Read On!

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

Frankenstein

October11

“The companions of our childhood always possess a certain power over our minds which hardly any later friend can obtain.” Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

As we celebrate October and the Halloween season, it’s interesting to present some books that explain the foundation for related myths and ideas.

Bailey, Linda. Mary Who Wrote Frankenstein, illustrated by Júlia Sardà (Tundra)

Fulton, Lynn. She Made a Monster: How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein, illustrated by Felicita Sala (Knopf)

 

“Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is not the same as the story most people know from the movies. Unlike the square-headed Hollywood monster with bolts in his neck, the creature in Mary’s book can speak and even read. He is lonely and longs to be part of a family, but because of his frightening appearance, he is hated and rejected by everyone, even his creator.”  Lynn Fulton, Author’s Note

When Mary Shelley was an infant, her mother died. As a young child, her father taught her the alphabet, and she would trace the letters on her mother’s tombstone. Mary’s mother had been a writer who believed in rights for women and democracy, revolutionary ideas for an 18th/19th-century woman.

Mary began the writing of Frankenstein when she vacationed in Switzerland with friends. One of the members of the group was Percy Shelley, already a noted poet and her future husband. On a dark and stormy night, the friends read harrowing tales and challenged each other to write ghost stories. Mary had heard of a corpse moving through the use of electricity. She thought of creating a monster but also wondered how the monster might feel.

The subtitle of Frankenstein is The Modern Prometheus. In Greek mythology, Prometheus is a trickster who created a man from clay. His name is also associated with scientific curiosity and unintended consequences. This became part of Mary’s metaphor in Frankenstein.

Mary’s novel was published when she was twenty years old. There were only five hundred copies printed of the first edition, but the news of her imaginative tale of Frankenstein soon spread. The publisher soon reprinted it. While Mary Shelley wrote numerous other works and continued to speak about women’s roles in society, she is best known for Frankenstein.

Linda Bailey and Lynn Fulton have both created picture book biographies that chronicle Mary Shelley’s life.

Ken Jennings

October4

Jennings, Ken, Ancient Egypt illustrated by Mike Lowery (Little Simon).

This past spring many families who had never tuned in to the game show, Jeopardy, followed the news about James Holzhauer, a contestant who had an amazing winning streak. Holzhauer amassed a great deal of money as his winnings, and he was eventually defeated by Emma Boettcher (a librarian!). The furor over Holzhauer’s wins was because many viewers wondered whether he would beat previous winner Ken Jennings’ records of wins and cash. Ken Jennings remains the top Jeopardy winner with 74 consecutive wins. He earned $3,522,700.00 on the show.

Jennings is not just a Jeopardy champion. He was a software engineer before he appeared on the program, but now he is a best-selling author. While his adult trivia books have been on bestseller lists, his children’s Junior Genius Guides are popular among our students. The guides sound like Jeopardy categories as he has written about dinosaurs, Greek mythology, U.S. Presidents, the human body, maps and geography, outer space, and Ancient Egypt.

The format of the Junior Genius Guides delights young and not so young readers since Jennings writes with humor and language that appeals to today’s readers. He begins his discussion of the First Period in Ancient Egypt with the following:

…And now we’re in the year 3500 BC, the very end of the Stone Age. Here are some things that haven’t been invented yet:
Bronze
Written Language
The wheel
The world population is less than fifteen million. In our time that’s about the population of the Los Angeles area. But here in 3500 BC, that’s every single human being on earth.

His guide on Ancient Egypt is one of the nominees for this year’s Massachusetts Children’s Book Award.

An Amazing Octopus

September20

Inky’s Amazing Escape: How a Very Smart Octopus Found His Way Home by Sy Montgomery, illustrated by Amy Schimler-Safford (Simon & Schuster)

Author and naturalist Sy Montgomery has written twenty-six books for children and adults. She travels far and wide to constantly learn about animals and their behavior. Her latest book chronicles the true story of an octopus who escaped from the National Aquarium in Wellington, New Zealand.

When a lobsterman pulled his pot and found an injured octopus inside, he brought the octopus to the National Aquarium. The staff there named him Inky because an octopus squirts ink for protection. An octopus is naturally curious and moves about freely in the ocean. Inky recovered from his injury and soon became a favorite among visitors.

