Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Cozy Clothing

In the midst of a winter day, sun or no sun, snow or no snow, or wind or no wind, it's not as if you are going to stand still savoring the moment.  It's simply too cold, especially in the northern climates.  You will definitely be moving around; shoveling snow, snow shoeing, skiing, ice skating, snowboarding, running, walking or building snow figures or forts.  Most folks will be dressed in layer upon layer of clothing including boots, gloves or mittens and hats.

In my way of thinking though, hats, with an assortment of tops and bottoms combined with whatever activity you may be doing, will have you working up an unwanted sweat in no time.  The perfect solution is something to cover your ears only.  Earmuffs for Everyone!: How Chester Greenwood Became Known as the Inventor of Earmuffs (A Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, January 6, 2015) written and illustrated by Meghan McCarthy gives us a fascinating look at a man's life and his relationship with earmuffs.

The word "muff" has been around since the Middle Ages.  Starting in the 1700s, people wore muffs on their hands to keep them war, like this:

From hand muffs (I actually had one of those as a little girl...and no I'm not that old.)  From then we skip ahead to 1858, 1873, 1877, 1878 and 1883 noting the types of inventions to keep our ears, cheeks and chins protected from the chilly weather.  A gentleman, Isaac Kleinert, whose company is still in business today designed and promoted

ear muffs, waterproof baby pants and dress guards 

for women's clothing.  He renewed his patent several times for those ear muffs.  Why is it then that most people believe Chester Greenwood is the inventor of earmuffs?

True be told Chester Greenwood got a patent too.  He was only nineteen years old!  His patent was not for the invention of earmuffs but the improvement of earmuffs.  (In case you are wondering what a patent is and how it works, several pages, at this point, are devoted to a definition and a comparison is made between the work of Greenwood and Thomas Edison.)

Having built a good mind for business beginning with his childhood, Greenwood was able to promote and expand his earmuff success, landing him a prominent spot in his community.  The man's creativity branched out to include other items.  I'm pretty sure I could be comfortable in his

"portable" house.

What happened after Chester Greenwood passed away in 1937 is a testament to people's perceptions of history.  A prominent magazine named him as the inventor of earmuffs several years later.  As little as thirty-five years ago a businessman advocated for a Chester Greenwood day which was eventually passed by the legislature of Maine in 1977.  It is still celebrated today each December in Farmington, Maine.  Who could ask for anything more?  It's a tribute to ingenuity.

If Meghan McCarthy's name is attached to nonfiction, readers can expect solid research and a captivating narrative.  Her sentence structure is conversational with asides to the reader.  She takes nothing for granted, offering additional explanations.  In her pursuit to discover the truth about earmuffs and Chester Greenwood she uncovered many similar inventions leading her to conclusions which she shares with us.  Here is a sample passage from this book.

Obviously, the story isn't quite true, since earmuffs had already been born many years earlier---four months before Chester was!  And there is another story that says Chester didn't like the woolen earmuffs that most kids wore, so he fashioned something else.

Rendered in acrylic paint the full color illustrations of Meghan McCarthy have the same spirit as her writing reaching out to her audience saying, "Look what I've found.  I can't wait to share it with you."  All of the children on the front of the matching dust jacket and book case are wearing an assortment of earmuff styles looking toward the title.  On the left, back, a dachshund sporting a pair of red and white plaid earmuffs is looking straight at the reader.  McCarthy's opening and closing endpapers feature men and women, boys and girls, wearing traditional and outlandish earmuffs in a series of ten geometric frames.  A page turn takes us to the verso and title page with a series of snapshots highlighting earmuff-wearing people.

It's McCarthy's signature portrayal of her character's eyes which draw our eyes to her images.  Her ability to convey a full range of emotion with a black circle, white paint and a dot is amazing.  In depicting her history of earmuffs, patents and Chester Greenwood's life her attention to accurate detail is not just informative but fun to see progress.

A liberal amount of white space is used to accentuate her smaller pictures on single pages.  Five of the seven double-page visuals are at the end of the book as her narrative builds momentum.  If McCarthy wishes to make a point, further tying the illustration to her text, the perspective shifts.

I've been thinking about whether or not she's placing humor in her pictures too.  I wonder about the horse freely walking on the street in front of the US Patent Office.  Is it Seabiscuit from one of her earlier titles?

One of my favorite illustrations is the inside of the newsstand where Mickey Maguire worked.  The items displayed for sale, products and magazines, are right out of 1970s history.  You can't miss the Star Wars posted taped to the counter.

Our classroom, library and at-home bookshelves need to contain books like Earmuffs for Everyone!:  How Chester Greenwood Became Known as the Inventor of Earmuffs written and illustrated by Meghan McCarthy.  This is the kind of nonfiction which entertains and informs readers.  It makes us excited to know the whole story.  At the end of the book Meghan McCarthy includes a Note about this Book, All about Patents, a Bibliography and Acknowledgments.  This title along with these notes tells readers about the research process and the different twists and turns which need to be followed.  I highly recommend this book.

Please follow the link to Meghan McCarthy's website attached to her name.  There her other nonfiction titles are listed with extras.  This is an interview of Meghan McCarthy at Publishers Weekly about her work and this title which is a must read.  Here is a pdf of the 2014 brochure for Chester Greenwood Day in Maine.

Please read about other nonfiction titles featured by bloggers participating in the 2015 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by educator Alyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzy.


  1. Oh i loved this book. :-) I think this is one of my favorites of hers.

    1. It is definitely one of my favorites. Of course I like her take on Balto also. :)

  2. Keep reading about this book today and smiling. One of my students wore earmuffs all day today. In our warm classroom on a bright sunny, West Coast kind of day. I smiled all day. They were huge and red!

    1. I think your student knows something the rest of us might be missing Carrie. Huge red earmuffs on a sunny day just makes everything better; warmer and brighter.

  3. So much booklove for this title! I am definitely intrigued. Will try to find a copy in our library soon.

    1. There is a lot of book love for this title Myra. I checked last night and it has four starred reviews so far. I hope you get a copy soon. It's a winner.

  4. Loved it! I like biographies about people that are not famous!

    1. I think this is going to be one of my favorite biographies ever Gigi. I really like the way Meghan McCarthy shares the truth she finds with her readers.