Friday, September 23, 2016

In the Shadow of Liberty

In the Shadow of Liberty
by Kenneth C. Davis
304 pages; ages 10 - 14
Henry Holt, 2016

"Most of us learn something about the US presidents," writes Kenneth Davis. "But this book is about some people who are not so famous."

Davis introduces us to five enslaved people who lived with and worked for four famous founding fathers: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Andrew Jackson. These enslaved people were bought and paid for by the writers of the Declaration of Independence, the very same men who declared that all men are created equal and fought for their own freedom from another master, the king.

William "Billy" Lee, Ona Judge, Isaac Granger, Paul Jennings, and Alfred Jackson witnessed extraordinary events in America's history. Because they were "owned" by men we consider great presidents, we know their names and part of their stories, says Davis. Because of their connections to these presidents, there are records about who they were and how they lived - records that help us understand what being enslaved meant in early America.

It is fitting that this book hits the shelves this week, as September 22, 1862 is the day that President Abraham Lincoln issued a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. Under the War Powers act, Lincoln warned that he would order the freedom of all slaves in any state that did not end its rebellion against the Union by January first 1863.

Davis begins his history with a look at how slavery began, and the importation of slaves to the colonies. By 1700, he notes that enslaved people are being imported into Virginia at the rate of 1,000 per year. Each subsequent chapter focuses on the story of one enslaved person and his (or her) connection with a president.

Billy Lee was George Washington's valet, a personal manservant who attended Washington at home and on the battlefield. He was entrusted to deliver notes and letters, he rode in hunts, he accompanied Washington when the Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence. Davis points out that Washington, having seen black soldiers fight against the British, began to question slavery. "The contradiction between the ideals he had fought for and the enslavement of people like Billy Lee was now obvious," writes Davis. And yet, when Ona Judge escaped to find her freedom, Washington posted a reward for her return.

At the end of each chapter is a timeline of slavery in America. These points in history - British banning the slave trade (1804), Thomas Jefferson signing a ban on importing slaves (1807) put the personal stories into a national and international context. Historic photos, cartoons and illustrations from the archives add to our understanding of the history. I appreciate the chapter notes, bibliography, and index.

"The history we learn is often about dates, battles, famous speeches, and court decisions," writes Davis. "But in the end, history is not just about wars and constitutional amendments, facts we memorize. It is about people. This book tells the real story of real people—all of them born in slavery’s shackles—who were considered the property of some American heroes." You can read an excerpt from the book here.

On Monday  we're joining the roundup over at the Nonfiction Monday blog where you'll find even more book reviews Review copy provided by the publisher.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Seen from a Distance


Seen from a Distance, the Art of Monet
by Seon-hye Jang; illus. by Jae-seon Ahn
36 pages; ages 7-10
Big & Small (Lerner), 2016

theme: art, biography, creativity

opening: It would be hard to draw a magnificent garden like this in a small sketchbook, wouldn't it? That's why Monet often painted on a very large canvas.

Sometimes Monet painted on canvases bigger than himself. Claude Monet loved to paint nature - the shapes and colors and shadows. He tried to show the effects of sunlight in his paintings, a hallmark of the artists we call "Impressionists".

This book is a field trip into Monet's paintings. You see a small detail and try to guess what it is: a cloud? smoke? No, it's part of a dress, of reflection in a pond. It's illustrated with Monet's art, as well as some line drawings of the children trying to guess what they're looking at.

What I like about this book: It presents Monet's work in a different light - and it is fun to guess what that detail is. I like the back matter that explains Impressionists and the changing colors of light. There's a cool comparison of two paintings of water lilies. It's a fun way to learn about an artist and his art.

Beyond the book: Go on a Monet field trip to an art museum or to this online gallery of Claude Monet's works. Look at the details and the light.

Become a light detective. Find a landscape or scene that you enjoy looking at. It could be a pond with lily pads, a footbridge over a stream, a garden of sunflowers, or even a grouping of trees and rocks. One day when you have a few hours, go early in the morning and watch how the light changes from sunrise to noon. Or visit the place at different times of the day. Write down your observations about light and shadow. If you have a camera, take photos.

Choose a favorite Monet painting. Find crayons or colored pencils of the colors in the painting. Now go create your own piece of art with Monet's colors.

This book is one in the Stories of Art series. Check out the others at the Lerner website.

 Today is PPBF (perfect picture book Friday), an event in which bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. She keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books. This is National Arts in Education week. Check out the previous posts this week for arts activities and book reviews.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Playing around with Paper

What do tissue paper, old maps, and newspapers have in common? You can make art out of them.

Tissue paper is fun because you can layer one color on top of another, creating new shades. Remember to create background, and play around with various sizes and shapes of the tissue paper. Try cutting and tearing - what works best for you? And don't be timid about decorating your tissue paper. Check out how this artist decorates hers with markers before creating her collage.


Maps, newspapers, pages torn from old books and ancient encyclopedias create interesting backgrounds. Puzzle pieces and stamps add interest. Here's how one artist makes maps into art.

