• 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."
    Cicero

    "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)
  • Categories

  • Archives

  • ChasDarwinHasAPosse
  • Farm School: A Twitter-Free Zone

    antitwit
  • Copyright © 2005-2016 Please do not use any of my words or my personal photographs without my express permission.

Remembering Pete Seeger: “I’ve got a song to sing, all over this land”

Here’s an edited repeat of a post from May 2009 celebrating Pete Seeger’s 90th birthday; you can read the original here. I was saddened, though not surprised, to read last night of his death at age 94. His was one of those long lives well lived, and so many of ours were that much richer for his.

(I haven’t checked all of the links, so if any are broken, please let me know.)

*  *  *  *

Pete Seeger has been presence in my life since childhood with his records and music, and I still recall one marvelous autumn day when I was about nine or 10 and we got to meet him and listen to him sing at South Street Seaport (I think I remember a pier covered with pumpkins, and while I don’t remember the sloop Clearwater, I think it must have been there as well), well before it was fixed up and turned into a tourist destination. We were also fortunate to live down the street from Pete Seeger’s old friend, Brother Kirk (the Rev. Frederick Douglass Kirkpatrick, who died in 1987), who would sit on the sidewalk with his guitar and give impromptu sidewalk concerts. Together the friends collaborated on a 1974 children’s album, “Pete Seeger & Brother Kirk Visit Sesame Street”.

As fascinating as Pete Seeger’s life story and career is his family.  He was the son of musicologist and composer of Charles Seeger and violinist Constance Edson; his stepmother was the noted composer Ruth Crawford Seeger;  his uncle Alan Seeger was the celebrated poet killed in World War I; his eldest brother Charles was a pioneering radio astronomer; his brother John, a longtime teacher at New York’s Dalton School, also founded Camp Killoleet in the Adirondacks; his half-sister is the singer Peggy Seeger; his half-brother is singer Mike Seeger.

No childhood is complete without Pete Seeger — for the music he has sung and written, for his sense of history,his family’s place in the history of American music, and his environmental and political activism.  You can listen to his music and listen to songs about America as it was, and America — and the world –  as it should be. Here’s a list, not nearly complete or comprehensive, of some of our favorite Pete Seeger records, books, and more.

Music especially for children:

“Abiyoyo and Other Story Songs for Children”

“American Folk, Game and Activity Songs”

“Birds, Beasts, Bugs and Fishes (Little and Big)”

“Folk Songs for Young People”

“Song and Play Time”

Pete Seeger’s “Children’s Concert at Town Hall”

Music for the entire family:

“American Favorite Ballads”, on five CDs

“Frontier Ballads”

“Headlines and Footnotes: A Collection of Topical Songs”

“If I Had a Hammer: Songs of Hope and Struggle”

“Love Songs for Friends and Foes”

“Pete Seeger Sings Leadbelly”

“Sing Out!: Hootenanny with Pete Seeger and the Hooteneers”

“Traditional Christmas Carols”

Pete Seeger/The Weavers 3 CD box set

“Pete Seeger at 89″

Pete Seeger discography at Smithsonian Folkways.  By the way, SF has a new publication, “Folkways Magazine”, just debuted with the Spring 2009 issue, and the main article is “Pete Seeger: Standing Tall”

Pete Seeger discography and biography at Appleseed Records

Books (many of which are children’s picture books based on his songs):

Abiyoyo with accompanying CD; and Abiyoyo Returns

Turn! Turn! Turn! with accompanying CD

One Grain of Sand: A Lullaby

Where Have All the Flowers Gone?: A Musical Autobiography

Pete Seeger’s Storytelling Book

His memoirsWhere Have All the Flowers Gone: A Singer’s Stories, Songs, Seeds, Robberies

The biography How Can I Keep from Singing?: The Ballad of Pete Seeger by David King Dunaway, the companion volume to the radio series produced by Dunaway (see below)

Audio and Video:

PBS’s American Masters episode: “Pete Seeger: The Power of Song”; now available on DVD

How Can I Keep from Singing?, the three-part radio series produced by David King Dunaway

“To Hear Your Banjo Play” (1947)

