Read On!

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

Two Novels


There have already been a number of quality books published in 2015 for our intermediate and young adult readers. Two of my latest favorites are Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan (Scholastic, 2015) and Stella by Starlight by Sharon Draper (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2015). These books are each challenging with their content and intriguing with their plots.

echoEcho is a difficult book to describe because it shifts back and forth from fantasy to reality. In a mysterious and forbidden forest, a man meets three strange sisters who deliver a prophecy, a promise, and a harmonica. That harmonica is intertwined within three other stories. Readers will be drawn to the challenges that Friedrich in Germany, Mike in Pennsylvania, and Ivy in California face during different time periods. This is a long book with 592 pages, and readers will be so engrossed in the plot that they will be disappointed to have it end.

Pam Munoz Ryan speaks about her writing and another of her books, The Dreamer, in this video.

stellaStella by Starlight is realistic fiction that challenges readers to face the realities of racism in the United States. The main character lives in Bumblebee, North Carolina, in the heart of the segregated south. In this Depression Era story, the Ku Klux Klan are making a reappearance and terrorizing many in the area. Sharon Draper talks about her inspiration for her latest book.

***On an unrelated note, “Stella by Starlight” is also the name of a 1940s jazz classic. To hear Miles Davis perform it, check out this video.

Let the Reading Begin


MCBA_rdax_230x150It was an exciting week for our rising fourth, fifth, and sixth grade readers  because the announcement of the 2015-2016 nominees for the Massachusetts Children’s Book Award. This voluntary reading incentive program has become a popular event for many students. The organizers at Salem State College have responded to librarians’ suggestions and requests to publish the nominees as soon as possible in May. Fortunately for us, the list was published last Friday afternoon. We were able to get many of the titles for our book fair this week. As the children plan their summer reading, we’ve encouraged them to use the MACBA list for suggested titles and authors.

7Some of the books that have been nominated for the 2016 award are already favorites of mine. One of them, Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan is a sophisticated novel for our readers. When I wrote about it on February 20, 2014, I thought that the Newbery Award Committee should have recognized it, and I said
Willow is unique, and depending on your point of view, you will want to be her friend, or teacher, or parent. Her world falls apart when she is in middle school. It’s no spoiler to tell you that in the opening chapter, the reader learns that Willow’s parents die. While this shatters Willow’s world, a diverse group of individuals reach out to save her. It is Willow who saves them and brings out each one’s “giftedness” (my term). Do share this book with a fifth, sixth, or seventh grader, but be sure to read it yourself too.

While Counting by 7s is one of the most sophisticated books on the list, there are titles that will interest children of various reading levels. All of the nominees and their reading levels are on the Salem State College website. We will be promoting these particular books until our voting party in 2016.

Spring Reading


There are some very entertaining new novels for children and young adults that have been published this spring. I have a stack of books to read, and I want to recommend two this week.

fishFish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt (Penguin, 2015) is a novel that many readers from ages 10+ might enjoy. I did! The narrator of this story is Ally, a sixth grader who is struggling to navigate school. She is contending with the typical social issues that occur during those middle school years. As an outsider, Ally is trying to fit in. Her difficulties are compounded by the fact that her father is in the military, and he is currently stationed overseas. Her family has moved around a lot because of her father’s assignments, and school hasn’t been easy for Ally or her older brother. Maybe it’s because she was never in one school for very long, or maybe Ally was very good at faking her ability, but no teacher had picked up on Ally’s academic deficits. The situation in her present school is similar to that in her previous one, she gets sent to the principal’s office often for causing problems. Her new sixth grade teacher realizes that Ally can’t read, and that she is dyslexic. Even though the main character is a girl, one of her best friends is an interesting boy, and this might help with the appeal to our male readers. Ally’s teacher’s words to her are some that all children who struggle need to hear,

Everybody is smart in different ways. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its life believing it is stupid.

allKate Messner is another novelist who can speak to youngsters as if she were their peer. In All the Answers (Bloomsbury, 2015), her middle-school protagonist is Ava, a girl who is often overcome by her fears. Whether it is family, social or academic issues, Ava feels that she doesn’t have the courage that her best friend, Sophie, does. Ava is also worried about her grandfather in a nursing home and her parents arguing a lot. When she uses a pencil from her family’s junk drawer, Ava is shocked to learn that the pencil has magical powers. When she writes out a question with the blue pencil, she hears a voice that gives her the answer. The pencil tells her that it can only divulge facts, and that “People have free will.” Still, there are not only academic facts that Ava and Sophie learn, but also facts about the boys and girls in their class. Perhaps they weren’t supposed to know some of these facts. How ethical is it to use the pencil?

