4.18.2016

Jazz Day

The Making of a
Famous Photograph

Candlewick Press
(published 3.8.2016) 66 pages

A True Tale
with A Cherry On Top

A uthor: Roxane Orgill
      and Illustrator: Francis Vallejo

C haracters: Jazz musicians & photographer Art Kane
                

O verview from the jacket flap:

    "In 1958, Esquire magazine was planning a special issue focused on American jazz. Art Kane, a graphic designer in New York City, pitched a crazy idea: gather a many jazz musicians as were willing and photograph the group. Kane got the assignment - but he didn't own a professional camera, he didn't know how many musicians would show up, and he wanted to shoot the photograph in front of a Harlem brownstone. Would his idea work?

      Kane pulled it off, and in Jazz Day, Roxane Orgill takes us inside the frame of his famous photograph, Harlem 1958, with a collection of poems that re-creates that serendipitous day. She captures the musicians' mischief and quirks, their pleasure in seeing each other, and the vivacious atmosphere of a Harlem block full of kids on a hot summer's day. Francis Vallejo's vibrant paintings are reminiscent of a rich period in jazz history and do justice to the larger-that-life quality of the musicians of the era."

T antalizing taste:

 Names
William "Count" Basie, pianist

"Nobody calls me Bill
Except my wife
I'm the Count
Ol' Base
Or Holy Main
As in main stem
The buck stops here
Guys in the band
They give you a name
To fit your personality
Or your playing
Same thing
Dizzy
Fump
Stuff
Hawk
Hot Lips
Red
Pee Wee
Pres
Short for President
Of the Tenor Saxophone
Who's Lester Young
Got his name
From Eleanora
Known as Billie Holiday
Except to Pres
Who calls her Lady Day
He calls lots of people Lady
Even me"

and something more:  I love hearing about the background of a story and I believe certain stories do indeed tell their authors how they should be told. In the Author's Note in Jazz Day, Roxane Orgill explains that the "verses about the musicians are based on fact ... I've known of Art Kane's photograph for about as long as I've been listening to jazz, which I got to know as a sideline to my job as a classical music critic... I wanted to tell the story of how the photo got made and of some of the people who happened to be in it. What I didn't expect was that I'd begin writing poems. I write prose, not poetry But this story demanded a sense of freedom, an intensity, and a conciseness that prose could not provide."Yes! Prose poetry is perfect for this story.

4.03.2016

Emmanuel's Dream

The True Story of
Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah

Schwartz & Wade Books
(published 1.6.2015)  40 pages

A True Tale
with A Cherry On Top

A uthor: Laurie Ann Thompson
      and Illustrator: Sean Qualls

C haracter: Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah

O
verview from the jacket flap:

    "Here is the inspiring true story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah, who cycled an incredible four hundred miles across Ghana - with only one strong leg - to spread his powerful message: disability doesn't mean inability."

T antalizing taste:

"In Ghana, West Africa, a baby boy was born:
Two bright eyes blinked in the light,
two healthy lungs let out a powerful cry,
two tiny fists opened and closed,
but only one strong leg kicked.

Most people thought he would be useless, or worse -
a curse.
His father left, never to return.
But his mother had faith...
Her name is Comfort,
and she named her first child Emmanuel,
meaning 'God is with us.'

As Emmanuel grew,
Mama Comfort told him he could have anything,
but he would have to get it for himself. 

He learned to crawl and hop,
to fetch water and climb
coconut trees.
He even shined shoes to earn money."

and something more: The Author's Note explains that in "2006, thanks in large part to Emmanuel's bike ride [in 2001 at the age of 24] and his continued political activism, the Ghanaian Parliament passed the Persons with Disability Act, which states that people with physical disabilities are entitled to all of the same rights as the rest of the country' citizens." His latest project focuses on building a school for children with and without disabilities.

A lovely quote by Emmanuel: "In this world, we are not perfect. We can only do our best."

3.07.2016

Drum Dream Girl

How One Girl's Courage
Changed Music

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

(published 3.31.2015) 48 pages

A True Tale
with A Cherry On Top

A uthor: Margarita Engle
      and Illustrator: Rafael Lopez

C haracter: Milo Castro Zaldarriaga

O
verview from the jacket flap:

    "'Girls cannot be drummers. Long ago on an island filled with music and rhythm, no one questioned that rule until the drum dream girl. She longed to play tall congas and small bongos and silvery, moon-bright timbales. She had to keep her dream quiet. She had to practice in secret. But when at last her music was heard, everyone sang and danced and decided that boys and girls should be free to drum and dream.
     Inspired by a Chinese-African-Cuban girl who broke Cuba's traditional taboo against female drummers. Drum Dream Girl tells an inspiring true story for dreamers everywhere."

