Crow Not Crow
Author: Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple
Illustrator: Elizabeth O. Dulemba
Published August 28th, 2018 by Cornell Lab Publishing Group
Summary: New York Times bestselling children’s author, Jane Yolen, and her son, Adam Stemple, have teamed up to write a gentle tale of a father introducing his daughter to the joys of bird watching. Using the simple “Crow, Not Crow” method for distinguishing one bird from another, father and daughter explore the birds near their home…and there are so many to see! After the story ends, readers learn more about all the birds that appear in the book with photographs, descriptions, and QR links to bird sounds.
About the Creators:
Jane Yolen has authored more than 365 books, including the Caldecott-winning Owl Moon, loved by children and bird watchers of all ages, You Nest Here With Me, a popular new favorite, and the New York Times bestselling series How Do Dinosaurs…? Jane Yolen’s books have been translated into over 20 languages and are popular around the world. Her husband, David Stemple, was both a well-known bird recordist and professor of computer science who taught his family how to identify birds. Many of Ms. Yolen’s books are about wildlife, especially the winged kind. Jane lives in Hatfield, Massachusetts.
Adam Stemple is an award-winning writer of novels, short stories, graphic novels, and children’s books. He is also an avid bird watcher, taught by his father David Stemple. He invented the Crow Not Crow method of teaching beginning birders in order to teach his city-bred wife to bird. He lives in Minneapolis with his family—all birders—where he is also a working musician and is hard at work on his next novel.
Elizabeth Dulemba has always loved birds. As a kid, she used to run across the yard, flapping her arms, trying to fly. She later became a hang glider pilot in Tennessee. When not chasing birds, Elizabeth loves to draw, write, and teach. She has over two dozen titles to her credit, including her debut, award-winning novel A Bird On Water Street. In summers, she teaches in the Children’s Book Writing and Illustrating MFA program at Hollins University in Virginia. She spends the rest of her time in Scotland, where she is pursuing a PhD at the University of Glasgow. Sign up for her weekly newsletter at www.dulemba.com.
Praise: “…a solid choice for introducing the hobby [birdwatching] to younger readers.” – Kirkus Reviews
Kellee’s Review: My father love bird watching, but I’ve always been intimidated by it. He has books and guides and flyers, all with different information about different birds. But I also have always been fascinated by birds. They are beautiful and just a true testament of the miracles of Mother Nature. Crow Not Crow introduces the reader to a really fun way to introduce birdwatching to anyone interested. The story of a dad spreading the love of birdwatching to his young daughter is a sweet tale filled with interesting bird information. What takes the book to the next level though is the back matter. While the book is full of only “crow” and “not crow,” the back matter has all of the different birds’ names as well as a QR code to listen to the bird. There is even information about two different bird apps! I am excited to read this book with Trent then start with “crow” or “not crow” with him!
Ricki’s Review: I come from a long history of bird watchers. My brother, aunt, and mom are huge bird watchers, and it isn’t unusual for them to stop conversation to name the bird that they hear in the background. I had a very rare bird in my backyard in Connecticut, and they were all incredibly thrilled. So reading Crow Not Crow was an absolute delight. Jane Yolen is one of the best picture book authors alive, so I was particularly pleased that this book did not disappoint me. Like most of her books, it is quiet and has a powerful force behind it. It lends itself to a “crow not crow” type of game with children that would be quite fun. I will be purchasing this book as a gift for several friends. It’s beautifully done.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: First, use the backmatter as a key to a scavenger hunt within the book. Find each bird and discuss what clues were used to figure out that was the certain bird. Also listen to the bird using the QR code. Then, take your class outside! Start with “crow” or “not crow” but then create your own glossary like the back matter in the book to share your “not crows.” Comparison and contrast activities could also easily be weaved in as well as science!
- What traits of the crow did the birders use to determine if the bird was a crow or not a crow?
- What was your favorite bird that they encountered?
- Take one of the birds and compare/contrast it to a crow.
**Thank you to the Cornell Lab Publishing Group for having us as part of their book tour!**
Chilly Da Vinci
Author and Illustrator: J. Rutland
Published by December 4, 2018 by NorthSouth Books
Goodreads Summary: While others do “penguin” things, Chilly da Vinci—self-declared inventor penguin, builds machines that don’t work…yet! Chilly ties into the popular “maker” movement with humor and imagination.
