Read On!

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

Ken Jennings

October4

Jennings, Ken, Ancient Egypt illustrated by Mike Lowery (Little Simon).

This past spring many families who had never tuned in to the game show, Jeopardy, followed the news about James Holzhauer, a contestant who had an amazing winning streak. Holzhauer amassed a great deal of money as his winnings, and he was eventually defeated by Emma Boettcher (a librarian!). The furor over Holzhauer’s wins was because many viewers wondered whether he would beat previous winner Ken Jennings’ records of wins and cash. Ken Jennings remains the top Jeopardy winner with 74 consecutive wins. He earned $3,522,700.00 on the show.

Jennings is not just a Jeopardy champion. He was a software engineer before he appeared on the program, but now he is a best-selling author. While his adult trivia books have been on bestseller lists, his children’s Junior Genius Guides are popular among our students. The guides sound like Jeopardy categories as he has written about dinosaurs, Greek mythology, U.S. Presidents, the human body, maps and geography, outer space, and Ancient Egypt.

The format of the Junior Genius Guides delights young and not so young readers since Jennings writes with humor and language that appeals to today’s readers. He begins his discussion of the First Period in Ancient Egypt with the following:

…And now we’re in the year 3500 BC, the very end of the Stone Age. Here are some things that haven’t been invented yet:
Bronze
Written Language
The wheel
The world population is less than fifteen million. In our time that’s about the population of the Los Angeles area. But here in 3500 BC, that’s every single human being on earth.

His guide on Ancient Egypt is one of the nominees for this year’s Massachusetts Children’s Book Award.

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)

MCBA

February27

This week, we celebrated reading with our annual Massachusetts Children’s Book Award voting party. Prior to choosing their top books, the participating students advocated for their personal preferences. Many of the children commented that they were introduced to new authors and series that have now become favorites.

The winner of the vote is Rain Reign by Ann Martin. Rose is thrilled that her name is a homonym (rows). She names her dog Rain because that also has homonyms (reign and rein). Rose’s autism is evident through the rules that she makes for herself. It is difficult for her father and her teachers to understand her. When Rain disappears in a flood, Rose must break her own rules and overcome her fears to search for him.

There were three books that came in very close in the voting.

Ghost by Jason Reynolds is about a track team from an elite middle school where the main character is not only running on the field but also running from his problems.

Framed by James Ponti is an entertaining mystery about middle schooler who has a knack for solving mysteries, even one that puzzles the FBI at the National Gallery.

Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes tells the story of three friends from very different cultures whose families are all affected by the event of 9/11 that happened before Déja, Ben, and Sabeen were born.

MCBA

September7

MCBAOnce again, we will be promoting the nominees for the Massachusetts Children’s Book Awards (MACBA) during the 2018-2019 school year at DCD. Even though I’ve written about this program before, I would like to explain it to parents who have never had a fourth, fifth, or sixth grader before now. This voluntary reading incentive program has become a popular event for many students, and it was started by Dr. Helen Constant in 1975. It is administered through Salem State University. Twenty-five books are nominated for the award, and our voting for the DCD favorites will take place in late winter.

There are many obvious benefits to reading along with us for the next few months. Students are often introduced to authors who are unknown to them before this, and they return looking for other books by them. Some of the authors, like Kate DiCamillo and Sara Pennypacker, are already favorites of many intermediate readers. An important benefit that may not be obvious is that our readers become critics. They learn how to evaluate literature through plot, characters, and their own interest, and they have fun doing so. Throughout the next few months, I’ll highlight some of the nominated titles. Links to the reading lists can be found on our DCD Library page.

Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes (Little Brown, 2016) is particularly timely because the conflict in the book is based around the events of September 11, 2001. This is a complicated topic to broach with children, and many parents want to protect their children from the facts. The main character, Déja, is a fifth grader who has started in a new school, and she tells her parents that she learned what happened on 9/11:

“I didn’t know planes hit the two towers.””What?” Happiness slides off Pop’s face He looms over me……”You’re too young to know about” – Pop swallows, his Adam’s apple bobs – “the towers falling. What kind of school are you going to?” I’ts a good one,” says Ma. “The best she’s ever gone to.”…”You’re my child. I’ll say what you learn or don’t learn. You’re too young to know about -“

Déja can’t possibly understand her father’s anger, but she struggles with so many other problems. Her mother moved from Jamaica for a better life, but that doesn’t seem to be happening from her daughter’s point of view. Déja, her parents, and her younger brother and sister are living in one room in a shelter. Her mother works double shifts as a waitress and Déja is responsible for helping out with her younger siblings. She can’t understand why her father has such health problems and can’t hold down a job.

Dêja has made two new friends who have totally different backgrounds. Ben is from Mexico,  and his parents are divorcing. Sabeen is Muslim, and her family never go out on 9/11. Her fifth-grade teacher, Miss Garcia, and her two new friends teach Déja what home, friendship, and community truly mean. The three friends come from different backgrounds.

This novel is a thoughtful handling of the national tragedy that is unknown to many of our children. It is a wonderful book for parents to read along with children.

 

Celebrating Women’s History Month

March6

Never be limited by other people’s limited imaginations.
-Mae Jemison, Astronaut

 

Susan Hood has written over two hundred children’s books, and her most recent is Shaking Things Up: 14 Young Women Who Changed the World (Harper). The author introduces readers to women and girls whose accomplishments are inspirational to people of all ages and genders. There is a timeline of those featured that ranges from the 1780s to 2014. Right after the American Revolution, Molly Williams, a servant of a volunteer firefighter, hauled a pumper truck and fought a blazing fire on her own. Molly was awarded a volunteer badge, but there wasn’t another female firefighter in New York City until 1982.  Malala Yousafzai received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 for standing up to the Taliban and declaring that girls had a right to an education. Susan Hood writes about twelve other scientists, artists, athletes, and ordinary women and girls who believed in themselves. The illustrations in Shaking Things Up are by a number of noted artists.

