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.

 

 

Ernie Barnes – Athlete and Artist

May15

When I became an athlete, I didn’t stop being an artist. – Ernie Barnes

Between the Lines: How Ernie Barnes Went from the Football Field to the Art Gallery by Sandra Neil Wallace, illustrated by Bryan Collier (Simon & Schuster)

Perhaps it was kismet that Ernest Barnes (1938-2009) was born in 1938 on July 15th, the same date that Rembrandt was born in 1606. Ernest was a shy child who drew in the mud. He marveled at the paintings at the house where his mother was a housekeeper when he accompanied her to work. His mother knew of his love of art, and she also knew that Ernest wouldn’t be welcomed into art museums in the segregated South. As a plump and timid boy, he was sometimes taunted and bullied. Ernest began to carry a sketchbook with him, to escape that reality. He chronicled the everyday life that he saw – the junk man and families walking home from church.

When he was in high school, a weight coach discovered him off by himself and drawing. The coach convinced 6’3” Ernest to begin to fitness train in order to feel better about himself. He then joined the football team and excelled at the sport. By his senior year, he was the captain of the team, and he received twenty-six offers of scholarships from colleges to play football. Choosing North Carolina College at Durham, Ernest played football and studied art. One of his art teachers, Mr. Wilson, encouraged him to continue to look all around him and be inspired by what he saw.

Ernest was drafted to play professional football, and that’s when he became known as Ernie. Even when he was on the bench or in the midst of a game, he was inspired by the color and action around him. The sideline images inspired him to paint The Bench, which became a major piece in Barnes’ body of work. He never sold The Bench, and it is now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

When his football career ended, Ernie was finally able to devote his life to his art. He continued to explore the beauty in scenes of everyday life. His work is characterized by movement and color. Ernie was asked to be the official artist of the 1984 Olympic Games because art critics called him “America’s best painter of sports”. However, Ernie tackled many subjects other than sports. His painting, Sugar Shack, appeared each week at the end of the popular 1970s television show, Good Times. When the star of the show, JJ, became an artist, it was Ernie’s paintings that were used. Marvin Gaye also featured Sugar Shack as the cover of his album, I Want You.

When he was in college, Ernie was at an art museum and questioned why artists of color weren’t represented there. A docent answered him, “Your people don’t express themselves in that way.” Ernie knew this wasn’t true, and today his work is owned and displayed by museums all over the United States.

Author Sandra Neil Wallace and illustrator Bryan Collier teamed up to introduce Ernie Barnes to young people. Adults should check out Between the Lines to share it with children and enjoy it themselves.

Zaha Hadid

May11

I think the best way to present history to children is through good, accurate storytelling. – Jeanette Winter

Through her picture books, Jeanette Winter has introduced children and adults to many notable people. One of her latest is The World Is Not a Rectangle (Beach Lane Books). In this colorfully illustrated picture book biography, Winter profiles Zaha Hadid, an exceptional architect from Iraq.

Growing up in Baghdad, Zaha noticed patterns and shapes and colors, both natural and manmade. After she studied mathematics at the American University of Beirut, Zaha moved to London to earn a degree at Architectural Association School of Architecture, and she never looked back. Zaha opened her own office and designed and designed. Her mantra was “The world is not a rectangle.”

It took time to convince people to build one of her designs. Even though she won competition after competition for her ideas, no one was brave enough to agree to use her plans.

Hadid means iron in Arabic,
And Zaha is strong as iron.
She keeps on working – one plan after another.
“I made a conscious decision not to stop.” – The World Is Not a Rectangle

One of the first buildings to be constructed from Hadid’s design was the Vitra Fire Station in Weil am Rhein, Germany. The building was never used as a fire station, and it is now an exhibit space for architects. However, Hadid’s career was launched, and she went on to build unique buildings all over the world.

(Image from Wikmedia Commons)

Muddy Waters

April27

Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters (Atheneum Books for Young Readers) is written by Michael Mahin and illustrated by Evan Turk.

As a child, Mckinley Morganfield (1915? -1983) loved to play in the muddy water near his Mississippi home, and his Grandma Della nicknamed him Muddy. He was first introduced to music when he went to church with her, but that wasn’t the music that spoke to him. Muddy loved the blues, and when he was 17 years old, he purchased his first guitar, a Stella.

For a number of years, Muddy worked at sharecropping during the week while he played in juke joints on the weekend. These were often ramshackle buildings where African-Americans enjoyed music and dancing because they were barred from white establishments. Eventually, Muddy headed north to Chicago to make a better life. He played in clubs for very little money and kept experimenting with blues that came from his soul.

