• About Farm School

    "There are obviously two educations. One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live."
    James Adams, from his essay "To 'Be' or to 'Do': A Note on American Education", 1929

    We're a Canadian family of five, farming, home schooling, and building our own house. I'm nowhere near as regular a blogger as I used to be.

    The kids are 18/Grade 12, 16/Grade 11, and 14/Grade 10.

    Contact me at becky(dot)farmschool(at)gmail(dot)com

  • Notable Quotables

    "If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."
    William Morris, from his lecture "The Beauty of Life"

    "‘Never look at an ugly thing twice. It is fatally easy to get accustomed to corrupting influences."
    English architect CFA Voysey (1857-1941)

    "The world of books is the most remarkable creation of man. Nothing else that he builds ever lasts. Monuments fall, nations perish, civilizations grow old and die out; and, after an era of darkness, new races build others. But in the world of books are volumes that have seen this happen again and again, and yet live on, still young, still as fresh as the day they were written, still telling men’s hearts of the hearts of men centuries dead."
    Clarence Day

    "Anyone who has a library and a garden wants for nothing."

    "Histories make men wise; poets, witty; the mathematics, subtile; natural philosophy, deep; moral, grave; logic and rhetoric, able to contend."
    Sir Francis Bacon, "Essays"

    "The chief aim of education is to show you, after you make a livelihood, how to enjoy living; and you can live longest and best and most rewardingly by attaining and preserving the happiness of learning."
    Gilbert Highet, "The Immortal Profession: The Joys of Teaching and Learning"

    "Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment."
    Walter Wriston

    "I'd like to give you a piece of my mind."
    "Oh, I couldn't take the last piece."
    Ginger Rogers to Frances Mercer in "Vivacious Lady" (1938)

    "No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem."
    Booker T. Washington

    "Please accept my resignation. I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member."
    Attributed to Groucho Marx in "The Groucho Letters" by Arthur Sheekman

    "If you can't say something good about someone, sit right here by me."
    Alice Roosevelt Longworth

    "If we bring a little joy into your humdrum lives, we feel all our hard work ain't been in vain for nothin'."
    Jean Hagen as "Lina Lamont" in "Singin' in the Rain" (1952)
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  • Copyright © 2005-2016 Please do not use any of my words or my personal photographs without my express permission.

Following up on “What to Do About Alice?”

Children’s author Barbara Kerley was kind enough to leave another message the other day letting me know that the classroom activities for her new biography of Alice Roosevelt, What To Do About Alice?: How Alice Roosevelt Broke the Rules, Charmed the World, and Drove Her Father Teddy Crazy — whether your classroom is in a school, in a home school room, or at the kitchen table — are up and ready at her website.

What To Do About Alice? should be on bookstore shelves this Saturday, March 1st.

I’ll leave you with a tidbit about Alice’s childhood from Stacy Cordery’s recent adult biography Alice: Alice Roosevelt Longworth, from White House Princess to Washington Power Broker:

One of Alice’s earliest memories of her father occurred when she was still living with Auntie Bye. For the first time in months, Alice was about to see her father. The two-and-a-half-year-old waited at Auntie Bye’s side by the stables at the Meadowbrook Hunt Club to greet TR when he completed the fox hunt. Theodore had ridden furiously that day, and returned with a broken arm, torn clothing, and a bloody face. As he ran toward his daughter, Alice screamed. He caught her tightly. Helpless in the grip of the bloodied, sweaty man who did not look anything like her father, Alice screamed again. Theodore shook Alice to quiet her. She screamed louder. He shook harder. “It was a theme,” Alice commented wryly, “which was to be repeated, with variation, in later years.”


Your inner fish

Busy around the house yesterday, we were listening to CBC’s “Quirks and Quarks” science show, and I was delighted to hear the engaging Dr. Neil Shubin (whom I quoted here*, from Natalie Angier’s recent book, The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science).  You can listen to the interview here.

Dr. Shubin, who’s also provost at Chicago’s Field Museum, was discussing his new book, Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body (Pantheon, January 2008); if you go to the previous Amazon link, you’ll find some photographs from Dr. Shubin’s research expedition and a brief review of the book by Oliver Sacks, who calls it “my favorite sort of book — an intelligent, exhilarating, and compelling scientific adventure story, one which will change forever how you understand what it means to be human.”

More on the book here:

University of Chicago Chronicle

Review from The Guardian (note the much funkier UK cover)

* From The Canon:

“When I look back on the science I had in high school, I remember it being taught as a body of facts and laws you had to memorize,” said Neil Shubin, a paleontologist at the University of Chicago. “The Krebs cycle, Linnaean classifications. Not only does this approach whip the joy of doing science right out of most people, but it gives everyone a distorted view of what science is. Science is not a rigid body of facts. It is a dynamic process of discovery. It is as alive as life itself.”

Bathroom break

We started remodeling our main bathroom (there’s one in the basement, thank goodness) last Sunday. Five people and hard water have been hard on the little room for the past 13 and a half years.

The original plan, as of last Sunday, was to replace the aging plastic tub surround

with ceramic tile and to replace the hideous pink linoleum I’ve hated since it was new 14 years ago. Tom bought the house and started fixing it up before we met, and let’s just say I married the frugal type who wasn’t about to say, upon noticing the way my face fell upon first seeing the hideous pink stuff, “Oh darling, if it’s really not to your taste, I’ll just rip it out and you can pick whatever else you like and I’ll install it immediately.” Instead, he suggested I could pick out something else as soon as the pink stuff wore out. When in fact, the tub surround gave out before the linoleum (and all I can say is, thank goodness for the former).

Tom started work last Sunday just before bedtime so of course the boys had to jump in and help; note the pajama bottoms on one member of the Junior Wrecking Crew,

As of Monday morning, however, when Tom had a chance to take a look at the tub to determine that the bottom was quite rusted out, the original plan — and the tub — went out the window. Well, the front door. We spent all afternoon on Family Day at the little city, which has two big box stores (Totem and Home Depot, for which I won’t apologize) with goodies we can’t find elsewhere. Once we settled on a good, inexpensive tub, Tom decided that we should replace the toilet as well. So upon returning home, out went the old toilet. And in went the new subfloor, with lots of elbow grease from the Junior Set,

who have each had their own hammers for years, and who also know to wear hearing protection,

Today’s big project was the installation of Tom’s and the kids’ ceramic surprise, an homage to my parents’ West Indian home, where we were lucky enough to spend seven months five years ago,

I guess this would be considered bathroom schooling, as the kids learn masonry techniques at their father’s knee,

A couple of shots of the day’s work, short of grouting, which happens tomorrow (the dark tiles in the center of the second photo are actually a royal blue, the same tiles from the “water” element of the mosaic, though they look black here),

Painting is also on the schedule for tomorrow. The pale peach on the walls (which admittedly clashed with the pink linoleum, but not a problem if one was determined to determinedly ignore pink linoleum) will be replaced by a very, very pale yellow. And then the new toilet can go in, and there will be celebrating throughout the land.


Thanks to our local CBC radio station, which has a weekly feature on new and noteworthy podcasts, I learned about the website for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, which covers Great Britain; I think Charlotte Mason, were she around today, might find it a wonderful supplement to H.E. Marshall’s Our Island Story. Yet another reminder that the best history is a story.

