Read On!

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

Jon Klassen

January12

Canadian Jon Klassen is the author and illustrator of a picture book trilogy about different animals and their hats. The first, I Want My Hat Back (Candlewick, 2011), entertained young readers with a bear who is searching for his hat. When it dawns on the bear that he saw it on a rabbit, he retrieves it. Young readers are left with deciding what happened to the small, furry thief. Did the bear really do something wicked to him?
“…I haven’t seen any rabbits anywhere. I would not eat a rabbit. Don’t ask me any more questions.

The second book This Is Not My Hat (Candlewick, 2012), is laugh-out-loud funny, and Klassen won the 2013 Caldecott Award for excellence in picture book illustration for his artwork. Young readers once again argue over what happened to the little fish who admitted to stealing a hat from a very large fish. The little fish believes that he’ll get away with his theft because only one crab knows where he will hide. The crab doesn’t keep his hiding place a secret. Did something happen to the little fish?

The trilogy ends with We Found a Hat (Candlewick, 2016) when two turtles find a hat together. Both feel that the hat looks wonderful on them, but it wouldn’t be fair for only one of them to own it. They leave the hat, but one turtle decides to go back for it when his friend is asleep. Does friendship win out over his desire for ownership?

In the second and third books, Klassen tells much of the story through the use of the characters’ eyes. The illustrations are spare, yet brilliant.

In this video, Klassen refers to a picture book by Mac Barnett, Sam and Dave Dig a Hole (Candlewick, 2014). Klassen received a Caldecott Honor Medal for these illustrations. He describes how to depict emotions with eyes.

Some Writer! Some Book!

January6

It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer.
E. B. White, Charlotte’s Web

If I were on one of the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) children’s book awards committees, I would give the Newbery Medal and the Robert F. Sibert Medal to Melissa Sweet for her book, Some Writer!: The Story of E. B. White (HMH Books for Young Readers). I’ll be writing about the 2017 winners of ALSC awards after they are announced on Monday, January 23 at the American Library Association mid-winter conference.

I have to admit that I am a die-hard fan of Melissa Sweet’s work. She has illustrated a number of picture book biographies that I share with our students. Before Some Writer! was published, I would have a difficult time choosing a favorite among those that she has illustrated or illustrated and written. Just before Thanksgiving, I always share Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade (See my entry on this book) which is the story of Tony Sarg and his creations during the first Macy’s Parade. Sweet’s collaboration with Jennifer Bryant produced other favorites, A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin, The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus and A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams. Melissa’s collaboration with other authors contributed equally fine books.

Then came Some Writer! Where do I begin? It will be no surprise that I’m a fan of E. B. White’s work, and I refuse to pick a favorite among his books for children. His talent extended far beyond that as he wrote for The New Yorker and co-authored The Elements of Style. Melissa Sweet brings E. B. White to life for readers. Her colorful and captivating collage illustrations complement her research on E. B. White. Both White and Sweet are masters of their crafts. I can’t recommend Some Writer! more highly.

(Collage from Crackingthecover.com – Our book was circulating!)

Seasons Readings

December16

Every fall, publishers tout their new holiday books for children. Some years, there are a plethora of wonderful titles while in other years, the quality varies. In my opinion, this year is one of the leaner publishing years, but there are a few titles that I would like to share for your family’s holiday reading. The first two books mentioned below are for the younger set.

nonnaNonna’s Hanukkah Surprise by Karen Fisman, illustrated by Martha Avilés (Kar-Ben) is a delightful story of a young girl who looks forward to sharing the traditions of Hanukkah with her extended family. When she forgets her special menorah on the plane, she worries that Hanukkah will be ruined. Her Nonna comes to the rescue.

lightsEllis Paul celebrates the season with his title The Night the Lights Went Out on Christmas (Whitman), and it is illustrated by Scott Brundage. One family began putting a few holiday decorations in their yard and on their house. Then their neighbors joined in, and a friendly competition began. Before long, the neighborhood became a seasonal destination for folks to see the lights. One night, one light too many is lit and then…

mazelMisha, a poor artist, has no one with whom to celebrate Hanukkah until he discovers a hungry cat in his barn. In A Hanukkah with Mazel by Joel Edward Stein, illustrated by Elisa Vavouri (Kar-Ben), readers learn that there are many ways to appreciate the generosity and wonder of the season.

