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.

MCBA

September25

Once again, we will be promoting the nominees for the Massachusetts Children’s Book Awards (MACBA) during the 2019-2020 school year at DCD. Even though I’ve written about this program before, I would like to explain it to parents who have never had a fourth, fifth, or sixth-grader before now. This voluntary reading incentive program has become a popular event for many students, and it was started by Dr. Helen Constant in 1975. It is administered through Salem State University. Twenty-five books are nominated for the award, and our voting for the DCD favorites will take place in late winter.

There are many obvious benefits to reading along with us for the next few months. Students are often introduced to authors who are unknown to them before this, and they return looking for other books by them. Some of the authors, like Patricia MacLachlan and Kwame Alexander, are already favorites of many intermediate readers. An important benefit that may not be obvious is that our readers become critics. They learn how to evaluate literature through plot, characters, and their own interest, and they have fun doing so. Throughout the next few months, I’ll highlight some of the nominated titles. Links to the reading lists can be found on our DCD Library page.

One of this year’s nominees is Alexander Hamilton: The Making of America by Teri Kanefield ( Abrams)

Alexander Hamilton was born in 1755 on the island of Nevis in the British West Indies. By the time he was fourteen years old, he and his brother were orphans. Because of the unfair laws of inheritance, the two boys were left no money or property. They both had to count on the generosity of others and fend for themselves. Alexander was highly intelligent, and he learned much about finance, international commerce, and the shipping and trading markets from his employer. He was also a talented writer, and his employer started a scholarship fund to send Alexander to America for further education. That began his love for the United States as he worked to form our young nation.

 

 

Brothers and Artists

September6

“A single human face can give an artist the subject matter to fill a lifetime.”
Alberto Giacometti

Two Brothers, Four Hands: The Artists Alberto and Diego Giacometti by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan, illustrated by Hadley Hooper (Holiday House)

Alberto and Diego Giacometti were born and raised in the small Swiss village of Stampa. While they had two other siblings, the boys were inseparable, yet very different in attitude and aptitude. Because their father was a painter, there were always art supplies in their home for the children to use. Alberto spent hours drawing and reading, and at 13 years old, he created his first sculpture of Diego. These activities didn’t interest Diego at all, and he roamed the countryside observing animals and nature.

Alberto began to travel to learn about art. While visiting museums, churches, and artists, he kept journals of sketches and ideas. He went to study in Paris and was impressed by the Surrealists who believed that art should not come from life, but from the imagination. During this time of self-education for Alberto, Diego was aimless and lacked direction in his life. He moved to Paris to be with his brother, and they rented a decrepit studio where Alberto could create.

After WWII, Alberto eventually found his own style for sculpture, and his sculptures became larger and thinner. Diego became indispensable to him as he took his brother’s plaster molds and cast the pieces in bronze. He then brushed the surfaces with acid to produce various patinas. By 1948, Alberto was well-known, and he exhibited his work in the U.S. and Europe.

After Alberto died in 1966, Diego experimented with his own style also using bronze. He created pieces of furniture that were their own works of art. He, too, exhibited internationally for almost 20 years.

Authors Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan carefully researched and skillfully wrote Two Brothers, Four Hands. The illustrations by Hadley Hooper complement the text and bring the story to life.

Photo from left: Alberto, Diego, and Annette, Alberto’s wife from icp.org

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 Bathysphere

May2

As I looked out I never thought of feet or yards of visibility, but of the hundreds of miles of this color stretching over so much of the world.
“A Round Trip to Davy Jones’s Locker”, The National Geographic Magazine December 1934

I peered fearfully out into the darkness of the abyss. No human eye had glimpsed this part of our planet before us, this pitch-black country lighted only by the pale gleam of an occasional spiraling shrimp.
The World Beneath the Sea by Otis Barton

Otis and Will Discover the Deep: The Record-Setting Dive of the Bathysphere (Little, Brown and Company) by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Katherine Roy

Otis Barton (1899-1992) grew up mesmerized by the life in the Atlantic Ocean. As a boy, he wanted to swim deeper and longer. He experimented with a garden hose for air and a wooden helmet with glass windows. Barton’s hero was Charles William Beebe (1877-1962). Beebe was a naturalist, ornithologist, entomologist, and marine biologist. He had become intrigued with exploring deep in the ocean. Barton was studying engineering and he designed a vehicle that he believed would work for Beebe. Eventually, he was able to meet the man that he admired, and Beebe agreed that they should work together.

Between May 27, 1930 and September 11, 1934, Will Beebe and Otis Barton explored the ocean in their Bathysphere at least nineteen times. They traveled deeper than anyone had ever gone before and chronicled all that they saw. Their research was groundbreaking and used as the basis for many future oceanographers.

Do check out this interesting website about Charles William Beebe.

 

Louis Agassiz Fuertes

April25

 

If the birds of the world had met to select a human being who could best express to mankind the beauty and charm of their forms, their songs, their rhythmic flight, their manners for the heart’s delight, they would unquestionably have chosen Louis Fuertes.  Frank M. Chapman, Ornithologist

The Sky Painter: Louis Fuertes, Bird Artist (Two Lions) by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Aliona Bereghici

Many people know some information about John James Audubon (1785-1851). Far fewer have heard about Louis Agassiz Fuertes (1874-1927) who also made many contributions as a “bird artist”. He was inspired by and studied Audubon’s work, and Fuertes is known as the Father of Modern Bird Art.

