Read On!

Mrs. Farquharson’s musings about books for children and young adults

Photographer Gordon Parks

May31

Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Jamey Christoph (Albert Whitman)

It’s always interesting to learn why an author chose to write about a particular subject. Carole Boston Weatherford explains that she met Gordon Parks, a photographer whom she admired, at an exhibit of his work. She had grown up viewing his photos in Life magazine. As an adult, her Aunt Helen told her about working with Parks in Washington, D.C. Weatherford has a picture of her aunt that may have been taken by Parks.

Gordon Parks (1912-2006) was a world-famous photographer, novelist, poet, musician, and film director. He was the youngest of fifteen children, and he was raised amid poverty and segregation. After both parents died, Parks was struggling to support himself when he was fifteen years old. He worked as a busboy, piano player, porter, and waiter. As a waiter in a railroad dining car, Parks noticed glossy photographs in magazines. He spent $7.50 to buy a used camera and taught himself how to use it. Parks was soon hired to shoot fashion and portraits.

When he moved to Chicago, Parks recorded the plights of impoverished families, and this earned him a fellowship with the Farm Security Administration in Washington, D.C. It was there that he was once again struck by the poverty experienced by the black families who lived in the shadows in our nation’s capital.

Parks embarked on a mission to expose the racism that he saw, and he chronicled the life of Ella Watson, a cleaning woman in the building where he worked. Mrs. Watson supported herself, her grandchildren, and an adopted daughter on just $1000.00 a year. He had the idea to photograph Mrs. Watson in a pose reminiscent of Grant Wood’s famous painting, American Gothic. (Photo taken from Wikipedia) Parks placed his subject in front of an American flag holding a mop and broom, and he titled the photo, American Gothic, Washington, D.C. This stark image engendered much discussion, and it became one of Park’s most noted works. While continuing his career as a fashion photographer, he went on to use his camera as an instrument of change by illustrating scenes of segregation and poverty.

Later in his life, Gordon Parks wrote a novel, The Learning Tree, which he also directed as a feature film. He was the director of the 1971 movie, Shaft. Gordon Parks became recognized, not only as an artist but also as a humanitarian.

 

 

Elizabeth Cotten

May24

Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotton by Laura Veirs, illustrated by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh (Chronicle)

Born in 1893(?) in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Elizabeth (Libba) Nevill grew up living and experiencing segregation. However, as the youngest of five children in a loving home, Libba was surrounded by music. Her older brother, Claude, owned a guitar, and Libba would sneak into his room and borrow it when he was at work. Claude was right-handed, and Libba was left-handed. So, she taught herself to play by turning the guitar upside down and playing it backward. When Claude moved out, Libba worked many jobs to buy her own Stella guitar. After hearing songs once, the young girl could play them, and she wrote her first original song when she was around 11 years old. That song, Freight Train, became one of her most famous songs, and it has been recorded by many musicians throughout the years.

Libba married Frank Cotten when she was 17 years old, and they had a daughter, Lillie. Once Libba was married, she put her guitar away and didn’t play again for many years. By a fortunate happenstance, Libba was invited to become a housekeeper for the famous folk-singing Seeger family. In their home, she was once again surrounded by music, and she picked up her guitar again. One day, the Seeger children heard beautiful music coming from the kitchen and went to investigate. When the Seegers realized Libba’s talent, they invited her to record an album and to tour with them. Libba’s career began in her sixties, and it continued until her death in 1987.

Veirs and Fazlalizadeh introduce children to this talented woman in their picture book, Libba.

Ernie Barnes – Athlete and Artist

May15

When I became an athlete, I didn’t stop being an artist. – Ernie Barnes

Between the Lines: How Ernie Barnes Went from the Football Field to the Art Gallery by Sandra Neil Wallace, illustrated by Bryan Collier (Simon & Schuster)

Perhaps it was kismet that Ernest Barnes (1938-2009) was born in 1938 on July 15th, the same date that Rembrandt was born in 1606. Ernest was a shy child who drew in the mud. He marveled at the paintings at the house where his mother was a housekeeper when he accompanied her to work. His mother knew of his love of art, and she also knew that Ernest wouldn’t be welcomed into art museums in the segregated South. As a plump and timid boy, he was sometimes taunted and bullied. Ernest began to carry a sketchbook with him, to escape that reality. He chronicled the everyday life that he saw – the junk man and families walking home from church.

