November 14 – Anniversary of The Race Around the World

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About the Holiday

On this date 130 years ago, an incredible race began between investigative reporter Nellie Bly and Cosmopolitan magazine writer Elizabeth Bisland to beat the fictional voyage of Phileas Fogg, a character in Jules Verne’s novel Around the World in Eighty Days. I’m excited to be reviewing Caroline Starr Rose and Alexandra Bye’s book on the anniversary of this historic feat.

A Race Around the World: The True Story of Nellie Bly & Elizabeth Bisland

Written by Caroline Starr Rose | Illustrated by Alexandra Bye

 

In 1889 the world was changing in incredible ways through inventions such as the telegraph, electricity, the telephone, and express trains and fast steamships. People thrilled to the idea of circumnavigating the globe faster and faster. Previous attempts had seen a voyage by a travel writer that took a year and a half and a trip by a baseball team that took six months. But the goal that was so enticing came in Jules Verne’s novel Around the World in Eighty Days. “A reporter named Nellie Bly believed she could be even faster.”

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Image copyright Alexandra Bye, 2019, text copyright Caroline Starr Rose, 2019. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Nellie Bly studied steamer and train schedules and thought she could make the trip in seventy-five days. “Her boss at the New York World said only a man could manage such a trip.” With only three days to prepare, Nellie boarded the Augusta Victoria in New Jersey on November 14, 1889. Meanwhile, in New York, Elizabeth Bisland was called to her office at Cosmopolitan magazine. Her publisher wanted her to leave immediately to begin her own journey around the world to beat Nellie Bly. In five hours she was boarding a train. As Elizabeth made her way across country, Nellie was on a steamer, fighting seasickness, unaware “that her one-woman dash was now a contest of two.”

When Nellie docked in England, she learned that Jules Verne wanted to meet her. Their meeting meant a mad dash to France and back before she boarded a ship for the next leg of her trip. In San Francisco Elizabeth was excited to be leaving the United States for the first time. Nellie arrived in Ceylon two days ahead of schedule, but her advantage faded as her ship was delayed. While Nellie stewed, in Japan Elizabeth “marveled at sloping hills and mist-filled valleys. She wandered temples and tombs as elegant as poetry.”

Nellie stopped in Singapore, while Elizabeth laid over in Hong Kong; Nellie’s ship was rocked by a monsoon, while Elizabeth’s ship suffered a broken propeller. “During the third week of December, in the South China Sea, two steamers passed. One carried Nellie. One Elizabeth. Who was winning the race? No one knew.

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Image copyright Alexandra Bye, 2019, text copyright Caroline Starr Rose, 2019. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

When Nellie arrived in Hong Kong, she learned that she was in a race that the whole world was watching—and that she was probably losing. Nellie and Elizabeth made their way on the last legs of their respective trips in fits and starts; weather and timing slowing them down, beautiful scenery and their own strength keeping them going. As Nellie skirted blizzard conditions affecting the Central Pacific Railroad by taking a southern train, Elizabeth was crossing the Atlantic on “one of the slowest ships in the fleet.”

When Nellie stepped from the train car onto the platform on January 25, 1890, she was met with three official timekeepers, a ten-cannon salute, and adoring crowds. What’s more, she had bested herself by nearly three days. A disappointed Elizabeth sailed into New York Harbor on January 30 and was met by a small gathering. As the winner of the race, Nellie Bly was famous, her name known around the world. For Elizabeth the experience was just the beginning of a lifetime of travel and writing. But “both took on the world and triumphed, each on her own terms.”

An Author’s Note relating more about Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland and how their story affected the author follows the text. The endpapers contain a map with Nellie’s and Elizabeth’s routes depicted.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-race-around-the-world-singapore

Image copyright Alexandra Bye, 2019, text copyright Caroline Starr Rose, 2019. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

In her compelling and lyrical recounting of this historic contest, Caroline Starr Rose brings to life the magnitude of two women’s achievement in conquering the elements, technical setbacks, and the prevailing misconceptions about women’s abilities. Like any great travelogue, Rose’s story is peppered with scintillating details of narrow escapes, late and missed connections, and the sights, sounds, and tastes of the countries Nellie and Elizabeth traversed. Used to information that is relayed around the world in the blink of an eye and transportation that takes mere hours to travel across the globe, Children will be awed by this competition set in motion by the forerunners of these technologies and the precociousness of a fictional character. In Rose’s final pages, readers will find universal truths about the personal dynamics of winning and losing, the benefits of leaving their comfort zone, and meeting challenges on their own terms.

