Read On!

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

Steve Jenkins

May23

Steve Jenkins writes cool books. There’s no better way to describe his creations that are so appealing to children. He presents information in a format that entertains his readers as he educates them. Growing up as the son of a science professor, Jenkins has been interested in the natural world since he was a young boy. His work is characterized by that childhood wonder.

Bones (Scholastic, 2010) is one of Steve Jenkins’  titles where he uses cut paper collage to illustrate the differences between human and animal bones. The author depicts many of the bones in their actual size.

While Jenkins has written and illustrated many previous titles, the book that our readers enjoy the most is Actual Size (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2004). The colorful artwork in Actual Size is torn and cut paper collage, and the illustrations depict all or a part of some animals and insects. The cover alone will intrigue readers.

Some of Steve Jenkins’ other cool books are Eye to Eye: How Animals See the World (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2014), Animals Upside Down (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2013) and Never Smile at a Monkey: And 17 Other Important Things to Remember (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2009). He has written many, many others. He has an interesting video on his website about how he constructs his books.

(This is an edited version of a previous blog post.)

 

 

 

An Early Environmentalist

May17

There have been many engaging biographies published in recent years. One of the major units that I share with our Fourth Graders is entitled “People Who Make a Difference.” We read picture book biographies about athletes, artists, statesmen, activists, and others who forged the way in civil rights and human rights.

While I grew up watching National Geographic specials that Cousteau had produced (and singing John Denver’s song, “Calypso”), few children today know about Cousteau and his work.

tlccontentManfish: a story of Jacques Cousteau by Jennifer Berne, illustrated by Eric Puybaret (Chronicle, 2008) introduces young readers to this icon by depicting him as a young boy with a love of the ocean and cameras. The author captivates young readers as she introduces Cousteau’s inventions and experiences like the aqualung and other scuba gear, the use of underwater cameras, the diving saucer, and the sea flea.

tlccontent-1In The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau by Dan Yaccarino (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2009), the author/illustrator inserts short quotes by Cousteau as he chronicles the adventurer’s life.

…And here’s another with John Denver’s song “Calypso” and Cousteau’s work:

(This is an edited version of a blog post that I wrote a number of years ago.)

Rube Goldberg

May10

When I was growing up, my grandmother would make a comment that someone was a real “Rube Goldberg.” I knew that meant that the person was creative, inventive, and thought out of the box. Rube Goldberg was one of my grandmother’s contemporaries, and I was so fortunate that she introduced me to this eccentric artist.

Today’s readers can also learn about Rube in Just Like Rube Goldberg: The Incredible True Story of the man Behind the Machines (Beach Lane Books) written by Sarah Aronson and illustrated by Robert Neubecker.

As a young boy, Rube loved to draw. When he was very young, he traced the comics from the newspaper. His parents supported his interest by allowing him to take art classes from a sign painter. When he told them that he wanted to be a cartoonist, they were horrified. His parents had emigrated to the United States so that the family could have a better life. They wanted more for Rube, so he graduated from the University of California with a degree in engineering. His first engineering job paid well, but Rube was miserable, and he quit after six months. He took menial jobs at San Francisco newspapers, and he drew and drew and drew. In 1906, Rube took another risk and moved to New York City with only $200 in his pocket. He was hired by the New York Evening Mail as a cartoonist, and he became a celebrity. Rube drew comics about everyday life and the topics of the day.

Image result for rube goldberg cartoon machineHe created an eccentric inventor named Professor Lucifer Gorgonzola Butts. The professor became known for making whacky contraptions to solve everyday chores in complicated ways. Goldberg’s fans were entertained by his comedic take on the world. He challenged them to look at ordinary tasks creatively. (Photo from Wikipedia)

A game for children, Mouse Trap, was inspired by his inventions. My brother and I spent hours playing the game.

In Merriam Webster, Rube Goldberg is defined as

:accomplishing by complex means what seemingly could be done simply
a kind of Rube Goldberg contraption … with five hundred moving parts —L. T. Grant
; also :characterized by such complex means

Learn more about his genius. Maybe you know someone that you would compliment as a Rube Goldberg.

 

 

The Bathysphere

May2

As I looked out I never thought of feet or yards of visibility, but of the hundreds of miles of this color stretching over so much of the world.
“A Round Trip to Davy Jones’s Locker”, The National Geographic Magazine December 1934

I peered fearfully out into the darkness of the abyss. No human eye had glimpsed this part of our planet before us, this pitch-black country lighted only by the pale gleam of an occasional spiraling shrimp.
The World Beneath the Sea by Otis Barton

Otis and Will Discover the Deep: The Record-Setting Dive of the Bathysphere (Little, Brown and Company) by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Katherine Roy

Otis Barton (1899-1992) grew up mesmerized by the life in the Atlantic Ocean. As a boy, he wanted to swim deeper and longer. He experimented with a garden hose for air and a wooden helmet with glass windows. Barton’s hero was Charles William Beebe (1877-1962). Beebe was a naturalist, ornithologist, entomologist, and marine biologist. He had become intrigued with exploring deep in the ocean. Barton was studying engineering and he designed a vehicle that he believed would work for Beebe. Eventually, he was able to meet the man that he admired, and Beebe agreed that they should work together.

