Keeper of the Lightwritten byCaroline Arnold and illustrated by Rachell Sumpter is a fascinating, “fictionalized account based on true events and historical documents about Juliet Fish Nichols …” I love learning about historical figures, especially women who had non-traditional careers, whose stories might never be told were it not for an inquisitive picture book author.
A widow at 42 and in need of a steady income, Juliet Fish Nichols worked for over a decade as Keeper of Angel Island Light Station in San Francisco Bay. Author Arnold presents an engaging interpretation of several years of Nichols’ life there—Point Knox to be precise—in log format so that readers can gain insight into the important responsibilities she was tasked with. This not only involved making sure the lamp (visible for up to 13 miles) was filled with oil, clean, and in working order but when needed, operating the fog bell machine.
Life may have been simple and calm most of the time but it could suddenly change when the weather grew foggy as it was wont to do. When that happened, Nichols had one thing in mind: Keep the boats safe. Then, on April 18, 1906, a horrendous earthquake rocked San Francisco. Buildings tumbled to the ground and deadly fires broke out all over the city. Nichols helped by hanging her lamp to guide the way for ferries transporting people to safety.
On July 2 of that same year, as early as midday, fog began rolling in …
When the fog’s vast thickness rendered the fog light useless to keep boats from crashing into the rocks the clang, clang of the bell could be heard. But it soon stopped. Nichols realized the bell machine was broken but there was no time to get help or repairs. The keeper had no choice but to grab a mallet and strike the bell herself … every fifteen seconds, throughout the night … for over 20 long hours … until the fog lifted. Nichols’ selfless efforts likely saved hundreds of lives that day when people were still recovering from April’s tragedy.
Sumpter’s warm-toned illustrations with a watercolor style perhaps mixed with pastels took me back in time to the turn of the twentieth-century San Francisco Bay area. They add atmosphere and tension in all the right places and, together with Arnold’s text, make this such an interesting read. We learn from the Author’s Note in the back matter that Nichols’ logs do exist but this fictionalized version makes them accessible to children by focusing on a few significant events during her 12-year tenure as keeper. I now want to visit Angel Island like Arnold did to see where this amazing woman lived and worked and to see firsthand the giant bell that, with Nichols’ help, saved so many from perishing.
RENATO AND THE LION
Written and illustrated by Barbara DiLorenzo
(Viking BYR; $17.99, Ages 5 and up)
HAPPY BOOK BIRTHDAY TO RENATO AND THE LION!
★Starred Review – Booklist
Barbara DiLorenzo’s historical picture book, Renato and the Lion, captures a young boy’s fondness for a stone lion. The story is set during World War II and Renato’s father cares for sculptures in a museum. When foreign troops arrive in Florence, he safeguards the art in brick enclosures. However, Renato’s beloved sculpture resides outside in the Piazza della Signoria where he likes to play soccer with his friends. Using some spare bricks, Renato tries to protect his lion too, but falls asleep while hiding from soldiers. The lion magically transports Renato home.
Years later in the U.S.A., Renato shares this tale with his granddaughter and soon after travels to Italy where he is reunited with his long-lost lion—a reminder that powerful connections with pieces of art transcend continents and generations.
DiLorenzo’s beautiful watercolor paintings bring Renato and the Lion to life. This visually stunning story enchants as it gently educates. The emotional resonance evokes a timelessness that will charm children with its quiet and heartfelt message.
Find more info about Barbara DiLorenzo by clicking here.
ORDINARY PEOPLE CHANGE THE WORLD:
I AM GEORGE WASHINGTON
Written by Brad Meltzer
Illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos
(Dial BYR; $12.99, Ages 5-8)
For Presidents’ Day 2017, let’s take a look at Brad Meltzer’s I am George Washington, another terrific biography in the popular and entertaining Ordinary People Change The World series. These books serve as a great introduction to some of the world’s greatest heroes and historical figures while emphasizing that individuals are not born into greatness but work hard to achieve it, earning the public’s trust, respect and admiration along the way. Each person depicted in the series has demonstrated proven leadership skills or unique knowledge making them worthy of inclusion.
The fourth of nine children, George Washington had great people skills, something needed in a large family, and eventually, to run a nascent country. Back when Washington was growing up, there was no U.S.A. yet, only colonies ruled by Great Britain. Readers will learn how Washington’s older brother Lawrence, fourteen years his senior, had a positive impact on his younger brother. In fact, a soldier himself, Lawrence influenced Washington’s decision to serve in the military. When his father died, Washington’s family could no longer “afford proper schooling so my brothers had to teach me at home.” At sixteen, Washington worked as a surveyor in the Shenandoah Valley with a wealthy family called the Fairfaxes. They treated him kindly and exposed him to the finer things in life. Yet, despite the opportunity to hobnob with the rich, Washington never forgot his roots and all the people less privileged than the Fairfaxes. He later fulfilled his childhood dream by joining the military, showing bravery and leadership in battle and being made “commander of all Virginia’s fighting forces.” George Washington also ran for office, and though he lost at his first attempt, he won all future elections.
