Read On!

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

“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)

 

 

A Thanksgiving Tradition

November15

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade has become a Thanksgiving tradition that entertains many Americans. Whether they attend the parade in New York City or watch the show on television, millions of people have enjoyed this event over the years. Some of the highlights of the parade are the enormous balloons that travel along the route.

Tony Sarg (1880-1942) was an artist and puppeteer who helped to plan the very first Thanksgiving Parade, and more importantly, came up with the idea for the giant balloons. To this day, his invention awes all who see these “wondrous upside-down marionettes.”

Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade by Melissa Sweet (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011)

 

 

Charley Harper

October19

You should always be doing something that satisfies you, what makes you feel good inside. 
― Charley Harper from Charley Harper: An Illustrated Life

Michelle Houts introduces intermediate and middle school readers to Harper in Count the Wings: The Life and Art of Charley Harper (Ohio University Press). The author was given total access to Charley’s childhood photographs, letters, grade cards, art school documents, wedding pictures, awards, and commendations by his son, Brett

Houts narrates the life story of this West Virginia farm boy who never had a formal art class until after high school. When he was young, Charley enjoyed sketching and observing nature. The author learned an anecdote about his schooling:

He was a good student, but he quickly figured out that he could get even better grades in both English and history if he added a few illustrations to his homework papers. Charley liked to tell the story of how he once saved his history grade by drawing all the presidents. (Houts, p.9)

After a short attendance at West Virginia Wesleyan College, Charley took a life-changing risk and moved to enroll in the Art Academy of Cincinnati. Not only did this educational experience open up the world of art to him, but he also met Edith McKee who became his wife. As artists, they challenged and supported each other.

When Charley joined the army during WWII, his commanders recognized his ability to draw. He joined an intelligence and reconnaissance platoon. As a scout, he was responsible for drawing “quick, accurate sketches of the area.” He also drew and painted scenes that depicted the people and areas through which he traveled. When he returned to the U.S., Harper took advantage of the GI Bill, and he enrolled at the Art Students League in New York City. Because of all of these life experiences, Charley had found his style, and he went on to build his outstanding body of work.

When Charley Harper drew a bird, he reduced the bird down into shapes of circles and triangles. His style is now recognized as “minimal realism.” In describing his style, Harper said, “When I look at a wildlife or nature subject, I don’t see the feathers in the wings, I just count the wings. I see exciting shapes, color combinations, patterns, textures, fascinating behavior and endless possibilities for making interesting pictures.”

Michelle Houts biography is a fine companion to some of our art books on this talented artist.

 

 

Fiona the Hippo

October2

There are some books that just make you smile. Saving Fiona: The Story of the Worlds’ Most Famous Baby Hippo by Thane Maynard (HMH) is one of those. Fiona was born prematurely at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden on January 24, 2017. When baby hippopotami are born, they usually weigh between 55 and 120 pounds, but Fiona only weighed 29 pounds. The journey to save Fiona became a social media sensation, as people all over the world cheered for her to survive.

Survive she did, and Thane Maynard has chronicled her progress in Saving Fiona. In the information about the author, who is the Director of the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, Maynard wrote that the love that is shown Fiona is unlike anything that he’s seen in his work.
“As she has grown up, Fiona has proven that she puts the ‘fat’ in indefatigable!”

 

Elizabeth Cotten

May24

Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotton by Laura Veirs, illustrated by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh (Chronicle)

Born in 1893(?) in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Elizabeth (Libba) Nevill grew up living and experiencing segregation. However, as the youngest of five children in a loving home, Libba was surrounded by music. Her older brother, Claude, owned a guitar, and Libba would sneak into his room and borrow it when he was at work. Claude was right-handed, and Libba was left-handed. So, she taught herself to play by turning the guitar upside down and playing it backward. When Claude moved out, Libba worked many jobs to buy her own Stella guitar. After hearing songs once, the young girl could play them, and she wrote her first original song when she was around 11 years old. That song, Freight Train, became one of her most famous songs, and it has been recorded by many musicians throughout the years.

