August 29 – It’s American Artist Appreciation Month

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About the Holiday

This month we celebrate the artists who interpret the unique history, culture, and people of America in ways that bring new meaning and insight to those who interact with it. To celebrate, visit your local art museum or take a trip to another city to view pieces you’ve never seen before. The dynamics of seeing art up close provides new perspectives and appreciation.

Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines

Written by Jeanne Walker Harvey | Illustrated by Dow Phumiruk

 

As a child, Maya Lin loved playing and interacting with nature near her home. She and her brother liked to run over what Maya had named “the Lizard’s Back”—a hill behind her house—and into the woods. Sometimes Maya went into the woods alone and “sat as still as a statue, hoping to tame rabbits, raccoons, chipmunks, and squirrels.” She liked to play chess with her brother and build towns from scraps of paper, boxes, books, and other things she found around the house.

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Image copyright Dow Phumiruk, 2017, text copyright Jeanne Walker Harvey, 2017. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

Maya’s “parents had fled China at a time when people were told what to be and how to think.” They did not want the same for their children and always encouraged Maya to be and think what she wanted. Maya grew up surrounded by art. Her father worked with clay, and her mother was a poet. Maya also liked to make things with her hands. The beautiful library where she went to college inspired Maya to become an architect.

To learn about different buildings, Maya traveled all over the world. When she was only a senior in college, “Maya entered a contest to design a memorial to honor soldiers who died during the Vietnam War.” The contest stated two rules: the memorial had to fit in with a park-like setting, and it had to include the 58,000 names of the soldiers who had died in the war. These rules resonated with Maya. She “believed that a name brings back all the memories of a person, more than a photo of a moment in time.”

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Image copyright Dow Phumiruk, 2017, text copyright Jeanne Walker Harvey, 2017. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

Maya visited the site where the memorial would be built. As she looked at the gently rolling hill, she envisioned a simple cut in the earth that would support a polished wall covered in names. Not only would the wall reflect those who died, but also those who came to visit and the surrounding nature. At school, Maya worked with mashed potatoes and then with clay to help her create the perfect monument. When she had finished her drawings and plans, she wrote an essay to accompany them. She wrote that her monument would be “a place to be experienced by walking down, then up past names that seemed to go on forever.”

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Image copyright Dow Phumiruk, 2017, text copyright Jeanne Walker Harvey, 2017. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

More than 1,400 artists and architects—many of them famous—entered the contest. The designs were hung in an airplane hangar anonymously for judging. Finally, the day came for the announcement of the winner. When the judges called out Maya Lin’s name and she came forward, they were surprised to find that she was so young. Maya was excited to have won, but then some people began to object to her design. Some said her “design looked like a bat, a boomerang, a black gash of shame.”

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Image copyright Dow Phumiruk, 2017, text copyright Jeanne Walker Harvey, 2017. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

Maya was hurt by these comments, but she defended her design and, finally, it was approved. Maya worked with the architects and engineers who excavated the land and built the wall. As each granite panel was polished, engraved with the soldiers’ names, and set in place, Maya looked on. The memorial opened on Veterans Day in 1982. Thousands of people came to see it and to find the names of loved ones they had lost. As Maya approached the wall, “she searched for the name of the father of a friend. When she touched the name, she cried, just as she knew others would.” Every day since then visitors come to the wall to remember.

Maya Lin has gone on to design many more works of art and architecture that can be seen inside and outside. Each piece has a name and a particular vision. Maya wants people to interact with her art—to touch it; read, walk, or sit near it; or think about it. After each piece is finished, Maya thinks about her next work and how she can inspire the people who will see it.

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Image copyright Dow Phumiruk, 2017, text copyright Jeanne Walker Harvey, 2017. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

An Author’s Note about Maya Lin and the Vietnam War Memorial follows the text.

Jeanne Walker Harvey has written an inspiring biography of Maya Lin that reveals not only her creativity but the importance of creative freedom for children. Lin’s confidence that led her to enter the contest and then defend her winning design will encourage readers to pursue their dreams. Harvey’s lyrical storytelling reflects Maya Lin’s quiet, introspective nature, the influences that nurtured her creative spirit, and her dedication to inviting others to be part of her art.

Dow Phumiruk’s graceful, soft-hued illustrations allow children to follow Maya Lin as she grows from a girl discovering nature, constructing cardboard cities, and learning the arts from her parents to a young woman who draws inspiration from the world’s buildings and relies on her own sensitivity to guide her. Back-to-back pages of the landscape of Vietnam and the site of the memorial connect the two places for children’s better understanding. Phumiruk’s depictions of the Vietnam War Memorial also give children an excellent view of this moving monument. Her images of Lin’s other architectural work will entice young readers to learn more about her and to explore where each of these pieces can be found.

Ages 4 – 8

Henry Holt & Company Books for Young Readers, 2017 | ISBN 978-1250112491

Discover more about Jeanne Walker Harvey and her books on her website!

Learn more about Dow Phumiruk, her art, and her books on her website!

American Artist Appreciation Month Activity

 celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-picture-frame

Fantastic Frame

 

Every great work of art deserves the perfect frame to display it. With a frame ready to decorate from a craft store and a few materials, you can create a Fantastic Frame for any of your drawings or photos!

