The Day-Glo Brothers
Product Code: 16731
Binding Information: Hardback
Ages: 7 - 10
Availability: In stock
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A discovery that made the world a brighter place
Joe and Bob Switzer were very different brothers. Bob was a studious planner who wanted to grow up to be a doctor. Joe dreamed of making his fortune in show business and loved magic tricks and problem-solving.
When an accident left Bob recovering in a darkened basement, the brothers began experimenting with ultraviolet light and fluorescent paints. Together they invented a whole new kind of color, one that glows with an extra-special intensity—Day-Glo.
This cover reproduction is not printed with Day-Glo colors. The actual book, however, is printed using three Day-Glo colors: Saturn Yellow, Fire Orange, and Signal Green.
This book is good for your brain because:
Biography, Science, Problem-Solving, Discovery and Invention
A Note from the Author:
I have seen Day-Glo colors my whole life, but I had never considered how those colors came to be until Bob Switzer died in 1997 and I read his obituary in the New York Times. That article introduced me to Bob and Joe Switzer's story.
The story stuck with me, and when I began writing for children a few years later, it was one of the first ones I wanted to tell. But I needed more information about Joe and Bob, and I couldn't find any books about them. Bob's obituary gave the names of his surviving family members--Joe had died in 1973--so I found their phone numbers and began calling.
I received more cooperation from the Switzer family than I could have imagined. Bob's widow, Pat, and Joe's first wife, Elise de Groot, shared their memories with me, as did several of Bob's and Joe's children. I thanked them all. My deepest appreciation goes to Bob and Joe's younger brother, Fred Switzer, who provided a wealth of information and guidance
Of course, I wish I could have spoken with Joe and Bob themselves. In 1984, shortly before the Switzer family sold the Day-Glo Color Copr., Bob wrote by longhand a seventy-five-page history of their years before moving to Ohio. So I had Bob's version of events, but because Joe died relatively young and had never cared much for writing, his side of the story was harder to come by.
That's why nothing about this project meant more to me than the family's willingness to share Bob's and Joe's original letters, notes, and other materials detailing thier earliest experiments and business successes. I majored in history in college, but I never felt so much like a true historian as when I held those seventy-year-old artifacts in my hands.
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Pink Me: Children's Books Reviewed for Grownups - May 19, 2009One of the things I do, as I state in my sidebar over there, is manage the collection for my kids' school library. I buy the books. The school is opening a new school next year, and they've asked me to select all the books for the new school's library. It's a labor of love, believe me. It may sound like fun, spending $30 grand on kid books, but when you think about covering the entire span of human knowledge, for children aged 5 to 14, it's kind of brain-melty. Just when I think I have assembled a nice, even collection, I smack myself on the forehead and go, "I FORGOT ANCIENT CHINA!" or "CRAP! THE CIVIL WAR!"
There's also the problem of picking lots of nonfiction without relying too heavily on series books. Now, lots of fine authors write series books, and I'm not saying that all series suck... but it's a fact that all series should be scrutinized carefully before purchase. Publishers do not always put their best design teams on series books, for one thing. For another, the pictures on the cover may be, er, AWFUL.
Which is why, when possible, I will always snatch up stand-alone juvenile biographies instead of series biographies. I read 94 series biographies this winter for an assignment - and exactly 8 of them made me say, "Oooh!". (I will not count the number that made me go, "Aaack!") For example: there are 176 biographies of Ella Fitzgerald written for children, but I will pick the one by Andrea Davis Pinkney every time - because I believe that Andrea Davis Pinkney sat around and thought about Ella Fitzgerald while she wrote the book, that Brian Pinkney had some Ella playing in the studio while he did the paintings, that they put a little heart and soul into that book.
The Day-Glo Brothers is another of these books. Chris Barton's author's note reminds me of that scene in Working Girl when Melanie Griffith hauls out a Page Six clipping to explain just how she got the idea that the Big Investor might be interested in buying a radio station. Barton read Bob Switzer's 1997 New York Times obituary and realized that the story of Day-Glo paint was one that he wanted to tell.
You get the feeling that he had to explain that in some detail to the publisher when he proposed this, his first book. I would bet that Day-Glo, to most people, is just kind of an annoyance that we've learned to live with because it saves lives, and as long as we avoid Spencer Gifts, we don't have to deal with it much. Just saying: it might not seem like the most captivating subject at first blush.
And there we would be wrong. Not only is this biography chock-full of arresting details: a fluorescent angel food cake, a headless Balinese dancer, a flaming billboard, and a terrible accident involving a railcar full of ketchup, but also... oh come on, do I really have to finish this sentence? With facts like that, who needs skill?
But. If I had a checklist of Things To Look For In Kid Nonfiction (and I kind of do), every box would be checked (except for the "photo" box - I think kids always want an author photo and a subject photo, just to prove it's really nonfiction).
Barton sets the context swiftly, helps us distinguish Bob from Joe with a few easy-to-remember character illustrations, documents the process of discovery, provides lots of examples, and follows through on the applications of their inventions. As befits a mid-century success story, the illustrations are swingy and hep. The color palette is all black and white and grey at the beginning of the book, and as Bob and Joe embark upon their lurid journey, the colors get more and more intense - clever! Back matter and web content expand the science documentation, and Barton shares his own process of discovering the Switzer family story, in the above-mentioned author's note.
Of the things that I want the students at our school to take away from a book, this last may actually be the most important to me.
The Day-Glo Brothers is a real winner. Assignments for Chris Barton: the story of Mike Nesmith's mom, the lady who invented Liquid Paper; and the story of Hedy Lamarr - seriously? the screen siren who invented a torpedo guidance system?
I want our new friend Chris to be the one to tell those stories.
Booklist - June 1, 2009Still in their teens in 1933, brothers Bob and Joe Switzer began experimenting with fluorescent colors and trying to create paints that would glow in the dark. Joe saw the potential for improving his magic show, while Bob, who was recovering from an industrial accident, hoped to make some money to pay his medical bills. After years of experimentation, they succeeded in creating paints that glowed in daylight as well as ultraviolet light. The book concludes with explanations of regular and daylight fluorescence as well as a note on the author’s original research for the book. In stylized, digital artwork with a retro feel, Persiani illustrates early scenes of the Switzers’ life in black, white, and shades of gray, then gradually introduces colors. The final double-page spreads are ablaze with Day-Glo yellow, green, and orange. Organizing his material well and writing with a sure sense of what will interest children, Barton creates a picture book that celebrates ingenuity and invention.
A Fuse #8 Production - June 15, 2009I think a lot of kids grow up thinking that great discoveries are intentional. People intended to walk on the moon. Edison intended to create a light bulb. Some bloke intended to find a way to can Spam. That’s why there’s a whole genre of non-fiction picture books out there dedicated to accidental discoveries. People like to tell kids that sometimes greatness is a mistake, not planned or earned. But I think there’s a third way of looking at this. What about the people who worked hard their whole lives, experimented and tested and mucked about, and then discovered something new and unexpected? These aren’t necessarily people who tripped over a genius idea and somehow ended up with a pocket full of cash. People like Bob and Joe Switzer discovered Day-Glo colors because they were curious, thoughtful, and willing to experiment. Now author Chris Barton brings us what is pretty much the world's first biography of the inventors of Day-Glo colors. And what better format to use than the picture book? Works for me.
