Read On!

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

Louise Bourgeois


clothLouise Bourgeois’ (1911-2010) art has been exhibited in museums all over the world. She worked in many mediums, although she is probably best known for her sculptures of spiders. In 2011, one of her works, Spider, set a record for the highest price ever paid for a woman’s piece of art, when it sold at auction for $10.7 million. In 2015, that same piece resold for $28.2 million. In Cloth Lullaby: The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois written by Amy Novesky, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault (Abrams Books for Young Readers) the author explores Bourgeois’ life story. Louise was a young girl who was born in Paris into a family who restored tapestries, and she became one of the premier contemporary artists.

As a twelve year old, Louise learned the family trade, and she began to repair missing fragments of the tapestries that were brought to the shop. Her mother taught her about the styles of textiles, form, color, weaving, dyeing, and stitching. As a child, Louise also kept diaries of her thoughts and ideas. When she went to university in Paris, Louise first studied mathematics. After her mother’s death, she went to the Sorbonne where she became fascinated with sculpture as well as painting.

After moving to the United States with her husband and children before WWII, Louise struggled with entering the art exhibition world in a new country. As she explored new areas in her own work, she began to be recognized. Bourgeois exhibited and taught for years, and she influenced many other artists.

spiderSome of her signature pieces and themes are very large spiders. She wrote that (Drawing was) “like a thread in a spider’s web.” And “If you bash into the web of a spider, she doesn’t get mad. She weaves and she repairs it.”

(Image taken from The Guardian)

Beatrix Potter


BeatrixOne of the world’s most beloved author/illustrators, Beatrix Potter, was born on July 28, 1866. There have been numerous events this year to celebrate the 150th anniversary of her birth.

(Photo of Miss Potter taken from The National Trust & Frederick Warne Ltd.)
Beatrix and her brother, Bertram, were born to privilege, as their parents were quite wealthy. When they were growing up, they associated with few children of the same age as governesses educated them. However, they were encouraged to explore the natural world, especially during the summer on holidays, first in Scotland and then in the Lake District of England. It was here that Beatrix blossomed and recorded her observations of life.

One of Beatrix’s governesses was only three years older than her, and Annie Moore Carter acted as a lady’s companion to her. Annie and Beatrix became lifelong friends, and Miss Potter wrote entertaining letters illustrated with sketches to Annie’s children. In 1893, while she was on holiday, Potter composed a story to Annie’s son Noel, who was ill. She wrote about “four little rabbits whose names were Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter.” This letter was the basis for Potter’s most famous book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit.

This talented artist, naturalist, and author went on to become a landowner, farmer, and conservationist in the Lake District. She purchased large plots of land to preserve the area. Her donation of her property to the National Trust is now included in the Lake District National Park.

One of her unpublished stories, The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots, which was written in 1941, is being published this month. The illustrations are by Quentin Blake, a contemporary British illustrator, who has written many children’s books.

As part of the celebration of her life, Penguin Random House commissioned street artist Marcus Crocker to give Potter’s characters a modern makeover. At first I was “put off” by this modernization, as I considered it a bit sacrilegious to mess around with Peter Rabbit, Mr. Jeremy Fisher, Jemima Puddle-Duck, Squirrel Nutkin, Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, and Mrs. Tittlemouse. However, in reading about the new Potter figures, I found it interesting.
“The reimagined small versions of the familiar characters reflect the diminutive dimensions of the original Peter Rabbit stories, whilst some also contain a nod to Beatrix Potter’s varied accomplishments as a Conservationist; Botanist; Businesswoman; Artist; Storyteller all of which made her a woman ahead of her time… The figures were carefully crafted to ensure continuity with not only the characters’ own personality traits, but in some cases those of their original creator, in contemporary and surprising ways.”