Ideas for Decorating

  • Stickers
  • Decorative buttons
  • Small objects
  • Shells
  • Markers, crayons, or paint
  • Stencils
  • Washi Tape

Picture Book Review

November 20 – National Absurdity Day

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About the Holiday

Absurdity is all around us. It can make us laugh, make us mad, and make us see people and events with a new perspective. Today’s holiday gives us the opportunity to embrace absurdity in all its forms. You can spend the day doing something ridiculous, reading absurdist literature, or maybe listening to the music composed by the subject of today’s book!

Strange Mr. Satie: Composer of the Absurd

Written by M. T. Anderson | Illustrated by Petra Mathers

 

Born in 1866 in France, Erik Satie was a man of contradictions. “‘I was born very young in a very old world,’” he once remarked, and some thought that he never really grew up but always remained “a child with an old man’s smile.” This dichotomy even influenced the kind of music he liked to compose. Even as a child Satie loved music, and as he grew older he wanted to create music that was “both very young and very old, very bold and very shy, that followed no rules but its own.”

Satie liked to combine dissonant styles, such as chants and chorus line tunes. His listeners, with their fancy clothes, impeccable manners, and preconceived notions didn’t understand or like Satie’s “strange” music. On his part Satie found most people frightening and confusing. As a young man he moved to Paris where he made friends. One of his friends took him to a café called Le Chat Noir or The Black Cat. The café, with its resident cat, upstairs theater, and hidden poet’s skeleton attracted poets, artists, dancers, “wizards, and wisecrackers,” who would gather to share their work. Some had invented “luminous hats” while others had “schemes to cover the oceans with cork so they could travel from New York to France.”

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Image copyright Petra Mathers, text copyright M. T. Anderson. Courtesy of Candlewick Press

Satie liked Le Chat Noir. He played the piano and people listened—without laughing, without even moving, just allowing themselves to feel happy or sad or as if they were in a dream. Feeling accepted in this atmosphere, Satie wrote his most famous pieces for the piano—the Gymnopédies. His unusual songs for parties, puppet shows, and other occasions had equally unusual titles: one was called “The Dreamy Fish,” another “In a Horse Costume,” and still another “Real Flabby Preludes (for a Dog).” Instead of the usual instructions composers wrote for musicians, Satie included instructions like “‘On yellowing velvet’ and ‘I want a hat of solid mahogany.’”

One day at Le Chat Noir, Erik Satie “met an artist and model Suzanne Valadon and fell in love with her.” The only problem was that she already had a boyfriend—a wealthy lawyer. Satie simply invited himself along on their dates. Satie made friends, but he also lost them easily due to his terrible temper. He yelled at his friends when they didn’t like his music, when they did like his music, and for many small perceived grievances in between. He and Suzanne fought frequently until she left him forever.

Erik Satie seemed more “like a visitor” on Earth than one of its citizens. His wardrobe consisted of “seven identical grey velvet suits and that was all.” Instead of washing with soap, he used a stone, and his room was so small he had to climb on the bed just to get in the door. By this time Satie was in his late 30s and had never learned the rules of music. He realized that he needed to go back to school. After graduating he took to wearing suits and carrying an umbrella. He looked “normal” on the outside, but his eyes still gleamed with the unique creativity inside him.

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Image copyright Petra Mathers, text copyright M. T. Anderson. Courtesy of Candlewick Press

In 1917 Satie and his friends wrote and performed a ballet called Parade with sets designed by Pablo Picasso. The story of the ballet was dramatic and the music was peculiar—played on xylophones, typewriters, and sirens. The audiences and critics disliked it intensely; it caused fights and insults. Satie even came close to going to jail over his rude response to a critic.

In 1924 Satie wrote another ballet called Cancelled, which featured a movie and a real camel, and became a self-fulfilling prophesy when on opening night the lead dancer actually worried himself sick and the ballet was cancelled. When the ballet opened a few nights later, however, the audience loved it and, finally, Satie heard long-sought applause. Soon afterward Satie became sick and was taken to the hospital. He died on July 1.

Poets, artists, and musicians came from all over to attend Erik Satie’s funeral. They wanted to honor this most unique man who lived life on his own terms and whose music influenced famous composers in the future.

T. Anderson’s honest and entertaining biography of Erik Satie depicts the quirkiness of the composer’s life through well-chosen anecdotes that will have readers laughing, shaking their heads, and empathizing with this man of extraordinary brilliance. While Satie’s personality and creativity made for a topsy-turvy existence, Anderson combines lyrical passages with those of straight narration sprinkled with expressive adjectives and verbs to clearly paint a portrait of this most unusual and influential composer.

Petra Mathers brings to life late 1800s and early 1900s France as well as the unusual music Erik Satie composes. In vivid illustrations Satie is seen mingling with the patrons of Le Chat Noir, joining Suzanne Valadon on her dates, sitting in his small room and classroom, and giving vent to his argumentative nature. As Satie cannot be separated from his music, his pieces are depicted here. Disparate objects—candles, balls, bells, dice, question marks, dominoes, and more—burst out of a piano and into and out of listeners’ ears; a performer in the ballet Parade cross the stage wearing a costume of skyscrapers; and the ballet Cancelled with its smoking canon and live camel results in flower-strewn acclaim.

