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

May 6 – National Nurses Day

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday kicks off National Nurses Week, which runs until May 12, the birthday of Florence Nightingale. Nightingale, born in 1820, was an English social reformer and the founder of modern nursing. She was well-known for her work tending wounded soldiers during the Crimean War and was called “the lady with the lamp,” because of the rounds she made of her patients during the night.

During National Nurses Day and Week, we honor and thank all of the nurses working in hospitals, private practices, and with charitable organizations around the world for their dedication to and compassion for the patients under their care.

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.”

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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.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-nurse-soldier-spy-the-story-of-sarah-edmonds-as a spy

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!

National Nurses Day Activity

CPB - Doctors Clothespins

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