Read On!

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

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!)

Beatrix Potter

March10

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).

Great Biographies

February19

When I was in third and fourth grade, the library was in easy walking distance from my house. I have fond memories of finally being a confident reader and being allowed to choose my own books. There was a series of historical fiction titles that I fondly remember. They were the “Little Maid” books, and my favorite was The Little Maid of Lexington by Alice Turner Curtis. The little maid wasn’t a term describing a servant, but a girl who witnessed important events during Colonial times. (As an adult, I was astonished to find that while I was reading these books in the late 1950s, they were originally written between 1913 and 1937. Hmmm…there weren’t as many books published for children then. Or, my public library never discarded many!) After I read one of the titles, I always looked for a biography about the hero from history – George Washington, Paul Revere, or Benjamin Franklin. There weren’t many biographies written for intermediate readers during my childhood. Times have changed…

betsyOur independent readers are intrigued by two series that I can’t recommend any more highly, Who Was…? and Who Is…? These short biographies, published by Penguin, have black and white illustrations on many pages, and they include additional background information and a bibliography at the end of the book. The authors describe the childhood, accomplishments, and challenges of the biographee. I would have been thrilled to read Who Was Betsy Ross? by James Buckley (2014) after I read A Little Maid of Old Philadelphia. Fortunately, there are many different titles to keep our readers happy. The publisher has also developed two other series, What Was…? and Where Is…? The WhoHQ website by Penguin has a trivia game for readers when they have finished some of the books.

Henri Matisse

May6

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.

Artists

January21

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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“Genius draws no color line.”

April10

When Marian SangWe cannot live alone… And the thing that made this moment possible for you and for me, has been brought about by many people whom we will never know.
Marian Anderson

On April 9, 1939, seventy-five years ago this week, Marian Anderson performed an outdoor concert at the Lincoln Memorial. Her concert was there because she was banned by the Daughters of the American Republic (DAR) from performing at Constitution Hall because of the color of her skin. There was a “white-artist-only” clause in the contracts presented by the DAR. While there was a segregated section for black audience members, only whites could appear on stage.

The news of Anderson’s situation became public, and Eleanor Roosevelt resigned from the organization. However, the public outcry did not change the policy. The executive secretary of the NAACP, Walter White, proposed that Marian Anderson should perform at the Lincoln Memorial. Franklin Roosevelt assigned his Secretary of the Interior, Harold Ickes, to oversee the logistics of the concert. Few could have guessed that 75,000 people would attend the concert, and millions of Americans would listen to it on the radio.

Genius draws no color line. She has endowed Marian Anderson with such voice as lifts any individual above his fellows, as is a matter of exultant pride to any race.
Harold Ickes

The first song that Marian sang was “America”. In the third line, she changed the words, “of thee I sing”, and she replaced them with “to thee we sing”.

In 1942, Marian Anderson did receive an invitation from the DAR to perform at Constitution Hall. On January 7, 1943, she sang to an integrated audience at a benefit for the American Red Cross.

VoiceWhile much has been written about this event, there are two books that I highly recommend for our students. When Marian Sang by Pam Munoz Ryan, illustrated by Brian Selznick (Scholastic, 2002) is a sophisticated picture book biography. Voice That Challenged a Nation: Marian Anderson and the Struggle for Equal Rights by Russell Freedman (Clarion, 2004) is a title that I would suggest for grades 5 and up. Freedman included many photographs to support his work.

Truly an Original

February28

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 http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/the-mad-potter-of-biloxi-106065115/?no-ist

Pablo Picasso

May8

Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.  Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso’s father, Don Jose Ruiz was an art teacher and painter who was so impressed with his son’s work that he laid down his brushes. Don Jose said that he was abandoning his own art because his son had more talent than he had. When he was in his teens, Pablo Picasso’s style echoed the work of other French artists like Toulouse-Lautrec, Gauguin, and Monet. As an adult, he developed his own styles (The Blue Period, The Rose Period, Cubism, Surrealism) for which he is now known.

Just Behave, Pablo Picasso! by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes (Scholastic, 2012) shares events about the famous artist from his childhood through his twenties. Despite harsh criticism, Picasso persevered to perfect his own style in paintings, drawings, prints, and sculptures.

Tony Penrose grew up with Pablo Picasso as a family friend. His father, Sir Roland Penrose was an artist who often visited back and forth with Picasso. In The Boy Who Bit Picasso (Abrams, 2010), Tony shares his childhood memories of this remarkable artist. He includes photographs taken of Picasso by his mother, the famous photographer Lee Mill. Penrose also includes images of drawings that Picasso made especially for him.

Other books in our collection about this genius include Picasso: A Day in His Studio by Veronique Antoine (Chelsea House, 1993) and Picasso by Mike Venezia (Children’s Press, 1988).

Photo of Pablo Picasso taken from Wikipedia.org.

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Susan B. Anthony

April19

Cautious, careful people never can bring about a reform.      Susan B. Anthony

Having grown up in North Adams, I was always fascinated when my family drove past the house on East St. in Adams, MA where Susan B. Anthony was born. It was inspiring to me to think that a woman who was born in my area of western Massachusetts went on to be such a leader in the women’s suffrage movement in the 1800s.

In 1826, Susan B. Anthony’s family moved to the state of New York so that Susan’s father could manage a factory that manufactured cotton. That is where Susan grew up and became a life-long reformer. Even as a young girl, she identified injustices. The first was when a male teacher refused to teach the girls in his class mathematics because he believed that certain school subjects were too hard for a girl to learn. In her early career, Susan became a teacher herself. After a few years, Susan left her teaching job so that she could speak to many people about women’s rights.

Susan B. Anthony by Alexandra Wallner (Holiday House, 2012) is a picture book biography that introduces this interesting woman to younger children.

 

 

 

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony: A Friendship That Changed the World by Penny Colman (Henry Holt, 2011) is a biography for our mature readers.

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