While others do “penguin” things, Chilly da Vinci—self-declared inventor penguin, builds machines that don’t work…yet!
Ricki’s Review: My son tells everyone that he is an engineer. He spends a lot of time drawing his inventions and then building them with blocks. Needless to say, he was thrilled about this book. Chilly is an inventor who builds machines that don’t work. This offers great opportunities for conversations about the revision process and the time and patience required for inventors to be successful. The book ties well with history and Da Vinci’s inventions. There is wonderful classroom potential with this book. The illustrations border realistic and fantastic, which makes for fun examinations across pages. This book will be a favorite in classrooms and it is quite inspiring. I am most excited about its interdisciplinary potential.
Kellee’s Review: The structure of this book is so interesting! It switches between the reality of Chilly’s situation and a narrative of possibilities and his imagination. This will lead to some amazing conversations and also gives an example of a different type of narrative. I also think that so much can be done with the different creations that Chilly makes looking at real inventions and the sketches and research of Leonardo da Vinci. On top of that, I love the message of Chilly’s journey! It is all about not giving up and never letting anyone tell you something isn’t doable. Oh, and he’s a super cute penguin!
Teacher’s Tools For Navigation: Students might begin by investigating Da Vinci’s inventions and how they compare with those in the book. This offers a rich look into history. Then, students might draw out and design their own inventions. Working in small groups, they might try to build their inventions to experience and talk through the emotions that Chilly might be experiencing as he invents new creations!
- How do Chilly’s inventions compare with those of Da Vinci?
- What emotions and characteristics does Chilly display when his inventions don’t work?
- How does the author use personification to enhance the reading of this text?
- How might this book be different if Chilly was a person rather than a penguin? What does Chilly’s penguin character add to the story?
Read This If You Loved: Nonfiction books about Leonardo da Vinci, If Da Vinci Painted a Dinosaur by Amy Newbold, The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires, Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers
Smithsonian Exploration Station: World Atlas
Author: Josh Farndon
Published November 6th, 2018 by Silver Dolphin and the Smithsonian
About the Book: Head off on a globetrotting adventure in this interactive atlas! Learn about the diverse cultures, customs, wildlife, and natural beauty that form our world through informative text […]
Smithsonian Exploration Station: World Atlas
Author: Josh Farndon
Published November 6th, 2018 by Silver Dolphin and the Smithsonian
About the Book: Head off on a globetrotting adventure in this interactive atlas! Learn about the diverse cultures, customs, wildlife, and natural beauty that form our world through informative text and full-color photograph. Children will love the hands-on aspect to learning as they blow up their inflatable globe and build the cardstock models of some of the wonders of the world. Smithsonian Exploration Station: World Atlas (ISBN: 978-1626867208) is the perfect way to engage kids in the amazing world around them!
56-page fact book
30 stickers with world map poster
1 inflatable globe
3 cardstock models to assemble: the Eiffel Tower, the Taj Mahal, and a Mayan pyramid
Review: I think the best way to review this exploration set is to show you Trent’s experiences with it as we had an amazing time exploring the world with the globe, map, landmark stickers, and landmark 3D sets:
I don’t think anything can show how wonderful a book is other than showing a child completely involved in its purpose. We’re definitely going to get all the sets in the series!
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This series (see Ricki’s review of the Solar System set) is made for education. How fascinating would it be to go through the 30 landmarks on the stickers, maybe one a week, and put them on the poster and discuss the landmark. There are ones all around the world which would allow the class to explore so many cultures. Or maybe separate the landmarks and have a different student become an expert on each one and share. There is so much to consider!
- Where is _____ located?
- What landmarks are in ____?
- What did you learn about ____?
- How is ___ different than ___?
- Any Atlas/Geography questions!
Read This If You Love: Interactive sets, Geography, Landmarks
**Thank you to Casey at Media Masters Publicity for providing a copy for review!**
“Exploring the Potential of Artificial Intelligence!”
Most students have grown up with computers as an integral part of home and school. Smartphones, laptops, gaming consoles—all of these are pretty familiar to most kids.
And now, many of them have AI assistants in their kitchens, GPS in their parents’ cars, […]
“Exploring the Potential of Artificial Intelligence!”
