Read On!

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

Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library

February8

Pride of race is the antidote to prejudice.
– Arturo Alfonso Schomburg

Carole Boston Weatherford has been honored for a number of her books. One of her most recent is Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library (Candlewick), illustrated by Eric Velasquez. Arturo (later Arthur) Alfonso Schomburg (1874-1938) was an important figure in the Harlem Renaissance because of his work in unearthing African-American history.

Born in Puerto Rico, Schomburg’s mother was a black midwife, and his father was a German merchant. When he was in fifth grade, his teacher told him that black people had no history and no heroes or accomplishments worth noting. That ignited a lifelong passion in Schomburg to unearth the heroes and accomplishments of non-whites. When he was seventeen years old, Arturo immigrated to the United States. Landing in New York City, he had visions of pursuing either medicine or law after he learned to speak English. Because his official school records had been lost in a fire, no school of higher education would admit him to study. Arturo then returned to his passion for locating information about people of color. Carole Boston Weatherford states, “Arturo had what he called the book hunting disease.” (Photo from blackpast.ort)

Schomburg became entranced with researching information on Phillis Wheatley, Frederick Douglass, Toussaint Louverture, the Amistad, and many, many other people and events. Again, quoting Weatherford:
Arturo suspected a conspiracy of fraud that aimed to erase all African history but bondage…When genius was black, skin color was left out. But Schomburg chased the truth and turned up icons whose African heritage had been white-washed.
He unearthed the fact that John James Audubon’s father was a French plantation owner and his mother was a Creole slave. Frenchman Alexander Dumas who wrote The Three Musketeers was descended from slaves.

Even though he worked in a bank as a mailroom clerk, Schomburg carried on a correspondence with Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois. He debated them and discussed black history. Schomburg began to travel to lecture about black history and continue to look for books about people of color who contributed to society.

When Schomburg’s personal library overtook his home, he decided that his collection needed to be given a broader audience. In 1926, The Carnegie Corporation bought his collection for $10,000.00 and donated it to the New York Public Library. It became part of the 135th Street branch in Harlem. “It included more than five thousand books, several thousand pamphlets, plus priceless prints and papers…”

In his retirement, Schomburg was hired to found Fisk University Library’s Negro Collection. On his return to New York City, he continued to search out material for the Division of Negro History, Literature and Prints at the library. He focused on collecting the work of artists of the Harlem Renaissance. Because of Arturo Alfonso Schomburg’s dedication and collection, he proved that teacher of his childhood wrong.

I am proud to be able to do something that may mean inspiration for the youth of my race.
– Arturo Alfonso Schomburg

How to Build a Museum

February1

Black history is everybody’s history.

Tonya Bolden

 

Tonya Bolden’s book, How to Build a Museum (Viking), is a fascinating look at taking the concept of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) from an idea to a reality. While the NMAAHC was officially opened by President Barack Obama on September 24, 2016, the idea for the museum had been discussed over 100 years previously.

 

GRAND ARMY OF THE REPUBLIC. PARADE AT 1915 ENCAMPMENT. VIEWS OF PARADEIn 1915, the Grand Army of the Republic’s 49th National Encampment took place to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the end of the Civil War. The GAR was an organization of veterans who had served in the Union’s armed forces during the “War Between the States.” There were more than 20,000 veterans who marched in the parade down Pennsylvania Avenue. During that 1915 encampment, Ferdinand D. Lee embraced the idea to recognize the approximately 200,000 black men and boys who had fought for the Union army with a monument. This National Memorial Association (NMA), began lobbying Congress for this recognition. Enthusiasm for the project fluctuated, but in 1929, the NMA received Congressional support as well as the promise of public funds if the group raised $500,000. With the advent of the Great Depression and the death of Lee, the NMA was one of the commissions that was eliminated by Franklin Delano Roosevelt. (Photo from the Library of Congress)

 

Further discussions about a memorial came and went until 1988 when Representative John Lewis of Georgia introduced a bill to support a museum that would be dedicated to black history and culture as part of the Smithsonian Institution. Lewis persisted in promoting this plan until a commission to draft a plan for the museum was finally developed in 2001. It took until 2006 for the announcement that the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture would be built on the last open acres on the National Mall.