“How to Play the 5-String Banjo” DVD, Davy’s favorite; there’s also an accompanying book (not on film, but also instructive and instructional is Pete Seeger’s “The Folksinger’s Guitar Guide”)

At NPR; and the NPR appreciation, “Pete Seeger At 90″ by Lynn Neary and Tom Cole.  At the latter link, you’ll find a little orange box on the left with The Pete Seeger Mix, a “five-hour mix of Pete Seeger classics and covers” put together by NPR Music partner Folk Alley

Pete Seeger at the pre-inaugural concert for Barack Obama

Websites:

Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress, where Pete Seeger worked as an assistant in 1940

Clearwater, the organization Pete Seeger established in 1969 to preserve and protect the Hudson River

Bits and bobs:

Studs Terkel’s 2005 appreciation, in The Nation, of Pete Seeger’s 86th birthday

The New Yorker‘s 2006 profile, “The Protest Singer”, by Alec Wilkinson, and in hardcover

Pete Seeger’s biography at the Kennedy Center, where he was a Kennedy Center honor recipient in 1994

June

Harder

Saw the above today at Grain Edit by Muti and I love it. Available from Society6 as prints and as stretched canvases.

April and May zipped by alarmingly quickly. April was winter and May was summer, and spring somehow vanished. We’ve had hail already, and some fairly ominous weather.

The kids had the play (Wizard of Oz) which went very well, we all survived three days of 4H Beef Club achievement days/show/sale combined with a celebration of 4H’s centennial (the kids sold their steers, Laura won a showmanship award, Daniel received his silver award of excellence and Laura her gold, Davy and Laura won awards for their project books), we seeded our crops, planted and watered 985 little trees, planted two gardens and the potato patch, got the greenhouse up and running, are moving cattle to the various pastures, sorting out bulls, fixing fences. And oh, yes, school, along with some college/university planning, estate matters, and a variety of bird-related projects and trips for Laura. Our nest boxes are almost all occupied (Laura kicked some house sparrows out), and we have eggs and hatchlings everywhere.

Speaking of which, Laura was thrilled to that see her favorite birding radio show, Ray Brown’s Talkin’ Birds (which we first discovered as a podcast before wifi let her listen live on Sunday mornings), was the subject of a lovely feature article in The Boston Globe. There might be a quote from a young birder we know…

Also, if you’re in Canada and feeling inclined to support Bird Studies Canada in their national, provincial, and regional conservation and research efforts, Laura is participating in their annual Baillie Birdathon; her 24-hour birdathon was last week (she saw 84 species, four more than her stated goal), but donations will be accepted until the end of July.

This weekend the kids have their 4H Outdoor Club’s achievement day overnight camping trip, which they’re all looking forward to. Much scurrying about, sorting out sleeping bags and making their survival kits. Next week Daniel might be taking his learner’s permit test, which means that between him and his sister, I won’t be driving myself too much.

Some good books we’ve discovered:

Letters to a Young Scientist by E.O. Wilson (April 2013): somehow I stumbled across this in March and ordered it before publication. An inspiring, very personal little book for young scientists and their parents by the celebrated biologist and naturalist. Particularly helpful if the young scientist in your household happens to be especially keen on biology.

Two Laura found for her work with a Young Naturalists group, trying to get younger kids outdoors and interested in nature:

Look Up!: Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard by Annette LeBlanc Cate (Candlewick, March 2013): brand new and delightful. Perfect for kids who think they might be interested in birds, and also for those who think there isn’t anything particularly exciting in their own backyard.

The Kids’ Outdoor Adventure Book: 448 Great Things to Do in Nature Before You Grow Up by Stacy Tornio and Ken Keffer (Falcon Guides, April 2013). For parents rather than kids, just the ticket if you need specific ideas on how to get started with your kids in the great outdoors.

I’ll leave you with another nifty poster, by Biljana Kroll, also available from Society6. Words to think about as some families’ formal studies come to an end for the summer.

NeverStop

Ruthless rhymes*

British children’s author Terry Deary, of Horrible Histories and Truly Terrible Tales fame, has in recent years made a second career of curmudgeonly, controversial statements. The Guardian once called him “proudly anti-establishment”. A bigger cynic than I might smell a regular effort to drum up publicity to sell more books.

