In 1938, the United States was struggling as we emerged from the Great Depression, and people desperately needed to go beyond the struggles of everyday survival. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster understood what it was like to struggle through life. They were both short, they wore glasses, and they were painfully shy. Both of them had survived hardships growing up and being ignored in school in different yet similar ways. Jerry wrote his own adventure and science fictions stories while Joe drew pictures.
Marc Tyler Nobleman’s book, Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman, illustrated by Ross MacDonald (Knopf, 2008) chronicles their creation of Superman, the superhero who came from Krypton. There is a bit of both of Superman’s creators in this superhero. When describing his secret identity of Clark Kent, Jerry is attributed with thinking, “Then he would be meek and mild, like Joe and I are, and wear glasses, like we do.”
Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster didn’t retain the rights to Superman, when they became employees for DC Comics. They fought for years to have their names returned to the comic books and to receive royalties. It wasn’t until the mid to late 1970s that they were publicly recognized for their creation.Filed under Non-Fiction, Picture Book Biography | Comment (0)
George E. Ohr (1857-1918) called himself the “Mad Potter of Biloxi”, and he was unequaled in self-promotion. However, his bombastic proclamations and confidence didn’t necessarily pay off economically during his lifetime. Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan look at the life and work of this artistic genius in The Mad Potter: George E. Ohr, Eccentric Genius (Roaring Brook Press, 2013).
At one point in his life, when Ohr was opposing his siblings in a court case over their parents’ property, the attorneys suggested that George was crazy. Their evidence was based on the fact that he called himself the Mad Potter. The jury found that the potter was not insane.
George faced many obstacles and challenges throughout his life. He fought to be acknowledged, but he never let his critics influence his work. Ohr’s pottery was so different from his contemporaries that few people purchased his pieces that weren’t utilitarian. His mantra for his work was “No two alike.”
How fortunate we are that Jim Carpenter, an antiques dealer, happened upon Ohr’s pottery in 1968. He was on a buying expedition when he stopped at “Ojo’s Junk Yard and Machine Shop” in Biloxi, Mississippi. When he took a look at the boxes of George’s pots that were piled up in the building, he recognized the genius in Ohr’s work. While the critics in the early 1900s viewed his work as strange, the art commentators in the 1970s viewed it as modern. Some of his descendants had used George’s pottery for target practice, but now his pieces command tens of thousands of dollars.
*Image taken from http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/the-mad-potter-of-biloxi-106065115/?no-istFiled under "People Who Make a Difference", Art, Biography | Comment (0)
An Unacknowledged Winner
While I recognize that every book can’t get, or doesn’t deserve, a special award, there are some books that need to get some recognition so that readers will find them. Those of us who are in the children’s book field need to heavily promote these books to parents and young adults.
When the 2014 Newbery Awards were announced, I was disappointed that one of my recent “favorite” books, Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan (Dial, 2013), wasn’t mentioned. Sloan’s protagonist, Willow, is the narrator of this realistic story, and she has a unique and profound voice that resonates throughout the story.
I was taken to see an educational consultant that autumn and the woman did an evaluation. She sent my parents a letter.
I read it.
It said I was “highly gifted.”
Are people “lowly gifted”?
Or “medium gifted”?
Or just “gifted”? It’s possible that all labels are curses. Unless they are on cleaning products.
Because in my opinion it’s not really a great idea to see people as one thing.
Every person has lots of ingredients to make them into what is always a one-of-a-kind creation.
We are all imperfect genetic stews. (Counting by 7s, p.18)
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.
Holly Goldberg Sloan’s webpage about the book proves that the author is as clever as her character.Filed under 5th Grade, Middle School, Novels | Comment (0)
While children, parents, and teachers are often familiar with the Newbery and Caldecott children’s book awards, the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award is also announced at the American Library Association winter meeting. The 2014 winner and honor books represent a wide range of topics, but their common denominator is their excellence.
Parrots Over Puerto Rico by Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore, illustrated by Susan L. Roth (Lee & Low) is this year’s winner. I can’t rave about this book enough. Do read my post from January 17, 2014 when I wrote about this book at length. The illustrations alone are worthy of a special award. When these combine with the well-written text, the book deserves its special status.
It was a banner year for non-fiction, and the Sibert committee named four honor books this year.
