Read On!

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

Gus & Me

April28

The bond, the special bond, between kids and grandparents is unique and should be treasured. This is the story of one of those magical moments. May I be as great a grandfather as Gus was to me. –Keith Richards

                                                                                                                   

Growing up during the rock and roll music revolution during the 1960s was an exciting and memorable time. There were two bands that dominated the airwaves – The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. We watched them perform on the Ed Sullivan Show and bought their albums. The music from these two bands has become synonymous with rock and roll. The Beatles and The Rolling Stones are “Rock and Roll”.  While there have been a number of books written about The Beatles for children and young adults, there aren’t many (any?) about The Rolling Stones.

gusThere is a delightful book that Keith Richards, one of the founding members of The Stones, wrote with Barnaby Harris and Bill Shapiro called Gus & Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar (Little Brown). Richards reminisces about his childhood and pays homage to his grandfather, Theodore Augustus Dupree, who started him on his musical journey.

Keith had many family members who enjoyed music but it was his grandfather who lit the spark that would flame into a passion for music. This musical legend spent many childhood days walking throughout London and the English countryside, and his grandfather always hummed every step of the way. During some of their rambles, Gus took Keith to repair shops where they watched experts fix broken musical instruments. It was after one of these visits that Keith became interested in a guitar that was on the top of his grandfather’s piano. Gus eventually gave this guitar to Keith and taught him to play the classic piece “Malagueña”. Gus told Keith that when he mastered that song, he would be able to learn to play anything, and so he did.

The illustrations for Gus & Me were composed by Theodora Richards, Keith’s daughter, who is named after his grandfather. For inspiration and accuracy, she returned to her father’s childhood home, used family photos, and consulted with her father while she was illustrating the book.

Check out this video of a younger Keith Richards playing “Malagueña”.

This is one of six clips where Keith Richards talks about writing the book.

And the winner is…

April15

ivanSalem State University announced the winner of the 2016 Massachusetts Children’s Book Award (MACBA) earlier this month. The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate (Harper Collins) received the most votes. DCD’s fourth and fifth graders had voted for this as one of their top choices, although they awarded it an honorable mention. The story, published in 2012, is told from the perspective of Ivan, a gorilla in captivity. When a baby elephant is added as an attraction at the same shopping mall, a rare and poignant friendship develops between the two animals. This book has already received many awards given by adults. Many children are touched by the story, even though there are many sad aspects to it.

Two of the MACBA honor books were chosen by our students in a tie as their number one choices. Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein (Random House) and The Wishing Spell: The Land of Stories, #1 by Chris Colfer (Little Brown) were immensely popular. The sequels to both books are in high demand in our library.

librryland

 

 

Edward Estlin

April1

eeApril is poetry month, and what better way to celebrate than with a new picture book biography on e.e.cummings? enormous SMALLNESS: A Story of E. E. Cummings is written by Matthew Burgess (Enchanted Lion Books). Edward Estlin Cummings enjoyed a childhood where he was nurtured and praised for his keen observation and love of words. Growing up in Cambridge, MA, his mother wrote down his poetry, even before he could write his poems himself. Called Estlin by his family, as a student, he always remembered his favorite teacher, Miss Maria Baldwin, who taught him
 anything is possible,
    as long as you are true to yourself
and never give up, even when the world
    seems to say, stop!

When Estlin graduated from Harvard, he spoke to the audience about “The New Art” of Gertude Stein, Paul Cezanne, and Igor Stravinsky. He moved to New York City, served as an ambulance driver in France in WWI, was imprisoned as a spy, and finally returned to the United States. Then, Cummings wrote and wrote, and he developed a style all his own. He put lowercase letters in place of capitals and played with punctuation. His name began to appear with little e’s. When he first began to break rules, readers didn’t know what to make of it, but they soon became enthralled with his images. e.e.cummings has become one of our premier American poets.

The Sky Was

the
sky
was
can    dy    lu
minous
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spry
pinks shy
lemons
greens    coo    1 choc
olate
s.

un    der,
a    lo
co
mo
tive        s  pout
ing
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o
lets

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Beatrix Potter

March10

peterJuly 28th will be the 150th anniversary of Beatrix Potter’s birth. Many events are scheduled in Great Britain and the United States to celebrate her life.

Beatrix Potter, one of the world’s most famous storytellers, is celebrated in a new biography for our youngest readers. Beatrix Potter and Her Paint Box was written and illustrated by David McPhail (Henry Holt, 2015). The author/illustrator used watercolor and ink on illustration board for the delightful artwork that is reminiscent of Potter’s own art.

beatrixMcPhail’s spare text begins by describing what life was like for children during the 19th century when nannies and tutors worked for wealthy families. The children sometimes spent a great deal of time exploring on their own. Beatrix was given her mother’s paint box when she was young, and the girl made her own sketchbooks out of paper and string. From the beginning, Beatrix drew and painted animals and scenes from nature. While she was given formal painting lessons, she preferred to paint in her own style, so the tutoring was stopped. As an adult, Miss Potter wrote and illustrated a story about a rabbit for the son of a friend who was sick. Remembering her own time of convalescence from an illness when she was a child, Beatrix sent along her little story to cheer him. The child’s mother encouraged the artist to publish her book, and The Tale of Peter Rabbit became a gift to all children.