T antalizing taste:

"When she walked under
wind-wavy palm trees
in a flower-bright park
she heard the whir of parrot wings
the clack of woodpecker beaks
the dancing tap of her own footsteps
and the comforting pat
of her own
heartbeat."

and something more: The Historical Note at the back of the book explains the background for this inspiring poem: "In 1932 at the age of ten, Millo Castro Zaldarriaga performed with her older sisters as Anacaona, Cuba's first 'all-girl dance band.' Millo became a world-famous musician, playing alongside all the American jazz greats of the era. At age fifteen, she played her bongo drums at a New York birthday celebration for U.S president Franklin Delano Roosevelt, where she was enthusiastically cheered by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. There are now many female drummers in Cuba."  This wonderfully lyrical book certainly makes me hope I will someday hear female drummers, in person in Cuba!

1.18.2016

enormous SMALLNESS

A Story of E. E. Cummings

Enchanted Lion Books

(published 4.7.2015) 64 pages 

A True Tale with Cherry On Top 

A author: Matthew Burgess
      and Illustrator: Kris Di Giacomo 

C character: E. E. Cummings

O verview from the jacket flap: 

    "'There once was a boy with a big imagination who loved to play tag, climb trees, and gaze out of his window. Inspired by the world around him, he expressed his excitement in pictures and poems. Before he could even write, he played with words and said poems aloud. And when he got older, he filled page after page with poems.

This sensitive and spirited glimpse into the life of E. E. Cummings ... is a lively story starring Edward Estlin, the playful child fascinated by words, who will grow up to become one of America's most beloved poets. Some of Cummings' most wonderful poems are integrated seamlessly into the story..."

T antalizing taste: 

"When Estlin was eleven,
his favorite teacher, Miss Maria Baldwin,
noticed his wonderful way with words
and encouraged him.
From her, Estlin learned that

anything is possible,
as long as you are true to yourself
and never give up, even when the world
seems to say, stop! 

... Using a style all his own,
e. e. put lowercase letters where capitals normally go,
and his playful punctuation grabbed reader attention.

His poems were alive
        with experimentation
                    and surprise!

And because of his love for lowercase letters,
his name began to appear with two little e's (& a little c, too)."

and something more: I'm always intrigued by the author's connection to a story, and Matthew Burgess shares a wonderful story in his "author's note" (note that it's all in lower case): "In June, 2007, I was invited to lead a 'literary walk' of Greenwich Village. I had never given a tour before, so I took photographs of the buildings on the route and wrote notes on the back for reference. A few days later, a I stood on the stoop of 4 Patching Place, anxiously trying to remember snippets of E E. Cummings' life story to share with the assembled group, the front door swung open. A woman and a boy emerged, and by a stroke of luck, the woman happened to be friends with someone in our group [and she invited them inside.] 

Suddenly, the twelve of us were filing up the tiled narrow staircase andante the room where Cummings had worked for almost forty years. The windows opened to trees and birdsong, and the summer light filtered in. The room showed all the telltale signs of a young boy's bedroom, but it wasn't difficult to imagine E. E. Cummings writing and painting there...

Three years later, when my publisher, Claudia Zoe Bedrick, asked me if I would be interested in writing picture book about E. E. Cummings, I remember that day at Patching Place, and I sensed another door opening. E. E. Cummings was one of the first poets to make a strong impression on me when I was a child, and the memory of visiting his home felt like an auspicious sign."

Serendipity indeed!

1.04.2016

The House That Jane Built


A Story About Jane Addams

Christy Ottaviano Books
(Henry Holt)

(published 6.23.2015) 32 pages 

A True Tale with Cherry On Top 

A uthor: Tanya Lee Stone
      and Illustrator: Kathryn Brown 

C character: Jane Addams

O verview from the jacket flap: 

    "'Ever since she was a little girl, Jane Addams hoped to help people in need. She wanted to create a place where people could find food, work, and community. In 1889, she chose a houseman run-down Chicago neighborhood and turned it into Hull House - a settlement home - soon adding a playground, kindergarten, and a public bath. By 1907, Hull House included thirteen buildings. Andy the early 1920s, more than nine thousand people visited Hull House each week.
      The dreams of a smart, caring girl had become a reality. And the lives of hundreds of thousands of people were transformed when they stepped into the house that Jane Addams built."

T antalizing taste: 

     "She told her friend... about her plan to build a settlement house in Chicago. It was 'as if a racehorse had burst out of the gate, free at last to pour every ounce of energy into running.'
      There was a glittery side to Chicago, with its mansions, fancy shops, and sparkling lakefront. But there was a gritty side, too. One million people lived in Chicago in 1889. Most were immigrants - people who came from other countries. They came for a better life... Many needed help."     

and something more: Tanya Lee Stone's Author's Note includes fascinating additional information about Jane Addams: "During World War I, she co-founded the Woman's Peace Party... she traveled the world and spoke out against war. Her opinions were not always popular. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) kept a file on her, and she was called 'the most dangerous woman in America.' But none of that stopped her. In 1931, she became the first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize." 