Most students have grown up with computers as an integral part of home and school. Smartphones, laptops, gaming consoles—all of these are pretty familiar to most kids.
And now, many of them have AI assistants in their kitchens, GPS in their parents’ cars, and visions of the planet Mars digitally transmitted from a rover that’s working all by itself on the dusty surface of a far-away planet. All of these are different devices can be considered as some form of artificial intelligence, though true thinking machines are still in the future.
We’ve certainly come a long way from R2D2 and C3PO being purely the work of science fiction!
Kids are digital natives, working their devices with speed and proficiency the adults in their lives can rarely match. The world of artificial intelligence is a terrific opportunity for teaching kids to think critically and creatively about technology and the roles it plays in our lives. Not just because these programs and devices need human design, programming, and support, but also because the creativity and inspiration this field inspires can be very attractive to kids who are looking for ways to combine their love of gadgets with their natural curiosity about how the world works.
This intersection between tech and real life is a very fun place to learn from! And one of the most fascinating aspects of the tech world in general and AI in particular is that we don’t know where this is all heading. What is the world going to look like when today’s fifth graders graduate from college? That question might never have been as unanswerable as it is today.
You don’t need to dive straight into programming to start reaping the benefits of learning about AI—in fact, it’s useful to build a foundation of hands-on learning that will help support the more conceptual thinking that comes later. And remember, AI developed because someone asked really cool questions about machines, such as “Can machines think?” And what do kids excel at? Far-out, really cool questions. Let them loose with these activities!
CODE ON PAPER
One of the first games AI researchers programmed a computer to play was tic-tac-toe. Have you ever played? It’s a game with simple rules and strategies. Think about how you might program a computer to play tic-tac-toe. How would you explain it to someone who doesn’t know how to play? How would you break down those instructions into simple moves? You’re going to write a program on paper that a person can follow.
Remember, a program—also called code—is just a set of instructions to follow!
In a notebook, define the problem. What is your goal? What does the code need to do?
Do some research on the game. What are the rules of tic-tac-toe? (You probably already know this!) What are some strategies for playing? Play a game against yourself or a friend. Take notes on moves you make. What else do you notice? For example, do games always end in a tie? Are there squares that are better to start with than others?
Now, write some code! Write instructions for one player, X or O, since you’ll be playing the other. Write out step-by-step instructions for winning a game. Computer code is often written in if-then statements. For example, if you were writing code for a maze game, you might write instructions such as this.
“Go forward one space. If player hits a wall, turn left. If not, go forward one space.”
For tic-tac-toe, you might use steps such as this:
“Put an X in the corner. If there’s already an O there, then go to the opposite corner.”
Test your code. One player will be the human and the other will be the AI following the code. For example, the human player will put an X somewhere on the grid. The AI player should look at the instructions to see what to do. If you get stuck, take notes. What do you need to change to make your code work?
Revise your code! You may have to test your code and revise it a few times. This is what real programmers do.
Play one last time. Write down your observations. Did it turn out as you expected? Did the game end in a tie, for instance? Do you think the paper program is intelligent? Why or why not?
Try writing an algorithm for another simple game, such as rock, paper, scissors!
MAKE A BUGBOT
Robot designers often look to nature for inspiration. They’ve even designed robots that move, fly, and communicate like insects. For example, researchers at Harvard University designed RoboBee, a tiny bot that flies like a bee.
You, too, can make your own bug-inspired bot! You’ll need a few special supplies, including a 1.5- to 3-volt mini motor, often called a hobby motor, as well as a AA single battery holder with leads, AA battery, and foam board.
Attach the bottom of the battery holder to the flat side of the motor.
Tip: Leave the contacts exposed so you can attach the wires! If you don’t have a battery holder, cut out a small piece of foam board, no wider or longer than the motor. Glue the foam board to the top of the motor. Then glue the battery to the motor.
Unbalance the motor. Cut out and glue a small piece of foam board to the tip of the motor shaft. You can also use an eraser or anything else that unbalances the motor. Unbalancing the motor creates a wobble, which makes the bugbot move.
Attach the wires from the battery holder to the leads of the motor. You can twist the ends of the wires onto the leads.
Add legs! Cut out a small piece of foam board and glue it to the bottom of the motor. This will make it easier to attach legs. You can bend the ends of large paperclips and stick them into the foam board.
