Read On!

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

Tomie dePaola, 1934-2020

April1

Reading is important because if you can read, you can learn anything about everything and everything about anything.        – Tomie dePaola

Strega Nona – How many children and adults smile with instant recognition when they read or hear that name! Tomie dePaola created this magical character in 1975, and she is still a Grandma Witch whom millions enjoy today. Big Anthony, Strega Nona’s helper, thinks he knows the secret to her pasta pot when he watches her sing. He fails to see that she blows three kisses to stop the pasta from multiplying. When Strega Nona goes out of town, Big Anthony uses her pot, but he can’t stop the pasta from expanding and taking over the town. Fortunately, Strega Nona returns and uses her magic. She tells the townsfolk and Big Anthony that “The punishment must fit the crime…So, start eating.”

This talented author/illustrator went on to write many more tales about Strega Nona and Big Anthony. He wrote board books, big books, picture books, chapter books, and fact books. He wrote about families, magic, holidays, legends, folktales, and non-fiction topics. He not only created Strega Nona, Big Anthony, and Bambolina, but also Bill and Pete, the Barkers, and many folklore characters. He even collaborated with the Jim Henson workshop and produced some delightful tales with them. Some of dePaola’s finest books are his memoir series where he describes growing up. Children and adults alike are entertained with his vivid and endearing descriptions. (Photo from the New York Times)

Tomie began doing art when he was four years old. Growing up in an Irish/Italian family in Meriden, CT, his family encouraged his talent. In interviews, Tomie often said that his family’s stories became such a part of the themes of his books. After earning a Master’s Degree in Fine Art and then a doctoral equivalency, this talented artist was a college professor at a number of California and New England Schools. In the 1970s, he retired from his formal teaching responsibilities and concentrated solely on writing and illustrating children’s books.

During an interview with the Boston Globe in 2007, Tomie was asked about having studied the master artists. He answered, “Matisse is my favorite because he didn’t want the viewer to see the hard work that went into his painting. He would start out with a rendering, then simplify and simplify. I try to be as clear and simple as I can be in my illustrations so that the child can tell what is going on and what the emotions are.” For me, Tomie even resembled Matisse a bit, both physically and in the sophisticated simplicity of his art.

Tomie dePaola was a master.

Do check out his website to learn more about his books.

Thurgood Marshall

February25

Thurgood by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Bryan Collier (Schwartz & Wade Books)

Growing up in Texas, Jonah Winter heard racial epithets on a daily basis, and he observed the segregation that was accepted in society. As an adult, he began writing picture book biographies about personalities who faced that bigotry and prejudice and worked to eliminate it. One of Winter’s most recent books is Thurgood, and he chronicles the life of the first black Supreme Court Justice.

The grandson of a slave, Thurgood Marshall devoted his life to fighting racial injustice by changing the immoral laws that allowed it. The landmark case that Marshall won for his client was Brown vs. The Board of Education, but he struck down Jim Crow laws with many other cases also. Because of his advocacy, the Supreme Court decided in his favor in twenty-nine out of the thirty-two cases that he brought before the justices.

• After he represented Donald Gaines Murray who wasn’t allowed into The University of Maryland law school, the Supreme Court ruled that the school must accept black students. The University of Maryland had denied Marshall entry years before the case.
• After he represented Lonnie Smith who wasn’t allowed to vote in a Texas primary, it became a law that the voting rights of all citizens are protected.
• After he represented Irene Morgan who was arrested for not giving her seat to a white woman, it became illegal to deny black people the right to sit where they please.
• After he represented Ethel and J. D. Shelley who weren’t allowed to purchase a house in St. Louis because they were black, it became illegal to refuse to sell a house to a person of color.

Thurgood Marshall earned the nickname “Mr. Civil Rights.” He took on one racist law at a time, as he fought for equal protection of all citizens that was part of the U. S. Constitution.

Katherine Johnson

February21

Counting the Stars: The Story of Katherine Johnson, NASA Mathematician by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by Raúl Colón (Simon & Schuster)

Katherine Johnson is one of the women who was featured in Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly. Counting the Stars is a picture book biography that narrates her life story for younger and intermediate readers.

When Katherine was born in 1918, few could imagine the world to which this child would contribute. Even before she was old enough to go to school, Katherine was fascinated with numbers, and she would count the stars outside of her bedroom window. Her teachers recognized Katherine’s intellect, and instead of starting school in kindergarten, she started in second grade. During her second year of school, she was with the fifth graders, and when she was ten years old, she started high school. Her mother was a teacher, and even though her father didn’t have as much formal education, he figured numbers in his head faster than any adult that Katherine knew. Her parents made many sacrifices to support the education of their four children. They rented a home 125 miles away from their farm for their children to attend school at the West Virginia Institute.

