28 Jun

The Day-Glo Brothers and other nonfiction about entrepreneurs

Bob and Joe Switzer weren’t just inventors — they were businessmen, too. As eagerly as they sought better and brighter colors, their interests were entrepreneurial as well as aesthetic. Making advances in the science of color was thrilling to them, but so was creating a successful company where they could have the freedom to pursue those discoveries in the ways they thought best.

The Day-Glo Brothers honors and explores that entrepreneurial streak. And while the shelves are not overflowing with other children’s and young adult titles that do the same, it’s not alone. So, as I’ve done with nonfiction about other notable siblings and picture books about the 1930s, I’ve compiled a list of other titles complementing this aspect of the Switzers’ story.

I have no doubt that I’ve missed some good ones, so if any come to mind, please tell me what they are — I’d be happy to add them to an updated version of this list.

The Great and Only Barnum: The Tremendous, Stupendous Life of Showman P. T. Barnum
by Candace Fleming
Schwartz & Wade
2009
Equal parts show and business, the Barnum portrayed in Fleming’s riveting, rollicking new biography possessed a quality essential to entrepreneurs — resiliency — in a quantity so freakish it belonged in a sideshow exhibit of its own. His eye-opening forays into politics and the ASPCA only add to the appeal of this title.

Vision of Beauty: The Story of Sarah Breedlove Walker
by Kathryn Lasky, illustrated by Nneka Bennett
Candlewick Press
2000
In too short a lifetime, Walker made the journey from the daughter of former slaves to the inspirational employer of hundreds. Lasky and Bennett vividly depict the determination, ingenuity, and activism that contributed to the rise of beauty products magnate known as Madam C.J. Walker.

Everyone Wears His Name: A Biography of Levi Strauss
by Sondra Henry and Emily Taitz
Dillon Press
1990
Offering much more than a retelling of how we all ended up with copper rivets on our jeans, Henry and Taitz weave a gold-dusted tale of immigration, industriousness, and enterprise. And they do it against a backdrop of 50 years of San Francisco history, which is fascinating in its own right.

Bill Gates (Up Close)
by Marc Aronson
Viking Juvenile
2008
Heavy on character analysis, short on computer jargon and corporate play-by-play, and structured as a series of “Principles of Getting Rich Fast,” Aronson’s account focuses on the factors that — like them or not — led to Gates’ rise as a programmer, businessman, billionaire and philanthropist.

Model T: How Henry Ford Built a Legend
by David Weitzman
Crown Books for Young Readers
2002
There’s plenty to dislike about Henry Ford, but the tinkerer and entrepreneur himself gets only a few pages in this picture book. Instead, Weitzman refreshingly focuses on the car Ford created, the workers who made it, and the resulting cultures of the assembly line and the open road.

Inventing the Future: A Photobiography of Thomas Alva Edison
by Marfé Ferguson Delano
National Geographic Children’s Books
2002
Edison made no bones about being both an inventor and a businessman: “Anything that won’t sell, I don’t want to invent.” With compelling text and gripping photos (my favorite is the two-page spread of Edison zonked out on a lab table), Delano gives both sides of the man’s legacy their due.

Chocolate by Hershey: A Story About Milton S. Hershey
by Betty Burford, illustrated by Loren Chantland
Carolrhoda Books
1994
If at first you don’t succeed, fail and fail again. Milton Hershey did. But as Burford’s crisp text and Chantland’s affecting woodcuts show, the disappointing end to those first few ventures couldn’t compete with ambition and vision far greater than the candy maker’s simple ingredients would suggest.

And for more lists of suggested US history reading, you’ve come to the right place.

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