Read On!

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

Jon Klassen


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


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


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.”

Award Season


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 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


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.

A Thanksgiving Favorite


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!


Recipe found at the Devlin website here.



October 30, 1938

orsonThe United States was battling its way through the Great Depression. Adolph Hitler had risen to power in Germany, and his army was advancing throughout Europe. Many American families gathered around the radios in their homes for entertainment and news. Because of the world events, listeners became accustomed to their radio entertainment being interrupted by news reports. Orson Welles used this model of breaking into a regularly scheduled show with news. He decided to use some ideas from H.G. Wells 1898 book, War of the Worlds. In that story, alien vessels landed in London and terrorized that city and moved throughout the world.

Orson Welles took that idea and made a radio play based on it for the CBS Mercury Theatre on the Air. In his script, aliens first landed in Grovers Mill, New Jersey. Very few radio listeners heard the announcement at 8:00pm that it was a dramatic presentation. Instead, thousands of people panicked and believed that the United States was being invaded.

AliensMeghan McCarthy’s picture book, Aliens Are Coming: The True Account of the 1938 War of the Worlds Radio Broadcast (Knopf, 2006) is an interesting way to share this event. The children are sure that this hoax couldn’t be perpetrated today because of our technology.



Black and White


OliviaWhen I was a child, there was a common joke, “What’s black and white and red all over?” The answer, of course, was “a newspaper” because of the play on the word red/read. Once we knew this answer, we learned other answers like “an embarrassed zebra” or “a sunburned penguin”. Today’s children probably wouldn’t come up with the old answer of a newspaper, but they might answer that a book can be black and white and read all over. After all, many of our older children grew up enjoying the picture books about Olivia by Ian Falconer. The illustrations in Olivia are black, white, and grey with splashes of red. Parents and children loved the little pig that enjoyed fashion, opera, and ballet. Falconer’s book was commended as a Caldecott Honor Book the year it was published.

skunkToday’s young children have two books that are also black and white and will be read all over, The Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak (Dial) and The Skunk by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Patrick McDonnell (Roaring Brook Press). These books are entirely different, but they are both winners during story time. The Skunk is a quiet book that sneaks up on the reader, just like the skunk who follows a man around all day. We don’t have a name for the man, but he tells us his tale in the first person. The illustrations are almost all in black and white with a touch of red, especially in his tie and the skunk’s nose. The charming twist at the end brings about some great discussion among the children. This author illustrator team are certainly a dynamic pair.

bookThere is no discussion, just outright laughter, when I read The Book With No Pictures to children. The illustrator did use color to accentuate the silly words and phrases while the readers normal voice is depicted in black and white. It doesn’t matter how many times a child hears this book, they want to hear it again and again and again.

So…What’s black and white and read all over? My answer is “A GOOD BOOK”!

Two Gems


A picture book is a small door to the enormous world of the visual arts, and they’re often the first art a young person sees.  Tomie dePaola

crayonsThe crayons are back! Drew Daywalt brought young readers into the world of crayons when he brought them to life in his award winner, The Day the Crayons Quit. Children laughed out loud at the antics of the colors. Who can forget yellow crayon and orange crayon bickering over which is the true color of the sun and writing to their owner, Duncan, to complain? Daywalt once again teamed up with illustrator, Oliver Jeffers, in The Day the Crayons Came Home (Philomel). This time Duncan receives postcards in the mail from his crayons. Orange crayon and yellow crayon aren’t arguing anymore because they were left outside in the sun and they are melted together. They want to be rescued and brought home.

openAnother recent addition to our collection that features the use of a crayon is Open Very Carefully: A Book With Bite (Nosy Crow/Candlewick) by Nicola O’Byrne, illustrated by Nick Bromley. A crocodile intrudes on the story of The Ugly Duckling and starts eating the letters in the book. His favorite letters are O and S, and as he munches them, it becomes difficult to continue the story. The reader can get physically involved in the book by rocking and shaking the crocodile. This is great fun to share with our youngest readers. Older children who enjoyed Chester by Melanie Watts might also like to check these out.

Dr. Seuss


Dr. Seuss

Ted_Geisel_NYWTS_2_cropYears after he wrote his books, Theodore Seuss Geisel continues to be a favorite author for young and old alike. Whether you are a child enjoying his books for the first time or an adult finding deeper meaning in them, his talent is obvious. Born in Springfield, MA and a graduate of Dartmouth College, Geisel was a political cartoonist before he became famous for his children’s books. While many of his books have a moral to them or feature a character who has integrity, empathy, or determination, Geisel said, “…kids can see a moral coming a mile off…” While his writing is fun, and even silly with made-up words, it is quite sophisticated as he wrote in a poetic meter of four rhythmic units.

In 2014, a new collection of Seuss’ “lost” stories was published, Horton and the Kwuggerbug and More Lost Stories (Random). Charles D. Cohen, an expert on Seuss, introduces a number of stories that had been published in various magazines during Geisel’s life. This new collection is a sequel of sorts to The Bippolo Seed and Other Lost Stories (Random, 2011).

bippolo       horton

In 1997, the National Education Association suggested using Geisel’s birthday, March 2, as “Read Across America Day”.

Photo of Dr. Seuss from Wikipedia

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