There are many, many books written for children and adults about this remarkable woman. McPhail’s just happens to be the latest biography written for beginning readers. It is a natural companion to Potter’s own tales of Peter Rabbit, Benjamin Bunny, Jemima Puddle Duck, and so many other delightful characters. Fair warning…adults who share Miss Potters tales and biography with their children, just may become immersed in her world. The numerous adult biographies and books about her home and gardens are tantalizing. Two of my adult favorites are At Home with Beatrix Potter: The Creator of Peter Rabbit by Susan Denyer (Frances Lincoln, 2009) and Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life: The Plants and Places That Inspired the Classic Children’s Tales by Marta McDowell (Timber Press, 2013).

Massachusetts Children’s Book Award

March4

MCBA_rdax_230x150And the DCD winners are…

What a celebration of books and reading we had this week at school! Thirty-five fourth and fifth graders participated in the Massachusetts Children’s Book Award reading program this year. Eleven students read all of the twenty-five books that were nominated.

landchrisThe discussion was spirited, and when the voting was finished, there was a tie for the best book between The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer and Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein. In The Land of Stories, twins enter a magical world of fairy tale characters through a special book. Grabenstein tells the story of a group of children who stay overnight in the new town library designed by Luigi Lemoncello, a master puzzle maker in Mr. Lemoncello’s Library. They form teams to solve his master puzzle.

Our discriminating readers chose four other books as their favorites:

Kizzy Ann Stamps by Jeri Watts
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
Honorable Mention: Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesel Shurtliff and Counting by 7s by Holly Goldbery Sloan

It will be interesting to learn the statewide voting results later this month.

Counting Lions

February26

One lion
    sits and watches his rough-and-tumble pride,
    He surveys the golden savanna, and a flicker catches his eye-
    something moving in the grass. A challenger to his throne?

lionsThus begins Katie Cotton’s free verse in Counting Lions, illustrated by Stephen Walton (Candlewick, 2015). This book certainly can’t be described simply as a counting book about endangered animals. That would limit its audience. Young, independent readers who are interested in animals, poetry, or art should also know Counting Lions. Cotton writes about the characteristics of each featured animal in her unrhymed poetry. Her words complement the stunning illustrations.

Virginia McKenna’s introduction discusses the plight of many threatened and endangered animals over the past one hundred years. She is an original founder of the wildlife protection organization Zoo Check that became the Born Free Foundation. While her narrative sends a strong environmental message, it explains important details to young science enthusiasts.

Counting Lions is all about the illustrations, which are charcoal portraits of endangered animals. It was astonishing to learn that Stephen Walton is a self-taught artist. He attributes his eye for detail to his photography, as each portrait is taken from one of his own photographs. Walton is the Supervisor at Bury Art Museum in Manchester, UK. On his website, he describes being surrounded by the landscapes of George Turner and John Constable, and the animal paintings by Edwin Henry Landseer. Do check out this time-lapse video of Walton drawing “King”, the cover image of the book.

Great Biographies

February19

When I was in third and fourth grade, the library was in easy walking distance from my house. I have fond memories of finally being a confident reader and being allowed to choose my own books. There was a series of historical fiction titles that I fondly remember. They were the “Little Maid” books, and my favorite was The Little Maid of Lexington by Alice Turner Curtis. The little maid wasn’t a term describing a servant, but a girl who witnessed important events during Colonial times. (As an adult, I was astonished to find that while I was reading these books in the late 1950s, they were originally written between 1913 and 1937. Hmmm…there weren’t as many books published for children then. Or, my public library never discarded many!) After I read one of the titles, I always looked for a biography about the hero from history – George Washington, Paul Revere, or Benjamin Franklin. There weren’t many biographies written for intermediate readers during my childhood. Times have changed…

betsyOur independent readers are intrigued by two series that I can’t recommend any more highly, Who Was…? and Who Is…? These short biographies, published by Penguin, have black and white illustrations on many pages, and they include additional background information and a bibliography at the end of the book. The authors describe the childhood, accomplishments, and challenges of the biographee. I would have been thrilled to read Who Was Betsy Ross? by James Buckley (2014) after I read A Little Maid of Old Philadelphia. Fortunately, there are many different titles to keep our readers happy. The publisher has also developed two other series, What Was…? and Where Is…? The WhoHQ website by Penguin has a trivia game for readers when they have finished some of the books.

