Read On!

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

The Queen of Magic

May26

Many readers have heard about Harry Houdini, and they know some details about him as one of the most famous escape artists who ever lived. Few people know a magician who greatly influenced Houdini, and that magician was a woman, Adelaide Herrmann. Adelaide lived from 1853 to 1932, and to this day, magicians call her the Queen of Magic.

As a young woman, Adelaide was traveling from Europe to the United States on an ocean liner, and she became enamored with a young magician who was known as Herrmann the Great. Before they docked in New York, Adelaide proposed to him, and Adelaide and Alexander Herrmann were married by the mayor of New York City in 1875. She began to assist and appear in Herrmann’s shows, and Adelaide became an important part of each performance. When Herrmann died unexpectedly, Adelaide was determined to keep their traveling show alive. She became the main performer, but Adelaide knew that to attract audiences, she had to become special. One trick that she perfected was the bullet catching trick, and the audiences were amazed. Over her sixty-five years of performing, Adelaide created many magic tricks of her own. She encouraged girls and women to learn magic, and Adelaide was always “Anything but Ordinary”.

Author Mara Rockliff and illustrator Iacopo Bruno explore the Queen of Magic’s life in Anything but Ordinary Addie: The True Story of Adelaide Herrmann, Queen of Magic (Candlewick).

Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay

May4

The world sends us garbage. We send back music. – Favio Chávez

Ada’s Violin by Susan Hood, illustrated by Sally Wern Comport (Simon & Schuster) vividly narrates the story of the “Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay”.

Ada Ríos lives in one of the most impoverished towns in Paraguay. Cateura is one of the worst slums in South America because it houses the main garbage dump for Asunción. Most of the residents live on less than two dollars a day. Ada’s life and the lives of many children changed when Favio Chávez was sent to Cateura to teach safety practices to the gancheros who picked through trash at the dump. This environmental engineer was also a musician, and Favio grew to care for the pickers and their children. When he decided to offer music lessons to the children, there were few instruments for them to use. Chávez began to improvise with materials that he scavenged from the dump, and an orchestra was born.

The Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay now performs concerts all over the world. Favio Chávez began with ten children. His program now has more than twenty-five instructors teaching over two hundred young musicians. The proceeds from their concerts are returned to Cateura to help families build homes.

Ella Fitzgerald

April28

It isn’t where you came from; it’s where you’re going that counts. – Ella Fitzgerald

This week marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of one of the most popular female jazz singers in the U.S. Ella Fitzgerald was born on April 25, 1917 in Newport News, VA. Shortly after her birth, Ella’s parents separated, and her mother, Tempie, moved to Yonkers, NY with Ella. Her early years were difficult, but Ella was always dancing and listening to the music that spread out into the streets. Tempie died when Ella was a teenager, and her life spiraled out of control. She dropped out of school and was homeless.

In 1934, when Ella heard that the new Apollo Theater on 125th Street had an Amateur Night on Wednesdays, she decided to try out. Wearing a pair of men’s boots that she had gotten at the Baptist church, she showed up for her tryout with the intention of dancing. The Edward Sisters auditioned ahead of her, and they danced in sequined dresses and high heels. Elle got on stage, knowing that she couldn’t compete with them, and after hesitating, she began to sing. She earned a spot, but when she went on stage to perform, Ella froze. As the audience began to get restless, the emcee prompted them to give the nervous girl a chance. Ella wowed the crowd with her rendition of “The Object of My Affection”. While she won first prize, Ella was given ten dollars, but not the chance to sing with the band for a week because of her raggedy appearance. Giving herself another chance, Ella then performed at Amateur Night at The Harlem Opera House. This time she won first prize and her week to sing with the band, and those who heard her were impressed.

Ella was singing and dancing for tips on 125th Street when she was noticed by a stranger. This man knew that Chick Webb was looking for a singer for his band. Even though Webb did not want to listen to Ella because of her raggedy appearance, he was impressed by her voice. Cleaned up, Ella sang with the band for three years. Her career took off, and she recorded over 200 albums and performed all over the world.

Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat: Ella Fitzgerald (Candlewick) by Roxane Orgill is a picture book biography about Ella, and it is illustrated by Sean Qualls.
There will be a year of events celebrating Ella Fitzgerald. Do check out the official website.

