Read On!

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

Non-Fiction November

November8

Many libraries celebrate “Non-Fiction November” as a way to celebrate factual and informational books.

Mousetronaut by Astronaut Mark Kelly, illustrated by C.F. Payne (Simon & Schuster) isn’t non-fiction but it is based on an actual event. This picture book can certainly inform readers about space exploration and awaken a curiosity about space travel.

In the afterword, Mark Kelly describes his first flight on the space shuttle, Endeavour, in 2001. During that flight, there were eighteen mice on board to be observed. Engineers at NASA made specific considerations for the mice’s safety and comfort.

Special cages were constructed with mesh that the mice could grip with their toes. Pressurized water containers and compressed food were installed and a waste containment system were created to keep things clean…All of them, with one exception, clung to the inside of the mesh during the entire mission. One mouse, smaller than the rest, seemed to enjoy the experience and effortlessly floated around the cage.

Mark Kelly took the memory of this small mouse experiencing weightlessness when he wrote Mousetronaut. The smallest mouse is named Meteor, and in this entertaining picture book, Meteor is allowed out of the cage. Meteor becomes a hero who saves the mission by helping the astronauts.

Mark Kelly talks about going into space in this short video.

Moorseville Public Library Book Trailer

October29

The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family by Ibtihaj Muhammad with S. K. Ali, illustrated by Hatem Aly (Little Brown)

The first day of wearing hijab is important, Mama had said.
It means being strong.

Some people won’t understand your hijab, Mama had said.
But if you understand who you are, one day they will too.

Mama: Don’t carry around the hurtful words that others say. Drop them. They are not yours to keep.
They belong only to those who said them.

In the 2016 Summer Olympics, fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad became the first Muslim American woman to wear a hijab while competing for the United States. As a member of the United States fencing team, she earned a bronze medal in the Team Sabre.

Ibtihaj collaborated with S. K. Ali to write The Proudest Blue. In their authors’ notes, the two women describe what an important occasion it was for them to wear their new hijab on the first day of school. Muhammad discusses the meaning of it for her, both physically and spiritually. She also writes of the bullying that she sometimes faced, especially in middle school. This talented athlete wrote her story to help young girls find their own strength and celebrate being a Muslim.

Frida Kahlo

October24

I never painted dreams or nightmares. I painted my own reality. – Frida Kahlo

It is important, yet challenging, to introduce Frida Kahlo to children. As one of the premier Mexican artists, her life story and body of work are inspirational. Yet, some of her paintings reveal the physical and emotional pain that she felt, and this is sometimes too complex for younger children to understand.

Monica Brown’s book, Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos, illustrated by John Parra (North South) is the perfect picture book biography to introduce her to young children. The author focused on the many animals that Frida had as pets during her life – two monkeys, a parrot, three dogs, two turkeys, an eagle, a cat, and a fawn. Brown wrote mostly of Frida’s childhood, and she included few details of her polio and later accident that left her in constant pain. There is also little mention of her husband, Diego Rivera.

Who Was Frida Kahlo? By Sarah Fabiny, illustrated by Jerry Hoare (Grosset & Dunlop) depicts Kahlo’s life for our intermediate readers. This biography is part of the popular Who Was Series. Important facts about Kahlo’s life and times are included to explain the world in which she lived. There are pages on The Mexican Revolution, Diego Rivera, The Great Depression, and Surrealism.

Remembering Mordicai Gerstein

October18

It seems clear to me that everything in the world needs to know about every other thing in the world. My theory is that the driving force in the universe is curiosity – nosiness! It’s not a scientific theory; it’s the kind of theory you come up with if you write and illustrate books for children. (Mordicai Gerstein – Acceptance speech at the 2004 Boston Globe/Horn Book Award for Picture Book)

When I learned that author/illustrator Mordicai Gerstein passed away in September 2019, I knew that I wanted to share my thoughts about this talented man. Even though I’ve read some of his books with students many times over the years, it’s always a pleasure to do so. It’s a joy to observe some of the children’s reactions as one of Gerstein’s books excites curiosity in them. He had that unique ability to bring the reader into the world of his creation. In interviews, Gerstein often said that he wrote and drew for people, for everybody, and others call them children’s books.

One of my favorite non-fiction picture books to share with children is Gerstein’s The Man Who Walked Between the Towers (Roaring Brook, 2003). Much has been written about this award-winning book. Some of the commendations that Gerstein received for the title were the Caldecott Medal, the Boston Globe/Horn Book Award, and the New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book. Gerstein chronicled Philippe Petit’s 1974 unauthorized tightrope walk between the twin towers of New York City’s World Trade Center. In an interview, Gerstein said, “I didn’t want to just tell the story of the walk – I wanted the book to be the walk between cardboard covers…I wanted this book to cause real vertigo, to put the reader, child or adult-and of course myself-on the wire.” He certainly accomplished this.