 

Image result for smithsonian museum of black historyLonnie G. Bunch III became the founding director of the NMAAHC before the plans were even drawn for the construction. His vision and skills brought to fruition, not only the building of the museum, but also the collecting of the items that would tell the important story of black history and culture. (Photo from Non-Profit)

 

On every page of How to Build a Museum, Bolden’s prose combines with colorful photographs that show the museum and highlight many of the artifacts housed there. This volume helps the readers to understand that black history truly is all Americans’ history. Do visit the museum’s website for fascinating articles about American history:  https://nmaahc.si.edu/

 

CBS This Morning Reporting on the museum:

 

Tonya Bolden talks about writing the book:

https://youtu.be/Xhe48WFcqKA

 

Thank You Julius Lester and Ursula Le Guin

January26

The children’s literature community lost two giants in the field this week, Julius Lester and Ursula Le Guin. Both writers made significant contributions, not only with the books that they wrote, but also with the intellect that they brought to the discourse of literature for children and young adults.

Before becoming a writer, Julius Bernard Lester (1939-2018) hosted a radio and television show, recorded albums of original and traditional songs, and taught English and history at the university level. He was a distinguished photographer and professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst from 1971 until he retired in 2003. While his courses were highly sought after, he was not afraid of conflict. The Afro-American Studies faculty voted to have him removed from their department because of his characterization of James Baldwin’s writings as being anti-Semitic. He finished his tenure in another department, and he continued to be honored as a distinguished teacher. (Photo from Jewish Week)

Lester was also highly honored in the children’s literature field by numerous award committees: the Newberry, the Coretta Scott King, and the Boston Globe/Hornbook. It’s difficult to choose my favorite book that he wrote for children. I continue to introduce many of them every year in my classes. Lester collaborated with illustrator, Jerry Pinkney, when he modernized the Uncle Remus Tales of Brer Rabbit in multiple volumes. They also produced significant picture books together: Sam and the Tigers: The New Telling of Little Black Sambo, John Henry, and Black Cowboy, Wild Horses: A True Story.

Ursula Kroeber Le Guin (1929-2018) wrote more for intermediate readers, young adults, and adults. She grew up surrounded by her parents’ friends who were intellectuals in many fields. Her fantasy and science fiction novels, short stories, and poetry were groundbreaking because she pushed the boundaries in her alternate and alternative worlds. She wrote thoughtfully about gender, religion, race, and environmentalism. (Photo from Time)

Le Guin, also, was honored throughout her life by numerous organizations: the Library of Congress, the American Library Association, the National Book Foundation, and the Science Fiction Research Association to name a few. The Library of Congress recognized her contributions in 2000 and awarded Ursula Le Guin the Living Legend Award in the Writers and Artists category. In 2016, the New York Times described Le Guin as “America’s greatest living science fiction writer”.

Le Guin was influenced by many fantasy writers, among them were J.R.R. Tolkien, Lewis Carroll, and Kenneth Grahame. In turn, her writing has influenced important contemporary writers like Neil Gaiman and Salman Rushdie.

Ursula Le Guin’s most important novels were her Earthsea Cycle: The Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, The Farthest Shore, Tehanu, The Other Wind, and Tales from Earthsea. The Wizard of Earthsea won many awards and was greatly discussed when it was published. Le Guin didn’t write this for a strictly juvenile audience, she wrote it for readers. Her books are similar to Tolkien’s because adults gain as much from them as young adults do.

Ursula Le Guin and Julius Lester have left legacies that will live on for future readers to enjoy.

 

That’s All Right

October18

Elvis Presley’s style of singing and performing is now legendary, but early in his life, few people understood him. Music floated all around East Tupelo, Mississippi, where he was born in 1935. As Elvis attended First Assembly of God Church with his mother, he joined in singing the hymns. Life was hard for his mother, especially when Elvis’s father went to jail. The family moved around to try to make a better life. The constants in the boy’s life were his mother and music. When they moved to Memphis in 1948, Elvis found some friends who enjoyed music almost as much as he did. In high school, other students made fun of him until he entered their talent show and shared his music.

Success didn’t come overnight for Elvis. Rejections didn’t deter him, and he saved to cut a record. He sang “That’s All Right”, a Delta blues song, in his own twangy style. When he began performing in public, Elvis moved to the music, and the rest is history and legend.

Bonnie Christensen’s lyric prose evokes the poetry of Elvis’s music in Elvis: The Story of the Rock and Roll King (Henry Holt).

 

The Slinky

March3

There are certain television and radio commercials with which I can identify from when I was a child. Even today, when I hear certain melodies, they take me back through the years. A recently published book, The Marvelous Thing That Came From a Spring (Atheneum), evokes that same nostalgia for me. Gilbert Ford wrote and illustrated this entertaining story whose subtitle is The Accidental Invention of the Toy That Swept the Nation.

