Read On!

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

Walt Disney

October11

I do not make films primarily for children. I make them for the child in all of us, whether we be six or sixty.                            –Walt Disney

Walt Disney’s name is synonymous with movies and theme parks, yet his is a “rags to riches” life story. Walt’s Imagination (Disney/Hyperion) by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by John Pomeroy, is a picture book biography that highlights his many accomplishments.

When Walt was nine years old, his family moved from their farm in Marceline to Kansas City, Missouri. Life was not easy for Walt and his brother, Roy. Their father started a newspaper delivery business, and the two brothers got up every morning to deliver papers at 3:30am. While the other newsboys were paid, Walt and Roy were not because his father said that he clothed and fed them. Walt took another job after school to earn spending money, and he was so exhausted that he sometimes fell asleep at school. One of the bright spots in his life was Walt’s love of drawing. When he was in high school, he got two part-time jobs to be able to go to art school in the evening.

During WWI, after telling a lie about his age, Walt joined the Red Cross and delivered food to war-torn villages in France. While there, he drew on tanks and helmets. When he returned to the United States, Walt became fascinated with animated cartoons, and he used his savings to begin an animation studio. His beginning efforts were fruitless, so Walt headed out to join Roy in California where they began another studio together. Roy became the photographer for the animated drawing that Walt created. They started an animated series, The Alice Comedies, which moviegoers enjoyed.

In 1927, the Disney brothers experimented with sound and a new character that Walt created – Mickey. Steamboat Willie was a huge success, and Walt Disney won an honorary Academy Award for the production. Ub Iwerks was an artist friend who joined Walt and Roy on these early movies. Walt and Ub came up with The Silly Symphonies and one of the most popular was The Skeleton Dance.

And as the saying goes….”The rest is history.”

Jane Austen

September28

Jane Austen is the pinnacle to which all other authors aspire.
J. K. Rowling

Children’s picture book biographies are often a fine way to get the basic information about a person. The genre can be enjoyed by all ages. I often feature a picture book biography as a recommended book because authors and illustrators have been producing better and better offerings each year.

As I recommend the title, Brave Jane Austen: Reader, Writer, Author, Rebel (Holt) by Lisa Pliscou, illustrated by Jen Corace, I have to fully disclose that Jane Austen is my favorite author. I’ve read all of her books a number of times. This past summer, I decided that I hadn’t revisited her works for a few years, so I started my journey through them again. When I read them, I always do so in chronological order from when they were published. I’ll admit that after I finish one, I’ll watch different movie versions that were made of the book. Complete Austen fanatic!

In Brave Jane Austen, the author includes many significant details about her life. She doesn’t simply chronicle her childhood and adult writing, but she includes small details that were important to the plots of Austen’s books. For example, Pliscou includes the details in a scene when Jane was ill while she was away at an inexpensive boarding school. Jane got so sick that her mother was sent for, and she was brought home to convalesce. In Sense and Sensibility, Marianne falls ill while away from home, and her mother, Mrs. Dashwood travels to be by her side.

During her next months at home, Jane spent many hours reading in her father’s library. She read Shakespeare, Johnson, Cowper, Swift, Defoe, and many others. This became a foundation for her curiosity and desire to write.
As she grew up, Jane followed the social norms of many girls in her economic class. She stitched, walked, played the piano, and attended dances and soirees. She also wrote and wrote and wrote. In her novels, Jane goes into great detail about those same activities in which her characters take part.

Jane’s father was the one who inquired about having her stories published because it was unladylike for a woman to do so. His request was rejected, and it wasn’t until later in her life that Jane succeeded in finding a publisher. When her books were published, they were wildly successful. That was over two hundred years ago. How many of today’s writers will have that longevity?

 

Coral Reefs

September21

Coral reefs around the world are dying. In the Caribbean alone, there is less than half the coral that was there in the 1970s. Scientists believe that there are a number of factors that are contributing to the loss of the coral: global warming, diseases, over fishing, and pollution.

In The Brilliant Deep: Rebuilding the World’s Coral Reefs (Chronicle Books), author Kate Messner and illustrator Matthew Forsythe introduce readers to Ken Nedimyer and The Coral Restoration Foundation. Ken grew up loving the ocean and being inspired by Jacques Cousteau and his underwater exploration. As a boy, he snorkeled and learned to scuba dive to go out on his own explorations of the Florida coral reefs. Ken became so intrigued with the reefs and fish that he started aquariums at home, and even tended thirty of them in his bedroom.

As an adult, Ken observed the decaying coral reefs and the scarcity of sea urchins who controlled the algae. At that time, Ken was operating a live rock farm in the Florida Keys. He observed that staghorn corals, which are protected, were spawning and growing among the rocks. This gave him an idea, and Ken and his daughter cut off pieces of the coral and attached them to other rocks to grow a colony. As they grew, Ken cut off pieces and experimented with transplanting them in one of the dying coral reefs.

Ken soon gathered volunteers to help him with his experiment, and they continued to transplant coral. Thus, began the Coral Restoration Foundation whose mission is to restore the reefs. They now tend coral farms, and they are helping to rebuild the reefs one piece of coral at a time.

Temple Grandin

September14

Dr. Temple Grandin is a professor at Colorado State University, and her specialty is the humane treatment of animal livestock. More importantly, she is internationally known for sharing her personal experiences with autism.

Born in 1947, Temple clearly behaved very differently from other babies and young children. Because of little medical understanding of her condition and deficits, doctors suggested that Temple should be institutionalized. Her mother fought fiercely to find a way to educate Temple and help her navigate life. Mrs. Grandin searched for the best doctors and educators for her daughter. When Temple reached the age to attend school, her mother chose Dedham Country Day School because the teachers and students were kind and accepting.

Her years at DCD were happy, and Temple made many friends. She especially loved art classes, and the Grandins lobbied for Temple and some other friends who were girls to be allowed to participate in the wood shop class. Up until that time, only boys were in that class. At home, Temple loved to create projects like kites and obstacle courses and dog houses. As an adult, Temple often says “Art was always encouraged in our home. Art was what saved me. Kids need the arts!” When she returned to DCD to be honored as an alumna, one of the places that Temple visited was the wood shop.

Authors Amy Guglielmo and Jacqueline Tourville and illustrator Giselle Potter teamed up to produce How to Build a Hug: Temple Grandin and Her Amazing Squeeze Machine (Atheneum). The picture book biography describes how Temple couldn’t give or receive hugs because of her sensory reaction to being embraced.

When she was in high school, Temple spent a summer on her aunt’s ranch in Arizona. She observed the chute that cows were placed in to calm them for veterinary examinations. This gave her an idea of how to calm herself and give herself a hug. That invention was just the beginning for Grandin, who became an expert on understanding specific methods for handling and calming livestock.

How to Build a Hug is a fine title to add to the growing list of books that have been and are being written about this remarkable woman.

(Photo credits: autismspeaks.org and Amazon.com)

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”.

« Older Entries

Skip to toolbar