Glue or tape them to make the legs more secure. Experiment with other materials, too.
Decorate! You can add eyes or other items to your bugbot.
Insert the battery—and let it go. The bugbot should vibrate and move. If not, try adjusting the legs or unbalancing the motor more.
Take a picture or video of your bugbot and share it!
Make another bugbot, but this time vary the design. What happens if you use something else for the legs?
DEBATE THE GREAT AI DEBATE!
Many tech entrepreneurs and scientists have been debating whether AI will be the end of us humans. Some of those experts include Elon Musk of SpaceX, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Demis Hassabis of DeepMind, Larry Page and Sergey Brin of Google, Steven Hawking of Cambridge University, and Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft. You’re going to find out more about both sides and then debate the issue. Do this with a friend or classmate or divide a group into two teams.
Pick a side of the debate. Are you all in favor of AI or do you have some suspicions?
Do some research. What is each expert for or against? What do they think might happen? What evidence do they cite? How do they back up their arguments?
Write down your thesis and the best points/evidence to back up your argument. For instance, you might write: I think AI is _____________ because _____________, _____________, and _____________. Write down each of your reasons in more depth on separate note cards.
What are the best reasons for the opposing argument? How can you argue against them? This is your rebuttal of the other side.
Now, you’re ready to debate! Each side should take turns presenting its argument. Then, each gets a chance to rebut the other’s argument. Always be polite and respectful! Which side made the best argument?
If you have to do this activity on your own, you can write a paper or make a speech presenting one side of the debate.
About the Author: Angie Smibert is the author of more than 20 nonfiction books about science and technology for kids. Some of those titles include Building Better Robots, How it Works: The Internet, All about Coding, and 12 Great Moments that Changed Internet History. She also writes science fiction and fantasy for middle grade and young adult readers. Her novels include the Memento Noraand the Ghosts of Ordinary Objects series. Before writing full time, she helped pioneer online training at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. She received NASA’s prestigious Silver Snoopy as well as several other awards for her work. Besides writing, she also teaches writing –and sometimes human-computer interaction—for Indiana University East. She lives in Roanoke, Virginia.
Artificial Intelligence: Thinking Machines and Smart Robots with Science Activities for Kids
Published August 3rd, 2018 by Nomad Press
About the Book: What is artificial intelligence? How is artificial intelligence going to change our lives?
In Artificial Intelligence: Thinking Machines and Smart Robots with Science Activities for Kids, readers ages 10 to 15 learn how machines develop into thinking, learning devices that can help humans perform tasks, make decisions, and work more efficiently. They can even help us have fun!
How can AI continue to improve our lives? Is there anything dangerous about AI? What are the ethical issues surrounding the use of AI? Essential questions, primary sources, and science-minded engineering activities let readers have a blast learning about the age of thinking machines we’re in right now.
Thank you to Angie for this wonderful post as well as amazing activities for the classroom!
Sun! One in a Billion
Author: Stacy McAnulty
Illustrator: Stevie Lewis
Published October 23, 2018
Summary: From the author of Earth! My First 4.54 Billion Years comes a new picture book about space—
this time starring our Sun!
Meet Sun: He’s a star! And not just any star—he’s one in a billion. He lights up our solar system and makes life possible. With characteristic humor and charm, Stacy McAnulty channels the voice of Sun in this next celestial “autobiography.” Rich with kid-friendly facts and beautifully illustrated, this is an equally charming and irresistible companion to Earth! My First 4.54 Billion Years.
Ricki’s Review: This is my new favorite book about space. (And I have read a lot of books about space.) The author perfectly balances factual information and appeal. The illustrations pop off of the page, and the planets, sun, etc. are personified. I feel very lucky to have received this book for review. I am quite excited to read it to my son tomorrow night. I think I smiled throughout my entire reading of the book. If you are interested in space, get this book. It includes facts that were new to me, and the back matter offers a wealth of information for readers who want to delve deeper.
Kellee’s Review: The humor that Stacy McAnulty adds to her books about space really add to the engagement factor (for both the reader and listener); the Sun’s attitude in this one actually made me laugh out loud while reading, but I also learned some pretty cool facts while reading. I know that this book is going to be in our rotation because Trent wants to be an astronaut, and this one was an instant hit! I am so glad that there are amazing space books out there that add something new to the conversation and go about the information in a new and funny way! I really hope that this series continues because I’d love to see the personalities of all of the other parts of our solar system (and maybe some cool space objects from other systems!).
