September 9 – It’s National Hispanic Heritage Month

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About the Holiday

Beginning on September 15th  and running through October 15th, National Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates the contributions of those who come from or whose ancestors immigrated from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, and South America. Each year the holiday adopts a particular theme. This year’s theme is Hispanic Americans: A History of Serving Our Nation. From the military, to business and industry to culture, sports, and entertainment Hispanic Americans have made an important and indelible imprint on our country. First observed in 1968 as a week-long holiday, the commemoration was expanded to a month in 1988 under President Ronald Reagan. To celebrate, learn more about Hispanic Americans who have influenced our culture, attend a special event, and enjoy great books by Hispanic authors like today’s book! You can learn more about the holiday at the official Hispanic Heritage Month website.

Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreño Played the Piano for President Lincoln

Written by Margarita Engle | Illustrated by Rafael López

 

Growing up in Venezuela, Teresa listened to her mother’s lullabies and learned how to play the piano from her father. It wasn’t always easy “to make the stubborn music behave as she practiced gentle songs that sounded like colorful birds…and powerful songs that roared like prowling jaguars, beside towering waterfalls in a mysterious green jungle.” But by the time she was six, she was composing her own songs and at seven, she played in the cathedral.

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Image copyright Rafael López, 2019, text copyright Margarita Engle, 2019. Courtesy of Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

When Teresa was eight, however, her world was rocked by war, and she and her family escaped by ship to America. In New York, she felt lost among all of the strangers, who didn’t speak Spanish and gawked at her and her family as if they “belonged in a museum of oddities.” Even here, they had not escaped conflict as the Civil War waged, pitting the North against the South and family against family.

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Image copyright Rafael López, 2019, text copyright Margarita Engle, 2019. Courtesy of Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Teresa found refuge in her new piano and began to make friends with musicians who came to her home to listen and play along. Teresa practiced all types of music, “her strong hands accepting the challenge of life’s many dark and light moods.” She became well known as “the Piano Girl” and performed with big orchestras and in theaters. She became so famous that she was even invited to play for President Abraham Lincoln and his family at the White House.

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Image copyright Rafael López, 2019, text copyright Margarita Engle, 2019. Courtesy of Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

At the time Washington DC was awash in suffering, torn by war and weariness. President Lincoln’s young son had recently become sick and died. How, Teresa wondered, “could music soothe so much trouble?” Holding tightly to Papá’s hand, she entered the White House and was ushered into a room “as red as a storm or a sunrise.” As she sat at the piano, Teresa recalled past challenges and her discover that life was a “mixture of all sorts of feelings, happy and sad.”

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Image copyright Rafael López, 2019, text copyright Margarita Engle, 2019. Courtesy of Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

She began to play, but the piano was out of tune, “making her music sound ugly.” She stopped, but then President Lincoln requested she play his “favorite song, ‘Listen to the Mockingbird.’” This was a song Teresa could play on this imperfect piano. “Her fingers leaped across all the dark and light keys, improvising the way mockingbirds do, the melody changing as she went along.” Lincoln closed his eyes and was taken away on the soaring notes.

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Image copyright Rafael López, 2019, text copyright Margarita Engle, 2019. Courtesy of Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

When the song ended, the President rose and applauded. He smiled at Teresa and she smiled back, understanding that “her music had brought comfort to a grieving family, at least for one brief, wonderful evening of dancing hands.” Teresa continued to share her gift with the world, always bringing “beautiful dark and light moments of hope” to her listeners.

A Historical Note about the life of Teresa Carreño follows the text.

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Image copyright Rafael López, 2019, text copyright Margarita Engle, 2019. Courtesy of Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Margarita Engle’s soaring biography introduces readers to an astounding woman who, even as a child, had not only a prodigious talent for the piano but a gift for understanding life as well. Engle, the 2017 -2019 national Young People’s Poet Laureate, infuses her story with beautiful lyricism and stirring metaphors that evoke the power of music in Teresa’s heart and hands. On these pages, music becomes a living thing, capable of forming friendships, soothing grief, providing escape, and offering hope. Engle’s focus on the meeting between Teresa Carreño and Abraham Lincoln is significant and offers inspiration to young readers. Like Teresa, who, concerned with playing just right, was presented with an imperfect piano but encouraged by Lincoln’s kindness, they too can learn that with a steady and courageous heart, anyone can use their talents to overcome challenges.

In Rafael López’s crisp, stylish illustrations, Teresa Carreño’s love of music and its emotional power serves as a counter point to the distress of war and anguish of grief. Using vibrant greens, pinks, oranges, and blues, Lopez surrounds Teresa with lush vegetation, dazzling birds, and the security of home. Muted variations of  these colors depict the bleakness of war. A moving image, washed completely in gray except for an approaching vivid bird and a tinge of soft rose dawn shows a mourning Abraham Lincoln alone in his office but soon to be comforted by Teresa’s music.

