Read On!

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

Roosevelt and Muir

October13

It took more than three thousand years to make some of the trees in these Western woods – God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches…but he cannot save them from fools – only Uncle Sam can do that!  John Muir, 1901

Years ago, I took my children to Muir Woods to see the colossal redwoods. I was reminded of that visit when I read The Camping Trip That Changed America: Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, and Our National Parks by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein (Dial).

In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt wrote a letter to John Muir, a world-renown naturalist. He wanted Muir to take him on a camping trip. Roosevelt wrote “I do not want anyone with me but you, and I want to drop politics absolutely for four days and just be out in the open with you.” Muir later wrote that he wanted to refuse Roosevelt because he was weary of giving tours to people who didn’t understand the need to protect the wild lands. Thank goodness, John Muir changed his mind, or there might not have been the Muir Woods that I enjoyed with my boys.

In the middle of May, Roosevelt and Muir traveled high into the woods and then high into the mountains to Glacier Point. While three men accompanied them as packers and cooks, Roosevelt and Muir rode and hiked alone. They slept under the trees, and one evening, they encountered a spring snowstorm.

When Roosevelt returned to Washington, D.C., he was profoundly moved by his experiences with Muir. The President designated 18 areas of land as National Monuments, that put them under federal protection. During his presidency, 55 bird sanctuaries and game preserves were also founded.

(Photo courtesy of the National Park Service)

A Passion for Elephants

October5

Cynthia Moss has spent almost her entire life studying elephants in Africa. Growing up in Ossining, New York, she became passionate about horseback riding. She even spent part of her high school years at a Virginia boarding school where she could ride every day. After graduating from Smith College, Cynthia worked at Newsweek magazine as a researcher and reporter. When she read descriptive letters that a friend sent her from Africa, Cynthia decided that she needed to see the continent for herself.

Once she was in Africa, Cynthia knew that she needed to stay, and she was hired by Scottish zoologist Iain Douglas-Hamilton. He needed a photographer to help him with his study of elephants in northern Tanzania. Cynthia then went on to start her own research project with Harvey Croze. The Amboseli Elephant Research Project is in southern Kenya in 150 square miles of protected land. The focus of the project is to learn about family relationships among elephants.

Throughout the years, Cynthia has fought to save elephants from being killed for their ivory. Her life in chronicled in the picture book biography, A Passion for Elephants: The Real Life Adventure of Field Scientist Cynthia Moss by Toni Buzzeo, illustrated by Holly Berry (Dial Books for Young Readers).

In this short video, Cynthia talks about elephant mothers.

More MCBA Nominees

September28

There are two graphic novels that are nominated for this year’s Massachusetts Children’s Book Awards: Lowriders in Space by Cathy Camper, illustrated by Raúl the Third (Chronicle) and Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson (Dial).

When I was a child, I never paid attention to author’s notes in books. Now, I try to impress on young readers that there is often a treasury of background information that will often add to their enjoyment. There is “A Note About Lowriders” in the back of Camper’s graphic novel that should really be at the beginning of Lowriders in Space. A lowrider is a customized car with hydraulic jacks that allow the chassis to be lowered nearly to the road. This custom was created by Mexican-Americans in Southern California after WWII. The author took this idea and created a fantasy about a car that travels out of this world.

Roller Girl is entertaining with a message about growing up. Astrid is a twelve-year-old girl with a best friend, Nicole. The summer before middle school, Astrid signs up for roller derby camp while Nicole goes to ballet camp. It’s a difficult time for Astrid as she struggles to learn to skate, and she watches her friend slip away from her. Even so, she grows and learns about herself as she becomes a secret pen pal with the adult roller derby star. The author, Victoria Jamieson, was a professional roller derby skater herself.

 

Massachusetts Book Award Selections

September22

Be loving enough
to absorb evil
and understanding enough
to turn an enemy into a friend. –Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

When books are selected for the Massachusetts Children’s Book Award Program, the selection committee carefully considers genre, the quality of the writing, and the inclusion of a variety of cultural groups. As I look at the list every year and introduce them to children, I discuss each book’s uniqueness. I also point out similarities in style or theme. Two of this year’s nominated books are written in verse, but that isn’t the important similarity. The protagonists in the books must learn to navigate in a society that often discriminates against them. They work to turn prejudice into acceptance.