Birds were a bit of a reoccurring theme with the awards as Look Up! Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard by Annette LeBlanc Cate (Candlewick) was named as one of the honor books. Budding birders learn how to identify birds by color, shape, behavior, birdcall, and other characteristics.
Two books about artists were honored this year, one on George E. Ohr and another about Horace Pippin. Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan teamed up for The Mad Potter; George E. Ohr, Eccentric Genius (Roaring Brook Press). Ohr certainly didn’t lack ego or self-confidence as he described himself as “Unequaled, unrivaled, undisputed, greatest art potter on the earth.”
Jen Bryant celebrates the life of artist Horace Pippin to younger readers in A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin (Knopf). Her story and Melissa Sweet’s art bring this self-taught painter’s art to life.
The other honor book was Locomotive by Brian Floca (Atheneum), which was also recognized as this year’s Caldecott winner.
All of these titles are too good to be missed by children and adults.All Ages, Art, Awards, Non-Fiction | Comment (0)
A plausible mission of artists is to make people
appreciate being alive at least a little bit.
(When) asked if I know of any artists who pulled
that off, I reply, “The Beatles did.”
- writer Kurt Vonnegut
Quote from The Beatles Were Fab (and They Were Funny)
For those of us who were around when The Beatles first performed in the United States, it seems impossible to comprehend that happened 50 years ago. Beatlemania overtook the nation, and there was no looking back for Paul, George, John and Ringo.I remember watching The Fab Four with my extended family in 1964, during their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. All of our reactions were different as we watched the group perform; my grandparents were shocked, my mother and aunt sat quietly, but my uncle, my brother and I were enthralled.
Kathleen Krull and Paul Brewer’s delightful picture book biography, The Beatles Were Fab (And They Were Funny), illustrated by Stacy Innerst (Harcourt, 2013), chronicles the rise of this influential group of musicians. A new world opened with their music.
On a Monday morning in late January, fans of children’s books wait expectantly to learn about the winners of the most prestigious awards in children’s literature. This past Monday, the American Library Association announced the 2014 winners.
The Caldecott Medal was named in honor of nineteenth-century English illustrator Randolph Caldecott. It is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children. (From the ALA webpage)
There were many outstanding picture books that were published in 2013, and I can only imagine the animated discussions that the award committee had. The winner of this year’s Caldecott Medal is Locomotive, written and illustrated by Brian Floca (Atheneum, 2013) This non-fiction title might be called an historical picture book, as Floca depicts a family traveling cross country on the iron horse in 1869. Readers will return to this book again and again and discover new details in the watercolor, ink, acrylic, and gouache illustrations.
Three other illustrators were honored – Aaron Becker, Molly Idle, and David Wiesner. Coincidently, all three of the honor books are wordless books, but they are very different from each other.
Becker wrote and illustrated Journey (Candlewick, 2013), and he depicts a lonely girl who draws her way into a magical adventure. The watercolors and pen and ink drawings take the readers from her colorless real world to a colorful imaginative one. Idle’s watercolors with pencil outlines in Flora and the Flamingo (Chronicle, 2013) show a young girl and a flamingo who become friends and dance a pas de deux. I wrote about Mr. Wuffles! (Clarion, 2013) on November 15, 2013. Wiesner’s watercolor and India ink drawings tell the story of a housecat who discovers an out-of-this world toy.
The Newbery Medal was named for eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery. It is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. (From the ALA webpage)
Kate DiCamillo received the 2014 Newbery Medal for Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures (Candlewick, 2013). DiCamillo’s title, Because of Winn Dixie received a Newbery Honor Medal in 2001, and in 2004 she won Newbery’s top award for The Tale of Despereaux. To read more about Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures, do check out my blog entry for January 10, 2014.
There were four Newbery Honor Books this year: Doll Bones by Holly Black (Simon & Schuster, 2013), The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes (HarperCollins, 2013), One Came Home by Amy Timberlake (Knopf, 2013), and Paperboy by Vince Vawter (Delacorte, 2013).Filed under All Ages, Awards, Novels, Picture Book | Comment (0)
There is a very thin line that authors try not to cross when they write a picture book that has a moral to the story. The lesson needs to be obvious enough to their intended audience without being didactic and figuratively hitting the readers over the head to make their point. Pat Zietlow Miller and Trudy Ludwig have produced picture books that demonstrate that concept.
