Read On!

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

Lady Liberty

January23

Liberty Arrives!: How America’s Grandest Statue Found Her Home by Robert Byrd (Dial)

When I discover a subject good enough, I will honor that subject by building the tallest statue in the world.
Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi

In his Author’s Note, Robert Byrd states that he had never seen the Statue of Liberty before he began to work on Liberty Arrives! After visiting her, he became intrigued by the origin of the project. He learned that Liberty’s journey and installation were photographed, and he used the photos as a basis for his work. Byrd’s detailed illustrations clearly depict many aspects of the building and installation of the monument. It was Frédéric-Auguste Batholdi, the sculptor, who commissioned the photographs to document the construction of his project. The pictures were also used to promote the project and raise money for it.

Born in France, the Statue of Liberty was to be the world’s biggest birthday present to the United States on the nation’s centennial celebration in 1876. … The Statue of Liberty required creative thinking, planning, and lots of hard work. Many people helped, sometimes in unexpected ways. A sculptor designed it, and a bridge engineer figured out how to build something so huge. Countless craftsmen and workers constructed the statue and her base. …And the American people – immigrants, working folks, and even school children – came together to donate the money to pay for the mighty pedestal on which she stands. (from the Introduction)

The author chronicles Liberty from the idea of a gift to America to the installation.
• Édouard de Laboulaye, a wealthy French judge thought about sending a gift from his country to America in honor of America’s 100th birthday.
• Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi was already famous as a sculptor before he designed Liberty.
• Lady Liberty’s head was displayed at the Paris Universal Exposition in 1878.
• When the statue arrived in the United States, the American Committee needed to raise $100,000 to build the pedestal. They only had $3,000.
• When a group of American millionaires only donated $20 (yes, $20), it looked as if Liberty would never be raised in the United States.
• Newspaperman Joseph Pulitzer began a public campaign to raise money. He promised to print the name of every donor, no matter how small the amount of their donation.
• Emma Lazarus wrote her poem, “The New Colossus”, for a fundraiser.
• It was twenty-one years from the beginning of the planning of Liberty until Bartholdi unveiled her face on Bedloe’s Island, now Liberty Island.

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
Emma Lazarus

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

January17

KingOur school celebrates Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy with a day of service. It is always a challenge to explain the events that surrounded his life and death to students of different ages. The middle school students examine the injustices in our society. Our younger children grasp that he was a great man who fought for freedom and equality for all.

cartThere was a picture book that was published in 2013 that helps to explain some of the story of Dr. King’s impact on our nation. Eve Bunting describes his importance to us all by telling the readers about his funeral in The Cart That Carried Martin (Charlesbridge). Don Tate illustrated the simple, yet powerful, story in pencil and gouache on watercolor paper.

 

Season’s Readings

December13

A special book that celebrates the holiday season is The Carpenter’s Gift by David Rubel, illustrated by Jim LaMarche (Random House, 2011). While this picture book is a work of fiction, it is based on facts about the tree at Rockefeller Center.

Construction workers who were digging the foundation for the project in New York City erected the first tree in 1931. They were grateful that they had jobs during the Depression, and they wanted to show their appreciation. After pooling their money to purchase the tree, their families decorated it with garlands and handmade ornaments.

The official public viewing of the annual tree began in 1933 when visitors made special trips to see the decorated tree that the property owners erected annually. To this day, the tree at Rockefeller Center is an important New York City holiday tradition. To choose a tree for the display, those in charge travel by helicopter over New Jersey, New York, and New England. When they spot a candidate, they mark the coordinates and make a trip to view the tree from the ground. (Photo from Rockefellercenter.com)

Since 2007, the Rockefeller Center tree has been milled, and the wood is donated to Habitat for Humanity. That wood is then used as part of a house that is built by that worthy organization. What a way to celebrate the true meaning of the holiday!

The following clip features the family who donated this year’s tree.