Full Cicada Moon by Marilyn Hilton (Penguin) is a novel written in first person. The narrator, a young girl, has moved with her family to Vermont. Her heritage is half-black and half-Japanese, and in 1969, Vermont was mostly white. Mimi Yoshiko Oliver finds out that to answer her classmates’ and adults’ questions about “what she is”, she needs to figure out “who she is”. Mimi defies stereotypes, and she also wants to be an astronaut, an opportunity that wasn’t open to women at that time.

brown girl dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (Penguin) is also written in first person, and it is an autobiography. This book has already received numerous awards, among them was a commendation as a Newbery Honor Book. Woodson writes about living in South Carolina and Brooklyn, New York. Her family were Jehovah’s Witnesses, and she experienced racial and religious discrimination. For me, one of her most poignant selections is “because we’re witnesses”.

because we’re witnesses

No Halloween.
No Christmas.
No birthday.
Even when
other kids laugh as we leave the classroom
just as the birthday cupcakes arrive
we pretend we do not see the chocolate frosting,
pretend we do not want
to press our fingertips against
each colorful sprinkle and lift them,
one by sweet one
to our mouths.

No voting.
No fighting.
No cursing.
No wars.

We will never go to war.

We will never taste the sweetness of a classroom
birthday cupcake
We will never taste the bitterness of a battle.

Massachusetts Children’s Book Award

September15

Once again, we will be promoting the nominees for the Massachusetts Children’s Book Awards (MCBA) during the 2017-2018 school year at DCD. Even though I’ve written about this program before, I would like to explain it to parents who have never had a fourth, fifth, or sixth grader who is participating. This voluntary reading incentive program has become a popular event for many students. Started by Dr. Helen Constant in 1975, it is administered through Salem State University. Twenty-five books are nominated for the award, and our voting for the DCD favorites will take place in late winter.

There are many obvious benefits to reading along with us for the next few months. Students are often introduced to authors who are unknown to them before this, and they return looking for other books by them. Some of the authors, like Liesel Shurtliff and Tom Angleberger, are already favorites of many intermediate readers. An important benefit that may not be obvious is that our readers become critics. They learn how to evaluate literature through plot, characters, and interest, and they have fun doing so. Throughout the next few months, I’ll highlight some of the nominated titles. Links to the reading lists and our required journal pages can be found on our DCD Library page. From time to time, I’ll be reviewing some of the titles under consideration for the award. So…let me write about one today.

Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt (2015) falls into the genre of realistic fiction. Readers can easily relate to the contemporary characters. Ally struggles in school, and her older brother is sorry that he can’t help her because academics aren’t his strength either. She doesn’t want to bother her mother because her father is on active duty overseas, and her mother has enough worries. A new teacher understands that Ally isn’t really a troublemaker, but she is a creative girl who learns differently. My favorite quote in the book is, “Everybody is genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

June2

Fifty years ago The Beatles released their groundbreaking album, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band”.

There are some interesting children’s and young adult’s books that introduce the Fab Four to today’s audience.

How the Beatles Changed the World by Martin W. Sandler (Walker) is jam packed with information and photos of the group’s evolution. My two favorite picture book biographies to share with intermediate readers are Fab Four Friends: The Boys Who Became The Beatles by Susanna Reich (Henry Holt) and The Beatles Were Fab ( and They Were Funny) by Kathleen Krull (HMH Books for Young Readers). These two books bring the musicians to life by chronicling the early years of John, Paul, George, and Ringo.

 

 

 

The Queen of Magic

May26

Many readers have heard about Harry Houdini, and they know some details about him as one of the most famous escape artists who ever lived. Few people know a magician who greatly influenced Houdini, and that magician was a woman, Adelaide Herrmann. Adelaide lived from 1853 to 1932, and to this day, magicians call her the Queen of Magic.

As a young woman, Adelaide was traveling from Europe to the United States on an ocean liner, and she became enamored with a young magician who was known as Herrmann the Great. Before they docked in New York, Adelaide proposed to him, and Adelaide and Alexander Herrmann were married by the mayor of New York City in 1875. She began to assist and appear in Herrmann’s shows, and Adelaide became an important part of each performance. When Herrmann died unexpectedly, Adelaide was determined to keep their traveling show alive. She became the main performer, but Adelaide knew that to attract audiences, she had to become special. One trick that she perfected was the bullet catching trick, and the audiences were amazed. Over her sixty-five years of performing, Adelaide created many magic tricks of her own. She encouraged girls and women to learn magic, and Adelaide was always “Anything but Ordinary”.

