Read On!

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

An Amazing Octopus

September20

Inky’s Amazing Escape: How a Very Smart Octopus Found His Way Home by Sy Montgomery, illustrated by Amy Schimler-Safford (Simon & Schuster)

Author and naturalist Sy Montgomery has written twenty-six books for children and adults. She travels far and wide to constantly learn about animals and their behavior. Her latest book chronicles the true story of an octopus who escaped from the National Aquarium in Wellington, New Zealand.

When a lobsterman pulled his pot and found an injured octopus inside, he brought the octopus to the National Aquarium. The staff there named him Inky because an octopus squirts ink for protection. An octopus is naturally curious and moves about freely in the ocean. Inky recovered from his injury and soon became a favorite among visitors.

An octopus can …change shape. Octopuses have no bones, so they can squeeze their squishy, baggy bodies into tiny spaces. A 100-pound octopus can squeeze through an opening the size of an orange! (Sy Montgomery)

One night, the lid to Inky’s tank wasn’t closed completely. He slipped out of his tank, crossed the floor, and went down a drain that emptied to the ocean. The next morning, his keeper followed his tracks and checked the empty drain. Inky had escaped.

Sy Montgomery shares fascinating facts about octopuses in this color work of non-fiction.

A White House Concert

September13

Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreño Played the Piano for President Lincoln by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rafael López (Atheneum)

Born in Caracas, Venezuela in 1853, Teresa Carreño demonstrated her sophisticated musical talent at an early age. Her father was a noted musician who started her piano lessons when she was very young. Teresa soon discovered that she could express her feelings by playing the piano. By the time she was six, this small child was writing her own compositions. When she was seven years old, Teresa performed for the public in a chapel.

In 1862, the Carreño family emigrated to the United States because of unrest in their own country. When they arrived in New York City, they learned that the United States was also engaged in a war between the states. Her family soon made many friends by opening their home as a mecca for musicians and those who loved music. During this time, Teresa practiced and practiced to improve her technique. Here, too, she performed in public, even with great orchestras. The newspapers proclaimed her talent, and she was give the nickname, “Piano Girl”.

One day, Teresa received an invitation to play for President Abraham Lincoln at the White House. In 1863, this ten year old girl played one of her most memorable concerts for the Lincolns.

Teresa Carreño went on to not only perform on the piano, but also to sing, and she performed solo and with choirs and orchestras. During her lifetime, she wrote over 75 compositions for piano, voice, and orchestra. Piano Girl left a legacy that still lives on today.

(npg.si.edu)

Brothers and Artists

September6

“A single human face can give an artist the subject matter to fill a lifetime.”
Alberto Giacometti

Two Brothers, Four Hands: The Artists Alberto and Diego Giacometti by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan, illustrated by Hadley Hooper (Holiday House)

Alberto and Diego Giacometti were born and raised in the small Swiss village of Stampa. While they had two other siblings, the boys were inseparable, yet very different in attitude and aptitude. Because their father was a painter, there were always art supplies in their home for the children to use. Alberto spent hours drawing and reading, and at 13 years old, he created his first sculpture of Diego. These activities didn’t interest Diego at all, and he roamed the countryside observing animals and nature.

Alberto began to travel to learn about art. While visiting museums, churches, and artists, he kept journals of sketches and ideas. He went to study in Paris and was impressed by the Surrealists who believed that art should not come from life, but from the imagination. During this time of self-education for Alberto, Diego was aimless and lacked direction in his life. He moved to Paris to be with his brother, and they rented a decrepit studio where Alberto could create.

After WWII, Alberto eventually found his own style for sculpture, and his sculptures became larger and thinner. Diego became indispensable to him as he took his brother’s plaster molds and cast the pieces in bronze. He then brushed the surfaces with acid to produce various patinas. By 1948, Alberto was well-known, and he exhibited his work in the U.S. and Europe.

After Alberto died in 1966, Diego experimented with his own style also using bronze. He created pieces of furniture that were their own works of art. He, too, exhibited internationally for almost 20 years.

Authors Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan carefully researched and skillfully wrote Two Brothers, Four Hands. The illustrations by Hadley Hooper complement the text and bring the story to life.

Photo from left: Alberto, Diego, and Annette, Alberto’s wife from icp.org

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.

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