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.

Hedy Lamarr

March11

People seem to think because I have a pretty face I’m stupid…I have to work twice as hard as anyone else to convince people I have something resembling a brain.                    – Hedy Lamarr

Hedy Lamarr’s Double Life: Hollywood Legend and Brilliant Inventor by Laurie Wallmark, illustrated by Katy Wu (Sterling Children’s Books)

During the 1940s and 1950s, Hedy Lamarr was known as one of the world’s most beautiful women. She was in many movies as the glamorous leading lady. Few people had any idea that this attractive star was also a self-educated scientist and inventor.

Born in Austria to Jewish parents, Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler was curious about science as a child. When she was five years old, she wanted to understand the mechanism of her music box, so she took it apart. Another interest that turned into a passion was her desire to act, and Hedy had her first minor role in a movie as a teenager.

Hedy’s first husband was a Viennese arms and munitions dealer who had ties to Adolph Hitler. She attended many science and military conferences with him, and those events reignited her interest in science. In 1937, Hedy left her marriage and her fears of Germany’s rise to power in Europe. She met Louis B. Mayer, the head of MGM Studios, and she was signed to an acting contract in the U.S. where she soon became a star. Mayer suggested changing her name, and from then on, she became Hedy Lamarr.

While Hedy’s vocation was acting, her avocation was inventing. She devoted an entire room in her home to be used for experiments, and she had a wall of engineering and science reference books. After meeting George Antheil, a music composer and former weapons inspector, Hedy investigated the problem that the military was having with torpedo guidance systems. The two friends came up with the concept of frequency hopping, and they were awarded a patent for their invention. The navy didn’t put any resources into building the system but they classified it top secret. When it was declassified years later, the patent had run out. The basis for the technology is used today as a means of securing wireless communications for cell phones and computers.

https://youtu.be/35-KOR-x94g

Emily Warren Roebling

March5

In all, several thousand people took part over fourteen years…They worked a ten-hour day, six days a week, and they were all men – with the sole exception of Emily Roebling.
David McCullough, Brave Companions

How Emily Saved the Bridge: The Story of Emily Warren Roebling and the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge by Frieda Wishinsky, illustrations by Natalie Nelson (Groundwood Books)

During the mid to late 1800s, many New Yorkers knew who Emily Warren Roebling was. Author Frieda Wishinsky introduces this bright woman to young readers in How Emily Saved the Bridge. Without Emily, the Brooklyn Bridge might be far different than it is today.

Few women received any formal higher education when Emily Warren was growing up in the 1850s, especially a girl from a family of twelve. Fortunately for Emily, one of her older brothers, Gouverneur Kemble (G.K.), believed in her capabilities, and he enrolled her in a school in Washington, D.C. There she studied math and science as well as French and geography. In 1864, Emily visited G.K. where he commanded Union troops. There, she met Washington Roebling who was an engineer on her brother’s staff. They soon married.

Washington Roebling’s father was nationally famous as a bridge-builder, and he designed the plans for the new construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. During the preliminary building of the bridge, John died as the result of a construction accident. Emily encouraged Washington to take over as the chief engineer in his father’s place. All went well for Washington until he became very sick from the bends which occurred when he worked on the caissons for the bridge. With her husband bedridden, Emily began to bring his instructions to the project. During that time, she kept the construction records and learned everything that she could about the engineering details. Through constant study, she learned more about the bridge construction than anyone else on the site.

In 1883, when the bridge was opened, Emily Warren Roebling was the first to cross in her carriage. The workers and audience cheered for her as she carried a live white rooster. Emily said that “the rooster was a symbol of victory and good luck.” For many, this would have represented the crowning achievement of their lives, but Emily went on to law school and became an attorney when she was 56 years old.

In 1931, the Brooklyn Engineers Club put a plaque on the Brooklyn Bridge that honored Emily Warren Roebling for her contributions to the construction of the bridge.

THE BUILDERS OF THE BRIDGE 
DEDICATED TO THE MEMORY OF 
EMILY WARREN ROEBLING 
1843 – 1903 
WHOSE FAITH AND COURAGE HELPED HER STRICKEN HUSBAND 
COL. WASHINGTON A. ROEBLING, C.E. 
1837 – 1926 
COMPLETE THE CONSTRUCTION OF THIS BRIDGE 
FROM THE PLANS OF HIS FATHER 
JOHN A. ROEBLING, C.E. 
1805 – 1869 
WHO GAVE HIS LIFE TO THE BRIDGE
BACK OF EVERY GREAT WORK WE CAN FIND 
”THE SELF-SACRIFICING DEVOTION OF A WOMAN”
THIS TABLET ERECTED 1931 BY 
THE BROOKLYN ENGINEERS CLUB 
WITH FUNDS RAISED BY POPULAR SUBSCRIPTION

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.

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.

 

The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons

January9

The Crayon Man by Natascha Biebo, illustrated by Steven Salerno (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Edwin Binney (1866-1934) was an inventor and businessman who also happened to be intrigued by color. He and his cousin, C. Harold Smith started the company, Binney and Smith. They created dustless white chalk and a carbon black that was used in inks and shoe polish. Edwin’s invention of a slate pencil was used by children, but his wife, Alice, a former schoolteacher, told him that children needed better and cheaper crayons. Previously, crayons had been invented in Europe, but they broke easily and were expensive.

In a secret lab in a Pennsylvania mill, Edwin and his team began experimenting with paraffin wax and colors made from rocks and minerals. He wanted to be sure that his crayons were nontoxic and colorful. When Edwin was finally satisfied with his crayons in various colors, he turned to Alice for help in naming it. Alice suggested combining two French words – “craie” (a stick of chalk) and “ola” (from “olegineux” or oily). Thus came a new word, CraieOla or Crayola. The first Crayola crayon boxes cost a nickel and contained red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, brown, and black crayons.

Natascha Biebo and Steven Salerno teamed up to produce The Crayon Man, a delightful non-fiction picture book about Edwin Binney and his invention.

Be sure to check out the Crayola website for free coloring pages.

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.

 

 

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