Between May 27, 1930 and September 11, 1934, Will Beebe and Otis Barton explored the ocean in their Bathysphere at least nineteen times. They traveled deeper than anyone had ever gone before and chronicled all that they saw. Their research was groundbreaking and used as the basis for many future oceanographers.

Do check out this interesting website about Charles William Beebe.

 

Louis Agassiz Fuertes

April25

 

If the birds of the world had met to select a human being who could best express to mankind the beauty and charm of their forms, their songs, their rhythmic flight, their manners for the heart’s delight, they would unquestionably have chosen Louis Fuertes.  Frank M. Chapman, Ornithologist

The Sky Painter: Louis Fuertes, Bird Artist (Two Lions) by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Aliona Bereghici

Many people know some information about John James Audubon (1785-1851). Far fewer have heard about Louis Agassiz Fuertes (1874-1927) who also made many contributions as a “bird artist”. He was inspired by and studied Audubon’s work, and Fuertes is known as the Father of Modern Bird Art.

From his early years, Louis loved to watch birds, care for injured birds, and draw birds. Whenever he went to the library, he looked for books on birds. When he found a book of bird art, he was intrigued. Even though his father wanted him to be an engineer, his parents supplied him with art supplies to create his own sketches of birds. Louis continued his study and practice throughout college. During his lifetime, bird artists killed birds with either a gun or slingshot and posed the birds to draw them. Fuertes learned to draw quickly so that he didn’t have to follow that practice. He was keen on observing various species in their natural environments, and he traveled all over the world to do so.

(Pink Flamingoes Mural painted by Louis Agassiz Fuertes – Photo from Wikipedia)

Fuertes illustrated many books on birds, and he painted the habitat murals at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. He taught at Cornell University. During his lifetime, his art was so popular that collectors’ cards of his paintings were included in boxes of Arm & Hammer Baking Soda.
 

Margarita Engle’s book, The Sky Painter, is written in a simple poetic form. Yet, it should pique the curiosity of the reader to learn more about this talented man. Aliona Bereghici”s illustrations, especially of the birds, are colorful and evoke Fuertes’ style.

The Landlord’s Game or Monopoly

April18

Monopoly = The exclusive possession or control of the supply or trade of a commodity or service. (Scott Nearing)

Pass Go and Collect $200: The Real Story of How Monopoly Was Invented (Henry Holt) by Tanya Lee Stone, illustrated by Steven Salerno

Families have played the board game, Monopoly, for over 80 years. One might assume that there was a single inventor who came up with the idea for the game. However, the development and history of this popular amusement are tangled up in a number of ways.

In 1904, a progressive woman, Lizzie Magie, received a patent for the Landlord’s Game. She had developed this competitive board game mainly for adults and children, and her purpose was to demonstrate the unfairness between landlords and tenants. Many of the details of Monopoly, as we know it, were part of her game – four railroads, properties with sale and rental prices, and jail. Lizzie had a number of her game boards manufactured and sold. When she approached the Parker Brothers game company to purchase, manufacture, and sell the Landlord’s Game, they turned her down. Lizzie was savvy enough to renew her patent on the game in future years.

Scott Nearing bought one of Lizzie’s game boards and brought it to the students in his business classes at the University of Pennsylvania. He used it as a way to teach about ownership, and Nearing and his students began to call it Monopoly. Students from his class began making their own copies of the game board to play outside of class…and their friends made copies…and their friends made copies.

One teacher, Ruth Haskins, and her friends added the names of properties in their neighborhood to their homemade board. Their properties represented Atlantic City – St. Charles Place, Ventnor Avenue, and Boardwalk.

During the Great Depression, Charles Darrow played the game of Monopoly at a friend’s house and borrowed the board to make his own. He, too, made his own changes and created stencils for the Chance question marks, the Water Works faucet, the Electric Company light bulb, and the railroad trains. Charles found a market for his newly improved game when a major department store sold many during one Christmas season. Even though the Parker Brothers had also turned Darrow down, this success changed their minds. However, even though the game had been changed, the Parker Brothers recognized it as being a version of Lizzie Magie’s original idea. They bought the rights from her for $500 in 1935. Charles Darrow was listed as the inventor of Monopoly when the game was manufactured.

The Washington Post published an interesting article about the origins of the game.

The UnwantedsQuests

April9

One of my favorite series is The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann. When I first read about the series in my professional journals, it seemed that the reviews contained a bit of hyperbole. The Unwanteds was described as “The Hunger Games meet Harry Potter”. When I began to read the first book, I was hooked. I continue to recommend these books to children in the intermediate grades and middle school.