Lisa Houck


flowers-grow-all-in-a-row-20One of our talented art teachers, Lisa Houck, has produced a colorful board book for toddlers and young children, Flowers Grow All in a Row flowers-grow-all-in-a-row-2page(Pomegranate Kids). The rhyming text compliments the bright illustrations that are made from white-line woodcuts. Working in this method is one of Lisa’s specialties, and she teaches it to our middle school students, as well as to adults in different venues. With traditional woodblocks, the artist cuts away the area around the drawing, and that cut away area becomes negative and does not accept the paint or ink. In white-line woodcutting, the outline of the design is cut or grooved which leaves a white line between the designs that accept the color. Flowers Grow All in a Row is a counting book illustrated with whimsical flowers.

lisa-houck-bright-world-coloring-book-70page-bright-world-coloring-book-72Lisa has also published a fun coloring book entitled Bright World (Pomegranate Kids). Both children and adults may enjoy this coloring book. Anyone who has discovered the peace that comes from coloring can recreate the colors that Lisa used in her illustrations or try their own combinations. If you know a child or adult who loves to color, Bright World would be a gift for them. Bright World and Flowers Grow All in a Row will be available to purchase at our book fair.

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Beatrix Potter


peterJuly 28th will be the 150th anniversary of Beatrix Potter’s birth. Many events are scheduled in Great Britain and the United States to celebrate her life.

Beatrix Potter, one of the world’s most famous storytellers, is celebrated in a new biography for our youngest readers. Beatrix Potter and Her Paint Box was written and illustrated by David McPhail (Henry Holt, 2015). The author/illustrator used watercolor and ink on illustration board for the delightful artwork that is reminiscent of Potter’s own art.

beatrixMcPhail’s spare text begins by describing what life was like for children during the 19th century when nannies and tutors worked for wealthy families. The children sometimes spent a great deal of time exploring on their own. Beatrix was given her mother’s paint box when she was young, and the girl made her own sketchbooks out of paper and string. From the beginning, Beatrix drew and painted animals and scenes from nature. While she was given formal painting lessons, she preferred to paint in her own style, so the tutoring was stopped. As an adult, Miss Potter wrote and illustrated a story about a rabbit for the son of a friend who was sick. Remembering her own time of convalescence from an illness when she was a child, Beatrix sent along her little story to cheer him. The child’s mother encouraged the artist to publish her book, and The Tale of Peter Rabbit became a gift to all children.

There are many, many books written for children and adults about this remarkable woman. McPhail’s just happens to be the latest biography written for beginning readers. It is a natural companion to Potter’s own tales of Peter Rabbit, Benjamin Bunny, Jemima Puddle Duck, and so many other delightful characters. Fair warning…adults who share Miss Potters tales and biography with their children, just may become immersed in her world. The numerous adult biographies and books about her home and gardens are tantalizing. Two of my adult favorites are At Home with Beatrix Potter: The Creator of Peter Rabbit by Susan Denyer (Frances Lincoln, 2009) and Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life: The Plants and Places That Inspired the Classic Children’s Tales by Marta McDowell (Timber Press, 2013).

Henri Matisse


The Museum of Modern Art in New York City presented a fascinating exhibit in 2014 called Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs. The exhibition catalog for the exhibit is inspiring, and I knew that we had a number of books in the DCD library that discussed this talented artist’s life. Many of them focus on the time in his life when Matisse created almost entirely with paper and scissors.
Henri Matisse was born in 1869 in Le Cateau-Cambrésis, France. He lived in Paris for most of his life, and his avant-garde work was known internationally. At seventy-two, the artist became very ill, and nearly bedridden. Instead of giving up all of his art, he developed his ideas in a new medium – large cutouts from hand-painted paper that his assistants hung around the room for him.
m3The Iridescence of Birds: A Book About Henri Matisse by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Hadley Hooper (Roaring Brook Press, 2014) is a simple tale of Henri’s childhood, and how his surroundings influenced his later works.
Jeanette Winter also wrote a biography of the master for our youngest readers in Henri’s Scissors (Beach Lane, 2013).  Marjorie Blaine Parker’s biography, Colorful Dreamer: The Story of Henri Matisse (Dial, 2012) is an enticing complement to Winter’s work.
m4Jane O’Connor and Jessie Hartland teamed up to produce Henri Matisse: Drawing with Scissors (Grosset & Dunlap, 2002). Their children’s biography is in the form of a school report that a student has written. It contains images of some of Matisse’s work and a discussion of his life.
My three favorite picture book biographies on this master are Matisse: The King of Color by Laurence Anholt (Barron’s, 2007) and Matisse’s Garden by Samantha Friedman, illustrated by Cristina Amodeo (MoMA, 2014), and Colorful Dreamer: The Story of Artist Henri Matisse by Marjorie Blaine Parker, illustrated by Holly Berry (Dial, 2012).
mAnholt provides details of Matisse’s life that aren’t covered in other children’s books. He chronicles the relationship that Henri had with Monique, a young nurse who helped him through a serious illness. Monique became his confidant, but she eventually left and entered a religious order as a nun. Year’s later, the nun and artist were reunited, and Matisse built the Chapelle du Rosaire as a gift to Monique and the other nuns who cared for him. He designed seventeen stained glass windows that fill the chapel with light, color, and pattern.
m2Matisse’s Garden was published by The Museum of Modern Art to coincide with the recent exhibit. This tale concentrates solely on Henri’s cut-outs, but the book itself is a masterpiece with pages that open out in double spreads to illustrate some of his larger cut-outs.