When he was in high school, a weight coach discovered him off by himself and drawing. The coach convinced 6’3” Ernest to begin to fitness train in order to feel better about himself. He then joined the football team and excelled at the sport. By his senior year, he was the captain of the team, and he received twenty-six offers of scholarships from colleges to play football. Choosing North Carolina College at Durham, Ernest played football and studied art. One of his art teachers, Mr. Wilson, encouraged him to continue to look all around him and be inspired by what he saw.

Ernest was drafted to play professional football, and that’s when he became known as Ernie. Even when he was on the bench or in the midst of a game, he was inspired by the color and action around him. The sideline images inspired him to paint The Bench, which became a major piece in Barnes’ body of work. He never sold The Bench, and it is now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

When his football career ended, Ernie was finally able to devote his life to his art. He continued to explore the beauty in scenes of everyday life. His work is characterized by movement and color. Ernie was asked to be the official artist of the 1984 Olympic Games because art critics called him “America’s best painter of sports”. However, Ernie tackled many subjects other than sports. His painting, Sugar Shack, appeared each week at the end of the popular 1970s television show, Good Times. When the star of the show, JJ, became an artist, it was Ernie’s paintings that were used. Marvin Gaye also featured Sugar Shack as the cover of his album, I Want You.

When he was in college, Ernie was at an art museum and questioned why artists of color weren’t represented there. A docent answered him, “Your people don’t express themselves in that way.” Ernie knew this wasn’t true, and today his work is owned and displayed by museums all over the United States.

Author Sandra Neil Wallace and illustrator Bryan Collier teamed up to introduce Ernie Barnes to young people. Adults should check out Between the Lines to share it with children and enjoy it themselves.

Zaha Hadid

May11

I think the best way to present history to children is through good, accurate storytelling. – Jeanette Winter

Through her picture books, Jeanette Winter has introduced children and adults to many notable people. One of her latest is The World Is Not a Rectangle (Beach Lane Books). In this colorfully illustrated picture book biography, Winter profiles Zaha Hadid, an exceptional architect from Iraq.

Growing up in Baghdad, Zaha noticed patterns and shapes and colors, both natural and manmade. After she studied mathematics at the American University of Beirut, Zaha moved to London to earn a degree at Architectural Association School of Architecture, and she never looked back. Zaha opened her own office and designed and designed. Her mantra was “The world is not a rectangle.”

It took time to convince people to build one of her designs. Even though she won competition after competition for her ideas, no one was brave enough to agree to use her plans.

Hadid means iron in Arabic,
And Zaha is strong as iron.
She keeps on working – one plan after another.
“I made a conscious decision not to stop.” – The World Is Not a Rectangle

One of the first buildings to be constructed from Hadid’s design was the Vitra Fire Station in Weil am Rhein, Germany. The building was never used as a fire station, and it is now an exhibit space for architects. However, Hadid’s career was launched, and she went on to build unique buildings all over the world.

(Image from Wikmedia Commons)

Victoria Jamieson

May3

Author Victoria Jamieson gained many fans with her graphic novel, Roller Girl (Dial). She garnered many awards, among them a Newbery Honor, for the story of a girl who is trying to navigate friendships while being true to herself. More accolades are coming her way with her newest graphic, All’s Faire in Middle School (Dial) which incorporates the same themes.

Imogene (Impy) is a feisty main character who has been homeschooled by her non-conformist parents. They work at the Florida Renaissance Faire where Impy and her younger brother, Felix help out. Life changes for Impy when she begins middle school with all of the unwritten social rules, the teachers, the “in” crowd, and the bullies. Even figuring out how to dress is problematic because Impy and her family have their own bohemian style.