Bob and Joe had dreams, you know. Big brother Bob wanted to someday become a doctor, while younger sib Joe had a fascination with magic. But Bob’s dream came to an abrupt halt when an accident in a railroad car gave him seizures and double vision. Stuck in a darkened basement, Bob was soon joined by Joe who thought this new thing called fluorescence could help his magic act. They set to experimenting, and over the years these experiments included testing chemicals. They excelled in creating glow-in-the-dark colors, but it wasn’t until a combination of dye and hot alcohol that they discovered the secret of Day-Glo. The result? Their colors helped America win WWII, then went on to bedeck everything from hula-hoops to Andy Warhol paintings. They dreamed big, they found something new, and they helped people out as a result. Not too shabby for two guys from Montana.
When the book you hold in your hands is all about the discovery of a certain kind of color, it’s very important to get the right design feel right from the start. Open this book. First off, the endpapers and the bookflaps play off of one another. At the front you have the orange on top of yellow, across from green. At the back you have yellow on top of green, across from orange. When the story really begins, though, you begin to understand why illustrator Tony Persiani was called in. An artist that exploits a kind of pseudo-retro style under normal circumstances anyway, Persiani’s look at the 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s works because he can make a character both historically accurate in terms of the style, and appeasing to our contemporary eyes. Paging through his art, the colored sequences sometimes resemble nothing so much as stills from the Yogi Bear show. All curves and swoops.
Now the book is a series of grays at the beginning. This works nicely, particularly since the grays are shaded in different ways. It would have been awfully easy to just turn these pictures into black lines on white paper. But different shades and tones of gray mean that the story has a depth to it. It also means that Persiani can play around with the images. When we see Bob in his basement healing up, he is surrounded by ghosts of various ketchup bottles. They are the bottles present in the railroad car when the barricade Bob was on collapsed. Color, when it is introduced, is always a light fluorescent in some way. As a result, the book very gradually works in more and more color. In spite of your slow visual acceptance of this, when you actually see your first appearance of Day-Glo it’s shocking. And the second time when Bob and Joe rediscover it? Persiani has the wherewithal to turn that moment into its own undulating, high-octane, visually blinding two-page spread. The world’s first use of Day-Glo in a children’s picture book? Maybe not the first first, but certainly the most memorable.
Because Barton is relying on so many primary sources (old colleagues, family members, spouses, etc.) to get his story, he doesn’t have a long Bibliography to tie up the book at the end. That’s okay though, since in his Author’s Note he credits the people he spoke with as well as four other written sources. Of course, what this really means is that Barton has told a story in a picture book format that has never really ever been told before. I’m always fascinated by non-fiction authors of children’s books that do the research on a story that has been passed over by writers of adult informational texts. It seems strange to think that the story of Day-Glo colors has never been written, aside from the occasional obituary and self-published title. Credit to Barton where credit is due, then.
Between handling materials “detailing their earliest experiments” and reading the patents for daylight fluorescent signaling and display devices, we know that Mr. Barton did his homework. Did illustrator Tony Persiani? Hard to say. There is nothing to indicate whether or not Mr. Persiani modeled the characters of Bob and Joe on existing photographs and the like. I doubt that I would have wondered, except that there were moments of history, illustrated by his hand, that would have been interesting to know more about. For example, we are told that “A printer in Cleveland, Ohio, began using the Switzer boys’ fluorescent ink to make posters for movie theaters.” Accompanying this fact is a poster for something called The Lamps of China. As a fan of old time theater poster art, I would have liked to have known more about this poster, but as it stands it’s hard to say whether or not such a movie ever actually existed. What’s the solution, though? Would I really want an artist go footnoting his pictures in a picture book? Or take up valuable text space with his additional information? I have to be content in the belief that something as broad as a theater title would not have been conjured up for the sake of a book.
I harbor no such questions with Mr. Barton’s text. With its eye-popping colors, it’s sure to be a visual draw for young ‘uns. But will the writing be a draw as well? For some. I mean, when you get right down to it, this is a book about discovering all new COLORS. Who even does that? How do you even begin to try to convey the insanity of such an accomplishment? Creating shades never before seen by the human eye? Mind-blowing. But will a kid find such a story interesting? Some will. But I mean, let’s face it. Not every kid is a fan of non-fiction. For them, the passages outlining Bob and Joe’s New Year’s Day drive in 1936 or experiments with ultraviolet light will not enthrall. But there are some science-minded kids out there, and for them Day-Glo Brothers will make them think, and wonder, and dream.
Maybe part of what I like so much about this book is Barton’s conclusion. Because writing about a discovery is one thing. Writing about people is another. But when Barton notes that originally Bob wanted to be a doctor and originally Joe wanted to be a magician, he ends with a capper to end all cappers. “One brother wanted to save lives. The other brother wanted to dazzle crowds. With Day-Glo, they did both.” This is Chris Barton’s first work of non-fiction. With his extensive research skills and way with words, I hope that it is safe to say that it won’t be his last.
Blue Yonder Ranch - June 10, 2009For the young inventors in our midst who had a great time dreaming up concoctions and contraptions with the May edition of our Book of Days, do we have a story for YOU! (and a chance to win something cool too!)
The Day Glo Brothers by Chris Barton is all about how two brothers, a magic show, and an accident at a ketchup factory gave the world some brand new colors and changed everything. It’s the true story of how things went all wrong just before they went so right… and really, what inventor doesn’t need to hear that he isn’t the only one who has to try try again?
The illustrations in this book are retro funk, dipped in Day Glo… guaranteed to suck any kid straight into the story.
But this isn’t just another pretty picture book. This is the real life story of two young men who rose above adversity, rolled with the punches and in the end managed to live out their dreams in some wholly unexpected ways. Better still, The Day Glo Brothers is nothing like the dry, you might be tested on this information, encyclopedic accounts of some old person’s contribution to society that are all too prevalent in kiddie lit. In fact after our first read through, my middle son, the inventor among us, said, “Wouldn’t it be so cool if something like that really happened?”
He was lit up like, well Day Glo, to hear that it really DID happen … real people really DID do something as cool as invent colors that glow right in their own basement! My science nut immediately set to work looking up photos of how Day Glo has been used.
Every single time he found a new use for Day Glo he’d squeal, “Whoa! Can you just imagine if something I invented ended up… (on someone’s socks, worn by policemen, landing planes?)” When’s the last time you read a biography that made you vibrate with excitement over YOUR own potential?
I’m told there’s a Day Glo illusion/art installation going up in his room, which sounds way cool, but I’m even more excited about the way that this book has made him rethink his ideas about inventors… they’re not always inaccessible brainiacs with walls of diplomas, sometimes they’re just real folks with a dream – real people who make mistakes, press on, and see it through – people who dream in Day Glo.