The podcasts are here, and there’s a new one every two weeks. Since January 2007, the podcasts have featured everyone from Alistair Cooke to Boudicca, to Roger Hargreaves and Princess Caraboo. And Jimi Hendrix, Edith Cavell, George Harrison, Pocahontas, Madame Tussaud, and more.

You can also sign up for a free biography every day by email. Earlier this month you would have been treated to the life of

Fiennes, Virginia Frances [Ginny] Twisleton-Wykeham-, Lady Fiennes [née Virginia Frances Pepper] (1947–2004), polar explorer and expedition organizer, was born on 9 July 1947 at Mount Alvernia Nursing Home, Godalming, Surrey, the third of four children of Thomas Roy (Tom) Pepper, who owned chalk quarries at Amberley in Sussex, and his wife, Janet Christine Maclntyre, née Brown. The family lived in Pulborough, then Lodsworth, Sussex. She attended schools in Eastbourne and Bath, and secretarial college in Winchester.

Read the rest about the intrepid Ginny, who headed up the White Nile by hovercraft, here.

My favorite advice from the folks at OUP: “If you’re bemused, the BBC has a friendly introduction to podcasts.”

Poetry Friday and Big Birthday Bash week #2: George Washington

A letter and a poem written in 1775 or 1776 to General George Washington (born on this date in 1732) from Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784):

To His Excellency
George Washington

I have taken the freedom to address your Excellency in the enclosed poem, and entreat your acceptance, though I am not insensible of its inaccuracies. Your being appointed by the Grand Continental Congress to be Generalissimo of the armies of North America, together with the fame of your virtues, excite sensations not easy to suppress. Your generosity, therefore, I presume, will pardon the attempt. Wishing your Excellency all possible success in the great cause you are so generously engaged in. I am,

Your Excellency’s most obedient humble servant,
Phillis Wheatley

Celestial choir! enthron’d in realms of light,
Columbia’s scenes of glorious toils I write.
While freedom’s cause her anxious breast alarms,
She flashes dreadful in refulgent arms.
See mother earth her offspring’s fate bemoan,
And nations gaze at scenes before unknown!
See the bright beams of heaven’s revolving light
Involved in sorrows and veil of night! The goddess comes, she moves divinely fair,
Olive and laurel bind her golden hair:
Wherever shines this native of the skies,
Unnumber’d charms and recent graces rise.

Muse! bow propitious while my pen relates
How pour her armies through a thousand gates,
As when Eolus heaven’s fair face deforms,
Enwrapp’d in tempest and a night of storms;
Astonish’d ocean feels the wild uproar,
The refluent surges beat the sounding shore;
Or thick as leaves in Autumn’s golden reign,
Such, and so many, moves the warrior’s train.
In bright array they seek the work of war,
Where high unfurl’d the ensign waves in air.
Shall I to Washington their praise recite?
Enough thou knw’st them in the fields of fight.
Thee, first in peace and honours,—we demand
The grace and glory of thy martial band.
Fam’d for thy valour, for thy virtues more,
Hear every tongue thy guardian aid implore!

One century scarce perform’d its destined round,
When Gallic powers Columbia’s fury found;
And so may you, whoever dares disgrace
The land of freedom’s heaven-defended race!
Fix’d are the eyes of nations on the scales,
For in their hopes Columbia’s arm prevails.
Anon Britannia droops the pensive head,
While round increase the rising hills of dead.
Ah! cruel blindness to Columbia’s state!
Lament thy thirst of boundless power too late.

Proceed, great chief, with virtue on thy side,
Thy ev’ry action let the goddess guide.
A crown, a mansion, and a throne that shine,
With gold unfading, WASHINGTON! be thine.

* * *

George Washington’s letter in reply to Miss Wheatley:

Cambridge, February 28, 1776.

Miss Phillis,
Your favour of the 26th of October did not reach my hands ’till the middle of December. Time enough, you will say, to have given an answer ere this. Granted. But a variety of important occurrences, continually interposing to distract the mind and withdraw the attention, I hope will apologize for the delay, and plead my excuse for the seeming, but not real neglect.

I thank you most sincerely for your polite notice of me, in the elegant Lines you enclosed; and however undeserving I may be of such encomium and panegyrick, the style and manner exhibit a striking proof of your great poetical Talents. In honour of which, and as a tribute justly due to you, I would have published the Poem, had I not been apprehensive, that, while I only meant to give the World this new instance of your genius, I might have incurred the imputation of Vanity. This and nothing else, determined me not to give it place in the public Prints.

If you should ever come to Cambridge, or near Head Quarters, I shall be happy to see a person so favoured by the Muses, and to whom Nature has been so liberal and beneficent in her dispensations.

I am, with great Respect, etc.

* * *

For more Poetry Friday, head over to Kelly Herold’s Big A little a, where you’ll find today’s Round Up.

Sorry this is so brief and rushed. It’s been another busy week, with more 4H public speaking (tonight) to prepare for, and especially the bathroom project which began on Sunday night and has seen us travel twice already to the little city for supplies. What was going to be a fairly simple remodeling effort, mostly replacing the plastic tub surround with ceramic tiles, and also the (pink and gray — ugh) linoleum, turned a little more exciting on Monday as the tub went sailing through the kitchen that morning. We have fairly hard water here on the farm, and Tom found that the tub bottom was getting quite rusty. And then we found a very reasonably priced new toilet to go with the new tub. Tom and the junior work crew have been going great guns: the new (neutral!) flooring is in, so is the tub, and the new concrete board for the tiles is up and joint-filled. Tiles to come later today and tomorrow, tomorrow we paint, and then the new toilet goes in. I’ve been taking pictures and might have some up over the weekend.

Off to listen to Laura one more time…

Just because

Two of my favorite things — out-of-print, vintage children’s books* and presents — combined as free printable gift tags, from the generous and talented doe-c-doe. Download them here as a PDF file. Can’t you see the one above tied to an Easter basket?

* In this case, English Is Our Language 3, published by the state of Kansas in 1950; illustration by Beryl Bailey-Jones.

Reviews here and there

David Elzey at the excelsior file has a review of What To Do about Alice?: How Alice Roosevelt Broke the Rules, Charmed the World, and Drove Her Father Teddy Crazy, by Barbara Kerley, with illustrations by Edwin Fotheringham. David calls it “a great book” and “a tidy biography of a colorful, spunky girl who happens to have been real.” Read the rest here.

By the way, in my previous post about the new Alice Roosevelt biographies for adults and children, Barbara Kerley stopped by the comments to say,

Thanks so much for introducing Alice to your blog readers. Alice captivated me from the moment I ‘met’ her (in the pages of a history magazine at my local library). I thought you’d be interested to know that I am putting together an Alice section in the “For the Classroom” page of my webpage — activities that teachers and homeschooling families can explore to extend the book. I plan to have it posted by the book’s publication date of March 1st. (Yikes! I better get busy!) My website address is: http://www.barbarakerley.com.

Stay tuned and don’t forget to check Ms. Kerley’s website after the beginning of next month.

Also at excelsior file recently: not a very good book, but a very good, pulls-no-punches review.

