Read On!

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

A Thanksgiving Favorite

November9
 From my archives…

cranberryWhile there are a plethora of new books on the market every season, it’s always a pleasure to introduce some of my favorite older titles to children. One series of picture books that I’m fond of is the Cranberry Series by Wende and Harry Devlin. Wende wrote the stories that she may have first shared with her own seven children. While Wende was a gifted painter, she began to collaborate with her husband, Harry, also a commercial artist. Harry began to illustrate the sweet tales that Wende wrote. Together, they created the Old Black Witch Series and the Cranberry Series.

In Cranberry Thanksgiving, one can tell that the Devlins were influenced by their family vacation on Cape Cod. Maggie and Grandmother live in Cranberryport, at the edge of a cranberry bog and close to the ocean. On Thanksgiving, they each invite a guest to share their feast. Grandmother invites Mr. Horace, a traveler from the city, who smells of lavender and carries a gold-headed cane. Maggie invites Mr. Whiskers, an old sea captain who smells of clams. Grandmother’s famous recipe for Cranberry Bread is stolen, and a most unlikely character is the hero of the story.

Today’s children enjoy this timeless story as much as those who heard it back in 1971 when the Devlins first published it. I had requests for more Mr. Whiskers’ stories, and fortunately for us, the Devlins wrote other books.

And…they shared their Cranberry Bread recipe.

Elizabeth Cotten

May24

Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotton by Laura Veirs, illustrated by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh (Chronicle)

Born in 1893(?) in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Elizabeth (Libba) Nevill grew up living and experiencing segregation. However, as the youngest of five children in a loving home, Libba was surrounded by music. Her older brother, Claude, owned a guitar, and Libba would sneak into his room and borrow it when he was at work. Claude was right-handed, and Libba was left-handed. So, she taught herself to play by turning the guitar upside down and playing it backward. When Claude moved out, Libba worked many jobs to buy her own Stella guitar. After hearing songs once, the young girl could play them, and she wrote her first original song when she was around 11 years old. That song, Freight Train, became one of her most famous songs, and it has been recorded by many musicians throughout the years.

Libba married Frank Cotten when she was 17 years old, and they had a daughter, Lillie. Once Libba was married, she put her guitar away and didn’t play again for many years. By a fortunate happenstance, Libba was invited to become a housekeeper for the famous folk-singing Seeger family. In their home, she was once again surrounded by music, and she picked up her guitar again. One day, the Seeger children heard beautiful music coming from the kitchen and went to investigate. When the Seegers realized Libba’s talent, they invited her to record an album and to tour with them. Libba’s career began in her sixties, and it continued until her death in 1987.

Veirs and Fazlalizadeh introduce children to this talented woman in their picture book, Libba.

Caldecott 2018

February15

The American Library Association (ALA) announced their annual awards given to honor children’s and young adults’ books this week. The Caldecott Award is presented “to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.” This year, the committee chose more multicultural titles than were celebrated in past years.

 

This year’s Caldecott Award was presented to Wolf in the Snow (Macmillan), illustrated and written by Matthew Cordell. The only writing in this nearly wordless book is of animal sounds. The illustrations are inked in pen and colored with watercolors. The design of the pages varies with some being circular and others depicting more than one picture. A young girl is walking home from school when it begins to snow. She finds a wolf pup who has become separated from his pack. After she returns him to his pack, the wolves follow the girl and protect her when she, too, becomes lost. It’s often difficult to share a wordless book with more than one child at a time, but Wolf in the Snow is an exception. Cordell’s charming book should be enjoyed by young readers for years to come.

The judges for this year’s Caldecott Committee chose four honor books: Big Cat, Little Cat written and illustrated by Elisha Cooper (Roaring Brook Press), Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut illustrated by Gordon C. James and written by Derrick Barnes (Bolden), A Different Pond illustrated by Thi Bui and written by Bao Phi (Capstone), and Grand Canyon illustrated and written by Jason Chin (Roaring Brook Press).

 

While all of the honor books demonstrate excellence, there is one of the titles that received much recognition  – Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut. Not only did the ALA choose the title as a Caldecott Honor Book, it was also recognized as a Newbery Honor Book and a Coretta Scott King Honor book. The King Award recognizes African American authors and illustrators, and the Newbery Medal is given for outstanding children’s literature. It’s unusual to have a picture book recognized in the Newbery category. The writing is lyrical as Derrick Barnes describes the importance of a haircut to an African-American boy.

It was worth it. It always is

You know why?

Because you’ll leave out of “the shop”

Every single time, feeling the exact same way…

                        Magnificent.

                                    Flawless.

                                                Like royalty.

Hello, world…

 

Season’s Readings

December7

Author and illustrator Matt Tavares has produced one of the best picture books that celebrate Christmas in 2017. Red & Lulu (Candlewick) is based around an annual Christmas tradition, the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center.