Henri Matisse


The Museum of Modern Art in New York City presented a fascinating exhibit in 2014 called Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs. The exhibition catalog for the exhibit is inspiring, and I knew that we had a number of books in the DCD library that discussed this talented artist’s life. Many of them focus on the time in his life when Matisse created almost entirely with paper and scissors.
Henri Matisse was born in 1869 in Le Cateau-Cambrésis, France. He lived in Paris for most of his life, and his avant-garde work was known internationally. At seventy-two, the artist became very ill, and nearly bedridden. Instead of giving up all of his art, he developed his ideas in a new medium – large cutouts from hand-painted paper that his assistants hung around the room for him.
m3The Iridescence of Birds: A Book About Henri Matisse by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Hadley Hooper (Roaring Brook Press, 2014) is a simple tale of Henri’s childhood, and how his surroundings influenced his later works.
Jeanette Winter also wrote a biography of the master for our youngest readers in Henri’s Scissors (Beach Lane, 2013).  Marjorie Blaine Parker’s biography, Colorful Dreamer: The Story of Henri Matisse (Dial, 2012) is an enticing complement to Winter’s work.
m4Jane O’Connor and Jessie Hartland teamed up to produce Henri Matisse: Drawing with Scissors (Grosset & Dunlap, 2002). Their children’s biography is in the form of a school report that a student has written. It contains images of some of Matisse’s work and a discussion of his life.
My three favorite picture book biographies on this master are Matisse: The King of Color by Laurence Anholt (Barron’s, 2007) and Matisse’s Garden by Samantha Friedman, illustrated by Cristina Amodeo (MoMA, 2014), and Colorful Dreamer: The Story of Artist Henri Matisse by Marjorie Blaine Parker, illustrated by Holly Berry (Dial, 2012).
mAnholt provides details of Matisse’s life that aren’t covered in other children’s books. He chronicles the relationship that Henri had with Monique, a young nurse who helped him through a serious illness. Monique became his confidant, but she eventually left and entered a religious order as a nun. Year’s later, the nun and artist were reunited, and Matisse built the Chapelle du Rosaire as a gift to Monique and the other nuns who cared for him. He designed seventeen stained glass windows that fill the chapel with light, color, and pattern.
m2Matisse’s Garden was published by The Museum of Modern Art to coincide with the recent exhibit. This tale concentrates solely on Henri’s cut-outs, but the book itself is a masterpiece with pages that open out in double spreads to illustrate some of his larger cut-outs.


matisseColorful Dreamer is just that, colorful. Holly Berry’s illustrations are a combination of more realistic sketches of Henri and his family combined with colorful collages that evoke his artwork and imagination.


MissOh, and I still haven’t mentioned a book for our older readers and art enthusiasts, Miss Etta and Dr. Claribel:Bringing Matisse to America by Susan Fillion (Godine, 2011). Two unmarried sisters from a German-Jewish family in Baltimore amassed one of the most amazing collections of modern art in America. They concentrated on works by Matisse, although they also purchased many paintings by Vuillard, Cézanne, Gauguin, and Picasso. The sisters’ collection was bequeathed to The Baltimore Museum of Art.



A.A. Milne’s masterpiece, Winnie-the-Pooh, was published in 1926, and his book still entertains readers today. While many children know Winnie through Disney movies, when our third graders read Winnie-the-Pooh in their library classes, they are exposed to the richness of Milne’s prose.

To add further enjoyment and insight into the book, the children learn about the background to the story and the characters. It is more special for them when they learn that there was a real Christopher Robin, and that he was the author’s son. Even more interesting is that Christopher Robin’s real toys, including Winnie, are on display in the New York Public Library.

bookSally M. Walker’s new book, Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh (Henry Holt, 2015) adds to the richness of sharing the story of this special bear with today’s readers. Jonathan D. Voss illustrated this tale of the background of the real American black bear after whom Christopher Robin’s Winnie is named. Harry Colebourn, a veterinarian in the Canadian Army, rescued the bear cub after the cub’s mother died. Lieutenant Colebourn named the bear Winnipeg, after his army company’s hometown.