In 1943, Richard James was an engineer who worked for the Navy, and his project was to invent a device “…that would keep fragile ship equipment from vibrating in choppy seas.” When a torsion spring fell off of a shelf and the coils bounced around, Richard was intrigued. Since it wasn’t the solution to his project, he took it home. He and his wife, Betty, watched their son, Tom, release the spring at the top of the stairs. They were all delighted when it seemed to walk down the stairs. Betty spent two days looking in a dictionary for a name for their new toy, and she decided on “Slinky.”

After Richard took a loan from a bank in order to produce his invention, he canvased Philadelphia, trying to convince toy stores to stock his new toy. He was repeatedly turned down, but he convinced the manager of Gimbels, a department store, to let him demonstrate his Slinky to holiday shoppers. The manager gave Richard one chance in November 1945. Richard had brought a board from home to serve as a ramp, and the shoppers were fascinated. Within ninety minutes, all of the four hundred Slinkys were sold.

Gilbert Ford’s art for this picture book biography is as ingenious as the Slinky. His illustrations were drawn, colored digitally, and then printed. Ford then assembled these illustrations into dioramas that included found objects. They were then photographed by Greg Endries.

Jazz Day

February16

On August 12, 1958, Art Kane, a graphic designer took a picture in front of a brownstone on 126th Street between Fifth and Madison Avenues. Kane was a jazz buff, but he wasn’t a professional photographer when he suggested his idea to an editor at Esquire magazine. Esquire was preparing “The Golden Age of Jazz” as a special supplement in the magazine. Since New York City was a mecca for jazz at that time, Kane wanted to gather as many jazz musicians as possible for a photograph. While those working at Esquire assumed that the photographer would use a studio for his picture, he wanted it to be more authentic. By roaming the streets, Kane came up with a location that had the light that he envisioned.

After borrowing a camera, Kane needed to figure out how to bring together jazz musicians. After all, these musicians perform during the night, and he was planning his picture for 10:00am. By contacting recording studios, music composers, managers, nightclub owners, and Local 802 of the musician’s union, he asked that they tell any jazz musicians that they knew about his idea. The musicians were instructed to just show up without any instruments, and show up they did. Some who came were already famous in their field, others were rising stars, and still others hadn’t yet made a name for themselves. The picture captured a unique time in the history of jazz.

Author Roxane Orgill’s book of poems, Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph (Candlewick), is inspired by that famous photograph. Francis Vallejo’s acrylic and pastel illustrations suggest the light and vitality of that special day. The first poem is about Art Kane.

Early
Art Kane, photographer

nobody here yet
it’s only nine
look right
where they come from the train
look left
where they exit a taxi
where to put them all
what if only four come
or five
“The Golden Age of Jazz”
with five guys
look right
look left
a crazy request
what if nobody shows
look up will it rain
will they wilt
when the sun beats
head out for a cold beer
look right
is that somebody
a group from the train
Lester Young cigarette dangling
that funny squashed hat
man with an umbrella rolled tight
Milt Hinton, hardly know him
without his bass
look left
guy in a striped tie
it’s happening

Bird Brain

February9

When I was in elementary school, I remember one of my teachers telling our class that if one is called a “bird brain” that is actually a compliment. My teacher went on to compare the size of  birds’ brains to all that they learn to do to survive. She also gave us a lesson on instinct and learned behavior. Pamela S. Turner takes the “bird brain” analogy even further in her new book, Crow Smarts: Inside the Brain of the World’s Brightest Bird (HMH).

 

The author chronicles the work of Dr. Gavin Hunt and his team on the Pacific archipelago, as they study the New Caledonian crows. Because of the knowledge that the scientists have gathered, they now compare the intelligence of crows to that of dolphins, monkeys, and chimpanzees. These crows use tools to obtain food, and they even manufacture their own tool kits.

 

Crow Smarts is the latest release in the outstanding Scientists in the Field Series by the publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Andy Comins has collaborated on other books in the series. His color photographs in Crow Smarts demonstrate his talent for bringing science to life for children and adults. The art of Guido De Filippo further enhances this informative book.

Basketball

February3

Who are you? What are You? Why are you here on this earth? Where are you going? – Coach John McLendon’s four questions for his players

One of the joys of sharing books with children and young adults is that one can introduce readers to stories about people who have made a positive difference in the world. Just before March Madness begins with the focus on college basketball, I enjoy reading Hoop Genius: How a Desperate Teacher and a Rowdy Gym Class Invented Basketball by John Coy (Carolrhoda Books). This year, there is a new book by the same author, Game Changer: John McLendon and the Secret Game illustrated by Randy DuBurke (Carolrhoda Books). These titles are perfect to pair because they demonstrate the universality of the sport, and the courage of two men.