Red and Lulu are a pair of cardinals who nest in a majestic tree in a yard. They enjoy all of the seasons, but especially the Christmas season when the family always trimmed their tree with lights. One morning, Red was returning from finding food when their tree was cut down and hoisted onto a truck. Lulu was nesting in the tree which was being driven away. Red chirped to Lulu to stay in the tree, and he would find her. Unable to keep up with the truck, Red arrived in New York City and searched everywhere. His heart ached for Lulu until days later, he was attracted to Rockefeller Center. There stood the tree, glittering with lights. There was Lulu on their favorite branch. At the end of the holiday season, Red and Lulu found a new home in Central Park.

This touching tale not only celebrates the season, but also, the bond that the two cardinals share.

The head gardener at Rockefeller Center is responsible for choosing the perfect tree. Almost every year, the variety chosen is a Norway spruce. This tree is not native to the United States, so it isn’t often found in a forest. Instead, the gardener chooses one that had been planted in a private yard years ago.The Rockefeller Center tree is the height of an eight-story building. Over 45,000 multicolored lights are strung on it, and the star on the top weighs 550 pounds. When taken down, the tree is donated to Habitat for Humanity, so that the lumber from the tree will be used to build a home.

This video shows the 2017 tree being hoisted onto the truck.

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)

Jon Klassen

January12

Canadian Jon Klassen is the author and illustrator of a picture book trilogy about different animals and their hats. The first, I Want My Hat Back (Candlewick, 2011), entertained young readers with a bear who is searching for his hat. When it dawns on the bear that he saw it on a rabbit, he retrieves it. Young readers are left with deciding what happened to the small, furry thief. Did the bear really do something wicked to him?
“…I haven’t seen any rabbits anywhere. I would not eat a rabbit. Don’t ask me any more questions.

The second book This Is Not My Hat (Candlewick, 2012), is laugh-out-loud funny, and Klassen won the 2013 Caldecott Award for excellence in picture book illustration for his artwork. Young readers once again argue over what happened to the little fish who admitted to stealing a hat from a very large fish. The little fish believes that he’ll get away with his theft because only one crab knows where he will hide. The crab doesn’t keep his hiding place a secret. Did something happen to the little fish?

The trilogy ends with We Found a Hat (Candlewick, 2016) when two turtles find a hat together. Both feel that the hat looks wonderful on them, but it wouldn’t be fair for only one of them to own it. They leave the hat, but one turtle decides to go back for it when his friend is asleep. Does friendship win out over his desire for ownership?

In the second and third books, Klassen tells much of the story through the use of the characters’ eyes. The illustrations are spare, yet brilliant.

In this video, Klassen refers to a picture book by Mac Barnett, Sam and Dave Dig a Hole (Candlewick, 2014). Klassen received a Caldecott Honor Medal for these illustrations. He describes how to depict emotions with eyes.

Bar-tailed Godwits

November22

circleBar-tailed godwits’ tale of migration is extraordinary, even compared to other shorebirds’ migrations. Each year, the godwits fly from their northern home in Alaska to their southern home in Australia and New Zealand. They make this 7,000 mile journey before the Arctic winter begins. When they return to the north, they stop to feed in the wetlands of Asia.

Jeannie Baker’s latest book, Circle (Candlewick Press), is a lovely testimony to these amazing birds and their journeys. Her art is depicted in stunning collage. Besides depicting the birds, she also adds in a young, physically challenged boy who dreams of flying.

The Global Flyway Network unites researchers who devote their work to studying bird migrations all over the world.

Jeannie Baker describes her art in Circle in the following video.

Enjoy this description of bar-tailed godwits!

Beatrix Potter

September2

BeatrixOne of the world’s most beloved author/illustrators, Beatrix Potter, was born on July 28, 1866. There have been numerous events this year to celebrate the 150th anniversary of her birth.

(Photo of Miss Potter taken from The National Trust & Frederick Warne Ltd.)
Beatrix and her brother, Bertram, were born to privilege, as their parents were quite wealthy. When they were growing up, they associated with few children of the same age as governesses educated them. However, they were encouraged to explore the natural world, especially during the summer on holidays, first in Scotland and then in the Lake District of England. It was here that Beatrix blossomed and recorded her observations of life.

One of Beatrix’s governesses was only three years older than her, and Annie Moore Carter acted as a lady’s companion to her. Annie and Beatrix became lifelong friends, and Miss Potter wrote entertaining letters illustrated with sketches to Annie’s children. In 1893, while she was on holiday, Potter composed a story to Annie’s son Noel, who was ill. She wrote about “four little rabbits whose names were Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter.” This letter was the basis for Potter’s most famous book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit.

This talented artist, naturalist, and author went on to become a landowner, farmer, and conservationist in the Lake District. She purchased large plots of land to preserve the area. Her donation of her property to the National Trust is now included in the Lake District National Park.

One of her unpublished stories, The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots, which was written in 1941, is being published this month. The illustrations are by Quentin Blake, a contemporary British illustrator, who has written many children’s books.

