Read On!

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

Ella Fitzgerald

April28

It isn’t where you came from; it’s where you’re going that counts. – Ella Fitzgerald

This week marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of one of the most popular female jazz singers in the U.S. Ella Fitzgerald was born on April 25, 1917 in Newport News, VA. Shortly after her birth, Ella’s parents separated, and her mother, Tempie, moved to Yonkers, NY with Ella. Her early years were difficult, but Ella was always dancing and listening to the music that spread out into the streets. Tempie died when Ella was a teenager, and her life spiraled out of control. She dropped out of school and was homeless.

In 1934, when Ella heard that the new Apollo Theater on 125th Street had an Amateur Night on Wednesdays, she decided to try out. Wearing a pair of men’s boots that she had gotten at the Baptist church, she showed up for her tryout with the intention of dancing. The Edward Sisters auditioned ahead of her, and they danced in sequined dresses and high heels. Elle got on stage, knowing that she couldn’t compete with them, and after hesitating, she began to sing. She earned a spot, but when she went on stage to perform, Ella froze. As the audience began to get restless, the emcee prompted them to give the nervous girl a chance. Ella wowed the crowd with her rendition of “The Object of My Affection”. While she won first prize, Ella was given ten dollars, but not the chance to sing with the band for a week because of her raggedy appearance. Giving herself another chance, Ella then performed at Amateur Night at The Harlem Opera House. This time she won first prize and her week to sing with the band, and those who heard her were impressed.

Ella was singing and dancing for tips on 125th Street when she was noticed by a stranger. This man knew that Chick Webb was looking for a singer for his band. Even though Webb did not want to listen to Ella because of her raggedy appearance, he was impressed by her voice. Cleaned up, Ella sang with the band for three years. Her career took off, and she recorded over 200 albums and performed all over the world.

Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat: Ella Fitzgerald (Candlewick) by Roxane Orgill is a picture book biography about Ella, and it is illustrated by Sean Qualls.
There will be a year of events celebrating Ella Fitzgerald. Do check out the official website.

John Lewis

April19

March: Book Three by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate Powell (Top Shelf Productions)

The U.S. Representative for Georgia’s Fifth Congressional District is John Lewis. Long before he became a Representative, Lewis was a leader in the Civil Rights Movement. In 1959, when he was a student at American Baptist Theological Seminary, he organized sit-ins in Nashville, Tennessee at segregated lunch counters. Lewis became one of the “Freedom Riders” who challenged segregation on southern buses. He was one of the principle speakers in the 1963 March on Washington. On March 7, 1965, Lewis led over 600 peaceful protestors as they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. While the demonstrators intended to march from Selma to Montgomery to bring awareness to the need for voting rights in Tennessee, they never finished their march. Instead, they were attacked by Alabama state troopers who used billy clubs and tear gas on the peaceful demonstrators. The day became known as “Bloody Sunday,” as national news teams covered the event. The public awareness of the cruelty of this day helped to persuade Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

John Lewis chronicled his earlier years in the Civil Rights Movement with a trilogy for young adults entitled March. The books are written and illustrated as graphic narratives. The illustrator, Nate Powell, used black, white, and gray to evoke the somber events in striking images. While reviewers have praised the first two books in this series, March: Book Three has earned numerous awards. In 2016, it was the first graphic novel to win the National Book Award. The American Library Association recognized it this past January with a number of awards: the Corretta Scott King Book Award which recognizes an African American author, the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award, and the YALSA Award for excellence in young-adult nonfiction.

Image result for john lewis with obama on selma march

(AP Photo)

Young adults need to read this book to understand John Lewis’ work and legacy. He remained and advocate for nonviolence, despite the fact that he was physically attacked and seriously injured during protests. He was arrested over 40 times. He continues to be a strong voice in our democracy. On March 7, 2015, he walked with others to commemorate the Selma march.

For our younger readers, there is an informative picture book biography, Preaching to the Chickens: The Story of Young John Lewis by Jabari Ism (Nancy Paulsen Books).

John Lewis has published adult titles including Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement, Wake Up America 1940-60, and Across That Bridge: Life Lessons and a Vision for Change.

