October 6, 2014

Ben Franklin’s Big Splash by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by S. D. Schindler

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 2:11 am by suebe2

Ben Franklin’s Big Splash:
The Mostly True Story of His First Invention
by Barb Rosenstock
illustrated by S. D. Schindler
Calkins Creek

Did you know that Ben Franklin loved to swim?  As the mom of a swimmer, this was news to me.  He swam in Boston’s Charles River.  The thing is that back in the colonial days when Franklin was a boy, people did not swim for fun or for exercise.  They actually thought that being too clean would make you sick.

Yet Franklin taught himself to swim.  When he was swimming, he spent time watching the fish and noting how much better they could swim.  Soon, he was working away in his father’s shop, crafting a pair of swim fins and a pair of paddles.  Franklin may not have been the earliest person to invent swim fins, but he was probably the earliest person to do more than draw them.  He actually made them, tried them in the river, and then made improvements.

Even at a young age, Franklin was trying to make his world a better place.

This book is an excellent choice for 3rd through 5th graders who are studying history and may have run into Franklin’s name.  It is also a good choice for anyone who is studying science because Franklin doesn’t succeed in his first attempt.  Instead, he has to rethink his inventions and make improvements.

Why is this book billed as only mostly true?  Franlkin’s description of the process he used to make this particular set of inventions is a paragraph long, written in a letter to a friend.  Yes, Rosenstock researched Frankin and his times but she didn’t have details about what he was thinking and what specific actions he might have taken, shaking off water or smiling, when he climbed out of the river.

This is a highly realistic book but it is a work of fiction.

Schindler’s ink and watercolor illustrations look old fashioned but do so without dating the book and making it feel out-of-date.  Instead, the illustrations ad depth to the story.

Check this one out and share it with the young thinker and do-er in your own life.


September 25, 2014

The Noisy Paint Box by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Mary Grandpre

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 1:47 am by suebe2

The Noisy Paint Box: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art
by Barb Rosenstock
illustrated by Mary Grandpre
Alfred A. Knopf

As a boy, Vasya Kandinsky led a very proper life. He studied books full of math, books full of science and books full of history.  The regular tic-tic-tac of the metronome guided his practice of piano scales.  Dinner was a dress-up affair where he sat compelled to keep a straight spine as the grown-ups talked on and on.

And then, his aunt gave him a box of watercolors.  His aunt showed him how to  mix colors on the pallette.  When he opened the box himself, he hear a hiss and a trill.  When he tried to describe the noises to his parents, they shushed him and told him not to be silly.

Vasya wasn’t being silly.  He took his work very seriously as he painted the sounds of the colors.  A yellow circle.  A navy rectangle.  Slashes of crimson and so much more.

His family sent Vasya to art class.  There he learned to make drawings that looked just like everyone else’s drawings.  This wasn’t the art that Vasya loved.

He finished his studies and becames a lawyer but he still noticed the colors and sounds that swirled around him.  After attending the opera, he was so inspired that he once again took up his paints.

You’re going to have to read the book to get the rest of the story.

I have to admit that before I read this, I wouldn’t even have recognized Kandinsky’s name.  I know I’ve seen his paintings but his name?  Not even on the tip of my tongue.

After reading about what inspired him and how he made a place for his own art — unique, vibrant and new — in the art world and in the world in general.

This book isn’t nonfiction because the author created the dailogue herself.  This means that although the events in the book are true, she could not find the word-for-word dialgue in the source material.

Her author’s note is a treasure trove of what is fact and what is fiction in The Noisy Paint Box.  As I read the story, the idea that sounds had colors seemed familiar.  Rosenstock explains that Kandinsky probably had the genetic disorder synesthesia.  People with synesthesia process sensory input differently from the rest of us and report hearing colors, seeing music and tasting words.  Amazing that something considered abnormal gaves us Kandinsky’s work.

Mary Grandpre, the illustrator of this book, uses a combination of paper collage and acryllic paint to bring Kandinsky’s world and his art to life for the reader.

This book would be a marvelous introduction to a unit on modern art or an inspiration for a young artist whose work may not meet with the complete approval of his teachers.


February 7, 2013

The Camping Trip that Changed America by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 1:27 am by suebe2

The Camping Trip that Changed America:
Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, and our National Parks
by Barb Rosenstock
illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein
Dial Books for Young Readers

Teedie Roosevelt was already president when he read John Muir’s adventures in California.  The President thought it was strange when Muir asked for help saving our wild forests.  He explained that they were vanishing and he called on the government to take the lead in saving them.

The experts that helped him make government decisions told a different tale.  The resources were vast.  There was no danger of using up all of our wilderness.

How could both Muir and the experts be right?  Roosevelt had heard directly from the experts, so he wrote Muir a letter.  The President was planning a trip out west and he invited Muir to take him camping.

Muir didn’t like crowds and listening to the President give speech after speech was tedious but he new this might be his best chance to get the help he needed.

Finally he and Roosevelt rode of cross country and entered the sequoia forest.  He explained to Roosevelt that these trees had been alive when the Egyptian pyramids were being built.  They were the largest living things on earth and would only quit growing if someone chopped them down.

At night, they told stories by the campfire.  They saw rocks smoothed by glaciers.  They saw vast open spaces but Muir explained to the President how ranchers and prospectors damaged the land.  He told about how companies planned to build hotels and shops throughout the valley.  All of this building would wipe out the wilderness Roosevelt had just explored.

Back in Washington, Roosevelt had to push Congress and then push some more.  In the end, he succeeded in establishing national parks, wilderness sanctuaries and forests.

He and Muir never saw each other again but they wrote to each other for the rest of their lives.

When we think of Roosevelt, we tend to think of a rough and tumble man of action.  Rosenstock’s Roosevelt loves a good adventure but he is also a thoughtful  man who can weigh what is popular against the latest information available.

Gerstein’s give life not only to the vast crowds of people gathered to hear from Roosevelt but the vast spaces stretching before him in Yosemite.  It is easy to see how people thought the wilderness would last and thus all that much more impressive that Roosevelt heard the truth in what Muir had to say and was able to show him.

This book is an excellent choice for young readers interested in Roosevelt as well as young environmentalists and nature lovers.


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