Non-Fiction November

November14

If Picasso Painted a Snowman by Amy Newbold, illustrated by Greg Newbold (Tilbury House)

 

 

 

 

 

 

If da Vinci Painted a Dinosaur by Amy Newbold, illustrated by Greg Newbold (Tilbury House)

It’s a pleasure to recommend two books for Non-Fiction November this week, If Picasso Painted a Snowman and If da Vinci Painted a Dinosaur. If Monet Painted a Monster is on order for the library.

Author Amy Newbold teamed up with her husband, illustrator Greg Newbold to produce these books that introduce young and not-so-young readers to the styles of famous artists. They came up with a simple premise in each of these books. What might a snowman, dinosaur, or monster look like if it were painted by…(insert an artist)? In the information about the illustrator, it states that Greg Newbold has always found it fun to paint in the styles of many of his favorite artists.

My favorite illustration in If Picasso Painted a Snowman is his illustration of snowmen painted by Salvador Dali. The illustration is from Amy Newbold’s website.

Because I’m fascinated by Henri Matisse, I thoroughly enjoyed Newbold’s depiction of the papercut dinosaurs in If da Vinci Painted a Dinosaur. This illustration is from Life Needs Art.

In the closing pages of each of the books in the series, there are short bios of the artists featured. There is also a thumbnail photo of each artist’s painting that inspired the stylized snowmen, dinosaurs, and monsters. Consider these books as art history books for the younger set or pure entertainment for the rest of us.

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Non-Fiction November

November8

Many libraries celebrate “Non-Fiction November” as a way to celebrate factual and informational books.

Mousetronaut by Astronaut Mark Kelly, illustrated by C.F. Payne (Simon & Schuster) isn’t non-fiction but it is based on an actual event. This picture book can certainly inform readers about space exploration and awaken a curiosity about space travel.

In the afterword, Mark Kelly describes his first flight on the space shuttle, Endeavour, in 2001. During that flight, there were eighteen mice on board to be observed. Engineers at NASA made specific considerations for the mice’s safety and comfort.

Special cages were constructed with mesh that the mice could grip with their toes. Pressurized water containers and compressed food were installed and a waste containment system were created to keep things clean…All of them, with one exception, clung to the inside of the mesh during the entire mission. One mouse, smaller than the rest, seemed to enjoy the experience and effortlessly floated around the cage.

Mark Kelly took the memory of this small mouse experiencing weightlessness when he wrote Mousetronaut. The smallest mouse is named Meteor, and in this entertaining picture book, Meteor is allowed out of the cage. Meteor becomes a hero who saves the mission by helping the astronauts.

Mark Kelly talks about going into space in this short video.

Moorseville Public Library Book Trailer

Remembering Mordicai Gerstein

October18

It seems clear to me that everything in the world needs to know about every other thing in the world. My theory is that the driving force in the universe is curiosity – nosiness! It’s not a scientific theory; it’s the kind of theory you come up with if you write and illustrate books for children. (Mordicai Gerstein – Acceptance speech at the 2004 Boston Globe/Horn Book Award for Picture Book)

When I learned that author/illustrator Mordicai Gerstein passed away in September 2019, I knew that I wanted to share my thoughts about this talented man. Even though I’ve read some of his books with students many times over the years, it’s always a pleasure to do so. It’s a joy to observe some of the children’s reactions as one of Gerstein’s books excites curiosity in them. He had that unique ability to bring the reader into the world of his creation. In interviews, Gerstein often said that he wrote and drew for people, for everybody, and others call them children’s books.

One of my favorite non-fiction picture books to share with children is Gerstein’s The Man Who Walked Between the Towers (Roaring Brook, 2003). Much has been written about this award-winning book. Some of the commendations that Gerstein received for the title were the Caldecott Medal, the Boston Globe/Horn Book Award, and the New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book. Gerstein chronicled Philippe Petit’s 1974 unauthorized tightrope walk between the twin towers of New York City’s World Trade Center. In an interview, Gerstein said, “I didn’t want to just tell the story of the walk – I wanted the book to be the walk between cardboard covers…I wanted this book to cause real vertigo, to put the reader, child or adult-and of course myself-on the wire.” He certainly accomplished this.