Mordicai Gerstein created over forty books for young people. One of his latest is I Am Hermes! Mischief-Making Messenger of the Gods (Holiday House, 2019). In his author’s note, Gerstein explained that he was intrigued with Greek myths because “They’re interesting because they’re so human and so entertaining.” He was still following his creative philosophy that he described in that 2004 acceptance speech.

Mordicai Gerstein’s legacy lives on as children and adults continue to be captivated by his work.

Frankenstein

October11

“The companions of our childhood always possess a certain power over our minds which hardly any later friend can obtain.” Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

As we celebrate October and the Halloween season, it’s interesting to present some books that explain the foundation for related myths and ideas.

Bailey, Linda. Mary Who Wrote Frankenstein, illustrated by Júlia Sardà (Tundra)

Fulton, Lynn. She Made a Monster: How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein, illustrated by Felicita Sala (Knopf)

 

“Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is not the same as the story most people know from the movies. Unlike the square-headed Hollywood monster with bolts in his neck, the creature in Mary’s book can speak and even read. He is lonely and longs to be part of a family, but because of his frightening appearance, he is hated and rejected by everyone, even his creator.”  Lynn Fulton, Author’s Note

When Mary Shelley was an infant, her mother died. As a young child, her father taught her the alphabet, and she would trace the letters on her mother’s tombstone. Mary’s mother had been a writer who believed in rights for women and democracy, revolutionary ideas for an 18th/19th-century woman.

Mary began the writing of Frankenstein when she vacationed in Switzerland with friends. One of the members of the group was Percy Shelley, already a noted poet and her future husband. On a dark and stormy night, the friends read harrowing tales and challenged each other to write ghost stories. Mary had heard of a corpse moving through the use of electricity. She thought of creating a monster but also wondered how the monster might feel.

The subtitle of Frankenstein is The Modern Prometheus. In Greek mythology, Prometheus is a trickster who created a man from clay. His name is also associated with scientific curiosity and unintended consequences. This became part of Mary’s metaphor in Frankenstein.

Mary’s novel was published when she was twenty years old. There were only five hundred copies printed of the first edition, but the news of her imaginative tale of Frankenstein soon spread. The publisher soon reprinted it. While Mary Shelley wrote numerous other works and continued to speak about women’s roles in society, she is best known for Frankenstein.

Linda Bailey and Lynn Fulton have both created picture book biographies that chronicle Mary Shelley’s life.

Ken Jennings

October4

Jennings, Ken, Ancient Egypt illustrated by Mike Lowery (Little Simon).

This past spring many families who had never tuned in to the game show, Jeopardy, followed the news about James Holzhauer, a contestant who had an amazing winning streak. Holzhauer amassed a great deal of money as his winnings, and he was eventually defeated by Emma Boettcher (a librarian!). The furor over Holzhauer’s wins was because many viewers wondered whether he would beat previous winner Ken Jennings’ records of wins and cash. Ken Jennings remains the top Jeopardy winner with 74 consecutive wins. He earned $3,522,700.00 on the show.

Jennings is not just a Jeopardy champion. He was a software engineer before he appeared on the program, but now he is a best-selling author. While his adult trivia books have been on bestseller lists, his children’s Junior Genius Guides are popular among our students. The guides sound like Jeopardy categories as he has written about dinosaurs, Greek mythology, U.S. Presidents, the human body, maps and geography, outer space, and Ancient Egypt.

The format of the Junior Genius Guides delights young and not so young readers since Jennings writes with humor and language that appeals to today’s readers. He begins his discussion of the First Period in Ancient Egypt with the following:

…And now we’re in the year 3500 BC, the very end of the Stone Age. Here are some things that haven’t been invented yet:
Bronze
Written Language
The wheel
The world population is less than fifteen million. In our time that’s about the population of the Los Angeles area. But here in 3500 BC, that’s every single human being on earth.

His guide on Ancient Egypt is one of the nominees for this year’s Massachusetts Children’s Book Award.

MCBA

September25

Once again, we will be promoting the nominees for the Massachusetts Children’s Book Awards (MACBA) during the 2019-2020 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 before now. This voluntary reading incentive program has become a popular event for many students, and it was 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 Patricia MacLachlan and Kwame Alexander, 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 their own 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 can be found on our DCD Library page.

