Read On!

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

MCBA

February27

This week, we celebrated reading with our annual Massachusetts Children’s Book Award voting party. Prior to choosing their top books, the participating students advocated for their personal preferences. Many of the children commented that they were introduced to new authors and series that have now become favorites.

The winner of the vote is Rain Reign by Ann Martin. Rose is thrilled that her name is a homonym (rows). She names her dog Rain because that also has homonyms (reign and rein). Rose’s autism is evident through the rules that she makes for herself. It is difficult for her father and her teachers to understand her. When Rain disappears in a flood, Rose must break her own rules and overcome her fears to search for him.

There were three books that came in very close in the voting.

Ghost by Jason Reynolds is about a track team from an elite middle school where the main character is not only running on the field but also running from his problems.

Framed by James Ponti is an entertaining mystery about middle schooler who has a knack for solving mysteries, even one that puzzles the FBI at the National Gallery.

Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes tells the story of three friends from very different cultures whose families are all affected by the event of 9/11 that happened before Déja, Ben, and Sabeen were born.

Shark Lady

February22

Eugenie Clark was born in 1922, a time when girls were supposed to play traditional roles and only work in jobs that were for women. She was far from traditional, and Eugenie had a specific dream. As a child, Eugenie loved to visit the New York Aquarium. She spent countless hours there while her widowed mother worked. The fish mesmerized Eugenie, and she longed to be in their world. When she shared her passion for becoming a fish scientist, her mother suggested that if she took up typing, Eugenie might become the secretary to the marine explorer, William Beebe. Being a secretary wasn’t the path that Eugenie planned to take.

After earning a Bachelor’s Degree and her Master’s Degree in zoology, Eugenie’s dream became real when she became a research assistant and took even more oceanography classes. She became an ichthyologist or fish scientist. That’s when Eugenie’s adventures and her career took off in ways that young girl peering into the tank at the aquarium never could have imagined. (Photo from ocean.si.edu)

When Eugenie was working with the US Navy and studying poisonous fish in the South Seas, she became even more intrigued with sharks. Throughout her life, Eugenie became an advocate for sharks as she educated other scientists and the public about these mighty fish. She founded the Cape Haze Laboratory which is now named the Mote Marine Laboratory.

Throughout her life, Eugenie Clark fought discrimination as a Japanese American and a woman in a field dominated by men. Her research on sharks is some of the most important knowledge that we have about these mighty ocean inhabitants.

There are two picture book biographies about this amazing woman:

Swimming with Sharks: The Daring Discoveries of Eugenie Clark by Heather Lang, illustrations by Jordi Solano (Albert Whitman)

Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist by Jess Keating, illustrations by Marta Àlvarez Miguèns ((Sourcebooks)

 

 

https://youtu.be/8WIe9FUMYwk

Blended

February15

Before she became an author of young adult books, Sharon Draper taught in middle schools and high schools. Her plots and characters demonstrate that she understands and remembers a child’s and young adult’s experiences. Ms. Draper has a talent that takes her readers into her character’s thoughts and experiences.

Sharon Draper’s newest book is Blended (Atheneum), and I highly recommend it for readers in grades 5 and higher. Eleven-year-old Isabella is a gifted pianist who is struggling with her parents’ divorce. She spends one week with her father and the next with her mother. Those weeks could not be any more different. Her father is black and wealthy and calls her Isabella, while her mother is white and struggling financially and calls her Izzy. Friends, acquaintances, and strangers often comment on her unique beauty, but Isabella is questioning which world, if any, represents her true identity.

Her parents are not navigating their shared custody with grace, and Isabella constantly feels pulled between them. Her life is further complicated by her mother and father finding new partners. Isabella escapes into her music and tries to keep everyone happy. When the son of her father’s fiancé drives her to her piano recital, they are pulled over and injured by the police because of racial profiling.

This book is thoughtfully written. Today’s issues of identity and race are presented from a young adult’s experiences.

Don’t just take my word for it. Check out this enthusiastic review by Colby Sharp.

 

Newbery 2019

February7

The Newbery Award is presented “…to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” (American Library Association)

The 2019 Newbery Award was presented to Meg Median for her novel Merci Suárez Changes Gears (Candlewick Press). Merci Suárez and her brother navigate their way through an elite private school as scholarship students. Even though she sees the palatial homes, boats, and cars that her classmates enjoy, Merci is comfortable and confident with her own life and close family. Entering sixth grade brings totally new social issues for her as she navigates middle school jealousies. Suddenly, her idyllic family life is turned upside down when her beloved grandfather begins to have memory issues. The author exhibits humor and understanding to Merci’s adolescent issues.