As other students give her attention for her artistic talent, Impy goes too far by making fun of teachers and a student whom she respects. When her unkind drawings are pasted all over the school, she must face the consequences. Impy learns to become invisible at school as she strives to regain her parents’ trust at home.

She carries her confusion and problems at school to her home and faire life. When Impy is down-hearted and feeling guilty about some of her behaviors, she over-reacts and takes it out on her six-year-old brother. Felix always carries around his stuffed squirrel, and he is heartbroken when he loses it because Impy threw it into the lake.

Each chapter of All’s Faire in Middle School is cleverly introduced by inferences to the medieval tale of Sir George and the Dragon. By comparing one of the beginning chapter introductions to one towards the end, readers can understand the confusion and complexity of growing up.

Squires are not, of course, distracted by fears about popularity or other such poppycock. And so, our heroine puts these petty distractions behind her as she begins training in the Knight’s Code of Honesty, Chivalry, and Bravery…and swordplay. (Chapter Two)

Dearest fellow travelers, it saddens me to say we are nearing the end of our journey together. If thou believest in happily ever afters…you obviously have never attended Middle School, but perhaps our hero will come close enough. (Chapter Thirteen)

All’s Faire in Middle School is popular with readers in grades four, five, and six.

https://youtu.be/ZjxTjBaBK3A

 

 

Muddy Waters

April27

Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters (Atheneum Books for Young Readers) is written by Michael Mahin and illustrated by Evan Turk.

As a child, Mckinley Morganfield (1915? -1983) loved to play in the muddy water near his Mississippi home, and his Grandma Della nicknamed him Muddy. He was first introduced to music when he went to church with her, but that wasn’t the music that spoke to him. Muddy loved the blues, and when he was 17 years old, he purchased his first guitar, a Stella.

For a number of years, Muddy worked at sharecropping during the week while he played in juke joints on the weekend. These were often ramshackle buildings where African-Americans enjoyed music and dancing because they were barred from white establishments. Eventually, Muddy headed north to Chicago to make a better life. He played in clubs for very little money and kept experimenting with blues that came from his soul.

Record producer, Leonard Chess, told him that he had one chance to succeed or fail with his style as he cut a record. Chess wasn’t convinced that anyone would appreciate Muddy’s sound, so he only printed three thousand copies of the record. Folks in the south side of Chicago immediately felt something special in Muddy’s style, and the record sold out in twenty-four hours. Muddy was on his way. Muddy rose from those southern roots where he faced blatant racism and segregation to sing about them with his own Blues.

In the author’s note, Mahin wrote:

When the Beatles came to the United States for the first time in 1964, they were about to become the biggest band in the world. They were asked whom they most wanted to meet. They could have said anyone. But they said, “Muddy Waters and Bo Diddley.” The American reporters replied, “Muddy Waters? Where’s that?” And the Beatles, witty as always, shot back, “Don’t you know who your own famous people are here?”

Here is a recording that he made with that other popular British band, The Rolling Stones:

Mustaches for Maddie

April20

A few months ago, I was sent a novel from Chris Schoebinger at Shadow Mountain Publishing. After I read it, I’ve shared it with some readers who have enjoyed it as much as I did. I now have a waiting list to read it. Mustaches for Maddie (2017) was written by Chad Morris and Shelly Brown. The authors tell the story of their daughter, Maddie, and her struggles with a serious medical condition. (No spoilers here!) Maddie loves mustaches, and she has many different ones that she puts on to brighten up her day or lighten up a situation.

Maddie faces navigating the social mores of sixth grade that so many children of her age encounter. She wants to be friends with Cassie, the social leader in her class, as do so many of the other girls. Cassie bullies the girls, tries to manipulate the boys, and determine who is “in” or out. Maddie feels bad for those who aren’t included, but she isn’t confident enough to challenge Cassie. When she begins to have medical problems, Maddie realizes how important friendships are. No matter how serious a situation, friends will support her and wear mustaches!