The Slinky

March3

There are certain television and radio commercials with which I can identify from when I was a child. Even today, when I hear certain melodies, they take me back through the years. A recently published book, The Marvelous Thing That Came From a Spring (Atheneum), evokes that same nostalgia for me. Gilbert Ford wrote and illustrated this entertaining story whose subtitle is The Accidental Invention of the Toy That Swept the Nation.

In 1943, Richard James was an engineer who worked for the Navy, and his project was to invent a device “…that would keep fragile ship equipment from vibrating in choppy seas.” When a torsion spring fell off of a shelf and the coils bounced around, Richard was intrigued. Since it wasn’t the solution to his project, he took it home. He and his wife, Betty, watched their son, Tom, release the spring at the top of the stairs. They were all delighted when it seemed to walk down the stairs. Betty spent two days looking in a dictionary for a name for their new toy, and she decided on “Slinky.”

After Richard took a loan from a bank in order to produce his invention, he canvased Philadelphia, trying to convince toy stores to stock his new toy. He was repeatedly turned down, but he convinced the manager of Gimbels, a department store, to let him demonstrate his Slinky to holiday shoppers. The manager gave Richard one chance in November 1945. Richard had brought a board from home to serve as a ramp, and the shoppers were fascinated. Within ninety minutes, all of the four hundred Slinkys were sold.

Gilbert Ford’s art for this picture book biography is as ingenious as the Slinky. His illustrations were drawn, colored digitally, and then printed. Ford then assembled these illustrations into dioramas that included found objects. They were then photographed by Greg Endries.

Super Scientist

February24

Chris Barton’s picture book biography, Whoosh!: Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions (Charlesbridge), encourages readers to experiment and to dream. As a child, Lonnie was always intrigued with building and inventing. His parents encouraged his creativity by allowing him to bring his parts and “stuff” into the house. Lonnie knew that he wanted to be an engineer, and he built his own robot, Linex. His challenge was to transmit commands to Linex. When he finally worked out his transmission issue, Lonnie’s team won first place in the 1968 science fair at the University of Alabama. This was remarkable because of Lonnie’s project, but also because five years earlier, Lonnie wouldn’t have been allowed to participate as an African-American.

After graduating from Tuskegee Institute, Lonnie went to work at NASA. His project was to develop a constant supply of power to the orbiter Galileo’s computer memory on the mission to Jupiter. Even though he was challenged to invent professionally, Lonnie continued to create during his free time at home. When he was experimenting with ideas for environmentally safe ways to cool refrigerators and air conditioners, he played around with water and air pressure. Lonnie’s experiment that blasted a stream of water gave him an idea for a water gun with which to play.

It took persistence in the face of many refusals for Lonnie to finally find a toy manufacturer who liked his idea. The Super Soaker was finally produced and sold, and it made Lonnie a great deal of money. Lonnie Johnson didn’t rest on his laurels. Instead, he has built his own lab and company that is working to generate electricity without polluting the planet.

Basketball

February3

Who are you? What are You? Why are you here on this earth? Where are you going? – Coach John McLendon’s four questions for his players

One of the joys of sharing books with children and young adults is that one can introduce readers to stories about people who have made a positive difference in the world. Just before March Madness begins with the focus on college basketball, I enjoy reading Hoop Genius: How a Desperate Teacher and a Rowdy Gym Class Invented Basketball by John Coy (Carolrhoda Books). This year, there is a new book by the same author, Game Changer: John McLendon and the Secret Game illustrated by Randy DuBurke (Carolrhoda Books). These titles are perfect to pair because they demonstrate the universality of the sport, and the courage of two men.

John McLendon (1915-1999) was a disciple of James Naismith, who invented basketball. (How amazing is it that we can trace the origins of this sport to one man?) John McLendon had the goal of becoming a basketball coach, and his father said that he would work and devote his life to helping him achieve that goal. McLendon’s father sent him to the University of Kansas to learn from James Naismith. The biggest hurdle that McLendon would have to face was the color of his skin. He wasn’t allowed to play basketball in college because Kansas’ varsity basketball team did not suit up a black player until 1951. There were no college or professional African-American coaches. Naismith mentored the student and stood up for him when he faced obstacles because of his race. He was instrumental in helping McLendon get his first coaching job.