* * *

Michael Barton at The Dispersal of Darwin has a thorough review, with illustrations, of The Voyage of the Beetle: A Journey around the World with Charles Darwin and the Search for the Solution to the Mystery of Mysteries, as Narrated by Rosie, an Articulate Beetle by Anne H. Weaver, illustrated by George Lawrence (which I’ve mentioned here, here, and here). Michael also mentions a review of the book at John Hawks Anthropology Weblog, which is actually an interview with author and anthropologist Anne Weaver. Among other things, Dr. Weaver mentions the book’s website, which she says she hopes “will evolve into a substantial resource for teachers, with classroom activities as well as an ‘Ask Rosie’ e-mail feature”.

Colleen Mondor at Chasing Ray has read Voyage of the Beetle at home and writes, “I most heartily recommend Voyage of the Beetle, a book I just finished reading to my son and he adored. It’s very funny and also explains Darwin’s theories in a way that even a six-year old could understand. (It’s written for 9-12 yr olds.)”

I also found this recent newspaper article about the book, “Santa Fe author Anne Weaver hopes her book about Darwin gets kids stoked about science

Looking and finding

I was beginning to despair of finding anything new and, well, unauthorized, to celebrate in this year of the Anne of Green Gables centennial, but perked up considerably earlier today upon discovering that next month will bring the publication of Looking for Anne: How Lucy Maud Montgomery Dreamed Up a Literary Classic by Irene Gammel (Key Porter, March 2008 in Canada; in the U.S. from St. Martin’s Press in July), who teaches English at Toronto Ryerson University.

Canadian writer and broadcaster Ted Barris wrote an in-depth blog post last fall about L.M. Montgomery and the new book, The star in our backyard“.

Perhaps just maybe, I think.

Honoring domesticity

I’ve started looking for a graduation gift for one of our nieces, and just borrowed the library’s copy of Get Crafty: Hip Home Ec by Jean Railla — which came out of her Get Crafty website — to see if it might be a possibility, along with a nifty homemade card and some cash tucked in between the pages.

I was expecting a hipper version of Flylady, but discovered “third-wave feminism” instead. Who knew? [Alright, maybe you did. But I’m old, and stuck in the mud for good measure.] In her introduction, Ms. Railla quotes Debbie Stoller of Bust and Stitch ‘n Bitch fame:

…although we may not be aware of it, we have bought into the lie that women are inferior so we set out to be more like men: important, big, self-centered, and good at getting ours.

[Stoller]…believes that if women want to achieve complete equality, we have to honor domesticity. “We already know what’s respectable and fulfilling about the workplace — basically going out and making money — and there is a certain amount of pride and independence in doing that.” Debbie continues, “But I think we need to relearn what’s valuable and fulfilling in the private sector. The home, children, crafts, and making things.”

What if, instead of dismissing domesticity, we thought of it as an important part of women’s culture. Don’t get me wrong. I am not suggesting that every woman should enjoy knitting [phew…] or cooking or embroidery. But I am suggesting that we give women’s work its props as something valuable, interesting, and important, just as knowing how to build a house, keeping accounting records, or playing basketball is. Skill, love, and creativity go into creating a nice home, making things by hand, and raising children. It’s not stupid, and it’s not easy; it’s damn hard work that we need to respect. Moreover, it’s our history, and dismissing it only doubles the injustice already done to women who didn’t have any choice but to be domestic in the first place.

Just the ideas I’d like my niece to take with her and start contemplating as she begins her new adventure.

I’m not the only one with high school graduation on my mind, though it’s much more immediate for Mrs. G. at Derfwad Manor. Her (home educated — aha!) Miss G. received not just the big fat envelope but also one dandy luggage tag. Farm School felicitations to the G Family!

Sign up…

for free News About Good Books for Children and Teens, from The Horn Book Magazine.

Roger Sutton at Read Roger reports the start-up next month of Notes from the Horn Book,

perfect for parents and anyone else who is looking for good new books for children and teenagers. Each monthly issue features interviews with leading writers and illustrators, brief recommendations of noteworthy titles, and the latest news from the children’s book world. It’s written and published by Horn Book editors, the most trusted authorities in the field.

Poetry Friday: For Abraham Lincoln

For Abraham Lincoln, whose birthday was on Tuesday, February 12th, because we don’t remember him, or his poets, as often as we did, as often as we should:

Abraham Lincoln
by Rosemary and Stephen Vincent Benét, from A Book of Americans

Lincoln was a long man.
He liked the out of doors.
He liked the wind blowing
And the talk in country stores.

He liked telling stories.
He liked telling jokes.
“Abe’s quite a character,”
Said quite a lot of folks.

Lots of folks in Springfield
Saw him every day,
Walking down the street
In his gaunt, long way.

Shawl around his shoulders,
Letters in his hat.
“That’s Abe Lincoln.”
They thought no more than that.

Knew that he was honest,
Guessed that he was odd,
Knew he had a cross wife
Though she was a Todd.

Knew he had three little boys
Who liked to shout and play,
Knew he had a lot of debts
It took him years to pay.

Knew his clothes and knew his house.
“That’s his office, here.
Blame good lawyer, on the whole,
Though he’s sort of queer.

“Sure he went to Congress, once.
But he didn’t stay.
Can’t expect us all to be
Smart as Henry Clay.

“Need a man for troubled times?
Well, I guess we do.
Wonder who we’ll ever find?
Yes — I wonder who.”

That is how they met and talked,
Knowing and unknowing.
Lincoln was the green pine.
Lincoln kept on growing.

O Captain! My Captain! from Leaves of Grass
by Walt Whitman

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills;
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding;
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
Here Captain! dear father!
This arm beneath your head;
It is some dream that on the deck,
You’ve fallen cold and dead.

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still; My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will; The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won;
Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!
But I, with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

* * *

I was looking for some extra links to add to this post and found these, at AbrahamLincolnOnline.org:

Poems written about Abraham Lincoln

Poetry written by Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln’s favorite poem

as well as a link to this Atlantic Monthly article, “Poetry and American Memory” by then-Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky, from October 1999 (part 1 and part 2)

HipWriterMama is hosting today’s Poetry Friday round-up, and she also has the perfect Hilaire Belloc poem to help keep her first grader’s classmates scared straight in line when it comes to looking after books. Thanks, HPW!

Big Birthday Bash week: February 14

In between bites of chocolate today, spare a thought for George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr., born on this date in 1859. Ferris, of course, invented the Wheel, his great gift to the world for the 1893 Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition.

* * *

The Great Wheel by Robert Lawson (1957, Newbery Honor)

More literary Ferris Wheel riding:

Charlotte’s Web, where Fern and Henry Fussy go for a ride at the fair

And the beautiful scene with Julie Harris in East of Eden

All I have

We’ve been celebrating today with handmade chocolates

that I see from happy, chocolate-y faces were worth the late night last week, cards (Laura has recently taken up quilling, thanks to one of her Christmas presents and to Frankie too who gave me the original idea), easy crafts (the Hershey’s Hugs in the little papercraft boxes from Orange Beautiful were our one concession to the stores),

and a pot of grape hyacinths.

