Read On!

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

Celebrating Black History in Books


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


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).












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


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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Award Season


Award Season

caldecott-medalOn one Monday morning every January, everyone who is involved with children’s books anxiously awaits the announcement of the awards that are given by the American Library Association. Librarians, teachers, students, authors, illustrators, booksellers, and publishers all wonder whether their favorites will be mentioned for the Caldecott and Newbery Awards or whether a little recognized book will be honored. Will we agree with the choices? Will there be controversy? Who will get the awards?

This year, the committees had a number of books from which to choose in many categories. As someone who promotes books to young people, I felt that there were many outstanding books published in 2015. The award that is nearest and dearest to me is the Randolph Caldecott Medal, which is given “to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.”

WinnieThe 2016 Caldecott winner is Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear, illustrated by Sophie Blackall and written by Lindsay Mattick (Little, Brown). I have especially shared this book with our third graders as an introduction to my Winnie-the-Pooh unit. This true story chronicles the life of a bear cub that became the inspiration for A.A. Milne’s classic, Winnie-the-Pooh. Harry Colebourn was a veterinarian in Canada. As a soldier during WWI, his unit was assigned to travel to England and France to care for the horses used in battle. On their train ride in Canada, Colebourn bought a bear cub that was being sold by a trapper at one of the train stops. He named the cub Winnipeg, and she became known as Winnie. Lindsay Mattick is the great-granddaughter of that soldier, and she wrote the story with a nod to the style that A.A. Milne used in Winnie-the-Pooh. She wrote little asides with her son asking questions, just as Milne’s son, Christopher Robin asked his father questions during his story. I am a huge fan of Sophie Blackall’s art and spirit. Her illustrations in the book are in watercolors to depict the history of Winnie. She used Chinese ink drawings for the present day author and her son.

win2It is with a bit of serendipity that there was another picture book written this year about Harry Colebourn and his pet. Sally M. Walker’s fictionalized account of Winnie’s origins is Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh (Macmillan). This version is interesting to pair with the Caldecott winner. The children became book critics as they examine the differences in the art and writing.


There were four books that are Caldecott Honor Books this year.

lastLast Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson (G. P. Putnam’s Sons)





Trombone Shorty by Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, illustrated by Bryan Collier (Abrams Books for Young Readers)
voiceVoice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Ekua Holmes (Candlewick Press)




WaitingWaiting by Kevin Henkes (Greenwillow Books)







This year’s Newbery Award books also deserve a separate and future blog entry.

Gene Luen Yang


Every two years, the Librarian of Congress selects an author to be the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. The author serves a two-year term and uses his/her position as a platform to speak and write about lifelong literacy, education, and using books and reading for personal growth. There are very specific guidelines used by the selection committee when they choose an author. The National Ambassador for the next two years is Gene Luen Yang.

Yang was born in California, and his parents are Chinese immigrants. His background is noteworthy because Yang draws on his family experiences in his work. The seeds for his writing and art began when he was in elementary school. He began drawing comics then, and he wrote his first comic book in fifth grade. On his website, Yang said, “Nowadays any kid can make a movie, but back then, it was impossible for a ten year old to make a movie, but a ten year old could make a comic book.” The fact that Yang writes graphic novels is also an important aspect of his nomination.

When he was interviewed after the announcement of his appointment was made, Yang said, “Every ambassador picks a platform, so some kind of issue that they want to talk about, and a phrase that sums up that issue. My phrase is ‘Reading Without Walls.’ ” The theme aims to encourage young people to read books that scare them. The author continued, “We want kids to read outside of their comfort zone, to pick a book with somebody on the cover who doesn’t look like them, to pick a book about a topic they previously found intimidating.”

americanHis book American Born Chinese won the Printz Award from the American Library Association for best young adult book in 2007. Boxers & Saints was a finalist for the National Book Awards. Yang’s most recent project is a graphic novel series, Secret Coders, which not only tells a story but also teaches children about computer coding.

