“Genius draws no color line.”

April 10, 2014

When Marian SangWe cannot live alone… And the thing that made this moment possible for you and for me, has been brought about by many people whom we will never know.
Marian Anderson

On April 9, 1939, seventy-five years ago this week, Marian Anderson performed an outdoor concert at the Lincoln Memorial. Her concert was there because she was banned by the Daughters of the American Republic (DAR) from performing at Constitution Hall because of the color of her skin. There was a “white-artist-only” clause in the contracts presented by the DAR. While there was a segregated section for black audience members, only whites could appear on stage.

The news of Anderson’s situation became public, and Eleanor Roosevelt resigned from the organization. However, the public outcry did not change the policy. The executive secretary of the NAACP, Walter White, proposed that Marian Anderson should perform at the Lincoln Memorial. Franklin Roosevelt assigned his Secretary of the Interior, Harold Ickes, to oversee the logistics of the concert. Few could have guessed that 75,000 people would attend the concert, and millions of Americans would listen to it on the radio.

Genius draws no color line. She has endowed Marian Anderson with such voice as lifts any individual above his fellows, as is a matter of exultant pride to any race.
Harold Ickes

The first song that Marian sang was “America”. In the third line, she changed the words, “of thee I sing”, and she replaced them with “to thee we sing”.

In 1942, Marian Anderson did receive an invitation from the DAR to perform at Constitution Hall. On January 7, 1943, she sang to an integrated audience at a benefit for the American Red Cross.

VoiceWhile much has been written about this event, there are two books that I highly recommend for our students. When Marian Sang by Pam Munoz Ryan, illustrated by Brian Selznick (Scholastic, 2002) is a sophisticated picture book biography. Voice That Challenged a Nation: Marian Anderson and the Struggle for Equal Rights by Russell Freedman (Clarion, 2004) is a title that I would suggest for grades 5 and up. Freedman included many photographs to support his work.

Science Books

April 3, 2014

There have been a plethora of new books published recently about animals and birds. While some of them target our youngest readers, others are wonderful to share with our intermediate and older readers.

animals upsideIt’s no surprise that I am excited about a new “Pull, Pop, Lift & Learn Book” for our young budding scientists. Animals Upside Down is the production of Robin Page and Steve Jenkins (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2013). I always recommend any book that has artwork by Steve Jenkins, and this is no exception. As is described on the back of the book, “Turn wheels, pull tabs, lift flaps, and open doors to reveal twenty-six different animals and discover the many remarkable ways that going bottoms-up helps them to survive!”

longThe Long, Long Journey by Sandra Markle, illustrated by Mia Posada (Millbrook Press, 2013) is subtitled The Godwit’s Amazing Migration. These long-billed and long-legged birds fly the longest nonstop bird migration that has ever been recorded. They are born in Alaska where they spend the summer learning to fly, finding food, and escaping predators. In October, the godwits fly over 7,000 miles to New Zealand.

dolphinsOur intermediate and middle school readers may want to check out The Dolphins of Shark Bay by Pamela S. Turner, with photographs by Scott Tuason (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2013). The Shark Bay Dolphin Project has been in existence for over twenty-five years; the scientists involved have recorded the habits of hundreds of wild dolphins. They want to know why dolphins can learn simple languages, recognize themselves in mirrors, understand gestures such as pointing, and mimic vocally.

Horace Pippin

March 14, 2014

If a man knows nothing but hard times, he will paint them, for he must be true to himself…

splashIt is interesting to analyze a picture book that “really works” and is obviously well crafted. One of the reasons for the success of a picture book is because of the connections between the text and the illustrations. Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet collaborated on A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin (Knopf), a picture book biography about the talented artist. In the author’s and illustrator’s notes in the back of A Splash of Red, Bryant and Sweet both detail how they worked. The author and illustrator traveled together to research Pippin and his work.

Horace Pippin was passionate about art as a child, but life and work got in the way, as he grew older. It wasn’t until he returned from WWI with a badly injured arm, that art re-entered his life. At that time, Pippin found it difficult to obtain a job due to his injury. One day, he picked up a fireplace poker, and he held his injured arm as he scratched a design in some wood. He finished his first painting three years later, by retraining himself and strengthening his arm. Through that painting, he found himself again, as he used somber colors that represented his years as a soldier. Even then, he would add a splash of red.

It took years for Pippin’s work to be recognized, but he has emerged as one of the premiere painters of his time.




“It’s a bird…it’s a plane…”

March 6, 2014

boysIn 1938, the United States was struggling as we emerged from the Great Depression, and people desperately needed to go beyond the struggles of everyday survival. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster understood what it was like to struggle through life. They were both short, they wore glasses, and they were painfully shy. Both of them had survived hardships growing up and being ignored in school in different yet similar ways. Jerry wrote his own adventure and science fictions stories while Joe drew pictures.