Winnipeg soon became known as Winnie, and she became Colebourn’s constant companion, harryeven sleeping under his bed every night. When the soldiers were shipped to England because of WWI, they brought Winnie with them. However, when Harry’s group was sent to the front in France, the soldier knew that Winnie would be in danger if she went with him. Colebourn made arrangements with the London Zoo for Winnie to live there.

Winnie shared this new home with other bears, yet she retained her gentle nature. Because bearshe was so accustomed to humans, the zoo even let children interact with her. That’s where A.A. Milne and his son, Christopher Robin met Winnie. Christopher Robin decided that his stuffed bear, Edward Bear, must change his name to Winnie-the-Pooh. …And generations of readers are happy that he did!


(Photos from Wikipedia)


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Pedro Martínez


Ramón is the biggest reason
I have gotten where I am.
He is the great one in this family.
I am still Ramón’s little brother.
-Pedro Martínez, 1998

pedroMatt Tavares shares an inspirational story in Growing Up Pedro (Candlewick Press, 2015). Pedro Martínez got his first real baseball glove when his older brother, Ramón, signed a contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers for five thousand dollars. The Martínez family lived in the village of Manoguayabo in the Dominican Republic, and Ramón was the baseball star of the family. Ramón told Pedro stories of his struggles in the United States because he couldn’t speak much English. Pedro began to study English, and when he was eventually given a shot in the Dodgers’ minor-league system, he could be interviewed without an interpreter.

Many players and fans implied that Pedro only made the team because Ramón was a star pitcher. Pedro was determined to prove them wrong, and he became one of the best relievers in the league. When the Dodgers traded Pedro to the Montreal Expos, Ramón encouraged him to prove his talent. In Montreal, he became a starting pitcher. The Martínez brothers even got to pitch against each other – Ramón won. After Pedro won the National League Cy Young Award in 1997, the Expos couldn’t afford to pay him, and they traded him to the Boston Red Sox. The rest of his story is now Red Sox history. Ramón also joined the Red Sox late in his pitching career. The brothers were back playing ball together just as they did many years ago in their homeland.

There are many videos of highlights of Pedro pitching, but one of my favorites is this one. He struck out three batters in one inning with only nine pitches.

Eleanor Roosevelt


eleanorEleanor Roosevelt played a fascinating role in world history. As a child, her mother sometimes called her Granny because of her quiet and studious nature. While she spent a great deal of time alone because she was shy with other children, the adults in her life did expose her to conditions of those less fortunate than her. Eleanor’s father brought her to help serve Thanksgiving at a lodging house for newsboys, and she learned that other street children lived in dilapidated housing or were homeless. Her aunts and uncle brought her to sing for homeless men in the poorest sections of New York City. Barbara Cooney depicts Roosevelt’s childhood in a picture book biography, Eleanor (Viking, 1996), that has become a classic.

hotLeslie Kimmelman’s recent title, Hot Dog! Eleanor Roosevelt Throws a Picnic (illustrated by Victor Juhasz, Sleeping Bear Press, 2014) depicts an event in her life when Eleanor was the First Lady of the United States. As a confident woman, Eleanor served as her husband Franklin’s eyes and ears, not only in the United States, but throughout the world. In 1939, the King and Queen of England visited the United States, and the Roosevelts hosted them at their private home in Hyde Park, New York. When it was learned that Eleanor planned a menu that included hot dogs, one of her favorite childhood foods, thousands of Americans wrote letters about the propriety of serving them to royalty. In her daily newspaper column, Eleanor answered those who were “…worried that ‘the dignity of our country will be imperiled’ by inviting royalty to a picnic…” The rest of the menu had been carefully planned with smoked turkey, baked ham, cranberry jelly, brown bread, baked beans, green salad, and strawberry shortcake. Hot Dog! Is an entertaining addition to our collection.