12.21.2015

The Nutcracker Comes to America


How Three Ballet-Loving Brothers
Created
a Holiday Tradition

This post joins other
kidlit bloggers at
Nonfiction Monday Roundup
It's Monday!
What are you reading?
at Teacher Mentor Texts
2015 Nonfiction 
Picture Book Challenge 
at KidLitFrenzy

Millbrook Press

(published 9.1.2015) 36 pages

A True Tale with  Cherry On Top 

A uthor: Chris Barton
      and Illustrator: Cathy Gendron 

C haracters: William, Harold, and Lew Christensen

O verview from the jacket flap: 

    "'Every December, The Nutcracker comes to life in theaters all across the United States. But how did this nineteenth-century Russian ballet become such a big part of the holidays in twenty-first-century America?
     Meet Willam, Harold, and Lew Christensen, three small-town Utah boys who caught the ballet bug from an uncle in the early 1900s. they performed alongside elephants and flows on vaudeville, immersed themselves in the New York City dance scene, and even put on a ballet featuring gangsters at a gas station. Russian immigrants shared the story of The Nutcracker with them, and during World War II - on a shoestring budget and in need of a hit - they staged their own Christmastime production in San Francisco. It was America's first full-length version and the beginning of a delightful holiday tradition."

antalizing taste: 

"When Willam was out and about, he noticed San Franciscans whistling the music of a popular composer - Tchaikovsky. That gave him an idea: Willam decided to have another go at The Nutcracker.

Not just bits and pieces of it, either. He and Harold were going to treat audiences to the whole shebang. So what if they hadn't actually seen the whole shebang themselves?

Willam and Harold huddled up with their friends George and Alexandra, who had danced in the whole show long ago in Russia.

Equipped with a better understanding of the story and the characters and what all the dancing meant, Willam built up the steps for a new production.

Harold built up the dancers so that they could do those steps. Patient, strict, and teasing all at once, and always standing so straight that his pants kept trying to slide down Harold took special care in teaching the many young dancers taking part."     

and something more:  I always like hearing authors give credit to their editors. I'll always be so indebted to the finesse, expertise, knowledge and gentle touch of my book editors (Margery Cuyler, Christy Ottaviano, Donna German and Katie Hall) in shaping my stories.
     In the "Author's Note" of The Nutcracker Comes To America, Chris Barton describes his extensive research for the book and concludes : "All the while, my efforts were guided by Millbrook Press's Carol Hinz, whose skill as an editor - paired with her own experience as a ballet dancer - deserves considerable credit for the book."   
     Also, I enjoyed learning that America's Nutcracker had its origins in San Francisco where I first saw the ballet (and have enjoyed seeing it many times thereafter)

12.07.2015

Earmuffs for Everyone!

How Chester Greenwood
Became Known as
the Inventor of Earmuffs

This post joins other
kidlit bloggers at
Nonfiction Monday Roundup
It's Monday!
What are you reading?
(published 1.6.2015) 48 pages

A True Tale with A Cherry On Top 

A uthor and Illustrator: Meghan McCarthy 

C haracter: Chester Greenwood

O verview from the jacket flap: 

    "'Everyone loves earmuffs! But have you ever wondered who invented the earmuff?
      In Maine in the late 1800s there was a young boy named Chester Greenwood. His ears were always cold during the long winter, and he decided to do something about it. He made ear covers from wire and cloth and asked his granny to help him sew them. Chester later patented his earmuffs in 1877 when he was nineteen years old. And, as the story goes, earmuffs were born." 

antalizing taste:  

     "As the story goes, he had gigantic ears, and they were sensitive to the cold. He didn't like to wrap his head in scratchy scarves, so...
      Earmuffs were born.
      Obviously, the story isn't quite true, since earmuffs had already been born many years earlier...
      What do we think really happened?
      What we do know for sure is that after testing various versions of his earmuffs, when Chester was just nineteen, he got one of these from the US government ... a patent!"
     
and something more:  In the "A Note about This Book", Meghan McCarthy explains her process of finding an idea for a book: "I work on every book with a bit of free association. For EARMUFFS FOR EVERYONE I started doing searches on the Internet - 'unique inventors,' 'odd inventions'- until ultimately I put in the words 'kid inventors.' That's when I read about Chester Greenwood [and] knew that Chester was going to be the topic of my next book. What I didn't know was how hard it would be to extract the truth from the fiction."  She aptly discusses the nuances of ascertaining who is "the inventor" of something when ideas are built upon previous ideas. This section also has a good kid-friendly discussion of patents and the patent process.
     And I was intrigued to learn that there's even a parade celebrating Chester Greenwood Day that takes place every December in Farmington, Maine. Guess what everyone wears?