Read On!

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

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

Reconciliation, Forgiveness, and Peace

January25

 

 

One of the most significant events for the United States during the 1940s was the Japanese bombing Pearl Harbor. The 1941 tragedy catapulted the United States into World War II, and it is chronicled in history books. However, there was one bombing on the mainland of the United States by Japan, and few Americans or Japanese know this part of history. Author, Marc Tyler Nobleman, and illustrator, Melissa Iwai, introduce this story in their picture book collaboration, Thirty Minutes Over Oregon: A Japanese Pilot’s World War II Story (Clarion).

In September of 1942, Nobuo Fujita flew two bombing missions over Brookings, Oregon. His plane was catapulted off of a Japanese submarine that was cruising along the coast. Nobuo Fujita and his navigator dropped two bombs in the heavily wooded mountains of Oregon during each mission. The plan was that these would cause a massive forest fire that would spread to Oregonian towns and cities. Neither the first bombing flight nor the second, twenty days later, were successful, and few Americans heard about the mission. After the first bombing, there was a small fire that forest rangers put out. They thought that it was caused by lightning until they uncovered metal fragments with Japanese markings. The townsfolk in Brookings were concerned, but the U.S. government looked upon these as isolated incidents.

When the war ended, Nobuo returned to his family in Japan and opened a hardware store. Even though he never discussed his missions, the events weighed on him.

The residents of Brookings never forgot this piece of their town’s history, and in 1962, the Brookings Jaycees tracked down the Japanese bomber and invited him to their town. Not all residents were in favor of hosting a former enemy, but they were convinced that it would be a symbol of reconciliation. Nobuo arrived with his son and daughter to serve as his translators, and he apologized for his and his country’s actions. Years later, Nobuo paid for three Brookings high school students to visit him in Tokyo. He returned three more times to Brookings and was made an honorary citizen just before his death. Some of his ashes were sprinkled in the woods that he bombed.

Nobuo Fujita’s relationship with Brookings, Oregon became a symbol of reconciliation, forgiveness, and peace. Readers of all ages should know this story.

(Photo credits: Wikipedia and Offbeat Oregon)

This video shows a display in Brookings and the bombing site:

“I Have a Dream”

January17

On August 28, 1963, more than a quarter of a million people gathered on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Adults and children of every color and nationality stood around the reflecting pool, and they listened to a group of civil rights leaders who spoke of equality for all in America. Those who were present and the millions who watched the event on television or listened to it on the radio were treated to a 17-minute speech by Martin Luther King, Jr. His speech that day became known as his “I Have a Dream” speech.

Kadir Nelson is a noted African-American artist whose work can be seen in many collections including the collections of the United States House of Representatives and the Baseball Hall of Fame. He has worked on films and television. Nelson’s art in children’s books has earned him numerous honors, and his illustrations in I Have a Dream bring Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words to life. One of the most striking images in the book is that of King standing in front of the statue of Abraham Lincoln.

I wrote this entry in January of 2013, and this book is still as relevant today as it was then. It needs to be introduced to the next group of children.

I Have a Dream illustrated by Kadir Nelson (Schwartz & Wade, 2012) is accompanied by a cd of the speech.

A Life-Changing Friendship

January3

Rescue & Jessica: A Life-Changing Friendship was written by Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes and illustrated by Scott Magoon (Candlewick Press). While the main character, Jessica, is a child, the story is based on Jessica Kensky’s experiences with her service dog, Rescue.

Jessica is an adult who was injured in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. She is now married to Patrick Downes, her co-author, who was also injured on that day. Their lives were changed because of their physical and emotional injuries. When she was in the hospital, Jessica was paired up with a service dog whom she named Rescue. His name is to honor Worcester, MA firefighter Jon Davies who rode on the truck, Rescue 1, and gave his life in the act of duty. Jessica attests that her service dog, Rescue, saved her.

While there is no discussion of the Boston Marathon tragedy, the child in their story has both of her legs badly injured. The story is told from two points of view – the young girl’s and the dog’s.

This book also promotes NEADS/World Class Service Dogs located in Princeton, MA. Their website is https://neads.org/.

 

 

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?

 

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