I recently had the chance to speak with the author of The Day Glo Brothers, Chris Barton, and it’s so plain that he loves his work and loves kids. Turns out this book was a labor of love 8 years in the making! When I asked him how it felt to finally have his book in his hands he said that he was MORE excited about having the story in the hands of young readers… and getting to finally meet those readers at his speaking engagements. “I’ve thought a lot about daylight fluorescence over the years and asked lots of questions — and I know that these kids and their questions are going to show me how much more there is to learn.”
Wired Magazine - June 22, 2009You may not know their names, but you're familiar with their work. In 1938, Bob and Joe Switzer invented fluorescent paint-without which we might not have highlighters, traffic cones, or the cover of this magazine. Their enlightening story, as told by children's author Chris Barton (with illustrator Tony Persiani), shows how basement tinkering can lead to scientific discovery.
Kirkus Reviews - June 15, 2009The Switzer brothers were complete opposites. Older brother Bob was hardworking and practical, while younger brother Joe was carefree and full of creative, wacky ideas. However, when an unexpected injury forced Bob to spend months recovering in a darkened basement, the two brothers happened upon an illuminating adventure—the discovery of Day-Glo colors. These glowing paints were used to send signals in World War II, help airplanes land safely at night and are now found worldwide in art and advertisements (not to mention the entire decade of 1980s fashion). Through extensive research, including Switzer family interviews and Bob's own handwritten account of events, debut author Barton brings two unknown inventors into the brilliant light they deserve. Persiani, in his picture-book debut as well, first limits the palette to grayscale, then gradually increases the use of color as the brothers' experiments progress. The final pages explode in Day-Glo radiance. Rendered in 1950s-cartoon style, with bold lines and stretched perspectives, these two putty-limbed brothers shine even more brightly than the paints and dyes they created.
Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast - June 28, 2009This is a great read, thanks to Chris’ engaging writing and fascinating research (which he explains in an Author’s Note and which involves assistance from the families of Joe and Bob, both now deceased), as well as the illustrations from Persiani, rendered in black-and-white and the Day-Glo colors (naturally). The book, in fact, gets brighter, spread-by-spread, as one nears the end. It’s well-designed, this one is. Those economically-placed Day-Glo shades put the very “pop” in eye-popping; they never overwhelm, which could easily happen, methinks, in the hands of a less-assured illustrator. I love the book’s very topic, Chris’ curiosity having been piqued when he read Bob Switzer’s obituary back in 1997.
Publishers Weekly - July 1, 2009In this debut for both collaborators, Barton takes on the dual persona of popular historian and cool science teacher as he chronicles the Switzer brothers' invention of the first fluorescent paint visible in daylight. The aptly named Day-Glo, he explains, started out as a technological novelty act (Joe, an amateur magician, was looking for ways to make his illusions more exciting), but soon became much more: during WWII, one of its many uses was guiding Allied planes to safe landings on aircraft carriers. The story is one of quintessentially American ingenuity, with its beguiling combination of imaginative heroes (“Bob focused on specific goals, while Joe let his freewheeling mind roam every which way when he tried to solve a problem”), formidable obstacles (including, in Bob's case, a traumatic accident), a dash of serendipity and entrepreneurial zeal. Persiani's exuberantly retro 1960s drawings—splashed with Day-Glo, of course—bring to mind the goofy enthusiasm of vintage educational animation and should have readers eagerly following along as the Switzers turn fluorescence into fame and fortune.
National Science Teachers Association Recommends - July 1, 2009At first glance, the 32-page Day-Glo Brothers looks like an easy-reader with cute illustrations. But once you dip into it, you find a fast-paced biography of two brother scientists/inventors in a field we scarcely think of—paint chemistry. This book provides an interesting example of chemical engineering, a field that is rarely covered in trade books or biographies.
In the 1930s in Montana, a series of events prompted brothers with very different talents to discover and successfully market the now-familiar paints. Bob was a hard worker, aiming for a scientific career in medicine, when an injury left him with brain damage and kept him confined to dark surroundings for months. Joe was creative and “exerted himself a lot less than his older brother,” but he loved to design and perform magic tricks. When they noticed fluorescent-stained bottles in their father’s dark pharmacy storeroom, that unlikely combination of factors led them to experiment with the substances, at first to generate illusions and finally to develop a variety of paints.
Paint chemistry is not high on the list of required elementary curriculum topics, to be sure, but the topic lends itself nicely to a number of ideas for enrichment. There’s the “real-world” aspect—these colors were and are used in such varied settings as Navy rescue operations, warning buoys, crossing guard vests, construction site markings, and advertising. The phenomenon of fluorescence itself is touched upon and opens up inquiry as to how it works and various examples of it in nature and inventions. There’s a simple but fairly realistic account of the invention process itself, with the usual dead-end trials and ups and downs. The brothers' cooperation and persistence are highlighted—a nice example to point out. And of course some of their early work could be explored and perhaps replicated as science fair fodder.
The language/readability is appropriate for intermediate through middle school and is decidedly non-technical. Thus, Day-Glo Brothers could be a high-interest read for children with reading but not intelligence difficulties. As a high-interest reading supplement, or an attention-getting read-aloud early in an intermediate chemistry unit, this quirky book could definitely be useful.
Boing Boing - July 1, 2009I absolutely loved Chris Barton's book, The Day-Glo Brothers, The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer's Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors. It's a children's book about the two brothers who invented fluorescent paint and Day-Glo paint. Joe Switzer wanted to be a magician when he was younger and he started fooling around with a black light that he and his brother Bob learned to make from a 1930s issue of Popular Science (I'm guessing it was this PopSci article from 1932).
They shined the light on the chemicals lining the shelves of their father's pharmacy and noticed that some of them glowed vibrantly. They started buying and mixing chemicals and eventually developed a number of different kinds paints that gave fluoresced under black light. Later, after much experimentation, the stumbled on paint that fluoresced under white light, which they dubbed "Day-Glo." The discovery made them very rich.
The book is illustrated by Tony Persiani, and it makes good use of Day-Glo ink, natch.
The world needs more fun history books like this!
Abby (the) Librarian - July 6, 2009Bob and Joe Switzer grew up in Montana and California in the 1920s and '30s, sons of a pharmacist. Bob wanted to become a doctor, while his brother Joe lived to delight audiences with his magic acts. After a head injury ended his dreams of becoming a doctor, Bob had to spend a summer recovering in a darkened basement and it was then that he helped Joe experiment with blacklights as a way to improve his magic act. Under the blacklights, the brothers saw a chemical-soaked label glowing and they set about creating flourescent paints that glowed in the dark.
Many businesses used their paints to decorate ads and displays, but the paints faded in daylight. After many different experiments, the brothers discovered a way to make their paints glow under regular white light. Voila Day-Glo!
Besides brightening up products and ads, Day-Glo colors found many uses during World War II. They were used on buoys and on signaling devices. Today, flourescent colors are used for traffic cones, highlighters, and many other items. (Check out these animations that explain how daylight flourescence works and how it's different from normal colors.)
It's books like The Day-Glo Brothers that remind me why I love nonfiction picture books and particularly picture book biographies. The book is the perfect amount of information on a subject that I never would have thought to wonder about. Add brilliant illustrations that pair perfectly with the text and you've got a delightful reading experience.