Ages 6 – 10

Candlewick Press, 2016 (reprint edition) | ISNB 978-0763687755

Visit M. T. Anderson‘s website to learn more about his books for children, teens, and adults. Plus you’ll find videos, interviews, wallpapers, and more gimmicks!

National Absurdity Day Activity

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Really Ridiculous Coloring Pages

 

Have you every seen a frog in a suit or a dancing alligator? Absurd, right? Have fun with these printable Really Ridiculous Coloring Pages!

Frog Coloring Page | Alligator Coloring Page

November 14 – International Girls Day

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday recognizes the spirit of girls and encourages girls and young women to pursue their dreams, talents, and abilities with the slogan “She Can Do Anything.” Around the world young women have a long way to go to overcome the stereotypes, conditions, and pressures in the media and other organizations that keep them from receiving an equal education and from both attempting and succeeding in their desired profession. Today, celebrate the uniqueness of the girls and women in your life, listen to what they really want and want to accomplish, and support them.

Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World

By Rachel Ignotofsky

 

“Nothing says trouble like a woman in pants.” With this revealing attitude from the 1930s, Rachel Ignotofsky introduces her scintillating biographies of 50 intelligent, self-confident, persevering, and inspiring women working in engineering, math, medicine, psychology, geology, physics, astronomy, and more sciences from ancient history through today. The book begins with Hypatia who lived in Greece in the late 300s to early 400s CE and became an expert in astronomy, philosophy,and mathematics, making “contributions to geometry and number theory.” She became one of Alexandria’s first female teachers, “invented a new version of the hydrometer,” and can be found among the intellects in Raphael’s painting “The School of Athens.”

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Image and text copyright Rachel Ignotofsky, courtesy of rachelignotofskydesign.com

Zipping ahead to 1647 readers find Maria Sibylla Merian, considered one of the “greatest scientific illustrators of all time.” Her specialty was entomology. By carefully documenting the lifespan of butterflies, she taught people about the science of metamorphosis, publishing a book on the subject filled with notes and illustrations in 1679. Later she scoured the rainforests of South America, gathering information on never-before-seen insects from that region. Her book, The Metamorphosis of the Insects of Suriname “was published in 1705 and became a hit all over Europe.” Maria was so famous, her picture appeared on German money and stamps.

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Image and text copyright Rachel Ignotofsky, courtesy of rachelignotofskydesign.com

Other women in the nature sciences include Mary Anning, who as a child discovered the first complete ichthyosaur skeleton and went on to become a paleontologist; Mary Agnes Chase, a botanist and expert on grasses; Marjorie Stoneman Douglas, who as a conservationist helped save the Florida Everglades; and Joan Beauchamp Procter, a zoologist specializing in reptiles who discovered the Peninsula Dragon Lizard in 1923; and more.

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Image and text copyright Rachel Ignotofsky, courtesy of rachelignotofskydesign.com

One of the earliest women astronomers and mathematicians was Wang Zhenyi, born in China in 1768. Creating her own eclipse model, she proved her advanced “theories about how the moon blocks our view of the sun—or the earth blocks the sun’s light from reaching the moon—during an eclipse.” She also measured the stars and explained the rotation of the solar system. At the age of 24 she published the 5-volume Simple Principles of Calculation. Zhenyi died at the age of 29, but in her short life she published many books on math and astronomy as well as books of poetry.

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Image and text copyright Rachel Ignotofsky, courtesy of rachelignotofskydesign.com

Women in Science includes many other women who have looked to the stars and mathematics for their careers. Some of these are: Ada Lovelace, the first person to write a computer program; Emmy Noether, who helped Albert Einstein develop his theory relativity, created the field of abstract algebra, and “made new connections between energy and time, and angular momentum”; Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin a quantum physicist in 1900s England who “discovered that the sun is made mostly of hydrogen and helium gas” and in 1956 became Harvard University’s first astronomy professor; Mae Jemison, who in 1992 became the first African-American woman in space and later started her own technology consulting firm as well as founding BioSentient Corporation, and a science camp for kids; plus many others.

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Image and text copyright Rachel Ignotofsky, courtesy of rachelignotofskydesign.com

The book also features Engineers, such as Hertha Ayrton who improved electric lights by inventing “a new rod that made a clean and quiet bright light” and the Ayrton fan that blew away mustard gas during World War I; and Lillian Gilbreth, who used her theories of “organizational psychology” in inventing the foot pedal for garbage cans, shelving for refrigerators, and even the “work triangle” for kitchens “that determines the distance from the sink to the stove” and saves time. There are Geneticists such as Nettie Stevens who discovered the “X” and “Y” chromosomes, and Barbara McClintock—the pants wearer from the beginning of the post—and the first person “to make a complete genetic map of corn” and discover jumping genes, or “transposons.”

The field of Medicine has benefited from women such as Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman doctor; Alice Ball, a chemist and the first African-American woman to graduate from the University of Hawaii, who helped cure leprosy with her chemical work; and Gerty Cori who discovered how our bodies covert glucose, helping us better understand diabetes. In 1947 she became the first American woman to win a Nobel Prize.

