Read On!

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

Non-Fiction November


Many libraries celebrate “Non-Fiction November” as a way to celebrate factual and informational books.

Mousetronaut by Astronaut Mark Kelly, illustrated by C.F. Payne (Simon & Schuster) isn’t non-fiction but it is based on an actual event. This picture book can certainly inform readers about space exploration and awaken a curiosity about space travel.

In the afterword, Mark Kelly describes his first flight on the space shuttle, Endeavour, in 2001. During that flight, there were eighteen mice on board to be observed. Engineers at NASA made specific considerations for the mice’s safety and comfort.

Special cages were constructed with mesh that the mice could grip with their toes. Pressurized water containers and compressed food were installed and a waste containment system were created to keep things clean…All of them, with one exception, clung to the inside of the mesh during the entire mission. One mouse, smaller than the rest, seemed to enjoy the experience and effortlessly floated around the cage.

Mark Kelly took the memory of this small mouse experiencing weightlessness when he wrote Mousetronaut. The smallest mouse is named Meteor, and in this entertaining picture book, Meteor is allowed out of the cage. Meteor becomes a hero who saves the mission by helping the astronauts.

Mark Kelly talks about going into space in this short video.

Moorseville Public Library Book Trailer

Seasons Readings



As I was going through my archives, I found this post that I published on December 6, 2013. This author and these books are as important today as they were then, and I’m confident that they will be just as charming in the future

One of my favorite authors to share with children is Patricia Polacco. She writes from her heart directly to her readers’ hearts. This is certainly the case with her holiday-themed books.

Many of Polacco’s stories are based on her own family’s stories and background. When Patricia was a child, her parents were divorced. She spent the school year living with her mother and summers with her father. Her mother’s family celebrated Hanukkah, and one of Patricia’s masterpieces is The Trees of the Dancing Goats. In this poignant tale, the author tells about a year when her family demonstrated the true meaning of giving when they made Christmas happen for their neighbors.

ChristmasAnother of Polacco’s tales that transcends both Hanukkah and Christmas is The Christmas Tapestry. In this book, the author shares the story of a minister and his family who revitalize a crumbling church. Just before Christmas, they buy a tapestry to hang in the sanctuary. When they share a wintery ride with an elderly woman, they are reminded of the persecution that others experienced during WWII because of religion.

In the following clip, Polacco talks about listening to her family stories.

Roald Dahl


Roald Dahl, author and storyteller extraordinaire, was born on September 13, 1916. There have been many activities (especially in England) to celebrate the 100th anniversary of his life. His books continue to entertain children and adults alike. When young readers discover Roald Dahl’s books, they are captivated by his irreverence and imaginative prose.

Many of Dahl’s books have been made into movies. Currently, two of his books can be experienced in other ways. The BFG was directed by Steven Spielberg and released this summer as a full-length movie.

Matilda continues to entertain audiences as a play that is performed in London, on Broadway, and by various touring companies.

When I asked a small group of children which book was his or her favorite, each child thought that he or she could name one book. However, when they heard their friends’ answers, they kept exclaiming that was their favorite one too. They finally agreed on George’s Marvelous Medicine, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Witches, The Twits, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Hmm…what about James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, The BFG, and George’s Marvelous Medicine? When they get a little older, I look forward to sharing Roald Dahl’s autobiographies with them, Boy – The Tales of Childhood and Going Solo, two books, along with his novels, that I would highly recommend to adults. Oh…but what about Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator and George’s Marvelous Medicine

Celebrate Roald Dahl by reading or rereading one of his books!

Beatrix Potter


BeatrixOne of the world’s most beloved author/illustrators, Beatrix Potter, was born on July 28, 1866. There have been numerous events this year to celebrate the 150th anniversary of her birth.