Author Mara Rockliff and illustrator Iacopo Bruno explore the Queen of Magic’s life in Anything but Ordinary Addie: The True Story of Adelaide Herrmann, Queen of Magic (Candlewick).

Massachusetts Children’s Book Award

May16

The Massachusetts Children’s Book Award (MCBA) 2017 winner and honor books were announced recently. It’s always interesting to compare the state-wide choices to those made by our DCD readers. Often, our DCD choices come pretty close to those from all over Massachusetts. This year, we had chosen two of the four top books.

MCBA 2017 winner
El Deafo by Cece Bell
MCBA Honor Books
The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm
Poached by Stuart Gibbs
Loot: How to Steal a Fortune by Jude Watson
Bliss by Kathryn Littlewood
 

DCD Voting Results
Winner
Poached by Stuart Gibbs
Honorable Mention
El Deafo by Cece Bell
Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman
I Survived: The Great Chicago Fire by Lauren Tarshis

El Deafo is autobiographical, and it is written in graphic form. Don’t let the art fool you into dismissing the book as easy. Cece Bell handles the topic of being hearing impaired with sensitivity and humor.

Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay

May4

The world sends us garbage. We send back music. – Favio Chávez

Ada’s Violin by Susan Hood, illustrated by Sally Wern Comport (Simon & Schuster) vividly narrates the story of the “Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay”.

Ada Ríos lives in one of the most impoverished towns in Paraguay. Cateura is one of the worst slums in South America because it houses the main garbage dump for Asunción. Most of the residents live on less than two dollars a day. Ada’s life and the lives of many children changed when Favio Chávez was sent to Cateura to teach safety practices to the gancheros who picked through trash at the dump. This environmental engineer was also a musician, and Favio grew to care for the pickers and their children. When he decided to offer music lessons to the children, there were few instruments for them to use. Chávez began to improvise with materials that he scavenged from the dump, and an orchestra was born.

The Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay now performs concerts all over the world. Favio Chávez began with ten children. His program now has more than twenty-five instructors teaching over two hundred young musicians. The proceeds from their concerts are returned to Cateura to help families build homes.

Ella Fitzgerald

April28

It isn’t where you came from; it’s where you’re going that counts. – Ella Fitzgerald

This week marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of one of the most popular female jazz singers in the U.S. Ella Fitzgerald was born on April 25, 1917 in Newport News, VA. Shortly after her birth, Ella’s parents separated, and her mother, Tempie, moved to Yonkers, NY with Ella. Her early years were difficult, but Ella was always dancing and listening to the music that spread out into the streets. Tempie died when Ella was a teenager, and her life spiraled out of control. She dropped out of school and was homeless.

In 1934, when Ella heard that the new Apollo Theater on 125th Street had an Amateur Night on Wednesdays, she decided to try out. Wearing a pair of men’s boots that she had gotten at the Baptist church, she showed up for her tryout with the intention of dancing. The Edward Sisters auditioned ahead of her, and they danced in sequined dresses and high heels. Elle got on stage, knowing that she couldn’t compete with them, and after hesitating, she began to sing. She earned a spot, but when she went on stage to perform, Ella froze. As the audience began to get restless, the emcee prompted them to give the nervous girl a chance. Ella wowed the crowd with her rendition of “The Object of My Affection”. While she won first prize, Ella was given ten dollars, but not the chance to sing with the band for a week because of her raggedy appearance. Giving herself another chance, Ella then performed at Amateur Night at The Harlem Opera House. This time she won first prize and her week to sing with the band, and those who heard her were impressed.

Ella was singing and dancing for tips on 125th Street when she was noticed by a stranger. This man knew that Chick Webb was looking for a singer for his band. Even though Webb did not want to listen to Ella because of her raggedy appearance, he was impressed by her voice. Cleaned up, Ella sang with the band for three years. Her career took off, and she recorded over 200 albums and performed all over the world.

Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat: Ella Fitzgerald (Candlewick) by Roxane Orgill is a picture book biography about Ella, and it is illustrated by Sean Qualls.
There will be a year of events celebrating Ella Fitzgerald. Do check out the official website.

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