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.

 

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.

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.

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.

Seasons Readings

November30

dreidel

From my archives…

One of my favorite Hanukkah books that was published in 2015 is the picture book version of The Parakeet Named Dreidel (Farrar Straus Giroux). Suzanne Raphael Berkson has illustrated Isaac Bashevis Singer’s short story to introduce it to today’s young readers.

 

Born in Poland, Isaac Bashevis Singer spent much of the first third of his life in Warsaw.  It was fortuitous that he emigrated to the United States in 1935 when he grew fearful of the growing Nazi threat in Germany. He became an important figure in writing, especially in the Yiddish literary movement. This talented author wrote for adults, young adults, and children. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1978. Singer was also honored with two U.S. National Book awards, and one of these was in Children’s Literature.

 

The Parakeet Named Dreidel first appeared in Singer’s book of short stories, The Power of Light. Years ago, I read this short story to children for years. Suzanne Raphael Berkson’s illustrations and book is a wonderful avenue for today’s children to be introduced to this captivating Hanukkah story.

 

A Brooklyn family is celebrating Hanukkah when David and his father notice a beautiful parakeet sitting on their frosty windowsill. To get the bird out of the cold, they open the window and shoo him into their home. The bird must have accidentally flown out of his own home, and he speaks Yiddish phrases, especially one where he says the name Zeldele over and over. When the family fails to find the parakeets owners, they adopt him and name him Dreidel. Years later, David is in college and very attracted to one of his friends, Zelda. One night at a party, he recounts the story of how he acquired his parakeet. Zelda is overwhelmed because it was her lost bird of which David is speaking. The story ends quite happily because David and Zelda marry, and both families continue to enjoy their beloved pet.

 

Isaac Beshevis Singer depicted two ideals of Jewish values upon which he was raised – kindness to animals and returning lost objects to their owners. …And he did this in a charming story.

(Picture from notablebiographies.com)

 

 

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