Read On!

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

Frankenstein

October11

“The companions of our childhood always possess a certain power over our minds which hardly any later friend can obtain.” Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

As we celebrate October and the Halloween season, it’s interesting to present some books that explain the foundation for related myths and ideas.

Bailey, Linda. Mary Who Wrote Frankenstein, illustrated by Júlia Sardà (Tundra)

Fulton, Lynn. She Made a Monster: How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein, illustrated by Felicita Sala (Knopf)

 

“Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is not the same as the story most people know from the movies. Unlike the square-headed Hollywood monster with bolts in his neck, the creature in Mary’s book can speak and even read. He is lonely and longs to be part of a family, but because of his frightening appearance, he is hated and rejected by everyone, even his creator.”  Lynn Fulton, Author’s Note

When Mary Shelley was an infant, her mother died. As a young child, her father taught her the alphabet, and she would trace the letters on her mother’s tombstone. Mary’s mother had been a writer who believed in rights for women and democracy, revolutionary ideas for an 18th/19th-century woman.

Mary began the writing of Frankenstein when she vacationed in Switzerland with friends. One of the members of the group was Percy Shelley, already a noted poet and her future husband. On a dark and stormy night, the friends read harrowing tales and challenged each other to write ghost stories. Mary had heard of a corpse moving through the use of electricity. She thought of creating a monster but also wondered how the monster might feel.

The subtitle of Frankenstein is The Modern Prometheus. In Greek mythology, Prometheus is a trickster who created a man from clay. His name is also associated with scientific curiosity and unintended consequences. This became part of Mary’s metaphor in Frankenstein.

Mary’s novel was published when she was twenty years old. There were only five hundred copies printed of the first edition, but the news of her imaginative tale of Frankenstein soon spread. The publisher soon reprinted it. While Mary Shelley wrote numerous other works and continued to speak about women’s roles in society, she is best known for Frankenstein.

Linda Bailey and Lynn Fulton have both created picture book biographies that chronicle Mary Shelley’s life.

A White House Concert

September13

Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreño Played the Piano for President Lincoln by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rafael López (Atheneum)

Born in Caracas, Venezuela in 1853, Teresa Carreño demonstrated her sophisticated musical talent at an early age. Her father was a noted musician who started her piano lessons when she was very young. Teresa soon discovered that she could express her feelings by playing the piano. By the time she was six, this small child was writing her own compositions. When she was seven years old, Teresa performed for the public in a chapel.

In 1862, the Carreño family emigrated to the United States because of unrest in their own country. When they arrived in New York City, they learned that the United States was also engaged in a war between the states. Her family soon made many friends by opening their home as a mecca for musicians and those who loved music. During this time, Teresa practiced and practiced to improve her technique. Here, too, she performed in public, even with great orchestras. The newspapers proclaimed her talent, and she was given the nickname, “Piano Girl”.

One day, Teresa received an invitation to play for President Abraham Lincoln at the White House. In 1863, this ten year old girl played one of her most memorable concerts for the Lincolns.

Teresa Carreño went on to not only perform on the piano, but also to sing, and she performed solo and with choirs and orchestras. During her lifetime, she wrote over 75 compositions for piano, voice, and orchestra. Piano Girl left a legacy that still lives on today.

(npg.si.edu)

Brothers and Artists

September6

“A single human face can give an artist the subject matter to fill a lifetime.”
Alberto Giacometti

Two Brothers, Four Hands: The Artists Alberto and Diego Giacometti by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan, illustrated by Hadley Hooper (Holiday House)

Alberto and Diego Giacometti were born and raised in the small Swiss village of Stampa. While they had two other siblings, the boys were inseparable, yet very different in attitude and aptitude. Because their father was a painter, there were always art supplies in their home for the children to use. Alberto spent hours drawing and reading, and at 13 years old, he created his first sculpture of Diego. These activities didn’t interest Diego at all, and he roamed the countryside observing animals and nature.

Alberto began to travel to learn about art. While visiting museums, churches, and artists, he kept journals of sketches and ideas. He went to study in Paris and was impressed by the Surrealists who believed that art should not come from life, but from the imagination. During this time of self-education for Alberto, Diego was aimless and lacked direction in his life. He moved to Paris to be with his brother, and they rented a decrepit studio where Alberto could create.

After WWII, Alberto eventually found his own style for sculpture, and his sculptures became larger and thinner. Diego became indispensable to him as he took his brother’s plaster molds and cast the pieces in bronze. He then brushed the surfaces with acid to produce various patinas. By 1948, Alberto was well-known, and he exhibited his work in the U.S. and Europe.

After Alberto died in 1966, Diego experimented with his own style also using bronze. He created pieces of furniture that were their own works of art. He, too, exhibited internationally for almost 20 years.

Authors Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan carefully researched and skillfully wrote Two Brothers, Four Hands. The illustrations by Hadley Hooper complement the text and bring the story to life.

Photo from left: Alberto, Diego, and Annette, Alberto’s wife from icp.org

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)

 

 

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