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Image and text copyright Rachel Ignotofsky, courtesy of rachelignotofskydesign.com

And this list only begins to scratch the surface of all the fascinating stories of women who overcame social, political, and personal obstacles to follow where their intelligence took them. Inspirational, entertaining, and undeniably eye-catching Rachel Ignotofsky’s Women in Science presents expertly written, one-page biographies that hit all the high (and sometimes unfortunate low) points in these scientist’s lives. The striking layout of both the text and illustrations keep readers riveted to the page, The left-hand side contains a representational drawing of the scientist surrounded by the subjects and materials of her work as well as trivia about her and a quotation. On the right-hand page, small illustrated facts frame the woman’s life story.

Interspersed between the biographies are pages offering a timeline of women’s milestones, depicting lab tools, and graphing statistics of women in STEM. The back matter is impressive, with two more pages presenting 15 more scientists, a four-page, illustrated glossary, resources including films, websites, and books, and an index. Rachel Ignotofsky concludes her book by saying, “Let us celebrate these trailblazers so we can inspire the next generation. Together, we can pick up where they left off and continue the search for knowledge. So go out and tackle new problems, find your answers and learn everything you can to make your own discoveries!”

Ages 7 and up

Ten Speed Press, 2016 | ISBN 978-160774976

To discover more books by Rachel Ignotofsky, visit her website!

International Girls Day Activity

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What Kind of Scientist Would You Be? Word Search

 

Find the 18 different scientists in this printable What Kind of Scientist Would You Be? Puzzle. Here’s the Solution!  Then pick one and write why you would like to be that type of scientist!

Picture Book Review

October 25 – International Artist Day

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About the Holiday

Instituted in 2004 by Chris MacClure, a Canadian artist who specializes in Romantic Realism, National Artist Day celebrates the various forms of art, the artist, and the unique vision each one brings to their work and the world. Whether you like classic or abstract styles, watercolors or oils, sculpture or installations, why not take some time today to visit an art museum or gallery—or page through a collection of prints or a biography like today’s book!

The Noisy Paint Box: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art

Written by Barb Rosenstock | Illustrated by Mary GrandPré

 

As a Russian child Vasya Kandinsky spends his days absorbed in learning math, science, and history. He takes piano lessons and attends formal dinners where the adults drone on and on. His life is polite, stiff, and colorless until the day his aunt gives him a small wooden paint box. “Every proper Russian boy should appreciate art,” Vasya’s aunt tells him while explaining how to mix colors.

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Image copyright Mary Grandpré, text copyright Barb Rosenstock. Courtesy of randomhouse.com

Vasya takes up the brush and combines red with yellow then red with blue. As the colors change to orange and purple, Vasya hears a whisper that grows into a noisy hiss. “‘What is that sound?’” he asks, but no one else hears anything. “The swirling colors trilled like an orchestra tuning up for a magical symphony,” and “Vasya painted the sound of the colors.” A lemon yellow “clinked like the highest notes on the keyboard; a navy blue “vibrated deeply like the lowest cello strings.” Crimsons “blared” and greens “burbled.”

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Image copyright Mary Grandpré, text copyright Barb Rosenstock. Courtesy of randomhouse.com

Vasya runs downstairs to show his family what he has created. His mother, father, and Auntie look at the canvas with its swoops, shapes, and angles. “What is it supposed to be?” they ask, and send him off to art school to learn how “to draw houses and flowers—just like everyone else.” Vasya finishes school and becomes a lawyer. He leaves his paint box untouched and lives the way he is expected, but the sounds of the colors are always with him.

One evening as he listens to an opera, the music surrounds him with color—“stomping lines of vermilion and coral; caroling triangles in pistachio and garnet; thundering arches of aqua and ebony…” Vasya can hear the colors and see the music. He knows then what he must do. He quits his job teaching law and moves to Germany to be a painter. He surrounds himself with artists and takes classes with famous teachers, and yet people still look at his canvases and asked, “What is it supposed to be?”

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Image copyright Mary Grandpré, text copyright Barb Rosenstock. Courtesy of randomhouse.com

Once again he paints what is expected. His teachers love his houses and flowers, but Vasya does not. His friends understand. They too want to expand the meaning of art. They agree with Vasya when he says, “‘Art should make you feel.’” In his studio Vasya continues to paint the sounds he hears, to give music color and color sound. Bravely, he invites the public to view his paintings, which are named after musical terms—Composition, Accompaniment, Fugue, and more.

This is a new kind of art—abstract art—and it takes a long time before people understand. They look and still ask, “What is it supposed to be?” “It is my art,” Kandinsky replies “How does it make you feel?” 

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Image copyright Mary Grandpré, courtesy of randomhouse.com

An author’s note telling more about Kandinsky’s life and synesthesia, a genetic condition in which one sense triggers another, follows the story.

In the spirit of full disclosure, Kandinsky is one of my favorite artists, so I was excited to read this biography—I was not disappointed! With so many great artists, their work speaks for itself, but viewers wonder: How did it come about? What influenced the artist? Barb Rosenstock, with lyrical language and beautifully chosen descriptions, reveals the emotions and passion that fueled Kandinsky’s art from his earliest ages: as he walks through Moscow he can’t ignore “the canary-colored mailbox whistling as he rode to work. The scarlet sunset haze ringing above the ancient Kremlin walls.” Rosenstock’s inclusion of the conflicts and opposition Kandinsky faced and overcame will inspire children to listen to their inner voice and makes readers and lovers of his abstract art glad he never gave up.

