Read On!

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

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.

Zaha Hadid

May11

I think the best way to present history to children is through good, accurate storytelling. – Jeanette Winter

Through her picture books, Jeanette Winter has introduced children and adults to many notable people. One of her latest is The World Is Not a Rectangle (Beach Lane Books). In this colorfully illustrated picture book biography, Winter profiles Zaha Hadid, an exceptional architect from Iraq.

Growing up in Baghdad, Zaha noticed patterns and shapes and colors, both natural and manmade. After she studied mathematics at the American University of Beirut, Zaha moved to London to earn a degree at Architectural Association School of Architecture, and she never looked back. Zaha opened her own office and designed and designed. Her mantra was “The world is not a rectangle.”

It took time to convince people to build one of her designs. Even though she won competition after competition for her ideas, no one was brave enough to agree to use her plans.

Hadid means iron in Arabic,
And Zaha is strong as iron.
She keeps on working – one plan after another.
“I made a conscious decision not to stop.” – The World Is Not a Rectangle

One of the first buildings to be constructed from Hadid’s design was the Vitra Fire Station in Weil am Rhein, Germany. The building was never used as a fire station, and it is now an exhibit space for architects. However, Hadid’s career was launched, and she went on to build unique buildings all over the world.

(Image from Wikmedia Commons)

Muddy Waters

April27

Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters (Atheneum Books for Young Readers) is written by Michael Mahin and illustrated by Evan Turk.

As a child, Mckinley Morganfield (1915? -1983) loved to play in the muddy water near his Mississippi home, and his Grandma Della nicknamed him Muddy. He was first introduced to music when he went to church with her, but that wasn’t the music that spoke to him. Muddy loved the blues, and when he was 17 years old, he purchased his first guitar, a Stella.

For a number of years, Muddy worked at sharecropping during the week while he played in juke joints on the weekend. These were often ramshackle buildings where African-Americans enjoyed music and dancing because they were barred from white establishments. Eventually, Muddy headed north to Chicago to make a better life. He played in clubs for very little money and kept experimenting with blues that came from his soul.

Record producer, Leonard Chess, told him that he had one chance to succeed or fail with his style as he cut a record. Chess wasn’t convinced that anyone would appreciate Muddy’s sound, so he only printed three thousand copies of the record. Folks in the south side of Chicago immediately felt something special in Muddy’s style, and the record sold out in twenty-four hours. Muddy was on his way. Muddy rose from those southern roots where he faced blatant racism and segregation to sing about them with his own Blues.

In the author’s note, Mahin wrote:

When the Beatles came to the United States for the first time in 1964, they were about to become the biggest band in the world. They were asked whom they most wanted to meet. They could have said anyone. But they said, “Muddy Waters and Bo Diddley.” The American reporters replied, “Muddy Waters? Where’s that?” And the Beatles, witty as always, shot back, “Don’t you know who your own famous people are here?”

Here is a recording that he made with that other popular British band, The Rolling Stones:

An Early Environmentalist

April5

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 for civil rights and human rights. I want to share this post that I originally wrote in 2012 because it is still so timely.

The students were especially interested to learn about Jacques Cousteau. 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.

In 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. tlccontent-1

Here’s a video on Jacques Cousteau’s work with John Denver’s song “Calypso”.

Hidden Figures

March2

Readers first learned about Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden through the adult book Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly and Robin Miles. More people were introduced to these remarkable women through the major motion picture that was adapted from the book. Following that, a “Young Readers’ Edition” of the original book was released.

Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race (Harper) by Margot Lee Shetterly with Winifred Conkling, illustrated by Laura Freeman, is a picture book biography that will introduce these bright women of color to younger readers.

Dorothy, Mary, Katherine, and Christine all knew that they were excellent at mathematics. College educated, they were only allowed to teach math in segregated public schools. When there was a shortage of mathematicians during WWII, Dorothy was the first of the group who was hired to work for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. The other women also obtained jobs, and they joined other women and men who were called the computers. Because of the prevalent racism in the United States, the women worked in a different building and a separate office from the white women computers. They continued to face discrimination at lunch counters, and they were forced to use separate water fountains and bathrooms.

Dorothy Vaughan worked on building faster planes than the Russians.
Mary Jackson was the first African-American female engineer at Langley.
Katherine Johnson analyzed the effects of turbulence on planes, and she helped calculate the trajectories of John Glenn’s historic space flight.
Christine Darden became an engineer for supersonic airplanes and worked for NASA planning the first trip to the moon.

 

 

The First Computer Programmer

January17

That brain of mine is something more than merely mortal; as time will show.       – Ada Lovelace

This quote by Ada Lovelace (1815-1852) is not exactly humble, but neither were her parents. Ada’s father was the poet, Lord Byron. A month after she was born, Ada’s parents separated. Her mother, Anne Isabella Milbanke, Lady Wentworth, retained complete custody, which was unusual in the male dominated English society. Ada never saw her father again, and Lord Byron died when she was eight years old.

