Read On!

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

Photographer Gordon Parks

May31

Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Jamey Christoph (Albert Whitman)

It’s always interesting to learn why an author chose to write about a particular subject. Carole Boston Weatherford explains that she met Gordon Parks, a photographer whom she admired, at an exhibit of his work. She had grown up viewing his photos in Life magazine. As an adult, her Aunt Helen told her about working with Parks in Washington, D.C. Weatherford has a picture of her aunt that may have been taken by Parks.

Gordon Parks (1912-2006) was a world-famous photographer, novelist, poet, musician, and film director. He was the youngest of fifteen children, and he was raised amid poverty and segregation. After both parents died, Parks was struggling to support himself when he was fifteen years old. He worked as a busboy, piano player, porter, and waiter. As a waiter in a railroad dining car, Parks noticed glossy photographs in magazines. He spent $7.50 to buy a used camera and taught himself how to use it. Parks was soon hired to shoot fashion and portraits.

When he moved to Chicago, Parks recorded the plights of impoverished families, and this earned him a fellowship with the Farm Security Administration in Washington, D.C. It was there that he was once again struck by the poverty experienced by the black families who lived in the shadows in our nation’s capital.

Parks embarked on a mission to expose the racism that he saw, and he chronicled the life of Ella Watson, a cleaning woman in the building where he worked. Mrs. Watson supported herself, her grandchildren, and an adopted daughter on just $1000.00 a year. He had the idea to photograph Mrs. Watson in a pose reminiscent of Grant Wood’s famous painting, American Gothic. (Photo taken from Wikipedia) Parks placed his subject in front of an American flag holding a mop and broom, and he titled the photo, American Gothic, Washington, D.C. This stark image engendered much discussion, and it became one of Park’s most noted works. While continuing his career as a fashion photographer, he went on to use his camera as an instrument of change by illustrating scenes of segregation and poverty.

Later in his life, Gordon Parks wrote a novel, The Learning Tree, which he also directed as a feature film. He was the director of the 1971 movie, Shaft. Gordon Parks became recognized, not only as an artist but also as a humanitarian.

 

 

Celebrating Women’s History Month

March6

Never be limited by other people’s limited imaginations.
-Mae Jemison, Astronaut

 

Susan Hood has written over two hundred children’s books, and her most recent is Shaking Things Up: 14 Young Women Who Changed the World (Harper). The author introduces readers to women and girls whose accomplishments are inspirational to people of all ages and genders. There is a timeline of those featured that ranges from the 1780s to 2014. Right after the American Revolution, Molly Williams, a servant of a volunteer firefighter, hauled a pumper truck and fought a blazing fire on her own. Molly was awarded a volunteer badge, but there wasn’t another female firefighter in New York City until 1982.  Malala Yousafzai received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 for standing up to the Taliban and declaring that girls had a right to an education. Susan Hood writes about twelve other scientists, artists, athletes, and ordinary women and girls who believed in themselves. The illustrations in Shaking Things Up are by a number of noted artists.

The author describes her motivation for writing this book in the Author’s Note:
Over the years, politics, religion, and “polite society” have tried to define what a woman should be, tried to restrict our behavior, speech, rights, aspirations, and even choice of clothing. But women have faced adversity head-on – defying poverty, illness, war, and discrimination – to change the world for men and women alike.

 

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

 

The Atomic Bomb

November16

There are some books that are beautiful and important, but it’s difficult to get them to the correct readers. The Secret Project (Beach Lane) falls into that category because it appears to be a picture book, yet it is about the Manhattan Project and the development of the atomic bomb. The mother and son team of Jeanette and Jonah Winter collaborated on this powerful book. Because it is non-fiction in a picture book format, older students who study the topic might not check it out. The challenge is for adults to share The Secret Project with the appropriate audience.

During WWII, when the Head of the Los Alamos Ranch School received a letter from the United States government, he was told to close the school because the land was being taken. The school was in an ideal location for the government to locate scientists who were working on a top-secret project. The area surrounding the elite boys’ school was chosen because of the desert location. The school’s buildings were used to house the scientists who came from all over the world. Workers who were brought in to cook, or clean, or guard had no idea what the nature of the work at “Site Y” involved.

When the first atomic bomb was tested in another desert area of southern New Mexico at the White Sands Missile Range, windows broke 120 miles away. The mushroom cloud was close to 7 miles high, and the world would never be the same.

The Winters handle this topic in sparse text and simple illustrations in The Secret Project. The Author’s Note in the back of the book gives many details about the project and the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Roosevelt and Muir

October13

It took more than three thousand years to make some of the trees in these Western woods – God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches…but he cannot save them from fools – only Uncle Sam can do that!  John Muir, 1901

Years ago, I took my children to Muir Woods to see the colossal redwoods. I was reminded of that visit when I read The Camping Trip That Changed America: Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, and Our National Parks by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein (Dial).

In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt wrote a letter to John Muir, a world-renown naturalist. He wanted Muir to take him on a camping trip. Roosevelt wrote “I do not want anyone with me but you, and I want to drop politics absolutely for four days and just be out in the open with you.” Muir later wrote that he wanted to refuse Roosevelt because he was weary of giving tours to people who didn’t understand the need to protect the wild lands. Thank goodness, John Muir changed his mind, or there might not have been the Muir Woods that I enjoyed with my boys.