Mary GrandPré’s unique style brilliantly depicts Kandinsky’s singular vision, allowing readers to experience the way he wielded his paint brush like a conductor’s baton. Vasya’s early life is painted in muted blues and grays, and the boredom on his face as he studies his schoolwork is obvious. Kids will appreciate his one-finger plinking at the piano and the rolled-eyed drowsiness of the formal dinner. Once Vasya is introduced to the paint box, however, GrandPré’s illustrations become vibrant, with swirling colors overlaid with the musical notes that Kandinsky associated with them. His uninhibited painting is gloriously shown as the young boy’s shirt comes untucked and the colors burst from the canvas upon his first painting.

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Image copyright Mary Grandpré, text copyright Barb Rosenstock. Courtesy of randomhouse.com

As the adults look at his work, the room is again swathed in somber colors. The text revealing that Vasya attended regular art classes to learn to draw houses and flowers is set above a single wilting flower in a vase. The personal tug-of-war Kandinsky experienced even into adulthood is wonderfully rendered: Colors flow into his ears at the opera; he studies his own landscape and still life paintings with misgiving in a hazy studio, and the joy and freedom of his abstract art is demonstrated with wild abandon while a dove escapes its cage. The final image of a child sitting in front of a Kandinsky painting reinforces the idea that his art lives for all and for all time.

Ages 4 – 9

Alfred Knopf, Random House Children’s Books, 2014 | ISBN 978-0307978486

International Artists Day Activity

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I Love Art! Word Search 

 

There are twenty-five art-related words for everyone to love in this printable I Love Art! word search puzzle! Here’s the Solution!

Picture Book Review

October 22 – Smart is Cool Day

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About the Holiday

There are many ways to be smart—and they are all very cool! The world needs people who can think differently about all issues to solve problems, create art and literature that reflects our times and present alternate viewpoints, and just to make life funnier, more poignant, more beautiful,more  livable. Today, celebrate your particular way of being smart and share it with others!

On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein

Written by Jennifer Berne | Illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky

 

More than 100 years ago on a windy March day, a baby boy was born—Albert was his name. Albert turned one without saying a word. When Albert had his second birthday, he still hadn’t said a word. By the age of three Albert had only said a few words. “He just looked around with his big, curious eyes. Looked and wondered. Looked and wondered.” Albert’s parents were a bit worried because he was so different from other kids. But “they loved him…no matter what.”

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Image copyright Vladimir Radunsky, courtesy of chroniclebooks.com

Once when Albert was sick, his father brought him a compass. As he watched the needle automatically spin to point north, “Albert was so amazed his body trembled. Suddenly he knew there were mysteries in the world—hidden and silent, unknown and unseen.” Albert began asking questions wherever he went. His teachers told him he was a “distraction” and that “he would never amount to anything if he didn’t behave like all the other students.” But Albert didn’t want to be like other kids.

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Image copyright Vladimir Radunsky, courtesy of chroniclebooks.com

While on his bicycle one afternoon, Albert wondered what it would be like to ride a beam of sunlight. He was excited by this idea and it filled him with questions. He began to study light and sound, heat, magnetism, and gravity. He also read about numbers, which to him were like a secret language. Still, Albert had many more questions. After college he wanted to teach the subjects he loved, but he couldn’t find a job.

Instead, he went to work for the government. His job left him a lot of time to ponder his questions. He watched sugar dissolve in tea and smoke disperse in the air and wondered how that happened. Albert realized that everything is made of tiny particles. While many people didn’t believe it, Albert’s work helped prove the existence of atoms.

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Image copyright Vladimir Radunsky, courtesy of chroniclebooks.com

Next Albert considered motion and how everything is always moving. “Even sound asleep we’re moving, as our planet circles the sun, and our lives travel into the future. Albert saw time and space as no one ever had before.” He wrote about his theories and sent the articles to magazines that published them all. Scientists asked him to join their research and teach with them. People began to call Albert a genius. Now he could spend all his time thinking, wondering, and imagining—doing what he loved.

His ideas took in huge things—like planets—and infinitesimal things—like the particles inside atoms. To help him think, Albert sailed his little boat and played his violin. Even the kinds of clothes he wore—or didn’t wear—affected his thinking. He loved baggy pants, over-sized sweaters, and NO socks! He was easily recognized around town by his long, white hair.

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Image copyright Vladimir Radunsky, courtesy of chroniclebooks.com

During all these years Albert never forgot about that beam of light he once wanted to ride. He “figured out that no person, no thing, could ever zoom through space as fast as a beam of light.” If that could occur “crazy things” would happen. While only minutes would pass for the traveler, years would go by for those left on earth. This sounded like a ridiculous idea, but since then it has been proven true.

Albert Einstein continued reflecting on the world until the day he died. He asked and answered many questions that had never been posed before. But he also left many, many questions for other generations—maybe even you!—to discover and solve.

Jennifer Berne’s engaging biography of Albert Einstein is a charming and absorbing look at one of the most unique thinkers in history. Her uplifting, conversational storytelling and well-chosen anecdotes from Albert’s childhood and adulthood will keep kids riveted to the story and show them that while Albert Einstein’s ideas may have been out of this world, he was also very much down to earth. On a Beam of Light introduces readers to this fascinating scientist and will also inspire them to find the genius inside themselves.

