Cheerleader for the Arts
Have you ever tried to learn to do something new, such as riding a two-wheeler bike? You practice for weeks. Then one day the wheels start turning, the bike stays upright with you on it and off you go whizzing down the street.
Two Brothers Four Hands tells the story of an artist named Alberto Giacometti (born 1901), and his younger brother Diego (1902) and their struggles to become artists. They grow up in a small Swiss village surrounded by mountains. Alberto likes to read or paint in his father's art studio; Diego spends his days roaming the mountains and observing the wildlife.
But despite their differences, the brothers form a deep bond. When they grow up, Diego moves to Paris to help Alberto with his artwork. Alberto labors tirelessly for years trying to express in painting and sculpture the way he sees the world, the way he feels in his heart. He sits at his easel day after day painting a portrait of his younger brother Diego only to destroy it and start again. When he makes sculpture, using plaster to model his brother’s face, he eventually whittles the plaster down to nothing. Patient Diego believes in his brother’s talent but even he gets frustrated.
During World War II, as most of Europe battles the German army, Alberto goes to Switzerland to be near their mother. Diego stays in Paris to guard Alberto’s studio. Diego learns to cast plaster molds into bronze and to paint the surfaces with colors of silver, green and gold. After the war, Alberto returns to Paris. Finally back in his familiar studio, he begins to make tall spindly sculptures that capture the spirit of the survivors of war-torn Europe. At the same time Diego begins to craft furniture adorned with the creatures he observed as a child - deer, foxes, turtles, and more. But he's so busy helping Alberto, who is now in great demand for exhibits in museums and galleries that he has to give up on his own work.. “Alberto is the artist. I am merely a craftsman,” Diego often says.
After his brother dies, Diego starts handcrafting furniture and he, too, becomes a great success. His tables, chairs, and lamps are so magical that people forget their function and think of them as sculpture.
Alberto’s friend the playwright Samuel Beckett once wrote, “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” Like learning to ride a bike, after trying and failing again, one day you just might get it right.
The inspiring true story of the Giacometti brothers, one an artist, the other a daredevil, both devoted to their craft . . . but even more devoted to each other.
You can read Vicki Cobb's review here.
A celebrity has just arrived in Mr. Madison’s classroom at El Verano Elementary School and the 3rd graders are beside themselves. “Here he is!” they exclaim as the visitor walks through the door.
This special guest has not come to give a lesson or tell a story. He is neither a star athlete nor a movie star. He doesn’t play an instrument, sing, dance or do magic tricks. His tricks are mostly limited to sit, stay and shake. He is a dog. His name is Fenway Bark.
An eight-year old chocolate-colored Labrador retriever, Fenway has been coming to El Verano for six years with his owner, Mara Kahn. He has helped hundreds of children become better readers. Fenway is a literacy dog.
“Fenway’s job is to listen while you’re reading,” explains Mara to the class, which is gathered in a circle around her and Fenway.
One of the best ways for children to improve their reading is to read aloud, but reading in front of an audience can be scary. What if Chelsea mispronounces a word? Or if Alex loses track of where he is on the page? Will everyone laugh? The fear can discourage some children from reading aloud at all.
Solution: read to a totally non-judgmental audience that doesn’t care what you read or how you read it. Read to a dog! When reading to dogs, young readers don’t have to worry about saying “whoof” when they meant to say “which.” With less anxiety and more confidence, young readers increase their reading fluency. That’s why literacy dogs visit hundreds of schools and libraries as reading buddies for children.
Vanessa sits cross-legged on the rug in Mr. Madison’s classroom. She gingerly opens Strega Nona by Tomie De Paola. Softly, slowly, she reads about Big Anthony who ignores Strega Nona’s instructions not to touch her magical pasta pot. Fenway sits up and looks at Vanessa. He gazes at the floor. Vanessa keeps reading. The pasta starts flowing. Fenway stretches out. Vanessa reads a little louder, a little faster. Pasta floods the town. Fenway licks Vanessa’s knee. She giggles and goes back to her book.