 

Ida, Always

April6

Sometimes there is a book that is so beautiful that I need to share it with adults so that they will share it with children. Ida, Always by Caron Levis and Charles Santoso (Atheneum) is just such a book. This beautiful story is one of friendship and loss. Fair warning – almost every adult with whom I have shared this picture book has found it to be touching and sad, but one that should be read.

Ida and Gus were polar bears who shared their days together. When Ida became ill and died, Gus mourned just as humans do. Usually I find my own way of describing a book, but in this case, I would like to share the “Author’s Note” at the end of the book. Those words explain this outstanding book better than I can.

Ida, Always is a fictional story inspired by the real pair of polar bears, Ida and Gus, who lived together in New York City’s Central Park Zoo. The two bears swam, played, and cuddled together for many years. They were visited by more than twenty million people from all over the world and deeply cared for by their zookeepers. By the time Ida became ill and died in 2011, she had created many wonderful memories for friends to remember her by, and when Gus died two years later, friends cherished their many memories of him, too.

While I was working on this story, I visited Gus. He sat on a large rock, surrounded by the city’s skyline, with his head tilted toward the sun. Like other loved ones who have passed away, Gus and Ida will be with me, always.              –C.L.

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The Great Molasses Flood

March31

If you go to Langone Park, a waterfront park in the North End of Boston, be sure to look for a plaque that reads

Boston Molasses Flood
On January 15, 1919, a molasses tank at 529 Commercial Street exploded under pressure, killing 21 people. A 40-foot wave of molasses buckled the elevated railroad tracks, crushed buildings and inundated the neighborhood. Structural defects in the tank combined with unseasonably warm temperatures contributed to the disaster.

Try to imagine what happened on that day. A tank, 50 feet tall and 90 feet in diameter, containing about 2,300,000 gallons of molasses, collapsed. The molasses came out of the tanks in waves. At the peak of this accident, the waves of molasses rose up as much as 25 feet and traveled at 35 miles per hour, covering everything in their wake with a brown sticky substance. Buildings near the tank were knocked off their foundations and destroyed. Girders that were part of an elevated subway structure were bent and distorted. The buildings and train structure represented the material damage. The human toll was even sadder. There were the 21 people who died, and at least 150 others were injured. Many horses, dogs and cats also perished.

Many in the city rushed to the rescue – cadets from a training ship, the Boston Police, workers from the Red Cross, the Army, and the Navy. The cleanup took weeks in the city of Boston, but it took much longer to get rid of the molasses that had been tracked to other locals.

The Great Molasses Flood by Deborah Kops (Charlesbridge, 2012)

For adults: Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919 by Stephen Puleo, an historian and Boston Globe reporter, wrote (Beacon Press).

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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.

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The Slinky

March3

There are certain television and radio commercials with which I can identify from when I was a child. Even today, when I hear certain melodies, they take me back through the years. A recently published book, The Marvelous Thing That Came From a Spring (Atheneum), evokes that same nostalgia for me. Gilbert Ford wrote and illustrated this entertaining story whose subtitle is The Accidental Invention of the Toy That Swept the Nation.

In 1943, Richard James was an engineer who worked for the Navy, and his project was to invent a device “…that would keep fragile ship equipment from vibrating in choppy seas.” When a torsion spring fell off of a shelf and the coils bounced around, Richard was intrigued. Since it wasn’t the solution to his project, he took it home. He and his wife, Betty, watched their son, Tom, release the spring at the top of the stairs. They were all delighted when it seemed to walk down the stairs. Betty spent two days looking in a dictionary for a name for their new toy, and she decided on “Slinky.”

After Richard took a loan from a bank in order to produce his invention, he canvased Philadelphia, trying to convince toy stores to stock his new toy. He was repeatedly turned down, but he convinced the manager of Gimbels, a department store, to let him demonstrate his Slinky to holiday shoppers. The manager gave Richard one chance in November 1945. Richard had brought a board from home to serve as a ramp, and the shoppers were fascinated. Within ninety minutes, all of the four hundred Slinkys were sold.

Gilbert Ford’s art for this picture book biography is as ingenious as the Slinky. His illustrations were drawn, colored digitally, and then printed. Ford then assembled these illustrations into dioramas that included found objects. They were then photographed by Greg Endries.

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.

