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*The Road to Oz: Twists, Turns, Bumps, and Triumphs in the Life of L. Frank Baum* by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes- young readers fantasy book review
Also by Kathleen Krull:

Louisa May's Battle: How the Civil War Led to Little Women

The Boy Who Invented TV: The Story of Philo Farnsworth

Pocahontas: Princess of the New World

Also illustrated and/or written by Kevin Hawkes:

The Wicked Big Toddlah Goes to New York

The Wicked Big Toddlah
The Road to Oz: Twists, Turns, Bumps, and Triumphs in the Life of L. Frank Baum
by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes
Ages 9-12 48 pages Knopf September 2008 Hardcover    

Readers cannot help but become captivated by the emerald green cover of this wonderful picture book biography about L. Frank Baum, the author of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900) et al. Featuring a slyly smiling Baum surrounded by the memorable characters from the Land of Oz, readersí memories immediately go back to this classic story, whose movie version is etched in most Americansí minds.

When the book is opened, itís easy to miss Kathleen Krullís wonderful introduction ďOnce upon a time, there was not a Dorothy from Kansas and her little dog TotoÖ Someone had to make it all up.Ē Thus, the stage is set for the story of this remarkable authorís real life.

The first book written exclusively about Baum for children, prolific biography author Krull tells his story chronologically within old-fashioned text boxes surrounded by stunning, brightly colored ink and acrylic illustrations. Baum grew up in rural New York in a privileged household. An imaginative child, he enjoyed reading, exploring, collecting and writing.

Married with four sons, his adult vocations varied; to all he employed his imagination and skills as a writer. Baum performed on stage, bred chickens, and traveled west to open a store; he wrote for and edited a newspaper and became a window dresser and a traveling salesman. Ultimately, his true calling came through the pure joy he experienced telling stories to his children and their friends. During the course of his storytelling, Baum learned the value of creating suspense, the attention-grabbing importance of unexpected dangers and escapes, the fascination with child-heroes, and the role of humor in keeping his audience alert.

Kevin Hawkesí illustrations include hints of the familiar characters of the scarecrow and tin woodman, as well as settings including the Emerald City and fields of poppies. His full-color artwork and the line drawings are reminiscent of Baumís original illustrator, William Denslow.

Read aloud to a classroom facing a biography book report or research project, Baumís biography is a perfect fit. Many children will make immediate connections with Oz yet realize they know very little about the authorís life. The text flows smoothly, with parenthetical comments adding interest, although they are sometimes distracting. Certainly, this authorís biography is a must read for students reading The Wonderful Wizard of Oz or performing the musical.

Covering Baumís entire life, at times the book feels like a year-by-year list of his various occupations. Each two-page spread conveys an episode from the authorís life, some of which are relatively ordinary, and, at one point, upsetting events. Nonetheless, the enduring themes of imagination and writing tie the events together. Children will identify with Baumís successes and failures and rejoice in his persistence. The well-known story of the naming of Oz (from Baumís file cabinet labeled ďO Ė ZĒ) is especially endearing, as are the lessons Baum learned in writing by observing his storytelling audience.

Putting Baumís life and work into perspective, Krull concludes her book with a storytellerís note highlighting additional details about Baumís impact on childrenís literature, comparing it with the sensation of Harry Potter. Further facts about Baumís remarkable life and his financial difficulties flush out the remainder of his story. Sources and a chronological list of the Oz books complete the biography.

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  Kristine Wildner/2009 for curled up with a good kid's book  

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