Today, six children got to read to the canine visitor. “It’s so cool to read to a dog,” said one boy who will get his chance next week. He was already thinking about choosing a doggone good book
MLA 8 Citation
Schwartz, David M. "Reading Has Gone to the Dogs." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 20 Dec. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/Reading-Has-Gone-to-the-Dogs. Accessed 20 Dec. 2017.
Henry VIII gets a lot of bad press notably for his seven wives and a regrettable habit of chopping off heads. But there were two Henrys: early and late. Early Henry was a humdinger.
He became king at age 17 in 1509, a big (over six feet) handsome lad. He was broadly educated and well-read in English, Latin, and French. He played the lute, organ, and harpsichord, composed music, and sang well. He loved a party, and he was a ferocious sportsman. Henry played excellent tennis, was a skilled wrestler, hunter, and jouster.
His love of jousting may have been his undoing. This was not a battle skill but a royal game: on huge horses, in heavy armor, opponents rode at each other with blunt lances to knock each other out of the saddle. But in 1536 Henry left his face-covering visor up during a joust, catching a lance on his forehead. His majesty went down under his horse. His legs were crushed and he lay unconscious for two hours, apparently a serious concussion.
Henry changed radically. The broken long bones in his legs healed poorly and developed infected ulcers, which had to be drained using red hot probes. Ouch. Walking became difficult and painful, and finally impossible. The smell from his infected legs was awful. He became angry, paranoid, and irrational. No longer active, he ate and ate, bloating from around 210 pounds (95 kg) to 400 pounds (181 kg). This was late Henry: obese, dangerous, and smelly. His altered mental state and his constant pain surely contributed to his marital difficulties and to steady employment for head-choppers.
A mental, physical wreck, Henry VIII died at age 55 in 1547. Court embalmers replaced his innards with sawdust, resin and herbs to preserve the body, but Henry was already rotting from the legs up. The royal corpse was placed in a sealed lead coffin. An enormous regal procession set off from Whitehall Castle to Windsor Castle. The funeral parade halted the first day at the old Syon Abbey. In the middle of the night, the lead coffin exploded!
Or did it? Some historians suggest that it simply broke because Henry was too fat and the roads were bad. Yet contemporary morticians insist that gasses of decomposition can blow open even a modern sealed coffin. The coffin was soldered shut and the parade hustled on to the burial at Windsor, an untidy end for a wonderful and terrible king.
Percy the coal black cat is a born wanderer. The former barn cat sleeps by the woodstove in winter. But in summer, he leaves after breakfast and stays out all night. For years, his owners, Anne and Yale Michael, never knew where he went. Then a friend called to tell them that Percy had made the front page of the local newspaper.
The Michaels live in Scarborough, North Yorkshire, in the United Kingdom, a pretty seaside town on the Atlantic coast. Tourists flock there in summer to go to the beach and ride the miniature train that runs along it. According to the newspaper, their Percy was also riding the rails!
“We were shocked,” Yale says. “I wondered if it was really our cat.” Because the frisky feline was always losing his collar and tags, no one knew who owned Percy or where he lived. But after their friend recognized him in that front-page newspaper article, radio and television stories followed. Percy became famous.
The train station is half a mile (0.8 km) from the Michaels’ home. To get there, Percy has to walk down the alley beside their house and cross the neighbor’s yard and a golf club parking lot (where he occasionally stops for meaty handouts). Finally, he trots over to the sea cliff and through some woods down to the railway. Once Percy arrives at the train station, he dozes on a mat the railway workers have laid out for him until he hears the train whistle. Then, every day, he boards the train, takes a seat, and rides to the Sea Life Centre. Perhaps the smell of fish drew him there originally. But that isn’t why he visits now. The curious cat behaves like any human tourist and visits the marine sanctuary to view the exhibits. The penguins are his favorite. Percy might watch them strut about for half an hour, before he strolls into the office where aquarium workers have been welcoming him for years. When it’s time to leave, the furry penguin watcher hops back on the train for the trip home.