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teachers might ask students to pick one fact in the book that makes them want to learn more about the world. They could look, for example, into a planet, or into the history of Earth. This inspires student-centered inquiry about a topic of choice!
- How is the text structured in ways that are engaging and interesting?
- What new facts did you learn?
- Which page was your favorite, and why?
- Did this book inspire you to want to learn more about any topics or information?
Read This If You Love: Earth! My First 4.54 Billion Years by Stacy McAnulty; Science, Space, Picture books with humorous narrators like It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk by Josh Funk & Nothing Rhymes with Orange by Adam Rex
**Thank you to Kelsey at Macmillan for setting up the blog tour for Sun!**
Author and Illustrator: Fred Koehler
Published October 9th, 2018 by Boyds Mills Press
Summary: Mr. Popli, the mouse mayor of Garbage Island, is always at odds with Archibald Shrew, a brilliant but reckless inventor. When Garbage Island, their home in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, splits apart, they are trapped together in Mr. Popli’s houseboat, desperate to find their way back home. At first, they only argue, but when they face a perilous thunderstorm and a series of predators, they begin to work together and recognize – in themselves and in each other – strengths they didn’t know they had.
About the Author: Fred Koehler won a Boston Globe/Horn Book Honor Award for his illustrations for One Day, The End. He is the author-illustrator of How To Cheer Up Dad, which received three starred reviews, and he is the illustrator of This Book Is Not About Dragons and Puppy, Puppy, Puppy and Flashlight Night. He lives with his children in Lakeland, Florida.
Visit the Garbage Island Boyds Mills Press page to view an interview about his inspirations and what’s coming next!
“In this series opener, a mouse and a shrew find themselves unlikely allies as they unite to save Garbage Island. The clever pairing of opposites adds humor, making the gradual emergence of friendship…all the sweeter. Dramatic black-and-white illustrations highlight key action. Exciting, fast-paced adventure and unexpected friendship in a “trashy” venue.” –Kirkus Reviews
“This adventurous tale is packed with action, examples of creative thinking, and ingenuity. Use this as an introduction to STEM thinking, a science fair project, a lesson on ecology, or simply read it for the enjoyment the story provides. This book will appeal to the adventure seeker, animal lover, explorer, and just about everyone else. A must-read for readers ready to strap in for a great ride!” – School Library Connection, starred review
“(With) fast-paced action and danger… this entertaining animal adventure stands out… because of its strong characters and an underlying message of environmental awareness.”–School Library Journal
Review: I love Archibald Shrew. He actually reminds me of Tinkerbell, specifically from the movie Tinkerbell and the Lost Treasure. Archie is a genius; he just is a genius that sometimes makes a mess when he is creating or may forget something essential if he’s brainstorming or might put him or someone else in danger if trying something new. But he is just so gosh darn lovable! From the very first page when we meet him, and he’s trying out his bicycle invention. Archie is obviously just ahead of his time. And while Mr. Popli starts off as a bit of a stern, uptight character, he is forced to see what is most important through this journey. Lastly, Merri. She is a special character who I connect with so much. She tries so hard to take care of everyone. She is never not helping or doing something; everyone can rely on her. But she also feels a lot of pressure to be a caregiver in so many different ways; so much that she pushes herself way too hard sometimes. It is because of these three characters plus the plot arc of Mr. Popli and Archie’s nearly always perilous adventure that this book is hard to put down. I know this is going to be one that Trent and I will read when he is a bit older: so much to unpack and just so entertaining!
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: There is an Educator Guide available:
- How did Mr. Popli change over the course of the book?
- What did the egg teach Archie and Mr. Popli?
- What are the differing character traits between Archie, Mr. Popli, Merri, and Edward? Similarities?
- How does Archie effect the other characters at the beginning of the book? The end?
- What part of the book surprised you?
- How does the book promote environmental awareness?
- Which of the opponents was the biggest foe for Archie and Mr. Popli? Explain why you think that foe was the toughest?
