Category Archives: Love this Book

Writer or Naturalist: E. B. White Was Both

I just heard most of this on NPR and can’t wait to seek out the book. It sounds wonderful. It also sounds like the kind of thing that inspires a twinge of writer envy, but that can’t be helped.

The NPR Science Friday segment has E. B. White reading a great passage from the book and wonderful discussion of the intersection of science and imagination.

The author mentioned he had set out to write a book about the natural world and several children’s books—Winnie-the-Pooh, Wind in the Willows—but E. B. White provided more than enough material. I wonder how often the best children’s books have an intimate connection to the natural world; even The Hobbit and A Wrinkle in Time seem to fall in that category. Makes me want to go raid the bookshelves!

p.s. I cannot even write a tiny paraphrase of that lovely line from Charlotte’s Web without tearing up a little.

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Library Finds 8/2010 — Ulysses

We went for our first time as a family to the lovely, recently (completely) renovated Minneapolis Central library. It’s a great looking library, with a wonderful children’s room.

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As I did my own browsing, I noticed that as soon as I stepped off the elevator on the 4th floor a display of homeschooling books greeted me — chic, indeed.

One (non-homeschool) education book I am very excited to read is Disrupting Class. I’m excited to learn more about online education and how it can bring freedom in education to more and more students, so that homeschool/private school/public school/unschool become increasingly meaningless labels.

I found this insanely cool, gorgeous version of the Odyssey for Victoria (and me).

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We have been sporadically listening to Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters, which features Circe, Polyphemus, and lots of other characters and events taken from the Odyssey.

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The book’s artwork is only tied for trippiest thing found at the library, however. Eggmaster came out of the mens room reporting that he found ample evidence of someone packing blunts on the 4th floor. (Google it.)

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Violet, Meet Anne

Ever since Violet was an early reader I have been holding back books that I thought she might appreciate more as an older child — Harry Potter, the Little House series, and now Wrinkle in Time (though I think she is more than ready now). I doubt my judgement, sometimes, seeing that younger gifted kids are reading things I’ve been keeping in reserve, but it’s usually worked out.

One series I have waited on is Anne of Green Gables. I loved reading the Anne books, and read them all several times as a child and teenager. I did not want to risk giving these to a child fixated on fantasy and slapstick humor. What if she didn’t love them as I did? She’s already rejected Nancy Drew!

While we are busy with house stuff, I’ve tried to ply her with more reading, and finally I have gotten her a copy of Anne of Green Gables. The edition I found at Borders looks almost ridiculously designed to fool a modern girl into giving a gentler kind of book a chance. Being a little shameless myself, I chose it over the book covers that looked more like the ones I owned — something out Victoria magazine.

And it seems to have worked! She toted the book around all day yesterday, and claims to have read the whole thing. I knew she was hooked when I saw her reading in the midst of group activities, returning to the book after every task. Of course I like to think that she is embracing a book that I loved during my own childhood, but more than that I like to see — finally — her giving a little more attention to her gentle, dreamy side. Seems that Anne Shirley is the perfect guide for that adventure.

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Recent Reading

Mostly I have been visiting the Sen Lin Hu website, thinking, post another damn picture of my daughter will you!

Of course she has been too busy to write, so I have no idea how she is or what she’s doing, except that if she were injured or having an asthma attack they would have contacted us.

We see her tomorrow afternoon — one downside of letting her take the bus home is that we don’t learn quite so much about what she’s been doing, how her learning was going, etc. All part of letting go, I suppose.

I finished Animal Vegetable Miracle a while ago, which I mostly enjoyed , so I decided to pick up The Poisonwood Bible, which everyone else read a long time ago. Especially in the end, you can see Kingsolver’s interest in food and nutrition and farming. At points it seems a little too strong, but perhaps that is only because I had just read AVM and could connect the dots a little too clearly.

I am learning about myself as a reader: as with so many things, I like a level of understatedness that is maybe unreasonable to expect. (Except when I like things crazy and in your face, of course.)

So in The Poisonwood Bible I got a little tired of Adah, the mute genius sister, and her palindromes and writing backwards and (what came to feel) affected profundity.