The cartoonish illustrations start out black and white. When Joe and Bob discover the glowing label, Tony Persiani adds flourescent colors. And on the spread where Joe and Bob see their first Day-Glo billboard, the illustrations burst into full Day-Glo colors.
I think this is a perfect story to capture the imaginations of kids. I mean, inventing a new color? What a cool thing to do with your life!
At the end of the book, Chris Barton includes information about how regular flourescence works and how daylight flourescence works and an author's note that details his research. Since there were few books available about Day-Glo, much of his research came from interviewing and speaking with Switzer family members and people who knew the Switzer brothers. Very cool.
School Library Journal - September 1, 2009Before 1935, fluorescent colors did not exist. Barton discusses how two brothers worked together to create the eye-popping hues. Joe Switzer figured out that using a black light to create a fluorescent glow could spruce up his magic act, so the brothers built an ultraviolet lamp. They began to experiment with various chemicals to make glow-in-the-dark paints. Soon Joe used fluorescent-colored paper costumes in his act and word got around. Through trial and error, the brothers perfected their creation. The story is written in clear language and includes whimsical cartoons. While endpapers are Day-Glo bright, most of the story is illustrated in black, white, gray, and touches of color, culminating in vivid spreads. Discussions on regular fluorescence and daylight fluorescence are appended. This unique book does an excellent job of describing an innovative process.
Simply Science Blog - August 5, 2009It’s hard to imagine a world without the Day-Glo colors in shocking greens, blazing oranges, and screaming yellows. But before World War II, those colors didn’t exist. This fascinating picture book, chock full of well-explained information, traces the invention of Day-Glo paint and the two men who developed it following an inopportune accident in the ketchup factory by one brother and an interest in magic by the other.
Explanations about light, fluorescence, and refraction fit nicely into the narrative of the brothers’ lives as Barton details the steps of their progress. The quality writing in this glowing nonfiction makes the story readable and the interesting stages along the way keep the pace brisk.
Bright endpapers reflect the Day-Glo colors and welcome the reader to something special inside. The illustrations begin in black and white and color is gradually added to the stylistic art until the Day-Glo colors appear in screaming brilliance in the final spreads. Additional information follows the story, along with an author’s note and how he heard of the Switzer brothers.
For Immediate Release Reviews--Kids! - July 20, 2009Sometimes it can be difficult to find a non-fiction children's book that can be both educational and entertaining. And even then, most of these are typically about animals or nature. Finding one about an everyday household item is even more unusual. Meet the Day-Glo Brothers.
We are all familiar with the eye-popping greens, yellows and oranges that are created with daylight fluorescents. They appear on life jackets, running shoes, traffic cones, hunting vests, sports equipment and more. But have you ever wondered how this process works or how it was created?
Brothers Bob and Joe Switzer couldn't have been more different. Joe had his sights set on becoming a magician while Bob wanted to be a doctor. Bob's dreams were dashed in an accident at work, when he fell and hit his head, causing seizures and double vision. He began to help Joe expplore the possibilities of using fluorescence to jazz up his magic act. The Switzers built an ultraviolet lamp and started to experiment with chemicals to make glow-in-the-dark paints. These paints only showed up under ultraviolet light, but not in ordinary daylight.
Though trial and hard work, the brothers discovered a process to make those same paints glow in ordinary daylight too! Called "Day-Glo" these were in demand during World War II - used to send signals, mark water buoys, and to aid on lifeboats and aircraft carrier crews. After the war, day-glo colors were marketed to the general public and showed up in our everyday life.
Overall, an excellent and educational book in one package. Pair that with the brilliant and colorful illustrations from Tony Persiani and this is a great addition to your bookshelf. The small details make this a fascinating read, which makes a great story for kids of many ages.
Washington Post - August 5, 2009They may be colors you want to wear only during hunting season, but day-glo green, yellow and orange have proved useful, even life-saving, ever since the Switzer brothers figured out fluorescence in the 1930s. First-time author Chris Barton clearly and crisply explains how the two young men managed to work together despite the fact that one wanted to be a magician and the other a physician (before suffering a major head injury). Illustrator Tony Persiani presents a lively cartoonish version of the brothers, starting out in a retro black-and-white world and adding bits of day-glo brightness until the brothers inspect a billboard they created. Not only is the roadside sign flaming orange, but Persiani infuses the whole landscape with fluorescent flavors. Readers will learn the difference between regular and daylight fluorescence, how the Switzers' invention helped win World War II (day-glo buoys, for example, marked mine-free zones) and where fluorescent paint shows up in our daily lives, in everything from golf balls and hula hoops to traffic cones. This engaging picture book makes a bright idea stand out even more.
EconKids - August 1, 2009Brothers Robert and Joseph Switzer, inventors of fluorescent paints commonly known as Day-Glo, did not plan to become inventors as they grew up. Bob wanted to become a doctor while Joe had an avid interest in magic. When a serious accident left Bob recuperating from a head injury in their darkened basement while Joe was thinking about how fluorescence could add excitement to his magic acts, the young men started experimenting in the dark with ultraviolet light and chemicals that emitted a glow.
Once they realized that they could use certain chemicals to make glow-in-the-dark paints and sell them for posters and store-window displays, Bob and Joe’s idea took off. They worked hard for years to refine their paints and contribute to a host of extremely useful applications, including fabric panels, buoys, and fluorescent suits used to save lives during World War II; as well as numerous products commonly used today, including traffic cones, life vests, magic markers, hula hoops, street signs, and golf balls.
Based on primary sources that include interviews with Bob and Joe Switzer’s family members, this carefully-researched book provides a fascinating profile of a material we take for granted and the men who created it. The illustrations, which start in grey-tone and progressively incorporate a range of fluorescent yellow, green, and orange colors, make a striking contribution to the story. This unique book certainly adds a dazzling dimension to our understanding of innovation and entrepreneurship.
Eclectica Magazine - October 1, 2009Chris Barton's The Day-Glo Brothers is one of those quintessential American stories that will remind readers that hard work and some serious garage (or basement) inventing is to a large degree what this country is made of. We all have heard about the American dream—heck most of us were raised on the promise of it—but finding someone who achieved it realistically (without Michael Jackson talent or Bill Gates brilliance) isn't so easy. Enter the story of Bob and Joe Switzer who took a hobby and some curiosity and invented a paint that is so ubiquitous that most of us have never given where it came from a second thought.
Bob and Joe were set on fairly typical careers back in the 1930s: Joe as a magician and Bob on his way to college and a future in medicine. After a terrible accident however he was forced to a long recuperation in his parents' home in a darkened basement due to complications from a head injury. Joe kept his brother company while working on lighting tricks to enhance his magic. They read Popular Science, began experimenting with black light and eventually started mixing their own chemicals to make "glow-in-the-dark paints". The casual inventing became a commercial venture which exploded when they accidentally invented a new color that glowed both in daylight and ultraviolent light: Day-Glo.
Barton tells what could be a complicated story about chemicals and science in very readable manner. He also goes very far toward making science accessible for any reader—even the young or those who might have been disinterested in the subject before. I love one of the quotes he has from Joe: "If just one experiment out of a thousand succeeds, then you're ahead of the game." The whole story is about a "can do" attitude and fearless desire to find out how to improve their produce. It's clear that Barton liked the story of the Switzer brothers and his enthusiasm for his subject is contagious.