Alexandra Bye’s rich illustrations take readers from Nellie Bly’s newsroom and Elizabeth’s apartment to ship staterooms, luxury train compartments, and exotic locales. Along the way they see sweeping vistas, experience roiling storms, and even meet a monkey that Nellie bought. Bye’s intricate images depict the time period with a fresh sensibility that conveys the universality of the emotions and drive involved in daring adventures of all kinds and for all times.

An excellent book for children interested in history and travel as well as an inspiring spark for cross-curricular lessons, A Race Around the World: The True Story of Nellie Bly & Elizabeth Bisland would make a stirring addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 5 – 9

Albert Whitman & Company, 2019 | ISBN 978-0807500101

Discover more about Caroline Starr Rose and her books on her website.

To learn more about Alexandra Bye, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Anniversary of the Race Around the World Activity

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Nellie Bly Coloring Page

 

Nellie Bly was an amazing woman! Not only did she set a record for fastest trip around the world but she was one of the first women journalists in the country and pioneered investigative reporting. She was also an inventor and industrialist.

Nellie Bly Coloring Page

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You can find A Race Around the World: The True Story of Nellie Bly & Elizabeth Bisland at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

July 31 – Uncommon Instrument Awareness Day

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About the Holiday

Today is the day to be musically experimental. Intriguing, inventive instruments that make a wide variety of sounds exist in every corner of the world. From Russia comes the contrabass balalaika, a triangular stringed instrument. The cimbalom, a concert hammered dulcimer, originated in Hungary. And only the Welsh could give us an instrument with no vowels: the crwth. Glass, water, and lightning are also used to make beautiful sounds, and the Holophonor—a musical instrument and hologram projector all in one—is perfect for Elvis sightings wherever he is! So, play a different instrument or research one, and read the inspiring story in today’s book!

Ada’s Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay

Written by Susan Hood | Illustrated by Sally Wern Comport

 

Ada Ríos is growing up in Cateura, a town built of trash as the main garbage dump for the capital city of Paraguay. Every morning the refuse trucks rumble into town to deposit their loads—1,500 tons of trash every day. The citizens of Cateura—gancheros or recyclers—go to work sifting through the mounds and tearing into bags looking for anything valuable enough to recycle or sell. Cardboard is worth 5 cents a pound, plastic 10 cents a pound.

Ada knows the landfill can hold surprises—“Her father, a ganchero, had found appliances, toys, perfumes, and antique watches.”—but she can never imagine what it holds for her. When Ada and her sister were little, their grandmother watched them while their parents worked. They loved to listen to music, to sing, and to learn stories of musicians and the sounds of different instruments. Ada fell in love with the violin.

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Image copyright Sally Wern Comport, courtesy of simonandschuster.com

As the girls grow older and go to school, they venture farther into town, but there is little to fill their time. Many kids join gangs or get into fights. When Ada is 11 her grandmother signs her and her sister up for music lessons being offered by a new man in town named Favio Chávez. “Ada’s heart sang out” when she hears the news. On the first day ten children show up to play the five instruments available. But a bigger problem looms: the three guitars and two violins cannot be taken home for practicing as they are magnets for thieves. In Cateura a violin is worth more than a house.

But Favio Chávez has an idea. With help from Nicolás Gómez, a ganchero and carpenter, they pull bits and pieces from the landfill. An old broken drum and an X-ray film become a workable drum, water pipes become flutes, packing crates become guitars and violins, and oil drums become cellos. “Ada chose a violin made from an old paint can, an aluminum baking tray, a fork, and pieces of wooden crates. Worthless to thieves, it was invaluable to her. It was a violin of her very own.”

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Image copyright Sally Wern Comport, courtesy of simonandschuster.com

The children practice tirelessly outside in 100-degree heat until the initial “screeches, twangs, and tweets hit all the right notes. Their class became ‘a small island’ where Chávez taught them to respect themselves and one another.” They become known as The Recycled Orchestra. Music now fills the air, adding a soundtrack of beauty to the grueling work. The orchestra is soon invited to play concerts in Cateura and the capital city of Asunción. When word spreads of their talent, they receive offers to play from other cities and even other countries.

When Ada is 16 The Recycled Orchestra is invited to tour with a world-famous rock band. As Ada takes the stage in front of 35,000 people in Bogotá, Colombia, she is afraid, but the audience cheers for them and sings along as they play. On that night the children discover a new life. “Buried in the trash was music. And buried in themselves was something to be proud of.”