Celebrating Black History in Books

February11

As we celebrate Black History Month in February, I would like to revisit two books that were recognized this year by the American Library Association, Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer (Candlewick) and Trombone Shorty (Abrams).

voiceCarole Boston Weatherford’s picture book biography about Fannie Lou Hamer is important to share with our middle school students. As the granddaughter of slaves and the youngest of twenty children, she endured illness, poverty, extreme acts of prejudice, and racism that included physical attacks on her personally. Hamer was active in the civil rights movement. As part of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, she addressed the 1964 Democratic National Convention about the voter discrimination in the south. Hamer’s passion was evident in her powerful singing voice, and she reached millions of people through her beautiful gift.
Fannie Lou Hamer singing:

tromA contemporary musician who shares his talent with the world is Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews. He tells us his story in the phenomenal picture book biography Trombone Shorty. Even as a young boy, music resonated in Troy’s home and neighborhood of Tremé in New Orleans.
He made his own instruments until one day Troy found a broken trombone. With practice, Troy taught himself to play, and his brother gave him the nickname “Trombone Shorty”. One day, his mother took him to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, and Troy brought his trombone along. When Bo Diddley was on the stage, Troy began to play along. Bo Diddley invited him to the stage. Trombone Shorty continued to revel in his music, and his talent is a gift to today’s jazz lovers.

Meghan McCarthy

January29

There are some authors who have the gift for entertaining their readers while they are educating them. That describes Meghan McCarthy, an author and illustrator of numerous non-fiction books for children.

 

earmuffsOne of McCarthy’s latest books is Earmuffs for Everyone: How Chester Greenwood Became Known as the Inventor of Earmuffs (Simon & Schuster, 2015). She describes the way people protected their ears from the cold throughout history. Along the way, the author infuses her story with other facts about inventors and inventions, including the work of Thomas Edison. Chester Greenwood employed many women in his factory, and this may be because his wife, Isabel, was active in getting women the right to vote.

 

Meghan McCarthy has written many other books that I enjoy sharing with children, among them are City Hawk: The Story of Pale Male (Simon & Schuster, 2007), Aliens Are Coming!: The True Account of the 1938 War of the Worlds Radio Broadcast (Knopf, 2006), Pop: The Invention of Bubble Gum (Simon & Schuster, 2010), and Daredevil: The Daring Life of Betty Skelton (Simon & Schuster, 2013).

cityalienspop

 

 

 

 

dare

 

 

 

 

 

The author’s website is interesting for children to explore. Meghan McCarthy produced this very homemade video about Earmuffs for Everyone!. It is actually a fine example of how she doesn’t take herself too seriously.

 

 

 

 

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Award Season 2

January21

CJ pushed through the church doors,
Skipped down the steps.

The outside air smelled like freedom,
But it also smelled like rain,
Which freckled CJ’s shirt and dripped down his nose.

He ducked under his nana’s umbrella, saying,
“How come we gotta wait for the bus in all this wet?”
“Trees get thirsty, too,” his nana told him.
“Don’t you see that big one drinking through a straw?”
CJ looked for a long time but never saw a straw.

lastThese are the first three pages of Last Stop On Market Street written by Matt de la Peña and illustrated by Christian Robinson (G. P. Putnam’s Sons). This picture book was just chosen for one of the most prestigious awards that is given by the American Library Association. Yes, it was named as an honor book for the Caldecott Award where the illustrator, Christian Robinson was recognized for excellence in illustration. The book was also named as an Honor Book for the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award which recognizes “… outstanding African American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults that demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values.” More importantly, Last Stop On Market Street was also awarded the 2016 Newbery Medal. This award recognizes “…the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children published by an American publisher in the United States in English during the preceding year.” The description is taken from the American Library Association’s Newbery Medal page.

Over the past two weeks, there has been much discussion on blogs that are dedicated to children’s and young adults’ literature. I wouldn’t say that the pick is controversial in a negative manner, but it certainly has brought out varying opinions. The writing is beautiful, but we (librarians, authors, publishers, booksellers) usually think of the Newbery Medal in terms of a book for older readers. Although the criteria for the award also states, “Children are defined as persons of ages up to and including fourteen, and books for this entire age range are to be considered.” Hmm…this book certainly can be fodder for discussion by our middle schoolers, but would they find this book without being led to it by an adult? Can younger children appreciate it? I don’t have any easy answers to those questions, but isn’t it interesting to ask them?

echoThere were also three books that were recognized as Honor Books this year. One of my favorites is Echo by Pam Muños Ryan (Scholastic), which was also named as the Odyssey Honor given for excellence in audiobooks.  To read more about Echo, go to my previous post about it.

 

 

 

warAnother Newbery Honor book is The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (Dial), also the winner of the Odyssey Honor Medal.

 

 

 

rollerThe third title is Roller Girl, written and illustrated by Victoria Jamieson (Dial Books for Young Readers). Roller Girl is a graphic novel.

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