Read On!

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

Education and Segregation


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.

Louise Bourgeois


clothLouise Bourgeois’ (1911-2010) art has been exhibited in museums all over the world. She worked in many mediums, although she is probably best known for her sculptures of spiders. In 2011, one of her works, Spider, set a record for the highest price ever paid for a woman’s piece of art, when it sold at auction for $10.7 million. In 2015, that same piece resold for $28.2 million. In Cloth Lullaby: The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois written by Amy Novesky, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault (Abrams Books for Young Readers) the author explores Bourgeois’ life story. Louise was a young girl who was born in Paris into a family who restored tapestries, and she became one of the premier contemporary artists.

As a twelve year old, Louise learned the family trade, and she began to repair missing fragments of the tapestries that were brought to the shop. Her mother taught her about the styles of textiles, form, color, weaving, dyeing, and stitching. As a child, Louise also kept diaries of her thoughts and ideas. When she went to university in Paris, Louise first studied mathematics. After her mother’s death, she went to the Sorbonne where she became fascinated with sculpture as well as painting.

After moving to the United States with her husband and children before WWII, Louise struggled with entering the art exhibition world in a new country. As she explored new areas in her own work, she began to be recognized. Bourgeois exhibited and taught for years, and she influenced many other artists.

spiderSome of her signature pieces and themes are very large spiders. She wrote that (Drawing was) “like a thread in a spider’s web.” And “If you bash into the web of a spider, she doesn’t get mad. She weaves and she repairs it.”

(Image taken from The Guardian)

The First NYC Subway


beachReaders, both children and adults, can learn some amazing facts from books that are published primarily for children. An interesting example of this is The Secret Subway by Shana Corey, illustrated by Chris Sickels of Red Nose Studio (Wade Books). While I’m wary of using too many superlatives when I write about books because they can be overused, this book is a true original. The subject is little known to most people, and the illustrations are very unique.

Alfred Ely Beach was a dreamer and an inventor in the 1860s. He was also a publisher whose father owned a newspaper, and most importantly, he was a man of action. Beach imagined building a train powered by an enormous fan underground where there was no traffic. At first, he was denied the permits from the city. So, he proposed a mail tube instead. He got Boss Tweed, New York City’s powerful and unofficial mayor to approve of his plan, so the actual city offices agreed to his construction.

Beach secretly moved out all of his excavated materials at night so that no one would question the enormity of his project. He turned his underground tunnel into a tourist attraction. It was later closed when Boss Tweed rewarded his friends with building more transports underground.

The talented illustrator, Chris Sickels, develops his art as Red Nose Studio. He tells stories through puppets and animation.

I just have to share two videos. One is about Alfred Ely Beach and his underground invention. The other is a clip that shows Chris Sickels’ work on The Secret Subway. Both videos have the same opening picture, but they are different.

Mary Garber


miss-maryIt has become commonplace to see women as sports reporters on television or covering sports on the Internet in 2016. This is a fairly recent occurrence though. Contemporary female professional sports writers and commentators owe a debt of gratitude to Mary Garber (1916-2008), a pioneer in that field. Miss Mary Reporting by Sue Macy, illustrated by C. F. Payne (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers) is a picture book biography that brings Mary to life.

Mary Garber’s family moved from New York City to Winston-Salem, North Carolina when she was eight years old, and Winston-Salem was Mary’s home for the rest of her life. Growing up, Mary enjoyed many sports, especially tackle football with the boys. As a youngster, she was the quarterback for the Buena Vista Devils, known as the BVDs. In school, she played softball and tennis, two sports where it didn’t matter that she was only five feet tall and under one hundred pounds. Her father took Mary and her sister to many athletic events, and he made sure that they understood all of the rules of the games.

mary_garberAfter college, Mary knew that she wanted to be a reporter, although her first assignment was as a society reporter and then a general news reporter. During WWII, she began covering sports when all of the men enlisted. After the war, there was a year that she went back to general reporting, but after that brief interlude the sports beat was hers. There were many obstacles that Mary had to overcome just to do her job. Jackie Robinson became a role model for her. While he was facing taunts and jeers, he remained dignified and kept silent. The discrimination that she faced as a woman in a field of men didn’t match the prejudice that Robinson experienced, but Mary and Jackie were both breaking stereotypes. (Photo from Wikipedia)

During her career, Mary had to fight for admittance to press boxes, stand outside of locker rooms, be ignored by coaches, and even once sew a tear in a basketball players uniform because she was a woman. Along the way coaches began to admire her determination, and readers enjoyed her insights. One of her most significant accomplishments was her advocacy for fighting segregation. She began reporting on games played in Winston-Salem’s all-black schools. No reporter had ever done that. Mary said, “It seemed to me that black parents were as interested in what their kids were doing as white parents were.” Mary cared.