bootThe extraordinary art of illustrator Jerry Pinkney is featured in The Christmas Boot by Lisa Wheeler (Dial). Hannah Greyweather’s life is changed when she finds a magic wish-granting boot in the forest outside her home.

by posted under Christmas, Hanukkah | No Comments »    

Honoring John Glenn

December9

The world was divided into those who had it and those who did not. This quality, this it, was never named…The idea was to prove…that you were one of the elected and anointed ones who had the right stuff.
Tom Wolfe, from his novel, The Right Stuff, about the Mercury 7 astronauts

It just seems appropriate today to honor a true American hero John Glenn,  by sharing some of our books about astronauts. Many children are intrigued by space flight, and there are some titles that are favorites of many.

apolloMission Control, This Is Apollo by Andrew Chaikin, Victoria Kohl, illustrated by Alan Bean (Viking) describes America’s space voyages from the Mercury missions through Apollo 17 and later exploration. An interesting highlight of this book is that the illustrations are by Alan Bean who was the fourth man to walk on the moon. After he left NASA, he devoted his life to art. Bean began taking art classes when he was a test pilot, and he continued painting even when he was immersed in his work as an astronaut.

almostTanya Lee Stone wrote Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream (Candlewick Press).  The Mercury 13 were a group of women who challenged NASA’s unspoken rule that astronauts must be male and white. Even though they did not break down those barriers for themselves, they inspired many younger women to dare to dream. Years later, those dreams became realities.

i-wanspaceTwo oldies but goodies in our space and technology section are I Want to Be an Astronaut by Stephanie Maze (Harcourt Brace) and Space Exploration by Carole Stott (Eyewitness Books). Both of these titles introduce our budding scientists to space exploration with numerous color photographs and short text.

Bar-tailed Godwits

November22

circleBar-tailed godwits’ tale of migration is extraordinary, even compared to other shorebirds’ migrations. Each year, the godwits fly from their northern home in Alaska to their southern home in Australia and New Zealand. They make this 7,000 mile journey before the Arctic winter begins. When they return to the north, they stop to feed in the wetlands of Asia.

Jeannie Baker’s latest book, Circle (Candlewick Press), is a lovely testimony to these amazing birds and their journeys. Her art is depicted in stunning collage. Besides depicting the birds, she also adds in a young, physically challenged boy who dreams of flying.

The Global Flyway Network unites researchers who devote their work to studying bird migrations all over the world.

Jeannie Baker describes her art in Circle in the following video.

Enjoy this description of bar-tailed godwits!

Richard Peck – The Best Man

November18

Ironically, it was my students who taught me to be a writer, though I was hired to teach them.

Richard Peck

Richard Peck’s novels for children and young adults have received many awards and commendations: the Newbery Medal, Edgar Allan Poe Award, Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction, Edgar Award, and as National Book Award finalists. All of this recognition means nothing to a fifth, sixth, seventh, or eighth grade reader. They aren’t impressed. They want to read books that speak to them where they are. Richard Peck does just that.

After serving in the military, Peck became a teacher, first in a high school. In many interviews, he speaks of then being involuntarily transferred to teach English in a middle school. While his educational career wasn’t long, it was there that he observed so much about adolescents. His keen insight comes alive on the page as a reader becomes immersed in his stories.

long My favorite character that Peck has created is Grandma Dowdel, first introduced in A Long Way from Chicago. His descriptions of her have brought her to life for me. Maybe she reminds me of one or both my own grandmothers, and that is a gift from this author. Thank you Richard!

bestRichard Peck’s latest book, The Best Man (Dial), is contemporary fiction. His protagonist, Archer Magill’s voice is that of an average (if there is such a person) sixth grade boy. He often doesn’t recognize the enormity of the personal events around him. His best friend, Lynette discusses that with him when he witnesses a bullying situation at school. Archer and two other boys have found a smaller classmate tied up in the bathroom with the word “gay “ written on his forehead in fluorescent marker. The student teacher, whom all of the students admire, handles the situation with the bullies and their class by explaining that being gay is not just a word, it’s an identity. Mr. McLeod says that it is his identity. Archer never even considered that, and Lynette talks with him about it.