From his early years, Louis loved to watch birds, care for injured birds, and draw birds. Whenever he went to the library, he looked for books on birds. When he found a book of bird art, he was intrigued. Even though his father wanted him to be an engineer, his parents supplied him with art supplies to create his own sketches of birds. Louis continued his study and practice throughout college. During his lifetime, bird artists killed birds with either a gun or slingshot and posed the birds to draw them. Fuertes learned to draw quickly so that he didn’t have to follow that practice. He was keen on observing various species in their natural environments, and he traveled all over the world to do so.

(Pink Flamingoes Mural painted by Louis Agassiz Fuertes – Photo from Wikipedia)

Fuertes illustrated many books on birds, and he painted the habitat murals at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. He taught at Cornell University. During his lifetime, his art was so popular that collectors’ cards of his paintings were included in boxes of Arm & Hammer Baking Soda.
 

Margarita Engle’s book, The Sky Painter, is written in a simple poetic form. Yet, it should pique the curiosity of the reader to learn more about this talented man. Aliona Bereghici”s illustrations, especially of the birds, are colorful and evoke Fuertes’ style.

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.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

March28

In celebrating March and Women’s History Month, it’s a pleasure to share two picture book biographies about one of my heroines, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Her life has been spent fighting discrimination, not only in the courts but also in her personal life.

I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark (Simon & Schuster) by Debbie Levy, illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley is a picture book biography that is packed with information about this Supreme Court justice’s life. As a child growing up in Brooklyn, New York, Ruth had tremendous role models with her progressive thinking mother and supportive father. With their support, she attended Cornell University as an undergraduate where she met Marty Ginsburg. They married and attended Harvard Law School together. Throughout their marriage, Marty supported Ruth’s work for equality for everyone.

Jonah Winter’s book, Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Case of R.B.G. vs. Inequality (Abrams) is illustrated by Stacy Innerst. Winter cleverly appeals to his readers as a jury and presents exhibits of examples of the discrimination that Ruth fought throughout her life and career. As one of the nine women in her law school class of 500, she was barred from entering the periodical room because she was a woman. “The guard would not let her in – nor help her in any way.” Winter’s final words to his jury/readers are
There can be just one verdict. Because she did not give up, because she refused to let other people define her limitations as a person, Ruth Bader Ginsburg has herself become a symbol of justice in America.

(Photo from Wikipedia)

 

Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor

March22

While other girls read stories about dragons and princesses, Joan read books about lizards and crocodiles. Instead of a favorite doll, a favorite lizard accompanied her wherever she went.

Thus, begins Patricia Valdez picture book biography, Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor: The Woman Who Loved Reptiles (Knopf) which is illustrated by Felicita Sala.

Joan only lived to be 34 years old, but she accomplished much in her life. From early on, Joan was fascinated by reptiles, and she had many as pets. Since she had a chronic illness, she missed a great deal of school as a child. This didn’t stop Joan from learning though, and she constantly read about all kinds of reptiles.

Unable to attend college, Joan introduced herself to Dr. George Boulenger who was the curator of curator and reptiles and fish at the Natural History Museum in London. After spending many hours with Joan, Dr. Boulenger asked her to become his assistant, and she confirmed his faith in her by presenting her first scientific paper on vipers at 19 years old. When Dr. Boulenger retired, Joan took over his responsibilities even though she was only in her twenties. She became known as one of the leading herpetologists (scientist who studies amphibians and reptiles) in the world.

Joan went on to work at the London Zoo where she oversaw the design and building of their new reptile house. She used the new reptile clinic to operate on the reptiles under her care. During those years, little was known about Komodo dragons, and Joan not only studied the two that came to the zoo, but she also dispelled many myths about them. One Komodo dragon was frequently seen by Joan’s side as she traveled through the zoo.

What an inspirational life!

Shark Lady

February22

Eugenie Clark was born in 1922, a time when girls were supposed to play traditional roles and only work in jobs that were for women. She was far from traditional, and Eugenie had a specific dream. As a child, Eugenie loved to visit the New York Aquarium. She spent countless hours there while her widowed mother worked. The fish mesmerized Eugenie, and she longed to be in their world. When she shared her passion for becoming a fish scientist, her mother suggested that if she took up typing, Eugenie might become the secretary to the marine explorer, William Beebe. Being a secretary wasn’t the path that Eugenie planned to take.

After earning a Bachelor’s Degree and her Master’s Degree in zoology, Eugenie’s dream became real when she became a research assistant and took even more oceanography classes. She became an ichthyologist or fish scientist. That’s when Eugenie’s adventures and her career took off in ways that young girl peering into the tank at the aquarium never could have imagined. (Photo from ocean.si.edu)

When Eugenie was working with the US Navy and studying poisonous fish in the South Seas, she became even more intrigued with sharks. Throughout her life, Eugenie became an advocate for sharks as she educated other scientists and the public about these mighty fish. She founded the Cape Haze Laboratory which is now named the Mote Marine Laboratory.

Throughout her life, Eugenie Clark fought discrimination as a Japanese American and a woman in a field dominated by men. Her research on sharks is some of the most important knowledge that we have about these mighty ocean inhabitants.

There are two picture book biographies about this amazing woman:

Swimming with Sharks: The Daring Discoveries of Eugenie Clark by Heather Lang, illustrations by Jordi Solano (Albert Whitman)

Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist by Jess Keating, illustrations by Marta Àlvarez Miguèns ((Sourcebooks)

 

 

https://youtu.be/8WIe9FUMYwk

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