Lady Wentworth always worried that Ada would become imaginative and reckless like her father. To combat this, her mother instructed Ada in mathematics. She was an anomaly because there weren’t many female mathematicians during the first half of the 1800s. When Ada and her mother toured factories, as many wealthy families did for entertainment, Ada’s imagination came alive with ideas. She called one of her first ideas, Flyology, as she imagined a mechanical horse that would take to the air.

When she was 17 years old, Ada met the inventor, Charles Babbage. He was a mathematician and engineer, and his primary project was “The Difference Machine”. Babbage envisioned a team-powered calculator that would always produce the right answer. After she was married to Lord William King, Earl of Lovelace, Ada began to help Babbage with his newest invention, “The Analytical Engine”, which was an early computer design. The Analytical Engine was based on the concept of a Jacquard loom which used hole punched cards to calculate sums. Even now, mathematicians marvel at the complexity of Ada’s work. She has been called the world’s first computer programmer.

Two picture book biographies were published about Ada Lovelace within months of each other. Both highlight the life and incredible mind of this remarkable woman. Take a look at Ada Lovelace, Poet of Science (Simon & Schuster) written by Diane Stanley and illustrated by Jessie Hartland or Ada’s Ideas (Abrams) written and illustrated by Fiona Robinson.

The Association for Women in Computing (AWC) presents the Ada Lovelace Award. “The award is given to individuals who have excelled in either of two areas: outstanding scientific technical achievement and/or extraordinary service to the computing community through accomplishments and contributions on behalf of women in computing.” (AWC)

Martin Luther King, Jr.

January11

Sooner or later, all the people of the world will have to discover a way to live together.

Growing up in Atlanta, GA, Martin Luther King, Jr. experienced the unfairness of segregation on a daily basis. When he saw “White Only” signs and he wasn’t able to attend a school with white children, his mother reminded him that he was as good as anyone else. He listened to his father’s words as the elder King preached in church every Sunday. During those formative years of his life, Martin understood how powerful words could be.

In Martin’s Big Words (Hyperion Books for Children), author Doreen Rappaport shares important quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr. as she narrates key incidents in his life. Bryan Collier’s colorful and detailed illustrations earned him a Caldecott Award Honor. The year it was published, this picture book biography was also named one of the best illustrated children’s books by the New York Times

From the Archives

January5

A snow crystal is a letter from the sky.”

The Story of SnowUkichiro Nakaya, Japanese scientist (1900-1962)

Nakaya’s quote shouldn’t be missed on the back endpaper of The Story of Snow. Authors Mark Cassino and Jon Nelson have written a book that will inspire young scientists and artists. Just as the authors coordinated their talents, The Story of Snow: The Science of Winter’s Wonder has a fine balance of text and pictures. Cassino’s photographs of snow crystals are clearly explained by Nelson’s text.

Snowflake BentleyThe Story of Snow is a perfect companion book to Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, the 1999 Caldecott Award Winner. Wilson A. Bentley was the first to photograph snowflakes to study their beauty and construction. Imagine the conversations that Bentley would have with Mark Cassino and Jon Nelson. While the technology has improved, they all would share the wonder of a snowflake.

Bentley’s words from 1925 describe the contents of The Story of Snow, a book written years later:

“Under the microscope, I found that snowflakes were miracles of beauty; and it seemed a shame that this beauty should not be seen and appreciated by others. Every crystal was a masterpiece of design and no one design was ever repeated. When a snowflake melted, that design was forever lost. Just that much beauty was gone, without leaving any record behind.”

(Taken from the website, http://snowflakebentley.com)

Elijah Pierce

December13

There are a number of families who might not have read a post that I wrote four years ago. Since this describes a special book, I wanted to share it this week.

Elijah's Angel

One of my favorite books for the holiday season (or any other time) is Elijah’s Angel by Michael J. Rosen, illustrated by Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson (HBJ, 1992). This story appeals to me on so many levels. Families who celebrate Chanukah and Christmas can all relate to the meaning of their holidays. As a fan of folk art and outsider art, I enjoy introducing Elijah Pierce (1892-1984) to our students.

Elijah was a woodcarver, barber, and deeply religious man. During his lifetime, this humble craftsman was awarded a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. His woodcarvings are owned privately and in museum collections.

Michael Rosen, the author, met Elijah Pierce as a youngster, and he has shared his friendship with Elijah in this story. As a young friend of the woodcarver, Michael was enthralled with Elijah’s work. However, when Elijah gave Michael the gift of an angel during the Christmas season, Michael was conflicted. He didn’t feel that he could accept it because Michael was Jewish, and his family didn’t own “graven images”. Michael’s supportive parents helped him celebrate the true meaning of Chanukah, Christmas, and friendship.

The illustrator of Elijah’s Angel also knew Elijah Pierce. Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson became his friend and student. Her illustrations are in a folk art style.

In the following trailer, Elijah describes his craft.

 

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