One of this year’s nominees is Alexander Hamilton: The Making of America by Teri Kanefield ( Abrams)

Alexander Hamilton was born in 1755 on the island of Nevis in the British West Indies. By the time he was fourteen years old, he and his brother were orphans. Because of the unfair laws of inheritance, the two boys were left no money or property. They both had to count on the generosity of others and fend for themselves. Alexander was highly intelligent, and he learned much about finance, international commerce, and the shipping and trading markets from his employer. He was also a talented writer, and his employer started a scholarship fund to send Alexander to America for further education. That began his love for the United States as he worked to form our young nation.

 

 

An Amazing Octopus

September20

Inky’s Amazing Escape: How a Very Smart Octopus Found His Way Home by Sy Montgomery, illustrated by Amy Schimler-Safford (Simon & Schuster)

Author and naturalist Sy Montgomery has written twenty-six books for children and adults. She travels far and wide to constantly learn about animals and their behavior. Her latest book chronicles the true story of an octopus who escaped from the National Aquarium in Wellington, New Zealand.

When a lobsterman pulled his pot and found an injured octopus inside, he brought the octopus to the National Aquarium. The staff there named him Inky because an octopus squirts ink for protection. An octopus is naturally curious and moves about freely in the ocean. Inky recovered from his injury and soon became a favorite among visitors.

An octopus can …change shape. Octopuses have no bones, so they can squeeze their squishy, baggy bodies into tiny spaces. A 100-pound octopus can squeeze through an opening the size of an orange! (Sy Montgomery)

One night, the lid to Inky’s tank wasn’t closed completely. He slipped out of his tank, crossed the floor, and went down a drain that emptied to the ocean. The next morning, his keeper followed his tracks and checked the empty drain. Inky had escaped.

Sy Montgomery shares fascinating facts about octopuses in this color work of non-fiction.

A White House Concert

September13

Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreño Played the Piano for President Lincoln by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rafael López (Atheneum)

Born in Caracas, Venezuela in 1853, Teresa Carreño demonstrated her sophisticated musical talent at an early age. Her father was a noted musician who started her piano lessons when she was very young. Teresa soon discovered that she could express her feelings by playing the piano. By the time she was six, this small child was writing her own compositions. When she was seven years old, Teresa performed for the public in a chapel.

In 1862, the Carreño family emigrated to the United States because of unrest in their own country. When they arrived in New York City, they learned that the United States was also engaged in a war between the states. Her family soon made many friends by opening their home as a mecca for musicians and those who loved music. During this time, Teresa practiced and practiced to improve her technique. Here, too, she performed in public, even with great orchestras. The newspapers proclaimed her talent, and she was given the nickname, “Piano Girl”.

One day, Teresa received an invitation to play for President Abraham Lincoln at the White House. In 1863, this ten year old girl played one of her most memorable concerts for the Lincolns.

Teresa Carreño went on to not only perform on the piano, but also to sing, and she performed solo and with choirs and orchestras. During her lifetime, she wrote over 75 compositions for piano, voice, and orchestra. Piano Girl left a legacy that still lives on today.

(npg.si.edu)

Brothers and Artists

September6

“A single human face can give an artist the subject matter to fill a lifetime.”
Alberto Giacometti

Two Brothers, Four Hands: The Artists Alberto and Diego Giacometti by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan, illustrated by Hadley Hooper (Holiday House)

Alberto and Diego Giacometti were born and raised in the small Swiss village of Stampa. While they had two other siblings, the boys were inseparable, yet very different in attitude and aptitude. Because their father was a painter, there were always art supplies in their home for the children to use. Alberto spent hours drawing and reading, and at 13 years old, he created his first sculpture of Diego. These activities didn’t interest Diego at all, and he roamed the countryside observing animals and nature.

Alberto began to travel to learn about art. While visiting museums, churches, and artists, he kept journals of sketches and ideas. He went to study in Paris and was impressed by the Surrealists who believed that art should not come from life, but from the imagination. During this time of self-education for Alberto, Diego was aimless and lacked direction in his life. He moved to Paris to be with his brother, and they rented a decrepit studio where Alberto could create.

After WWII, Alberto eventually found his own style for sculpture, and his sculptures became larger and thinner. Diego became indispensable to him as he took his brother’s plaster molds and cast the pieces in bronze. He then brushed the surfaces with acid to produce various patinas. By 1948, Alberto was well-known, and he exhibited his work in the U.S. and Europe.

After Alberto died in 1966, Diego experimented with his own style also using bronze. He created pieces of furniture that were their own works of art. He, too, exhibited internationally for almost 20 years.

Authors Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan carefully researched and skillfully wrote Two Brothers, Four Hands. The illustrations by Hadley Hooper complement the text and bring the story to life.

Photo from left: Alberto, Diego, and Annette, Alberto’s wife from icp.org

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