Deary, a one-time teacher, told The Guardian 10 years ago,

I’ve no interest in schools. They have no relevance in the 21st century. They were a Victorian idea to get kids off the street. Who decided that putting 30 kids with only their age in common in a classroom with one teacher was the best way of educating? At my school there were 52 kids in the class and all I learned was how to pass the 11-plus. Testing is the death of education.

Kids should leave school at 11 and go to work. Not down the mines or up chimneys, mind, but working with computers or something relevant. Everything I learned after 11 was a waste of time. Trigonometry, Boyle’s law: it’s never been of any use to me. They should have been teaching me the life skills I was going to need, such as building relationships, parenting and managing money. I didn’t have a clue about any of these things at 18. Schools need to change.

In 2010, the author, who writes children’s history books, took on historians, whom he called “nearly as seedy and devious as politicians”: “They pick on a particular angle and select the facts to prove their case and make a name for themselves… . They don’t write objective history. Eventually you can see through them all. They all come with a twist.”

Then, he spoke out against the use of his history books in schools: “Horrible Histories writer Terry Deary said he does not want teachers to recommend his books, and would prefer children to discover them themselves. … ‘I shudder when I hear my books are used in those pits of misery and ignorance’.”

Latest up on Mr. Deary’s hit list, and also Vilely Victorian, are libraries. In Sunderland, where Deary was born and where libraries now face the threat of closure as councillors get ready to vote on proposed service reforms, last week Deary told the local newspaper, The Sunderland Echo, that the future of reading belongs to ebooks. And a few other choice words, unlike the other Sunderland authors who spoke in favor of saving library services:

Libraries have had their day. They are a Victorian idea and we are in an electronic age. They either have to change and adapt or they have to go.

I know some people like them but fewer and fewer people are using them and these are straightened times. A lot of the gush about libraries is sentimentality.

The book is old technology and we have to move on, so good luck to the council.

Left here, the matter might have raised eyebrows. But The Guardian picked up the story, with Alison Flood speaking further with Deary, whose additional comments have raised a furor,

I’m not attacking libraries, I’m attacking the concept behind libraries, which is no longer relevant. Because it’s been 150 years [since the passage of the UK’s Public Libraries Act in 1850], we’ve got this idea that we’ve got an entitlement to read books for free, at the expense of authors, publishers and council tax payers. This is not the Victorian age, when we wanted to allow the impoverished access to literature. We pay for compulsory schooling to do that.

And of course we know how he feels about that.

People have to make the choice to buy books. People will happily buy a cinema ticket to see Roald Dahl’s Matilda, and expect to get the book for free. It doesn’t make sense. Books aren’t public property, and writers aren’t Enid Blyton, middle-class women indulging in a pleasant little hobby. They’ve got to make a living. Authors, booksellers and publishers need to eat. We don’t expect to go to a food library to be fed.

Enid Blyton seems a curious choice, and possibly one of the worst examples to choose. In fact, it’s hard to come up with an English children’s author in the past century who was more ruthless about her own writing success, willing to throw husbands and daughters under the proverbial bus. Which seems rather apt, under the circumstances.

Getting back to The Guardian article, Alison Flood notes,

As one of the most popular library authors – his books were borrowed more than 500,000 times during 2011/12 – Deary will have received the maximum amount possible for a writer from the Public Lending Right scheme, which gives authors 6.2p every time one of their books is borrowed, up to a cap of £6,600. “If I sold the book I’d get 30p per book. I get six grand, and I should be getting £180,000. But never mind my selfish author perception – what about the bookshops? The libraries are doing nothing for the book industry. They give nothing back, whereas bookshops are selling the book, and the author and the publisher get paid, which is as it should be. What other entertainment do we expect to get for free?” he asked.

This is probably where all the American authors’ heads’ whipped around. Public lending right? What public lending right? Because the concept doesn’t exist in the United States.