Record producer, Leonard Chess, told him that he had one chance to succeed or fail with his style as he cut a record. Chess wasn’t convinced that anyone would appreciate Muddy’s sound, so he only printed three thousand copies of the record. Folks in the south side of Chicago immediately felt something special in Muddy’s style, and the record sold out in twenty-four hours. Muddy was on his way. Muddy rose from those southern roots where he faced blatant racism and segregation to sing about them with his own Blues.

In the author’s note, Mahin wrote:

When the Beatles came to the United States for the first time in 1964, they were about to become the biggest band in the world. They were asked whom they most wanted to meet. They could have said anyone. But they said, “Muddy Waters and Bo Diddley.” The American reporters replied, “Muddy Waters? Where’s that?” And the Beatles, witty as always, shot back, “Don’t you know who your own famous people are here?”

Here is a recording that he made with that other popular British band, The Rolling Stones:

Mustaches for Maddie

April20

A few months ago, I was sent a novel from Chris Schoebinger at Shadow Mountain Publishing. After I read it, I’ve shared it with some readers who have enjoyed it as much as I did. I now have a waiting list to read it. Mustaches for Maddie (2017) was written by Chad Morris and Shelly Brown. The authors tell the story of their daughter, Maddie, and her struggles with a serious medical condition. (No spoilers here!) Maddie loves mustaches, and she has many different ones that she puts on to brighten up her day or lighten up a situation.

Maddie faces navigating the social mores of sixth grade that so many children of her age encounter. She wants to be friends with Cassie, the social leader in her class, as do so many of the other girls. Cassie bullies the girls, tries to manipulate the boys, and determine who is “in” or out. Maddie feels bad for those who aren’t included, but she isn’t confident enough to challenge Cassie. When she begins to have medical problems, Maddie realizes how important friendships are. No matter how serious a situation, friends will support her and wear mustaches!

Mustaches for Maddie is a charming novel that entertains readers as it challenges them to be aware of their actions. Maddie faces serious medical challenges with bravery and humor. The authors’ daughter, the “real” Maddie, wrote a poignant letter that is included at the end of the book. I picture her wearing a mustache as she wrote it. Here is an excerpt from that letter:

I try really hard to be friends with everyone. We don’t always realize what trial other people are going through. Sometimes it takes courage to be kind to some people. But we need to always stick up for what’s right. You can do it. Anytime, anywhere, you can have compassion. Everybody needs a friend and that friend can be you So show them that you truly care.

Be kind. Smile more. Laugh more. Dream more.

 

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”.

Hidden Figures

March2

Readers first learned about Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden through the adult book Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly and Robin Miles. More people were introduced to these remarkable women through the major motion picture that was adapted from the book. Following that, a “Young Readers’ Edition” of the original book was released.

Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race (Harper) by Margot Lee Shetterly with Winifred Conkling, illustrated by Laura Freeman, is a picture book biography that will introduce these bright women of color to younger readers.

Dorothy, Mary, Katherine, and Christine all knew that they were excellent at mathematics. College educated, they were only allowed to teach math in segregated public schools. When there was a shortage of mathematicians during WWII, Dorothy was the first of the group who was hired to work for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. The other women also obtained jobs, and they joined other women and men who were called the computers. Because of the prevalent racism in the United States, the women worked in a different building and a separate office from the white women computers. They continued to face discrimination at lunch counters, and they were forced to use separate water fountains and bathrooms.

Dorothy Vaughan worked on building faster planes than the Russians.
Mary Jackson was the first African-American female engineer at Langley.
Katherine Johnson analyzed the effects of turbulence on planes, and she helped calculate the trajectories of John Glenn’s historic space flight.
Christine Darden became an engineer for supersonic airplanes and worked for NASA planning the first trip to the moon.

 

 

Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library

February8

Pride of race is the antidote to prejudice.
– Arturo Alfonso Schomburg

Carole Boston Weatherford has been honored for a number of her books. One of her most recent is Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library (Candlewick), illustrated by Eric Velasquez. Arturo (later Arthur) Alfonso Schomburg (1874-1938) was an important figure in the Harlem Renaissance because of his work in unearthing African-American history.