It’s all I have to bring today –
This, and my heart beside –
This, and my heart, and all the fields –
And all the meadows wide –
Be sure you count – should I forget
Some one the sum could tell –
This, and my heart, and all the Bees
Which in the Clover dwell.

(No. 26, by Emily Dickinson)

Cybils: “And the winner is…”

The Cybils children’s book winners for 2007 have been announced. Congratulations to all of the winners, and to the organizers too for another fine job! Many thanks to everyone who participated. Spending the past few months surrounded by children’s books is an absolutely delightful way to pass the winter.

Another busy (and er, dare I say it, snowy) day, so I’ll keep this short and sweet, starting with my own category:

Nonfiction, Middle Grade/Young Adult: Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood by Ibtisam Barakat

Nonfiction Picture Book: Lightship by Brian Floca

Fiction Picture Books: The Chicken-Chasing Queen of Lamar County by Janice N. Harrington, illustrated by Shelley Jackson

Poetry: This Is Just to Say: Poems of Apology and Forgiveness by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski

Novel (Middle Grade): A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban

Novel (Young Adult): Boy Toy by Barry Lyga

Fantasy and Science Fiction (Elementary/Middle Grade): The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex

Fantasy and Science Fiction (Young Adult): Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale

Graphic Novel (Elementary/Middle Grade): Artemis Fowl: The Graphic Novel by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin, illustrated by Giovanni Rigano and Paolo Lamanna

Graphic Novel (Young Adult): The Professor’s Daughter by Joann Sfar, illustrated by Emmanuel Guibert

Big Birthday Bash week: February 12

Many happy returns to Charles Darwin (1809-1882) and Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865).

Dawn at By Sun and By Candlelight has a lovely list of Lincoln links.

Big bicentennial bashes are underway for Lincoln, too. Here’s the link for the Lincoln Bicentennial, 1809-2009: Live the Legacy. The “Learning about Lincoln” section, under the “Teachers” category, has two lists of books, Suggested Reading K-6 and Suggested Reading 7-12 (the latter prepared by YALSA’s 2006 Booklist Taskforce). And then there’s the Essential Lincoln Bookshelf.

You won’t be surprised to hear that not only is there the official government celebration, but Kentucky, where Lincoln was born, is hosting one party; Indiana, where he spent his youth, is throwing another; and Illinois, where he made his adult home, yet another (Lincoln200). There’s even a special Tri-State celebration.

And here’s an interesting idea — Charles and Abe together again.

Steve Jenkins, author of one of our family’s favorite children’s books about evolution, Life on Earth, has his first post up at the new Interesting Nonfiction for Kids (I.N.K.) blog, and suitably it’s about teaching (or not teaching) science in general and evolution in particular. Don’t miss it.

Funny, you don’t look a day over 198

“Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.”
Charles Darwin

A very happy 199th birthday, and a big Valentine’s smooch, to Charles Robert Darwin, born February 12, 1809.

(And to Alice Roosevelt Longworth, too, who was born on the same day, in 1884; interestingly, she and her father shared a lifelong interest in human evolutionary biology, and she went on to study the growing field of molecular genetics.)

To celebrate this year, and to get ready for D200, or D2009 (depending on which host and whose party), Farm School offers a highly subjective, not at all comprehensive Charles Darwin bibliography and list of resources for the entire family, with serious and lighthearted offerings; remember, I’m not a trained scientist or a biologist, just a very amateur naturalist who likes to read. By the way, don’t miss the animated countdown over at the Institute of Humanist Studies website.

If you happen to be in or around Los Angeles on Sunday (tomorrow, February 10)

The Center for Inquiry/Los Angeles is celebrating Darwin Day 2008 by staging a reading of one of the late great Steve Allen‘s Meeting of Minds teleplays, with Dan Lauria, Wendie Malick, Robert Forster, and Joe Culp; tickets are $6 (free for CFI-LA members), and seating is limited. The minds meeting that day are Darwin, Galileo, Emily Dickinson, and Attila the Hun. Now if only the folks who own the rights to Meeting of the Minds — and I believe it’s not PBS — would put them on DVD. Please please please please?

Anthropologist and songwriter Richard Milner performs a one-man musical show about Charles Darwin. He’ll be at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco on March 24 and March 26, 2009.  Milner has been a guest on WNYC (and here‘s his WNYC visit the other year). If you’re not around San Francisco, check his website for a CD or to book the show.  And Milner is also the author of the forthcoming Darwin’s Universe: Evolution from A to Z, with a preface by Stephen Jay Gould and foreword by Ian Tattersall (University of California Press, March 2009).

The Darwin Exhibit

The Darwin exhibition, called variously “The Evolution Revolution” and “Big Idea” is at its final stop, at London’s Natural  History Museum, from November 2008 through April 19, 2009. The exhibit opened in New York in 2005 at the American Museum of Natural History, whose website for the exhibit is still up, with a good list of resources. The exhibit, the “most comprehensive exhibition ever assembled on Darwin and evolution includes rare personal artifacts”, has been organized by The American Museum of Natural History in New York, with Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum; Boston’s Museum of Science; Chicago’s Field Museum; and the Natural History Museum, London, to commemorate the bicentennial. The London Natural History Museum has a good mini website on evolution.

Books for children

NEW One Beetle Too Many: The Extraordinary Adventures of Charles Darwin by Kathryn Lasky, illustrated by Matthew Trueman (Candlewick, January 2009). Publishers Weekly starred review here.

NEW Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman (Holt, December 2008).  Charles and Emma gets a starred review in the January/February 2008 issue of The Horn Book, and in Publishers Weekly here. Ms. Heiligman’s husband is author Jonathan Weiner, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1994 for The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time.

NEW The True Adventures of Charley Darwin by Carolyn Meyer (Harcourt, January 2009); historical fiction about the young Darwin, just setting sail for adventure.

NEW Galapagos George by Jean Craighead George, illustrated by Wendell Minor; to be published April 2009 by HarperCollins. The author of My Side of the Mountain, Julie of the Wolves, and other children’s classics for more than 40 years “traces the evolution of a species of giant turtles on the Galapagos Islands from millions of years ago to the present”.

NEW Animals Charles Darwin Saw by Sandra Markle, illustrated by Zina Saunders; to be published April 2009 by Chronicle Books as part of Ms. Markle’s intriguing new series (Animals Christopher Columbus Saw, Animals Robert Scott Saw)

The Tree of Life by Peter Sís

The Voyage of the Beetle: A Journey around the World with Charles Darwin and the Search for the Solution to the Mystery of Mysteries, as Narrated by Rosie, an Articulate Beetle by Anne H. Weaver, illustrated by George Lawrence (University of New Mexico Press, 2007)

The Sandwalk Adventures: An Adventure in Evolution Told in Five Chapters by Jay Hosler (author of Clan Apis). A comic book by Hosler, a biologist and cartoonist, about the Victorian naturalist’s attempt to explain evolution to a family of mites living in his eyebrows. No, really. Something for the whole family to enjoy. Really and truly. Here’s more from Dr. Hosler on Charlie Darwin: Charlie and Darwin Saves the World.