While heartily recommending The Day-Glo Brothers, I must also say a word about Tony Persiani's illustrations. Starting out in black and white with a 1950s advertising style, color slowly comes into the story as the Switzers make their discoveries. When Day-Glo makes its appearance on a billboard, the orange literally leaps off the page and from there along with yellow and green it is mesmerizing. This is a perfect marriage of subject, story and illustration and should be read by any curious child over the age of seven or eight. (Inventive teens in particular will adore it.)
The Hungry Readers - December 3, 2009This picturebook biography shares the story of the Switzer brothers, Joe and Bob, who out of boredom and the hope to improve a magic act worked to create the day-glo paint colors we enjoy today.
As one could hope for, this biography makes use of the bright colors the Switzer brothers developed. I had to squint when I turned to the endpages and saw that they were highlighter-worthy yellow and green.
The author, Barton, has a lot of fun with language throughout the picturebook. The Switzers had "bright ideas." Their tale is "illuminating." Very fun.
I also liked the illustrations, which are mainly done in black and white with "highlighting" touches of day-glo colors. I especially liked that the illustrator, Tony Persiani, had the illustrations be almost solely in grey-scale until the brothers developed the day-glo colors...It was a nice touch that reinforced the change. And the illustrations are still cartoonish and fun enough that a child won't lose interest as they wait for the bright colors to be introduced.
Since this is a picturebook biography, The Day-Glo Brothers can be used to help young readers (or young listeners to read-a-louders) to better grasp historical time and the way that technology changes. It can be mind blowing, the moment a child realizes TV, cell phones, certain colors didn't ALWAYS exist.
This is also a good book to use to help students distinguish the scientific method, the science of colors and most notably the vibrant *squint inducing* day-glos. A teacher can ask students where they've seen the colors shown (although the book does give some good examples of the uses of day-glos). A teacher could also encourage students to come up with their own names for the colors, like "owzers-it-hurts-my-eyes-orange" or "the-sun-ain't-got-nothing-on-me-yellow." Students could also develop projects of their own ideas for inventions.
Since these colors are always associated with highlighters, a teacher could share The Day-Glo Brothers and then transition to discussing good study skills and note-taking using techniques like highlighting (keeping in mind different techniques will work for different students, of course).
Another route would be to focus on the fact that Bob and Joe were very much ordinary Joes (Haha! See what I did there? I bet you did). They had hopes, that didn't always work out. They weren't trained scientists, but they still managed--through hard work (of course) to make a BRIGHT scientific achievement.
GeekDad - December 7, 2009Everyone knows the story of the invention of the airplane, the telephone and the light bulb. But there are a million little things around us that we never even notice which didn’t exist until somebody thought them up. Take Day-Glo colors. We see them every day on Blaze Orange traffic cones and hunter’s caps, Signal Green sticky notes, and Saturn Yellow highlighter markers. But did you ever stop to think why some pinks look rosy while others are actually hot?
Like most people, author Chris Barton didn’t give Day-Glo colors a second glance until he happened to read an obituary of Robert Switzer, who with his brother Joe turned an interest in magical illusions into an industry — and along the way created hues Nature never dreamed of. The Day-Glo Brothers tells about Joe’s fascination with ultraviolet lamps, which he wanted to use to make objects in his magic shows glow in the dark. Poking around in their father’s drugstore, they found chemicals which they used to create the first fluorescent paint. Then Bob got the idea to make glow-in-the-dark ink for store signs and billboards. It was an accident that some of the paint they developed also glowed in the light. World War II made the brothers rich selling glowing paint for buoys, signal flags and safety jackets. Psychedelic posters and bright green tennis balls came later.
The Day-Glo Brothers is a picture book aimed that younger kids will easily follow. The illustrations by Tony Persiani naturally make generous use of the glowing colors. And publisher Charlesbridge has a web page with links to an animated explanation of how Day-Glo works, interviews with the author, and the original obituary that started Barton on the project. There’s also a teacher’s guide with activities — but the best activity is to give your kids a black light at your local hardware store and let them see what might glow.
The New York Times Book Review - December 20, 2009O.K., so you're a baby. You show up. You know nothing. You can't even hold up your own head, for God sakes! I mean, look at yourself. You're a blob! Then, time goes by, you're on solids now, and know a thing or two, yet there remains this one big fact you miss entirely: that the world, which you take for granted, as if it's always been like this, because (for you) it always has been, has in fact been designed. Your baby world, which turns into your toddler world, is wholly invented, made by people. Everything you turn on and put batteries into and look at, with the possible exception of the earth and sky, is the outcome of a story, a struggle, a patent stolen, a fortune made or lost.
Now here come three books, each, in its way, determined to brief the new cast on the back story. Where does television come from? Why does the hot rod seem to glow in the sun? Who designed the first toilet? Here's an answer for that one: "Domestic toilets on the Orkney Islands, off Scotland, had clay pipes to carry waste to streams, c. 8000 B.C.," according to "Robert Crowther's Pop-Up House of Inventions."
Crowther's "House of Inventions"--a revised edition of a book that first appeared in 2000--is itself a kind of invention, an ingenious physical object in which each room of the house--kitchen, bathroom, living room, bedroom--is recreated, popped to life and filled with tags that date and explain dozens of household objects. "The first electric eggbeater was sold in 1910" (kitchen); "Six-sided dice were first used by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans" (living room); "first brassiere, Greece, 2500 B.C." (bathroom). This book demonstrates, in the most graphic way, how our lived-in spaces are the product of accretion, a history of fiddles and fixes. It may, in fact, be more appealing to cultural historians and students of design than to kids. All the tags, dates, numbers--it can be overwhelming. And is it all true? Remember that 10,000-year-old toilet? The earliest settlements in the Orkney Islands are said to date to around 3000 B.C., which makes you wonder about some of the other fun facts here.
If it's narrative you want, you could turn to Chris Barton and Tony Persiani's Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer's Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors. It's a story in color and about color, in which two sons of a pharmacist, one carefree and into magic, the other studious and into medicine, experimented with fluorescent light in their basement in Berkeley, Calif., in the 1930s and mixed the first Day-Glo paint. It's perfect that they did this in Berkeley, as their colors would play such and interesting role in the postwar West Coast hippie scene. (See Tom Wolfe's first book, "The Kandy-Colored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby," from the toddler era of fun nonfiction.)
The brothers, in other words, did the seemingly unimaginable: invented a band of colors new to the world. As with many great inventions, the discovery happened somewhat by accident, while they were making a billboard to grab attention on a nighttime Ohio highway. (They knew their paint was good, just not how good.) In Barton's description of the breakthrough moment, which can stand for all such moments, you can almost hear the echo of Moses and the burning bush: "When the billboard came into view that afternoon, what the brothers saw astonished them. From more than a mile away, it looked like the billboard was on fire!"
The book, which explains the whys and hows of Day-Glo and is illustrated with tremendous Pop Art verve, began with Barton's perusal of The New York Times's obituary page, proving that the dead really do tell the best tales.
