Read On!

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

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.

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.

 

 

Caldecott Award 2019

January31

It’s awards’ season for all of us who are involved with books for children and young adults. On Monday, the American Library Association (ALA) announced their choices for the 2019 Newbery, Caldecott, Coretta Scott King Award, and numerous others for outstanding books, authors, and illustrators.

This week, I would like to introduce the winner and honor books of the 2019 Caldecott Award. This award “was named in honor of nineteenth-century English illustrator Randolph Caldecott.” (ALA) An interesting aspect of this award is that it is given to the illustrator of the chosen picture book, and not the author. Many times, the illustrator is the author, but not always. While it’s difficult to judge a picture book without considering the text, the committee is required to evaluate the visual experience of the book and whether the illustrations unite the story-line, themes, or concepts.

There’s often a great deal of discussion among professionals in the children’s literature field about the winner and honor books. Publishers look at the books differently than the illustrators, and librarians and teachers have their own ideas. It’s important to remember that a committee made the choice, and the members compromise to come to an agreement. That’s not to say this year’s choices are not fine selections, but it’s important to understand the process.

The 2019 Caldecott Award was given to Sophie Blackall for Hello Lighthouse (Little Brown). Blackall wrote and illustrated the picture book that chronicles the life of a lighthouse keeper. For her book, Blackall used ideas from logs that she found during her research on lighthouses. While depicting the daily life in a lighthouse, Blackall also depicts the passing of seasons. Throughout all of the challenges that weather brings, the lighthouse stands tall as a beacon to light the way for those traveling on the ocean. Blackall’s Chinese ink and watercolor illustrations are not only detailed, but they also depict the structure from numerous perspectives.

This was the second Caldecott Award for Sophie Blackall. She won it in 2016 for her illustrations in Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear written by Lindsay Mattick (Little Brown).

There were four books that were recognized as Caldecott Honor Books in 2019.

Alma and How She Got Her Name, written and illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal (Candlewick)
A Big Mooncake for Little Star, written and illustrated by Grace Lin (Little Brown)
The Rough Patch, written and illustrated by Brian Lies (Greenwillow)
Thank You, Omu! written and illustrated by Oge Mora (Little Brown)

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Charley Harper

October19

You should always be doing something that satisfies you, what makes you feel good inside. 
― Charley Harper from Charley Harper: An Illustrated Life

Michelle Houts introduces intermediate and middle school readers to Harper in Count the Wings: The Life and Art of Charley Harper (Ohio University Press). The author was given total access to Charley’s childhood photographs, letters, grade cards, art school documents, wedding pictures, awards, and commendations by his son, Brett

Houts narrates the life story of this West Virginia farm boy who never had a formal art class until after high school. When he was young, Charley enjoyed sketching and observing nature. The author learned an anecdote about his schooling:

He was a good student, but he quickly figured out that he could get even better grades in both English and history if he added a few illustrations to his homework papers. Charley liked to tell the story of how he once saved his history grade by drawing all the presidents. (Houts, p.9)

After a short attendance at West Virginia Wesleyan College, Charley took a life-changing risk and moved to enroll in the Art Academy of Cincinnati. Not only did this educational experience open up the world of art to him, but he also met Edith McKee who became his wife. As artists, they challenged and supported each other.

When Charley joined the army during WWII, his commanders recognized his ability to draw. He joined an intelligence and reconnaissance platoon. As a scout, he was responsible for drawing “quick, accurate sketches of the area.” He also drew and painted scenes that depicted the people and areas through which he traveled. When he returned to the U.S., Harper took advantage of the GI Bill, and he enrolled at the Art Students League in New York City. Because of all of these life experiences, Charley had found his style, and he went on to build his outstanding body of work.

When Charley Harper drew a bird, he reduced the bird down into shapes of circles and triangles. His style is now recognized as “minimal realism.” In describing his style, Harper said, “When I look at a wildlife or nature subject, I don’t see the feathers in the wings, I just count the wings. I see exciting shapes, color combinations, patterns, textures, fascinating behavior and endless possibilities for making interesting pictures.”

Michelle Houts biography is a fine companion to some of our art books on this talented artist.