(By the way, and because I can never leave well enough alone, I hopped over to Deary’s website, where actually he seems quite pleased to announce,

Stop Press …
The Public Lending Rights figures for 2012 have been released. They list the number of times books are borrowed from British Libraries. Terry Deary is the 12th most borrowed author last year and the 7th most borrowed children’s author. His titles are more borrowed than Roald Dahl or Enid Blyton in childrens’ books or Lee Child and Harlan Coben (Terry’s own favourite writer) in the combined lists.

Take that, Enid Blyton. And now back to The Guardian article,

Bookshops are closing down, he said, “because someone is giving away the product they are trying to sell. What other industry creates a product and allows someone else to give it away, endlessly? The car industry would collapse if we went to car libraries for free use of Porsches … Librarians are lovely people and libraries are lovely places, but they are damaging the book industry. They are putting bookshops out of business, and I’m afraid we have to look at what place they have in the 21st century.”

Deary is calling for a public debate around libraries, and for an end to the “sentimentality” he believes has framed the issue so far. “Why are all the authors coming out in support of libraries when libraries are cutting their throats and slashing their purses?” he asked. “We can’t give everything away under the public purse. Books are part of the entertainment industry. Literature has been something elite, but it is not any more. This is not the Roman empire, where we give away free bread and circuses to the masses. People expect to pay for entertainment. They might object to TV licences, but they understand they have to do it. But because libraries have been around for so long, people have this idea that books should be freely available to all. I’m afraid those days are past. Libraries cost a vast amount … and the council tax payers are paying a lot of money to subsidise them, when they are used by an ever-diminishing amount of people.”

On the one hand, Deary is asking for a public debate about libraries. And yet. And yet…

On the other, he seems to want an end to “giving away” “free” books, which sounds more like an edict than debate. As he told The Sunderland Echo after The Guardian article appeared,

 I never attacked libraries, I said we need to think about people’s access to literature. I don’t see poor people in libraries, I see middle class people with their arms stuffed like looters.

It rather sounds as if he wants that £173,400 back, doesn’t it? Well, that and, erm, maybe the renewed health of the British bookselling industry? Yes! That!

Not surprisingly, the article had 364 comments last I checked. Not nearly as much fun, though, as the comments over at Mumsnet, which are veddy, veddy British and veddy, veddy funny.

Then there’s this, a sort of agreement cum apology cum explanation, from British illustrator Shoo Rayner who once worked with Terry Deary,

Terry is a Card-carrying, old-school renegade. He’ll make a stand against anything that looks like authority just to make a bit of noise. I’m afraid that Terry, is just “being Terry.” You have to remember that Terry is an actor first and foremost and he loves a bit of drama.

Terry is more a manufacturer of commodities than what one imagines an author to be. At the height of the Horrible Histories fame, he set his researchers going at a new subject on the first of each month. Then, together they cobbled up a new book with a snappy title and added it to the production line. Librarians loved them, bought them in droves and promoted them like nothing else. Now they don’t have the funds to buy more of Terry’s books, Terry rails at them for lending out his books. He claims to have lost £180,000 a year in lost book sales because Libraries lend them out! Well, of course that’s not true. People who borrow books for free wouldn’t go out and buy them. And it’s a little ungracious of him, he would have to spend that much every year in marketing and publicity just to buy the promotion that Libraries have given him for free all these years.

But all the same Terry is expressing the little voice of doubt that nags away at all authors and librarians. Authors, publishers and librarians don’t know what to do. The Tsunami of the internet, for so long a problem that would have to be dealt with one day, is building a giant wave in front of our eyes and it is starting to crash all around us. Libraries let the computers in a long time ago. Appeasement hasn’t worked – it never does!

Ah, so it’s just Terry being Terry, the manufacturer of commodities, making a bit of noise. But there are consequences when one is a best-selling author, and when councillors, cabinet meetings, and consultation periods are seeking informed advice. Do they really need to be distracted by “noise” at this important time, with some of the city’s 20 libraries on the line?