The cool thing about collage art is that materials are all around. Save tissue paper from gifts, and stamps from letters and post cards. You can pick up old encyclopedias and dictionaries - even music books - at library book sales and garage sales. For glue - just water down school glue a bit.

 This is National Arts in Education week. Check Sally's posts every day this week for arts activities and book reviews.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Rain Fish


 Rain Fish
by Lois Ehlert
40 pages; ages 4-8
Beach Lane Books, 2016

When blue sky turns gray and it rains all day, sometimes rain fish come out and play.
They swim among discards and debris. Do you see them, too? Or is it just me?


I love the lyrical text that flows through the pages - and the wonderful fish recycled from things one might find on the ground: a ticket stub, bit of cardboard, twig, fallen leaf. A lost sock. A feather. A mix of natural and man-made things lost, then found. I also love the fun fish, the unexpected texture of orange peel and paper; the bright colors.


Earth Day craft
Now it's your turn. Collect things from your walks... and turn them into art. They don't have to be fish... you can make "found item" collages of flowers, trees, animals, bugs.


 This is National Arts in Education week. Check Sally's posts every day this week for arts activities and book reviews. Review F&G provided by publisher.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Experiment with Watercolors

Grab some watercolor paints, a couple of brushes, some watercolor paper, and play around with art.

Add Salt: When the paint is still wet (but not puddles), sprinkle salt on the area. It's easiest to do this one section at a time, while the paint is still wet. When the painting is completely dry, gently rub the salt from the surface of the painting. It adds texture to skies, water... wherever you want some texture.

How does it work? The salt prevents the paper from absorbing the pigment, so depending on how big the crystals are, or how much you use, you can get different textures. Here's a fun video showing the process.

Add Plastic: Wet your paper with a brush (or clean sponge). Using a wet brush and some of your favorite colors (three is a good number) paint colors onto the area. Colors will spread, and where edges meet they'll mix. While the paper is still wet, place some plastic wrap over the painting. Make sure it has full contact with the paper. Wrinkles are good. If you don't have plastic wrap, use bubble wrap or waxed paper.

Let them dry overnight, and then peel off the plastic. (You can save the plastic for another painting) Here's a video showing the process (with acrylics) and a longer one showing a variety of plastic techniques.

 This is National Arts in Education week. Visit us tomorrow and every day this week for arts activities and book reviews.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Painting Pepette

Painting Pepette
by Linda R. Lodding; illus. by Claire Fletcher
40 pages; ages 4-8
Little Bee Books, 2016

Josette takes her rabbit, Pepette  everywhere. So it makes sense that, when Josette realizes that there is no formal portrait of Pepette in the parlor, they need to set off to Montmartre.

That is where the best artists set up their easels.

And that's where Josette meets Dali, Picasso, Matisse, Chagall - though they aren't named in the story (an astute observer will see them on the front end papers). There are great scenes where the artists paint the Pepette they see - with three ears, flying through the air, pink ( “through art we can see the world any way we want," says Matisse). But none of them capture the Pepette that Josette knows. So when they get home, Josette pulls out her own collection of art supplies and gets to work.

The watercolor illustrations are subdued, and have the feel of a book from an earlier time, like "Madeline" books. Together, text and illustrations offer a sweet story, and maybe some inspiration for a youngster to paint a portrait of his own favorite bunny. Or dragon.

Beyond the book: Look at images of paintings by Dali, Picasso, Matisse, and Chagall - you can find galleries of their works online, and in library books.

Paint a portrait of your favorite stuffed animal or pet.

This is National Arts in Education week. Visit us tomorrow and every day this week for arts activities and book reviews. Review copy provided by publisher.







Friday, September 9, 2016

Dorothea's Eyes

Dorothea's Eyes
by Barb Rosenstock; illus. by Gerard DuBois
40 pages; ages 8-12
Calkins Creek (Boyd's Mills), 2016

theme: imagination, nonfiction, history

Dorothea opens her grey-green eyes.
   They are special eyes.
       They see what others miss...

So begins a biography of one of my favorite photographers, Dorothea Lange. Before she ever owned a camera she knew she wanted to be a photographer - even though girls weren't supposed to be photographers. Even though it was hard for her to walk. She skips school to wander around the city, peering into crowded tenements, seeing with her eyes and her heart how people live - "happy and sad mixed together".

What I like about this book: It is about Dorothea! I like how Barb Rosenstock shows Dorothea growing into a photographer. And how her childhood - and her heart - drew her to take photographs of poor people, immigrants, migrant farmers... the invisible people in our society. I like that Dorothea's story can inspire young people to follow their dreams. Most of all, I like that "Dorothea's eyes help us see with our hearts."

Beyond the book: Check out the book trailer at Barb Rosenstock's website. You can also download an Educator's Guide.

Tour this gallery of Dorothea's photographs.

Take a camera on a field trip. Look at the everyday people in your town like Dorothea would - try to see with your heart. What photos do you come home with? 

Next week is National Arts in Education week. Every day next week I'll have art activities or a book review for you. Drop by and join us.
Today is PPBF (perfect picture book Friday), an event in which bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. She keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books. On Monday  we're joining the roundup over at the Nonfiction Monday blog where you'll find even more book reviews Review copy provided by the publisher.