Seasons Readings


Readers of all ages enjoy holiday picture books. Even our most sophisticated and older readers want to revisit old favorites and check out new titles.


santaWhen Santa Was a Baby by Linda Bailey & Genevieve Godbout (Tundra, 2015) has become one of this year’s favorites. Santa’s parents are like all parents because they think that their new baby is very special. When his first baby sounds are Ho! Ho! Ho!, they are surprised. Santa continues be unique when he gives away his presents, only wears red, and has a special friend who enjoys making toys. This is a fun title to pair with Santa Retires by David Biedrzycki (Charlesbridge, 2012).


clickDoreen Cronin has partnered with illustrator Betsy Lewin to bring us back to the zany farm that she has featured in other books. (Click, Clack, Moo being the most memorable.) This time, the animals try to rescue the crazy duck that gets stuck in the chimney just before Santa arrives in Click, Clack, Ho! Ho! Ho! (Atheneum, 2015)


An older title for which I’ve been having a number of requests is Snowmen at Christmas by Caralyn Buehner, illustrated by Mark Buehner (Dial, 2005). This talented husband and wife team describe a celebration by the snowmen on Christmas Eve, when all of the people are asleep.

snowmenSuch fun snowmen have!

But there’s still one more thing –

With hearts full of joy

They hold hands and they sing.


While the fiddler plays,

And sweet silver bells ring,

They sing songs about snow,

And the birth of a King.

Seasons Readings


dreidelOne of my favorite Hanukkah books that was published this year is the picture book version of The Parakeet Named Dreidel (Farrar Straus Giroux). Suzanne Raphael Berkson has illustrated Isaac Bashevis Singer’s short story to introduce it to today’s young readers.


Born in Poland, Isaac Bashevis Singer spent much of the first third of his life in Warsaw. . It was fortuitous that he emigrated to the United States in 1935 when he grew fearful of the growing Nazi threat in Germany. He became an important figure in writing, especially in the Yiddish literary movement. This talented author wrote for adults, young adults, and children. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1978. Singer was also honored with two U.S. National Book awards, and one of these was in Children’s Literature.


The Parakeet Named Dreidel first appeared in Singer’s book of short stories, The Power of Light. Years ago, I read this short story to children for years. Suzanne Raphael Berkson’s illustrations and book is a wonderful avenue for today’s children to be introduced to this captivating Hanukkah story.


A Brooklyn family is celebrating Hanukkah when David and his father notice a beautiful parakeet sitting on their frosty windowsill. To get the bird out of the cold, they open the window and shoo him into their home. The bird must have accidently flown out of his own home, and he speaks Yiddish phrases, especially one where he says the name Zeldele over and over. When the family fails to find the parakeets owners, they adopt him and name him Dreidel. Years later, David is in college and very attracted to one of his friends, Zelda. One night at a party, he recounts the story of how he acquired his parakeet. Zelda is overwhelmed because it was her lost bird of which David is speaking. The story ends quite happily because David and Zelda marry, and both families continue to enjoy their beloved pet.


Isaac Beshevis Singer depicted two ideals of Jewish values upon which he was raised – kindness to animals and returning lost objects to their owners. …And he did this in a charming story.

(Picture from



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Historical Fiction


Alice whenSome books that I pick up as just an entertaining read pique my interest to further investigate the subject they present. That’s what happened with Rebecca Behrens’ contemporary story, When Audrey Met Alice (Sourcebooks, 2014).  The main character portrayed in the book is Audrey Rhodes, and she is the “First Daughter” in the White House. With her mother as President of the United States and her father a busy scientist, Audrey has no one to share her challenging experience as an only child who faces the spotlight. She attends Friends Academy in Washington, D.C., and it is difficult for Audrey to determine whether her fellow students are interested in being her friend only because of her mother’s position. It is also a bit difficult for a middle school girl to even talk to a boy when her Secret Service agent is hovering nearby.

Audrey plans a pizza and movie party for the entire eighth grade to see an advanced screening of a popular movie. When there is a security breach before the party, the White House is locked down and Audrey’s party is canceled. This furthers the First Daughter’s feelings of loneliness and isolation.