And perhaps another round of Blitzed Brits is in order as a refresher course, since libraries accommodating to the internet in the 21st century are in no way akin to Neville Chamberlain on the road to Munich. Sometimes, an umbrella is just an umbrella. (Does a reflex appeal to horrors of appeasement still work with Britons, 75 years on?) Yes, the world, and libraries, are changing. Budgets are smaller. But the answer isn’t to do away with libraries entirely. Moreover, in another bit of news, many keen readers check out books at the library and then do buy them, having ensured they’re something we’d like to spend money on. We just don’t like buying a pig in a poke.

No, I’m not going to use any more space and time here to explain how I feel about libraries, other than to say, we are not amused. But I will mention something else interesting I found on his website, under “Latest News”, which does indeed make me smell a publicity ploy: the tidbit that at the beginning of this month, as of February 1, “Terry start[ed] a new career — as a writer of adult books. He has been contracted to publish an entertaining new series of history books for adults. Over the next two years he will be writing the first four books in the series, starting with The Roman Empire to be published this November.”

Is this the part where we congratulate Mr. Deary and wish him every success on his latest endeavour? Or just wish him well with the gladitorial combat…

* with apologies to Harry Graham (1874-1936), author of the “cheerfully cruel” Ruthless Rhymes

A gift to home schoolers and all learners: Michael Hart (1947-2011)

Michael Hart, the founder of Project Gutenberg and the inventor, in 1971, of electronic books, died of a heart attack this past Tuesday, September 6, at the age of 64. His obituary at Project Gutenberg is here.

Some excerpts from his obituary, which is in the public domain:

Hart was an ardent technologist and futurist. A lifetime tinkerer, he acquired hands-on expertise with the technologies of the day: radio, hi-fi stereo, video equipment, and of course computers. He constantly looked into the future, to anticipate technological advances. One of his favorite speculations was that someday, everyone would be able to have their own copy of the Project Gutenberg collection or whatever subset desired. This vision came true, thanks to the advent of large inexpensive computer disk drives, and to the ubiquity of portable mobile devices, such as cell phones.

and

Michael S. Hart left a major mark on the world. The invention of eBooks was not simply a technological innovation or precursor to the modern information environment. A more correct understanding is that eBooks are an efficient and effective way of unlimited free distribution of literature. Access to eBooks can thus provide opportunity for increased literacy. Literacy, and the ideas contained in literature, creates opportunity.

In July 2011, Michael wrote these words, which summarize his goals and his lasting legacy: “One thing about eBooks that most people haven’t thought much is that eBooks are the very first thing that we’re all able to have as much as we want other than air. Think about that for a moment and you realize we are in the right job.” He had this advice for those seeking to make literature available to all people, especially children: “Learning is its own reward.  Nothing I can say is better than that.”

*  *  *  *

To read more about Mr. Hart’s life and mission:

Richard Poynder’s 2006 blog post on Michael Hart on “preserving the public domain”, with a link to an interview with Hart

The Washington Post’s obituary, from which: “ ‘There are two things in the world that are truly, totally free with an endless supply,’ he told the Chicago Tribune in 1999. ‘The air we breathe and the texts on Project Gutenberg.’ ” And:

…other friends recalled that Mr. Hart’s house in Urbana was stacked, floor to eye-height, with pillars of books.

The man who spent a lifetime digitizing literature lived amidst the hard copies, which he often sent home with visitors. It was one more way for him to share his books.

“The Legacy of Project Gutenberg Founder, Michael S. Hart” by Rebecca J. Rosen, at The Atlantic

From “my very own book” to “my very own app”

Last month, Imogen Russell Williams, who always writes winningly about children’s literature*, wrote a post for The Guardian Book Blog, “Ladybird Books flies away to a new age”, from which,

News that Ladybird Books has been undertaking a “re-branding” exercise, equipping itself for the digital age with a plethora of apps and ebooks, has reminded me how central they were to my own early reading. I remember the Ladybirds of my 1980s childhood as hand-friendly, welcoming little volumes, their matt covers distinguished by a unique desiccated, papery feel (except the Puddle Lanes, which were shiny). Ladybirds were some of the first books to “belong” to me, rather than to parents or teachers – although they represented educational rather than frivolous reading, they didn’t feel borrowed, or handed down from on high. All of them had a crinkled, enticing gully running parallel to the spine, and they were all – non-fiction, learn-to-read or stories pure and simple – full of mysterious promise. They dramatised stark fact in simple language, gripped, even when deploying the much-vaunted “key words” – and most importantly, they paired images with words in a harmonious, punch-packing symbiosis between writer and illustrator that seems to have worked throughout every series and in every decade.

