Monthly Archives: September 2009
Candace Fleming’s The Great and Only Barnum: The Tremendous, Stupendous Life of Showman P. T. Barnum
Candace Fleming does it again! She brings yet another larger-than-live individual from America; this one is a wild ride of a biography of the Barnum that many young readers may well recognize from the circus that still has his name. Filled with great stories, amazing primary sources, this is one terrific book. Now rather than going on, I’m going to turn you over to one of my fourth grade students. While I can’t identify her, I can tell you that she is an avid reader of history and nonfiction and read this book with great enthusiasm. (We both marveled at Fleming’s vivid description of Barnum’s Museum and I then showed her this very cool site about it.) Here’s her review:
The Great and Only Barnum is a wonderful book of P.T. Barnum. P.T. Barnum was an amazing showman like Candace Fleming wrote in her book. Fleming gave Barnum and his family a great part in her story. As I read the part of the Barnum’s American Museum, his exhibits came to life. They moved and ran in my head. I was amazed. His tours with famous people came to an end and Barnum started a circus. Barnum & Bailey was an amazing circus. Not amazing, it was brilliant. You can still watch Barnum & Bailey’s Circus. Its name was changed after P. T. Barnum had died. Now, it is named The Ringling Bros (The Greatest Show on Earth.) Its acts are all the same from the time P.T. Barnum and James Bailey had made the amazing show. P.T. Barnum’s life is all in this very amazing book by Candace Fleming.
The Library of Congress’s Center for the Book and the National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance have joined forces to create a very entertaining online serial story — The Exquisite Corpse Adventure.
It is that old game — having one person start a story, fold over the paper, and then give it to the next person to continue. At the end the paper is unfolded and the whole, usually hilarious story, is read in its entirety. In this case, the participating writers and illustrators are a very impressive bunch. There’s M.T. Anderson, Natalie Babbitt, Calef Brown, Susan Cooper, Kate Di Camillo, Timothy Basil Ering, Nikki Grimes, Shannon Hale, Daniel Handler aka Lemony Snicket, Steven Kellogg, Gregory Maguire, Megan McDonald, Patricia and Fredrick McKissack, Linda Sue Park, Katherine Paterson, James Ransome, Jon Scieszka, and Chris Van Dusen. Wow, right?
With a twilit velvet musky tone
as the pawnshop door is locked,
an ancient tenor saxophone
spins off a riff of talk.
“A thousand thousand gigs ago,
when I was just second-hand,”
it says, “I spent my glory years
on the road with an all-girl band.”
So begins Marilyn Nelson and Jerry Pinkney’s outstanding collaboration, The Sweethearts of Rhythm: The Story of the Greatest All-Girl Swing Band in the World. Through the voices of the instruments, Nelson’s series of poems capture the story of this band as they performed throughout the United States in the 30s and 40s. From fancy ballrooms to dusty picnics, these girl musicians were heard by a huge swath of the American population during a very challenging time period. Nelson does a spectacular job with each separate poem slipping in historical facts about life in that time, the individual performer, the band, and the music. Jim Crow, war and peace, pain and happiness, a myriad of fascinating details of 30s and 40s life suffuses these poems. And boy do they shine — bouncing, crooning, tootling, moaning, and blaring by way of those instrument storytellers. Nelson respects her young audience, using big words and big ideas that swirl amidst sound, rhythm, pain, joy, and history in these captivating riffs of verse.
The poems would be fabulous enough, but add in Jerry Pinkney’s gorgeous illustrations and you have a truly remarkable work of art. Pinkney’s style will be familiar, but for the first time he has added collage to his work and it brings these images to a really heightened level, bright and brash like the music, quiet and sad like aspects of the life of the band members and their loved ones during this time. Sweet.
This book has definitely joined my pile of favorites of the year. It will be out in a few weeks — do look out for it!
The venerable 92nd Street Y here in NYC (near by school , it so happens) has the Unterberg Poetry Center which is full of all sorts of intriguing programs. This year they’ve started a new Children’s Reading Series on Saturdays featuring, “classic literature for children, read by actors and writers.” First up is Rosemary Harris this Saturday reading from the fairy tales of Oscar Wilde. In December you can hear and see Lois Lowry, and in March they’ve got The World of E. B. White: An Afternoon with Roger Angell. Pretty impressive, I’d say!