The Adventures of Charles Darwin by Peter Ward (Cambridge University Press, 1986); chapter book about life on the HMS Beagle as told by a young cabin boy

Inside the Beagle with Charles Darwin by Fiona MacDonald, illustrated by Mark Bergin

Who Was Charles Darwin? by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Nancy Harrison

The Beagle and Mr. Flycatcher: A Story of Charles Darwin by Robert M. Quackenbush; apparently out of print in the US (though not in the UK) but worth searching out at the library because Quackenbush is always fun

Darwin and Evolution for Kids: His Life and Ideas with 21 Activities by Kristan Lawson (Chicago Review Press)

Charles Darwin: A photographic story of a life by David C. King (a Dorling Kindersley biography)

Life on Earth: The Story of Evolution
by Steve Jenkins

Our Family Tree: An Evolution Story by Lisa Westberg Peters, illustrated by Lauren Stringer

Life Story: The Story of Life on Our Earth from the Beginning Up to Now by Virginia Lee Burton

Mammals Who Morph: The Universe Tells Our Evolution Story by Jennifer Morgan, illustrated by Dana Lynne Andersen

Eyewitness: Evolution by Linda Gamlin (Dorling Kindersley)

The Tree Of Life: The Wonders Of Evolution by Ellen Jackson, illustrated by Judeanne Winter Wiley

We’re Sailing to Galapagos by Laurie Krebs, illustrated by Grazia Restelli (Barefoot Books)

The Evolution Book by Sara Stein; out of print but worth checking the library

Evolve or Die (from the Horrible Science series), by Phil Gates

Evolution by Joanna Cole, illustrated by Aliki (Harper, 1989); out of print but well worth finding for the very young

Books for older children and adults

The Voyage of the HMS Beagle by Charles Darwin, first published in 1845

The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin (first published in 1859); new illustrated edition, edited by David Quammen

The Descent of Man by Charles Darwin (1871); there is also a new concise edition with selections and commentary by Carl Zimmer (see below)

The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals by Charles Darwin (1872)

From So Simple a Beginning: Darwin’s Four Great Books (Voyage of the Beagle, The Origin of Species, The Descent of Man, The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals), by Charles Darwin and edited by Edward O. Wilson

The Autobiography of Charles Darwin, 1809-1882, edited by Nora Barlow

The Portable Darwin, edited by Duncan M. Porter and Peter W. Graham (from the Viking Portable Library series)

Origins: Selected Letters of Charles Darwin, 1822-1859, edited by Frederick Burkhardt, with a foreword by Stephen Jay Gould.  New anniversary edition published by Cambridge University Press in June 2008.

The Beagle Letters, edited by Frederick Burkhardt, with an introduction by Janet Browne

Evolution: Selected Letters of Charles Darwin, 1860-1870, edited by Frederick Burkhardt, Alison Pearn, and Samantha Evans; with a foreword by Sir David Attenborough. New anniversary edition poublished by Cambridge University Press in June 2008. This volume and the foregoing are a distillation of the late Professor Burkhardt’s 15 volumes (to date) of Darwin’s correspondence.

The Triumph of the Darwinian Method by Michael T. Ghiselin (Dover, 2003)

Charles Darwin: Voyaging and Charles Darwin: The Power of Place, by Janet Browne; Browne’s two-volume biography. She has also written a “biography” of Darwin’s best-known work, Darwin’s Origin of Species: A Biography (from the Books That Changed the World series)

Darwin’s Century: Evolution and the Men Who Discovered It by Loren Eiseley. Out of print. Find it.

The Reluctant Mr. Darwin: An Intimate Portrait of Charles Darwin and the Making of His Theory of Evolution by David Quammen

Charles Darwin: The Concise Story of an Extraordinary Man by Tim Berra

The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Human Evolution, edited by Stephen Jones, Robert D. Martin, and David R. Pilbeam; with a foreword by Richard Dawkins

The Ancestor’s Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution by Richard Dawkins

River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life by Richard Dawkins

Climbing Mount Improbable by Richard Dawkins

The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins

The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design by Richard Dawkins

Galapagos: The Islands That Changed the World by Paul D. Stewart

Darwin for Beginners by Jonathan Miller and Borin Van Loon

Ever Since Darwin: Reflections on Natural History by Stephen Jay Gould

The Panda’s Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History by Stephen Jay Gould

The Book of Life: An Illustrated History of the Evolution of Life on Earth, edited by Stephen Jay Gould

The Richness of Life: The Essential Stephen Jay Gould, edited by Stephen Rose, with a foreword by Oliver Sacks

The Structure of Evolutionary Theory by Stephen Jay Gould

The Diversity of Life by E.O. Wilson

The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth by E.O. Wilson

The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time by Jonathan Weiner

Evolution: Society, Science and the Universe, edited by Andrew C. Fabian; with essays by Stephen Jay Gould, Lewis Wolpert, Jared Diamond, Freeman Dyson, and others (Cambridge University Press, 1998)

Living with Darwin: Evolution, Design, and the Future of Faith by Philip Kitcher (Oxford University Press)

Teaching about Evolution and the Nature of Science by the Working Group on Teaching Evolution, National Academy of Sciences

Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin’s Theory Can Change the Way We Think About Our Lives by David Sloan Wilson

What Evolution Is by Ernst Mayr; Dr. Mayr’s speech, “Darwin’s Influence on Modern Thought”, is here.

Evolution by Jean-Baptiste de Panafieu (translated by Linda Asher), with photographs by Patrick Gries

From So Simple a Beginning: The Book of Evolution by Philip Whitfield (Macmillan, 1993); out of print

Just A Theory: Exploring The Nature Of Science by Moti Ben-Ari; not specifically about evolution but very useful

NEW Evolution: The First Four Billion Years, edited by Michael Ruse and Joseph Travis, with a foreword by Edward O. Wilson (Belknap Press, February 2009)

NEW Darwin’s Universe: Evolution from A to Z by Richard Milner, with a preface by Stephen Jay Gould and foreword by Ian Tattersall (University of California Press, March 2009).

NEW The Young Charles Darwin by Keith Stewart Thomson (Yale University Press, February 2009)

NEW Mrs. Charles Darwin’s Recipe Book: Revived and Illustrated, edited by Dusha Bateson and Weslie Janeway (Glitterati, November 2008)

NEW Darwin: Graphic Biography, a comic book/graphic novel by Simon Gurr and Eugene Byrne (January 30, 2009)

NEW Darwin’s Island: The Galapagos in the Garden of England by Steve Jones (Little, Brown, January 2009 in UK, March 2009 in Canada); an excerpt in The Guardian, and reviewed in The Economist.  Steve Jones is the author of Darwin’s Ghost.

NEW Darwin’s Sacred Cause: How a Hatred of Slavery Shaped Darwin’s Views on Human Evolution by Adrian Desmond and James Moore (Houghton Mifflin, January 2009); reviewed in The Economist

NEW Darwin Slept Here: Discovery, Adventure, and Swimming Iguanas in Charles Darwin’s South America by Eric Simons (Overlook, January 2009)

NEW Endless Forms: Charles Darwin, Natural Science, and the Visual Arts edited by Diana Donald and Jane Munro (Yale University Press, April 2009); a “lavishly illustrated book” published to accompany an exhibition organized by the Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge, in association with the Yale Center for British Art

NEW by Charles’s great-great-granddaughter, Darwin: A Life in Poems by Ruth Padel (Knopf, March 2009).  Ms. Padel is a Fellow of both the Royal Society of Literature and the Zoological Society of London. She will read from the new book, and converse with geneticist Jonathan Howard, at “Darwin, Poetry and Science”, chaired by Randal Keynes, at the Royal Society, Kenneth Clark Lecture Theatre, Somerset House on Monday, 9 February 2009 at 6:30pm.

