Read On!

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

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.

Seasons Readings

December12

giftA special book that celebrates the holiday season is The Carpenter’s Gift by David Rubel, illustrated by Jim LaMarche (Random House, 2011). While this picture book is a work of fiction, it is based on facts about the tree at Rockefeller Center.

Construction workers who were digging the foundation for the project in New York City erected the first tree in 1931. They were grateful that they had jobs during the Depression, and they wanted to show their appreciation. After pooling their money to purchase the tree, their families decorated it with garlands and handmade ornaments.

The official public viewing of the annual tree began in 1933 when visitors made special trips to see the decorated tree that the property owners erected annually. To this day, the tree at Rockefeller Center is an important New York City holiday tradition. To choose a tree for the display, those in charge travel by helicopter over New Jersey, New York, and New England. When they spot a candidate, they mark the coordinates and make a trip to view the tree from the ground.

Since 2007, the Rockefeller Center tree has been milled, and the wood is donated to Habitat for Humanity. That wood is then used as part of a house that is built by that worthy organization. What a way to celebrate the true meaning of the holiday!

The following clip features the family who donated this year’s tree.

 

James Naismith and Basketball

May22

hoopBasketball became an official Olympic sport in 1936, just 45 years after it had been invented by James Naismith. As a young teacher, Naismith took over an unruly gym class, and he was challenged to educate and control the young men in his care. After having little success with the conventional activities and sports, Naismith decided to make up a game of his own, and the sport of basketball was born. His experiment with his original 13 rules was successful, and the boys in the gym class eagerly returned day after day to work on their game. When the holiday break arrived in 1891, the students shared the new game with friends and family, and excitement for the game spread quickly.

James Naismith went on to coach and teach at the University of Kansas. He is often quoted as saying,  “You can’t coach basketball, you just play it.” Naismith’s original 13 rules now reside in Kansas.

Hoop Genius: How a Desperate Teacher and a Rowdy Gym Class Invented Basketball by John Coy, illustrated by Joe Morse (Carolrhoda, 2013)

Thanksgiving – A National Holiday

November13

When we sit down to our family feast at Thanksgiving, we owe the national celebration of this holiday to Sara Josepha Hale.

For thirty-six years, Sara wrote to diplomats, businessmen, admirals, governors, and presidents asking for their support for a national Thanksgiving holiday. After Presidents Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, and James Buchanan ignored her request, Abraham Lincoln considered it. Our country was in the midst of the Civil War, and he felt that it was important to celebrate a day of thanks. His proclamation declared that Thanksgiving would be celebrated on the last Thursday of November.

Sarah also helped to have Bunker Hill and Mount Vernon designated as national landmarks.

Sarah Gives Thanks by Mike Allegra, illustrated by David Gardner (Albert Whitman, 2012)

Massachusetts’ Children’s Book Award (MACBA)

October25

Our 4th, 5th, and 6th Graders participate in the reading incentive program, the Massachusetts Children’s Book Award (MACBA). Each year there are twenty-five nominees, and the titles represent a variety of genres. It’s fascinating to see which titles become popular among our readers. They start recommending certain books to their friends, and they become “hot.” I will be writing about this year’s nominees in different posts, and I’ll include websites and other information that I have found about the authors and their books. When you see the picture of our MACBA bulletin board, that’s the indication that the books under discussion are part of this year’s selections.

 

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