Read On!

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

James VanDerZee (1886-1983)

May11

Being an artist, I had an artist’s instincts. You can see the picture before it’s taken; then it’s up to you to get the camera to see. James VanDerZee

Take a Picture of Me, James VanDerZee by Andrea J. Loney, illustrated by Keith Mallett (Lee & Low Books)

The Harlem Renaissance is an important era in our artistic, intellectual, and social history. The era is primarily recognized as taking place in Harlem in New York City. Some describe it as spanning from 1918 through the mid 1930s and also occurring in other areas of the United States as well as Paris, France. However, it was the African-American culture in Harlem that spawned this rich movement. One of the leading figures in the Harlem Renaissance was James VanDerZee, a musician and photographer who chronicled the era through his lens.

James was born and raised in Lenox, Massachusetts which even then was a summer vacation destination for the wealthy. More importantly, it was a multicultural town that James’ parents had purposely chosen to raise their family. As he grew up, James played the violin and piano and he painted. When a professional photographer passed through town and took family portraits, James became intrigued and got his first camera. He not only learned how to take pictures, but he also developed them in a darkroom in his home. When he was in fifth grade, he became his school’s photographer. Visiting aristocrats enlisted him to take their pictures.

In 1906, when he moved to the New York City area, James used his musical talent to play with two well-known orchestras. He began his own group, the Harlem Orchestra. At the beginning of those years, he was an assistant in a portrait studio. James went on to establish his own successful studio, and he took photographs of daily life in Harlem as well as those of prominent African Americans.

In the Afterword of her book, Andrea Loney describes James VanDerZee eloquently:

During his lifetime James VanDerZee created thousands of portraits, took more than 75,000 photographs, and created more than 125,000 plates, negatives, transparencies, and prints. Each image shared an extraordinary story about the people of Harlem, the quiet beauty of their everyday lives, the grandeur of their hopes and dreams, and most of all, their inherent dignity and pride.

James VanDerZee was truly a Renaissance man.

(Credit: Wikipedia – Photo of James VanDerZee)

 

 

 

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.

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

Non-Fiction November

November21

As I grow older, I pay less attention to what men say. I just watch what they do.

Andrew Carnegie

The Man Who Loved Libraries: The Story of Andrew Carnegie by Andrew Larsen, illustrated by Katty Maurey (Owl Kids)

When he was taking a walk one day, Andrew Larsen read a historical plaque that he noticed on the front of a public library. The wording on the plaque stated that the money used to build the library came from a Carnegie grant. This aroused Larsen’s curiosity and led him to research the life and philanthropy of Andrew Carnegie.

The Carnegies moved to Pittsburgh, PA in 1848 when Andrew was only 12 years old. His family emigrated from Dunfermline, Scotland where his father was an impoverished weaver. Once in America, Andrew went to work in the Anchor Cotton Mills as a bobbin boy to help support his family. Since he had to work, he was unable to receive any other formal education. There were no public libraries, but a local businessman, Colonel Anderson, welcomed young workers to his home to borrow books from his private collection.

While he wasn’t intimidated by hard work, Andrew moved on to make more money as a messenger boy delivering telegrams. He soon also learned to operate the telegraph equipment which eventually landed him a job as a telegraph operator with the Pennsylvania Railroad Company. Carnegie rose in the ranks and saw a future in railroads. He invested in railroads and companies producing oil, iron, and steel, and he became very wealthy.

While some of his business practices may be considered controversial, Carnegie believed in giving back to others. In 1901, Andrew Carnegie began to “pay it forward”. He remembered Colonel Anderson’s generosity in sharing his books. Thus began Carnegie’s plan to build public libraries to give others the opportunities that he experienced through borrowing books and reading. He built his first public library in Dunfermline to honor his birthplace. Between 1893 and 1929, Carnegie’s foundation donated the money to build 2,509 libraries. There were 43 Carnegie public libraries built in Massachusetts. Andrew Carnegie’s legacy continues to live on.

 

 

Ken Jennings

October4

Jennings, Ken, Ancient Egypt illustrated by Mike Lowery (Little Simon).

This past spring many families who had never tuned in to the game show, Jeopardy, followed the news about James Holzhauer, a contestant who had an amazing winning streak. Holzhauer amassed a great deal of money as his winnings, and he was eventually defeated by Emma Boettcher (a librarian!). The furor over Holzhauer’s wins was because many viewers wondered whether he would beat previous winner Ken Jennings’ records of wins and cash. Ken Jennings remains the top Jeopardy winner with 74 consecutive wins. He earned $3,522,700.00 on the show.

Jennings is not just a Jeopardy champion. He was a software engineer before he appeared on the program, but now he is a best-selling author. While his adult trivia books have been on bestseller lists, his children’s Junior Genius Guides are popular among our students. The guides sound like Jeopardy categories as he has written about dinosaurs, Greek mythology, U.S. Presidents, the human body, maps and geography, outer space, and Ancient Egypt.

The format of the Junior Genius Guides delights young and not so young readers since Jennings writes with humor and language that appeals to today’s readers. He begins his discussion of the First Period in Ancient Egypt with the following:

…And now we’re in the year 3500 BC, the very end of the Stone Age. Here are some things that haven’t been invented yet:
Bronze
Written Language
The wheel
The world population is less than fifteen million. In our time that’s about the population of the Los Angeles area. But here in 3500 BC, that’s every single human being on earth.

His guide on Ancient Egypt is one of the nominees for this year’s Massachusetts Children’s Book Award.

Photographer Gordon Parks

May31

Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Jamey Christoph (Albert Whitman)

It’s always interesting to learn why an author chose to write about a particular subject. Carole Boston Weatherford explains that she met Gordon Parks, a photographer whom she admired, at an exhibit of his work. She had grown up viewing his photos in Life magazine. As an adult, her Aunt Helen told her about working with Parks in Washington, D.C. Weatherford has a picture of her aunt that may have been taken by Parks.