* * * *

Books by science writer and reporter Carl Zimmer:

Virus and the Whale: Exploring Evolution in Creatures Small and Large, edited by Judy Diamond, with Carl Zimmer, E. Margaret Evans, Linda Allison, and Sarah Disbrow; published by the National Science Teachers Association, 2006. An activity book for teachers and their students, which includes parents and their students.

Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea, Carl Zimmer’s companion guide to the PBS series of the same name (see below)

At the Water’s Edge: Fish with Fingers, Whales with Legs, and How Life Came Ashore but Then Went Back to Sea

Smithsonian Intimate Guide to Human Origins

Mr. Zimmer has a ScienceBlog, The Loom: A blog about life, past and future. Not only is there lots of good stuff to read, but he has a regular feature, Science Tattoo Friday, where some of the tattoos are so fascinating and attractive (such as the Copernicus/scientific revolution ones) that I sometimes forget how much I dislike tattoos.

Coloring Books

Galapagos Islands Coloring Book (Dover Coloring Books); for young children

The Human Evolution Coloring Book by Adrienne L. Zihlman (HarperCollins); this one is similar to Wynn Kapit’s books (on geography, physiology, and anatomy) and is not for younger children.

Book lists

PZ Myers at Pharyngula has some of the best online prehistory/evolution reading lists in a variety of categories — “for the kids”, “for the grown-up layman”, “for the more advanced/specialized reader”, etc. (scroll through the comments for more titles).

Coturnix’s book list for adults; he’s moved recently, and is now at ScienceBlogs with A Blog Around the Clock

Magazines, Journals & Articles

The January 2009 issue of Scientific American, entitled “The Evolution of Evolution”; articles include “Darwin’s Living Legacy” and “Testing Natural Selection with Genetics”

Scientific American‘s 2002 article by editor John Rennie, “15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense” (including the hoary old chestnut, “Evolution is only a theory”)

New York Times profile of E.O. Wilson, “Taking a Cue From Ants on Evolution of Humans” (July 15, 2008)

Guardian profile of E.O. Wilson, “Darwin’s natural heir” (February 17, 2001)

Verlyn Klinkengborg’s New York Times column, August 2005, Grasping the Depth of Time as a First Step in Understanding Evolution”

On Film

NEW “Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life”, a one-hour BBC One documentary special narrated by Sir David Attenborough, 1 February 2009; Sir David is described in this BBC press release as “a passionate Darwinian”.

Speaking of the BBC, the Beeb is hailing Darwin this year as “The Genius of Evolution” with a variety of special presentations

Evolution” (PBS), narrated by Liam Neeson. There is also a companion volume, Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea by Carl Zimmer (see above); and the PBS program website, with some projects and links for “Teachers and Students”

Dr. Jacob Bronowski’s “The Ascent of Man”(BBC, 1973), new on DVD (five disc set)

“Growing Up in the Universe” on DVD (two disc set, region-free); Richard Dawkins’s 1991 five one-hour lectures for children, originally televised by the BBC as part of The Royal Institution The Christmas Lectures for Young People, founded by Michael Faraday in 1825.

NOVA: Origins: Fourteen Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution” (PBS)

NOVA: Genius: The Science of Einstein, Newton, Darwin, and Galileo” (PBS)

“Inherit the Wind” starring Spencer Tracy, Fredric March, and Gene Kelly; based on the play, Inherit the Wind by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee

On the Big Screen I: The upcoming film “Creation”, starring Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connnelly, based on Annie’s Box: Charles Darwin, His Daughter and Human Evolution (published in 2001) by Randal Keynes, Darwin’s great-great-grandson. The movie is adapted from the book by John Collee (Happy Feet and Master & Commander) and directed by Jon Amiel (The Singing Detective). To be released in the autumn of 2009.

On the Big Screen II?: a film adaptation by Chase Palmer of the recent book Evolution’s Captain: The Story of the Kidnapping That Led to Charles Darwin’s Voyage Aboard the Beagle by Peter Nichols (a bargain right now at Barnes & Noble, by the way).  Not much news on this one lately, so it may have fizzled.


Richard Milner (see above) as “Charles Darwin: Live and In Concert”, and also on CD.  At the website, you can listen to excerpts of “When You Were a Tadpole and I Was a Fish” and “I’m the Guy Who Found Natural Selection”.  The New York Times recently discovered Dr. Milner and has a related science blog post by John Tierney for a science song contest offering “a prize to the Lab reader who comes up with the best lyrics to be sung by Charles Darwin or any other scientist, alive or dead.”

“Origin of Species in Dub” by the Genomic Dub Collective. Yes, that would be reggae. Not just a CD and MP3s, but a DVD too and online videos. And a bonus track, “Dub fi Dover”, to celebrate the outcome in the Dover, Pennsylvania trial. Truly amazing.

Charlie is My Darwinby the Torn Rubbers, official theme song of The Friends of Charles Darwin ; and a bonus,The Darwinian Theoryby John Young, C.E. (to the tune of the Scottish ballad, The King of the Cannibal Islands)

British composer Michael Stimpson is working on a classical piece,Into the Unknown, to celebrate the life and work of Charles Darwin.

Timothy Sellers’ band, Artichoke, released a CD several years ago, 26 Scientists, Volume One: Anning — Malthus; the lyrics and a clip of the song about Darwin, who beat out da Vinci and Doppler for the fourth letter of the alphabet, are here. The CD is $10 at the band’s website and you can buy or download the disc at CD Baby, where you can also read more about it from Timothy Sellers, who was also interviewed by The New York Times.

“Evolutionation” by Dr. Art the Singing Scientist (to the tune of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Californication”), from the CD “Bio-Rhythms III”

Professor Boggs in his Mad Science Factory sings “Evolution (Not So Scary)”; you can listen to a clip here.

By the way, in my search for Darwinian music, I found something MASSIVE, for those who like to learn, and teach, with music. It is in fact called MASSIVE: a database for “Math And Science Song Information, Viewable Everywhere”. The database, which is maintained by Greg Crowther and is part of the National Science Foundation’s National Science Digital Library,

contains information on over 2500 science and math songs. Some of these songs are suitable for 2nd graders; others might only appeal to tenured professors. Some songs have been professionally recorded; others haven’t. Some are quite silly; others are downright serious.

A delight, which you can also listen to all day, all week, all year at MASSIVE Radio — many thanks to Greg Crowther and the band Science Groove for putting it all together. Read more about them here.

Finally, sung to the tune of Gilbert & Sullivan’s “Model Major General” and inspired by Tom Lehrer’s “The Elements”, here is Amadan’s I Am the Very Model of a C – Design – Proponentsist

The Darwin Day website has a variety of audio files, some from the sources mentioned above

HMS Beagle

Project Beagle website and the Beagle blog

If you or your kids get inspired by Project Beagle and want to build your own — ship, that is — you can, with the HMS Beagle plastic ship model kit (1:96), made in Germany by Revell; “features detailed hull with gunports, deck with hatches, masts, yards, 2 anchors, stairways, sails, railings, wheels, cannon, lifeboats with oars. Also included is yarn for rigging, flag chart and display stand with name plate. Measures 16″ long and 11 3/4″ high.”