When the American Revolution began in protest against high taxes imposed by Britain, “Our thirteen colonies decided we would fight together against King George III.” Washington was chosen to lead the battle. Cleverness, determination and unparalleled leadership helped the less experienced military of the colonies defeat the mighty British led, of course, by General George Washington. And the rest, of course is history, with Washington being selected as the first president of the United States of America.
What I love about Meltzer’s writing and Eliopoulos’ artwork is that they make learning about these important people so accessible, interesting and fun. Who doesn’t love seeing a miniature George Washington on every page or having him narrate his life’s story? Picking out the most relevant aspects of any individual’s life is never easy and to condense them into a picture book biography for elementary school aged kids and still be meaningful takes a lot of experience, something best-selling author Meltzer has lots of! The choice of Eliopoulos as illustrator is just icing on the cake and I cannot imagine this series with any other style artwork. And did I notice author Meltzer drawn into one spread near the end? See for yourself and let me know.
“Leadership doesn’t come from charisma or personality.
It comes from courage:
The courage to do what’s right.
The courage to serve others.
The courage to go first.”
And George Washington, the father of our country, had enough courage for an entire nation and we celebrate him today.
DIANA’S WHITE HOUSE GARDEN Written by Elisa Carbone
Illustrated by Jen Hill
(Viking BYR; $17.99, Ages 5-8)
Diana’s White House Garden takes place in 1943 when the US is at war. Ten-year-old Diana Hopkins lives in the White House because her father, Harry Hopkins, is President Roosevelt’s chief advisor. When the president announces, “we all need to do our part to win this war,” Diana considers how she can contribute and soon tests her skills as a spy and a city official. Clearly, she’s better at playing with the Roosevelts’ little Scottish terrier, Fala. Next, Diana tries leaving sharp pins in the satin chairs to deter the enemies; it doesn’t have the effect she hoped for.
President Roosevelt decides to ship most of the food grown by US farmers to the soldiers, ensuring they are well fed and strong. He declares that Americans should grow their own food, turning backyards and vacant lots into Victory Gardens, starting with one on the White House lawn. Diana offers to help, excited to begin.
She works with Eleanor Roosevelt and the groundskeeper. Soon the garden sprouts—only to be nibbled down by hungry rabbits. Enlisting Fala does the trick; the dog is able to keep the rabbits out while Diana learns from Mrs. Roosevelt that, “sometimes you just have to start over.”
The story comes to fruition with their first delicious harvest. As Diana and her father dine with the Roosevelts, the reader gains intimate access into a world rarely revealed to the general public. This book successfully conveys the human element at the heart of all meaningful relationships, whether between president and citizen or girl and dog.
Sepia-tone paper perfectly accompanies the lively illustrations which depict well-researched scenes from the 1940s. We travel through this important historical period with Diana, understanding the timelessness of childhood. The opening line says it all, “Diana Hopkins lived in a white house.” An enduring need for community—whether you live in a white house or in the White House—connects this seventy-three-year-old story with families today.
Find educational resources and more about author Elisa Carbone here.
Visit illustrator Jen Hill’s website here.
The Getty Center’s Woven Gold:
Tapestries of Louis XIV Exhibit, Thérèse Makes a Tapestry Review & Giveaway
On December 15, 2015, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, California, unveiled its exhibit, Woven Gold: Tapestries of Louis XIV. The exhibition is displayed in three sections: Louis XIV as collector, heir, and patron of the arts. In 1662, the king founded the Gobelins (tapestries) Manufactory to decorate his residences and to aggrandize his public persona.
The Getty has released a companion book for young readers, Thérèse Makes a Tapestrywritten byAlexandra S.D. Hinrichs and illustrated byRenée Graef(Getty Publications, $19.95, Ages 6 and up).This historical fiction picture book is the story of a young girl and the real French tapestry (circa 1619-1690) Chȃteau of Monceaux / Month of December which is on display at the Getty Center. The book is set at the Gobelins Manufactory during the king’s 1643 to 1715 reign when many world-famous tapestries were woven.
Thérèse, the main character of the story, wishes to weave, but females are not allowed to do this in seventeenth-century France. Thérèse’s father is a painter who travels with Louis XIV on his political campaigns because the king often features himself in the art he commissions. When Thérèse’s father returns home with one of his paintings, Thérèse is determined to make a tapestry of that image. As the story unfolds the reader becomes acquainted with Thérèse’s family and their neighborhood. Fascinating facts about the tapestry-making process are skillfully incorporated into the story line; readers learn about this craft as they follow Thérèse on her journey.
This debut picture book for writer Alexandra S. D. Hinrichs uses language which a six-year-old (who is being read to) can understand, but has the depth to engage a teen reader. Realistic illustrations are masterfully painted by award-winning illustrator, Renée Graef. The historically accurate images are colorfully appealing for younger readers yet mature in detail and subject matter.
Another pleasing aspect of Thérèse Makes a Tapestry is that a reader may enjoy the story, then see the actual tapestry featured in the book. The thirteen tapestries in the exhibit are stunningly large—it would take four weavers about four years to complete one of these tapestries—and in a meticulous state of preservation. Hung at eye level, the gleaming threads of real gold and silver sparkle invitingly.
