Read On!

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

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.

 

The First Computer Programmer

January17

That brain of mine is something more than merely mortal; as time will show.       – Ada Lovelace

This quote by Ada Lovelace (1815-1852) is not exactly humble, but neither were her parents. Ada’s father was the poet, Lord Byron. A month after she was born, Ada’s parents separated. Her mother, Anne Isabella Milbanke, Lady Wentworth, retained complete custody, which was unusual in the male dominated English society. Ada never saw her father again, and Lord Byron died when she was eight years old.

Lady Wentworth always worried that Ada would become imaginative and reckless like her father. To combat this, her mother instructed Ada in mathematics. She was an anomaly because there weren’t many female mathematicians during the first half of the 1800s. When Ada and her mother toured factories, as many wealthy families did for entertainment, Ada’s imagination came alive with ideas. She called one of her first ideas, Flyology, as she imagined a mechanical horse that would take to the air.

When she was 17 years old, Ada met the inventor, Charles Babbage. He was a mathematician and engineer, and his primary project was “The Difference Machine”. Babbage envisioned a team-powered calculator that would always produce the right answer. After she was married to Lord William King, Earl of Lovelace, Ada began to help Babbage with his newest invention, “The Analytical Engine”, which was an early computer design. The Analytical Engine was based on the concept of a Jacquard loom which used hole punched cards to calculate sums. Even now, mathematicians marvel at the complexity of Ada’s work. She has been called the world’s first computer programmer.

Two picture book biographies were published about Ada Lovelace within months of each other. Both highlight the life and incredible mind of this remarkable woman. Take a look at Ada Lovelace, Poet of Science (Simon & Schuster) written by Diane Stanley and illustrated by Jessie Hartland or Ada’s Ideas (Abrams) written and illustrated by Fiona Robinson.

The Association for Women in Computing (AWC) presents the Ada Lovelace Award. “The award is given to individuals who have excelled in either of two areas: outstanding scientific technical achievement and/or extraordinary service to the computing community through accomplishments and contributions on behalf of women in computing.” (AWC)

Martin Luther King, Jr.

January11

Sooner or later, all the people of the world will have to discover a way to live together.

Growing up in Atlanta, GA, Martin Luther King, Jr. experienced the unfairness of segregation on a daily basis. When he saw “White Only” signs and he wasn’t able to attend a school with white children, his mother reminded him that he was as good as anyone else. He listened to his father’s words as the elder King preached in church every Sunday. During those formative years of his life, Martin understood how powerful words could be.

In Martin’s Big Words (Hyperion Books for Children), author Doreen Rappaport shares important quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr. as she narrates key incidents in his life. Bryan Collier’s colorful and detailed illustrations earned him a Caldecott Award Honor. The year it was published, this picture book biography was also named one of the best illustrated children’s books by the New York Times

From the Archives

January5

A snow crystal is a letter from the sky.”

The Story of SnowUkichiro Nakaya, Japanese scientist (1900-1962)

Nakaya’s quote shouldn’t be missed on the back endpaper of The Story of Snow. Authors Mark Cassino and Jon Nelson have written a book that will inspire young scientists and artists. Just as the authors coordinated their talents, The Story of Snow: The Science of Winter’s Wonder has a fine balance of text and pictures. Cassino’s photographs of snow crystals are clearly explained by Nelson’s text.

Snowflake BentleyThe Story of Snow is a perfect companion book to Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, the 1999 Caldecott Award Winner. Wilson A. Bentley was the first to photograph snowflakes to study their beauty and construction. Imagine the conversations that Bentley would have with Mark Cassino and Jon Nelson. While the technology has improved, they all would share the wonder of a snowflake.

Bentley’s words from 1925 describe the contents of The Story of Snow, a book written years later:

“Under the microscope, I found that snowflakes were miracles of beauty; and it seemed a shame that this beauty should not be seen and appreciated by others. Every crystal was a masterpiece of design and no one design was ever repeated. When a snowflake melted, that design was forever lost. Just that much beauty was gone, without leaving any record behind.”

(Taken from the website, http://snowflakebentley.com)

Elijah Pierce

December13

There are a number of families who might not have read a post that I wrote four years ago. Since this describes a special book, I wanted to share it this week.

Elijah's Angel

One of my favorite books for the holiday season (or any other time) is Elijah’s Angel by Michael J. Rosen, illustrated by Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson (HBJ, 1992). This story appeals to me on so many levels. Families who celebrate Chanukah and Christmas can all relate to the meaning of their holidays. As a fan of folk art and outsider art, I enjoy introducing Elijah Pierce (1892-1984) to our students.

Elijah was a woodcarver, barber, and deeply religious man. During his lifetime, this humble craftsman was awarded a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. His woodcarvings are owned privately and in museum collections.

Michael Rosen, the author, met Elijah Pierce as a youngster, and he has shared his friendship with Elijah in this story. As a young friend of the woodcarver, Michael was enthralled with Elijah’s work. However, when Elijah gave Michael the gift of an angel during the Christmas season, Michael was conflicted. He didn’t feel that he could accept it because Michael was Jewish, and his family didn’t own “graven images”. Michael’s supportive parents helped him celebrate the true meaning of Chanukah, Christmas, and friendship.

The illustrator of Elijah’s Angel also knew Elijah Pierce. Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson became his friend and student. Her illustrations are in a folk art style.

In the following trailer, Elijah describes his craft.

 

Season’s Readings

November29

The Nutcracker ballet is performed in hundred of venues throughout the United States during the holiday season. Yet, few fans of this beautiful ballet know the story of the three brothers who first brought this 19th Century Russian ballet to American audiences. Author Chris Barton and illustrator Cathy Gendron share the story in The Nutcracker Comes to America (Millbrook Press).