Flagged Passages: Chapter 3
“A week into his punishment for the sea-cycle incident, Archie had taken to his new routine with all the enthusiasm of a one-armed starfish. During the day, he did everything that was asked of him, but the work made him hungry, and the hunger made him grumpy. And still, his yearning for his workshop rose in his throat each evening like the moon in the sky.
Merrie had come to visit Archie each night at the Watchtower. She was the only bird left on Garage Island. He was the only shrew. In many ways, they were kindred. But Merri was an outsider because of her species. And she was sure that Archie was treated as an outsider because of his actions. If she could get him to see that, perhaps his life could improve. Her attempts to convince him turned into another argument.” (p. 30)
Read This If You Love: Anthropomorphic stories like Redwall by Brian Jacques, Silverwing by Kenneth Oppel, Seekers series by Erin Hunter, Mez’s Magic by Eliot Schrefer, Good Dog by Dan Gemeinhart, An Army of Frogs by Trevor Pryce;Fiction that promotes environmental awareness; Plastics Ahoy! by Patricia Newman
Don’t Miss Out on the Other Blog Tour Stops!:
Mon 10/1 Always in the Middle
Tue 10/2 Miss Marple’s Musings
Wed 10/3 Inkygirl
Thu 10/4 Storymamas
Fri 10/5 Teen Librarian Toolbox
Mon 10/8 Librarian in Cute Shoes
Tue 10/9 KidLit Frenzy
Wed 10/10 Middle Grade Book Village
Thu 10/11 Mrs. Knott’s Book Nook
Fri 10/12 Middle Grade Minded
Fri 10/12 Unleashing Readers
**Thank you to Boyds Mills for providing copies for review and giveaway and for hosting the blog tour!**
Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers
Author: Deborah Heiligman
Published April 18th, 2017 by Henry Holt and Co.
Summary: The deep and enduring friendship between Vincent and Theo Van Gogh shaped both brothers’ lives. Confidant, champion, sympathizer, friend, Theo supported Vincent as he struggled to find his path in life. They shared everything, swapping stories of lovers and friends, successes and disappointments, dreams and ambitions. Meticulously researched, drawing on the 658 letters Vincent wrote to Theo during his lifetime, Deborah Heiligman weaves a tale of two lives intertwined and the love of the Van Gogh brothers.
About the Author: Deborah Heiligman has written many books for children, including National Book Award Finalist Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith and The Boy Who Loved Math. She lives with her family in New York City.
Accolades: Michael L. Printz Award – Honor, School Library Best Books of the Year, CPL: Chicago Public Library Best of the Best, NYPL Books for the Teen Age, Booklist Editors’ Choice, YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction Finalist, YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction Winner, BCCB Blue Ribbon Award, Boston Globe – Horn Book Award, Kirkus Best Teen Books of the Year, Publishers Weekly Best Books of the Year, Texas TAYSHAS High School Reading List, Horn Book Magazine Fanfare List
“A remarkably insightful, profoundly moving story of fraternal interdependence and unconditional love.” —Kirkus, starred review
“A breathtaking achievement that will leave teens eager to learn more.” —School Library Journal, starred review
“In fittingly painterly language, Heiligman offers vivid descriptions of Vincent’s artwork and life, which grow more detailed and colorful as Vincent’s own artistic style becomes richer and more refined . . . This illuminating glimpse into the van Goghs’ turbulent life and historical period will add compelling depth to readers’ understanding of the iconic painter. ” —Booklist, starred review
“A unique and riveting exploration of art, artists, and brotherly love.” —The Horn Book, starred review
“An intensive exploration of their turbulent lives” —Publishers Weekly, starred review
“This title is a treasure for readers who want to immerse in a roiling domestic drama and who don’t back away from a good cry” —The Bulletin, starred review
Review: I could not stop talking about this book while I was listening to it. That, and that I couldn’t stop listening to the book–I would listen whenever I could, show me what a fabulous book it was. Hieligman does an amazing job making Vincent and Theo’s story come to life through such emotional narrative that the reader cannot help but feel as if we are living alongside the Van Gogh brothers. As someone who loves learning about history and art as well as an interest in brain health, this was a story that was more fascinating than I can even describe.