The author describes her motivation for writing this book in the Author’s Note:
Over the years, politics, religion, and “polite society” have tried to define what a woman should be, tried to restrict our behavior, speech, rights, aspirations, and even choice of clothing. But women have faced adversity head-on – defying poverty, illness, war, and discrimination – to change the world for men and women alike.

 

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…

 

Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library

February8

Pride of race is the antidote to prejudice.
– Arturo Alfonso Schomburg

Carole Boston Weatherford has been honored for a number of her books. One of her most recent is Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library (Candlewick), illustrated by Eric Velasquez. Arturo (later Arthur) Alfonso Schomburg (1874-1938) was an important figure in the Harlem Renaissance because of his work in unearthing African-American history.

Born in Puerto Rico, Schomburg’s mother was a black midwife, and his father was a German merchant. When he was in fifth grade, his teacher told him that black people had no history and no heroes or accomplishments worth noting. That ignited a lifelong passion in Schomburg to unearth the heroes and accomplishments of non-whites. When he was seventeen years old, Arturo immigrated to the United States. Landing in New York City, he had visions of pursuing either medicine or law after he learned to speak English. Because his official school records had been lost in a fire, no school of higher education would admit him to study. Arturo then returned to his passion for locating information about people of color. Carole Boston Weatherford states, “Arturo had what he called the book hunting disease.” (Photo from blackpast.ort)

Schomburg became entranced with researching information on Phillis Wheatley, Frederick Douglass, Toussaint Louverture, the Amistad, and many, many other people and events. Again, quoting Weatherford:
Arturo suspected a conspiracy of fraud that aimed to erase all African history but bondage…When genius was black, skin color was left out. But Schomburg chased the truth and turned up icons whose African heritage had been white-washed.
He unearthed the fact that John James Audubon’s father was a French plantation owner and his mother was a Creole slave. Frenchman Alexander Dumas who wrote The Three Musketeers was descended from slaves.

Even though he worked in a bank as a mailroom clerk, Schomburg carried on a correspondence with Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois. He debated them and discussed black history. Schomburg began to travel to lecture about black history and continue to look for books about people of color who contributed to society.

When Schomburg’s personal library overtook his home, he decided that his collection needed to be given a broader audience. In 1926, The Carnegie Corporation bought his collection for $10,000.00 and donated it to the New York Public Library. It became part of the 135th Street branch in Harlem. “It included more than five thousand books, several thousand pamphlets, plus priceless prints and papers…”

In his retirement, Schomburg was hired to found Fisk University Library’s Negro Collection. On his return to New York City, he continued to search out material for the Division of Negro History, Literature and Prints at the library. He focused on collecting the work of artists of the Harlem Renaissance. Because of Arturo Alfonso Schomburg’s dedication and collection, he proved that teacher of his childhood wrong.

I am proud to be able to do something that may mean inspiration for the youth of my race.
– Arturo Alfonso Schomburg

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

Massachusetts Children’s Book Award

September15

Once again, we will be promoting the nominees for the Massachusetts Children’s Book Awards (MCBA) during the 2017-2018 school year at DCD. Even though I’ve written about this program before, I would like to explain it to parents who have never had a fourth, fifth, or sixth grader who is participating. This voluntary reading incentive program has become a popular event for many students. Started by Dr. Helen Constant in 1975, it is administered through Salem State University. Twenty-five books are nominated for the award, and our voting for the DCD favorites will take place in late winter.

There are many obvious benefits to reading along with us for the next few months. Students are often introduced to authors who are unknown to them before this, and they return looking for other books by them. Some of the authors, like Liesel Shurtliff and Tom Angleberger, are already favorites of many intermediate readers. An important benefit that may not be obvious is that our readers become critics. They learn how to evaluate literature through plot, characters, and interest, and they have fun doing so. Throughout the next few months, I’ll highlight some of the nominated titles. Links to the reading lists and our required journal pages can be found on our DCD Library page. From time to time, I’ll be reviewing some of the titles under consideration for the award. So…let me write about one today.

Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt (2015) falls into the genre of realistic fiction. Readers can easily relate to the contemporary characters. Ally struggles in school, and her older brother is sorry that he can’t help her because academics aren’t his strength either. She doesn’t want to bother her mother because her father is on active duty overseas, and her mother has enough worries. A new teacher understands that Ally isn’t really a troublemaker, but she is a creative girl who learns differently. My favorite quote in the book is, “Everybody is genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

Ashley Bryan

March9

Ashley Bryan is a beloved illustrator and storyteller who has been highly honored for his work. His latest book, Freedom Over Me (Atheneum), is based on a collection of slave-related documents that Bryan acquired years ago. These documents were dated from the 1820s to the 1860s. The author chose to base his book on the appraisal of the Fairchilds’ estate that was dated July 5, 1828. Among the properties that were listed for sale were cows, hogs, cotton, and slaves. The slaves were not named. They were listed as boy, man, girl, or woman, along with their worth.

By imagining background stories for these unnamed slaves, Bryan humanizes them. He describes the Fairchilds’ plantation as having a fine reputation because of the work of the slaves who live there. For example, Peggy, the cook, is 48, and she is worth $150. Mrs. Fairchilds shows off Peggy’s skills when she entertains. John is 16, and he is worth $100. When he was eight years old, he was given as a birthday gift to Mrs. Fairchilds, and he has secretly learned to read and write.

Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams has been chosen as one of this year’s Newbery Honor Books and Coretta Scott King Honor Books.

« Older Entries


Skip to toolbar