Gordon Parks (1912-2006) was a world-famous photographer, novelist, poet, musician, and film director. He was the youngest of fifteen children, and he was raised amid poverty and segregation. After both parents died, Parks was struggling to support himself when he was fifteen years old. He worked as a busboy, piano player, porter, and waiter. As a waiter in a railroad dining car, Parks noticed glossy photographs in magazines. He spent $7.50 to buy a used camera and taught himself how to use it. Parks was soon hired to shoot fashion and portraits.

When he moved to Chicago, Parks recorded the plights of impoverished families, and this earned him a fellowship with the Farm Security Administration in Washington, D.C. It was there that he was once again struck by the poverty experienced by the black families who lived in the shadows in our nation’s capital.

Parks embarked on a mission to expose the racism that he saw, and he chronicled the life of Ella Watson, a cleaning woman in the building where he worked. Mrs. Watson supported herself, her grandchildren, and an adopted daughter on just $1000.00 a year. He had the idea to photograph Mrs. Watson in a pose reminiscent of Grant Wood’s famous painting, American Gothic. (Photo taken from Wikipedia) Parks placed his subject in front of an American flag holding a mop and broom, and he titled the photo, American Gothic, Washington, D.C. This stark image engendered much discussion, and it became one of Park’s most noted works. While continuing his career as a fashion photographer, he went on to use his camera as an instrument of change by illustrating scenes of segregation and poverty.

Later in his life, Gordon Parks wrote a novel, The Learning Tree, which he also directed as a feature film. He was the director of the 1971 movie, Shaft. Gordon Parks became recognized, not only as an artist but also as a humanitarian.

 

 

Celebrating Women’s History Month

March6

Never be limited by other people’s limited imaginations.
-Mae Jemison, Astronaut

 

Susan Hood has written over two hundred children’s books, and her most recent is Shaking Things Up: 14 Young Women Who Changed the World (Harper). The author introduces readers to women and girls whose accomplishments are inspirational to people of all ages and genders. There is a timeline of those featured that ranges from the 1780s to 2014. Right after the American Revolution, Molly Williams, a servant of a volunteer firefighter, hauled a pumper truck and fought a blazing fire on her own. Molly was awarded a volunteer badge, but there wasn’t another female firefighter in New York City until 1982.  Malala Yousafzai received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 for standing up to the Taliban and declaring that girls had a right to an education. Susan Hood writes about twelve other scientists, artists, athletes, and ordinary women and girls who believed in themselves. The illustrations in Shaking Things Up are by a number of noted artists.

The author describes her motivation for writing this book in the Author’s Note:
Over the years, politics, religion, and “polite society” have tried to define what a woman should be, tried to restrict our behavior, speech, rights, aspirations, and even choice of clothing. But women have faced adversity head-on – defying poverty, illness, war, and discrimination – to change the world for men and women alike.

 

How to Build a Museum

February1

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:  https://nmaahc.si.edu/

 

CBS This Morning Reporting on the museum:

 

Tonya Bolden talks about writing the book:

https://youtu.be/Xhe48WFcqKA

 

The Atomic Bomb

November16

There are some books that are beautiful and important, but it’s difficult to get them to the correct readers. The Secret Project (Beach Lane) falls into that category because it appears to be a picture book, yet it is about the Manhattan Project and the development of the atomic bomb. The mother and son team of Jeanette and Jonah Winter collaborated on this powerful book. Because it is non-fiction in a picture book format, older students who study the topic might not check it out. The challenge is for adults to share The Secret Project with the appropriate audience.

During WWII, when the Head of the Los Alamos Ranch School received a letter from the United States government, he was told to close the school because the land was being taken. The school was in an ideal location for the government to locate scientists who were working on a top-secret project. The area surrounding the elite boys’ school was chosen because of the desert location. The school’s buildings were used to house the scientists who came from all over the world. Workers who were brought in to cook, or clean, or guard had no idea what the nature of the work at “Site Y” involved.

When the first atomic bomb was tested in another desert area of southern New Mexico at the White Sands Missile Range, windows broke 120 miles away. The mushroom cloud was close to 7 miles high, and the world would never be the same.

The Winters handle this topic in sparse text and simple illustrations in The Secret Project. The Author’s Note in the back of the book gives many details about the project and the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Roosevelt and Muir

October13

It took more than three thousand years to make some of the trees in these Western woods – God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches…but he cannot save them from fools – only Uncle Sam can do that!  John Muir, 1901

Years ago, I took my children to Muir Woods to see the colossal redwoods. I was reminded of that visit when I read The Camping Trip That Changed America: Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, and Our National Parks by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein (Dial).

In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt wrote a letter to John Muir, a world-renown naturalist. He wanted Muir to take him on a camping trip. Roosevelt wrote “I do not want anyone with me but you, and I want to drop politics absolutely for four days and just be out in the open with you.” Muir later wrote that he wanted to refuse Roosevelt because he was weary of giving tours to people who didn’t understand the need to protect the wild lands. Thank goodness, John Muir changed his mind, or there might not have been the Muir Woods that I enjoyed with my boys.

In the middle of May, Roosevelt and Muir traveled high into the woods and then high into the mountains to Glacier Point. While three men accompanied them as packers and cooks, Roosevelt and Muir rode and hiked alone. They slept under the trees, and one evening, they encountered a spring snowstorm.

When Roosevelt returned to Washington, D.C., he was profoundly moved by his experiences with Muir. The President designated 18 areas of land as National Monuments, that put them under federal protection. During his presidency, 55 bird sanctuaries and game preserves were also founded.

(Photo courtesy of the National Park Service)

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