John McLendon (1915-1999) was a disciple of James Naismith, who invented basketball. (How amazing is it that we can trace the origins of this sport to one man?) John McLendon had the goal of becoming a basketball coach, and his father said that he would work and devote his life to helping him achieve that goal. McLendon’s father sent him to the University of Kansas to learn from James Naismith. The biggest hurdle that McLendon would have to face was the color of his skin. He wasn’t allowed to play basketball in college because Kansas’ varsity basketball team did not suit up a black player until 1951. There were no college or professional African-American coaches. Naismith mentored the student and stood up for him when he faced obstacles because of his race. He was instrumental in helping McLendon get his first coaching job.

Game Changer chronicles one event in John McLendon’s illustrious career. In 1944, he orchestrated a secret game between his team from the North Carolina College of Negroes and white members of the Duke University Medical School team. The Duke players didn’t know who they were going to play as they took a circuitous route to their destination. At the beginning of the game, the players of both teams were hesitant because none of them had ever touched a person of a different color. As they all became more confident just playing basketball, the white players soon realized that they were outmatched. McLendon’s team played a much more athletic and faster game. The North Carolina College of Negroes won that first game 88 to 44.

When the game ended, no one wanted to leave. The teams played a second game, but for that, they mixed up the players from both colleges and played shirts against skins. While this was an important step in battling segregation, the players, coaches, and others who found out about it, had to keep silent. There were too many who believed in segregation in the United States who would have harmed the participants.

John McLendon was inducted into the John Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame twice. In 1979, he was inducted as a “contributor”, but in 2016 he was inducted as a coach.

The following video has excerpts of McLendon describing Naismith’s influence on his life:

Presidents

January20

I read mostly secondary sources and scour them for juicy details that make information come alive.

Kathleen Krull

Kathleen Krull has written many outstanding biographies and picture book biographies for children. It seems pertinent to share one of her “oldies, but goodies” this week, Lives of the Presidents: Fame, Shame (and What the Neighbors Thought). Since the book was written in 1998, she has vignettes starting with George Washington and ending with Bill Clinton. Even though the book doesn’t include George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump, it contains enough anecdotes to entertain even a serious historian.

In her introduction, Krull says, “Other books discuss these men in relation to great historical events, the context of their actions, their political achievements, and public opinion rankings. This book is about the lives of presidents as fathers, husbands, pet owners, and neighbors.”

Find out who….
…dissected small animals (James Madison)
…could make the president eat food he didn’t like (Franklin Roosevelt’s housekeeper)
…fought watermelon-seed wars (Harry Truman)
…bribed dogs with candy-coated vitamins (Lyndon Johnson)

Do check out Kathleen Krull’s website for more information about her and her books.

The author talks about gossip and how she finds her information in the following video.

Some Writer! Some Book!

January6

It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer.
E. B. White, Charlotte’s Web

If I were on one of the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) children’s book awards committees, I would give the Newbery Medal and the Robert F. Sibert Medal to Melissa Sweet for her book, Some Writer!: The Story of E. B. White (HMH Books for Young Readers). I’ll be writing about the 2017 winners of ALSC awards after they are announced on Monday, January 23 at the American Library Association mid-winter conference.

I have to admit that I am a die-hard fan of Melissa Sweet’s work. She has illustrated a number of picture book biographies that I share with our students. Before Some Writer! was published, I would have a difficult time choosing a favorite among those that she has illustrated or illustrated and written. Just before Thanksgiving, I always share Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade (See my entry on this book) which is the story of Tony Sarg and his creations during the first Macy’s Parade. Sweet’s collaboration with Jennifer Bryant produced other favorites, A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin, The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus and A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams. Melissa’s collaboration with other authors contributed equally fine books.

Then came Some Writer! Where do I begin? It will be no surprise that I’m a fan of E. B. White’s work, and I refuse to pick a favorite among his books for children. His talent extended far beyond that as he wrote for The New Yorker and co-authored The Elements of Style. Melissa Sweet brings E. B. White to life for readers. Her colorful and captivating collage illustrations complement her research on E. B. White. Both White and Sweet are masters of their crafts. I can’t recommend Some Writer! more highly.

(Collage from Crackingthecover.com – Our book was circulating!)

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