Libba married Frank Cotten when she was 17 years old, and they had a daughter, Lillie. Once Libba was married, she put her guitar away and didn’t play again for many years. By a fortunate happenstance, Libba was invited to become a housekeeper for the famous folk-singing Seeger family. In their home, she was once again surrounded by music, and she picked up her guitar again. One day, the Seeger children heard beautiful music coming from the kitchen and went to investigate. When the Seegers realized Libba’s talent, they invited her to record an album and to tour with them. Libba’s career began in her sixties, and it continued until her death in 1987.

Veirs and Fazlalizadeh introduce children to this talented woman in their picture book, Libba.

Ernie Barnes – Athlete and Artist

May15

When I became an athlete, I didn’t stop being an artist. – Ernie Barnes

Between the Lines: How Ernie Barnes Went from the Football Field to the Art Gallery by Sandra Neil Wallace, illustrated by Bryan Collier (Simon & Schuster)

Perhaps it was kismet that Ernest Barnes (1938-2009) was born in 1938 on July 15th, the same date that Rembrandt was born in 1606. Ernest was a shy child who drew in the mud. He marveled at the paintings at the house where his mother was a housekeeper when he accompanied her to work. His mother knew of his love of art, and she also knew that Ernest wouldn’t be welcomed into art museums in the segregated South. As a plump and timid boy, he was sometimes taunted and bullied. Ernest began to carry a sketchbook with him, to escape that reality. He chronicled the everyday life that he saw – the junk man and families walking home from church.

When he was in high school, a weight coach discovered him off by himself and drawing. The coach convinced 6’3” Ernest to begin to fitness train in order to feel better about himself. He then joined the football team and excelled at the sport. By his senior year, he was the captain of the team, and he received twenty-six offers of scholarships from colleges to play football. Choosing North Carolina College at Durham, Ernest played football and studied art. One of his art teachers, Mr. Wilson, encouraged him to continue to look all around him and be inspired by what he saw.

Ernest was drafted to play professional football, and that’s when he became known as Ernie. Even when he was on the bench or in the midst of a game, he was inspired by the color and action around him. The sideline images inspired him to paint The Bench, which became a major piece in Barnes’ body of work. He never sold The Bench, and it is now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

When his football career ended, Ernie was finally able to devote his life to his art. He continued to explore the beauty in scenes of everyday life. His work is characterized by movement and color. Ernie was asked to be the official artist of the 1984 Olympic Games because art critics called him “America’s best painter of sports”. However, Ernie tackled many subjects other than sports. His painting, Sugar Shack, appeared each week at the end of the popular 1970s television show, Good Times. When the star of the show, JJ, became an artist, it was Ernie’s paintings that were used. Marvin Gaye also featured Sugar Shack as the cover of his album, I Want You.

When he was in college, Ernie was at an art museum and questioned why artists of color weren’t represented there. A docent answered him, “Your people don’t express themselves in that way.” Ernie knew this wasn’t true, and today his work is owned and displayed by museums all over the United States.

Author Sandra Neil Wallace and illustrator Bryan Collier teamed up to introduce Ernie Barnes to young people. Adults should check out Between the Lines to share it with children and enjoy it themselves.

Zaha Hadid

May11

I think the best way to present history to children is through good, accurate storytelling. – Jeanette Winter

Through her picture books, Jeanette Winter has introduced children and adults to many notable people. One of her latest is The World Is Not a Rectangle (Beach Lane Books). In this colorfully illustrated picture book biography, Winter profiles Zaha Hadid, an exceptional architect from Iraq.

Growing up in Baghdad, Zaha noticed patterns and shapes and colors, both natural and manmade. After she studied mathematics at the American University of Beirut, Zaha moved to London to earn a degree at Architectural Association School of Architecture, and she never looked back. Zaha opened her own office and designed and designed. Her mantra was “The world is not a rectangle.”

It took time to convince people to build one of her designs. Even though she won competition after competition for her ideas, no one was brave enough to agree to use her plans.

Hadid means iron in Arabic,
And Zaha is strong as iron.
She keeps on working – one plan after another.
“I made a conscious decision not to stop.” – The World Is Not a Rectangle

One of the first buildings to be constructed from Hadid’s design was the Vitra Fire Station in Weil am Rhein, Germany. The building was never used as a fire station, and it is now an exhibit space for architects. However, Hadid’s career was launched, and she went on to build unique buildings all over the world.

(Image from Wikmedia Commons)

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