HMS Beagle: Survey Ship Extraordinary by Karl Marquardt; part of the Anatomy of the Ship series by Conway Maritime Press, which includes volumes on the Endeavour, Bounty, and Bellona.

Out and about online

American Association for the Advancement of Science

Ask a Biologist

Becoming Human website

The Charles Darwin Forum

The Charles Darwin Has a Posse sticker page, from Colin Purrington. Because you can never underestimate the power of a well-placed sticker or bookmark. As I noted in my 2005 Posse post, “As Darwin himself said, and as you can be reminded daily from a bookmark, ‘Doing what little one can to increase the general stock of knowledge is as respectable an object of life as one can, in any likelihood, pursue’.”

The Complete Works of Charles Darwin Online: “This site contains Darwin’s complete publications, thousands of handwritten manuscripts and the largest Darwin bibliography and manuscript catalogue ever published; Darwin Online also hundreds of supplementary works: biographies, obituaries, reviews, reference works and more”, including MP3s for your listening edification and pleasure.

Cambridge University’s Darwin Correspondence Project, founded in 1974 by Frederick Burckhardt (see below), with a remarkable online database with the complete, searchable, texts of around 5,000 letters written by and to Darwin up to the year 1865. The project continues despite Professor Burckhardt’s death last fall at the age of 95.

More Darwin at Cambridge, with the Darwin 2009 Festival. Charles Darwin began at Christ’s College Cambridge as a student in 1827, at the age of 18. Four years later he sailed forth on the HMS Beagle. Of his years at university, he once wrote, “The only evil at Cambridge was its being too pleasant.”

Darwin Day Celebration website, with links, events, and other items leading to a celebration of the great man’s bicentennial on February 12, 2009.

Darwin200, a bicentennial project from the Natural History Museum in London, England

Darwin at Downe, his home and neighborhood

Who knew that Darwin had a rose? The gorgeous David Austin series, which sadly doesn’t grow in my chilly garden, includes the Charles Darwin rose, which you can see here.

The Dispersal of Darwin blog, with a long list of Darwin links

Encyclopedia of Life

Evolve2009, commemorating the occasion in and around San Francisco

Colin Purrington is also the force behind the Evolution Outreach Projects page, which includes a wealth of educational and amusing links

Evolved Homeschooling blog — “A collection of evolution and science resources for the secular homeschooler”, webring, and Cafe Press shop

More shopping, over at EvolveFish’s Darwin Day shop

You can join the Friends of Charles Darwin, gratis. FCD has a long list of science and Darwin blogs

National Center for Science Education, and the Center’s page of resources

The Panda’s Thumb; Panda’s Thumb Darwiniana links

The Species of Origin

Teaching Evolution and the Nature of Science (NY Academy of Sciences)

Understanding Evolution website, created by the University of California Museum of Paleontology; lots of resources for educators and children

Toys for the young and young at heart

(I haven’t ordered from any of the following companies so you’re on your own)

Charlie’s Playhouse: “We make games and toys that teach kids about evolution, natural selection and the work of Charles Darwin”, including a giant timeline floor mat, giant timeline poster, ancient creature cards, and a great selection of t-shirts

Thames & Kosmos Milestones in Science kit

Evolving Darwin Play Set

Charles Darwin bobblehead

Charles Darwin finger puppet

Charles Darwin “Little Thinker” plush toy

Charles Darwin and friends in the Oddfellows Scientists Collection

Charles Darwin fridge magnet

Charles Darwin jigsaw puzzle

Highly evolved Lego: model of the HMS Beagle, Darwin aboard ship, the man, the man in the lab, Origin of the Species

From the Farm School archives

Radio Darwin (January 2009)

I typed this all by myself with my opposable thumbs (May 2007)

Project Beagle (March 2007)

Celebrating Darwin Day: Many happy returns (February 2006)

Charles Darwin Has a Posse (December 2005)

* * *

If you have any additional suggestions or recommendations or corrections (links moved around by themselves, disappeared, etc. more than once), please add them to the comments below. Thank you!

Big Birthday Bash week: February 11

“Faith, as well intentioned as it may be, must be built on facts, not fiction — faith in fiction is a damnable false hope.”
Thomas A. Edison

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”
Thomas A. Edison

Many happy returns to Thomas Alva Edison, born February 11, 1847.

(And to Elsa Beskow, Joe Mankiewicz, Patrick Leigh Fermor, and Leslie Nielsen)

The Edison National Historic Site is here

GeekDad has a nice Edison birthday post, which links to Neatorama‘s neat birthday post

Suggested present: free books from HarperCollins

Suggested cake, just because I like the way it looks: Baking BitesGiant Hostess Cupcake

Still standing

The latest blizzard and cold snap haven’t broken us, and neither has our busy list of activities. Though it’s never good for blogging.

Last week, in addition to more blowing, more snowing, and more much-too-cold weather, we had busy days of music lessons and 4H meetings, art lessons, museum meetings, new baby gift delivery, rehearsals, and chocolate making.

We also had a Valentine gala, where Tom and I dined and danced, and where Laura and a hardworking band of 4H members helped the catering staff clear tables. And earlier in the day, the kids each baked an apple pie, for Saturday’s pie baking contest, a fundraiser for a nearby one-room schoolhouse-cum-community center. Tom took the boys and the pies to the contest on Saturday morning (Laura stayed home with me to rest up and rehearse for Sunday’s 4H public speaking), and came home with the good news that Daniel had won first prize with his lattice-top creation, beating out his siblings (Davy made a deep dish pie, and Laura’s top crust was made of overlapping heart shapes) and at least six adults. Tom managed to buy back the boys’ pies at the auction sale afterwards (finding out too late that his own father was bidding against him), but Laura’s pie was bought by a determined bidder and consumed on the spot.

Yesterday we spent all afternoon at the 4H public speaking event and despite some doubts earlier in the week and serious case of the butterflies that had her in the bathroom five minutes before speech time, Laura did a wonderful job with her talk, about her first (and last) trip to New York, as well as with her one-minute impromptu. She took first place in her age category and goes on to the district-level round next month. We are very, very proud (and relieved).

One thing Tom and I noticed, and one of the judges mentioned, is that few of the kids gave speeches. They read essays, in most cases not particularly well, as though yesterday afternoon was the first time they’d bothered to read through their own writing (and the fact that much of it sounded as if it had been cut and pasted from Wikipedia is another matter entirely). In its entirety, heads down and eyes glued to their teeny tiny script printed out in teeny tiny print from the family computer, a far cry from the index cards with prompts they are meant to use.

What I find disturbing is the general attitude that the annual public speaking event is a torturous event meant to be endured, not an educational exercise, and however the kids get through it, well, that’s fine. Which is the mindset that lasted us about two months at the local public school, but that’s yet another matter.  I know, I know, I’m old-fashioned and crotchety.  And that’s after a good night’s sleep and a pot of coffee.