Born in Puerto Rico, Schomburg’s mother was a black midwife, and his father was a German merchant. When he was in fifth grade, his teacher told him that black people had no history and no heroes or accomplishments worth noting. That ignited a lifelong passion in Schomburg to unearth the heroes and accomplishments of non-whites. When he was seventeen years old, Arturo immigrated to the United States. Landing in New York City, he had visions of pursuing either medicine or law after he learned to speak English. Because his official school records had been lost in a fire, no school of higher education would admit him to study. Arturo then returned to his passion for locating information about people of color. Carole Boston Weatherford states, “Arturo had what he called the book hunting disease.” (Photo from blackpast.ort)

Schomburg became entranced with researching information on Phillis Wheatley, Frederick Douglass, Toussaint Louverture, the Amistad, and many, many other people and events. Again, quoting Weatherford:
Arturo suspected a conspiracy of fraud that aimed to erase all African history but bondage…When genius was black, skin color was left out. But Schomburg chased the truth and turned up icons whose African heritage had been white-washed.
He unearthed the fact that John James Audubon’s father was a French plantation owner and his mother was a Creole slave. Frenchman Alexander Dumas who wrote The Three Musketeers was descended from slaves.

Even though he worked in a bank as a mailroom clerk, Schomburg carried on a correspondence with Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois. He debated them and discussed black history. Schomburg began to travel to lecture about black history and continue to look for books about people of color who contributed to society.

When Schomburg’s personal library overtook his home, he decided that his collection needed to be given a broader audience. In 1926, The Carnegie Corporation bought his collection for $10,000.00 and donated it to the New York Public Library. It became part of the 135th Street branch in Harlem. “It included more than five thousand books, several thousand pamphlets, plus priceless prints and papers…”

In his retirement, Schomburg was hired to found Fisk University Library’s Negro Collection. On his return to New York City, he continued to search out material for the Division of Negro History, Literature and Prints at the library. He focused on collecting the work of artists of the Harlem Renaissance. Because of Arturo Alfonso Schomburg’s dedication and collection, he proved that teacher of his childhood wrong.

I am proud to be able to do something that may mean inspiration for the youth of my race.
– Arturo Alfonso Schomburg

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

 

Thank You Julius Lester and Ursula Le Guin

January26

The children’s literature community lost two giants in the field this week, Julius Lester and Ursula Le Guin. Both writers made significant contributions, not only with the books that they wrote, but also with the intellect that they brought to the discourse of literature for children and young adults.

Before becoming a writer, Julius Bernard Lester (1939-2018) hosted a radio and television show, recorded albums of original and traditional songs, and taught English and history at the university level. He was a distinguished photographer and professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst from 1971 until he retired in 2003. While his courses were highly sought after, he was not afraid of conflict. The Afro-American Studies faculty voted to have him removed from their department because of his characterization of James Baldwin’s writings as being anti-Semitic. He finished his tenure in another department, and he continued to be honored as a distinguished teacher. (Photo from Jewish Week)

Lester was also highly honored in the children’s literature field by numerous award committees: the Newberry, the Coretta Scott King, and the Boston Globe/Hornbook. It’s difficult to choose my favorite book that he wrote for children. I continue to introduce many of them every year in my classes. Lester collaborated with illustrator, Jerry Pinkney, when he modernized the Uncle Remus Tales of Brer Rabbit in multiple volumes. They also produced significant picture books together: Sam and the Tigers: The New Telling of Little Black Sambo, John Henry, and Black Cowboy, Wild Horses: A True Story.

Ursula Kroeber Le Guin (1929-2018) wrote more for intermediate readers, young adults, and adults. She grew up surrounded by her parents’ friends who were intellectuals in many fields. Her fantasy and science fiction novels, short stories, and poetry were groundbreaking because she pushed the boundaries in her alternate and alternative worlds. She wrote thoughtfully about gender, religion, race, and environmentalism. (Photo from Time)

Le Guin, also, was honored throughout her life by numerous organizations: the Library of Congress, the American Library Association, the National Book Foundation, and the Science Fiction Research Association to name a few. The Library of Congress recognized her contributions in 2000 and awarded Ursula Le Guin the Living Legend Award in the Writers and Artists category. In 2016, the New York Times described Le Guin as “America’s greatest living science fiction writer”.

Le Guin was influenced by many fantasy writers, among them were J.R.R. Tolkien, Lewis Carroll, and Kenneth Grahame. In turn, her writing has influenced important contemporary writers like Neil Gaiman and Salman Rushdie.

Ursula Le Guin’s most important novels were her Earthsea Cycle: The Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, The Farthest Shore, Tehanu, The Other Wind, and Tales from Earthsea. The Wizard of Earthsea won many awards and was greatly discussed when it was published. Le Guin didn’t write this for a strictly juvenile audience, she wrote it for readers. Her books are similar to Tolkien’s because adults gain as much from them as young adults do.

Ursula Le Guin and Julius Lester have left legacies that will live on for future readers to enjoy.

 

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