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Image copyright Vladimir Radunsky, courtesy of chroniclebooks.com

The childlike, offbeat goache, pen, and ink illustrations of Vladimir Radunsky lend the right amount of lightness and movement to each page, depicting not only Albert and his surroundings but also the endless musings that filled his mind and his days. As Albert grows from a baby to a child, his loving and understanding parents stand by and encourage his gifts; he and his bicycle rocket off on a beam of light; and numbers swirl through the air as Albert rests his head on a stack of books. In a restaurant other patrons are portrayed as simple line drawings, putting the focus on Albert as he ponders a dissolving sugar cube, a device that is used to also depict Albert’s thoughts and scientists of the future who have proven his theories correct. When Albert discovers atoms, he and a family portrait are rendered in dots. The muted colors, mottled paper, and period details allow readers to fully appreciate Albert’s Einstein’s story and contributions.

An Author’s Note and further paragraphs about Einstein’s thought experiments, playful nature, pacifism, and most famous equation, as well as a list of resources follow the text.

On a Beam of Light is a wonderful addition to home libraries for children interested in science, math, ideas, history, and creativity in general. Jennifer Berne’s emphasis on the support Albert received from his parents and his ultimate acceptance within the science community is also welcome comfort for kids who do think differently.

Ages 4 – 9

Chronicle Books, 2016 (paperback) | ISBN 978-1452152110

To view more books by Jennifer Berne, plus pictures by her readers and more, go to her website!

Visit Vladimir Radunsky’s website to see a gallery of his books with pictures!

Smart is Cool Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-smart-is-cool-writing-template

I’m Smart Because…

 

In what way are you smart? Draw a picture or write about your special talent on this printable I’m Smart Because…page.

Picture Book Review

October 16 – Dictionary Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-w-is-for-webster-cover-image

About the Holiday

Dictionary Day honors Noah Webster, who wrote the first American dictionary. He was born in 1758 to a family that loved learning and knew the importance of a good education. Even as a boy Noah Webster loved words. He went on to become a lawyer, newspaper editor, Connecticut and Massachusetts legislator, and he helped found Amherst College in Massachusetts.

He is most well-known, however, for compiling the first American dictionary that is synonymous with his name and still the most popular dictionary in use. His work, first published in 1828, revolutionized the way language and words were presented and remains always current by every year adding new words that come into common use through new products, fads, and slang.

Wordsmiths the world over celebrate both the amazing accomplishment that is the dictionary, and I would imagine, their own well-thumbed and well-loved copies of this remarkable resource.

W is for Webster: Noah Webster and His American Dictionary

Witten by Tracey Fern | Illustrated by Boris Kulikov

 

Noah Webster was always different. Tall and thin with bright red hair, he liked to use big words when he spoke and wanted to do homework instead of goof around in school. Unfortunately for him school was in session for only a few months a year and goofing around seemed to be the major course of study. Of course, Noah didn’t call it “goofing around,” he called it “‘playing roguish tricks.’”

Noah begged to go to a harder school. “His pa knew Noah would make a terrible farmer. Noah spooked the cows by reciting Latin and spent too much time reading Ames’ Almanack under the apple trees.” His pa agreed, and in 1774 at the age of 16 Noah went off to study at nearby Yale College in New Haven, Connecticut. Yale had strict rules. Students had to rise at 5:30 a.m. and study for two hours before class. They were also fined “two shillings for making ‘tumult, noise, hallooing,’ or otherwise goofing around. Noah thought Yale was wonderful.”

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Image copyright Boris Kulikov, text copyright Tracey Fern. Courtesy of macmillan.com

Noah hadn’t been at Yale long before the American Revolutionary War broke out. Although Noah signed up to fight, he recognized that he was “‘ill able to bear the fatigues of a soldier,’” which was “Noah’s big way of saying he was a lousy soldier.” He returned to Yale and graduated in 1778, but he left the school with no job and no prospects. Even his pa told him to leave home to find work.

Noah became a teacher, but he found the British textbooks “‘defective and erroneous.’” He believed the students should have American textbooks that better reflected their diverse experiences. With the Revolutionary War at an end and America victorious, Noah wanted to help “hold his new, complicated nation together.” He believed that America needed a language different than the English spoked in Britain. “‘A national language is a national tie,’ Noah insisted to all who would listen, and to many who wouldn’t.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-w-is-for-webster-teaching-school

Image copyright Boris Kulikov. Courtesy of macmillan.com

He began the work himself with a speller. Right from the start Noah’s speller was different than the British books. It included everyday words “like scab, grub, and mop.” He also simplified the spelling by taking out unpronounced letters or spelling words phonetically. He also added pictures to every page and presented lists of rhyming words. He also priced his book so almost anyone could afford it. Noah’s speller became a bestseller.