As a 15-year-old, Katherine started college at West Virginia State Institute. One of her professors designed an analytic geometry course for her when the college ran out of math classes for her to take. After graduation, Katherine became a high school math teacher where she met and married her husband. The salaries for the two were barely adequate to provide for their growing family of three children so they moved to Hampton, VA. The move proved fateful as Katherine was hired at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics at Langley Aeronautics. She became one of the human computers, a group of women of color who were gifted in math. After a short time, Katherine was loaned to the Flight Research Division, but the job soon became permanent when her talent was discovered. (Photo from NASA)

Even though Katherine could flawlessly analyze engineering formulas, she still faced prejudice and segregation that was accepted in her area. She fought to go to meetings with the engineers, and when her wish was granted, she was the only woman and the only person of color.

During her thirty-three years of service, Katherine Johnson continued to “Count the Stars” literally and figuratively. She worked on the trajectory analysis for many of the manned space flights, beginning with the first one with Alan Shepard Jr. When John Glenn wanted a final check on his computer’s calculations, he told the engineers that he wanted Katherine to be called in to check on them. She has stated publicly that one of her proudest moments was working on the team that calculated the flight path for Apollo 11 and the first moon landing.

President Barack Obama presented Katherine Johnson with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015.

Dr. Chester Pierce

February11

Follow Chester!: A College Football Team Fights Racism and Makes History by Gloria Respress-Churchwell, illustrated by Laura Freeman (Charlesbridge)

Follow Chester! is a non-fiction picture book that introduces readers to an amazing man, Dr. Chester Middlebrook Pierce. Before he became Dr. Pierce, Chester attended Harvard as an undergraduate, and he was the only African-American member of the starting lineup on the University’s football team.

In 1947, Harvard was scheduled to play against the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, VA. Jackie Robinson had broken the color barrier in Major League Baseball, but there was rampant discrimination throughout the United States. There were Jim Crow laws that legally allowed communities and states to practice racial segregation. The University of Virginia assumed that Harvard would not bring a black player to the game. Harvard’s coach, Dick Harlow, told Pierce that he deserved to play and would be going with the team.

Pierce’s teammates stood behind him throughout that historic trip and game. Since Pierce faced insults and was called names by some students at Harvard, he came up with an idea about standing up to racism in Virginia. During the trip, whenever the team faced a situation that would single out Pierce from the rest of them, the young men would stand by him. When the restrooms were marked “Whites Only”, they would follow Chester into the woods. When the Virginia coach didn’t want to house Pierce in a hotel or campus room, he was forced to because the team wouldn’t leave their fellow player behind. When Pierce faced a “Colored Entrance” in restaurants, the team followed him to that door. When UVA defeated Harvard on the field with a score of 47-0, Chester Pierce and the team were the ultimate victors.

Chester Pierce went on to Harvard Medical School and became a psychiatrist. He did important research with NASA and in Antarctica. One of Dr. Pierce’s most important roles was that of being a senior advisor to Sesame Street. In that position, he advocated for the show to include a multi-ethnic neighborhood with people of color as role models. Throughout his professional life, he studied and analyzed the problems of race in the United States. He originated the term, “microaggression” which refers to a comment or action that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group (such as a racial minority). from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

2020 Caldecott Medal

February7

The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Kadir Nelson (Versify)

The Undefeated was awarded the 2020 Caldecott Medal for artistry in the most distinguished American picture book. Distinguished is an apt adjective for this particular title. The first time I read this book, it took my breath away. The pictures complement Kwame Alexander’s powerful poem which makes up the text. The Caldecott Medal is given to Nelson for his excellence as the illustrator. Two other committees also recognized the brilliance of the book. Nelson received the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Book Award. The Newbery Committee cited it as one of the Honor Books which recognized Kwame Alexander’s writing.

There are so many superlatives that are being used to describe this book in the media. The Undefeated is worth every one of them.

This poem is an ode, as Kwame writes, to “the dreamers and doers.” Those who beat odds, stared down fear, made this nation better.

Kadir Nelson is an illustrator whom I admire. He is an artist whose work has been featured on covers of Ebony and The New Yorker as well as album covers. I learned about those after I became a fan of his illustrations in children’s books. In The Undefeated, he used oils on panels.

Kwame Alexander is a favorite author of many of our students from grades 5 through 8. They are entertained and challenged by his novels in verse, Crossover, Rebound, Booked, and Solo. In his author’s note, Alexander explains that he started writing the poem in 2008 when his second daughter was born. He wanted his children to know and understand where they stood as people of color in America. He wrote about those who came before them and those who live now:
the unforgettable, the undeniable, the unflappable, the unafraid, the righteous marching ones, the unspeakable, the unlimited, and the unbelievable.
At the end, there are brief biographies of the people mentioned in the book. It’s a winner.

Lady Liberty

January23

Liberty Arrives!: How America’s Grandest Statue Found Her Home by Robert Byrd (Dial)

When I discover a subject good enough, I will honor that subject by building the tallest statue in the world.
Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi

In his Author’s Note, Robert Byrd states that he had never seen the Statue of Liberty before he began to work on Liberty Arrives! After visiting her, he became intrigued by the origin of the project. He learned that Liberty’s journey and installation were photographed, and he used the photos as a basis for his work. Byrd’s detailed illustrations clearly depict many aspects of the building and installation of the monument. It was Frédéric-Auguste Batholdi, the sculptor, who commissioned the photographs to document the construction of his project. The pictures were also used to promote the project and raise money for it.