An octopus can …change shape. Octopuses have no bones, so they can squeeze their squishy, baggy bodies into tiny spaces. A 100-pound octopus can squeeze through an opening the size of an orange! (Sy Montgomery)

One night, the lid to Inky’s tank wasn’t closed completely. He slipped out of his tank, crossed the floor, and went down a drain that emptied to the ocean. The next morning, his keeper followed his tracks and checked the empty drain. Inky had escaped.

Sy Montgomery shares fascinating facts about octopuses in this color work of non-fiction.

Steve Jenkins

May23

Steve Jenkins writes cool books. There’s no better way to describe his creations that are so appealing to children. He presents information in a format that entertains his readers as he educates them. Growing up as the son of a science professor, Jenkins has been interested in the natural world since he was a young boy. His work is characterized by that childhood wonder.

Bones (Scholastic, 2010) is one of Steve Jenkins’  titles where he uses cut paper collage to illustrate the differences between human and animal bones. The author depicts many of the bones in their actual size.

While Jenkins has written and illustrated many previous titles, the book that our readers enjoy the most is Actual Size (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2004). The colorful artwork in Actual Size is torn and cut paper collage, and the illustrations depict all or a part of some animals and insects. The cover alone will intrigue readers.

Some of Steve Jenkins’ other cool books are Eye to Eye: How Animals See the World (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2014), Animals Upside Down (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2013) and Never Smile at a Monkey: And 17 Other Important Things to Remember (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2009). He has written many, many others. He has an interesting video on his website about how he constructs his books.

(This is an edited version of a previous blog post.)

 

 

 

An Early Environmentalist

May17

There have been many engaging biographies published in recent years. One of the major units that I share with our Fourth Graders is entitled “People Who Make a Difference.” We read picture book biographies about athletes, artists, statesmen, activists, and others who forged the way in civil rights and human rights.

While I grew up watching National Geographic specials that Cousteau had produced (and singing John Denver’s song, “Calypso”), few children today know about Cousteau and his work.

tlccontentManfish: a story of Jacques Cousteau by Jennifer Berne, illustrated by Eric Puybaret (Chronicle, 2008) introduces young readers to this icon by depicting him as a young boy with a love of the ocean and cameras. The author captivates young readers as she introduces Cousteau’s inventions and experiences like the aqualung and other scuba gear, the use of underwater cameras, the diving saucer, and the sea flea.

tlccontent-1In The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau by Dan Yaccarino (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2009), the author/illustrator inserts short quotes by Cousteau as he chronicles the adventurer’s life.

…And here’s another with John Denver’s song “Calypso” and Cousteau’s work:

(This is an edited version of a blog post that I wrote a number of years ago.)

The Landlord’s Game or Monopoly

April18

Monopoly = The exclusive possession or control of the supply or trade of a commodity or service. (Scott Nearing)

Pass Go and Collect $200: The Real Story of How Monopoly Was Invented (Henry Holt) by Tanya Lee Stone, illustrated by Steven Salerno

Families have played the board game, Monopoly, for over 80 years. One might assume that there was a single inventor who came up with the idea for the game. However, the development and history of this popular amusement are tangled up in a number of ways.

In 1904, a progressive woman, Lizzie Magie, received a patent for the Landlord’s Game. She had developed this competitive board game mainly for adults and children, and her purpose was to demonstrate the unfairness between landlords and tenants. Many of the details of Monopoly, as we know it, were part of her game – four railroads, properties with sale and rental prices, and jail. Lizzie had a number of her game boards manufactured and sold. When she approached the Parker Brothers game company to purchase, manufacture, and sell the Landlord’s Game, they turned her down. Lizzie was savvy enough to renew her patent on the game in future years.

Scott Nearing bought one of Lizzie’s game boards and brought it to the students in his business classes at the University of Pennsylvania. He used it as a way to teach about ownership, and Nearing and his students began to call it Monopoly. Students from his class began making their own copies of the game board to play outside of class…and their friends made copies…and their friends made copies.

One teacher, Ruth Haskins, and her friends added the names of properties in their neighborhood to their homemade board. Their properties represented Atlantic City – St. Charles Place, Ventnor Avenue, and Boardwalk.

During the Great Depression, Charles Darrow played the game of Monopoly at a friend’s house and borrowed the board to make his own. He, too, made his own changes and created stencils for the Chance question marks, the Water Works faucet, the Electric Company light bulb, and the railroad trains. Charles found a market for his newly improved game when a major department store sold many during one Christmas season. Even though the Parker Brothers had also turned Darrow down, this success changed their minds. However, even though the game had been changed, the Parker Brothers recognized it as being a version of Lizzie Magie’s original idea. They bought the rights from her for $500 in 1935. Charles Darrow was listed as the inventor of Monopoly when the game was manufactured.

