Read On!

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

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.

Ezra Jack Keats

November11

As an African American child growing up in the 1960s, at a time when I didn’t see others like me in children’s books, I was profoundly affected by the expressiveness of Keats’s illustrations.               Andrea Davis Pinkney

poemThe Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats was awarded the Caldecott Medal in 1963. This honor is for the illustration of a children’s book, and Keats’s art was groundbreaking. Keats was inspired by photographs, which he had saved for over twenty years from Life magazine. The photos were of a young black boy who was going to get a shot from the doctor. In the first picture, the child emits a joyful confidence of life. This child’s spirit inspired Keats when he created the illustrations for The Snowy Day. He made a bold move by depicting a child of color in his picture book, and he opened the door for multiculturalism in children’s illustrations. This door still needs to be opened wider, but it is important to celebrate Keats’s wisdom so many years ago. Andrea Davis Pinkney does just that in A Poem for Peter, illustrated by Lou Fancher and Steve Johnson (Viking). This picture book biography is a work of art written in narrative verse.

Jacob (Jack) Ezra Katz was born in 1916 to poor, Polish immigrant parents in Brooklyn, New York. From an early age, it is apparent that Jacob had a special talent for drawing. When he was in third grade, he earned money by painting signs for stores. Even though he won awards for his art in high school and was offered scholarships to art school, Jack had to stifle his dreams to help support his family when his father died. He was able to maintain his artistic growth when he began taking classes at The Art Students League that led to work during the Great Depression through the WPA. Through this government-sponsored organization, Jack was paid to paint murals. Then he was hired as a comic-book artist. During WWII, Jack used his artistic talent for the Air Force division of the Army.

When WWII ended, Jack experienced the same discrimination that many Jewish people experienced. That was when he shortened and rearranged his name to Ezra Jack Keats.

Yes, yes – Ezra Jack Keats.
Had a nice ring to it – for some.
It was a name that only hinted at
his heritage.
Only winded at where he’d
come from,
but never came out and said.                
from A Poem for Peter

He illustrated books for other authors, and then he was given the chance to write and snowyillustrate his own work. His character, Peter, came to life, that little boy from the photographs. In The Snowy Day, Keats used collage and handmade stamps, which were techniques that were new to him.

A Poem for Peter delighted me and brought me back to the wonders of The Snowy Day.

Edward Estlin

April1

eeApril is poetry month, and what better way to celebrate than with a new picture book biography on e.e.cummings? enormous SMALLNESS: A Story of E. E. Cummings is written by Matthew Burgess (Enchanted Lion Books). Edward Estlin Cummings enjoyed a childhood where he was nurtured and praised for his keen observation and love of words. Growing up in Cambridge, MA, his mother wrote down his poetry, even before he could write his poems himself. Called Estlin by his family, as a student, he always remembered his favorite teacher, Miss Maria Baldwin, who taught him
 anything is possible,
    as long as you are true to yourself
and never give up, even when the world
    seems to say, stop!

When Estlin graduated from Harvard, he spoke to the audience about “The New Art” of Gertude Stein, Paul Cezanne, and Igor Stravinsky. He moved to New York City, served as an ambulance driver in France in WWI, was imprisoned as a spy, and finally returned to the United States. Then, Cummings wrote and wrote, and he developed a style all his own. He put lowercase letters in place of capitals and played with punctuation. His name began to appear with little e’s. When he first began to break rules, readers didn’t know what to make of it, but they soon became enthralled with his images. e.e.cummings has become one of our premier American poets.

The Sky Was

the
sky
was
can    dy    lu
minous
edible
spry
pinks shy
lemons
greens    coo    1 choc
olate
s.

un    der,
a    lo
co
mo
tive        s  pout
ing
vi
o
lets

A Thanksgiving Favorite

November13

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!

breadrecipe

Recipe found at the Devlin website here.

Massachusetts Children’s Book Awards

September18

MCBAOnce again, we will be promoting the nominees for the Massachusetts Children’s Book Awards (MACBA) during the 2015-2016 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 Patricia MacLachlan, 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.

“Life itself is the most wonderful fairy-tale.” – Hans Christian Anderson

(Quote taken from Liesl Shurtliff’s website.)

rumpWhen I first started to read Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff, I was skeptical. For me, as a reader, the writing was not enticing. The story wasn’t grabbing my attention in a positive way, but I decided to give it more of a chance. I’m certainly glad that I did since I became a part of the fantastical world that Shurtliff created. Her clever explanation and imaginative retelling of the traditional tale of Rumpelstiltskin made me sorry to see the tale end. The trailer for the book might give you some indication of how I was at first “put off” by the beginning chapters. Since I’m now promoting the book to students, and discussing it with them when they have finished it, many of them have expressed the same thoughts. They weren’t sure at the beginning, but they enjoyed it as they got into it.

This book is a perfect example of a child’s growth as they begin to read critically.

 

2015 MA Children’s Book Award

March12

MCBATwenty-two of our fourth and fifth graders celebrated reading at this week’s Massachusetts Children’s Book Award voting party. In order to participate in this voluntary reading incentive, our requirement for the children was that they had to read at least six of the nominated books. While they didn’t vote with us, the sixth graders have been reading many of the titles as part of their English class. The more books the children read, the better they were able to discuss the strength of the plots of the books. Four children read all twenty-five titles on the list. There was a spirited discussion of the merits of many of the titles. It was energizing to hear the girls and boys recommend the books to each other, as well as comment on similar books or other books by the authors under discussion.

flagThe clear winner was Capture the Flag by Kate Messner (Scholastic, 2012). In this contemporary mystery, three seventh graders, who never met previously, join forces when they learn that the flag that inspired The Star-Spangled Banner is missing from The Smithsonian. Anna, Jose’, and Henry team up to try to find this important piece of Americana. When they are snowed in at the D.C. airport, they begin a quest that opens their eyes to more than they expected.

The children also voted for “honor books”. These were other books that also received top votes or might have been a second favorite book. DCD’s honor books are The Familiars, Liar and Spy, and The Son of Neptune.

familiarsThe Familiars by Adam Epstein (Harper Collins, 2010) is a magical fantasy about an ordinary cat that is mistakenly chosen as a young wizard’s pet. The alley cat joins forces with a blue jay and tree frog that have supernatural gifts. They form an alliance to rescue their owners.

liarLiar and Spy by Rebecca Stead (Wendy Lamb Books, 2012) is another story about a new friendship that is developed between two very different seventh graders. They track a mysterious man who lives in their Brooklyn apartment building.

sonRick Riordan continues to be a favorite author with The Son of Neptune (Disney, 2011). After many read this volume in The Heroes of Olympus Series, they discussed the strengths and weaknesses of various Greek and Roman gods and their half-blood children.

We look forward to the results of the statewide voting which will be released in a few weeks.

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