So that’s what we’ve been up to, and why I haven’t even thought of doing laundry baking George’s cherry pie. Though I just might have some leftover lattice-topped apple pie later on with some more coffee…

A true daring girl

From the time I started one of my favorite Christmas presents, Alice: Alice Roosevelt Longworth, from White House Princess to Washington Power Broker by Stacy A. Cordery (which I mentioned in this post), I kept wondering why there haven’t been any proper children’s biographies of this fascinating girl who grew up into a fascinating, and powerful, woman. Especially after all the blather last year about daring girls and girls needing their own books.

And now thanks to Roger Sutton, editor in chief of The Horn Book Magazine, who blogs at Read Roger, I see that a new children’s bio of Alice will be a starred title in the March/April issue of HB*, What To Do about Alice?: How Alice Roosevelt Broke the Rules, Charmed the World, and Drove Her Father Teddy Crazy, by Barbara Kerley, with illustrations by Edwin Fotheringham (Scholastic, publication date March 1, 2008).

I have high hopes for this because Ms. Kerley has written some books we’ve enjoyed mightily — The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins: An Illuminating History of Mr. Waterhouse Hawkins, Artist and Lecturer, and Walt Whitman: Words For America, both illustrated by Brian Selznick.

Young Alice Roosevelt was quite a girl. Her birth was overshadowed by a double tragedy; within 48 hours of her arrival into the world, Alice’s 23-year-old mother died of an undiagnosed kidney ailment; and, in another bedroom in the house, her maternal grandmother succumbed to typhoid. In her biography, Stacy Cordery writes,

Ten weeks after [his wife] died, [Teddy Roosevelt] wrote bleakly in a “sketch” of his life: “I married Miss Alice Lee of Boson on leaving college in 1880. My father died in 1878; my wife and mother died in February 1884. I have a little daughter living.” Alice Lee Roosevelt does not appear again in his published autobiography. Theodore did not speak of her again. His own daughter clearly did not substitute for his “heart’s dearest.” Even when [his sister] Bye reminded her brother, “You have a child to live for,” Theodore stayed out West. …

When Theodore Roosevelt returned to reclaim his daughter, he did so at the insistence of his new wife, Edith Kermit Carow Roosevelt, already pregnant with their first child. Theodore felt guilty about his first wife’s death, ambivalent about his remarriage, and irresolute about his daughter. Alice longed for Theodore’s time — what three-year-old doesn’t crave her father’s undivided attention? — but she never got enough of it. Edith freely admitted that she was not the best kind of mother for a spirited child like Alice. Relinquished by her beloved aunt, Alice grew up a virtual orphan in a clannish family. She was plagued by self-doubt and a haunting sense that she hever compared favorably to her siblings or her girlfriends. This would be the theme of her childhood — and the reason for her rebelliousness — which was part self-protective armor and part desperation caused by feeling she had little to lose. The strong-willed young woman who ultimately evolved delighted onlookers as much as she exasperated her parents.

Alice’s adolescent rebellion coincided with her father’s sudden and unexpected ascension to the presidency in 1901, upon the assassination of William McKinley, and with the beginning of a new century. In fact, by virtue of her age, position, and high spirits, she became one of the century’s first celebrities. In the summer of 1902, Alice and a girlfriend created a small scandal by driving unchaperoned from Newport, RI, to Boston in the friend’s “big red automobile”. Two years later, Alice bought her own new “red devil” automobile, which she delighted in driving fast. She played poker and bought a little pocket pistol, reporting that she “had great fun” with the latter. She smuggled tiny bottles of whiskey into her white opera gloves to gentlemen dinner partners at dry parties. And, writes Ms. Cordery,

When Roosevelt said that no daughter of his would smoke under his roof, Alice climbed on top of the White House roof and smoked.

In between all the high jinks, Alice made herself politically useful to her father, charming Kaiser Bill’s brother at the White House (the German navy would go on to name a ship after her), and Cubans and former Rough Riders in Havana. On one occasion, her father remarked, “I can be President of the United States — or I can attend to Alice. I cannot possibly do both!”

* * *

* Of the month’s other starred titles, Roger writes,

If you’re in need of a sign of spring, go with Pale Male[: Citizen Hawk of New York City, by Janet Schulman, illustrated by Meilo So], one of my favorite books thus far this year. It makes you want to take a walk in the park with Janet Schulman (who I never thought of as a walk-in-the-park kind of gal) and Meilo So’s watercolors have never been so rich.

Poetry Friday: Forcing Spring

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: it’s in the -20s, with blowing snow. A very, very nasty day.

The kids are baking apple pies today for a contest tomorrow. If we can’t get out to deliver them and get them judged, well, we’ll just have to stay home and eat ’em.

The other day in the supermarket I was stopped in my tracks by a display of not yet flowering pots of Spring flowering bulbs — grape hyacinths and regular hyacinths, Dutch crocus, and mini daffodils. I bought three (one for each child of course) and set them by the kitchen window. They give me strength, not just to deal with the walloping winter we’ve had but with February in general, which is also 4H public speaking month (and with two clubs Laura has to give her speech twice) and ramped up rehearsals for “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”. But I am noticing that the sun is up earlier and earlier each morning, and dark comes later in the evenings, especially when we’re out and about in town for activities.

* * *

In need of Spring tonic, yesterday I dug out the late great Peter Gzowski‘s 1979 book by the same name, where I found this, by the late great Alex Mair, Edmonton’s great storyteller:

by Alex Mair

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on winter,
If you can trust your snow tires not to fail
When all around the snow is drifting with the gale,
If you can shovel, and not be tired of shovelling,
Or chipping ice, when ice must needs be chipped,
If you can gaze on landscape blanked with snow,
And keep your cool, when those around have flipped,
If you can lose your footing, crashing down,
And smash your elbow on the frozen ground,
If you can rise again, and smiling, carry on,
Knowing eight feet farther on you’ll fall again,
If you can back your car against a drift
And spinning, sink the wheels beneath the snow,
And ‘phoning, hear the tow truck’s tale of wait,
And rushing to the corner, panting
See the final trolley buses as they go.
If you can shovel sidewalks needing shovelling,
And pitch the snow upon the drifts so high,
And watch it tumble back upon the sidewalk,
Remembering that a grown-up doesn’t cry.
If you can watch the ice rebuild on roof tops
Plugging eavestroughs as it never plugged before,
And watch the grey clouds move from far horizon
Knowing that it’s going to snow some more,
If you can watch a friend come back from sunshine,
All bronzed with tan and glowing from the fun,
And grit your teeth and keep your chapped face smiling,
As he talks of surf and sand beneath the sun.
If you can fill the unforgiving minutes
With sixty seconds of distance run,
If you can live with five months winter
Before the grass grows green beneath the sun.
Then what are you…some kinda nut?

It struck a chord and I laughed out loud, because of the weather, because the boys are each learning a Kipling poem (not this, but two from The Jungle Book) for the arts festival in April, and because I learned just the other day that Kipling is being reconsidered (review here).

Gina MarySol Ruiz at AmoXcalli is hosting today’s Poetry Friday Round-up, despite a very frenzied schedule. Thank you very much, Gina, and have fun tomorrow!