Books for “Foodies”


There are some people who quietly, or with great acclaim, have made a difference in the areas of food and history. Two newly published picture book biographies celebrate a man and a woman who have influenced changes in society through their cooking.

gingerMara Rockliff’s spare text is complemented by Vincent X. Kirsch’s cut-paper illustrations in the delicious book, Gingerbread for Liberty! How a German Baker Helped Win the American Revolution (HMH, 2015). Christopher Ludwick was a German baker from Philadelphia who is a forgotten hero from the American Revolution. Ludwick had come to America as an adult who had grown up baking with his father in Germany and serving as a soldier and sailor for his homeland. When he established a bakery in Philadelphia, he became especially known for his gingerbread. Even though he was a bit old to fight, Ludwick went to join George Washington and serve the Continental Army by baking for the hungry troupes. He even went on a secret mission to lure some of the British soldiers over to the American side. In 1785, George Washington wrote a letter praising Ludwick for his service and describing him as a “true and faithful servant to the public.” Today there is a scholarship for needy children in Philadelphia that is given by the Christopher Ludwick Foundation.

aliceIf one wants to eat at Alice Waters’ restaurant, Chez Panisse, in Berkeley, CA, it might take weeks to obtain a reservation. Waters is responsible for the important food movement in the United States where cooks depend on fresh and local food. Jacqueline Briggs Martin joined illustrator Hayelin Choi to share Waters’ life in Alice Waters and the Trip to Delicious (Readers to Eaters, 2014). Waters has taken her philosophy to schools with her project, Edible Schoolyards.

Massachusetts Children’s Book Award 2015 Winner


MCBA_rdax_230x150Salem State University announced the winners for the 2015 Massachusetts Children’s Book Award this week.

lionsThe Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine (Putnam, 2012) was chosen as the winner. This work of historical fiction chronicles the racism and discrimination that existed in our society, especially in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1958. Marlee, an extremely shy girl watches as her city, and even her family, are divided in their opinions over school integration. Marlee becomes friends with Liz, a new student who is everything that she isn’t. Marlee is so quiet that she borders on being mute, and Liz is outgoing and brave. Through Liz’s friendship, Marlee gains self-confidence. When Liz suddenly stops coming to school, her friend discovers that it is because Liz was actually a light-skinned African American who had been passing for white. Even though there was a federal school integration order, the local authorities were still maintaining all white schools.

Levine’s novel explores a story of friendship and morality. It challenges our older readers to question authority, but to understand that sometimes comes with consequences.

The 2015 MCBA Honor Books are The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan, I Survived the Shark Attacks of 1916 by Lauren Tarshis, Dewey the Library Cat: A True Story by Vicki Myron, and The Familiars by Jay Epstein Adam and Andrew Jacobson.

son    tlccontentDeweyfamiliars

2015 MA Children’s Book Award


MCBATwenty-two of our fourth and fifth graders celebrated reading at this week’s Massachusetts Children’s Book Award voting party. In order to participate in this voluntary reading incentive, our requirement for the children was that they had to read at least six of the nominated books. While they didn’t vote with us, the sixth graders have been reading many of the titles as part of their English class. The more books the children read, the better they were able to discuss the strength of the plots of the books. Four children read all twenty-five titles on the list. There was a spirited discussion of the merits of many of the titles. It was energizing to hear the girls and boys recommend the books to each other, as well as comment on similar books or other books by the authors under discussion.

flagThe clear winner was Capture the Flag by Kate Messner (Scholastic, 2012). In this contemporary mystery, three seventh graders, who never met previously, join forces when they learn that the flag that inspired The Star-Spangled Banner is missing from The Smithsonian. Anna, Jose’, and Henry team up to try to find this important piece of Americana. When they are snowed in at the D.C. airport, they begin a quest that opens their eyes to more than they expected.

The children also voted for “honor books”. These were other books that also received top votes or might have been a second favorite book. DCD’s honor books are The Familiars, Liar and Spy, and The Son of Neptune.

familiarsThe Familiars by Adam Epstein (Harper Collins, 2010) is a magical fantasy about an ordinary cat that is mistakenly chosen as a young wizard’s pet. The alley cat joins forces with a blue jay and tree frog that have supernatural gifts. They form an alliance to rescue their owners.

liarLiar and Spy by Rebecca Stead (Wendy Lamb Books, 2012) is another story about a new friendship that is developed between two very different seventh graders. They track a mysterious man who lives in their Brooklyn apartment building.

sonRick Riordan continues to be a favorite author with The Son of Neptune (Disney, 2011). After many read this volume in The Heroes of Olympus Series, they discussed the strengths and weaknesses of various Greek and Roman gods and their half-blood children.

We look forward to the results of the statewide voting which will be released in a few weeks.

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