Still, it was a page turner (and I don’t mean that in the condescending way of, say, a Dan Brown novel), and on the last day of reading it I must have given over at least 4 hours, staying up til 1:30 am to finish it. Also, although the Adah thing became wearying — actually, the Rachel voice also seemed to become to heavily “Rachel” too — Kingsolver is a very good writer, as in prose stylist. Reminded me slightly of reading Virginia Woolf and thinking, “Dear God, I can never be a writer — look at how every word is so carefully chosen. Who can take that much time, let alone have that deep of a well of words? Serious envy. But that’s Virginia Woolf — who somehow can do crazy effects with her writing and never make me feel hit over the head. But we can’t all be Virginia Woolf — and we can’t expect every novel to be Mrs. Dalloway. (Thus perfectionism threatens to kill so many joys.)

Here is a nice tidbit from the Catholic priest gone slightly native, who is something of a foil to the Christian missionary whose family is the center of the book. He is talking about the difficulties of bringing the Bible to the Congo, and what gets lost in translation even into English. He says to one of the daughters:

Och, I shouldn’t be messing about with your thinking this way, with your father out in the garden. But I’ll tell you a secret. When I want to take God at his word exactly, I take a peep out the window at His Creation. Because that, darling, He makes fresh for us every day, without a lot of dubious middle managers.

Now I’m reading Mansfield Park, the most controversial of Austen novels. 😉 It is so hard to keep an open mind, after reading it a few times earlier and just really finding Fanny to be total weenie, and Edmund — oh man. This time around, I like Fanny better but I’m a little more grossed out by the tutor-pupil relationship and Edmund’s desire to make Fanny think just like him. Like Emma and Mr. Knightly, but with no fun.

No no — open mind. Open mind.

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Around the House

[Finally I am posting this — I had to get *another* connector for the digital camera. Where do they go?]

We recently picked up this set of books:

physics periodic table biology

I’m sure they’re not for everyone. Seriously science-minded kids — or at least, serious science-minded kids — may find them a little too silly. But they are fun and easy to pick up and flip through for a moment or read through for a while.

I got them for Victoria, primarily, knowing that everyone else in the house would want to read them too. I think the Periodic Table book is probably the best, but they were cheap enough (and not available at local libraries) that I got them all. But Victoria was in a funk today and told me that she could not read them, so — about 10 minutes after a big fight in which little sis “spanked” big sis and many 5yo screams were heard round the neighborhood — Violet offered to read to her, and Victoria accepted happily.

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She had just turned down dad’s similar offer.

We are working on the yelling. We are like a set of dominoes — one person loses it and we all go off. So we are working as a family to yell less. The girls have put posters all over the house. I rather like this one.

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If you cannot see, the mother figure is swearing. Violet said, “Well, you do swear a lot.” What?! Oh dear . . .

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Recent Resources

Whew! It has been a crazy week, with a million little blog posts I let go.

But I have come across a few things worth sharing.
Geography

First off, we are trying something really different for us. We bought a boxed curriculum on the East. It’s from a well-known Christian curriculum provider, with a missionary and evangelical slant, so we have also joined a Yahoo list about how to use the curriculum in a more secular way. (More on that another time.) One of the resources suggested on the list was Material World, a book that was well-known a while ago. In it, families from all over the world set all of their possessions out in front of their homes for “The Big Picture,” which is accompanied by info about each family’s life and the country they live in, plus some extra photos. For each country a small table highlights things like the percentage of family income spent on food; the number of possessions such as radios, bicycles, TVs, computers; yearly income in US dollars.

This is a wonderful book, and Violet immediately started poring over it. But I found something possibly even more wonderful at the library. There is a series of books for children based on the Material World book, using many of the same photographs plus several more, and including more information about family and children’s lives. The font is larger, the data is more manageable, and in general the book is a better fit for younger kids. There are about 10 of them in the series, such as A Family from Vietnam, A Family from Germany, A Family from Guatemala, and so on.

The books don’t really advertise their connection to Material World — Violet noticed it after I had grabbed A Family from China off the shelf at the library. They are a great way to present this interesting project in a more child-friendly way.

Science
A Facebook friend has pointed me to a very fun resource for Victoria. I put out a call for resources on microbes, especially bacteria and viruses, on Facebook and an e-mail list, and one cool thing I got back was the Microbe Zoo.

I also found these coloring pages.

