Read On!

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

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

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.

 

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