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Archive for February, 2014

February 07, 2014

Celebrating Presidents’ Day

Presidents’ Day was established as a federal holiday by an act of Congress in 1879–though, back then, the holiday was called George Washington’s Birthday! Originally celebrated on Washington’s birthday, February 22nd, celebrations shifted to the third Monday in February when the Uniform Monday Holiday Act in 1971, placing the date between the 15th and 21st. Fun fact: because of that, the holiday never occurs on Washington’s actual birthday (the 11th in the Old Style calendar and the 22nd in the New Style). This is especially ironic because, if you’re going to be technical about it, the day is still legally dubbed Washington’s Birthday. The term “Presidents’ Day” was created by advertisers in the 1980s, taking advantage of the fact that President Lincoln’s birthday also fell within the month.

There’s no standard name for the holiday, as different states celebrate the holiday with different names… but there’s still plenty of fun to be had in introducing your students to the remarkable men who have held the office of President of the United States of America!

George Washington

George Washington’s Birthday by Margaret McNamara; illustrated by Barry Blitt

Meet George Washington (Landmark Books series) by Joan Heilbroner

George Washington and the General’s Dog by Frank Murphy; illustrated by Richard Walz


Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson’s Feast by Frank Murphy; illustrated by Richard Walz

Meet Thomas Jefferson (Landmark Books series) by Marvin Barrett; Pat Fogarty

Jefferson’s Children by Shannon Lanier and Jane Feldman; photographs by Jane Feldman

Thomas Jefferson: President and Philosopher by Jon Meacham (coming soon!)


Abraham Lincoln

Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek by Deborah Hopkinson; illustrated by John Hendrix

Abe Lincoln’s Hat by Martha Brenner; illustrated by Donald Cook

Meet Abraham Lincoln (Landmark Books series) by Barbara Cary

Abe Lincoln at Last! (Magic Tree House #47) by Mary Pope Osborne; illustrated by Sal Murdocca

Abraham Lincoln (Magic Tree House Fact Tracker #25) by Mary Pope Osborne and Natalie Pope Boyce; illustrated by Sal Murdocca

The Lincolns: A Scrapbook Look at Abraham and Mary by Candace Fleming (Educator Guide)


Franklin D. Roosevelt

A Boy Named FDR by Kathlee Krull; illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher

Alphabet Soup by Tonya Bolden




Multiple Presidents

George, Thomas, and Abe by Frank Murphy, Martha Brenner; illustrated by Richard Walz, Donald Cook

The Look-It-Up Book of Presidents by Wyatt Blassingame


Presidency-Related Titles

As If Being 12 3/4 Isn’t Bad Enough, My Mother is Running for President! by Donna Gephart

A Letter to Mrs. Roosevelt by C. Coco De Young

Of Thee I Sing by Barack Obama

February 04, 2014

February: Celebrate Freedom

by Pat Scales

There are many times in a calendar year to celebrate America’s freedom, but February is an especially fitting time.   Schools and libraries commemorate the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington by sponsoring special activities on President’s Day. These activities need to go beyond the clichéd stories of Washington chopping down the cherry tree, and Lincoln walking three miles to return 6 ¼ cents to a woman.  Most children are fascinated by Washington’s legendary wooden false teeth, and Lincoln’s stovepipe hat, but they need to know what these men stood for.  Tell them that it was on February 1, 1865 that Lincoln signed a resolution that led to the 13th amendment which abolished slavery.   This is why our nation has declared February 1 as National Freedom Day. Here are programming ideas for celebrating Washington and Lincoln, and Freedom Day:

  • Ask readers to jot down what they know about Abraham Lincoln and George Washington.  Have them work in small groups and use books in the library or sites on the Internet to find additional information about the two Presidents.  Such books may include:

George Washington’s Birthday (picture book) by Margaret McNamara & illus. by Barry Blitt

Meet George Washington (Landmark easy readers) by Joan Heilbroner & illus. by Stephen Marchesi

Meet Abraham Lincoln (Landmark easy reader) by Barbara Gary & illus. by Stephen Marchesi

The  Lincolns:  A Scrapbook Look at Abraham and Mary (middle grade) by Candace Fleming

  • Take a virtual field trip of George Washington’s home at Mount Vernon (http://mountvernon.org) and Abraham Lincoln’s home in Springfield, Illinois (http://www.nps.gov/liho/index.htm).  What do you learn about the men by visiting their homes?
  • Take the information learned from the virtual field trip and write a one-page story about Washington and Lincoln for a book like The American Story:  100 True Tales from American History (all ages) by Jennifer Armstrong & illus. by Roger Roth.
  • Older readers may enjoy researching places named for George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.  Is there a place in your state named for one of the men?
  • Take a virtual field trip of the Lincoln Memorial (http://www.nps.gov/linc/index.htm) and the Washington Monument (http://www.nps.gov/wamo/index.htm).   Have readers make a set of 10 trivia cards about each monument.  Test classmates or family members.  How well did they do?
  • Ask readers to prepare an annotated list of books that would be appropriate to sell in the gift shop of George Washington’s home at Mount Vernon and Lincoln’s home in Springfield.  Suggestions from Random House include:

I Have a Dream (picture book) by Martin Luther King, Jr. & illus. by Kadir Nelson

My Dream of Martin Luther King (picture book) by Faith Ringgold

Only Passing Through (picture book) by Anne Rockwell & illus. by Gregory Christie

Escape North: The Story of Harriet Tubman  (early reader) by Monica Kulling & illus. by Teresa Flavin

Crow (middle grade) by Barbara Wright

Toliver’s Secret (middle grade) by Esther Wood Brady

Anthony Burns: The Defeat and Triumph of a Fugitive Slave (young adult) by Virginia Hamilton

North by Night (middle grade) by Katherine Ayers

Trouble Don’t Last (middle grade) by Shelley Pearsall

Stealing Freedom (young adult) by Elise Carbone

Storm Warriors (young adult) by Elise Carbone

Woods Runner (young adult) by Gary Paulsen

  • Sponsor an essay contest for older readers called “Washington & Lincoln: Fathers of Freedom.”  Instruct them to use and cite five sources to support their ideas.


Four starred reviews for THE NOISY PAINT BOX!
February 03, 2014

Four starred reviews for THE NOISY PAINT BOX!

★  “Is it a house?” “Is it a flower?” “What’s it supposed to be?” When an aunt gives Moscow schoolboy Vasily Kandinsky a paint box, no one knows what to make of the wild shapes he creates. He doesn’t just see the colors. He hears them: “blaring crimson… burbling green, clanging orange, and tinkling violet.” Even after he gives up his career teaching law years later and decides to study art, his teachers steer him toward traditional subjects. He resists, and his works become the art world’s first abstract paintings. Rosenstock (Thomas Jefferson Builds a Library) focuses on passages of Kandinsky’s writing that seem to indicate he experienced synesthesia, the neurological phenomenon that blurs the boundaries between the senses, and her prose strikes a balance between lightheartedness and lyricism. GrandPré’s (The Wee Hours) paintings, meanwhile, conjure up an entire epoch, lingering over the candelabras and tasseled drapes of the Kandinskys’ apartment, breathing life into all the characters, and conveying the energy and vitality of the colors Kandinsky hears. Contains an afterword and reproductions of some of Kandinsky’s works. – Publishers Weekly


★ This impressive biography of Vasily Kandinsky highlights the unusual connection between his art and the music that inspired it.

As a young boy in Russia, Vasily—nicknamed Vasya—glumly studies “bookfuls of math, science, and history.” His heavy eyelids droop; he sits “stiff and straight” while adults drone on. Then his aunt gives him a paint box, and everything changes. As Vasya mixes one hue with another, he hears the colors making sounds. “Whisper” is set in a faux handwriting type; “HISS” is also set in a different type from the primary text. Vasya listens as “swirling colors trill…like an orchestra tuning up.” Rosenstock explains the mixing of Vasya’s senses—synesthesia, in contemporary terms—through the shapes he paints: “Crunching crimson squares,” “[w]hispering charcoal lines” and “a powerful navy rectangle that vibrated deeply like the lowest cello strings.” Using acrylic paint and paper collage, Grandpré emphasizes the blending of two arts by showing Vasya’s paintbrush-holding arms aloft as if he were conducting and by letting Vasya’s colors waft upward from his palette, making curlicues in the air, with music staffs and notes interwoven. As Vasya grows up, he faces resistance to his nonrepresentational work, including the repeated interrogation, “What’s it supposed to be?”—but his magnificent, abstract, sound-inspired paintings won’t be repressed.

A rich, accomplished piece about a pioneer in the art world. (author’s note, painting reproductions, sources) – Kirkus Reviews


A stirring tribute to a prominent pioneer of abstract art, Paintbox follows the life of Russian-born artist Vasya Kandinsky from his childhood to adulthood, conveying the astounding imagery conjured in the painter’s (probably genetic) condition, synesthesia, which caused sensory fields to collide in explosions that enabled him, for example, to hear colors. In this delightful homage, Rosenstock’s crisp visual language unites with GrandPré’s deeply expressive and whimsical paintings to re-create the intriguing world of art as seen through Kandinsky’s distinct lens. The book offers diverse potential for different types of study, whether one is reading for information or for pleasure. Outstanding.–Kathryn Diman, Bass Harbor Memorial Library, Bernard, ME – School Library Journal


Richly colored, large acrylic paint and paper collage pictures illustrate the life of Vasily Kandinsky, one of the first painters of abstract art. As a young boy, Vasya was given a paint box, and when he first mixed colors, he was amazed to find he could hear the colors he created. Throughout his early life, Kandinsky struggled to live as others expected but couldn’t forget his exhilarating experiences with painting. Even after giving in and taking lessons, he was unable to suppress the need to create his own style of art. He would see colors and hear music, hear music and see colors. “Art should make you feel. Like music.” Narrow white frames surround the wonderfully dense illustrations that reveal the sounds the colors make to the artist. The rich word choice is a delight: pistachio, cobalt, and saffron introduce readers to colors while hissing, blaring, and whispering reveal the sounds of the colors. This not a full biography, but rather a revelation of a real and talented person striving to express himself—and succeeding. The author’s note and source list impart more information. This is a beautiful blend of colors, music, and life. – Booklist