Marc Tyler Nobleman’s book, Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman, illustrated by Ross MacDonald  (Knopf, 2008) chronicles their creation of Superman, the superhero who came from Krypton. There is a bit of both of Superman’s creators in this superhero. When describing his secret identity of Clark Kent, Jerry is attributed with thinking, “Then he would be meek and mild, like Joe and I are, and wear glasses, like we do.”

Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster didn’t retain the rights to Superman, when they became employees for DC Comics. They fought for years to have their names returned to the comic books and to receive royalties. It wasn’t until the mid to late 1970s that they were publicly recognized for their creation.

Truly an Original

February 28, 2014

madGeorge E. Ohr (1857-1918) called himself the “Mad Potter of Biloxi”, and he was unequaled in self-promotion. However, his bombastic proclamations and confidence didn’t necessarily pay off economically during his lifetime. Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan look at the life and work of this artistic genius in The Mad Potter: George E. Ohr, Eccentric Genius (Roaring Brook Press, 2013).

At one point in his life, when Ohr was opposing his siblings in a court case over their parents’ property, the attorneys suggested that George was crazy. Their evidence was based on the fact that he called himself the Mad Potter. The jury found that the potter was not insane.

ohr_wave.jpg__600x0_q85_upscaleGeorge faced many obstacles and challenges throughout his life. He fought to be acknowledged, but he never let his critics influence his work. Ohr’s pottery was so different from his contemporaries that few people purchased his pieces that weren’t utilitarian. His mantra for his work was “No two alike.”

How fortunate we are that Jim Carpenter, an antiques dealer, happened upon Ohr’s pottery in 1968. He was on a buying expedition when he stopped at “Ojo’s Junk Yard and Machine Shop” in Biloxi, Mississippi. When he took a look at the boxes of George’s pots that were piled up in the building, he recognized the genius in Ohr’s work. While the critics in the early 1900s viewed his work as strange, the art commentators in the 1970s viewed it as modern. Some of his descendants had used George’s pottery for target practice, but now his pieces command tens of thousands of dollars.

*Image taken from http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/the-mad-potter-of-biloxi-106065115/?no-ist

An Unacknowledged Winner

February 20, 2014

An Unacknowledged Winner

countingWhile I recognize that every book can’t get, or doesn’t deserve, a special award, there are some books that need to get some recognition so that readers will find them. Those of us who are in the children’s book field need to heavily promote these books to parents and young adults.

When the 2014 Newbery Awards were announced, I was disappointed that one of my recent “favorite” books, Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan (Dial, 2013), wasn’t mentioned. Sloan’s protagonist, Willow, is the narrator of this realistic story, and she has a unique and profound voice that resonates throughout the story.

I was taken to see an educational consultant that autumn and the woman did an evaluation. She sent my parents a letter.
I read it.
It said I was “highly gifted.”
Are people “lowly gifted”?
Or “medium gifted”?
Or just “gifted”? It’s possible that all labels are curses. Unless they are on cleaning products.
Because in my opinion it’s not really a great idea to see people as one thing.
Every person has lots of ingredients to make them into what is always a one-of-a-kind creation.
We are all imperfect genetic stews.   (Counting by 7s, p.18)

Willow is unique, and depending on your point of view, you will want to be her friend, or teacher, or parent. Her world falls apart when she is in middle school. It’s no spoiler to tell you that in the opening chapter, the reader learns that Willow’s parents die. While this shatters Willow’s world, a diverse group of individuals reach out to save her. It is Willow who saves them and brings out each one’s “giftedness” (my term). Do share this book with a fifth, sixth, or seventh grader, but be sure to read it yourself too.

Holly Goldberg Sloan’s webpage about the book proves that the author is as clever as her character.

Great Non-Fiction

February 14, 2014

While children, parents, and teachers are often familiar with the Newbery and Caldecott children’s book awards, the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award is also announced at the American Library Association winter meeting. The 2014 winner and honor books represent a wide range of topics, but their common denominator is their excellence.

parrotsParrots Over Puerto Rico by Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore, illustrated by Susan L. Roth (Lee & Low) is this year’s winner. I can’t rave about this book enough. Do read my post from January 17, 2014 when I wrote about this book at length. The illustrations alone are worthy of a special award. When these combine with the well-written text, the book deserves its special status.

It was a banner year for non-fiction, and the Sibert committee named four honor books this year.

Birds were a bit of a reoccurring theme with the awards as Look Up! Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard by Annette LeBlanc Cate (Candlewick) was named as one of the honor books. Budding birders learn how to identify birds by color, shape, behavior, birdcall, and other characteristics.

Two books about artists were honored this year, one on George E. Ohr and another about Horace Pippin. Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan teamed up for The Mad Potter; George E. Ohr, Eccentric Genius (Roaring Brook Press). Ohr certainly didn’t lack ego or self-confidence as he described himself as “Unequaled, unrivaled, undisputed, greatest art potter on the earth.”