The invention of the TV makes a kind of bookend with the discovery of Day-Glo. They're band mates, Paul and John. Because if you have TV and Day-Glo, you have the key elements of the modern age in place. In "The Boy Who Invented TV: The Story of Philo Farnsworth, " by Kathleen Krull (illustrated by Greg Crouch), you have another classic story: the science-loving country boy who solves the puzzle before the professionals, by himself, in the wilds.
"One bright, sunny day, 14-year-old Philo plowed the potato fields. It was the best chore for thinking--out in the open country by himself. Back and forth, back and forth,...the plow created rows of overturned earth. He looked behind him at the lines he was carving--perfectly parallel."
"Then," Krull writes, "he almost fell off the plow seat." Instead of seeing rows of dirt, he imagined breaking down images into parallel lines of light, then reassembling them for the viewer. If it could be done quickly enough, the eye could be tricked into seeing a complete picture.
This scene is illustrated in heroic, almost Social Realist style. The light-drenched fields, the fresh-plowed rows, the smiling boy with horse waiting dumbly: it's a scene from an American gospel done in stained glass in the window of a church, or bank.
Beautiful and beautifully told, the book tracks like the sort of graphic novel that breaks your heart, with its implied passage of time and slipping away of early dreams. In fact, the invention of Day-Glo and Philo Farnsworth's story read like fables of old America: the kid from the provinces, face illuminated in lab light, tubes and burners humming. Each follows the reliable three-act structure of Horatio Alger or "Rocky": the early breakthrough, the reversal, the triumph. There is something wonderfully old-fashioned about these books. You work, you succeed, you win--or at least you live to see your idea made manifest. "The Boy Who Invented TV" also has a glimpse of the world you, as an adult, will recognize. "With his brainstorm in the potato field, Philo Farnsworth may have won the race to invent TV. But he lost the war over getting credit for it during his lifetime, " Krull writes in an author's note. "Partly this was due to several strokes of bad luck; partly it was because he was more brilliant at inventing than at business. Mostly it was due to the Radio Corporation of America, the most powerful electronics company in the world in the 1930s."
But that's another story, and can wait till junior high.
Provo City Library Children's Book Review - December 23, 2009How would you like to invent a whole new color? That's exactly what brothers Joe and Bob Switzer did, and not only one, but three. These colors were a whole new type known as day-glo, or flourescent, because they appeared to glow brightly in the daytime. Their invention not only brought them wealth but also served many useful purposes, even helping win a war!
After reading this book, it's interesting to consider all our current uses of day-glo colors that have lasted through the years. I found the Switzer brothers' life and inventiveness very interesting and loved to see how their creativeness evolved in such a fulfilling manner. Persiani's retro cartoon style is fantastic in this book, and I loved how the illustrations ranged from black and white to spreads with full-on neon vividness! Although the bright colors left me temporarily blinded, it was still worth the experience. For a bright, eye-opening experience, read The Day-Glo Brothers!
Dr. Quinn's Book Blog - June 4, 2009Several weeks ago, I received a box of books to review for the NCBLA. To my surprise, one book initially stood apart from all the others...The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob & Joe Switzer's Bright Ideas and Brand New Colors written by Chris Barton and illustrated by Tony Persiani. When I first saw the cover, I immediately went back to my childhood days and remembered how excited I was to get anything fluorescent (i.e., crayons, black light posters, super balls, etc). With this in mind, off course I had to read this book first from my box of books.
Barton does a fantastic job taking the reader through the life and times of the Switzer brothers. He shares how these two brothers experimented and problem-solved to created fluorescent paint and how that paint has been used to enhance magic shows, theater costumes, Christmas displays, road signs, and more.
Persiani's retro illustrations are "highlighted" with various day-glo colors. Even the end pages use these electric colors to support this fun and informative book.
I definitely recommend this book.
Kirkus Reviews Big Book Fall Preview - August 1, 2009It's right there in the name--Day-Glo--but it's almost too obvious to notice. Namely, fluorescent colors don't typically glow in daylight--they glow in the dark, under an ultraviolet lamp. But Bob and Joe Switzer's revolutionary paint managed to pump up the volume by releasing some of the absorbed daylight, thus adding to the reflected light. Behind the strange invention is a modestly loopy story that Chris Barton tells with humor and a little awe. "One of Bob Switzer's sons sent me the original notes and correspondence that Bob and Joe kept while they were doing their initial experiments," he says. "These documents should have been in the Smithsonian. Instead they were with me at Kinko's! I felt much more like a historian than I ever had while sitting in college classrooms and getting my history degree." From posters to World War II applications to Tony Persianai's glowing retro-1960s artwork, Day-Glo has left its mark, radiantly.
A Book by its Cover - September 8, 2009When I saw this book sitting on my co-worker's desk, I was immediately drawn to the art style and limited palette of flourescent colors. Further inspection revealed that: A) it was a rambling story about the brothers who invented day-glo inks and B) he was the illustrator. Apparently, after being sidetracked early on by an unfortunate ketchup accident, everything came together for Bob and Joe Switzer sometime in the late 1930s or early 1940s with a billboard selling oranges that were so bright "they looked like they were on fire from a mile away". These days the Day-Glo® company has a website where you can buy day-glo ink jet cartridges, but it is really not a very compelling site design since day-glo colors don't translate well on screen. The photos of book also don't fully capture its day-glo-awesomeness either, which is why I recommend you check it out in person. I still don't fully understand the science, flourescence, light reflection, black lights, but I love the idea that there are still colors out there waiting to be discovered. When I think about it I can't help but start combining swatches in my mind to try to think up new colors, but no luck so far.
School Library Journal's Curriculum Connections - September 22, 2009Chris Barton’s vibrant and irresistible The Day-Glo Brothers (Charlesbridge, 2009; Gr 4-6) relates the story of the industrious and ingenious Switzer siblings. While still in school, Joe, the younger brother, earned money as a magician; Bob's interests were science related. When an accident kept Bob housebound for several months, the two began working together to see if they could make the objects in Joe’s magic act glow brighter. Their experiments paid off, but for years the two continued to improve on their ideas, eventually producing some truly eye-popping colors. Tony Persiani’s retro artwork begins in shades of gray and black against white backgrounds; colors are slowly added until the final pages, which pulsate with shades of yellow, orange, and green. After sharing this book with your students, visit the publisher’s Web site for an animated mini-lesson on how “regular fluorescence and daylight fluorescence work.”
Publishers Weekly Best Children's Books - November 2, 2009The unlikely subjects of this fascinating picture book biography exemplify ingenuity and dedication to chasing one's dreams.
Kirkus Reviews: The Best Children's Books of 2009 - November 15, 2009First featured in the Fall Preview, Chris Barton breaks down the story behind the discovery of Day-Glo colors in this tale of two brothers—one practical, one creative—who worked together to develop the neon brights that forever changed the world. The book required extensive research, as Barton delved into one brother’s notes and interviews with the family to re-create the story. The effort was well worth it. “The final pages explode in Day-Glo radiance,” said the Kirkus review. “Rendered in 1950s cartoon style, with bold lines and stretched perspectives, these two putty-limbed brothers shine even more brightly than the paints and dyes they created.”
