Read On!

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

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)

Jean-Henri Fabre

October26

We have all of us, men and animals, some special gift. One child takes to music…another is quick with figures. It is the same way with insects. One kind of bee can cut leaves, another build clay houses…In human beings, we call the special gift genius. In an insect, we call it instinct. Instinct is the animal’s genius.                                                –Jean-Henri Fabre

Matthew Clark Smith introduces us to Jean-Henri Fabri (1823-1915), in Small Wonders: Jean-Henri Fabre & His World of Insects (Two Lions), illustrated by Giuliano Ferri. When he was growing up in the 1800s, Henri, lived in the country surrounded by nature, and he roamed the countryside around his home and observed his natural world. As he grew older, Henri always exclaimed over the small wonders around him, especially the marvels of insects.

Fabri studied insects differently from the scientists of his time. Instead of examining dead, preserved insects, he observed them alive in their natural habitats. One of his first significant discoveries was about a wasp called Cereris. He read that a mother wasp laid her eggs and left a large dead beetle for her children to eat when they hatched. It made no sense to him that the beetle stayed fresh in the burrow during the gestation period for the eggs to hatch. By digging up wasps’ burrows, gathering beetles, and observing the wasps in the field, he discovered that the wasps did not kill the beetles. Instead, the venomous sting permanently paralyzed the beetle so that the meat would be fresh for their newly hatched babies. Fabri began publishing his findings, and he continued to study other species. Because of his body of work, Henri was widely acclaimed in France. He not only published scientific articles and books, but he also wrote collections of poetry. He was even nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1912.

Charles Darwin called Jean-Henri Casimir Fabre “that inimitable observer.” While Darwin was aware of Fabre’s work and scientific contributions, he is little known in the United States. Fabre’s childhood home in France is a museum that is joined by an education center and an insect-themed park. Small Wonders will introduce children to this extraordinary man.

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.

Bird Brain

February9

When I was in elementary school, I remember one of my teachers telling our class that if one is called a “bird brain” that is actually a compliment. My teacher went on to compare the size of  birds’ brains to all that they learn to do to survive. She also gave us a lesson on instinct and learned behavior. Pamela S. Turner takes the “bird brain” analogy even further in her new book, Crow Smarts: Inside the Brain of the World’s Brightest Bird (HMH).

 

The author chronicles the work of Dr. Gavin Hunt and his team on the Pacific archipelago, as they study the New Caledonian crows. Because of the knowledge that the scientists have gathered, they now compare the intelligence of crows to that of dolphins, monkeys, and chimpanzees. These crows use tools to obtain food, and they even manufacture their own tool kits.

 

Crow Smarts is the latest release in the outstanding Scientists in the Field Series by the publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Andy Comins has collaborated on other books in the series. His color photographs in Crow Smarts demonstrate his talent for bringing science to life for children and adults. The art of Guido De Filippo further enhances this informative book.

Honoring John Glenn

December9

The world was divided into those who had it and those who did not. This quality, this it, was never named…The idea was to prove…that you were one of the elected and anointed ones who had the right stuff.
Tom Wolfe, from his novel, The Right Stuff, about the Mercury 7 astronauts

It just seems appropriate today to honor a true American hero John Glenn,  by sharing some of our books about astronauts. Many children are intrigued by space flight, and there are some titles that are favorites of many.

apolloMission Control, This Is Apollo by Andrew Chaikin, Victoria Kohl, illustrated by Alan Bean (Viking) describes America’s space voyages from the Mercury missions through Apollo 17 and later exploration. An interesting highlight of this book is that the illustrations are by Alan Bean who was the fourth man to walk on the moon. After he left NASA, he devoted his life to art. Bean began taking art classes when he was a test pilot, and he continued painting even when he was immersed in his work as an astronaut.

almostTanya Lee Stone wrote Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream (Candlewick Press).  The Mercury 13 were a group of women who challenged NASA’s unspoken rule that astronauts must be male and white. Even though they did not break down those barriers for themselves, they inspired many younger women to dare to dream. Years later, those dreams became realities.

i-wanspaceTwo oldies but goodies in our space and technology section are I Want to Be an Astronaut by Stephanie Maze (Harcourt Brace) and Space Exploration by Carole Stott (Eyewitness Books). Both of these titles introduce our budding scientists to space exploration with numerous color photographs and short text.

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!

Great White Sharks

September13

great-whiteThe estimated number of sharks (about 500 species) worldwide is 7 billion.

The estimated number of humans (just one species) worldwide is 7 billion.

The average number of people killed by sharks of all species yearly, worldwide is about 11.

The number of sharks of all species killed by people yearly, worldwide is 100 million.

(Information taken from The Great White Shark Scientist)

Living along the East Coast, and especially in Massachusetts, we often hear about great white shark sightings. During our warmer months, there are often advisories that there have been shark sightings off of Cape Cod, especially near Chatham’s and Orleans’ beaches.

Sy Montgomery, a talented non-fiction writer, has chronicled the latest research about great whites in her newest book, The Great White Shark Scientist (HMH). Photographs by Keith Ellenbogen complement her text, and she brings her knowledge to life for her readers.

While we usually fear sharks, and great whites especially, Montgomery supplies some interesting information that puts these fears into perspective. Some of her facts are given with a bit of humor.

Number of Americans killed by shark bite between 1984 and 1987: 4

Number of New Yorkers bitten by humans during same period: nearly 1,600

“The Atlantic White Shark Conservancy (AWSC) was established to support white shark research and education programs to ensure that this important species thrives.”  There is a shark center in Chatham where children and adults can learn more about this special species.

Counting Lions

February26

One lion
    sits and watches his rough-and-tumble pride,
    He surveys the golden savanna, and a flicker catches his eye-
    something moving in the grass. A challenger to his throne?

lionsThus begins Katie Cotton’s free verse in Counting Lions, illustrated by Stephen Walton (Candlewick, 2015). This book certainly can’t be described simply as a counting book about endangered animals. That would limit its audience. Young, independent readers who are interested in animals, poetry, or art should also know Counting Lions. Cotton writes about the characteristics of each featured animal in her unrhymed poetry. Her words complement the stunning illustrations.

Virginia McKenna’s introduction discusses the plight of many threatened and endangered animals over the past one hundred years. She is an original founder of the wildlife protection organization Zoo Check that became the Born Free Foundation. While her narrative sends a strong environmental message, it explains important details to young science enthusiasts.

Counting Lions is all about the illustrations, which are charcoal portraits of endangered animals. It was astonishing to learn that Stephen Walton is a self-taught artist. He attributes his eye for detail to his photography, as each portrait is taken from one of his own photographs. Walton is the Supervisor at Bury Art Museum in Manchester, UK. On his website, he describes being surrounded by the landscapes of George Turner and John Constable, and the animal paintings by Edwin Henry Landseer. Do check out this time-lapse video of Walton drawing “King”, the cover image of the book.

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