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Film

We went to see Azur and Asmar, and it was beautiful and amazing. Violet really enjoyed it, though we left Victoria at home. (She assumes that most movies will be too scary in the theater.) It is touring arthouse and museum theaters, but may get a wider release. If it comes to you, go!

I did have to write a letter to the theater about the violent previews — they were violent documentaries, with gunshot victims, men pointing machine guns at children, blood-soaked clothing. Violet had a friend with her, and I nearly grabbed them and pulled them out of the theater, but I kept thinking the worst was over. Her friend’s mother later reported that he said, “Those previews were totally inappropriate for this movie. What were they thinking?!” I haven’t heard from the theater yet, but I did also notify the distributor to suggest that they encourage future venues to use better judgement, and I did hear from them, at least.

Will I ever be able to write more than tidbits again? I’m not sure. I have hopes that when the sun comes back more regularly, my concentration and mental acuity will return with it.

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My Dad Thinks My Blog is Boring

Sorry, I just had to twit my dad for a conversation we had earlier.

Though this appears to be a theme in my family. Another family member who shall remain nameless (though my dad knows who it is!) once told me about a movie, “You’d like it. It’s boring.”

I don’t think I’m boring — though I’m sure my blog is boring at times (no no, don’t write in to contradict me, because I won’t believe you!). I think I am an introvert whose preferred brain juice is acetylcholine rather than dopamine, the favored chemical of extroverts.

I learned this from Mary Sheedy Kurcinka’s workshop, but you can also find it in The Hidden Gifts of the Introverted Child. Here’s a little synopsis of the difference, from the book:

Acetylcholine says “Let’s think about it.” This is the superstar of thought, concentration, and voluntary movement. Controls vital activities that govern arousal, attention, awareness, perceptual learning, sleep, and waking. It’s the main neurotransmitter used by innies’ “Put on the Brakes” nervous system.

Dopamine says “If it feels good, do it.” This is one of our most rewarding neurotransmitters. Dopamine regulates movement, pleasure, and action. It is essential for alert awareness, especially the feeling of excitement about something new. It’s the main neurotransmitter for outies, built by the building blocks released by the “Give It the Gas” nervous system. It is also the most addictive of all neurotransmitters.

There’s much more to explain about the brain chemistry involved here, including some cool data from experiments, but one way of looking at it is that introverts often do not enjoy instant gratification as much as the delayed gratification achieved by a slow build, a course of study, something that requires concentration.

In other words, things that seem boring.

When you are reading the subtitles in a foreign movie or waiting for the plot of a long novel to build up some steam, you’re priming the acetylcholine pump — as long as there is some enjoyment that comes along eventually. There’s always the risk that the book will start slow and wind down from there.

So I’m not boring. I just like my neurotransmitters on the more subtle side. You can tell because I actually enjoy reading and writing about neurotransmitters on a Friday night. 😉

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Recent Reads

It is a gray, gloomy day. After a long illness, I am so out of the habit of going to church that I missed it again today, unable to get out the door on time — so now I’m down and regretful. Victoria is in the dumps too, storming around the house angry at everyone but — surprise surprise — mostly angry at herself. “I’m Bad At Piano!” “I Can’t Do Anything!” My poor little girl, buffeted around by emotions much stronger than she feels she is.

Being sick and lying around has at least given me some time to read. True, a lot of the time I was not well enough to read much, and I found myself doing Sudoku, which, let’s face it, does not require any sort of sustained effort or thought. It has the virtue of taking your mind off your misery — unless your head starts to hurt too.

But enough gloom!

I mentioned that I had read Homeschooling Our Children, Unschooling Ourselves, by Alison McKee, who was the keynote speaker at the recent Minnesota Homeschool Association conference. It is the kind of book I usually don’t like — homeschoolers telling endless anecdotes about their fascinating lives. That’s mainly what this book is, but I liked it anyway. McKee was extremely sympathetic as the “main character” of the story, highlighting her ongoing efforts to let her children lead. “Show me the way,” she would tell herself silently, but it’s clear that it was not easy for her to do that, even after multiple lived examples of how well that worked.