Also, I feel personally connected to this book in a fun way. In November, 2016 Deborah Heiligman and I had a dinner at NCTE, and we got talking about art since she had just finished Vincent and Theo. If you didn’t know, my dad has a BA in Art History and a MFA in Museumology and runs art museums (currently the LSU Museum of Art), so I have grown up around art museums my whole life and with art as a big part of it. One of the things we spoke about is the new information that a painting thought to be a self-portrait (right below) was actually the only known painting of Theo Van Gogh that Vincent painted. One thing that made it hard to determine this was that Theo is wearing the straw hat that Vincent is known to wear while Vincent is wearing Theo’s business felt hat. And this is where Deborah’s question came in: “The hats on the cover matched the hats the men are wearing in the photo although those are not actually their hats. Does it matter?” Now although I love art, I am not the expert, so I offered to ask my dad, and he responded with, “I like the cover as it is. I think it causes a questioning that evidences the new research in an interesting way. It defies previous thoughts and expectations.” Thus the cover stayed as is with an explanation on the jacket (below).
But I think what can show you about the book more than just me raving is all of the awards it received, ⇑ see above, and all of the amazing information about how Deborah researched for the book, ⇓ see below, and of course an excerpt from the book, ⇓ also below.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: View Deborah Hieligman’s research for Vincent and Theo and view all the articles & interviews about the book to use with students when reading this nonfiction text. There is so much that can be done with this story and the author’s writing process; use this amazing text in your classrooms, have it in your libraries, read it yourself–however you see fit, but read and share it!
- How were Vincent and Theo’s life parallel with each other?
- In what way were Vincent and Theo’s view of love part of their downfall emotionally?
- Looking at the two portraits above and after reading the article about the portrait being of Theo, what do you believe? What similarities and differences do you see between the two?
- How did Deborah Hieligman take all of the letters and research she did and turn them into a narrative?
- I described this book to my sister as “A love story about two brothers.” Why would I call it a love story?
- How did Theo’s short but mighty marriage set up for the current popularity of Vincent Van Gogh?
- Why did it take so long for Vincent to find art?
- In what way did finding friends in the impressionist art community help Vincent as an artist?
Flagged Passages: “1. TWO BROTHERS, ONE APARTMENT, PARIS, 1887
There was a time when I loved Vincent very much, and he was my best friend, but that’s over now. —Theo van Gogh to his sister Willemien, March 14, 1887
THEO’S BROTHER VINCENT has been living with him for just over a year, and Theo cannot take it anymore.
It is “almost intolerable for me at home,” he writes to their sister Wil in March 1887. Even though Theo has moved them to a larger apartment, this one still feels too small to hold Vincent’s outsized personality and Theo’s desperate need for quiet. He’s dying to tell Vincent to move out, but he knows if he does, Vincent will just be more determined to stay.
Dogged. Contrary. Stubborn. Vincent.
Theo van Gogh is the manager of Goupil & Cie, a successful art gallery on the fashionable Boulevard Montmartre in Paris. Theo is good at his job, but it’s terrifically frustrating for him right now. The owners of the gallery want him to sell paintings in the traditional style because they’re popular and bring in money. Though Theo certainly needs to make money—he has to support himself and Vincent and help their mother—he wants to sell art that is truly exciting to him, paintings by the Impressionists and their crowd, friends of his and Vincent’s: Émile Bernard, Paul Gauguin, Claude Monet, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Soon, maybe even paintings by Vincent himself.
But these modern painters don’t bring in enough money, so it’s a constant battle with his bosses. Theo haspersuaded them to let him set up a little display of Impressionists on the entresol. The entresol is not the ground floor, and it’s not the first floor. It’s the floor in between. It’s as if the paintings are there, but not quite yet, a glimpse into the future. It’s a start. But he spends his days working hard and comes back to the apartment at 54 Rue Lepic exasperated and exhausted. What he needs at home is rest and peace, but instead he gets VINCENT.
Theo loves his brother’s brilliant mind, his gregariousness, even his fiery temperament. Vincent can be a good antidote to Theo’s own inwardness and tendency to melancholy.
But after so many months of the cold Parisian winter spent indoors with Vincent, Theo is a wreck both mentally and physically. A few months back, in December, he was actually paralyzed—he couldn’t move at all for a few days. Although Theo knows he can’t blame his bad health on his brother, to get better he needs a break from Vincent’s gusts, his squalls, his constant talking and lecturing.