Yellow Brick Road - January 31, 2010Joe and Bob Switzer were brothers with very different dreams of the future. Joe wanted to be in show business and Bob wanted to be a doctor. An accident that left Bob recovering in a darkened environment led to an interest in flourescent paint under ultraviolet light, and the brothers invented "a whole new kind of color, one that glows with an extra special intensity--Day-Glo." It's a fascinating look at the intersection between scientific discovery and the role of accident in shaping life directions.
What's Carol Reading? - January 15, 2010Two brothers with completely different goals in life end up joining forces and creating an extremely important concoction. Joe loved the idea of using fluorescent lighting and colors to enhance his magic act. Bob was bored and trying to find something to do after his plans to be a doctor fell through. An interesting story behind something that I see everywhere but had never given a thought to its origin. My very favorite part of the whole book was the illustrations! Fabulously retro in black and white with just touches of Day-Glo colors throughout! I hope people are thinking of this one when they hand out the Caldecot Medal next week!
Bookloons - January 18, 2010The bright Day-Glo colors we see daily didn't exist before 1935. You may never have heard of the Switzer brothers, but their ingenuity and creativity brought us these gleaming florescent colors.
Bob Switzer, the older brother, is a hard worker with plans to be a doctor. While working a part time job, Bob has a tragic fall that causes memory loss. His plans to become a doctor are stalled.
Joe, the younger brother, is less ambitious than his older brother. He is a part-time magician. He spends most of his time working on his magic act. Joe has a knack for problem solving. While Bob is recuperating in their darkened basement, Joe is there for another reason. He is interested in the ultraviolent lights that cause objects to glow in the dark. He wants to use this phenomenon in his magic act. Bob is bored and decides to help.
From library books, they learn to make paints that glow-in-the-dark when lit with ultraviolet light. The brothers then decide to make colors that will glow when seen in the daylight. At home, without scientific labs and expensive chemicals, the brothers go on to invent Day-Glo paints.
Tony Persuani illustrated this book with black and white cartoons, adding Day-Glo colors as the book nears the end. This absorbing tale of the Switzer brothers should appeal to grades four through six – and their parents.
Oz and Ends - March 9, 2010Early this year I had the honor to be on the panel to judge the Cybils Award for Nonfiction Picture Book. The winner was The Day-Glo Brothers, written by Chris Barton and illustrated by Tony Persiani, which has also received other honors.
As Barton describes in an afterword, this book began when he read an obituary about Bob Switzer, one of the brothers who invented Day-Glo paint sixty years ago. Barton recognized how the Switzers’ history falls into a classic problem-quest-solution structure, which children can easily relate to.
Furthermore, that narrative involved colors, making it ideal for a picture book, one of the genres where our book industry expects books to be printed in full color and budgets accordingly. In fact, Charlesbridge printed The Day-Glo Brothers with Day-Glo inks. Tony Persiani’s illustrations start out in muted grays and pastels, and gradually become brighter—and brighter still.
One reason I thought The Day-Glo Brothers stood out even more from other good nonfiction picture books is that it’s the first popular book on its subject. It required original research from private sources and old articles. It had to explain unfamiliar science about “daylight fluorescence.”
(Though a printed book can go only so far, of course. Charlesbridge posted a video to demonstrate the science. Wish I had that capability when I was trying to explain interference patterns making the rainbow colors on bubbles in Soap Science.)
A lot of children’s nonfiction titles go over the same ground as books that have already been published for adults, sometimes rather recently. Often the authors have done their own research as well, as Tanya Lee Stone did for the Sibert-winning Almost Astronauts. (In that case, the adult forerunner is The Mercury 13, by Martha Ackmann, published in 2003.) Lots of children’s nonfiction focuses on topics that have already been written about a lot, in quite similar ways, as Dave Elzey recently discussed in regard to biography.
Of course, there’s still a lot of art and craft necessary to translate books for adults into stories that much younger readers can understand and relate to. One author can be inspired, even guided, by another yet reach different conclusions with different emphases. But when another book has been published, it’s simply easier for a busy children’s author to locate sources and even a narrative structure. And it’s a lot easier to convince publishers and libraries that ”there’s a worthwhile book here.”
So I give The Day-Glo Brothers extra points for being the first book about the Switzer brothers and their new kinds of paint. It affirms that the best children’s nonfiction depends on the same rigorous research as the best nonfiction for grown-ups.
Little Lamb Books - March 9, 2010I use highlighters all the time. But it never occurred to me to think about where they came from or how they were invented. Turns out, it's a fascinating story--told brilliantly by Chris Barton and Tony Persiani in their 2009 released The Day-Glo Brothers.
Barton tells the story of Bob and Joe Switzer, the inventors of day-light fluorescence colors. Two imaginative and inventive children, Bob grew up wanting to be a doctor and Joe wanted to be an entertainer. But circumstances (as well as their natural curiosity) led them to experimenting with fluorescent paints. Their original paints accentuated the fluorescence found in certain minerals, and enhanced with the help of black-lights.
But through experimenting they managed to invent what they called "day-glo" colors--colors that glowed fluorescent in the daylight as well as under a black-light. Their invention was used in countless ways--from air traffic patrollers, to WWII mine warnings, to billboards to the highlighters I use on an almost daily basis.
Persiani's retro illustrations are primarily black and white. They are punctuated with first the faintly glowing colors of natural fluorescence, and then the brilliant hurt-your-eyes day-glo colors Bob and Joe invented. They are a visual treat!
Captivating and vibrant, Barton's version of this story draws on first-hand sources: the Switzer family, records, notes and letters. It is a meticulously researched book--and all the better for it. While the Switzer's story surely could have been written as an adult biography, Barton saw the application of this story for childhood. The Switzers created something that drastically changed the way we live all because of natural curiosity and experimentation. If that's not a story we want to tell our children, then I don't know what is. This book is a surprise and a delight, as vibrant as the colors the Switzer's first invented.
SherMeree's Musings - March 5, 2010Ever wonder where the idea for the brilliant eye-catching day-glo colors came from? Meet the Switzer brothers! The two hard-working brothers had different interests. Bob wanted to be a doctor and Joe wanted to be magician. An accident that messed up Bob's ability to be a doctor led the brothers to combine their ingenuity to create the Day-Glo colors.
I'm thrilled with the quality of the picture book informational biographies that have recently started to be published. Manfish: A Story of Jacques Cousteau and Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman are two excellent examples of this trend. The Day-Glo Brothers is a wonderful addition to a growing field of excellent biographies. The illustrations remind me of the semi - educational Disney clips with Goofy that I adored when I was a kid. The story is long enough to understand the basics behind the Day-Glo colors, but short enough to not overwhelm younger readers. The use of color is brilliant. The illustrations start out with shades of gray, white and black, but as the color experiments progressed the day-glo colors start to appear more frequently in the illustrations. My favorite picture is when the author explains that Bob and Joe frequently used their mothers' mixer for their color experiments. Their mother uses the mixer to make a cake before they could clean it up. The illustration shows mom proudly carrying over a brightly glowing cake to her boys. Highly recommended!