AliceShortly after the party, Alice discovers a treasure under an old floorboard in a closet in the Family Residence Dining Room. It was a fabric wrapped bundle that contained some old postcards, a pack of old cigarettes, and a leather diary. The items belonged to Alice Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt’s oldest child, and the diary was written during Alice’s years living in the White House. Instead of sharing her find, Audrey hides them in her room and begins to read Alice’s diary. At last, she has found someone who understands what life as a First Daughter means.

The author did extensive research on Alice Roosevelt. She incorporated true information about Alice into the diary that her fictional character, Audrey, found. Alice was certainly a colorful character for her times, and probably even by contemporary standards. In Alice’s fictional diary, she writes about wearing a color of blue that she enjoyed. There was a shade that was named after her, “Alice Blue” became popular in women’s fashions of the times. The color is used by the United States Navy in insignia and trim on vessels named for Theodore Roosevelt. There was even a hit song in a Broadway musical, Irene that was “Alice Blue Gown”. Rebecca Behrens website has interesting information to further investigate Alice.

I hope that some middle school readers might enjoy When Audrey Met Alice as much as I did.

(Photo of Alice Roosevelt from Wikipedia)

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A Thanksgiving Favorite


cranberryWhile there are a plethora of new books on the market every season, it’s always a pleasure to introduce some of my favorite older titles to children. One series of picture books that I’m fond of is the Cranberry Series by Wende and Harry Devlin. Wende wrote the stories that she may have first shared with her own seven children. While Wende was a gifted painter, she began to collaborate with her husband, Harry, also a commercial artist. Harry began to illustrate the sweet tales that Wende wrote. Together, they created the Old Black Witch Series and the Cranberry Series.

In Cranberry Thanksgiving, one can tell that the Devlins were influenced by their family vacation on Cape Cod. Maggie and Grandmother live in Cranberryport, at the edge of a cranberry bog and close to the ocean. On Thanksgiving, they each invite a guest to share their feast. Grandmother invites Mr. Horace, a traveler from the city, who smells of lavender and carries a gold-headed cane. Maggie invites Mr. Whiskers, an old sea captain who smells of clams. Grandmother’s famous recipe for Cranberry Bread is stolen, and a most unlikely character is the hero of the story.

Today’s children enjoy this timeless story as much as those who heard it back in 1971 when the Devlins first published it. I had requests for more Mr. Whiskers’ stories, and fortunately for us, the Devlins wrote other books.

And…they shared their Cranberry Bread recipe!


Recipe found at the Devlin website here.

Rediscovering Harry Potter


harryHarry Potter fans will be thrilled with the new, illustrated version of J.K. Rowling’s first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Scholastic). Jim Kay, the illustrator, was honored in 2012 with the Kate Greenaway Medal. This award is given to an artist in Great Britain whose illustrations in a book for young people demonstrate outstanding merit. Kay has produced dozen’s of colorful illustrations to compliment Rowling’s popular tale.


The publisher, Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic, should be commended for this project. Undoubtedly, they will make money on this edition, but the quality of the book is remarkable.


When the Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in the UK) was first published, readers only had the thumbnail illustrations at the beginning of each chapter as visuals. Once the series became the phenomena that it is, the movies appeared. Readers then pictured Harry Potter as Daniel Radcliffe represented him. Each year, there are children who are discovering Rowling’s magic for the first time. Jim Kay’s Illustrations are colorful and full of details. He hasn’t depicted the characters and events as copies from the movie. His art is fresh and unique. I’m already anticipating Kay’s art for the second book, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.


How amazing it is to compare the initial number of books printed for Rowling’s first book of Harry Potter in 1997 to this new edition. In 1997, several British publishers rejected Rowling’s manuscript. When Bloomsbury Press published it, the first run was of 500 books. Scholastic bought the U.S. publishing rights for the book, and less than a year later, their first run was for 50,000 copies. The 2015 publishing run for this illustrated edition is 1,000,000 copies.


This volume is a wonderful gift for any child or grown up who appreciates the series. Even though I own the originals, I have it on my wish list for the holidays.




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