The Washington Post published an interesting article about the origins of the game.

Reconciliation, Forgiveness, and Peace

January25

 

 

One of the most significant events for the United States during the 1940s was the Japanese bombing Pearl Harbor. The 1941 tragedy catapulted the United States into World War II, and it is chronicled in history books. However, there was one bombing on the mainland of the United States by Japan, and few Americans or Japanese know this part of history. Author, Marc Tyler Nobleman, and illustrator, Melissa Iwai, introduce this story in their picture book collaboration, Thirty Minutes Over Oregon: A Japanese Pilot’s World War II Story (Clarion).

In September of 1942, Nobuo Fujita flew two bombing missions over Brookings, Oregon. His plane was catapulted off of a Japanese submarine that was cruising along the coast. Nobuo Fujita and his navigator dropped two bombs in the heavily wooded mountains of Oregon during each mission. The plan was that these would cause a massive forest fire that would spread to Oregonian towns and cities. Neither the first bombing flight nor the second, twenty days later, were successful, and few Americans heard about the mission. After the first bombing, there was a small fire that forest rangers put out. They thought that it was caused by lightning until they uncovered metal fragments with Japanese markings. The townsfolk in Brookings were concerned, but the U.S. government looked upon these as isolated incidents.

When the war ended, Nobuo returned to his family in Japan and opened a hardware store. Even though he never discussed his missions, the events weighed on him.

The residents of Brookings never forgot this piece of their town’s history, and in 1962, the Brookings Jaycees tracked down the Japanese bomber and invited him to their town. Not all residents were in favor of hosting a former enemy, but they were convinced that it would be a symbol of reconciliation. Nobuo arrived with his son and daughter to serve as his translators, and he apologized for his and his country’s actions. Years later, Nobuo paid for three Brookings high school students to visit him in Tokyo. He returned three more times to Brookings and was made an honorary citizen just before his death. Some of his ashes were sprinkled in the woods that he bombed.

Nobuo Fujita’s relationship with Brookings, Oregon became a symbol of reconciliation, forgiveness, and peace. Readers of all ages should know this story.

(Photo credits: Wikipedia and Offbeat Oregon)

This video shows a display in Brookings and the bombing site:

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.

 

 

Fiona the Hippo

October2

There are some books that just make you smile. Saving Fiona: The Story of the Worlds’ Most Famous Baby Hippo by Thane Maynard (HMH) is one of those. Fiona was born prematurely at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden on January 24, 2017. When baby hippopotami are born, they usually weigh between 55 and 120 pounds, but Fiona only weighed 29 pounds. The journey to save Fiona became a social media sensation, as people all over the world cheered for her to survive.

Survive she did, and Thane Maynard has chronicled her progress in Saving Fiona. In the information about the author, who is the Director of the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, Maynard wrote that the love that is shown Fiona is unlike anything that he’s seen in his work.
“As she has grown up, Fiona has proven that she puts the ‘fat’ in indefatigable!”

 

An Early Environmentalist

April5

There have been many engaging biographies published in recent years. One of the major units that I share with our Fourth Graders is entitled “People Who Make a Difference.” We read picture book biographies about athletes, artists, statesmen, activists, and others who forged the way for civil rights and human rights. I want to share this post that I originally wrote in 2012 because it is still so timely.

The students were especially interested to learn about Jacques Cousteau. While I grew up watching National Geographic specials that Cousteau had produced (and singing John Denver’s song, “Calypso”), few children today know about Cousteau and his work.

tlccontentManfish: a story of Jacques Cousteau by Jennifer Berne, illustrated by Eric Puybaret (Chronicle, 2008) introduces young readers to this icon by depicting him as a young boy with a love of the ocean and cameras. The author captivates young readers as she introduces Cousteau’s inventions and experiences like the aqualung and other scuba gear, the use of underwater cameras, the diving saucer, and the sea flea.

In The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau by Dan Yaccarino (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2009), the author/illustrator inserts short quotes by Cousteau as he chronicles the adventurer’s life. tlccontent-1

Here’s a video on Jacques Cousteau’s work with John Denver’s song “Calypso”.

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