Jazz Day

February16

On August 12, 1958, Art Kane, a graphic designer took a picture in front of a brownstone on 126th Street between Fifth and Madison Avenues. Kane was a jazz buff, but he wasn’t a professional photographer when he suggested his idea to an editor at Esquire magazine. Esquire was preparing “The Golden Age of Jazz” as a special supplement in the magazine. Since New York City was a mecca for jazz at that time, Kane wanted to gather as many jazz musicians as possible for a photograph. While those working at Esquire assumed that the photographer would use a studio for his picture, he wanted it to be more authentic. By roaming the streets, Kane came up with a location that had the light that he envisioned.

After borrowing a camera, Kane needed to figure out how to bring together jazz musicians. After all, these musicians perform during the night, and he was planning his picture for 10:00am. By contacting recording studios, music composers, managers, nightclub owners, and Local 802 of the musician’s union, he asked that they tell any jazz musicians that they knew about his idea. The musicians were instructed to just show up without any instruments, and show up they did. Some who came were already famous in their field, others were rising stars, and still others hadn’t yet made a name for themselves. The picture captured a unique time in the history of jazz.

Author Roxane Orgill’s book of poems, Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph (Candlewick), is inspired by that famous photograph. Francis Vallejo’s acrylic and pastel illustrations suggest the light and vitality of that special day. The first poem is about Art Kane.

Early
Art Kane, photographer

nobody here yet
it’s only nine
look right
where they come from the train
look left
where they exit a taxi
where to put them all
what if only four come
or five
“The Golden Age of Jazz”
with five guys
look right
look left
a crazy request
what if nobody shows
look up will it rain
will they wilt
when the sun beats
head out for a cold beer
look right
is that somebody
a group from the train
Lester Young cigarette dangling
that funny squashed hat
man with an umbrella rolled tight
Milt Hinton, hardly know him
without his bass
look left
guy in a striped tie
it’s happening

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.

Basketball

February3

Who are you? What are You? Why are you here on this earth? Where are you going? – Coach John McLendon’s four questions for his players

One of the joys of sharing books with children and young adults is that one can introduce readers to stories about people who have made a positive difference in the world. Just before March Madness begins with the focus on college basketball, I enjoy reading Hoop Genius: How a Desperate Teacher and a Rowdy Gym Class Invented Basketball by John Coy (Carolrhoda Books). This year, there is a new book by the same author, Game Changer: John McLendon and the Secret Game illustrated by Randy DuBurke (Carolrhoda Books). These titles are perfect to pair because they demonstrate the universality of the sport, and the courage of two men.

John McLendon (1915-1999) was a disciple of James Naismith, who invented basketball. (How amazing is it that we can trace the origins of this sport to one man?) John McLendon had the goal of becoming a basketball coach, and his father said that he would work and devote his life to helping him achieve that goal. McLendon’s father sent him to the University of Kansas to learn from James Naismith. The biggest hurdle that McLendon would have to face was the color of his skin. He wasn’t allowed to play basketball in college because Kansas’ varsity basketball team did not suit up a black player until 1951. There were no college or professional African-American coaches. Naismith mentored the student and stood up for him when he faced obstacles because of his race. He was instrumental in helping McLendon get his first coaching job.

Game Changer chronicles one event in John McLendon’s illustrious career. In 1944, he orchestrated a secret game between his team from the North Carolina College of Negroes and white members of the Duke University Medical School team. The Duke players didn’t know who they were going to play as they took a circuitous route to their destination. At the beginning of the game, the players of both teams were hesitant because none of them had ever touched a person of a different color. As they all became more confident just playing basketball, the white players soon realized that they were outmatched. McLendon’s team played a much more athletic and faster game. The North Carolina College of Negroes won that first game 88 to 44.

When the game ended, no one wanted to leave. The teams played a second game, but for that, they mixed up the players from both colleges and played shirts against skins. While this was an important step in battling segregation, the players, coaches, and others who found out about it, had to keep silent. There were too many who believed in segregation in the United States who would have harmed the participants.

John McLendon was inducted into the John Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame twice. In 1979, he was inducted as a “contributor”, but in 2016 he was inducted as a coach.

The following video has excerpts of McLendon describing Naismith’s influence on his life:

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