical traditions represented by 8 performers/groups as diverse as Ravi Shankar, the Everly Brothers, Bob Dylan and Ray Charles that influenced them. Imagine doing a television performance that is watched by 400 million viewers; but that is exactly what happened with their performance (with friends) of ‘All You Need is Love’ in June 1967.

Pretty well everyone has a favourite Beatles album: which is yours? Could it I wonder, be the one (released in May 1967) that includes all the song lyrics in the album artwork.

Biographic: Kahlo

Biographic: Kahlo
Sophie Collins
Ammonite Press

I’ve long been a fan of Frida Kahlo – her art and her spirit – so was thrilled to receive this new addition to the Biographic series for review.
It takes us first, through her life. Born in 1907 and growing up in Mexico, Frida caught polio when she was six, leaving her with a limp in her right leg; then at eighteen she was in a terrible bus accident that left her with many broken bones and in constant pain for the rest of her sadly short life.

During her recovery period, so the first part of her timeline informs us, Frida started to paint.

Three years after the accident she met Mexican artist Diego Rivera and in 1929, (a year after Frida joined the Communist party), they married for the first time.

Several operations, three failed pregnancies and a couple of affairs later, in 1935, Frida and Rivera separated: “A marriage between an elephant and a dove” is a what Frida’s mother is reputed to have said about the couple and she was certainly dwarfed by him bodily though certainly not in spirit or artistic talent.

Her first exhibition was held in 1938 and much of her work was intensely personal reflecting what was happening to her and how she felt at the time. She painted in oils, often using pastels and coloured inks for sketching. One of her most famous works, is the heavily symbolic ‘Self-portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird’.

Another is  ‘The Wounded Deer’:

Frida’s clothes were always distinctive as this self-portrait shows:

This, and others in the series that includes Biographic: Hendrix, and Biographic: Sherlock, all of which include maps,flowcharts and bubble-diagrams, are examples of infographics at their best.

See the V&A exhibition (a collection of personal possessions – clothing and artefacts) and buy this book. They can work in tandem.

Meet the Ancient Romans

Meet the … Ancient Romans
James Davies
Big Picture Press

This is one of a new history series. It’s an engaging look at the Ancient Romans, presented with an exuberance that young readers will find both highly entertaining and illuminating.

Small chunks of information are delivered with a gentle wit, on almost thirty topics. These range from The Birth of the Roman Empire (a comic strip rendering of the Romulus and Remus myth), through emperors …

writing and number systems, home life, clothing, inventions, food and farming, bathing, theatre, building (the Romans were superb builders and engineers) …

medicine (herbs and healing baths were prescribed for most illnesses);

entertainment, (the Romans pitted animals against animals as well as humans; and entry to the Colosseum was free, sometimes even the food came gratis), and ending with the fall of the empire, and a spread on Rome Today.

Throughout, the emphasis is on the visuals: Davies has an off-beat style, uses limited colour to great effect and peppers his illustrations with amusing speech bubbles.

All in all a great introduction for a younger audience, to a fascinating ancient civilisation, the legacy of which is still evident today.

Check out the companion volume ‘Meet the Ancient Egyptians’ too.