Read On!

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

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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