Read On!

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

e.e. cummings


April is poetry month, and what better way to celebrate than with a picture book biography about e.e.cummings? enormous SMALLNESS: A Story of E. E. Cummings is written by Matthew Burgess (Enchanted Lion Books).

Edward Estlin Cummings enjoyed a childhood where he was nurtured and praised for his keen observation and love of words. Growing up in Cambridge, MA, his mother wrote down his poetry, even before he could write his poems himself. Called Estlin by his family, as a student, he always remembered his favorite teacher, Miss Maria Baldwin, who taught him
 anything is possible,
    as long as you are true to yourself
and never give up, even when the world
    seems to say, stop!

When Estlin graduated from Harvard, he spoke to the audience about “The New Art” of Gertude Stein, Paul Cezanne, and Igor Stravinsky. He moved to New York City, served as an ambulance driver in France in WWI, was imprisoned as a spy, and finally returned to the United States. Then, Cummings wrote and wrote, and he developed a style all his own. He put lowercase letters in place of capitals and played with punctuation. His name began to appear with little e’s. When he first began to break rules, readers didn’t know what to make of it, but they soon became enthralled with his images. e.e.cummings has become one of our premier American poets.

The Sky Was

can    dy    lu
pinks shy
greens    coo    1 choc

un    der,
a    lo
tive        s  pout

Enjoy his descriptive language as the poet himself reads “in Just spring”.

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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Jazz Day


On August 12, 1958, Art Kane, a graphic designer took a picture in front of a brownstone on 126th Street between Fifth and Madison Avenues. Kane was a jazz buff, but he wasn’t a professional photographer when he suggested his idea to an editor at Esquire magazine. Esquire was preparing “The Golden Age of Jazz” as a special supplement in the magazine. Since New York City was a mecca for jazz at that time, Kane wanted to gather as many jazz musicians as possible for a photograph. While those working at Esquire assumed that the photographer would use a studio for his picture, he wanted it to be more authentic. By roaming the streets, Kane came up with a location that had the light that he envisioned.

After borrowing a camera, Kane needed to figure out how to bring together jazz musicians. After all, these musicians perform during the night, and he was planning his picture for 10:00am. By contacting recording studios, music composers, managers, nightclub owners, and Local 802 of the musician’s union, he asked that they tell any jazz musicians that they knew about his idea. The musicians were instructed to just show up without any instruments, and show up they did. Some who came were already famous in their field, others were rising stars, and still others hadn’t yet made a name for themselves. The picture captured a unique time in the history of jazz.

Author Roxane Orgill’s book of poems, Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph (Candlewick), is inspired by that famous photograph. Francis Vallejo’s acrylic and pastel illustrations suggest the light and vitality of that special day. The first poem is about Art Kane.

Art Kane, photographer

nobody here yet
it’s only nine
look right
where they come from the train
look left
where they exit a taxi
where to put them all
what if only four come
or five
“The Golden Age of Jazz”
with five guys
look right
look left
a crazy request
what if nobody shows
look up will it rain
will they wilt
when the sun beats
head out for a cold beer
look right
is that somebody
a group from the train
Lester Young cigarette dangling
that funny squashed hat
man with an umbrella rolled tight
Milt Hinton, hardly know him
without his bass
look left
guy in a striped tie
it’s happening

Award Season 2015: The Newbery


NewberyThe Newbery Medal was named for eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery. It is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. (From the ALA webpage)

When the professionals on the award committee review books that are under consideration, they have much to discuss. Among the criteria listed are discussions of the characteristics of theme, plot, characters, setting, and style. Part of the definition of the award that presents a challenge for the committee members is that the books can be published for readers up to fourteen years old. Thus, books that are awarded and honored can represent a range of ages.

