Read On!

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

Seasons Readings

November30

dreidel

From my archives…

One of my favorite Hanukkah books that was published in 2015 is the picture book version of The Parakeet Named Dreidel (Farrar Straus Giroux). Suzanne Raphael Berkson has illustrated Isaac Bashevis Singer’s short story to introduce it to today’s young readers.

 

Born in Poland, Isaac Bashevis Singer spent much of the first third of his life in Warsaw.  It was fortuitous that he emigrated to the United States in 1935 when he grew fearful of the growing Nazi threat in Germany. He became an important figure in writing, especially in the Yiddish literary movement. This talented author wrote for adults, young adults, and children. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1978. Singer was also honored with two U.S. National Book awards, and one of these was in Children’s Literature.

 

The Parakeet Named Dreidel first appeared in Singer’s book of short stories, The Power of Light. Years ago, I read this short story to children for years. Suzanne Raphael Berkson’s illustrations and book is a wonderful avenue for today’s children to be introduced to this captivating Hanukkah story.

 

A Brooklyn family is celebrating Hanukkah when David and his father notice a beautiful parakeet sitting on their frosty windowsill. To get the bird out of the cold, they open the window and shoo him into their home. The bird must have accidentally flown out of his own home, and he speaks Yiddish phrases, especially one where he says the name Zeldele over and over. When the family fails to find the parakeets owners, they adopt him and name him Dreidel. Years later, David is in college and very attracted to one of his friends, Zelda. One night at a party, he recounts the story of how he acquired his parakeet. Zelda is overwhelmed because it was her lost bird of which David is speaking. The story ends quite happily because David and Zelda marry, and both families continue to enjoy their beloved pet.

 

Isaac Beshevis Singer depicted two ideals of Jewish values upon which he was raised – kindness to animals and returning lost objects to their owners. …And he did this in a charming story.

(Picture from notablebiographies.com)

 

 

A Thanksgiving Tradition

November15

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade has become a Thanksgiving tradition that entertains many Americans. Whether they attend the parade in New York City or watch the show on television, millions of people have enjoyed this event over the years. Some of the highlights of the parade are the enormous balloons that travel along the route.

Tony Sarg (1880-1942) was an artist and puppeteer who helped to plan the very first Thanksgiving Parade, and more importantly, came up with the idea for the giant balloons. To this day, his invention awes all who see these “wondrous upside-down marionettes.”

Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade by Melissa Sweet (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011)

 

 

Go Red Sox!

October23

This is a post from my archives that seemed appropriate to share this week. This picture book biography is one of the nominees for the 2019 MA Children’s Book Award.

Ramón is the biggest reason
I have gotten where I am.
He is the great one in this family.
I am still Ramón’s little brother.
-Pedro Martínez, 1998

pedroMatt Tavares shares an inspirational story in Growing Up Pedro (Candlewick Press, 2015). Pedro Martínez got his first real baseball glove when his older brother, Ramón, signed a contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers for five thousand dollars. The Martínez family lived in the village of Manoguayabo in the Dominican Republic, and Ramón was the baseball star of the family. Ramón told Pedro stories of his struggles in the United States because he couldn’t speak much English. Pedro began to study English, and when he was eventually given a shot in the Dodgers’ minor-league system, he could be interviewed without an interpreter.

Many players and fans implied that Pedro only made the team because Ramón was a star pitcher. Pedro was determined to prove them wrong, and he became one of the best relievers in the league. When the Dodgers traded Pedro to the Montreal Expos, Ramón encouraged him to prove his talent. In Montreal, he became a starting pitcher. The Martínez brothers even got to pitch against each other – Ramón won. After Pedro won the National League Cy Young Award in 1997, the Expos couldn’t afford to pay him, and they traded him to the Boston Red Sox. The rest of his story is now Red Sox history. Ramón also joined the Red Sox late in his pitching career. The brothers were back playing ball together just as they did many years ago in their homeland.

There are many videos of highlights of Pedro pitching, but one of my favorites is this one. He struck out three batters in one inning with only nine pitches.

Charley Harper

October19

You should always be doing something that satisfies you, what makes you feel good inside. 
― Charley Harper from Charley Harper: An Illustrated Life

Michelle Houts introduces intermediate and middle school readers to Harper in Count the Wings: The Life and Art of Charley Harper (Ohio University Press). The author was given total access to Charley’s childhood photographs, letters, grade cards, art school documents, wedding pictures, awards, and commendations by his son, Brett

Houts narrates the life story of this West Virginia farm boy who never had a formal art class until after high school. When he was young, Charley enjoyed sketching and observing nature. The author learned an anecdote about his schooling:

He was a good student, but he quickly figured out that he could get even better grades in both English and history if he added a few illustrations to his homework papers. Charley liked to tell the story of how he once saved his history grade by drawing all the presidents. (Houts, p.9)

After a short attendance at West Virginia Wesleyan College, Charley took a life-changing risk and moved to enroll in the Art Academy of Cincinnati. Not only did this educational experience open up the world of art to him, but he also met Edith McKee who became his wife. As artists, they challenged and supported each other.

When Charley joined the army during WWII, his commanders recognized his ability to draw. He joined an intelligence and reconnaissance platoon. As a scout, he was responsible for drawing “quick, accurate sketches of the area.” He also drew and painted scenes that depicted the people and areas through which he traveled. When he returned to the U.S., Harper took advantage of the GI Bill, and he enrolled at the Art Students League in New York City. Because of all of these life experiences, Charley had found his style, and he went on to build his outstanding body of work.

When Charley Harper drew a bird, he reduced the bird down into shapes of circles and triangles. His style is now recognized as “minimal realism.” In describing his style, Harper said, “When I look at a wildlife or nature subject, I don’t see the feathers in the wings, I just count the wings. I see exciting shapes, color combinations, patterns, textures, fascinating behavior and endless possibilities for making interesting pictures.”

Michelle Houts biography is a fine companion to some of our art books on this talented artist.

 

 

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.

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