Read On!

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

From the Archives


I was exploring my blog and reading posts that I wrote when I first started writing it. I was interested to see which of my recommendations had withstood the test of time. My third entry in April 2009 was about a novel, Masterpiece by Elise Broach. Yes! I still love this book, and I still recommend it for our intermediate readers. This led me off on a tangent to immerse myself in Broach’s work. Check out her website to see the variety of books that she has written – more intermediate level novels as well as some for middle school readers, an early reader series based on Masterpiece, picture books, and board books. As you are looking for summer reading for all ages, do check out Elise Broach.

Here’s my “vintage” review with a wee bit of editing:

Elise Broach has written her own masterpiece and given it that title. Masterpiece is one of the best books for our middle elementary school children (students in grades three, four, and five) that I’ve read this year. I couldn’t put the book down, as I cheered on the main character, Marvin, a young beetle who lives with his family in a New York City apartment. His beetle family resides under the kitchen sink, and they keenly observe the daily events in the lives of the human family who live in the apartment. The beetles are especially sympathetic to James, whose feelings and interests his mother and stepfather often overlook. When James’s birthday is definitely not a happy event, Marvin decides that he must give James a special gift, and he sketches a drawing using an ink set that James’s artist father gave him as a gift. When his family members believe that James created the tiny detailed painting, he is overwhelmed by the attention and doesn’t deny it. James learns about Marvin’s skill, and although they can’t speak to each other, they learn to communicate in other ways. As I read this book, I became interested in learning more about the German artist, Albrecht Durer, since he is featured in an important exhibit that the characters visit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

All of the details that I’ve described only set up the main plotline which involves a famous painting, an art heist, but most of all true friendship.

Masterpiece reminds me of George Selden’s beloved classic, The Cricket in Times Square. The books exhibit the same suspension of reality, as the reader believes in the fantasy worlds that bring insects to life. On the flap of The Cricket in Times Square, one reviewer describes Selden’s book in a way that is fitting to write of Broach’s Masterpiece. “Every once in a while a story is told, ostensibly for children, which captures so perfectly the imaginative realm in which even children are permitted to dwell only for a time, that the adult world must stop and listen too.” These words perfectly describe the experience that I enjoyed reading both of these books.

Some of our fourth and fifth graders have also enjoyed Elise Broach’s novel, Shakespeare’s Secret. While the plot of this book is current and realistic, the author interested a few of us enough to look for more information about William Shakespeare. Elise Broach’s writing tends to do that to you.


Mister Rogers


My name is Mister Rogers.
I’m glad that you are near.
You’ve made this day a special day
By just your being here.
– From the opening song of the Canadian show Misterogers, the precursor of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: The Poetry of Mister Rogers – Lyrics by Fred Rogers, illustrations by Luke Flowers (Quirk Books)

One needs to only say the name of Fred Rogers, and there is instant recognition. He was an icon in children’s television and his work has been lauded by many throughout the years. One of the constant themes of his show was that children are loved just for whom they are.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood contains 75 songs/poetry from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and The Children’s Corner which was the first show on which Fred Rogers performed as a puppeteer. His lyrics address imagination, feelings, and everyday life for a child. Through his words, Mister Rogers always emphasized kindness and self-esteem.

Check out Mister Rogers’ authorized website to share more about this amazing man.

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How to Build a Museum


Black history is everybody’s history.

Tonya Bolden


Tonya Bolden’s book, How to Build a Museum (Viking), is a fascinating look at taking the concept of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) from an idea to a reality. While the NMAAHC was officially opened by President Barack Obama on September 24, 2016, the idea for the museum had been discussed over 100 years previously.


GRAND ARMY OF THE REPUBLIC. PARADE AT 1915 ENCAMPMENT. VIEWS OF PARADEIn 1915, the Grand Army of the Republic’s 49th National Encampment took place to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the end of the Civil War. The GAR was an organization of veterans who had served in the Union’s armed forces during the “War Between the States.” There were more than 20,000 veterans who marched in the parade down Pennsylvania Avenue. During that 1915 encampment, Ferdinand D. Lee embraced the idea to recognize the approximately 200,000 black men and boys who had fought for the Union army with a monument. This National Memorial Association (NMA), began lobbying Congress for this recognition. Enthusiasm for the project fluctuated, but in 1929, the NMA received Congressional support as well as the promise of public funds if the group raised $500,000. With the advent of the Great Depression and the death of Lee, the NMA was one of the commissions that was eliminated by Franklin Delano Roosevelt. (Photo from the Library of Congress)


Further discussions about a memorial came and went until 1988 when Representative John Lewis of Georgia introduced a bill to support a museum that would be dedicated to black history and culture as part of the Smithsonian Institution. Lewis persisted in promoting this plan until a commission to draft a plan for the museum was finally developed in 2001. It took until 2006 for the announcement that the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture would be built on the last open acres on the National Mall.