Williams has an interesting take on Ladybird’s abridged books, many of which are on the Farm School shelves,

While I generally felt short-changed by abridgement as a child, taking an all-or-nothing approach to grown-up literature and blithely tuning out stuff like the risqué bits of The Three Musketeers en route, Ladybird Classics remained honourable exceptions to the rule. To this day I retain a weakness for the red-beetle potted versions of Gulliver’s Travels and A Tale of Two Cities, over and above their full-length counterparts (Gulliver in particular is greatly improved by the presence of illustrations.) And my (limited) grasp of English history pretty much owes its existence at all to Kings and Queens of England, vols 1 and 2.

Our all-time favorites are the Ladybird Nature Books illustrated by Charles Tunnicliffe.  Good stuff, and just the right size for little pockets on long walks.

I’m old, and curmudgeonly, enough to be relieved that my children are by now too old for Ladybird apps and online worlds, and in fact the idea of an app for babies makes me squirm. As does the name alone of Ladybird’s newish online world for children, The Land of Me. Interesting blog post, by the way, at Wired’s GeekDad on “The Land of Me” by Daniel Donahoo last year.

It will be interesting to see if in 30 or 50 years, today’s children will feel at all nostalgic about the new Ladybird efforts. While Googling for the Ladybird website, I came across many sites where yesterday’s nostalgic children, also known as “The Ladybird Generation”, can find out about old favorites (herehere, here, here) and even buy prints, and also original artwork, from older Ladybird books.  The books are so familiar and readily identifiable (some would say “iconic”) that several years ago the National Health Service hoped to use the style and format for new sex ed books for modern adolescents; Ladybird, not surprisingly, lodged a complaint.

: : : :

* More recent good children’s book columns by Imogen Russell Williams:

Small print: who are your favourite miniature heroes?; May 13, 2011

The Eagle of the Ninth: a children’s classic that stands the test of time; March 21, 2011

Old stories for young readers; February 24, 2011 (“Critics may scorn grown-up historical fiction, but children’s writers from Rosemary Sutcliff to Kevin Crossley-Holland have brought the past magically alive”)

All of IRW’s columns for The Guardian are here.

Summer fun

Just in time for Summer, and for Alice in Wonderland fans — the new book, Everything Alice: The Wonderland Book of Makes by Hannah Read-Baldrey and Christine Leech, published, not surprisingly, by Quadrille Publishing,

At last the Mock Turtle recovered his voice, and, with tears running down his cheeks, he went on again:

“You may not have lived much under the sea—” (“I haven’t,” said Alice)—”and perhaps you were never even introduced to a lobster—” (Alice began to say, “I once tasted—” but checked herself hastily, and said, “No, never”) “—so you can have no idea what a delightful thing a Lobster-Quadrille is!”

Ms. Read-Baldrey is a stylist and illustrator and Ms. Leech is an artist and designer, so the crafts are not the homemade sort. The women met working at the UK craft superstore HobbyCraft. From their own description of the book,

Welcome to Wonderland and the magical world of Everything Alice, where nothing is quite as it seems. Alice’s fantastical adventures in wonderland provide the inspiration for this book which contains a charming and original collection of 50 craft & cookery makes, ranging from a hand-sewn Mr Dandy White Rabbit toy,  to the stylish Time for Tea Charm Bracelet and pom pom-decorated Red King’s Slippers to papercraft Tea Party Invitations and cut-out-and-keep Dress Up  Alice and White Rabbit Dolls.

If the “makes and bakes” are half as charming as the cover, they have a winner. One way to find out: two freebies from the website to get an idea of what the book has: free printable Alice in Wonderland paper doll and Red Kings Red Velvet Cupcakes recipe

The book, which was published in the UK on Monday, will be published in North America in early August. You can wait a month, or if you’re the impatient sort and/or just like ordering from Book Depository (guilty on both counts*), you can go ahead and order from Book Depository, which as always offers free worldwide shipping.