matisseColorful Dreamer is just that, colorful. Holly Berry’s illustrations are a combination of more realistic sketches of Henri and his family combined with colorful collages that evoke his artwork and imagination.


MissOh, and I still haven’t mentioned a book for our older readers and art enthusiasts, Miss Etta and Dr. Claribel:Bringing Matisse to America by Susan Fillion (Godine, 2011). Two unmarried sisters from a German-Jewish family in Baltimore amassed one of the most amazing collections of modern art in America. They concentrated on works by Matisse, although they also purchased many paintings by Vuillard, Cézanne, Gauguin, and Picasso. The sisters’ collection was bequeathed to The Baltimore Museum of Art.



There are many intriguing books about art and artists that open up new possibilities for children and young adults.

noisyThe Noisy Paint Box by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Mary Grandpre (Knopf, 2014) is a picture book biography that examines the life and passion of Vasya Kandinsky. When Vasya’s aunt gave him a paint box as a gift, the young boy discovered that he could escape “proper” expectations and create. Kadinsky felt that he heard the sounds of the colors, and his paintings were not images of objects. They were a riot of color, and throughout his life teachers and artists didn’t understand his abstract art. Kadinsky’s style was unique, and when the art world recognized his genius, he became an influential leader.

everybodySusan Goldman Rubin introduces our older readers to the Wyeth family in Everybody Paints! The Lives and Art of the Wyeth Family (Chronicle, 2014). This family of artists contributed extraordinary works of American art. N.C. Wyeth’s illustrations of The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood and Treasure Island are iconic. His son Andrew’s best know work may be “Christina’s World”. Grandson Jamie’s portraits of figures from John F. Kennedy to Andy Warhol continue the artistic family’s legacy.

Adults will be as fascinated by these selections as children are!

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Artist Bill Traylor


billHow fortuitous that formally trained artist, Charles Shannon, met Bill Traylor on a street in 1939. Shannon (1914-1996) was from Montgomery, Alabama, and while he was studying at the Cleveland School of Art, he became interested in the artistic culture of the south. He recognized the talent of Bill Traylor, a former slave who had experienced periods of homelessness. Shannon encouraged Traylor to continue drawing and painting and brought him art supplies.

Bill Traylor (1854-1949) created between 1,200 and 1,500 pieces of art during his lifetime, although he didn’t begin his art until his was well into his eighties. Prior to that time, Traylor had endured slavery and raised a family as a sharecropper. When he moved to Montgomery, Alabama at age eight-one, he struggled to survive. Throughout these hardships, he began to sketch on found pieces of paper and cardboard. He began to draw images from all stages of his life that he had stored in his memory.

Charles Shannon arranged for exhibits of Bill Traylor’s work, and now this former slave and self-taught man is recognized as a very important American folk artist.

It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw was written by Don Tate and illustrated by R. Gregory Christie (Lee & Low, 2012).