Mordicai Gerstein created over forty books for young people. One of his latest is I Am Hermes! Mischief-Making Messenger of the Gods (Holiday House, 2019). In his author’s note, Gerstein explained that he was intrigued with Greek myths because “They’re interesting because they’re so human and so entertaining.” He was still following his creative philosophy that he described in that 2004 acceptance speech.

Mordicai Gerstein’s legacy lives on as children and adults continue to be captivated by his work.

Frankenstein

October11

“The companions of our childhood always possess a certain power over our minds which hardly any later friend can obtain.” Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

As we celebrate October and the Halloween season, it’s interesting to present some books that explain the foundation for related myths and ideas.

Bailey, Linda. Mary Who Wrote Frankenstein, illustrated by Júlia Sardà (Tundra)

Fulton, Lynn. She Made a Monster: How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein, illustrated by Felicita Sala (Knopf)

 

“Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is not the same as the story most people know from the movies. Unlike the square-headed Hollywood monster with bolts in his neck, the creature in Mary’s book can speak and even read. He is lonely and longs to be part of a family, but because of his frightening appearance, he is hated and rejected by everyone, even his creator.”  Lynn Fulton, Author’s Note

When Mary Shelley was an infant, her mother died. As a young child, her father taught her the alphabet, and she would trace the letters on her mother’s tombstone. Mary’s mother had been a writer who believed in rights for women and democracy, revolutionary ideas for an 18th/19th-century woman.

Mary began the writing of Frankenstein when she vacationed in Switzerland with friends. One of the members of the group was Percy Shelley, already a noted poet and her future husband. On a dark and stormy night, the friends read harrowing tales and challenged each other to write ghost stories. Mary had heard of a corpse moving through the use of electricity. She thought of creating a monster but also wondered how the monster might feel.

The subtitle of Frankenstein is The Modern Prometheus. In Greek mythology, Prometheus is a trickster who created a man from clay. His name is also associated with scientific curiosity and unintended consequences. This became part of Mary’s metaphor in Frankenstein.

Mary’s novel was published when she was twenty years old. There were only five hundred copies printed of the first edition, but the news of her imaginative tale of Frankenstein soon spread. The publisher soon reprinted it. While Mary Shelley wrote numerous other works and continued to speak about women’s roles in society, she is best known for Frankenstein.

Linda Bailey and Lynn Fulton have both created picture book biographies that chronicle Mary Shelley’s life.

Ken Jennings

October4

Jennings, Ken, Ancient Egypt illustrated by Mike Lowery (Little Simon).

This past spring many families who had never tuned in to the game show, Jeopardy, followed the news about James Holzhauer, a contestant who had an amazing winning streak. Holzhauer amassed a great deal of money as his winnings, and he was eventually defeated by Emma Boettcher (a librarian!). The furor over Holzhauer’s wins was because many viewers wondered whether he would beat previous winner Ken Jennings’ records of wins and cash. Ken Jennings remains the top Jeopardy winner with 74 consecutive wins. He earned $3,522,700.00 on the show.

Jennings is not just a Jeopardy champion. He was a software engineer before he appeared on the program, but now he is a best-selling author. While his adult trivia books have been on bestseller lists, his children’s Junior Genius Guides are popular among our students. The guides sound like Jeopardy categories as he has written about dinosaurs, Greek mythology, U.S. Presidents, the human body, maps and geography, outer space, and Ancient Egypt.

The format of the Junior Genius Guides delights young and not so young readers since Jennings writes with humor and language that appeals to today’s readers. He begins his discussion of the First Period in Ancient Egypt with the following:

…And now we’re in the year 3500 BC, the very end of the Stone Age. Here are some things that haven’t been invented yet:
Bronze
Written Language
The wheel
The world population is less than fifteen million. In our time that’s about the population of the Los Angeles area. But here in 3500 BC, that’s every single human being on earth.

His guide on Ancient Egypt is one of the nominees for this year’s Massachusetts Children’s Book Award.

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.

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

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