Jen Bryant celebrates the life of artist Horace Pippin to younger readers in A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin (Knopf). Her story and Melissa Sweet’s art bring this self-taught painter’s art to life.

The other honor book was Locomotive by Brian Floca (Atheneum), which was also recognized as this year’s Caldecott winner.

All of these titles are too good to be missed by children and adults.

look  mad  splash  tlccontent-1

Beatlemania Anniversary

February 6, 2014

A plausible mission of artists is to make people
appreciate being alive at least a little bit.
(When) asked if I know of any artists who pulled
that off, I reply, “The Beatles did.”
-    writer Kurt Vonnegut
Quote from The Beatles Were Fab (and They Were Funny)

BeatlesFor those of us who were around when The Beatles first performed in the United States, it seems impossible to comprehend that happened 50 years ago. Beatlemania overtook the nation, and there was no looking back for Paul, George, John and Ringo.I remember watching The Fab Four with my extended family in 1964, during their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. All of our reactions were different as we watched the group perform; my grandparents were shocked, my mother and aunt sat quietly, but my uncle, my brother and I were enthralled.
Kathleen Krull and Paul Brewer’s delightful picture book biography, The Beatles Were Fab (And They Were Funny), illustrated by Stacy Innerst (Harcourt, 2013), chronicles the rise of this influential group of musicians. A new world opened with their music.

Awards Season

January 29, 2014

On a Monday morning in late January, fans of children’s books wait expectantly to learn about the winners of the most prestigious awards in children’s literature. This past Monday, the American Library Association announced the 2014 winners.

The Caldecott Medal was named in honor of nineteenth-century English illustrator Randolph Caldecott. It is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.  (From the ALA webpage)

tlccontent-1There were many outstanding picture books that were published in 2013, and I can only imagine the animated discussions that the award committee had. The winner of this year’s Caldecott Medal is Locomotive, written and illustrated by Brian Floca (Atheneum, 2013) This non-fiction title might be called an historical picture book, as Floca depicts a family traveling cross country on the iron horse in 1869. Readers will return to this book again and again and discover new details in the watercolor, ink, acrylic, and gouache illustrations.

Three other illustrators were honored – Aaron Becker, Molly Idle, and David Wiesner. Coincidently, all three of the honor books are wordless books, but they are very different from each other.

Becker wrote and illustrated Journey (Candlewick, 2013), and he depicts a lonely girl who draws her way into a magical adventure. The watercolors and pen and ink drawings take the readers from her colorless real world to a colorful imaginative one. Idle’s watercolors with pencil outlines in Flora and the Flamingo (Chronicle, 2013) show a young girl and a flamingo who become friends and dance a pas de deux. I wrote about Mr. Wuffles! (Clarion, 2013) on November 15, 2013. Wiesner’s watercolor and India ink drawings tell the story of a housecat who discovers an out-of-this world toy.

The Newbery Medal was named for eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery. It is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. (From the ALA webpage)

tlccontentKate DiCamillo received the 2014 Newbery Medal for Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures (Candlewick, 2013). DiCamillo’s title, Because of Winn Dixie received a Newbery Honor Medal in 2001, and in 2004 she won Newbery’s top award for The Tale of Despereaux. To read more about Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures, do check out my blog entry for January 10, 2014.

There were four Newbery Honor Books this year: Doll Bones by Holly Black (Simon & Schuster, 2013), The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes (HarperCollins, 2013), One Came Home by Amy Timberlake (Knopf, 2013), and Paperboy by Vince Vawter (Delacorte, 2013).

Lessons Learned

January 24, 2014

There is a very thin line that authors try not to cross when they write a picture book that has a moral to the story. The lesson needs to be obvious enough to their intended audience without being didactic and figuratively hitting the readers over the head to make their point. Pat Zietlow Miller and Trudy Ludwig have produced picture books that demonstrate that concept.

boyTrudy Ludwig tackles the feelings of a child who feels left out and without friends in The Invisible Boy, illustrated by Patrice Barton (Knopf, 2013). Her protagonist, Brian, is picked last, or never picked for a team. He isn’t invited to birthday parties, and he sits alone at lunch, but Brian is a wonderful artist. When a new boy, Justin, joins his class, Brian reaches out in friendship to him. Justin, who becomes popular with the other children in the class, doesn’t forget this small gesture. When Justin includes Brian in a project, the other children notice Brian for the first time. Patrice Barton’s illustrations depict Brian in black and white while all of the other children are in color. When Justin befriends him, Brian begins to appear in color.

bullyBully by Laura Vaccaro Seeger (Roaring Brook Press, 2013) tackles bullying by using animals. A small bull is treated badly, and he then lashes out at the other animals by calling them names and making them feel bad. With each insult that he launches, he grows in size until the illustration has him extend right off the page. The children, with whom I have shared the book, initiated a discussion of why he enlarged and talked about feelings. There are few words in this picture book, and the children spontaneously read the words, as do the readers in the following video.