Young Adult Literature Review - February 28, 2010Chris Barton’s words and Tony Persiani’s sketches bring to vivid life the story Bob and Joe Switzer. You may be wondering who are the Switzer brothers and why should I care?
“You can thank Bob and Joe Switzer for those shocking greens, blazing oranges, and screaming yellows. The brothers invented a whole new kind of color – one that glowed with an extra-special intensity. It took them years of experimenting, but their efforts paid off brilliantly. Day-Glo colors helped win a war, save people’s lives, and brighten everyday life – including this book.” (Taken from the inside flap of the book)
In an effort to increase my awareness of all the great non-fiction picture books out there, I decided to start with reading the ALA Robert F. Sibert Medal winner and honor books. Though Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream is a wonderful book, my personal favorite is one of the Sibert Honor Books which I have decided to review here.
The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer’s Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors is eye-catching. Neon orange, green, and yellow colors jump off of the glossy black cover begging to be read. And read I did. Bob and Joe were born just prior to World War I. During the 1930’s, Joe (the younger brother) began playing with color and spotlights as part of his magic act. At this time, Bob who had planned to become a doctor suffered a serious injury which ended his professional dreams. With Bob recuperating at home, and Joe researching his ideas on fluorescence, a partnership was ignited. The remainder of the story follows the brothers through several decades and many attempts to perfect “Day-Glo” colors. The book also tells the reader the various ways that Day-Glo colors have been instrumental in daily life.
Non-fiction picture books can be a challenge. How do you present accurate information in a fun manner that won’t make the reader think that he or she is reading the encyclopedia? Do you use photographs, paintings, sketches to illustrate the work? Barton and Persiani have found a wonderful balance in The Day-Glo Brothers. The story reads well and has a wonderful balance between fact and humor. Persiani’s illustrations have a vintage cartoon quality to them which fit well with the era of the book and the topic. Additionally, the book begins with primarily shades of white, black, and gray with touches of fluorescent highlights. In following along with the discoveries made by the brothers, the neon colors grow in intensity and size until at one point the two page picture spread pops completely with the rich fluorescent colors.
If you are looking to expand your picture book collection to include non-fiction picture books, I would highly recommend this as part of your personal library. Also, from experience, I also know that children love this book and enjoy the illustrations as the story is being read aloud in class.
Hope your students enjoy this as much as mine did!
Know Magazine - February 1, 2010This picture book tells the story of the two brothers who created "Day-Glo" colors. Joe Switzer wanted to be a magician. As part of his act, he began to use black light. When Joe and his brother Bob started shining black light on the chemicals in their dad's pharmacy, they made a brilliant discovery. The book begins in black and white but eventually gets glowing!
Review by Cara McNaughton, age 8:
I thought this book was great because it was a true story and funny, too. I loved the idea that bright Day-Glo colors were invented by two brothers doing experiments. Sometimes their best experiments were mistakes! The Day-Glo colors used in the book were really neat and when we used an ultra-violet light in a dark room they glowed. This book was perfect.
Curled Up With a Good Kid's Book - August 8, 2010A terrific new picture book biography, The Day-Glo Brothers, is a bridge between curricular areas – art, history, science and English. It is the story of two brothers, Bob and Joe Switzer, who discovered and marketed fluorescent colors that appear to glow even in daylight.
Beginning by taking the reader back to the times when fluorescent colors were simply not available, the book moves to Bob and Joe's early days when Bob was a hard worker who aspired to become a doctor while Joe was more interested in perfecting his magic tricks.
Both had a talent for problem-solving. When Bob was hurt in an accident, the brothers began to work together to perfect a magic illusion using ultraviolet light and color. They discovered a glowing chemical spill from their father's pharmacy and began to make glow-in-the dark paints. Their experimentation and work continued as they eventually discovered how to make fluorescent colors which could be seen in daylight and marketed those colors to advertisers and the military.
Persiani's retro, cartoon-like illustrations punctuated with fluorescent colors make the book fun to read and add a true period feel to the 1930s and '40s setting. The concise third-person narrative highlights interesting episodes in Bob and Joe's lives that reveal their talents and foretell their future problem-solving skills which led to their successful experimentation with fluorescent color.
The companion lesson plan on the publisher's website, as well as an animation showing normal colors, glow-in-the-dark fluorescent colors and day-glo colors, can be used in combination with this book to ignite higher-level thinking in students, making connections with our world today, history, science and art.
Celebrating ingenuity and invention, the Spitzer brothers' story can be compared with other pairs of inventors and innovators – the Wright Brothers or Joe Shuster and Jerome Siegel (the men who developed the character of Superman) for a great discussion on how people can do more when they work together. A brief explanation of fluorescence and an author's note complete the book. Highly recommended.
Cleveland Area History - July 28, 2010
When I drove by the Day-Glo building, at East 45th and St. Clair Avenue this past winter, I started thinking about a post for this blog. The glowing letters of their sign jumped out of the gray, dreary background that is so much a part of the Cleveland winter. I was sure that there had to be a story there. I never quite got around to doing the research, though.
As you may know, I'm a children's librarian. I've looked and looked, and there simply aren't any good childrens books dealing with Cleveland area.
A colleague suggested I look at The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer's Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors, written by Chris Barton and illustrated by Tony Persiani. She thought it was interesting just as a quality work of non-fiction. I knew that there was some sort of local connection, and I wanted to see what it was.
The book tells the story of two brothers, growing up in Montana, and their ambitions. The story begins in black and white, and progresses to a wild spectrum of Day-Glo greens, yellows, and oranges. Barton tells the story of how the brothers moved to Cleveland, to be closer to their markets, which at the time were limited by the fact that their inks only glowed under artificial light. Here, in 1938, they discovered how to make paints that glowed in daylight. We learn about their pursuits, initially medicine and magic, and how, together, they created the company that became known as Day-Glo. Finally, we learn about how these colors work and the many ways that they are used.
Chris Barton does an excellent job of telling the story. Tony Persiani's illustrations are stellar, fully utilizing Day-Glo colors to illustrate the story in an utterly compelling manner. This approach to illustrating science and invention definitely raises the bar.
Initially, I was displeased with the lack of "Cleveland" in the book. The first 20 pages provide background, dealing with Joseph and Robert Switzer's childhood and lives as young adults. Once they move to Cleveland, the story is more about their inventive process and the various uses of these new paints than it is about their lives in and impact on Cleveland.
Then I remembered that this was a book for children, not an academic paper. I was wrong. The backstory and numerous illustrative examples are absolutely crucial for the manner in which the story is told. It's called character development.
The last two pages of the book, the author's note, provided the biggest surprise for me. On them, Chris Barton describes his research process. I read this eagerly, curious as to what sources he'd been able to locate that had eluded me. I was shocked to find that the book was almost entirely original research.
Barton talked to Joseph and Robert Switzer's family members and colleagues. He consulted their original letters and notes. He put the story together.
This is unusual at best. Non-fiction for children tends to be the same stories, rehashed again and again, relying exclusively on secondary materials. Among those that are well done, it can be difficult to find ones that are visually compelling.
This should be taken as a lesson as to what children's non-fiction should be. I recommend it highly both as a librarian and local historian.