Read On!

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

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.)

Rube Goldberg

May10

When I was growing up, my grandmother would make a comment that someone was a real “Rube Goldberg.” I knew that meant that the person was creative, inventive, and thought out of the box. Rube Goldberg was one of my grandmother’s contemporaries, and I was so fortunate that she introduced me to this eccentric artist.

Today’s readers can also learn about Rube in Just Like Rube Goldberg: The Incredible True Story of the man Behind the Machines (Beach Lane Books) written by Sarah Aronson and illustrated by Robert Neubecker.

As a young boy, Rube loved to draw. When he was very young, he traced the comics from the newspaper. His parents supported his interest by allowing him to take art classes from a sign painter. When he told them that he wanted to be a cartoonist, they were horrified. His parents had emigrated to the United States so that the family could have a better life. They wanted more for Rube, so he graduated from the University of California with a degree in engineering. His first engineering job paid well, but Rube was miserable, and he quit after six months. He took menial jobs at San Francisco newspapers, and he drew and drew and drew. In 1906, Rube took another risk and moved to New York City with only $200 in his pocket. He was hired by the New York Evening Mail as a cartoonist, and he became a celebrity. Rube drew comics about everyday life and the topics of the day.

Image result for rube goldberg cartoon machineHe created an eccentric inventor named Professor Lucifer Gorgonzola Butts. The professor became known for making whacky contraptions to solve everyday chores in complicated ways. Goldberg’s fans were entertained by his comedic take on the world. He challenged them to look at ordinary tasks creatively. (Photo from Wikipedia)

A game for children, Mouse Trap, was inspired by his inventions. My brother and I spent hours playing the game.

In Merriam Webster, Rube Goldberg is defined as

:accomplishing by complex means what seemingly could be done simply
a kind of Rube Goldberg contraption … with five hundred moving parts —L. T. Grant
; also :characterized by such complex means

Learn more about his genius. Maybe you know someone that you would compliment as a Rube Goldberg.

 

 

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.

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

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.

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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