Still, Noah had bigger ideas. He wanted to write a patriotic dictionary with uniquely American words. He took his idea on the road to make money for the venture, lecturing wherever he could. But Noah’s know-it-all tone of delivery, his “prickly personality,” even his “‘porcupine hair’” put people off. And what’s more, they didn’t like the idea of his dictionary. People thought he was a “lunatic” for wanting to replace British words with American ones.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-w-is-for-webster-working-on-letter-a

Image copyright Boris Kulikov, text copyright Tracey Fern. Courtesy of macmillan.com

In 1806 Noah went ahead and published “A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language. It was a flop, but Noah wasn’t discouraged.” The next year he started working on a bigger dictionary. He copied words out of British dictionaries and added American words and he traced the roots of all the words and wrote definitions, sometimes including quotes from famous people to show differences in meaning. He figured the whole dictionary would take 5 years to finish—eight to ten, tops.

But five years later, Noah was still on the letter A. With no money coming in and a growing family, Noah took a variety of jobs, but he always seemed to rub someone the wrong way, and he lost job after job. He decided to sell his fancy house and bought a farm. Here he was able to gather books, books, and more books around his unusual donut-shaped desk. Standing inside the center of the desk, he spun around and around reading the books and finding words to include in his dictionary.

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Image copyright Boris Kulikov. Courtesy of macmillan.com

By 1822 Noah had exhausted all the books in his study. He took to traveling to other American libraries, moved his family to New Haven to use the Yale library, and in 1824 even sailed to Europe to explore books found in the National Library in Paris and at the University of Cambridge in England.

Finally, in 1825 Noah finished his dictionary.  With more than 70,000 words, An American Dictionary of the English Language was the largest English dictionary ever written. “Many people thought it was the best English dictionary ever written.” Why the change of heart? Well, one reason might have been that the President of the United States, Andrew Jackson, “was a common man and a bad speller.” Another might have been that the timing was just right.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-w-is-for-webster-finished-dictionary

Image copyright Boris Kulikov, text copyright Tracey Fern. Courtesy of macmillan.com

However it came to be, Noah was now lauded as a hero by states and newspapers. Congress even adopted the dictionary as its standard reference book. Noah had not only succeeded in writing an American dictionary, he had “created a new American language for a new American nation.” One that is still beloved today.

An Author’s note as well as a list of resources follow the text.

Webster’s dictionary is intrinsically woven into every American child’s life through language and vocabulary development. Tracey Fern’s captivating story reveals the charm and foibles of its author, a man with just the right temperament and perseverance to tackle and complete such an overwhelming task. Fern’s exceptional storytelling skills and deft turns of phrase allow for a comprehensive review of Webster’s life that is full of exhilaration, empathy, and a good dose of the “big” words Webster loved. Fern builds suspense and tension while offering an insightful look at early American history by including details of the staggering research required and the adverse reactions to Webster and his work.

Boris Kulikov’s expressive illustrations perfectly capture the complex personality of Noah Webster, late-1700s-to-early-1800s American society, and the obstacles Webster faced in writing his dictionary. Fittingly, words, books, or ink blots abound on every page, pouring from the air, sprouting from the ground, stacked like the skyscrapers that would come, and surrounding Noah Webster the way they must have swarmed through his brain. Kulikov infuses humor into his paintings, as when Noah tears at his hair wondering how he will support himself after college, shrugs nonplussed at his students’ shenanigans, and buys himself quiet work time by handing out sweets to his kids. Visual metaphors for the hard, backbreaking and mind bending work also enhance this beautiful biography.

Ages 5 – 10 (adult’s will also enjoy this biography)

Farrar Straus Giroux, 2015 | ISBN 978-0374382407

Visit Tracey Fern’s website to learn more about her and her books!

Discover a gallery of artwork by Boris Kulikov on his website!

Dictionary Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-big-words-vocabulary-word-search-puzzle

“Big Words” Word Search

 

Knowing and using a wide range of words allows you to express yourself in exact—and often—fun ways. Find the 26 “big” words—one for each letter of the alphabet—in this printable “Big Words” Word Search puzzle. Here’s the Solution!

Picture Book Review

October 12 – Emergency Nurses Day

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About the Holiday

Originating in Australia in 1989 and sponsored by the Emergency Nurses Association, today’s observance has become an international event and honors the dedication and care emergency nurses show for their patients in hospitals, at crisis centers, and in disaster and epidemic zones world-wide. This special day is part of Emergency Nurses Week, which runs from October 9 – 15. This year’s theme is Community. Connect. Care. Compassion, which defines the important role of nurses in both health care and wider society.

Nurse, Soldier, Spy: The Story of Sarah Edmonds, A Civil War Hero

Written by Marissa Moss | Illustrated by John Hendrix

 

When President Abraham Lincoln called for young men to join the army fighting against the Southern states that wanted to secede from the Union, Frank Thompson signed up. One thing though, Frank wasn’t really a man but, instead, a 19-year-old woman named Sarah Edmonds. Sarah already knew the freedom that posing as a man could bring in her society. Three years earlier to escape a marriage arranged by her parents, Sarah cut her long hair, began wearing pants, and crossed “the border from Canada into the United States, trading a bridal gown for trousers, trading countries, without a single regret.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-nurse-soldier-spy-the-story-of-sarah-edmonds-becoming-frank

Image copyright John Hendrix, courtesy of johnhendrix.com

Now, outside the Michigan courthouse, Sarah slowly moved her way along the line to the table where she could sign up to join the troops. When she finally stood in front of the recruiter, however, he stopped her. Sarah was mystified. How did he know she wasn’t a man? She had grown up on a farm, learning the work, copying the gestures, and even wearing the clothes of her brother. But the recruiter took one look at “Frank Thompson” and told her…she was too young to join the army. “He looked at her peachy cheeks free of any sign of a whisker. ‘We aren’t taking any sixteen-year-olds,’” he told her.