McKee also has an interesting perspective as someone who works in schools. I find myself very annoyed by a lot of homeschool-speak about the creativity-deadening effects of traditional schools. She quoted John Holt often, and I have never liked his blanket statements about how children experience school — rigid, dismissive, out-of-touch teachers and cold institutional environments. That’s not the whole picture. But because McKee’s work (with vision-impaired students) brought her into contact with kids who plainly needed something different in order to learn, she has a raft of stories about how even well-meaning teachers are hamstrung—by rules, by classroom size, or by training—when it comes to providing the differentiation necessary to help “different” kids learn.

And she did have a number of surprising stories about the naked hostility of some teachers and administrators to these kids. Because the children she worked with had a genuine physical disability, the attitudes are all the more striking. Her students were not different in a so-called subjective way, like being “gifted” or “on the spectrum” or “learning disabled” or “hyperactive”—they could not see! Yet they had teachers who seemed eager to label them as problem students and to deny them classroom adaptations because then “everyone will want them.” While I’m not ready to accept Holt wholeheartedly, after reading McKee I can see why his descriptions of school resonate with so many people.

[By the way, in the Alison McKee workshop I heard some homeschool crap from a parent (not McKee) about how kids who learn to read “early” turn off the imaginative part of their brains, and I saw other parents nod like this was a widely acknowledged fact. There’s no such thing as late, but apparently there’s still an early . . . . So I’m still unlikely to drink the homeschool-expert Kool-Aid.]

I also picked up Mitten Strings for God, a book I would normally reject on the basis of its title (too precious). I had heard so many people I like say good things about the book (including some who also objected to the cutesiness of the title) that I thought I would check it out. I think I may give myself permission not to finish it, and I’m sorry to anyone reading who loved it. I think I am at a place in my life where I need more sharpness and directness. The basic ideas of the book are sound, but not really new to anyone who’s read around in Buddhist and mindfulness meditation. What I’m reacting to is the not-exactly-purple, more like mauve prose of the book. Everything is gauzy and smooshy; somehow it reminds me of watching Moonlighting, when Cybill Shepherd looked as though the lens had been coated with Vaseline to blur any hard lines in her face.

I’m going to assume that it’s a great book, but that I am just not in a gentle frame of mind. Buddhist-oriented writing on mindfulness is so much more spare and clear, and apparently much more what I need to hear right now.

Lastly, I borrowed A Thomas Jefferson Education from a friend. Here again is a book that I had kind of written off until I heard from others that it was a useful read, even if you don’t agree with everything. I have just started reading it. My hope is that, along with the TJEd Home Companion, it will give me some good ideas for combining “show me the way” with the development of self-discipline and critical thinking. I’m inspired by Mariposa’s successes with some of the TJEd ideas. More on this story as it develops.

And now I think I’ll take the kids to the library. I have some good books on hold:

Screen Doors and Sweet Tea, Martha Hall Foose (might have been nice if this request had come in during the summer!)
A Secular Age, Charles Taylor (Shelia, I didn’t notice til after I put in my request that you had this on your sidebar! My recent freelance project on Deism got me interested in reading the whole thing.)
DNA Pioneer: James Watson and the Double Helix, for Violet
Some Peep and Quack DVDs for Victoria.

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An Unvetted Book List

[It’s possibly a liability that I have always liked and used the word “vet” now that it’s such a loaded term . . . ]

I recently created a list of supplemental readings for the science classes at my co-op. I can’t say I have read them all, but I did try to choose something beyond the canned biography series when that was possible. The “5-7” and “8-10” categories apply specifically to what’s being taught in the co-op classes, and not really to recommended age ranges for the books.

I would really love to hear any books that you have read and would recommend. Or, if you have read any of these and love or hate them, I’d love to hear that too. We have George’s Secret Key to the Universe, which is not really Violet’s cup of tea but she did read it all the way through. And if you’ve known my husband for a while you would not be surprised that we have a well-used copy of Journey to the Ants. (And sorry I don’t have lovely Amazon links and photos — Victoria has been sick for a few days now and I am way too overloaded!)