Game Changer chronicles one event in John McLendon’s illustrious career. In 1944, he orchestrated a secret game between his team from the North Carolina College of Negroes and white members of the Duke University Medical School team. The Duke players didn’t know who they were going to play as they took a circuitous route to their destination. At the beginning of the game, the players of both teams were hesitant because none of them had ever touched a person of a different color. As they all became more confident just playing basketball, the white players soon realized that they were outmatched. McLendon’s team played a much more athletic and faster game. The North Carolina College of Negroes won that first game 88 to 44.

When the game ended, no one wanted to leave. The teams played a second game, but for that, they mixed up the players from both colleges and played shirts against skins. While this was an important step in battling segregation, the players, coaches, and others who found out about it, had to keep silent. There were too many who believed in segregation in the United States who would have harmed the participants.

John McLendon was inducted into the John Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame twice. In 1979, he was inducted as a “contributor”, but in 2016 he was inducted as a coach.

The following video has excerpts of McLendon describing Naismith’s influence on his life:

Caldecott 2017

January27

January is an exciting month for authors, illustrators, publishers, librarians, and fans of literature for children and young adults. The American Library Association (ALA) announces their awards for outstanding books. ALA recognizes authors and illustrators in a number of categories, and the most well- known are the Caldecott and Newbery Awards. Both of these deserve their own discussion, so let’s start with the Caldecott Medal. This specifically recognizes an artist of the “most distinguished American picture book for children”.
The 2017 Caldecott Award was presented to Javaka Steptoe for Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat (Little Brown). Steptoe introduces the talented artist to elementary school students with sensitivity. He does include some of the challenges that Basquiat faced as a child, and in his author’s note at the back of the book, he mentions Basquiat’s death at age twenty-seven.

Steptoe’s illustrations are truly works of art in their own right. I always tell children that when I was a student, I didn’t read forwards or author’s notes. It wasn’t until years later, when I learned how much wonderful information can be included in them. Across from the title page in Radiant Child, Steptoe has written “About This Book”. The illustrator described his collage…
Like Jean-Michel Basquiat, I used bits of New York to create the artwork for this book. I painted on richly textured pieces of found wood harvested from discarded Brooklyn Museum exhibit materials, the dumpsters of Brooklyn brownstones, and the streets of Greenwich Village and the Lower East Side.
What a testament to Jean-Michel Basquiat!

…collage is a means of survival. It is how Black folks survived four hundred years of oppression, taking the scraps of life and transforming them into art forms.” Javaka Steptoe on his website
There were four other books that were named as Caldecott Honor books.
Leave Me Alone! illustrated and written by Vera Brosgol (Roaring Brook)

They All Saw a Cat, illustrated and written by Brendan Wenzel (Chronicle)

Du Iz Tak?, illustrated and written by Carson Ellis (Candlewick)

Freedom in Congo Square, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, written by Carole Boston Weatherford (Little Bee Books)

Ezra Jack Keats

November11

As an African American child growing up in the 1960s, at a time when I didn’t see others like me in children’s books, I was profoundly affected by the expressiveness of Keats’s illustrations.               Andrea Davis Pinkney

poemThe Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats was awarded the Caldecott Medal in 1963. This honor is for the illustration of a children’s book, and Keats’s art was groundbreaking. Keats was inspired by photographs, which he had saved for over twenty years from Life magazine. The photos were of a young black boy who was going to get a shot from the doctor. In the first picture, the child emits a joyful confidence of life. This child’s spirit inspired Keats when he created the illustrations for The Snowy Day. He made a bold move by depicting a child of color in his picture book, and he opened the door for multiculturalism in children’s illustrations. This door still needs to be opened wider, but it is important to celebrate Keats’s wisdom so many years ago. Andrea Davis Pinkney does just that in A Poem for Peter, illustrated by Lou Fancher and Steve Johnson (Viking). This picture book biography is a work of art written in narrative verse.

Jacob (Jack) Ezra Katz was born in 1916 to poor, Polish immigrant parents in Brooklyn, New York. From an early age, it is apparent that Jacob had a special talent for drawing. When he was in third grade, he earned money by painting signs for stores. Even though he won awards for his art in high school and was offered scholarships to art school, Jack had to stifle his dreams to help support his family when his father died. He was able to maintain his artistic growth when he began taking classes at The Art Students League that led to work during the Great Depression through the WPA. Through this government-sponsored organization, Jack was paid to paint murals. Then he was hired as a comic-book artist. During WWII, Jack used his artistic talent for the Air Force division of the Army.