A beautiful and uplifting biography for kids of all talents, Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreño Played the Piano for President Lincoln would be an inspiring addition to home, school, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 4 – 8

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2019 | ISBN 978-1481487405

Discover more about Margarita Engle, her books, and her poetry on her website.

To learn more about Rafael López, his books, and his art, visit his website.

National Hispanic Heritage Month Activity

CPB - Tortilla chips (2)

Homemade Baked Cinnamon Tortilla Chips

 

It’s easy to make these yummy tortilla chips at home! Why not invite your friends over and bake up a batch or two to enjoy while playing or reading together?

Ingredients

  • 2 10-inch flour tortillas
  • ¾ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 ½ tablespoons sugar
  • Butter

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Combine the cinnamon and the sugar in a bowl
  3. Butter the tortillas
  4. Sprinkle the tortillas with the cinnamon sugar mixture
  5. Cut the tortillas into 8 pieces
  6. Place pieces on a baking sheet
  7. Bake in 350-degree oven for 12 – 15 minutes
  8. Chips will become crispier as they cool.

Makes 16 chips

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You can find Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreño Played the Piano for President Lincoln at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

February 12 – Abraham Lincoln’s Birthday

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About the Holiday

Today we celebrate the birthday of Abraham Lincoln, who was born in 1809 in Hodgenville, Kentucky.  He rose from poverty to become a statesman, lawyer, and the 16th president of the United States, serving from 1861 until he was assassinated in 1865. He guided the country through the Civil War and on January 1, 1983 signed the Emancipation Proclamation, which ended slavery. By 1890, Lincoln’s birthday was recognized as a state holiday but never became a federal holiday. The celebration of Lincoln’s birthday was combined with George Washington’s in 1971 when President’s Day was instituted. Only a handful of states still recognize Lincoln’s birthday as a separate state holiday. 

Lincoln Tells a Joke: How Laughter Saved the President (and the Country)

Written by Kathleen Krull and Paul Brewer | Illustrated by Stacy Innerst

 

Throughout his life things were grim for Abraham Lincoln, but he had a way of responding that made them better. He was born in 1809 in a log cabin that had a dirt floor, cornhusk mattresses, and cracks in the walls so thick that the snow blew in. All day long he did backbreaking work for his strict father, but in the evenings his father “told jokes and the family laughed together.” Of his father, Lincoln once said, “‘My father taught me how to work, but not to love it. I’d rather read, tell stories, crack jokes, talk, laugh.’”

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Image copyright Stacy Innerst, 2016, text copyright Kathleen Krull and Paul Brewer, 2016. Courtesy of HMH Books for Young People.

Even as a child, Lincoln loved to read and write. His mother died when Lincoln was only nine years old, but “words and humor seemed to ease the pain.” He liked to get together with friends and read aloud from joke books, and at the age of eleven, he wrote his first nonsense poem. Lincoln loved to learn, but because of all the work at home, he “had a total of only one year of official schooling.” Instead, he read everything he could.

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Image copyright Stacy Innerst, 2016, text copyright Kathleen Krull and Paul Brewer, 2016. Courtesy of HMH Books for Young People.

He grew up to be six feet, four inches tall, with huge feet and hands, and a big nose. His appearance was one of the things he joked about the most. When he was nineteen, Lincoln moved to New Salem, Illinois. He had such a reputation for humor that a local judge asked him to come to court to comment on cases. Here, Lincoln learned the importance of words and how they could be used by watching and listening to the lawyers. Despite all their learning, these men couldn’t fool Abe. He once commented of one lawyer: “‘That man can pack the most words into the least ideas of any man I know.’”

When he was twenty-three he served in the military, but he said the only battles he saw were with mosquitoes. After he was discharged that same year, he ran for the Illinois state legislature and lost. When he tried again two years later, he won and went on to serve for four terms, keeping the “‘House in a continuous roar of merriment.’”

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Image copyright Stacy Innerst, 2016, text copyright Kathleen Krull and Paul Brewer, 2016. Courtesy of HMH Books for Young People.

As he got older his looks and sometimes depressive personality only seemed to get worse, but Lincoln kept joking and was a favorite of children. When he, himself, became a lawyer, he was brilliant at summing up hours of testimony in “one clever story that would get the jury on his side.” Then he met Mary Todd, who was “witty, bubbly, and very smart about politics.” He loved her and she loved him, but her family rejected him as not wealthy or high-society enough. Even their attitude, though, was fodder for Lincoln’s jests.