 

 

The Slinky

March3

There are certain television and radio commercials with which I can identify from when I was a child. Even today, when I hear certain melodies, they take me back through the years. A recently published book, The Marvelous Thing That Came From a Spring (Atheneum), evokes that same nostalgia for me. Gilbert Ford wrote and illustrated this entertaining story whose subtitle is The Accidental Invention of the Toy That Swept the Nation.

In 1943, Richard James was an engineer who worked for the Navy, and his project was to invent a device “…that would keep fragile ship equipment from vibrating in choppy seas.” When a torsion spring fell off of a shelf and the coils bounced around, Richard was intrigued. Since it wasn’t the solution to his project, he took it home. He and his wife, Betty, watched their son, Tom, release the spring at the top of the stairs. They were all delighted when it seemed to walk down the stairs. Betty spent two days looking in a dictionary for a name for their new toy, and she decided on “Slinky.”

After Richard took a loan from a bank in order to produce his invention, he canvased Philadelphia, trying to convince toy stores to stock his new toy. He was repeatedly turned down, but he convinced the manager of Gimbels, a department store, to let him demonstrate his Slinky to holiday shoppers. The manager gave Richard one chance in November 1945. Richard had brought a board from home to serve as a ramp, and the shoppers were fascinated. Within ninety minutes, all of the four hundred Slinkys were sold.

Gilbert Ford’s art for this picture book biography is as ingenious as the Slinky. His illustrations were drawn, colored digitally, and then printed. Ford then assembled these illustrations into dioramas that included found objects. They were then photographed by Greg Endries.

Caldecott 2017

January27

January is an exciting month for authors, illustrators, publishers, librarians, and fans of literature for children and young adults. The American Library Association (ALA) announces their awards for outstanding books. ALA recognizes authors and illustrators in a number of categories, and the most well- known are the Caldecott and Newbery Awards. Both of these deserve their own discussion, so let’s start with the Caldecott Medal. This specifically recognizes an artist of the “most distinguished American picture book for children”.
The 2017 Caldecott Award was presented to Javaka Steptoe for Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat (Little Brown). Steptoe introduces the talented artist to elementary school students with sensitivity. He does include some of the challenges that Basquiat faced as a child, and in his author’s note at the back of the book, he mentions Basquiat’s death at age twenty-seven.

Steptoe’s illustrations are truly works of art in their own right. I always tell children that when I was a student, I didn’t read forwards or author’s notes. It wasn’t until years later, when I learned how much wonderful information can be included in them. Across from the title page in Radiant Child, Steptoe has written “About This Book”. The illustrator described his collage…
Like Jean-Michel Basquiat, I used bits of New York to create the artwork for this book. I painted on richly textured pieces of found wood harvested from discarded Brooklyn Museum exhibit materials, the dumpsters of Brooklyn brownstones, and the streets of Greenwich Village and the Lower East Side.
What a testament to Jean-Michel Basquiat!

…collage is a means of survival. It is how Black folks survived four hundred years of oppression, taking the scraps of life and transforming them into art forms.” Javaka Steptoe on his website
There were four other books that were named as Caldecott Honor books.
Leave Me Alone! illustrated and written by Vera Brosgol (Roaring Brook)

They All Saw a Cat, illustrated and written by Brendan Wenzel (Chronicle)

Du Iz Tak?, illustrated and written by Carson Ellis (Candlewick)

Freedom in Congo Square, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, written by Carole Boston Weatherford (Little Bee Books)

Jon Klassen

January12

Canadian Jon Klassen is the author and illustrator of a picture book trilogy about different animals and their hats. The first, I Want My Hat Back (Candlewick, 2011), entertained young readers with a bear who is searching for his hat. When it dawns on the bear that he saw it on a rabbit, he retrieves it. Young readers are left with deciding what happened to the small, furry thief. Did the bear really do something wicked to him?
“…I haven’t seen any rabbits anywhere. I would not eat a rabbit. Don’t ask me any more questions.

The second book This Is Not My Hat (Candlewick, 2012), is laugh-out-loud funny, and Klassen won the 2013 Caldecott Award for excellence in picture book illustration for his artwork. Young readers once again argue over what happened to the little fish who admitted to stealing a hat from a very large fish. The little fish believes that he’ll get away with his theft because only one crab knows where he will hide. The crab doesn’t keep his hiding place a secret. Did something happen to the little fish?

