Read On!

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

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.

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.

 

 

October29

The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family by Ibtihaj Muhammad with S. K. Ali, illustrated by Hatem Aly (Little Brown)

The first day of wearing hijab is important, Mama had said.
It means being strong.

Some people won’t understand your hijab, Mama had said.
But if you understand who you are, one day they will too.

Mama: Don’t carry around the hurtful words that others say. Drop them. They are not yours to keep.
They belong only to those who said them.

In the 2016 Summer Olympics, fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad became the first Muslim American woman to wear a hijab while competing for the United States. As a member of the United States fencing team, she earned a bronze medal in the Team Sabre.

Ibtihaj collaborated with S. K. Ali to write The Proudest Blue. In their authors’ notes, the two women describe what an important occasion it was for them to wear their new hijab on the first day of school. Muhammad discusses the meaning of it for her, both physically and spiritually. She also writes of the bullying that she sometimes faced, especially in middle school. This talented athlete wrote her story to help young girls find their own strength and celebrate being a Muslim.

Frida Kahlo

October24

I never painted dreams or nightmares. I painted my own reality. – Frida Kahlo

It is important, yet challenging, to introduce Frida Kahlo to children. As one of the premier Mexican artists, her life story and body of work are inspirational. Yet, some of her paintings reveal the physical and emotional pain that she felt, and this is sometimes too complex for younger children to understand.

Monica Brown’s book, Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos, illustrated by John Parra (North South) is the perfect picture book biography to introduce her to young children. The author focused on the many animals that Frida had as pets during her life – two monkeys, a parrot, three dogs, two turkeys, an eagle, a cat, and a fawn. Brown wrote mostly of Frida’s childhood, and she included few details of her polio and later accident that left her in constant pain. There is also little mention of her husband, Diego Rivera.

Who Was Frida Kahlo? By Sarah Fabiny, illustrated by Jerry Hoare (Grosset & Dunlop) depicts Kahlo’s life for our intermediate readers. This biography is part of the popular Who Was Series. Important facts about Kahlo’s life and times are included to explain the world in which she lived. There are pages on The Mexican Revolution, Diego Rivera, The Great Depression, and Surrealism.

Frankenstein

October11

“The companions of our childhood always possess a certain power over our minds which hardly any later friend can obtain.” Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

As we celebrate October and the Halloween season, it’s interesting to present some books that explain the foundation for related myths and ideas.

Bailey, Linda. Mary Who Wrote Frankenstein, illustrated by Júlia Sardà (Tundra)

Fulton, Lynn. She Made a Monster: How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein, illustrated by Felicita Sala (Knopf)

 

“Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is not the same as the story most people know from the movies. Unlike the square-headed Hollywood monster with bolts in his neck, the creature in Mary’s book can speak and even read. He is lonely and longs to be part of a family, but because of his frightening appearance, he is hated and rejected by everyone, even his creator.”  Lynn Fulton, Author’s Note

When Mary Shelley was an infant, her mother died. As a young child, her father taught her the alphabet, and she would trace the letters on her mother’s tombstone. Mary’s mother had been a writer who believed in rights for women and democracy, revolutionary ideas for an 18th/19th-century woman.

Mary began the writing of Frankenstein when she vacationed in Switzerland with friends. One of the members of the group was Percy Shelley, already a noted poet and her future husband. On a dark and stormy night, the friends read harrowing tales and challenged each other to write ghost stories. Mary had heard of a corpse moving through the use of electricity. She thought of creating a monster but also wondered how the monster might feel.

The subtitle of Frankenstein is The Modern Prometheus. In Greek mythology, Prometheus is a trickster who created a man from clay. His name is also associated with scientific curiosity and unintended consequences. This became part of Mary’s metaphor in Frankenstein.

Mary’s novel was published when she was twenty years old. There were only five hundred copies printed of the first edition, but the news of her imaginative tale of Frankenstein soon spread. The publisher soon reprinted it. While Mary Shelley wrote numerous other works and continued to speak about women’s roles in society, she is best known for Frankenstein.

Linda Bailey and Lynn Fulton have both created picture book biographies that chronicle Mary Shelley’s life.

A White House Concert

September13

Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreño Played the Piano for President Lincoln by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rafael López (Atheneum)

Born in Caracas, Venezuela in 1853, Teresa Carreño demonstrated her sophisticated musical talent at an early age. Her father was a noted musician who started her piano lessons when she was very young. Teresa soon discovered that she could express her feelings by playing the piano. By the time she was six, this small child was writing her own compositions. When she was seven years old, Teresa performed for the public in a chapel.

In 1862, the Carreño family emigrated to the United States because of unrest in their own country. When they arrived in New York City, they learned that the United States was also engaged in a war between the states. Her family soon made many friends by opening their home as a mecca for musicians and those who loved music. During this time, Teresa practiced and practiced to improve her technique. Here, too, she performed in public, even with great orchestras. The newspapers proclaimed her talent, and she was given the nickname, “Piano Girl”.

One day, Teresa received an invitation to play for President Abraham Lincoln at the White House. In 1863, this ten year old girl played one of her most memorable concerts for the Lincolns.

Teresa Carreño went on to not only perform on the piano, but also to sing, and she performed solo and with choirs and orchestras. During her lifetime, she wrote over 75 compositions for piano, voice, and orchestra. Piano Girl left a legacy that still lives on today.

(npg.si.edu)

Brothers and Artists

September6

“A single human face can give an artist the subject matter to fill a lifetime.”
Alberto Giacometti

Two Brothers, Four Hands: The Artists Alberto and Diego Giacometti by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan, illustrated by Hadley Hooper (Holiday House)

Alberto and Diego Giacometti were born and raised in the small Swiss village of Stampa. While they had two other siblings, the boys were inseparable, yet very different in attitude and aptitude. Because their father was a painter, there were always art supplies in their home for the children to use. Alberto spent hours drawing and reading, and at 13 years old, he created his first sculpture of Diego. These activities didn’t interest Diego at all, and he roamed the countryside observing animals and nature.

Alberto began to travel to learn about art. While visiting museums, churches, and artists, he kept journals of sketches and ideas. He went to study in Paris and was impressed by the Surrealists who believed that art should not come from life, but from the imagination. During this time of self-education for Alberto, Diego was aimless and lacked direction in his life. He moved to Paris to be with his brother, and they rented a decrepit studio where Alberto could create.

After WWII, Alberto eventually found his own style for sculpture, and his sculptures became larger and thinner. Diego became indispensable to him as he took his brother’s plaster molds and cast the pieces in bronze. He then brushed the surfaces with acid to produce various patinas. By 1948, Alberto was well-known, and he exhibited his work in the U.S. and Europe.

After Alberto died in 1966, Diego experimented with his own style also using bronze. He created pieces of furniture that were their own works of art. He, too, exhibited internationally for almost 20 years.

Authors Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan carefully researched and skillfully wrote Two Brothers, Four Hands. The illustrations by Hadley Hooper complement the text and bring the story to life.

Photo from left: Alberto, Diego, and Annette, Alberto’s wife from icp.org

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