This year’s award and honor books are published for our older readers within that age range. It is also an unusual award year because two books, the award book and one honor book, are both written in verse. The other honor book is a biography that is written in graphic form where sequential art tells the story.

crossoverCrossover by Kwame Alexander (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) is one of those books that is just plain great. I don’t usually gravitate to novels written in verse, but I knew that I had to read it because of the buzz that it was getting from all of the children’s book reviewers and bloggers. Now, I can’t decide who will enjoy it more – a boy who is a reluctant reader or a girl who is an avid reader. The plot and themes are that gripping. The narrator is Josh, a boy who lives for basketball, but is also always rhyming and rapping in his head. He and his twin brother have been playing with their father, a former semi-pro player, since they could hold the ball. His parents and his brother are as fully developed as characters as Josh is. Adolescence and life present him with challenges that could be insurmountable, but Josh perseveres because of his strong family. While parts of this book are tragic, they are also uplifting because of Alexander’s talented storytelling.

The honor books are El Deafo by Cece Bell (Amulet) and Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (Penguin). Each of these books deserve a discussion of their own.

brown           el deafo

Button Up


Clyde’s Costume

I’m a gingham sheet and I used to sleep

tucked into the guest room bed.

One day – surprise! Clyde cut out eyes

and slipped me over his head.


Now I’m ghastly and ghoulish and ghostly,

a will-o’-the-wispy fright.

Pardon my pride, but with Clyde inside,

I’m the hit of Halloween night.


(There are other ghosts but mostly 

the other ghosts are white.

I don’t like to boast, but not other ghost

is gingham.)

Button Up! Wrinkled Rhymes by Alice Schertle, illustrated by Petra Mathers (Harcourt, 2009)

Literature and Art


My creative colleague, Lisa Houck, is a professional artist and art teacher. Her main website describes some of her projects.

Lisa has embarked on a new mosaic project, and she has started a blog to describe it.

She is working on a series based on Edward Lear’s poem, The Owl and the Pussycat. Her new blog is an interesting way to follow her on this artistic journey and to learn a bit about her artistic process. Do come to the library to check out how various illustrators have depicted this classic poem!



It is always great fun to pair books to share with our students, and two of our new books go together perfectly. Steve Jenkins’ books (Actual Size and Sisters and Brothers to name just two) are great favorites with children and adults. One of his newest creations can be added to the list of highly circulated books. The Beetle Book (Houghton Mifflin, 2012) is a science book with simple text that describes dozens of colorful drawings of beetles. I’m not much of a bug fan, but I am fascinated by the colors, designs, and complexities of the beetles that Jenkins introduces. I can only imagine how interesting this book will be to budding young entomologists.

Nasty Bugs, poetry selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, illustrated by Will Terry (Dial, 2012) is a natural companion to Jenkins’ book.

Here is the beginning of the beetle poem by X.J. Kennedy.



Colorado Potato Beetle

His other name’s Potato Bug.
This munching desperado
Infests our gardens coast to coast,
Not just in Colorado.

Ten stripes of black run down his back.
He wiggles orange legs,
And what is wonderful, his wife
Can lay six hundred eggs…..



In 1996, the Academy of American Poets first recognized April as National Poetry Month. While we celebrate poetry in school throughout the year, there is special emphasis on it this month. I would like to share some of our newer or favorite poetry books this month. Let the poetry begin….

There are two books that were published within the past year that just begged to be paired with each other, I Am the Book and BookSpeak!.

I Am the Book has poems selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins and is illustrated by Yayo (Holiday House, 2011). Here is one selection from the volume.





When I Read
Beverly McLoughland
When I read, I like to dive
In the sea of words and swim,
Feet kicking fast across the page
Splashing words against my skin.

When I read, I like to float
Like the gull that trusts the sea,
The ebb and flow of tidal words
Easy under me.

Check out this trailer about BookSpeak! Poems About Books by Laura Purdie Salas, illustrated by Josee Bisaillon (Clarion Books, 2011).

For more information about poets and poetry, do visit the website of The Academy of American Poets.

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