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Image copyright Sally Wern Comport, courtesy of simonandschuster.com

An extensive author’s note plus a photograph of The Recycled Orchestra, websites, and videos follow the text, as well as a list of sources.

Ada’s Violin is also available in a Spanish edition—El violín de Ada: La Historia de la Orquesta de Instrumentos Reciclados del Paraguay.

Susan Hood has brought to light an incredible story of perseverance, hope, and the ability of music and other arts to provide opportunities and self-confidence that change lives. Told with unstinting honesty and sensitivity, Hood’s biography of Ada Ríos, Favio Chávez, and The Recycled Orchestra will inspire all who read it. The well-paced text offers revealing details on every page and flows with a lyrical quality that enhances the effect of the story and its impact. From the first sentence to the last, both children and adults will be riveted to The Recycled Orchestra.

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Image copyright Sally Wern Comport, courtesy of simonandschuster.com

Sally Wern Comport’s paintings beautifully capture the human spirit that shines through and drives people to astonishing achievements even in the most adverse conditions. With intricately created collages of rich hues, Comport depicts the town of Cateura and the mountains of trash the citizens work and play on. Warm lighting illuminates faces full of dreams and love, and readers will linger over depictions of the instruments workshop and cheer along with the concert audience as the children receive recognition. The full-bleed, two-page spreads echo the expanded world music gave to the children in the orchestra and the adults who heard them as music score confetti flutters throughout.

Both school classrooms and home libraries will benefit from the stirring message of Ada’s Violin.

Ages 4 and up

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2016 | ISBN 978-1481430951 (English edition); 978-1481466578 (Spanish edition)

Discover more about Susan Hood and her books, plus fun activities for kids and information for teachers and parents on her website!

View a gallery of Sally Wern Comport’s artwork on her website!

Uncommon Instrument Awareness Day Activity

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Make Your Own Musical Instrument

 

Inspiration for sound can come from almost any object! Look around your house or classroom and discover the music in boxes, cans, blocks of wood, plastic egg cartons or deli containers, and more. Add string or wire for plucking, sticks for drumming, or beans for shaking. With a little glue, tape, or hardware and some creativity, you’ll be making your own rhythms in no time!

Supplies for the instrument shown in the picture above

  • Tin can
  • Two small L brackets
  • Piece of wooden molding, 2 1/2 feet by 1 1/2 inches by 3/4 inches
  • Five small strips of wood to raise the wire off the neck of the instrument. I used long wooden fireplace matches cut into 1 1/2″ sections 
  • Thin wire
  • Small circular hook screw or regular screw
  • Two tacks
  • A nail, screw, or piece of wood that will fit horizontally in the mouth of the can
  • a small nail to make a hole in the can
  • Hammer
  • Strong Glue
  • Paint
  • Foam decorative dots

Directions

  1. Paint the wood and let dry
  2. Paint the small strips of wood and let dry
  3. Decorate the can with paint, sticker, duct tape, or paper
  4. With the hammer and small nail, make a hole in the center of the bottom of the can
  5. Wrap one end of the wire around the nail and glue so it is firmly in place
  6. Feed the other end of the wire through the hole in the bottom of the can
  7. Screw or glue two L brackets to one end of the wood molding so that the bottom of the L is flush with the bottom of the wood molding and there is space between the brackets. This makes the neck of the instrument
  8. Screw the circular or regular screw into the top, center of the wooden molding
  9. When the wooden strips are dry, glue three side by side 3 inches from the top of the molding. Glue two more matches, one on top of the other on the center strip.
  10. When the L brackets are dry, glue them (and the neck of the instrument) to the can, making sure the brackets are on either side of the hole in the can. Make sure the wire is out of the hole. 
  11. When the brackets are firmly attached to the can, pull the wire to the top of the neck. Settle it in the center of the small pieces of wood, so that the wire is not touching the neck.
  12. Wrap the wire around the screw at the top of the molding until it is firmly in place and the wire is taut. 
  13. Secure the wire to the neck with the tacks
  14. Mark the “frets” with the foam dots

Picture Book Review

 

 

 

July 11 – World Population Day

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About the Holiday

In 1989 the Governing Council of the United Nations Development Program established this date as a time to focus on urgent population and humanitarian issues. Each year revolves around a different theme. This year the theme is “Investing in teenage girls.” Education, health, and safety issues for girls around the world is an emerging issue that demands serious attention.