And, to make matters worse, lately Vincent has been furious at him. “He loses no opportunity to let me see that he despises me and I inspire aversion in him,” Theo tells Wil.
A portrait done of the brothers at this time would be sizzling with streaks of red-orange paint.
* * *
WHEN VINCENT AND THEO were young, growing up in the village of Zundert in the Netherlands, their father, a pastor, had written a special prayer. All the Van Gogh children had to memorize it and recite it when they left home:
“O Lord, join us intimately to one another and let our love for Thee make that bond ever stronger.”
Theo has valiantly been living up to that prayer. He’s been Vincent’s best friend for most of the last fifteen years, ever since they made a pledge to each other on a walk. And through many ups and downs and storms, for the past seven years, Theo has been giving Vincent money for paint, pencils and pens, ink, canvases, paper, clothing, food, and, until he moved in, rent.
On March 30 Vincent turns thirty-four; on May 1 Theo will be thirty. They’ve made it this far in their journey together—how can Theo kick him out now?
* * *
VINCENT AND THEO VAN GOGH look a lot alike: They both have red hair, though Vincent’s is redder, Theo’s more reddish blond. Vincent has freckles; Theo does not. They are both medium height—around five feet seven—but Vincent is broader, bigger; Theo slighter, thinner. They have pale blue eyes that sometimes darken to greenish blue. They are definitely brothers.
But they couldn’t give more different impressions.
Vincent in his workman’s clothes spends his days painting, outside if it’s not too cold, or inside the apartment. He is covered with Parisian soot and grime, overlaid with splatters and spatters of paint: ochre, brick red, orange, lemon chrome, cobalt blue, green, black, zinc white.
He doesn’t bathe often, which is typical for a nineteenth-century man, but it’s even less often than he should. He stinks—of body odor, dirt, food, paint, turpentine, wine, and tobacco. He usually has a pipe in his mouth, though he has very few teeth left, and those that are left are rotten.
And yet Vincent looks healthy: he’s robust, sturdy, and vehemently alive. Passion pours from him, as if the world he’s trying to capture is inside him, bursting to come out.
Theo is tidy, well dressed in a suit, looking very much the proper Parisian businessman. His features are finer, more refined. He would be handsome if he weren’t so sick: he’s thin and pale; he looks as though the life is being sucked out of him. He feels that way, too.
* * *
IN MANY WAYS, Vincent’s move to Paris has been good for both brothers. Thanks to Theo’s influence, to the artists he’s met, and to his own tenacious work, Vincent’s paintings are better than ever: they are imbued with color and light and Vincent’s own particular style.
And Vincent has given Theo more of a life. He’d been lonely in Paris, so lonely, and now, even though he doesn’t have a wife and family, Theo at least has a circle of friends through Vincent. For that he is grateful. So even though he’s desperate, Theo doesn’t kick out his brother. Yet.
In April, Theo acknowledges to another sister, Lies, that he’s been ill, “particularly in my spirit, and have had a great struggle with myself.” If he were well, he could deal with Vincent.
In fact both brothers do better with sun and warm air and hours spent outside. The Parisian days are getting longer—by minutes, anyway. If only spring would arrive! But there’s still too much gloom outside and in.
Gloom and fire.
It’s as if there are two Vincents, Theo has told Wil. He knows both sides of his brother very well. Sometimes Vincent is ebulliently happy and kind, sometimes furiously angry and difficult. He has a huge heart, but he’s stubborn and argumentative.
Vincent argues not only with Theo, and with himself, but also with friends and people he admires. One cold and fiery night in the near future, Vincent will fight with another roommate. And that argument will end in blood.
Read This If You Love: History, Art, Brain health, Van Gogh, Heiligman’s writing
Recently Popular Posts
- This is my Anti-Lexile, Anti-Reading Level Post.
- Top Books for Struggling/Reluctant Middle School Readers
- Novels with Science Content
- Top Ten Tuesday: Our Favorite Pairings of YA Books…
- The Nazi Hunters by Neal Bascomb
- The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
- Harlem: A Poem by Walter Dean Myers
- Journey by Aaron Becker
- Engaging Classroom Discussion Techniques
- Review and Teaching Guide!: El Deafo by Cece Bell
Subscribe to Our Posts