There were two Newbery Honor Books this year:
The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani (Dial)
The Book of Boy by Catherine Gilbert Murdock, illustrated by Ian Schoenherr (Greenwillow)

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Caldecott Award 2019

January31

It’s awards’ season for all of us who are involved with books for children and young adults. On Monday, the American Library Association (ALA) announced their choices for the 2019 Newbery, Caldecott, Coretta Scott King Award, and numerous others for outstanding books, authors, and illustrators.

This week, I would like to introduce the winner and honor books of the 2019 Caldecott Award. This award “was named in honor of nineteenth-century English illustrator Randolph Caldecott.” (ALA) An interesting aspect of this award is that it is given to the illustrator of the chosen picture book, and not the author. Many times, the illustrator is the author, but not always. While it’s difficult to judge a picture book without considering the text, the committee is required to evaluate the visual experience of the book and whether the illustrations unite the story-line, themes, or concepts.

There’s often a great deal of discussion among professionals in the children’s literature field about the winner and honor books. Publishers look at the books differently than the illustrators, and librarians and teachers have their own ideas. It’s important to remember that a committee made the choice, and the members compromise to come to an agreement. That’s not to say this year’s choices are not fine selections, but it’s important to understand the process.

The 2019 Caldecott Award was given to Sophie Blackall for Hello Lighthouse (Little Brown). Blackall wrote and illustrated the picture book that chronicles the life of a lighthouse keeper. For her book, Blackall used ideas from logs that she found during her research on lighthouses. While depicting the daily life in a lighthouse, Blackall also depicts the passing of seasons. Throughout all of the challenges that weather brings, the lighthouse stands tall as a beacon to light the way for those traveling on the ocean. Blackall’s Chinese ink and watercolor illustrations are not only detailed, but they also depict the structure from numerous perspectives.

This was the second Caldecott Award for Sophie Blackall. She won it in 2016 for her illustrations in Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear written by Lindsay Mattick (Little Brown).

There were four books that were recognized as Caldecott Honor Books in 2019.

Alma and How She Got Her Name, written and illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal (Candlewick)
A Big Mooncake for Little Star, written and illustrated by Grace Lin (Little Brown)
The Rough Patch, written and illustrated by Brian Lies (Greenwillow)
Thank You, Omu! written and illustrated by Oge Mora (Little Brown)

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Reconciliation, Forgiveness, and Peace

January25

 

 

One of the most significant events for the United States during the 1940s was the Japanese bombing Pearl Harbor. The 1941 tragedy catapulted the United States into World War II, and it is chronicled in history books. However, there was one bombing on the mainland of the United States by Japan, and few Americans or Japanese know this part of history. Author, Marc Tyler Nobleman, and illustrator, Melissa Iwai, introduce this story in their picture book collaboration, Thirty Minutes Over Oregon: A Japanese Pilot’s World War II Story (Clarion).

In September of 1942, Nobuo Fujita flew two bombing missions over Brookings, Oregon. His plane was catapulted off of a Japanese submarine that was cruising along the coast. Nobuo Fujita and his navigator dropped two bombs in the heavily wooded mountains of Oregon during each mission. The plan was that these would cause a massive forest fire that would spread to Oregonian towns and cities. Neither the first bombing flight nor the second, twenty days later, were successful, and few Americans heard about the mission. After the first bombing, there was a small fire that forest rangers put out. They thought that it was caused by lightning until they uncovered metal fragments with Japanese markings. The townsfolk in Brookings were concerned, but the U.S. government looked upon these as isolated incidents.

When the war ended, Nobuo returned to his family in Japan and opened a hardware store. Even though he never discussed his missions, the events weighed on him.

The residents of Brookings never forgot this piece of their town’s history, and in 1962, the Brookings Jaycees tracked down the Japanese bomber and invited him to their town. Not all residents were in favor of hosting a former enemy, but they were convinced that it would be a symbol of reconciliation. Nobuo arrived with his son and daughter to serve as his translators, and he apologized for his and his country’s actions. Years later, Nobuo paid for three Brookings high school students to visit him in Tokyo. He returned three more times to Brookings and was made an honorary citizen just before his death. Some of his ashes were sprinkled in the woods that he bombed.