P is for Passport: A World Alphabet

Written by Devin Scillian | Illustrated by nationally acclaimed artists

 

One of the best ways to learn about the world’s diverse population is to travel—either in person or through a great book. P is for Passport is your own personal guide to the myriad people, landmarks, animals, natural resources, modes of transportation, and other things that make up our world. Each letter of the alphabet introduces readers to a concept that begins with that letter (A for animals, B for breads, etc.). A short definition of the place, event, object, or idea is given on one page, and the facing page contains a poem that cleverly and lyrically describes it with examples from around the globe.

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Image copyright K.L. Darnell, courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press

After getting the right Currency with the letter C and filling K’s Knapsack, armchair travelers will traverse the world’s varied terrain. E takes them to the “epic elevation” of “mighty Mount Everest”; for the letter I they will sail to the Emerald Isle of Ireland, the Isles of Greece, and the Isle of Skye as well as to chilly Greenland, warm Tahiti, and green Iceland; J will find them in the densest jungles; of course, “O is for Oceans that “roll and roar and sway”; and D is for deserts:

“We’re in Dakar and it’s dreadfully dry, whipped by the sand in the breeze. / Or it’s a day in Death Valley, dangerously hot at 120 degrees. / A dazzling sun dries out the Gobi, a harsh and punishing land. / The largest on earth is called the Sahara, nine million miles of sand….”

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Image copyright Gary Palmer, courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press

By now readers will be hungry, so B provides buttery buns, bagels, baguettes, biscuits, and more. Feel like something else? Then flip to G for Grain found in pasta, porridge, dumplings, ramen, couscous, wheat, and rice. While travelers eat they can peruse the languages at L:

“Polish is spoken in Poland. In Japan, it’s Japanese. / In Brazil they don’t speak Brazilian, but rather Portuguese. / L is the list of Languages, so many ways to speak. / Like English and Spanish, Italian and Hebrew, Arabic and Greek. / So pack a handy phrase book and learn a few things to say. / A friendly ‘Bonjour!’ or ‘Buenos dias!’ can go a very long way.”

Q is your Quest “…both large and small, from climbing Kilimanjaro to seeing Niagara Falls.” You’ll cross countries by R—Railway and “…rise right through the Rockies , or across the French Riviera, / or rumble across the Australian outback making your way to Canberra.” Along the way you’ll be entertained by M—Music from mandolins, marimbas, maracas, and many different musicians—and S for Sports, such as soccer, surfing, sailing, skiing, and so many more.

Lastly, T stands for Travel as “you see, each trip a traveler takes is a moment that you spend / getting to know a whole new world. And that world becomes your friend.” And from your travels you’ll remember P, the People:

“They laugh, they eat, they sing, and they dance. They work, they sleep, they play. / They smile when they’re happy, cry when they’re sad, and teach their children to pray. / We wear different clothes over different skin, but it’s always seemed to me / that with all of the things we have in common, how different can we really be?”

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Image copyright Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen

As today’s date also hosts the holiday International Town Criers Day, honoring those early “news reporters,” it’s appropriate that Devin Scillian is our featured author. Besides authoring this and other books, he is a television journalist. His childhood spent living in cities across the globe and his work make him a perfect traveling companion for P is for Passport and its introduction to the marvels of the world around us. Delivering the sights, sounds, aromas, play, and people of foreign lands through fascinating rhymes and facts is a wonderful way to get kids excited about travel and geography.

Twenty-four artists from around the United States and Canada lend their unique talents to depicting each letter. Beautiful two-page spreads burst with color and bold, up-close views of representatives for each letter-inspired text. Brilliant red and blue parrots share space with violet orchids, blue poison dart frogs, a coiled green snake, and a stealthily creeping jaguar in Karen Latham and Rebecca Latham’s painting for the letter J. Susan Guy’s soft watercolor of a frozen landscape cut only by a sleek train and its glowing headlamp transports readers to cold northern regions for the letter N. Volcanoes steam and spout while hot, golden lava burns a path through forestland in Ross Young’s vivid painting for the letter V.

Each illustration is equally compelling. Children and adults will want to linger over each page and will find P is for Passport just the beginning of their world exploration. The book would be a welcome home library addition for geography enthusiasts of all ages.

Ages 7 – 12

Sleeping Bear Press

Hardcover, 2003 ISBN 9781585361571 | ebook, 2013 ISBN 9781627533577

World Population Day Activity

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All Aboard for Travel! Word Search

 

The best way to meet your fellow citizens of the world is to travel! Today’s word search is shaped like a train—one of the best ways to see the countryside. So hop on board and start exploring! Get your printable All Aboard for Travel! puzzle.