Read On!

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

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.

MACBA Nominees

November7

If the name Ken Jennings sounds familiar to you, then you might be a fan of the television show, Jeopardy. Jennings holds the record for the longest winning streak on Jeopardy with 74 straight wins. Today’s intermediate readers know him for one of this year’s Massachusetts Children’s Book Award nominated books, Ken Jennings’ Junior Genius Guides: Maps and Geography, illustrated by Mike Lowery (Little Simon). It’s interesting to ask the students if they like this book because it’s difficult for some to read non-fiction, especially non-fiction that appears to be about disparate topics. Others enjoy the randomness of the facts that they learn from Jennings. Lowery’s illustrations that accompany the topics are similar to those of Jeff Kinney’s in his “Wimpy Kid” books.

Another non-fiction nominee this year is Coral Reefs: Cities of the Ocean (First Second) by Maris Wicks. The author/illustrator uses a graphic format to describe many of the fish and creatures that can be found in a coral reef.

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)

John Lewis

April19

March: Book Three by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate Powell (Top Shelf Productions)

The U.S. Representative for Georgia’s Fifth Congressional District is John Lewis. Long before he became a Representative, Lewis was a leader in the Civil Rights Movement. In 1959, when he was a student at American Baptist Theological Seminary, he organized sit-ins in Nashville, Tennessee at segregated lunch counters. Lewis became one of the “Freedom Riders” who challenged segregation on southern buses. He was one of the principle speakers in the 1963 March on Washington. On March 7, 1965, Lewis led over 600 peaceful protestors as they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. While the demonstrators intended to march from Selma to Montgomery to bring awareness to the need for voting rights in Tennessee, they never finished their march. Instead, they were attacked by Alabama state troopers who used billy clubs and tear gas on the peaceful demonstrators. The day became known as “Bloody Sunday,” as national news teams covered the event. The public awareness of the cruelty of this day helped to persuade Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

John Lewis chronicled his earlier years in the Civil Rights Movement with a trilogy for young adults entitled March. The books are written and illustrated as graphic narratives. The illustrator, Nate Powell, used black, white, and gray to evoke the somber events in striking images. While reviewers have praised the first two books in this series, March: Book Three has earned numerous awards. In 2016, it was the first graphic novel to win the National Book Award. The American Library Association recognized it this past January with a number of awards: the Corretta Scott King Book Award which recognizes an African American author, the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award, and the YALSA Award for excellence in young-adult nonfiction.

Image result for john lewis with obama on selma march

(AP Photo)

Young adults need to read this book to understand John Lewis’ work and legacy. He remained and advocate for nonviolence, despite the fact that he was physically attacked and seriously injured during protests. He was arrested over 40 times. He continues to be a strong voice in our democracy. On March 7, 2015, he walked with others to commemorate the Selma march.

For our younger readers, there is an informative picture book biography, Preaching to the Chickens: The Story of Young John Lewis by Jabari Ism (Nancy Paulsen Books).

John Lewis has published adult titles including Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement, Wake Up America 1940-60, and Across That Bridge: Life Lessons and a Vision for Change.

 

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).

Bird Brain

February9

When I was in elementary school, I remember one of my teachers telling our class that if one is called a “bird brain” that is actually a compliment. My teacher went on to compare the size of  birds’ brains to all that they learn to do to survive. She also gave us a lesson on instinct and learned behavior. Pamela S. Turner takes the “bird brain” analogy even further in her new book, Crow Smarts: Inside the Brain of the World’s Brightest Bird (HMH).

 

The author chronicles the work of Dr. Gavin Hunt and his team on the Pacific archipelago, as they study the New Caledonian crows. Because of the knowledge that the scientists have gathered, they now compare the intelligence of crows to that of dolphins, monkeys, and chimpanzees. These crows use tools to obtain food, and they even manufacture their own tool kits.

 

Crow Smarts is the latest release in the outstanding Scientists in the Field Series by the publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Andy Comins has collaborated on other books in the series. His color photographs in Crow Smarts demonstrate his talent for bringing science to life for children and adults. The art of Guido De Filippo further enhances this informative book.

Bar-tailed Godwits

November22

circleBar-tailed godwits’ tale of migration is extraordinary, even compared to other shorebirds’ migrations. Each year, the godwits fly from their northern home in Alaska to their southern home in Australia and New Zealand. They make this 7,000 mile journey before the Arctic winter begins. When they return to the north, they stop to feed in the wetlands of Asia.

Jeannie Baker’s latest book, Circle (Candlewick Press), is a lovely testimony to these amazing birds and their journeys. Her art is depicted in stunning collage. Besides depicting the birds, she also adds in a young, physically challenged boy who dreams of flying.

The Global Flyway Network unites researchers who devote their work to studying bird migrations all over the world.

Jeannie Baker describes her art in Circle in the following video.

Enjoy this description of bar-tailed godwits!

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.

The First NYC Subway

October7

beachReaders, both children and adults, can learn some amazing facts from books that are published primarily for children. An interesting example of this is The Secret Subway by Shana Corey, illustrated by Chris Sickels of Red Nose Studio (Wade Books). While I’m wary of using too many superlatives when I write about books because they can be overused, this book is a true original. The subject is little known to most people, and the illustrations are very unique.

Alfred Ely Beach was a dreamer and an inventor in the 1860s. He was also a publisher whose father owned a newspaper, and most importantly, he was a man of action. Beach imagined building a train powered by an enormous fan underground where there was no traffic. At first, he was denied the permits from the city. So, he proposed a mail tube instead. He got Boss Tweed, New York City’s powerful and unofficial mayor to approve of his plan, so the actual city offices agreed to his construction.

Beach secretly moved out all of his excavated materials at night so that no one would question the enormity of his project. He turned his underground tunnel into a tourist attraction. It was later closed when Boss Tweed rewarded his friends with building more transports underground.

The talented illustrator, Chris Sickels, develops his art as Red Nose Studio. He tells stories through puppets and animation.

I just have to share two videos. One is about Alfred Ely Beach and his underground invention. The other is a clip that shows Chris Sickels’ work on The Secret Subway. Both videos have the same opening picture, but they are different.

Great White Sharks

September13

great-whiteThe estimated number of sharks (about 500 species) worldwide is 7 billion.

The estimated number of humans (just one species) worldwide is 7 billion.

The average number of people killed by sharks of all species yearly, worldwide is about 11.

The number of sharks of all species killed by people yearly, worldwide is 100 million.

(Information taken from The Great White Shark Scientist)

Living along the East Coast, and especially in Massachusetts, we often hear about great white shark sightings. During our warmer months, there are often advisories that there have been shark sightings off of Cape Cod, especially near Chatham’s and Orleans’ beaches.

Sy Montgomery, a talented non-fiction writer, has chronicled the latest research about great whites in her newest book, The Great White Shark Scientist (HMH). Photographs by Keith Ellenbogen complement her text, and she brings her knowledge to life for her readers.

While we usually fear sharks, and great whites especially, Montgomery supplies some interesting information that puts these fears into perspective. Some of her facts are given with a bit of humor.

Number of Americans killed by shark bite between 1984 and 1987: 4

Number of New Yorkers bitten by humans during same period: nearly 1,600

“The Atlantic White Shark Conservancy (AWSC) was established to support white shark research and education programs to ensure that this important species thrives.”  There is a shark center in Chatham where children and adults can learn more about this special species.

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