Nobuo Fujita’s relationship with Brookings, Oregon became a symbol of reconciliation, forgiveness, and peace. Readers of all ages should know this story.

(Photo credits: Wikipedia and Offbeat Oregon)

This video shows a display in Brookings and the bombing site:

“I Have a Dream”

January17

On August 28, 1963, more than a quarter of a million people gathered on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Adults and children of every color and nationality stood around the reflecting pool, and they listened to a group of civil rights leaders who spoke of equality for all in America. Those who were present and the millions who watched the event on television or listened to it on the radio were treated to a 17-minute speech by Martin Luther King, Jr. His speech that day became known as his “I Have a Dream” speech.

Kadir Nelson is a noted African-American artist whose work can be seen in many collections including the collections of the United States House of Representatives and the Baseball Hall of Fame. He has worked on films and television. Nelson’s art in children’s books has earned him numerous honors, and his illustrations in I Have a Dream bring Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words to life. One of the most striking images in the book is that of King standing in front of the statue of Abraham Lincoln.

I wrote this entry in January of 2013, and this book is still as relevant today as it was then. It needs to be introduced to the next group of children.

I Have a Dream illustrated by Kadir Nelson (Schwartz & Wade, 2012) is accompanied by a cd of the speech.

Let It Snow

January10

The author, Jane O’Connor, is probably best known to our younger readers for her Fancy Nancy Series. However, this prolific author has written numerous other picture books and non-fiction titles for children and novels for adults. One of her older picture books is The Snow Globe Family (Puffin Books) which is illustrated by S.D. Schindler. This delightful picture book is told from the point of view of two different families.

One of the Victorian families owns a snow globe, and their baby notices it on the mantel. He becomes fascinated by the object and intrigued by what he sees inside of it. The scene shifts to the small house and family living in the snow globe. The double page spreads keep going back and forth between the world of each family. It’s winter in both worlds, but the snow globe family haven’t experienced a snow storm in a long, long time. The snow globe family long for a huge storm so that they can go sledding.

As the point of view changes, some members of the bigger family go out to enjoy sledding during a snow storm, leaving the mother and baby inside. This baby climbs up and reaches the snow globe. Schindler’s illustration that depicts the snow globe baby looking out at the larger eyes of the real baby is charming and in my opinion, the best in the book.

Both families enjoy one of the biggest snowstorms of their lives.

Take time to check out this video about the company started by the family of the designer of the first snow globe.

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A Life-Changing Friendship

January3

Rescue & Jessica: A Life-Changing Friendship was written by Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes and illustrated by Scott Magoon (Candlewick Press). While the main character, Jessica, is a child, the story is based on Jessica Kensky’s experiences with her service dog, Rescue.

Jessica is an adult who was injured in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. She is now married to Patrick Downes, her co-author, who was also injured on that day. Their lives were changed because of their physical and emotional injuries. When she was in the hospital, Jessica was paired up with a service dog whom she named Rescue. His name is to honor Worcester, MA firefighter Jon Davies who rode on the truck, Rescue 1, and gave his life in the act of duty. Jessica attests that her service dog, Rescue, saved her.

While there is no discussion of the Boston Marathon tragedy, the child in their story has both of her legs badly injured. The story is told from two points of view – the young girl’s and the dog’s.

This book also promotes NEADS/World Class Service Dogs located in Princeton, MA. Their website is https://neads.org/.

 

 

Seasons Readings

December7

Trees

As I was going through my archives, I found this post that I published on December 6, 2013. This author and these books are as important today as they were then, and I’m confident that they will be just as charming in the future

One of my favorite authors to share with children is Patricia Polacco. She writes from her heart directly to her readers’ hearts. This is certainly the case with her holiday-themed books.

Many of Polacco’s stories are based on her own family’s stories and background. When Patricia was a child, her parents were divorced. She spent the school year living with her mother and summers with her father. Her mother’s family celebrated Hanukkah, and one of Patricia’s masterpieces is The Trees of the Dancing Goats. In this poignant tale, the author tells about a year when her family demonstrated the true meaning of giving when they made Christmas happen for their neighbors.

ChristmasAnother of Polacco’s tales that transcends both Hanukkah and Christmas is The Christmas Tapestry. In this book, the author shares the story of a minister and his family who revitalize a crumbling church. Just before Christmas, they buy a tapestry to hang in the sanctuary. When they share a wintery ride with an elderly woman, they are reminded of the persecution that others experienced during WWII because of religion.

In the following clip, Polacco talks about listening to her family stories.

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