The trilogy ends with We Found a Hat (Candlewick, 2016) when two turtles find a hat together. Both feel that the hat looks wonderful on them, but it wouldn’t be fair for only one of them to own it. They leave the hat, but one turtle decides to go back for it when his friend is asleep. Does friendship win out over his desire for ownership?

In the second and third books, Klassen tells much of the story through the use of the characters’ eyes. The illustrations are spare, yet brilliant.

In this video, Klassen refers to a picture book by Mac Barnett, Sam and Dave Dig a Hole (Candlewick, 2014). Klassen received a Caldecott Honor Medal for these illustrations. He describes how to depict emotions with eyes.

Counting Lions

February26

One lion
    sits and watches his rough-and-tumble pride,
    He surveys the golden savanna, and a flicker catches his eye-
    something moving in the grass. A challenger to his throne?

lionsThus begins Katie Cotton’s free verse in Counting Lions, illustrated by Stephen Walton (Candlewick, 2015). This book certainly can’t be described simply as a counting book about endangered animals. That would limit its audience. Young, independent readers who are interested in animals, poetry, or art should also know Counting Lions. Cotton writes about the characteristics of each featured animal in her unrhymed poetry. Her words complement the stunning illustrations.

Virginia McKenna’s introduction discusses the plight of many threatened and endangered animals over the past one hundred years. She is an original founder of the wildlife protection organization Zoo Check that became the Born Free Foundation. While her narrative sends a strong environmental message, it explains important details to young science enthusiasts.

Counting Lions is all about the illustrations, which are charcoal portraits of endangered animals. It was astonishing to learn that Stephen Walton is a self-taught artist. He attributes his eye for detail to his photography, as each portrait is taken from one of his own photographs. Walton is the Supervisor at Bury Art Museum in Manchester, UK. On his website, he describes being surrounded by the landscapes of George Turner and John Constable, and the animal paintings by Edwin Henry Landseer. Do check out this time-lapse video of Walton drawing “King”, the cover image of the book.

Award Season

January15

Award Season

caldecott-medalOn one Monday morning every January, everyone who is involved with children’s books anxiously awaits the announcement of the awards that are given by the American Library Association. Librarians, teachers, students, authors, illustrators, booksellers, and publishers all wonder whether their favorites will be mentioned for the Caldecott and Newbery Awards or whether a little recognized book will be honored. Will we agree with the choices? Will there be controversy? Who will get the awards?

This year, the committees had a number of books from which to choose in many categories. As someone who promotes books to young people, I felt that there were many outstanding books published in 2015. The award that is nearest and dearest to me is the Randolph Caldecott Medal, which is given “to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.”

WinnieThe 2016 Caldecott winner is Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear, illustrated by Sophie Blackall and written by Lindsay Mattick (Little, Brown). I have especially shared this book with our third graders as an introduction to my Winnie-the-Pooh unit. This true story chronicles the life of a bear cub that became the inspiration for A.A. Milne’s classic, Winnie-the-Pooh. Harry Colebourn was a veterinarian in Canada. As a soldier during WWI, his unit was assigned to travel to England and France to care for the horses used in battle. On their train ride in Canada, Colebourn bought a bear cub that was being sold by a trapper at one of the train stops. He named the cub Winnipeg, and she became known as Winnie. Lindsay Mattick is the great-granddaughter of that soldier, and she wrote the story with a nod to the style that A.A. Milne used in Winnie-the-Pooh. She wrote little asides with her son asking questions, just as Milne’s son, Christopher Robin asked his father questions during his story. I am a huge fan of Sophie Blackall’s art and spirit. Her illustrations in the book are in watercolors to depict the history of Winnie. She used Chinese ink drawings for the present day author and her son.

win2It is with a bit of serendipity that there was another picture book written this year about Harry Colebourn and his pet. Sally M. Walker’s fictionalized account of Winnie’s origins is Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh (Macmillan). This version is interesting to pair with the Caldecott winner. The children became book critics as they examine the differences in the art and writing.

 

There were four books that are Caldecott Honor Books this year.

lastLast Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson (G. P. Putnam’s Sons)

Trombone

 

 

 

Trombone Shorty by Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, illustrated by Bryan Collier (Abrams Books for Young Readers)
voiceVoice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Ekua Holmes (Candlewick Press)

 

 

 

WaitingWaiting by Kevin Henkes (Greenwillow Books)

 

 

 

 

 

 

This year’s Newbery Award books also deserve a separate and future blog entry.



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