Read On!

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

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.

2020 Caldecott Medal

February7

The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Kadir Nelson (Versify)

The Undefeated was awarded the 2020 Caldecott Medal for artistry in the most distinguished American picture book. Distinguished is an apt adjective for this particular title. The first time I read this book, it took my breath away. The pictures complement Kwame Alexander’s powerful poem which makes up the text. The Caldecott Medal is given to Nelson for his excellence as the illustrator. Two other committees also recognized the brilliance of the book. Nelson received the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Book Award. The Newbery Committee cited it as one of the Honor Books which recognized Kwame Alexander’s writing.

There are so many superlatives that are being used to describe this book in the media. The Undefeated is worth every one of them.

This poem is an ode, as Kwame writes, to “the dreamers and doers.” Those who beat odds, stared down fear, made this nation better.

Kadir Nelson is an illustrator whom I admire. He is an artist whose work has been featured on covers of Ebony and The New Yorker as well as album covers. I learned about those after I became a fan of his illustrations in children’s books. In The Undefeated, he used oils on panels.

Kwame Alexander is a favorite author of many of our students from grades 5 through 8. They are entertained and challenged by his novels in verse, Crossover, Rebound, Booked, and Solo. In his author’s note, Alexander explains that he started writing the poem in 2008 when his second daughter was born. He wanted his children to know and understand where they stood as people of color in America. He wrote about those who came before them and those who live now:
the unforgettable, the undeniable, the unflappable, the unafraid, the righteous marching ones, the unspeakable, the unlimited, and the unbelievable.
At the end, there are brief biographies of the people mentioned in the book. It’s a winner.

Awards’ Season

January31

Every year, a Monday in late January is awards’ day for librarians, publishers, authors, illustrators, and readers. For us, it’s as big as the Grammy’s, the Emmy’s, and the Oscar’s because it’s the announcement by the American Library Association of their awards for children’s and young adult’s books. There were a number of outstanding books published in 2019.

It used to be that there were two major awards, the Newbery Award (literary award given to the author of “the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children”) and the Caldecott Award (given to “the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children”).

The categories have expanded though and the others now carry great prestige.
• Corretta Scott King Awards – now given in five categories to “outstanding African American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults that demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values.”
• Michael L. Printz Award – excellence in literature written for young adults
• Schneider Family Book Award – books that embody an artistic expression of the disability experience
• Pura Belpré Award – honors a Latino writer and illustrator whose children’s books best portray, affirm, and celebrate the Latino cultural experience
• Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award – most distinguished informational book for children
• Theodor Seuss Geisel Award – most distinguished beginning reader

Some of these books and categories deserve to be singled out, especially New Kid by Jerry Craft. The author/illustrator received the 2020 Newbery Medal and also the Coretta Scott King Author Book Award. Craft’s book is the first graphic novel to ever win the Newbery Award, and I have enjoyed promoting this title to our readers. We have three copies of it, and they are always out.

There’s an interesting interview with Jerry Craft on Publisher’s Weekly’s website. They aptly described this outstanding graphic novel:

New Kid introduces African-American seventh grader Jordan Banks, an aspiring artist who leaves his home in Washington Heights each morning and takes the bus to his new, private, mostly white school in the Bronx. In his sketchbook, he chronicles what it’s like for him to navigate his two different worlds, the ups and downs of middle school, and the various micro-aggressions he faces each day. The book was inspired by Craft’s own school experiences, as well as those of his two sons…

On January 10, 2020, Craft created a Sketchbook Piece for the New York Times.

I highly recommend New Kid!

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.

Season’s Readings

December13

A special book that celebrates the holiday season is The Carpenter’s Gift by David Rubel, illustrated by Jim LaMarche (Random House, 2011). While this picture book is a work of fiction, it is based on facts about the tree at Rockefeller Center.

Construction workers who were digging the foundation for the project in New York City erected the first tree in 1931. They were grateful that they had jobs during the Depression, and they wanted to show their appreciation. After pooling their money to purchase the tree, their families decorated it with garlands and handmade ornaments.

The official public viewing of the annual tree began in 1933 when visitors made special trips to see the decorated tree that the property owners erected annually. To this day, the tree at Rockefeller Center is an important New York City holiday tradition. To choose a tree for the display, those in charge travel by helicopter over New Jersey, New York, and New England. When they spot a candidate, they mark the coordinates and make a trip to view the tree from the ground. (Photo from Rockefellercenter.com)

Since 2007, the Rockefeller Center tree has been milled, and the wood is donated to Habitat for Humanity. That wood is then used as part of a house that is built by that worthy organization. What a way to celebrate the true meaning of the holiday!

The following clip features the family who donated this year’s tree.

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Mister Rogers

December6

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.
https://www.misterrogers.org/

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