Horace Pippin


If a man knows nothing but hard times, he will paint them, for he must be true to himself…

splashIt is interesting to analyze a picture book that “really works” and is obviously well crafted. One of the reasons for the success of a picture book is because of the connections between the text and the illustrations. Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet collaborated on A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin (Knopf), a picture book biography about the talented artist. In the author’s and illustrator’s notes in the back of A Splash of Red, Bryant and Sweet both detail how they worked. The author and illustrator traveled together to research Pippin and his work.

Horace Pippin was passionate about art as a child, but life and work got in the way, as he grew older. It wasn’t until he returned from WWI with a badly injured arm, that art re-entered his life. At that time, Pippin found it difficult to obtain a job due to his injury. One day, he picked up a fireplace poker, and he held his injured arm as he scratched a design in some wood. He finished his first painting three years later, by retraining himself and strengthening his arm. Through that painting, he found himself again, as he used somber colors that represented his years as a soldier. Even then, he would add a splash of red.

It took years for Pippin’s work to be recognized, but he has emerged as one of the premiere painters of his time.




Truly an Original


madGeorge E. Ohr (1857-1918) called himself the “Mad Potter of Biloxi”, and he was unequaled in self-promotion. However, his bombastic proclamations and confidence didn’t necessarily pay off economically during his lifetime. Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan look at the life and work of this artistic genius in The Mad Potter: George E. Ohr, Eccentric Genius (Roaring Brook Press, 2013).

At one point in his life, when Ohr was opposing his siblings in a court case over their parents’ property, the attorneys suggested that George was crazy. Their evidence was based on the fact that he called himself the Mad Potter. The jury found that the potter was not insane.

ohr_wave.jpg__600x0_q85_upscaleGeorge faced many obstacles and challenges throughout his life. He fought to be acknowledged, but he never let his critics influence his work. Ohr’s pottery was so different from his contemporaries that few people purchased his pieces that weren’t utilitarian. His mantra for his work was “No two alike.”

How fortunate we are that Jim Carpenter, an antiques dealer, happened upon Ohr’s pottery in 1968. He was on a buying expedition when he stopped at “Ojo’s Junk Yard and Machine Shop” in Biloxi, Mississippi. When he took a look at the boxes of George’s pots that were piled up in the building, he recognized the genius in Ohr’s work. While the critics in the early 1900s viewed his work as strange, the art commentators in the 1970s viewed it as modern. Some of his descendants had used George’s pottery for target practice, but now his pieces command tens of thousands of dollars.

*Image taken from

Great Non-Fiction


While children, parents, and teachers are often familiar with the Newbery and Caldecott children’s book awards, the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award is also announced at the American Library Association winter meeting. The 2014 winner and honor books represent a wide range of topics, but their common denominator is their excellence.

parrotsParrots Over Puerto Rico by Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore, illustrated by Susan L. Roth (Lee & Low) is this year’s winner. I can’t rave about this book enough. Do read my post from January 17, 2014 when I wrote about this book at length. The illustrations alone are worthy of a special award. When these combine with the well-written text, the book deserves its special status.

It was a banner year for non-fiction, and the Sibert committee named four honor books this year.

Birds were a bit of a reoccurring theme with the awards as Look Up! Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard by Annette LeBlanc Cate (Candlewick) was named as one of the honor books. Budding birders learn how to identify birds by color, shape, behavior, birdcall, and other characteristics.

Two books about artists were honored this year, one on George E. Ohr and another about Horace Pippin. Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan teamed up for The Mad Potter; George E. Ohr, Eccentric Genius (Roaring Brook Press). Ohr certainly didn’t lack ego or self-confidence as he described himself as “Unequaled, unrivaled, undisputed, greatest art potter on the earth.”

Jen Bryant celebrates the life of artist Horace Pippin to younger readers in A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin (Knopf). Her story and Melissa Sweet’s art bring this self-taught painter’s art to life.

The other honor book was Locomotive by Brian Floca (Atheneum), which was also recognized as this year’s Caldecott winner.

All of these titles are too good to be missed by children and adults.

look  mad  splash  tlccontent-1

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