Image result for smithsonian museum of black historyLonnie G. Bunch III became the founding director of the NMAAHC before the plans were even drawn for the construction. His vision and skills brought to fruition, not only the building of the museum, but also the collecting of the items that would tell the important story of black history and culture. (Photo from Non-Profit)


On every page of How to Build a Museum, Bolden’s prose combines with colorful photographs that show the museum and highlight many of the artifacts housed there. This volume helps the readers to understand that black history truly is all Americans’ history. Do visit the museum’s website for fascinating articles about American history:


CBS This Morning Reporting on the museum:


Tonya Bolden talks about writing the book:


Ida, Always


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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Seasons Readings


dreidelOne of my favorite Hanukkah books that was published this year is the picture book version of The Parakeet Named Dreidel (Farrar Straus Giroux). Suzanne Raphael Berkson has illustrated Isaac Bashevis Singer’s short story to introduce it to today’s young readers.


Born in Poland, Isaac Bashevis Singer spent much of the first third of his life in Warsaw. . It was fortuitous that he emigrated to the United States in 1935 when he grew fearful of the growing Nazi threat in Germany. He became an important figure in writing, especially in the Yiddish literary movement. This talented author wrote for adults, young adults, and children. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1978. Singer was also honored with two U.S. National Book awards, and one of these was in Children’s Literature.


The Parakeet Named Dreidel first appeared in Singer’s book of short stories, The Power of Light. Years ago, I read this short story to children for years. Suzanne Raphael Berkson’s illustrations and book is a wonderful avenue for today’s children to be introduced to this captivating Hanukkah story.


A Brooklyn family is celebrating Hanukkah when David and his father notice a beautiful parakeet sitting on their frosty windowsill. To get the bird out of the cold, they open the window and shoo him into their home. The bird must have accidently flown out of his own home, and he speaks Yiddish phrases, especially one where he says the name Zeldele over and over. When the family fails to find the parakeets owners, they adopt him and name him Dreidel. Years later, David is in college and very attracted to one of his friends, Zelda. One night at a party, he recounts the story of how he acquired his parakeet. Zelda is overwhelmed because it was her lost bird of which David is speaking. The story ends quite happily because David and Zelda marry, and both families continue to enjoy their beloved pet.


Isaac Beshevis Singer depicted two ideals of Jewish values upon which he was raised – kindness to animals and returning lost objects to their owners. …And he did this in a charming story.

(Picture from



Rediscovering Harry Potter


harryHarry Potter fans will be thrilled with the new, illustrated version of J.K. Rowling’s first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Scholastic). Jim Kay, the illustrator, was honored in 2012 with the Kate Greenaway Medal. This award is given to an artist in Great Britain whose illustrations in a book for young people demonstrate outstanding merit. Kay has produced dozen’s of colorful illustrations to compliment Rowling’s popular tale.


The publisher, Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic, should be commended for this project. Undoubtedly, they will make money on this edition, but the quality of the book is remarkable.


When the Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in the UK) was first published, readers only had the thumbnail illustrations at the beginning of each chapter as visuals. Once the series became the phenomena that it is, the movies appeared. Readers then pictured Harry Potter as Daniel Radcliffe represented him. Each year, there are children who are discovering Rowling’s magic for the first time. Jim Kay’s Illustrations are colorful and full of details. He hasn’t depicted the characters and events as copies from the movie. His art is fresh and unique. I’m already anticipating Kay’s art for the second book, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.


How amazing it is to compare the initial number of books printed for Rowling’s first book of Harry Potter in 1997 to this new edition. In 1997, several British publishers rejected Rowling’s manuscript. When Bloomsbury Press published it, the first run was of 500 books. Scholastic bought the U.S. publishing rights for the book, and less than a year later, their first run was for 50,000 copies. The 2015 publishing run for this illustrated edition is 1,000,000 copies.


This volume is a wonderful gift for any child or grown up who appreciates the series. Even though I own the originals, I have it on my wish list for the holidays.