Born in France, the Statue of Liberty was to be the world’s biggest birthday present to the United States on the nation’s centennial celebration in 1876. … The Statue of Liberty required creative thinking, planning, and lots of hard work. Many people helped, sometimes in unexpected ways. A sculptor designed it, and a bridge engineer figured out how to build something so huge. Countless craftsmen and workers constructed the statue and her base. …And the American people – immigrants, working folks, and even school children – came together to donate the money to pay for the mighty pedestal on which she stands. (from the Introduction)

The author chronicles Liberty from the idea of a gift to America to the installation.
• Édouard de Laboulaye, a wealthy French judge thought about sending a gift from his country to America in honor of America’s 100th birthday.
• Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi was already famous as a sculptor before he designed Liberty.
• Lady Liberty’s head was displayed at the Paris Universal Exposition in 1878.
• When the statue arrived in the United States, the American Committee needed to raise $100,000 to build the pedestal. They only had $3,000.
• When a group of American millionaires only donated $20 (yes, $20), it looked as if Liberty would never be raised in the United States.
• Newspaperman Joseph Pulitzer began a public campaign to raise money. He promised to print the name of every donor, no matter how small the amount of their donation.
• Emma Lazarus wrote her poem, “The New Colossus”, for a fundraiser.
• It was twenty-one years from the beginning of the planning of Liberty until Bartholdi unveiled her face on Bedloe’s Island, now Liberty Island.

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
Emma Lazarus

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

January17

KingOur school celebrates Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy with a day of service. It is always a challenge to explain the events that surrounded his life and death to students of different ages. The middle school students examine the injustices in our society. Our younger children grasp that he was a great man who fought for freedom and equality for all.

cartThere was a picture book that was published in 2013 that helps to explain some of the story of Dr. King’s impact on our nation. Eve Bunting describes his importance to us all by telling the readers about his funeral in The Cart That Carried Martin (Charlesbridge). Don Tate illustrated the simple, yet powerful, story in pencil and gouache on watercolor paper.

 

Season’s Readings

December13

A 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. (Photo from Rockefellercenter.com)

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.

Non-Fiction November

November14

If Picasso Painted a Snowman by Amy Newbold, illustrated by Greg Newbold (Tilbury House)

 

 

 

 

 

 

If da Vinci Painted a Dinosaur by Amy Newbold, illustrated by Greg Newbold (Tilbury House)

It’s a pleasure to recommend two books for Non-Fiction November this week, If Picasso Painted a Snowman and If da Vinci Painted a Dinosaur. If Monet Painted a Monster is on order for the library.

Author Amy Newbold teamed up with her husband, illustrator Greg Newbold to produce these books that introduce young and not-so-young readers to the styles of famous artists. They came up with a simple premise in each of these books. What might a snowman, dinosaur, or monster look like if it were painted by…(insert an artist)? In the information about the illustrator, it states that Greg Newbold has always found it fun to paint in the styles of many of his favorite artists.

My favorite illustration in If Picasso Painted a Snowman is his illustration of snowmen painted by Salvador Dali. The illustration is from Amy Newbold’s website.

Because I’m fascinated by Henri Matisse, I thoroughly enjoyed Newbold’s depiction of the papercut dinosaurs in If da Vinci Painted a Dinosaur. This illustration is from Life Needs Art.

In the closing pages of each of the books in the series, there are short bios of the artists featured. There is also a thumbnail photo of each artist’s painting that inspired the stylized snowmen, dinosaurs, and monsters. Consider these books as art history books for the younger set or pure entertainment for the rest of us.

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Non-Fiction November

November8

Many libraries celebrate “Non-Fiction November” as a way to celebrate factual and informational books.

Mousetronaut by Astronaut Mark Kelly, illustrated by C.F. Payne (Simon & Schuster) isn’t non-fiction but it is based on an actual event. This picture book can certainly inform readers about space exploration and awaken a curiosity about space travel.

In the afterword, Mark Kelly describes his first flight on the space shuttle, Endeavour, in 2001. During that flight, there were eighteen mice on board to be observed. Engineers at NASA made specific considerations for the mice’s safety and comfort.

Special cages were constructed with mesh that the mice could grip with their toes. Pressurized water containers and compressed food were installed and a waste containment system were created to keep things clean…All of them, with one exception, clung to the inside of the mesh during the entire mission. One mouse, smaller than the rest, seemed to enjoy the experience and effortlessly floated around the cage.

Mark Kelly took the memory of this small mouse experiencing weightlessness when he wrote Mousetronaut. The smallest mouse is named Meteor, and in this entertaining picture book, Meteor is allowed out of the cage. Meteor becomes a hero who saves the mission by helping the astronauts.

Mark Kelly talks about going into space in this short video.

Moorseville Public Library Book Trailer

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