Lisa McMann challenges her readers with her society of Quill where thirteen-year-olds are sorted into categories. The Wanteds are the elite, and they will go off to the University. The Necessaries will also be saved to work for the good of society. The rest of the thirteen-year-olds will be The Unwanteds, and their fate is to be eliminated. When twin brothers receive different verdicts, Aaron becomes a Wanted and Alex is an Unwanted. Alex and the rest of the Unwanteds face their deaths until they meet Mr. Today and the alternate world of Artimé.

Fast forward through the seven books in the series, and Lisa McMann has written a companion series, The Unwanteds Quests (Aladdin). Once again, identical twins are the protagonists, and the girls are Alex’s younger sisters. Fifer and Thisbe Stowe don’t always control their powerful magical abilities. Alex, now the head mage of Artimé, threatens to punish them for a misdeed. When they learn that the ice-blue dragons have been enslaved, Thisbe and Fifer sneak away with a friend to save the dragons and redeem themselves. Dragon Captives is the first book in The Unwanteds Quests. The next two books are Dragon Bones and recently published Dragon Ghosts.

MACBA

April4

The winner and honor books for the 2019 Massachusetts Children’s Book Award were announced this month. While our readers at DCD didn’t choose the state winner, they voted for three of the books that are the 2019 honor books.

Jennifer Nielsen’s book, A Night Divided, was this year’s winner. Her thank you letter discusses her novel and her inspiration for it.

“The book’s origin came from Ilona, a friend of our family’s. She was born into East Germany and at age five, her family made the decision to escape. Ilona’s parents planned to escape through the countryside. However, they didn’t want to take a five-year-old running through the countryside, so a different plan had to be put in place for Ilona.

Her grandparents in the west would come over by train, and then return by train with Ilona – not on the seat beside them because she had no papers. Instead, Ilona was drugged, put to sleep, and hidden in the baggage car of the train beneath a pile of hay. The knew the car would be searched at the border, and if Ilona even rolled over in her sleep, she would be sent back to East Germany alone and her grandparents would be arrested, or worse.

In the end, all of Ilona’s family successfully escaped, but when I heard her story, I knew I wanted to tell the story of the people of East Germany. It means so much to me that you then read this book, and loved it.”

To read the rest of Nielsen’s acceptance letter go to the MACBA site here.

The honor books are Ghost by Jason Reynolds, A Handful of Stars by Cynthia Lord, Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin, and Framed by James Ponti.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

March28

In celebrating March and Women’s History Month, it’s a pleasure to share two picture book biographies about one of my heroines, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Her life has been spent fighting discrimination, not only in the courts but also in her personal life.

I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark (Simon & Schuster) by Debbie Levy, illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley is a picture book biography that is packed with information about this Supreme Court justice’s life. As a child growing up in Brooklyn, New York, Ruth had tremendous role models with her progressive thinking mother and supportive father. With their support, she attended Cornell University as an undergraduate where she met Marty Ginsburg. They married and attended Harvard Law School together. Throughout their marriage, Marty supported Ruth’s work for equality for everyone.

Jonah Winter’s book, Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Case of R.B.G. vs. Inequality (Abrams) is illustrated by Stacy Innerst. Winter cleverly appeals to his readers as a jury and presents exhibits of examples of the discrimination that Ruth fought throughout her life and career. As one of the nine women in her law school class of 500, she was barred from entering the periodical room because she was a woman. “The guard would not let her in – nor help her in any way.” Winter’s final words to his jury/readers are
There can be just one verdict. Because she did not give up, because she refused to let other people define her limitations as a person, Ruth Bader Ginsburg has herself become a symbol of justice in America.

(Photo from Wikipedia)

 

Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor

March22

While other girls read stories about dragons and princesses, Joan read books about lizards and crocodiles. Instead of a favorite doll, a favorite lizard accompanied her wherever she went.

Thus, begins Patricia Valdez picture book biography, Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor: The Woman Who Loved Reptiles (Knopf) which is illustrated by Felicita Sala.

Joan only lived to be 34 years old, but she accomplished much in her life. From early on, Joan was fascinated by reptiles, and she had many as pets. Since she had a chronic illness, she missed a great deal of school as a child. This didn’t stop Joan from learning though, and she constantly read about all kinds of reptiles.

Unable to attend college, Joan introduced herself to Dr. George Boulenger who was the curator of curator and reptiles and fish at the Natural History Museum in London. After spending many hours with Joan, Dr. Boulenger asked her to become his assistant, and she confirmed his faith in her by presenting her first scientific paper on vipers at 19 years old. When Dr. Boulenger retired, Joan took over his responsibilities even though she was only in her twenties. She became known as one of the leading herpetologists (scientist who studies amphibians and reptiles) in the world.

Joan went on to work at the London Zoo where she oversaw the design and building of their new reptile house. She used the new reptile clinic to operate on the reptiles under her care. During those years, little was known about Komodo dragons, and Joan not only studied the two that came to the zoo, but she also dispelled many myths about them. One Komodo dragon was frequently seen by Joan’s side as she traveled through the zoo.

What an inspirational life!

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