Thank You, Norman Bridwell


SLJ1302w_Clifford_MAINPORTRAITClifford the Big Red Dog was first published in 1963 by Scholastic, and it has remained in publication ever since. Numerous other Clifford titles have joined this first treasure written by Norman Bridwell. The beloved author passed away in December 2014.

When Bridwell talked about his school years in a Scholastic interview, he said, “I always liked to draw, but I was never considered very good. In school there was always someone better than me; the art teacher always liked their work better than mine. Teachers didn’t like my writing either.”

After school, as he was struggling to be an illustrator, a publisher suggested that he write his own book to go with his drawings, and Clifford was born. Bridwell said that as a child, he had a fantasy of owning a really big dog. In his first book, he decided to exaggerate Clifford’s size to match how affectionate and eager-to-please he truly was. The author also admitted that Clifford’s color was quite by chance because he happened to have a jar of red paint on his desk when he first drew him.

Bridwell wanted to name the dog Tiny. His wife convinced him to use the name Clifford, the name of her own imaginary friend from her childhood. In the books, Clifford’s owner is Emily Elizabeth, the Bridwell’s daughter’s name.

PBS further immortalized Clifford with his own television series. Their Clifford website is entertaining for young children.

(Photo of Bridwell with Clifford from School Library Journal February 2013)

Holiday Tales


There have been many memorable holiday books published in 2014. There are often new titles by celebrated authors like Eric Kimmel (Simon and the Bear: A Hanukkah Tale, Hyperion, 2014) and Jan Brett (The Animals’ Santa, Putnam, 2014). It’s always a pleasure to discover titles that are new gems and revisit some stories that are old favorites.

O. Henry’s short story, “The Gift of the Magi”, was first published in The New York Sunday World on December 10, 1905. It has now become a classic tale of a young couple that secretly sell their most treasured possessions in order to purchase a holiday gift for each other. Jim sells his grandfather’s pocket watch to buy a set of jeweled combs for Della’s waist length hair. On the same day, Della cut and sold her hair to purchase a platinum fob chain for Jim’s prized watch.

borisDara Goldman brings this story to children with her picture book, Boris and Stella and the Perfect Gift (Sleeping Bears Press, 2013). Boris and Stella are bears who feel blessed to have found each other. The picture book depicts a year when the last night of Hanukkah happens to be on Christmas Eve. Boris sells his dreidel collection that he brought from his homeland, Russia, to buy a magnificent glass star for Stella’s potted tree. Stella sold the tree that had been started by her family in Italy to buy Boris a special dreidel. As in “The Gift of the Magi”, the characters understand that the most precious gift is their love for each other.

redThis year is the 50th anniversary of the television Christmas special, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. There is a “Deluxe Anniversary Edition” of Rudolph that is based on the show. Robert Lewis May wrote the original Rudolph story about growing up being different. He worked for Montgomery Ward as an advertising copywriter, and in 1939 the company asked him to write a “cheery” book for their stores. Rudolph was born. May wrote to sequels, that were published posthumously, Rudolph’s Second Christmas and Rudolph to the Rescue. Gene Autrey recorded the musical version of May’s work, and now Rudolph has “…gone down in history”.

Kate DiCamillo


naypl_feature_dicamilloKate DiCamillo is a favorite author among many of our children and adults who enjoy children’s literature. More adults should read children’s books, but that’s a topic for another time. Kate takes her readers along on adventures with improbable characters and situations, and we totally believe in the worlds that she creates. Her stories aren’t just about the plot though; they contain underlying themes that children face as they navigate through childhood. She has written books for many ages. Our budding readers enjoy her Mercy Watson Series and Bink and Gollie Series, but mature readers are challenged by The Magician’s Elephant and Because of Winn-Dixie.

tlccontentHer latest book, Flora & Ulysses, represents her work perfectly. This contemporary fantasy is about a girl who rescues a squirrel who has just been sucked up by a vacuum cleaner. The squirrel’s experience has given him super powers like being able to understand her, typing to communicate, flying, and incredible strength, so Flora names him Ulysses. One child will simply enjoy this story; another will puzzle over the underlying themes of individual differences, coping with divorce, and finding oneself. Either reader will be entranced by DiCamillo’s world. Flora & Ulysses joins DiCamillo’s other masterpieces like The Tale of Despereaux and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.

The Library of Congress named Kate DiCamillo the 2014-2015 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature.
The Library of Congress Announcement

Do check out her books!

Seasons Readings


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.


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