(Photo of Miss Potter taken from The National Trust & Frederick Warne Ltd.)
Beatrix and her brother, Bertram, were born to privilege, as their parents were quite wealthy. When they were growing up, they associated with few children of the same age as governesses educated them. However, they were encouraged to explore the natural world, especially during the summer on holidays, first in Scotland and then in the Lake District of England. It was here that Beatrix blossomed and recorded her observations of life.

One of Beatrix’s governesses was only three years older than her, and Annie Moore Carter acted as a lady’s companion to her. Annie and Beatrix became lifelong friends, and Miss Potter wrote entertaining letters illustrated with sketches to Annie’s children. In 1893, while she was on holiday, Potter composed a story to Annie’s son Noel, who was ill. She wrote about “four little rabbits whose names were Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter.” This letter was the basis for Potter’s most famous book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit.

This talented artist, naturalist, and author went on to become a landowner, farmer, and conservationist in the Lake District. She purchased large plots of land to preserve the area. Her donation of her property to the National Trust is now included in the Lake District National Park.

One of her unpublished stories, The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots, which was written in 1941, is being published this month. The illustrations are by Quentin Blake, a contemporary British illustrator, who has written many children’s books.

As part of the celebration of her life, Penguin Random House commissioned street artist Marcus Crocker to give Potter’s characters a modern makeover. At first I was “put off” by this modernization, as I considered it a bit sacrilegious to mess around with Peter Rabbit, Mr. Jeremy Fisher, Jemima Puddle-Duck, Squirrel Nutkin, Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, and Mrs. Tittlemouse. However, in reading about the new Potter figures, I found it interesting.
“The reimagined small versions of the familiar characters reflect the diminutive dimensions of the original Peter Rabbit stories, whilst some also contain a nod to Beatrix Potter’s varied accomplishments as a Conservationist; Botanist; Businesswoman; Artist; Storyteller all of which made her a woman ahead of her time… The figures were carefully crafted to ensure continuity with not only the characters’ own personality traits, but in some cases those of their original creator, in contemporary and surprising ways.”

A Thanksgiving Favorite


cranberryWhile there are a plethora of new books on the market every season, it’s always a pleasure to introduce some of my favorite older titles to children. One series of picture books that I’m fond of is the Cranberry Series by Wende and Harry Devlin. Wende wrote the stories that she may have first shared with her own seven children. While Wende was a gifted painter, she began to collaborate with her husband, Harry, also a commercial artist. Harry began to illustrate the sweet tales that Wende wrote. Together, they created the Old Black Witch Series and the Cranberry Series.

In Cranberry Thanksgiving, one can tell that the Devlins were influenced by their family vacation on Cape Cod. Maggie and Grandmother live in Cranberryport, at the edge of a cranberry bog and close to the ocean. On Thanksgiving, they each invite a guest to share their feast. Grandmother invites Mr. Horace, a traveler from the city, who smells of lavender and carries a gold-headed cane. Maggie invites Mr. Whiskers, an old sea captain who smells of clams. Grandmother’s famous recipe for Cranberry Bread is stolen, and a most unlikely character is the hero of the story.

Today’s children enjoy this timeless story as much as those who heard it back in 1971 when the Devlins first published it. I had requests for more Mr. Whiskers’ stories, and fortunately for us, the Devlins wrote other books.

And…they shared their Cranberry Bread recipe!


Recipe found at the Devlin website here.

Magic Tree House


dinWhen Mary Pope Osborne wrote the first book in the Magic Tree House Series, it’s a fair guess that even she couldn’t imagine the number of readers whom she would reach. Dinosaurs Before Dark introduced young readers to a brother and sister, Jack and Annie, “who discover a magical tree house filled with books”. This was the first of many adventures that our young heroes have. Fifty-two books later, children are as enamored with the formula as ever. The joy of these books is that our youngest non-readers enjoy having the books read to them, while our independent readers consume them on their own. Consume is an apt term to describe our young readers who are hooked on the series. The titles appeal to boys and girls alike. Some insist on reading them in the order that they were published., while others choose their next book randomly.  It isn’t uncommon for a child to race to the library to request a specific volume; they insist that is the only way to be sure to read them all.