When WWII ended, Jack experienced the same discrimination that many Jewish people experienced. That was when he shortened and rearranged his name to Ezra Jack Keats.

Yes, yes – Ezra Jack Keats.
Had a nice ring to it – for some.
It was a name that only hinted at
his heritage.
Only winded at where he’d
come from,
but never came out and said.                
from A Poem for Peter

He illustrated books for other authors, and then he was given the chance to write and snowyillustrate his own work. His character, Peter, came to life, that little boy from the photographs. In The Snowy Day, Keats used collage and handmade stamps, which were techniques that were new to him.

A Poem for Peter delighted me and brought me back to the wonders of The Snowy Day.

Louise Bourgeois

October14

clothLouise Bourgeois’ (1911-2010) art has been exhibited in museums all over the world. She worked in many mediums, although she is probably best known for her sculptures of spiders. In 2011, one of her works, Spider, set a record for the highest price ever paid for a woman’s piece of art, when it sold at auction for $10.7 million. In 2015, that same piece resold for $28.2 million. In Cloth Lullaby: The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois written by Amy Novesky, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault (Abrams Books for Young Readers) the author explores Bourgeois’ life story. Louise was a young girl who was born in Paris into a family who restored tapestries, and she became one of the premier contemporary artists.

As a twelve year old, Louise learned the family trade, and she began to repair missing fragments of the tapestries that were brought to the shop. Her mother taught her about the styles of textiles, form, color, weaving, dyeing, and stitching. As a child, Louise also kept diaries of her thoughts and ideas. When she went to university in Paris, Louise first studied mathematics. After her mother’s death, she went to the Sorbonne where she became fascinated with sculpture as well as painting.

After moving to the United States with her husband and children before WWII, Louise struggled with entering the art exhibition world in a new country. As she explored new areas in her own work, she began to be recognized. Bourgeois exhibited and taught for years, and she influenced many other artists.

spiderSome of her signature pieces and themes are very large spiders. She wrote that (Drawing was) “like a thread in a spider’s web.” And “If you bash into the web of a spider, she doesn’t get mad. She weaves and she repairs it.”

(Image taken from The Guardian)

Mary Garber

September30

miss-maryIt has become commonplace to see women as sports reporters on television or covering sports on the Internet in 2016. This is a fairly recent occurrence though. Contemporary female professional sports writers and commentators owe a debt of gratitude to Mary Garber (1916-2008), a pioneer in that field. Miss Mary Reporting by Sue Macy, illustrated by C. F. Payne (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers) is a picture book biography that brings Mary to life.

Mary Garber’s family moved from New York City to Winston-Salem, North Carolina when she was eight years old, and Winston-Salem was Mary’s home for the rest of her life. Growing up, Mary enjoyed many sports, especially tackle football with the boys. As a youngster, she was the quarterback for the Buena Vista Devils, known as the BVDs. In school, she played softball and tennis, two sports where it didn’t matter that she was only five feet tall and under one hundred pounds. Her father took Mary and her sister to many athletic events, and he made sure that they understood all of the rules of the games.

mary_garberAfter college, Mary knew that she wanted to be a reporter, although her first assignment was as a society reporter and then a general news reporter. During WWII, she began covering sports when all of the men enlisted. After the war, there was a year that she went back to general reporting, but after that brief interlude the sports beat was hers. There were many obstacles that Mary had to overcome just to do her job. Jackie Robinson became a role model for her. While he was facing taunts and jeers, he remained dignified and kept silent. The discrimination that she faced as a woman in a field of men didn’t match the prejudice that Robinson experienced, but Mary and Jackie were both breaking stereotypes. (Photo from Wikipedia)

During her career, Mary had to fight for admittance to press boxes, stand outside of locker rooms, be ignored by coaches, and even once sew a tear in a basketball players uniform because she was a woman. Along the way coaches began to admire her determination, and readers enjoyed her insights. One of her most significant accomplishments was her advocacy for fighting segregation. She began reporting on games played in Winston-Salem’s all-black schools. No reporter had ever done that. Mary said, “It seemed to me that black parents were as interested in what their kids were doing as white parents were.” Mary cared.

The Mary Garber Pioneer Award is given annually by the Association For Women in Sports Media.

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