You really take your sweet time, don’t you, Archer?
Time to what?
Mr. McLeod must really have put it out there if you picked up on it. He must have spelled it out.
It got spelled out all right, on Russell’s forehead.

Archer’s family members help him navigate the daily decisions that he makes that define him as a person. There is a great deal of humor in the author’s sensitive descriptions of bullying, homosexuality, divorce, and the hierarchy in middle school. Even though the author is addressing these weighty topics, he does so in a highly entertaining way, recognizing them as aspects of everyday life. In my opinion, this is another award winner for Richard Peck.

In the following clip, Richard Peck discusses the importance of reading aloud to your children. The Best Man might be just the book to read aloud with your pre-adolescent or adolescent. It would open up some important areas of discussion for you all.

by posted under Middle School, Novels | No Comments »    

Ezra Jack Keats

November11

As an African American child growing up in the 1960s, at a time when I didn’t see others like me in children’s books, I was profoundly affected by the expressiveness of Keats’s illustrations.               Andrea Davis Pinkney

poemThe Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats was awarded the Caldecott Medal in 1963. This honor is for the illustration of a children’s book, and Keats’s art was groundbreaking. Keats was inspired by photographs, which he had saved for over twenty years from Life magazine. The photos were of a young black boy who was going to get a shot from the doctor. In the first picture, the child emits a joyful confidence of life. This child’s spirit inspired Keats when he created the illustrations for The Snowy Day. He made a bold move by depicting a child of color in his picture book, and he opened the door for multiculturalism in children’s illustrations. This door still needs to be opened wider, but it is important to celebrate Keats’s wisdom so many years ago. Andrea Davis Pinkney does just that in A Poem for Peter, illustrated by Lou Fancher and Steve Johnson (Viking). This picture book biography is a work of art written in narrative verse.

Jacob (Jack) Ezra Katz was born in 1916 to poor, Polish immigrant parents in Brooklyn, New York. From an early age, it is apparent that Jacob had a special talent for drawing. When he was in third grade, he earned money by painting signs for stores. Even though he won awards for his art in high school and was offered scholarships to art school, Jack had to stifle his dreams to help support his family when his father died. He was able to maintain his artistic growth when he began taking classes at The Art Students League that led to work during the Great Depression through the WPA. Through this government-sponsored organization, Jack was paid to paint murals. Then he was hired as a comic-book artist. During WWII, Jack used his artistic talent for the Air Force division of the Army.

When WWII ended, Jack experienced the same discrimination that many Jewish people experienced. That was when he shortened and rearranged his name to Ezra Jack Keats.

Yes, yes – Ezra Jack Keats.
Had a nice ring to it – for some.
It was a name that only hinted at
his heritage.
Only winded at where he’d
come from,
but never came out and said.                
from A Poem for Peter

He illustrated books for other authors, and then he was given the chance to write and snowyillustrate his own work. His character, Peter, came to life, that little boy from the photographs. In The Snowy Day, Keats used collage and handmade stamps, which were techniques that were new to him.

A Poem for Peter delighted me and brought me back to the wonders of The Snowy Day.

Anne of Green Gables

November4

anneWhen I was young, the first book that I ever owned was an abridged version of Anne of Green Gables. The book was larger than most and lushly illustrated. I fondly remember pouring over this version for hours as my introduction to this spunky heroine. Anne is fearless and imaginative as she tackles the hurdles of finding a family.  While she stands her ground and won’t be intimidated, she has a gentle soul and a kind heart.