Reading the book in conjunction with visiting the exhibit gives an understanding of Paris during the seventeenth century and the artists who crafted these masterpieces. The weaver faced the back of the tapestry, using a mirror to view a reflection of the cartoon (a drawing or painting of the design) and to watch the image develop. During the time of King Louis XIV, weavers worked together, utilizing their areas of specialization, such as human faces or animals. Most tapestries on display at the exhibit are composed of wool, silk, and gilt metal- or silver-wrapped thread. Since the materials used faded at different speeds, the tapestry makers decided how to dye the thread both for immediate viewing and for a predicted harmonious collaboration of colors.
Understanding the time and expertise devoted to each design imparts a deeper appreciation of the tapestries which have survived the centuries. King Louis XIV’s contributions to this art form were immense. An inventory taken in 1666 noted 44 suites (or groups) of tapestries. At the time of his death, there were 304 suites with approximately 2,650 tapestries in the collection. In addition to commissioning new work, King Louis XIV actively purchased antique tapestries. Of all these tapestries, only an estimated 600 still exist. Many degraded over the years and were consciously destroyed. Others were lost during or after the French Revolution; some were burned to extract the gold and silver bullion within.
Remarkably, the Gobelins Manufactory is still functioning and the tapestry-weaving tradition carries on today. One difference is that the weavers now are all women and one weaver typically completes the entire tapestry—this would surely please Thérèse!
Marking the 300th anniversary of the death of King Louis XIV, Woven Gold: Tapestries of Louis XIV is the first major showing of tapestries in the Western US in four decades. An interesting conclusion to the exhibit is a modern piece (2001–2004) made of wool and linen by Raymond Hains. Related events such as talks, courses, and a symposium begin January 5, 2016.
Thérèse Makes a Tapestry and the exhibit are ideal companions for one another, though either can be enjoyed alone. The book is exclusively available through the Getty until its release for sale to the general public on March 8, 2016; the tapestries exhibit runs through May 1, 2016. This is an opportunity for families to spend time together then bring home a keepsake. The exhibit and the book acquaint us with this enduring craft which may seem anachronistic with our instant-gratification world. By viewing these tapestries and enjoying the accompanying book, perhaps our children will build an appreciation for the humanity and soul instilled in these masterpieces which have gracefully withstood the passage of time.
The Getty Center, 1200 Getty Center Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90049. Closed Mondays.
ENTER OUR GIVEAWAY: Win one (1) copy of Thérèse Makes a Tapestry. Plus, if you follow us on Facebook and let us know in the comments below, we’ll give you an extra entry. Follow us on Instagram and get an additional entry, too. Good luck!
Young Vasya (or Vasily) led a staid, privileged life in 19th century Moscow, that is until his aunt presented him with “a small wooden paint box.”
“Every proper Russian boy should appreciate art,” said Auntie. She showed Vasya the correct way to mix colors on the paint-box palette.
Vasya felt the colors spoke to him. They jumped out of the box and made sounds that only he heard, sounds that could be translated onto canvas. Fortunately, Vasya’s Auntie recommended his parents put him into art class. For the Russian elite, however, art was no substitute for an acceptable career like law which Vasya pursued as was expected of him. It was only after attending an opera that it was clear to Vasya that music and the emotions it evoked inside him could be expressed through art. His old noisy paint box that had been brought to life by the orchestra could not be ignored.
After quitting his job teaching law, Vasya moved from Moscow to Munich to study from great artists of the time. Everyone wanted this talented man to adhere to more traditional styles of painting, but Vasya and his artist friends could not conform. “Art should make you feel,” Vasya told them, “Like music.” Kandinsky’s influential new abstract art evolved from the emotions he experienced from color, music and the world around him. Though at first not easily understood, abstract art “sparked a revolution in the art world.”
Fans of Mary GrandPré will once again be treated to beautiful artwork that, like its subject, is never boring. As an artist bringing another artist’s work to life, GrandPré’s illustrations perfectly convey the emotion and vibrancy of Kandinsky’s creations.
In Rosenstock’s Author’s Note in the back matter, she goes into more detail about Kandinsky’s emergence as an artist and the speculation he may have had a genetic condition known as synesthesia where one sense (in his case listening to music) triggers a different sense. Rosenstock explains that individuals with synesthesia hear colors, see music, taste words, or smell numbers. –
This paperback, part of the Scholastic Bookcase series, is a great book to bring out this holiday before all the BBQs and fireworks get started so youngsters can understand just exactly what it is we are celebrating. Told in easy to understand rhyme, “The colonists were angry, because they had no say, when the British king gave orders, three thousand miles away.” Kids will learn in simple language how, as colonists of Great Britain, Americans refused to be burdened with more taxes levied by King George III without representation. When the British marched on Lexington and Concord, fighting broke out. Soon the seeds of independence were sown, “So their leaders met in Philly, in June and in July. They picked some men to tell the king, “We must be free – here’s why!” The American Revolution or the War of Independence was bravely fought under the guidance of its leader, General George Washington and the rest as we say, is history.
“On the Fourth of July, in seventy-six, after a long and heated morn, The Declaration was approved, and the U.S.A. was born.”