Trudy Ludwig tackles the feelings of a child who feels left out and without friends in The Invisible Boy, illustrated by Patrice Barton (Knopf, 2013). Her protagonist, Brian, is picked last, or never picked for a team. He isn’t invited to birthday parties, and he sits alone at lunch, but Brian is a wonderful artist. When a new boy, Justin, joins his class, Brian reaches out in friendship to him. Justin, who becomes popular with the other children in the class, doesn’t forget this small gesture. When Justin includes Brian in a project, the other children notice Brian for the first time. Patrice Barton’s illustrations depict Brian in black and white while all of the other children are in color. When Justin befriends him, Brian begins to appear in color.
Bully by Laura Vaccaro Seeger (Roaring Brook Press, 2013) tackles bullying by using animals. A small bull is treated badly, and he then lashes out at the other animals by calling them names and making them feel bad. With each insult that he launches, he grows in size until the illustration has him extend right off the page. The children, with whom I have shared the book, initiated a discussion of why he enlarged and talked about feelings. There are few words in this picture book, and the children spontaneously read the words, as do the readers in the following video.Filed under Picture Book | Comment (0)
One of the most captivating and beautiful books that we have purchased for the library this year is Parrots Over Puerto Rico by Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore (Lee & Low, 2013). This non-fiction title can be enjoyed by all ages. Adults and middle school readers will enjoy reading about the history of and recovery program for a species of parrots that live in the islands. Because of the pairing of the illustrations and the text, the book will hold the attention of younger children when it is read to them.
The illustrations are the star in this book. Susan L. Roth’s paper and fabric collages compliment the writing, and the collages are individual works of art. Each two page spread is read by holding the book sideways because the collages extend beyond one page. The details in each piece bring Cindy Trumbore’s story to life, as she describes the history of Puerto Rico and the dwindling parrot population.
The scientists who are working to save these beautiful birds struggle to overcome the loss of the birds due to predators, hurricanes, and the loss of their habitat.Filed under All Ages, Non-Fiction, Science | Comment (0)
Kate DiCamillo is a favorite author among many of our children and adults who enjoy children’s literature. More adults should read children’s books, but that’s a topic for another time. Kate takes her readers along on adventures with improbable characters and situations, and we totally believe in the worlds that she creates. Her stories aren’t just about the plot though; they contain underlying themes that children face as they navigate through childhood. She has written books for many ages. Our budding readers enjoy her Mercy Watson Series and Bink and Gollie Series, but mature readers are challenged by The Magician’s Elephant and Because of Winn-Dixie.
Her latest book, Flora & Ulysses, represents her work perfectly. This contemporary fantasy is about a girl who rescues a squirrel who has just been sucked up by a vacuum cleaner. The squirrel’s experience has given him super powers like being able to understand her, typing to communicate, flying, and incredible strength, so Flora names him Ulysses. One child will simply enjoy this story; another will puzzle over the underlying themes of individual differences, coping with divorce, and finding oneself. Either reader will be entranced by DiCamillo’s world. Flora & Ulysses joins DiCamillo’s other masterpieces like The Tale of Despereaux and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.
The Library of Congress named Kate DiCamillo the 2014-2015 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature.
The Library of Congress Announcement
Do check out her books!Filed under All Ages, Family, Read-Alouds | Comment (0)
A special book that celebrates the holiday season is The Carpenter’s Gift by David Rubel, illustrated by Jim LaMarche (Random House, 2011). While this picture book is a work of fiction, it is based on facts about the tree at Rockefeller Center.
Construction workers who were digging the foundation for the project in New York City erected the first tree in 1931. They were grateful that they had jobs during the Depression, and they wanted to show their appreciation. After pooling their money to purchase the tree, their families decorated it with garlands and handmade ornaments.
The official public viewing of the annual tree began in 1933 when visitors made special trips to see the decorated tree that the property owners erected annually. To this day, the tree at Rockefeller Center is an important New York City holiday tradition. To choose a tree for the display, those in charge travel by helicopter over New Jersey, New York, and New England. When they spot a candidate, they mark the coordinates and make a trip to view the tree from the ground.
Since 2007, the Rockefeller Center tree has been milled, and the wood is donated to Habitat for Humanity. That wood is then used as part of a house that is built by that worthy organization. What a way to celebrate the true meaning of the holiday!
The following clip features the family who donated this year’s tree.
Filed under Christmas, Family, Picture Book, Uncategorized | Comment (0)