Semester One

Genetics and Health:

5-7
Mendel:
Gregor Mendel, The Friar Who Grew Peas, Cheryl Bardoe (2006)
Gregor Mendel: Father of Genetics, Roger Klare (1997)

8-10
Genetics and Geneticists:
Baa! The Most Interesting Book You’ll Ever Read About Genes and Cloning, Cyntha Pratt Nicolson (2001)
Rosalind Franklin and the Structure of Life, Jane Polcovar (2006) [Watson & Crick’s female partner who doesn’t always get the attention she deserves as a pioneering female scientist!]
DNA pioneer: James Watson and the Double Helix, Joyce Baldwin (1994)
What Mad Pursuit: A Personal View of Scientific Discovery, Francis Crick (1988) [for strong readers]
A Passion for Science, Lewis Wolpert and Alison Richard (1989) [includes an interview with Francis Crick]

The Physical World and Space
5-7
Stephen Hawking:
not much for younger children, but for older children or strong readers, try
George’s Secret Key to the Universe, Stephen and Lucy Hawking (2007)
Stephen Hawking: Unlocking the Universe, Sheridan Simon (1991)

8-10
Physics:
Odd Boy Out, Don Brown (2004)
Astronauts:
Neil Armstrong: One Giant Leap for Mankind, Tara Dixon-Engel and Mike Jackson (2008)
Ellen Ochoa, First Latina Astronaut, Lila and Rick Guzman (2006) [the author has asked that I remove this book from the list, but has declined to explain why, so I guess, don’t read this book?]
Neil, Buzz, and Mike Go to the Moon, Richard Hilliard (2005) [especially for younger readers]
Godspeed, John Glenn, Richard Hilliard (2006) [especially for younger readers]
Sally Ride, Elizabeth Raum (2006)
Reaching for the Moon, Buzz Aldrin (2005)
Mae Jemison: The First African American Woman in Space, Magdalena Alagna (2004)
Sally Ride and the New Astronauts: Scientists in Space, Karen O’Connor (1983)
Find Where the Wind Goes: Moments from My Life, Mae Jemison (2001)

Semester Two

Ecology and Earth:

5-7
E. O. Wilson and the Ants (not specifically about E. O. Wilson):
Life and Times of the Ant, Charles Micucci (2003)
Flute’s Journey: The Life of a Wood Thrush (1997)
Ma Jiang and the Orange Ants, Barbara Ann Port (2000)

8-10
E. O. Wilson:
Science Giants: Life Science, Alan Ticotsky (2006)
Journey to the Ants: A Story of Scientific Exploration, Bert Holldobler and Edward O. Wilson (1998) [Not a children’s book, but a classic for adults that strong young readers might also love]
Ants and the Natural World:
the books listed for 5-7 would also be good for 8-10 year olds who still enjoy quality picture books
The Woods Scientist, Stephen Swinburne (2002)
You Are the Earth: Know the Planet so You Can Make it Better, David Suzuki (2000)

Living Things:

5-7
Roosevelt:
Young Teddy Roosevelt, Cheryl Harness (1998)
Theodore Roosevelt, Conservation President, Susan DeStefano (1993)
Theodore Roosevelt: Naturalist/Statesmen, Joyce Blackburn (1967)

8-10
Audubon: The Boy Who Drew Birds, Jacqueline Davies (2004)
Audubon: Painter of Birds in the Wild Frontier, Jennifer Armstrong (2003)
Capturing Nature: The Writings and Art of John James Audubon (1993) [incorporates Audubon’s words and writings]

p.s Great big tip o that hat to Nina, whose awesome list of beautiful books for older children reminded me to keep searching!

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What I’m Not Blogging About

— The lovely new books we’ve received from my old friend S. this week, including 4 from The Borrowers series and 3 Enid Blyton novels. Really, how many of your old grad school friends have sent 7 books halfway across the country to children they haven’t seen since the oldest was 15 months? (That is, before the younger was a twinkle in her mother’s eye.)

— The fun we’re having with Chinese Pod. This is just suiting us perfectly right now. Violet’s interest in Chinese is higher than ever.

— Living with intense children, when to sympathize, when to ignore, when to scold. Worrying what will happen to a 5-year-old who feels everything so deeply when she gets to be a teenager.

— The ache in my muscles since getting a new gym membership — the benefits of a work-at-home spouse.

— My review of the book Bonk, by Mary Roach, my love for the Amanda Root-Ciaran Hinds Persuasion

— Assorted thoughts on manners, friends, and blogging, especially the observation that I may be too conflict-averse to be a decent blogger. Comment threads on most national online media make me want to trigger a global nuclear catastrophe and see if the cockroaches couldn’t do a better job with this planet. Or maybe I just need another beer . . .

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