ancientAnother bonus to the Magic Tree House phenomena is that the author has also produced twenty-eight books in the Fact Tracker Series. These nonfiction companions to specific titles explore more information about the subject of a title in the original series. For example, Ancient Greece and the Olympics is the companion to Magic Tree House #16: Hour of the Olympics.  In the novel, Jack and Annie witness the first Olympic Games. The Fact Tracker details everything from Greek architecture to specific athletic events.

Parents may also enjoy the website that goes with the series. They do not have to register for their children to play some of the book related games.

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!

MA Children’s Book Awards


MCBA_rdax_230x150Our fourth and fifth graders are avidly reading various books that have been nominated for this year’s Massachusetts Children’s Book Award (MACBA). This voluntary reading program was started by Dr. Helen Constant in 1975, and it is administered through Salem State University. Twenty-five books are nominated for the award, and our voting for the DCD favorites will take place in late winter.

There are many obvious benefits to reading along with us for the next few months. Students are often introduced to authors who are unknown to them before this, and they return looking for other books by them. Some of the authors, like Rick Riordan and Mike Lupica, are already favorites of many intermediate readers. An important benefit that may not be obvious is that our readers become critics. They learn how to evaluate literature through plot, characters, and interest, and they have fun doing so. Throughout the next few months, I’ll highlight some of the nominated titles. Links to the reading lists and our required journal pages can be found on our DCD Library page.

lost heroOne of my favorite contemporary writers is Rick Riordan. As a former English and history middle school teacher, he now shares his talent with millions of readers. Many of our students have enjoyed his series, “Percy Jackson and The Olympians.” The first Percy Jackson book, The Lightning Thief, was made into a popular movie in 2010. The second movie from the series, Sea of Monsters, is currently in theaters. In his “Kane Chronicles Series”, the author explores Egyptian myths and legends. This author’s books are gifts for children and adults. They spark an interest in mythology that few books accomplish. When re-reading these gems, I often return to my high school text, Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, to learn more about particular gods.

Riordan’s title, The Lost Hero, is one of the nominees for this year’s MACBA; this is the first book in “The Heroes of Olympus Series.” The author takes us back to the world of the Greek gods and crosses over into the realm of the Roman deities. The main character, Jason, wakes up on a school bus holding a girl’s hand. He is perplexed to find out that he is at the Wilderness School, an institution for “bad kids.” Those are the least surprising facts that he has to face. More surprisingly, he finds out that he is a demigod, and, along with his friends, he faces a quest to save Hera, Queen of the Gods.

Do check out Rick Riordan’s website for information on all of his books.

Thank You Donald Sobol


From 1963 to 2012, Donald Sobol (1924-2012) brought the beloved character, Encyclopedia Brown, to life for children. His character, a boy detective who is infamous within his family because of his intelligence and intuition, has been a favorite of emerging readers right up to today. The author followed the same plot line in every one of his novels; the young readers follow along as Encyclopedia Brown collects his clues. Encyclopedia is the Idaville police force’s secret because who would believe that a ten-year-old could help solve cases? With the solutions for each case written at the end of each book, young readers can match their own skills as they enjoy one of their first chapter books.

Luck has nothing to do with it. – Encyclopedia Brown after solving a case

Charlotte’s Web


You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing.
E.B. White (Charlotte to Wilbur)


One of the blogs about children’s literature that I check often is Educating Alice by Monica Edinger, a teacher at The Dalton School in New York City. Her post on January 3, 2013 features a video where she was part of a group discussing the merits of the book, Charlotte’s Web.

The book is still as interesting to readers as it was over 60 years ago, when it was first published. How lucky we are that E.B. White wrote this gem. Do yourself a favor and read it aloud with a child.

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