The Nutcracker did not start out as the complex ballet and orchestral piece that it is today. In 1816, German author, E. T. A. Hoffman wrote a short story called The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. It wasn’t until 1892 that Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky composed the music and Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov choreographed the ballet. It was first performed in St. Petersburg, Russia, but it didn’t catch on. In 1919, the Moscow Bolshoi Ballet performed The Nutcracker, and the audiences were enthusiastic about it.

William, Harold, and Lew Christensen had grown up at their family’s dancing school, and the young men became enamored with ballet. They put together a vaudeville act and traveled the country in the late 1920s. William moved to Portland, Oregon and opened a ballet school. In 1934, he teamed up with a conductor, who was a Russian immigrant, and William choreographed a few dances to go with Tchaikovsky’s score. During this time, Harold and Lew were dancing and choreographing their own work in New York City.

By 1938, William (now calling himself Willam, without the “I” in his name), was the head of the ballet company in San Francisco. Willam convinced his brothers to join him there. (Lew served in the army from 1942-46.) In 1944, Willam and Harold learned more about The Nutcracker, from two friends from Russia who had performed in it there. The two brothers created the ballet which was presented only once at that time.

After WWII, the three brothers were reunited, and they presented The Nutcracker again, this time during the holiday season. Thus began the cherished tradition. Various choreographers have adapted the ballet, yet the roots of every performance still harken back to the Christensens.

In his author’s note, Chris Barton states that he first heard about the Christensen brothers when Willam died in 2001. He became intrigued by this story.

Cathy Gendron describes her illustrations in the illustrator’s note. “My paintings begin with pencil on gesso, a white base layer. Then thin oil glazes are applied, one over another f0r as many as ten to fifteen glazes per painting. The process is slow and meticulous, but the resulting rich color intensity is worth the time and effort.”

The Boston Ballet performs it every year.

The Legendary Miss Lena Horne

November1

You have to be taught to be second class; you’re not born that way.
Lena Horne

Lena Horne (1917-2010) is widely known for her sultry voice and her singing career. Author Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrator Elizabeth Zunon have collaborated on The Legendary Miss Lena Horne which chronicles Lena’s role as a civil rights activist.

Lena’s parents didn’t follow the paths of previous family members who had been teachers, activists, a Harlem Renaissance poet, and the dean of a black college. Her father was a gambler, and her mother traveled the country playing in vaudeville. Fortunately for Lena, she was often left with her grandmother, Cora Calhoun Horne, herself a college graduate.

Cora had high standards and drilled into Lena good manners, black pride, and the value of a well-rounded education. (Weatherford)

Lena eventually went on to become a performer, and she sang with Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway. That’s when she began to confront racism as an adult. The black bands entered through the back doors, and they often couldn’t find a place to sleep after their performance. When Lena was one of the first black singers to perform with an all-white band, she had to sleep on the bus.

Her activism truly began when Lena landed a studio contract with MGM. The NAACP counseled her on how to stick up for herself and become a model for other black performers. She refused to be cast as a mammy or maid. When Lena sang in films, her song would be cut from the film when it was shown in southern theaters. During WWII, Lena was outraged by the rampant racism that was perpetuated on black soldiers, and she paid her own way to perform for black units. After the war, because of her associations with Paul Robeson and W.E.B. DuBois, she was blacklisted and not allowed to work in Hollywood. However, Lena continued to sing in nightclubs, and when her name was removed from the blacklist, her career once again soared.

During the following years, Lena Horne became committed to working in the civil rights movement. While she earned Grammy and Tony Awards and a Kennedy Center Honor, she was most proud of her devotion to break racial barriers.

When Lena Horne appeared with Kermit the frog on Sesame Street, perhaps she was thinking of her own life when she sang “It’s not easy being green”.

 

 

Jean-Henri Fabre

October26

We have all of us, men and animals, some special gift. One child takes to music…another is quick with figures. It is the same way with insects. One kind of bee can cut leaves, another build clay houses…In human beings, we call the special gift genius. In an insect, we call it instinct. Instinct is the animal’s genius.                                                –Jean-Henri Fabre

Matthew Clark Smith introduces us to Jean-Henri Fabri (1823-1915), in Small Wonders: Jean-Henri Fabre & His World of Insects (Two Lions), illustrated by Giuliano Ferri. When he was growing up in the 1800s, Henri, lived in the country surrounded by nature, and he roamed the countryside around his home and observed his natural world. As he grew older, Henri always exclaimed over the small wonders around him, especially the marvels of insects.

Fabri studied insects differently from the scientists of his time. Instead of examining dead, preserved insects, he observed them alive in their natural habitats. One of his first significant discoveries was about a wasp called Cereris. He read that a mother wasp laid her eggs and left a large dead beetle for her children to eat when they hatched. It made no sense to him that the beetle stayed fresh in the burrow during the gestation period for the eggs to hatch. By digging up wasps’ burrows, gathering beetles, and observing the wasps in the field, he discovered that the wasps did not kill the beetles. Instead, the venomous sting permanently paralyzed the beetle so that the meat would be fresh for their newly hatched babies. Fabri began publishing his findings, and he continued to study other species. Because of his body of work, Henri was widely acclaimed in France. He not only published scientific articles and books, but he also wrote collections of poetry. He was even nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1912.

Charles Darwin called Jean-Henri Casimir Fabre “that inimitable observer.” While Darwin was aware of Fabre’s work and scientific contributions, he is little known in the United States. Fabre’s childhood home in France is a museum that is joined by an education center and an insect-themed park. Small Wonders will introduce children to this extraordinary man.

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