The Mary Garber Pioneer Award is given annually by the Association For Women in Sports Media.

2017 Massachusetts Children’s Book Award (MCBA)


mcbaOnce again, we will be promoting the nominees for the Massachusetts Children’s Book Awards (MCBA) during the 2015-2016 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. 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 Jennifer Holm and Lauren Tarshis, 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 two today. Both of the books fall into the same genre, which I term realistic fantasy or magic realism. The (often) contemporary characters live in a world or society that we recognize, but magic happens. When this is portrayed to a reader by a talented author, one accepts this different reality and enjoys the story.

blissBliss, by Kathryn Littlewood (HarperCollins), introduces a delightful family who own a bakery that is beloved in their town. The protagonist, Rose, suspects that her parents employ magic when baking some of their special foods. When her parents go out of town, Rose and her siblings are supposed to protect the family’s Cookery Booke, that is kept under lock and key. They are surprised when a flashy and an unknown aunt rides into town on her motorcycle. Rose is drawn in by her new-found aunt, and she begins playing with powerful magic. This is the first book in the Bliss Bakery Trilogy. The other books are A Dash of Magic and Bite-Sized Magic.

14thJennifer Holm’s book, The Fourteenth Goldfish (Random House for Young Readers), is a humorous book that tackles the subject of immortality. Humor and immortality? Yes, the main character, Ellie, is a sixth grader who is struggling to navigate middle school. She misses her best friend, and she learns that her mother had been replacing her goldfish every time it died without her knowledge. When a new, weird boy approaches her, he reminds Ellie a lot of her grandfather who is a scientist obsessed with immortality. Many readers may know Holm from her graphic novels featuring Babymouse.

Great White Sharks


great-whiteThe estimated number of sharks (about 500 species) worldwide is 7 billion.

The estimated number of humans (just one species) worldwide is 7 billion.

The average number of people killed by sharks of all species yearly, worldwide is about 11.

The number of sharks of all species killed by people yearly, worldwide is 100 million.

(Information taken from The Great White Shark Scientist)

Living along the East Coast, and especially in Massachusetts, we often hear about great white shark sightings. During our warmer months, there are often advisories that there have been shark sightings off of Cape Cod, especially near Chatham’s and Orleans’ beaches.

Sy Montgomery, a talented non-fiction writer, has chronicled the latest research about great whites in her newest book, The Great White Shark Scientist (HMH). Photographs by Keith Ellenbogen complement her text, and she brings her knowledge to life for her readers.

While we usually fear sharks, and great whites especially, Montgomery supplies some interesting information that puts these fears into perspective. Some of her facts are given with a bit of humor.

Number of Americans killed by shark bite between 1984 and 1987: 4

Number of New Yorkers bitten by humans during same period: nearly 1,600

“The Atlantic White Shark Conservancy (AWSC) was established to support white shark research and education programs to ensure that this important species thrives.”  There is a shark center in Chatham where children and adults can learn more about this special species.

Roald Dahl


Roald Dahl, author and storyteller extraordinaire, was born on September 13, 1916. There have been many activities (especially in England) to celebrate the 100th anniversary of his life. His books continue to entertain children and adults alike. When young readers discover Roald Dahl’s books, they are captivated by his irreverence and imaginative prose.

Many of Dahl’s books have been made into movies. Currently, two of his books can be experienced in other ways. The BFG was directed by Steven Spielberg and released this summer as a full-length movie.

Matilda continues to entertain audiences as a play that is performed in London, on Broadway, and by various touring companies.

When I asked a small group of children which book was his or her favorite, each child thought that he or she could name one book. However, when they heard their friends’ answers, they kept exclaiming that was their favorite one too. They finally agreed on George’s Marvelous Medicine, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Witches, The Twits, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Hmm…what about James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, The BFG, and George’s Marvelous Medicine? When they get a little older, I look forward to sharing Roald Dahl’s autobiographies with them, Boy – The Tales of Childhood and Going Solo, two books, along with his novels, that I would highly recommend to adults. Oh…but what about Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator and George’s Marvelous Medicine

Celebrate Roald Dahl by reading or rereading one of his books!

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Beatrix Potter


BeatrixOne of the world’s most beloved author/illustrators, Beatrix Potter, was born on July 28, 1866. There have been numerous events this year to celebrate the 150th anniversary of her birth.