In the middle of May, Roosevelt and Muir traveled high into the woods and then high into the mountains to Glacier Point. While three men accompanied them as packers and cooks, Roosevelt and Muir rode and hiked alone. They slept under the trees, and one evening, they encountered a spring snowstorm.

When Roosevelt returned to Washington, D.C., he was profoundly moved by his experiences with Muir. The President designated 18 areas of land as National Monuments, that put them under federal protection. During his presidency, 55 bird sanctuaries and game preserves were also founded.

(Photo courtesy of the National Park Service)

The Great Molasses Flood

March31

If you go to Langone Park, a waterfront park in the North End of Boston, be sure to look for a plaque that reads

Boston Molasses Flood
On January 15, 1919, a molasses tank at 529 Commercial Street exploded under pressure, killing 21 people. A 40-foot wave of molasses buckled the elevated railroad tracks, crushed buildings and inundated the neighborhood. Structural defects in the tank combined with unseasonably warm temperatures contributed to the disaster.

Try to imagine what happened on that day. A tank, 50 feet tall and 90 feet in diameter, containing about 2,300,000 gallons of molasses, collapsed. The molasses came out of the tanks in waves. At the peak of this accident, the waves of molasses rose up as much as 25 feet and traveled at 35 miles per hour, covering everything in their wake with a brown sticky substance. Buildings near the tank were knocked off their foundations and destroyed. Girders that were part of an elevated subway structure were bent and distorted. The buildings and train structure represented the material damage. The human toll was even sadder. There were the 21 people who died, and at least 150 others were injured. Many horses, dogs and cats also perished.

Many in the city rushed to the rescue – cadets from a training ship, the Boston Police, workers from the Red Cross, the Army, and the Navy. The cleanup took weeks in the city of Boston, but it took much longer to get rid of the molasses that had been tracked to other locals.

The Great Molasses Flood by Deborah Kops (Charlesbridge, 2012)

For adults: Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919 by Stephen Puleo, an historian and Boston Globe reporter, wrote (Beacon Press).

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.

Education and Segregation

October21

One of the rights of passage for our eighth graders is their study of the United States Constitution and Supreme Court cases. Every year, one of the popular choices to study is the 1954 decision of Brown v. Board of Education. In this decision, the US Supreme Court made school segregation unconstitutional, saying separate is never equal. While this case is well known, there was an important trial over a hundred years previous to Brown. The Massachusetts case, Roberts v. City of Boston, began the fight for an equal education for all children.

firstThe First Step: How One Girl Put Segregation on Trial by Susan E. Goodman, illustrated by E. B. Lewis (Bloomsbury) introduces Sarah Roberts, a young African-American girl who was evicted from the Otis School because it was only for white children. The Otis School was close to Sarah’s home, but Boston had a rule that children who weren’t white had to go to a separate school that was just for them. The school that Sarah was told to go to was the Smith School, which was far away from her home. The Smith School only owned one book, subjects like history and drawing weren’t taught, and there was no area to play outside.

Adeline and Benjamin Roberts decided to fight for their daughter’s education, and they hired a young African-American attorney, Robert Morris. The case was filed in 1848, yet it wasn’t until late in 1849 that it was heard in court. By then, Morris had asked Charles Sumner, a lawyer and staunch abolitionist, to help him. The two attorneys, one black and one white, argued that Boston children should attend schools that were closest to their homes. Sumner spoke eloquently and said that all children deserved an equal education. The Massachusetts Supreme Court announced the decision in 1850 that segregated schools were legal.

Sarah’s father went on to fight for equal education outside of the legal system. He traveled around Massachusetts to speak on the subject. Wherever he went, he passed out copies of Charles Sumner’s speech from court and carried petitions to be signed. In 1855, Boston became the first major city to officially integrate the public schools.

segregation-brown-v-board-of-educationFast forward to the 1950s…Linda Brown had a long and arduous journey to school in Topeka, Kansas. Her parents joined with other families and called the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) to file a suit. The better school that was closest to her home was only for white children. It was the Charles Sumner School. Serendipitous?

In this informative and intriguing account about the fight for educational equality for all children, Susan Goodman writes about taking steps forward and then steps back throughout history. As a Boston resident, the author includes a timeline with information about the busing crisis during the 1970s. There are other valuable sections at the back of the book when Goodman writes about what happened to those involved in the Roberts’ case. She also describes her research and sources. The illustrator, E. B. Lewis has won much recognition for his artwork.

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.

November 1963

November7

swansonI was in the fifth grade on November 22, 1963. I still have a vivid memory of my teacher coming into our classroom after speaking to other teachers in the hallway. It was the first time that I had ever seen a teacher cry, and she shared the news that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated. We were sent home from school early, and I spent the rest of the weekend watching television with my family. There was no shielding children from this national nightmare, and many of us were also watching the live coverage when Lee Harvey Oswald was also killed.

o'reillyThis has become history for today’s middle school students, but there are two recent books that bring this history to life – “The President Has Been Shot!”: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy by James L. Swanson (Scholastic Press, 2013) and Kennedy’s Last Days: The Assassination That Defined a Generation by Bill O’Reilly (Henry Holt, 2013). O’Reilly’s volume is adapted from his title, Killing Kennedy. Both Swanson and O’Reilly have chronicled this major event for adults and young adults alike.

 

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