Read On!

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

Pablo Picasso


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

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Susan B. Anthony


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.

“I Have a Dream”


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 later 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 like that 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 Have a Dream illustrated by Kadir Nelson (Schwartz & Wade, 2012) is accompanied by a cd of the speech.


Georgia O’Keeffe


Flowers, skulls, and desert images are most often the images that one associates with Georgia O’Keeffe. We usually think of the Southwest as the inspiration for much of her work.

In 1939, this gifted artist traveled to Hawaii when the Hawaiian Pineapple Company sponsored her to create two new paintings for them. The company wanted a painting of a pineapple, but Georgia didn’t like being told what to paint. She was inspired by the flora and fauna of the Hawaiian Islands, and she painted nearly twenty works while she was there. The Hawaiian Pineapple Company expressed unhappiness because Georgia gave them paintings of a heliconia flower and a papaya tree. She later capitulated and sent them a painting of a pineapple because she realized that the trip they sponsored had been a rare gift. Georgia in Hawaii: When Georgia O’Keeffe Painted What She Pleased by Amy Novesky, illustrated by Yuyi Morales (Harcourt Children’s Books, 2012) is a beautiful picture book biography that chronicles this special time in O’Keeffe’s life.

For those intermediate and older readers who have admired O’Keeffe’s art, Wideness & Wonder: The Life and Art of Georgia O’Keeffe by Susan Goldman Rubin (Chronicle, 2010) is a charming biography that shares more details of the artist’s life. She began taking drawing lessons when she was eleven years old, and by the time she was in eighth grade, Georgia knew what she was going to do when she grew up – “I am going to be an artist.”

After painting for a number of years, Georgia experimented with the style that is most identified with her, that of a gigantic flower. Thank goodness she didn’t listen to her husband, an artist himself, when he said, “Well, Georgia, I don’t know how you’re going to get away with anything like that – you aren’t planning to show it, are you?”

Charlotte’s Web


As I was riding to work, I heard an interview on NPR with Michael Sims, the author of The Story of Charlotte’s Web. The subtitle of Sims book describes his research well: E. B. White’s Eccentric Life in Nature and the Birth of an American Classic. Adults who enjoy reading literary criticism might want to check out this book.

…Or, go to NPR to listen to or read the interview.

Just be sure to share Charlotte’s Web with a child. Don’t assume that they have read it. There aren’t many opening lines that can compete with the one with which White started his story.

“Where’s Papa going with that ax?” said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.

A Father and Son Project


Tina Nichols Coury spent over 17 years working on her first book, Hanging Off Jefferson’s Nose (Dial, 2012). During that time, she searched for information about the great sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, who designed and supervised building Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. As Coury learned more about Gutzon, she also found that his son, Lincoln Borglum, played an important role in finishing the project. The illustrator, Sally Wern Comport, created the artwork from original black-and-white drawings and mixed media layered digital files that were printed in their hybrid state with the final paintings rendered in acrylic and pastel. (The information about the art is taken from the book.)


This short clip is from a silent film that shows some of the blasting of the work and the construction of Mount Rushore.

Anne Frank


This year is the 65th anniversary of the publication of the diary of Anne Frank, a young Jewish girl who perished in the Holocaust during World War II. It is also the 70th anniversary of The Diary of a Young Girl being translated into English. Otto Frank was given the diary in 1945 by Miep Gies, a family friend who aided them when they were in hiding from the Germans.

Annelies “Anne” Marie Frank has become one of the most identifiable victims of the unspeakable crimes that occurred during the war. Her words are timeless as they continue to resonate with young adults when they read them today. While her family was struggling to survive as a Jewish family in hiding in Amsterdam, Anne was going through her adolescence. She eloquently wrote about her daily frustrations, relationships, hopes, and dreams.

There have been many books written about Anne Frank as well. A Friend Called Anne (2004) by Jacqueline Van Maarsen and Memories of Anne Frank (1997) by Alison Leslie Gold are two remembrances by Anne’s childhood friends. Anne Frank, Beyond the Diary by Ruud van der Rol and Rian Verhoeven contains photographs, maps, and other historical information that is at the Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam.

Anne’s story is brought to life for our intermediate readers in Josephine Poole’s picture book biography, Anne Frank (2005). Angela Barrett’s illustrations reflect the poignancy of the story.

Menno Metselaar and Ruud van der Rol chose photographs from the archives of the Anne Frank House for their book, Anne Frank: Her Life in Words and Pictures (2009).

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