The Michaels rode the tourist train once. “He got off, as we got on,” says Yale. “We said, ‘Hi, Percy.’“ He turned around and came to us.” But only in greeting. Then their popular, wandering pet continued on his independent way. Now that they know about his daytime adventures, they’re waiting to hear what he does at night. Perhaps a local disco?
Percy enjoying the penguins at the Sea Center.
Percy’s choice of transit: The North Bay Railroad running from Scarborough to the Sea Life Centre.
Aline Alexander Newman is a lifelong animal lover who has written more than 50 magazine stories about animals from dogs to cheetahs to dolphins. Her love of cats is reflected in her recently published Cat Tales: True Stories of Kindness and Companionship with Kittens.
MLA 8 Citation
Newman, Aline Alexander. "Percy the Cat." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 13 Dec. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/Percy-the-cat.
Carla Killough McClafferty
Illuminating lives from the past,
impacting lives in the present
Radium is a radioactive element that glows. In the early decades of the twentieth century, companies such as the U.S. Radium Corporation made money from this unusual characteristic. They manufactured watches that were painted with radium paint that allowed users to tell time in the dark.
The employees hired to paint the tiny numbers and hands of watch faces were mostly young immigrant women. It was a good job with better than average pay. Also, it was exciting to work with the world-famous radium. Just for fun sometimes the girls would use radium paint on their teeth or fingernails to show their boyfriends how they glowed in the dark. After all, the company told the girls that radium was harmless.
Each girl painted the faces of 250 to 300 watch dials in a typical workday. To do this delicate work it took a steady hand and a pointed paint brush. Throughout the day, in order to keep a sharp point on their brushes, the girls would put the tip between their lips then dip it into the radium paint.
In 1921 Amelia Maggia, one of the dial painters, had a swollen cheek and terrible toothache. She had the tooth pulled but her gums would not heal. Infection set in and destroyed her jawbone. She died the next year from her mysterious condition. Then another young woman developed the same symptoms. Then another. Then another. Each of the girls had one thing in common: they were radium dial painters. Ultimately they learned that every time they put their brushes to their mouths their bodies absorbed radium, and that radiation was harmful to people.
In 1928, five “radium girls” sued U.S. Radium Corporation. By the time the case went to trial each woman was dying from radium poisoning. One of the girls, Grace Fryer, had so much radium in her system that when she blew her nose, the handkerchief glowed in the dark. The company decided to settle the case and agreed to pay their medical bills, and give them each a one-time lump sum of $10,000, plus $600 per year for the rest of their lives—which weren't very long. Sadly, it took the deaths of the “radium girls” and many others to understand the dangers of radium.
Carla Killough McClafferty writes about radium and the amazing scientist who discovered it in Something Out of Nothing: Marie Curie and Radium. This book focuses on the life of the most famous female scientist of all time. In it you will learn how Marie Curie overcame poverty and prejudice to achieve her dreams. Also included are the fascinating details of the “radium girls” and how companies added radium to all sorts of products including water, toothpaste, bath salts and medicine.
Carla Killough McClafferty is a member of iNK's Authors on Call and is available for classroom programs through Field Trip Zoom, a terrific technology that requires only a computer, wifi, and a webcam. Click here to find out more.
MLA 8 Citation
McClafferty, Carla Killough. "The Taste of Death." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 19 Dec. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/ The-Taste-of-Death. Accessed 19 Dec. 2017.
For Vicki Cobb's BLOG (nonfiction book reviews, info on education, more), click here: Vicki's Blog
The NCSS-CBC Notable Social Studies Committee is pleased to inform you
that 30 People Who Changed the World has been selected for Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People 2018, a cooperative project of the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) & the Children’s Book Council