A month later, however, more men were needed, and Sarah was allowed to join up. Now a soldier, Frank was a valuable member of the corps. She was an expert at riding and shooting, and she felt at home among the men, enjoying the jokes, stories, and letters. Keeping her identity a secret was made easier by the fact that soldiers did not change clothes to go to sleep. Her small feet led the other soldiers to give her a nickname: “Our little woman.” A name Frank enjoyed immensely.

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Image copyright John Hendrix, courtesy of johnhendrix.com

On the battlefield Frank trained to be a nurse, “which was something only men with the strongest stomachs did because of the long, draining hours and the horrors of surgery without anesthetic.” She fearlessly participated in the battles of Bull Run and Fair Oaks, risking her own life to rescue wounded soldiers. One night the regimental chaplain approached Frank. He wanted to recommend her for a very important—and very dangerous—job. The chaplain wanted to recommend to the generals that Frank become a spy for the North.

“Frank didn’t hesitate. ‘I’m your man!’” she said. Disguising herself as a freed slave, she infiltrated “a group of slaves bringing breakfast to the rebel pickets, the men who guarded the camp.” With so much work to do, the group quickly accepted her, but when the rest of the men, women, and children went off to their own assignments Frank hesitated, not knowing where to go next. Suddenly, a Confederate soldier caught Frank and ordered her to work on the fortifications. The work was backbreaking and left her hands blistered and bloody. The other workers helped when she had trouble.

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Image copyright John Hendrix, courtesy of johnhendrix.com

The work gave Frank an opportunity to count the number of guns the army had, sketch a layout of the fort, and notice that some cannons were fake—just logs painted to look like cannons. By switching jobs with the water boy, Frank was able to get closer to the troops, where she encountered another spy—one working for the Confederate army. When night fell, Frank returned to his Union battalion. Giving the password, Frank was let into camp and made her way to the general’s tent. “Freedom, she knew, wasn’t something to take for granted. It was something to fight for, to cherish. And so long as her heart was beating strong, that’s just what she would do.”

An extensive Author’s Note revealing more about Sarah Edmond’s life and an Artist’s Note on the creation of the illustrations follow the text.

Marissa Moss’s biography of Sarah Edmonds is a suspenseful, gripping, and enlightening story of a woman who broke molds, lived on her own terms, and paved the way for future generations of women. Her well-chosen vignettes from Edmonds’ time as a Union soldier demonstrate not only Edmonds’ bravery and abilities but also create a clear and exciting trajectory of her increasing responsibilities and the danger that went with them. Fascinating details of the Civil War period, the people and attitudes involved, and the duplicitous nature of warfare, add up to a rich account of Sarah Edmonds’ life as well as the Civil War era in general.

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Image copyright John Hendrix, courtesy of johnhendrix.com

Meticulously researched and drawn, John Hendrix’s illustrations perfectly accompany and illuminate the text. Accurate depictions of Civil War-era buildings and clothing as well as Union and Confederate uniforms and weapons allow children to become fully immersed in the time period. Wide-view depictions of encampments and battlefields let readers peek into tents and scour trenches, and action abounds. In camp soldiers pick out tunes on banjos, write letters, and hang laundry; on the battlefield fires rage and ammunition explodes as soldiers follow the charge of their leaders; at the Confederate fortifications black workers steer wheelbarrows of rock; and in the medical tent Frank tends to wounded soldiers, the equipment used clearly visible. Scenes portrayed in both daylight and at night highlight the ongoing conflict and the dangerous, secretive work Sara Edmonds undertook.

Nurse, Soldier, Spy: the Story of Sarah Edmonds a Civil War Hero is historical and biographical work at its best. This fast-paced, fascinating look at one particular soldier informs readers about so many aspects of the Civil War era, including societal issues that shaped the United States and are still discussed today. The book is a must for school and public libraries and its in-depth, absorbing content makes it a welcome addition to home libraries for children who love history, art, biographies, and a well-told story.

Ages 5 – 12

Abrams Books for Young People, 2016 (Paperback edition) | ISBN 978-1419720659

Discover many more books, fun stuff, writing tips and more on Marissa Moss‘s website!

View a portfolio of picture book art, editorial illustration, a sketchbook, and more on John Hendrix‘s website!

Emergency Nurses Day Activity

CPB - Doctors Clothespins

Emergency Nurse Clothespin Dolls

 

Make one of these clothespin figures that honors hard-working and compassionate emergency nurses!

Supplies

CPB - Doctors Clothespins on box

Directions

  1. Draw a face and hair on the clothespin
  2. Cut out the outfit you want your doctor to wear (color pants on your clothespin if you choose the lab coat)
  3. Wrap the coat or scrubs around the clothespin. The slit in the clothespin should be on the side.
  4. Tape the clothes together
  5. Wrap the cap around the head and tape it.
  6. If you’d like to display your clothespin doctor on a wire, string, or the edge of a box or other container, cut along the dotted lines of the clothes template.

Picture Book Review