Mustaches for Maddie is a charming novel that entertains readers as it challenges them to be aware of their actions. Maddie faces serious medical challenges with bravery and humor. The authors’ daughter, the “real” Maddie, wrote a poignant letter that is included at the end of the book. I picture her wearing a mustache as she wrote it. Here is an excerpt from that letter:

I try really hard to be friends with everyone. We don’t always realize what trial other people are going through. Sometimes it takes courage to be kind to some people. But we need to always stick up for what’s right. You can do it. Anytime, anywhere, you can have compassion. Everybody needs a friend and that friend can be you So show them that you truly care.

Be kind. Smile more. Laugh more. Dream more.

 

Massachusetts Children’s Book Award 2018

April13

The winner and honor books for the 2018 Massachusetts Children’s Book Award were announced this month. Our readers at DCD chose the same book as the state winner, and they also voted for two of the state honor books.

This year’s most highly rated book is The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (Dial). The setting is Great Britain during WWII. The protagonist is Ava, a young girl who was born with a club foot. Her mother shows Ava no affection. Ava envies her brother who is able to run free and escape the loveless home. When children are being evacuated from London and welcomed into homes in the safer countryside, she sneaks off to join her brother whom her mother put on the transport. When the siblings are sheltered by a recluse who is forced to house them, Ava finally experiences something that she always longed for, kindness. Yet, she does not know how to accept it. The fourth, fifth, and sixth graders who read this novel all enjoyed this book. They have now moved on to the sequel, The War I Finally Won which was recently published.

The two honor books that DCD’s readers chose are Space Case by Stuart Gibbs (Simon & Schuster) and Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt (Nancy Paulsen Books). There were a number of quality selections that were nominated for the award this year. Our readers were introduced to some authors and genres that were new to them. We look forward to Salem State University’s publication of the list of nominees for 2019. Those will be announced soon.

 

An Early Environmentalist

April5

There have been many engaging biographies published in recent years. One of the major units that I share with our Fourth Graders is entitled “People Who Make a Difference.” We read picture book biographies about athletes, artists, statesmen, activists, and others who forged the way for civil rights and human rights. I want to share this post that I originally wrote in 2012 because it is still so timely.

The students were especially interested to learn about Jacques Cousteau. While I grew up watching National Geographic specials that Cousteau had produced (and singing John Denver’s song, “Calypso”), few children today know about Cousteau and his work.

tlccontentManfish: a story of Jacques Cousteau by Jennifer Berne, illustrated by Eric Puybaret (Chronicle, 2008) introduces young readers to this icon by depicting him as a young boy with a love of the ocean and cameras. The author captivates young readers as she introduces Cousteau’s inventions and experiences like the aqualung and other scuba gear, the use of underwater cameras, the diving saucer, and the sea flea.

In The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau by Dan Yaccarino (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2009), the author/illustrator inserts short quotes by Cousteau as he chronicles the adventurer’s life. tlccontent-1

Here’s a video on Jacques Cousteau’s work with John Denver’s song “Calypso”.

Celebrating Women’s History Month

March6

Never be limited by other people’s limited imaginations.
-Mae Jemison, Astronaut

 

Susan Hood has written over two hundred children’s books, and her most recent is Shaking Things Up: 14 Young Women Who Changed the World (Harper). The author introduces readers to women and girls whose accomplishments are inspirational to people of all ages and genders. There is a timeline of those featured that ranges from the 1780s to 2014. Right after the American Revolution, Molly Williams, a servant of a volunteer firefighter, hauled a pumper truck and fought a blazing fire on her own. Molly was awarded a volunteer badge, but there wasn’t another female firefighter in New York City until 1982.  Malala Yousafzai received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 for standing up to the Taliban and declaring that girls had a right to an education. Susan Hood writes about twelve other scientists, artists, athletes, and ordinary women and girls who believed in themselves. The illustrations in Shaking Things Up are by a number of noted artists.

The author describes her motivation for writing this book in the Author’s Note:
Over the years, politics, religion, and “polite society” have tried to define what a woman should be, tried to restrict our behavior, speech, rights, aspirations, and even choice of clothing. But women have faced adversity head-on – defying poverty, illness, war, and discrimination – to change the world for men and women alike.

 

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