(Photo of Miss Potter taken from The National Trust & Frederick Warne Ltd.)
Beatrix and her brother, Bertram, were born to privilege, as their parents were quite wealthy. When they were growing up, they associated with few children of the same age as governesses educated them. However, they were encouraged to explore the natural world, especially during the summer on holidays, first in Scotland and then in the Lake District of England. It was here that Beatrix blossomed and recorded her observations of life.

One of Beatrix’s governesses was only three years older than her, and Annie Moore Carter acted as a lady’s companion to her. Annie and Beatrix became lifelong friends, and Miss Potter wrote entertaining letters illustrated with sketches to Annie’s children. In 1893, while she was on holiday, Potter composed a story to Annie’s son Noel, who was ill. She wrote about “four little rabbits whose names were Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter.” This letter was the basis for Potter’s most famous book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit.

This talented artist, naturalist, and author went on to become a landowner, farmer, and conservationist in the Lake District. She purchased large plots of land to preserve the area. Her donation of her property to the National Trust is now included in the Lake District National Park.

One of her unpublished stories, The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots, which was written in 1941, is being published this month. The illustrations are by Quentin Blake, a contemporary British illustrator, who has written many children’s books.

As part of the celebration of her life, Penguin Random House commissioned street artist Marcus Crocker to give Potter’s characters a modern makeover. At first I was “put off” by this modernization, as I considered it a bit sacrilegious to mess around with Peter Rabbit, Mr. Jeremy Fisher, Jemima Puddle-Duck, Squirrel Nutkin, Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, and Mrs. Tittlemouse. However, in reading about the new Potter figures, I found it interesting.
“The reimagined small versions of the familiar characters reflect the diminutive dimensions of the original Peter Rabbit stories, whilst some also contain a nod to Beatrix Potter’s varied accomplishments as a Conservationist; Botanist; Businesswoman; Artist; Storyteller all of which made her a woman ahead of her time… The figures were carefully crafted to ensure continuity with not only the characters’ own personality traits, but in some cases those of their original creator, in contemporary and surprising ways.”

Oh my goodness! (Will’s Words)


will'sEaten out of house and home, Not budge an inch, Seen better days, and Into thin air are all phrases that we use today, and they were all first used by William Shakespeare. The author, Jane Sutcliffe, wrote that she wanted to publish a book in her own words about the Globe Theater and William Shakespeare. As she progressed on the project, Sutcliffe became so enamored with Shakespeare’s words and phrases that an entirely different book came to be. Will’s Words: How William Shakespeare Changed the Way You Talk (Charlesbridge) is illustrated by John Shelley. This author and illustrator’s collaboration is an engaging title that will educate and amuse readers of all ages.

Here’s an example from Will’s Words:

WILL’S WORDS: Green-eyed monster

WHAT IT MEANS: Jealousy. Four hundred years ago the color green was thought to be the color of jealousy. (That’s why we say “green with envy.”)

WHERE IT COMES FROM: Othello, Act 3, Scene 3. The villain tells the hero of the play to beware that green-eyed monster jealousy-then he does everything he can to make him jealous.

The “Eyes” Have It


Picture book biographies aren’t just for our younger students anymore. Many of these short, illustrated biographies are for older children too. A couple of our recent acquisitions will also be of interest to adults, and they both demonstrate the unique perspective that artists have.

eyeJosef Albers’ work with color was an important milestone for artists, teachers, and anyone who is interested in the use of color. An Eye for Color: The Story of Josef Albers by Natasha Wing, illustrated by Julia Breckenreid (Henry Holt) clearly describes Albers’ curiosity about how colors work with each other, and how differently they react with each other.

In order to use color effectively it is necessary to recognize that color deceives continually.      –Josef Albers


Dorothea Lange also viewed our world through an artist’s eyes, but her art form was photography. Long after her death, some of her photographs remain as masterpieces that define our history. Dorothea’s Eyes by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Gérard DuBois (Calkins Creek) narrates this remarkable woman’s life and explains how she often felt invisible.

This is the way it is. Look at it! Look at it!         -Dorothea Lange


1936 --- Florence Owens Thompson, 32, a poverty-stricken migrant mother with three young children, gazes off into the distance. This photograph, commissioned by the FSA, came to symbolize the Great Depression for many Americans. --- Image by © CORBIS

1936 — Florence Owens Thompson, 32, a poverty-stricken migrant mother with three young children, gazes off into the distance. This photograph, commissioned by the FSA, came to symbolize the Great Depression for many Americans. — Image by © CORBIS

(Image taken from

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