When Abe and Mary did marry, he joked about their sixteen-inch height difference, and when they had four boys, he kept them entertained with his humor. Lincoln even thought jokes should be taught in school because he believed they made kids smarter.

Lincoln continued to run for higher political offices, losing many races, but always maintaining his sense of humor. Along the way, he gained a reputation for honesty. He also had a talent for skewering even serious topics in a way that brought out the truth: “‘Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally.’”

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Image copyright Stacy Innerst, 2016, text copyright Kathleen Krull and Paul Brewer, 2016. Courtesy of HMH Books for Young People.

When Lincoln was elected president, his White House rang with laughter. Guests were charmed, while reporters, those wanting inside knowledge, or people asking for favors were left chuckling but not any wiser. During the Civil War years, Lincoln alleviated the stress and kept a clear head by reading his favorite humor writers, encouraging his advisers to do the same.

Lincoln’s talent for words helped keep the country together even through its worst crisis.  “His gift for language—and how it can inspire people—is one reason he is considered one of our best presidents” even though during his presidency he was one of the most unpopular due to his politics. When he was shot at Ford’s Theater five days after the war ended, Lincoln was attending a comic play and may have been “laughing even in the final moments of his life.” Abraham Lincoln had an amazing life, fueled by his sense of humor that took him from a tiny log cabin to the White House and into American’s hearts.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-lincoln-tells-a-joke-lincoln-portrait

Image copyright Stacy Innerst, 2016, text copyright Kathleen Krull and Paul Brewer, 2016. Courtesy of HMH Books for Young People.

Kathleen Krull and Paul Brewer have written a terrific biography of Abraham Lincoln focusing on the personality trait that made him such a unique individual and uniquely qualified to shepherd America through its most difficult time. Lincoln’s sense of humor was charged with intelligence and true cleverness and showcased his love and understanding of words and language. Children, with their own well-developed senses of humor and affinity for a good joke, will be captivated by Krull and Brewer’s conversational tone that is sprinkled with the wit and wisdom Abraham Lincoln displayed from the time he, himself, was a child. Lincoln Tells a Joke reveals not only facts from Lincoln’s life but the all-important aspects of his character that allowed him to rise above his lack of formal education and leading-man looks to become one of the most admired men ever born. 

Stacy Innerst’s hip, folk-art-style paintings mirror Abraham Lincoln’s humor with unusual perspectives, quirky details, and plenty of peppered-in “ha, ha, ha’s” while highlighting his stature both as a sensitive, thoughtful man and as a politician. Lincoln’s elongated arms and legs stretch across the pages, children laughing at his jokes don’t even reach his knees, and the tall tower of papers in front of him on his desk completely hide him except for his arms. Innerst’s color pallet of muddy sepia tones, rusty reds, and deep aqua blues; flat landscapes, and political imagery give readers the feel and spirit of the 1800s Midwest and Washington DC. In a moving double-spread illustration, Innerst seats Lincoln at his desk as the handwritten words of the Gettysburg Address form the backdrop. As the story closes, Innerst re-imagines the Lincoln Memorial statue with  Lincoln laughing while reading his favorite book, Quinn’s Jests. It’s a fitting tribute to both Lincoln and the power of laughter.

Lincoln Tells a Joke is a fantastic biography for home libraries for children who like biographies, history, Abraham Lincoln, or a well-told story. The book would be an inspired choice for classroom, school, and public libraries.

Ages 6 – 10

HMH Books for Young Readers, 2016

Discover more about Kathleen Krull and her books on her website.

Learn more about Paul Brewer, his books and his art on his website.

To view a portfolio of books and artwork by Stacy Innerst, visit his website.

Abraham Lincoln’s Birthday Activity

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Abe Lincoln’s Stovepipe Hat Chalkboard

 

Abraham Lincoln was known for the black top hat he wore – and for his inspiring words In this activity you can learn how to make a top hat chalkboard to use for your own drawings or inspiring words!

Supplies

  • Cereal Box (I used a large sized cereal box), cardboard or poster board
  • Chalkboard Paint (black)
  • Paint brush
  • Hot Glue Gun or extra-strength glue
  • Removable mounting squares
  • Chalk

Directions

  1. If you are using cardboard or poster board: cut a rectangle at least 8 inches wide by 12 inches long for the hat and 12 inches long by 2 inches wide for the brim (but your top hat can be any size you’d like!)
  2. If you are using a Cereal Box: open the seams of the Cereal Box
  3. Cut the panels of the cereal box apart
  4. Take one face panel and one side panel
  5. With the chalkboard paint, paint both panels
  6. Let the panels dry
  7. Attach the side panel to the bottom of the face panel to create the shape of Lincoln’s top hat
  8. Hang Abe Lincoln’s Top Hat Chalkboard 

Picture Book Review