As part of the celebration of her life, Penguin Random House commissioned street artist Marcus Crocker to give Potter’s characters a modern makeover. At first I was “put off” by this modernization, as I considered it a bit sacrilegious to mess around with Peter Rabbit, Mr. Jeremy Fisher, Jemima Puddle-Duck, Squirrel Nutkin, Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, and Mrs. Tittlemouse. However, in reading about the new Potter figures, I found it interesting.
“The reimagined small versions of the familiar characters reflect the diminutive dimensions of the original Peter Rabbit stories, whilst some also contain a nod to Beatrix Potter’s varied accomplishments as a Conservationist; Botanist; Businesswoman; Artist; Storyteller all of which made her a woman ahead of her time… The figures were carefully crafted to ensure continuity with not only the characters’ own personality traits, but in some cases those of their original creator, in contemporary and surprising ways.”
(https://vimeo.com/168933897)

Award Season

January15

Award Season

caldecott-medalOn one Monday morning every January, everyone who is involved with children’s books anxiously awaits the announcement of the awards that are given by the American Library Association. Librarians, teachers, students, authors, illustrators, booksellers, and publishers all wonder whether their favorites will be mentioned for the Caldecott and Newbery Awards or whether a little recognized book will be honored. Will we agree with the choices? Will there be controversy? Who will get the awards?

This year, the committees had a number of books from which to choose in many categories. As someone who promotes books to young people, I felt that there were many outstanding books published in 2015. The award that is nearest and dearest to me is the Randolph Caldecott Medal, which is given “to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.”

WinnieThe 2016 Caldecott winner is Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear, illustrated by Sophie Blackall and written by Lindsay Mattick (Little, Brown). I have especially shared this book with our third graders as an introduction to my Winnie-the-Pooh unit. This true story chronicles the life of a bear cub that became the inspiration for A.A. Milne’s classic, Winnie-the-Pooh. Harry Colebourn was a veterinarian in Canada. As a soldier during WWI, his unit was assigned to travel to England and France to care for the horses used in battle. On their train ride in Canada, Colebourn bought a bear cub that was being sold by a trapper at one of the train stops. He named the cub Winnipeg, and she became known as Winnie. Lindsay Mattick is the great-granddaughter of that soldier, and she wrote the story with a nod to the style that A.A. Milne used in Winnie-the-Pooh. She wrote little asides with her son asking questions, just as Milne’s son, Christopher Robin asked his father questions during his story. I am a huge fan of Sophie Blackall’s art and spirit. Her illustrations in the book are in watercolors to depict the history of Winnie. She used Chinese ink drawings for the present day author and her son.

win2It is with a bit of serendipity that there was another picture book written this year about Harry Colebourn and his pet. Sally M. Walker’s fictionalized account of Winnie’s origins is Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh (Macmillan). This version is interesting to pair with the Caldecott winner. The children became book critics as they examine the differences in the art and writing.

 

There were four books that are Caldecott Honor Books this year.

lastLast Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson (G. P. Putnam’s Sons)

Trombone

 

 

 

Trombone Shorty by Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, illustrated by Bryan Collier (Abrams Books for Young Readers)
voiceVoice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Ekua Holmes (Candlewick Press)

 

 

 

WaitingWaiting by Kevin Henkes (Greenwillow Books)

 

 

 

 

 

 

This year’s Newbery Award books also deserve a separate and future blog entry.

Seasons Readings

December11

Readers of all ages enjoy holiday picture books. Even our most sophisticated and older readers want to revisit old favorites and check out new titles.

 

santaWhen Santa Was a Baby by Linda Bailey & Genevieve Godbout (Tundra, 2015) has become one of this year’s favorites. Santa’s parents are like all parents because they think that their new baby is very special. When his first baby sounds are Ho! Ho! Ho!, they are surprised. Santa continues be unique when he gives away his presents, only wears red, and has a special friend who enjoys making toys. This is a fun title to pair with Santa Retires by David Biedrzycki (Charlesbridge, 2012).

 

clickDoreen Cronin has partnered with illustrator Betsy Lewin to bring us back to the zany farm that she has featured in other books. (Click, Clack, Moo being the most memorable.) This time, the animals try to rescue the crazy duck that gets stuck in the chimney just before Santa arrives in Click, Clack, Ho! Ho! Ho! (Atheneum, 2015)

 

An older title for which I’ve been having a number of requests is Snowmen at Christmas by Caralyn Buehner, illustrated by Mark Buehner (Dial, 2005). This talented husband and wife team describe a celebration by the snowmen on Christmas Eve, when all of the people are asleep.

snowmenSuch fun snowmen have!

But there’s still one more thing –

With hearts full of joy

They hold hands and they sing.

 

While the fiddler plays,

And sweet silver bells ring,

They sing songs about snow,

And the birth of a King.

« Older Entries

Skip to toolbar