Lucy Maud Montgomery based her novel on a story that she had heard about a couple who were sent an orphan girl instead of the boy they requested to help on their farm. She used experiences from her childhood as well as her home in rural Prince Edward Island, Canada as the foundation of the story. Montgomery went on to write many sequels to the original (1908) Anne of Green Gables.

Be sure to mark your calendars for this Thanksgiving evening when PBS will premiere a new film adaptation of Anne of Green Gables. In 2017, Netflix will also be presenting eight episodes of this beloved story.

by posted under All Ages, Novels | No Comments »    

Graphic Nominees

October28

mcbaWhen those involved in nominating books for the Massachusetts Children’s Book Award (MCBA) at Salem State University choose titles, they look for representatives of different genres. There are selections that represent non-fiction, historical fiction, fantasy, and contemporary fiction. Recently, there have also been graphic novels as nominees. It’s important to understand that a “graphic novel” is not a genre, it is a format. A graphic uses art that is similar to comic books, with sequential panels and dialogue telling the story. Graphics are conceived in every genre: fiction, non-fiction, history, science fiction, or fantasy.

elTwo nominees for the 2017 MCBA are in graphic form. El Deafo by Cece Bell (Abrams) is a memoir. In this 2015 Newbery Honor Book, Bell uses humor to tell her unique story of growing up as a hearing impaired child. She was equipped with a bulky hearing aid that included a box like piece strapped to her chest. This made it difficult to make friends, so Bell imagined herself as a superhero.

zooOur other selection is The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents: Romeo and Juliet by author Ian Lendler and cartoonist Zack Giallongo (Roaring Brook Press). When the zoo closes at night, the animals come out of their cages. They are all actors, and they stage one of the world’s classic plays.

Education and Segregation

October21

One of the rights of passage for our eighth graders is their study of the United States Constitution and Supreme Court cases. Every year, one of the popular choices to study is the 1954 decision of Brown v. Board of Education. In this decision, the US Supreme Court made school segregation unconstitutional, saying separate is never equal. While this case is well known, there was an important trial over a hundred years previous to Brown. The Massachusetts case, Roberts v. City of Boston, began the fight for an equal education for all children.

firstThe First Step: How One Girl Put Segregation on Trial by Susan E. Goodman, illustrated by E. B. Lewis (Bloomsbury) introduces Sarah Roberts, a young African-American girl who was evicted from the Otis School because it was only for white children. The Otis School was close to Sarah’s home, but Boston had a rule that children who weren’t white had to go to a separate school that was just for them. The school that Sarah was told to go to was the Smith School, which was far away from her home. The Smith School only owned one book, subjects like history and drawing weren’t taught, and there was no area to play outside.

Adeline and Benjamin Roberts decided to fight for their daughter’s education, and they hired a young African-American attorney, Robert Morris. The case was filed in 1848, yet it wasn’t until late in 1849 that it was heard in court. By then, Morris had asked Charles Sumner, a lawyer and staunch abolitionist, to help him. The two attorneys, one black and one white, argued that Boston children should attend schools that were closest to their homes. Sumner spoke eloquently and said that all children deserved an equal education. The Massachusetts Supreme Court announced the decision in 1850 that segregated schools were legal.

Sarah’s father went on to fight for equal education outside of the legal system. He traveled around Massachusetts to speak on the subject. Wherever he went, he passed out copies of Charles Sumner’s speech from court and carried petitions to be signed. In 1855, Boston became the first major city to officially integrate the public schools.

segregation-brown-v-board-of-educationFast forward to the 1950s…Linda Brown had a long and arduous journey to school in Topeka, Kansas. Her parents joined with other families and called the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) to file a suit. The better school that was closest to her home was only for white children. It was the Charles Sumner School. Serendipitous?

In this informative and intriguing account about the fight for educational equality for all children, Susan Goodman writes about taking steps forward and then steps back throughout history. As a Boston resident, the author includes a timeline with information about the busing crisis during the 1970s. There are other valuable sections at the back of the book when Goodman writes about what happened to those involved in the Roberts’ case. She also describes her research and sources. The illustrator, E. B. Lewis has won much recognition for his artwork.

« Older Entries

Skip to toolbar