* Now that the Canada Post strike is over and Persephone’s Miss Buncle Married, just reprinted in April but in and out of stock several times since, is finally available again, my copy is on the way

Successful rhetoric, and a Godine garden of fresh possibilities and rediscoveries

Back in March, I wrote about a new book, Farnsworth’s Classical English Rhetoric by Ward Farnsworth, a professor at the Boston University School of Law, which had recently received a strong review in The Wall Street Journal.  As I wrote, “from everything I’ve read, it’s a very good and useful book indeed, especially for classical home schooling types who enjoy their grammar, logic, and rhetoric.”

Now comes a June 2 article from Publisher’s Weekly on the success of the book:

That a book on classical rhetoric could sell well enough to go into multiple printings even surprised its publisher, David Godine of the eponymous Boston-based [and independent] press, David R. Godine Publishers [which celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2010]. Initially, he doubted whether Farnsworth’s Classical English Rhetoric by Boston University School of Law professor Ward Farnsworth could sell out its first printing of 4,000 hardcovers. After all it’s filled with terms like litotes, avoiding making a claim directly; erotema, a question that doesn’t require an answer; and anaphora, repetition at the start. But since its late December release, the book has gone back to press twice for a total of 12,000 copies in print. It’s in the top 100 at Amazon for both Education and Reference, words and language.

“When I signed this thing I thought I was doing this guy a favor. And it turns out he’s doing me a favor,” says Godine, who was approached by Farnsworth to publish the book. Since then the press had one of its biggest sales days in its 41-year history for a single title for Farnsworth’s Classical English Rhetoric when Michael Dirda’s review ran in the Washington Post. “Should you buy Farnsworth’s Classical English Rhetoric?,” Dirda asked, unrhetorically. “If you’re at all interested in the techniques of writing, yes.”

Farnsworth, who became interested in rhetoric as a Latin student, has continued to study and teach rhetoric as part of his work as a law professor. The book is structured around repetition of words and phrases, structural matters, and dramatic devices. Each rhetorical terms within those areas is illustrated with examples from Shakespeare, Dickens, Paine, Churchill, Lincoln, and other writers and speakers. “We live in a time when most books about writing are largely about how to make prose simpler,” says Farnsworth. “I agree that simplicity is probably the most important virtue in a writer. But when you read speech and writing that has stood the test of time, you realize that its authors understood much more about their craft than the typical modern book on writing ever explains.”

While reviews continue to come in six months after its release, sales for Farnsworth’s Classical English Rhetoric got a kick start when the Wall Street Journal jumped pub date by a couple months and ran a review three days before Christmas. “The most immediate pleasure of this book is that it heightens one’s appreciation of the craft of great writers and speakers. . . . But more than anything Mr. Farnsworth wants to restore the reputation of rhetorical artistry per se, and the result is a handsome work of reference.” In addition, Farnsworth has appeared on several radio shows, including “The Hugh Hewitt Show” in Los Angeles. Godine hopes to keep sales rolling through father’s day for the dad who never got the classical education he wanted.

The Dirda review from last month’s WaPo is here.

*  *  *

Some other gems, new and old, from the David Godine catalogue:

:: For Canadians and northerners at heart, a very good and useful book for nature studies, Bright Stars, Dark Trees, Clear Water: Nature Writing from North of the Border, edited by Wayne Grady; featuring the words of John James Audubon, Henry Beston, John Burroughs, Gretel Ehrlich, Florence Page Jaques, Barry Lopez, Peter Matthiessen, Farley Mowat, John Muir, Grey Owl, Roger Tory Peterson, Ernest Thompson Seton, Henry David Thoreau, Catharine Par Traill, Walt Whitman.

:: DRG’s gorgeous children’s and young adult titles, including

Daniel Carter Beard’s books

The new Miss Etta and Dr. Claribel: Bringing Matisse to America by Susan Fillion

David Weitzman’s books: Rama and Sita: A Tale from Ancient Java, Superpower: The Making of a Steam LocomotiveThrashin’ Time: Harvest Days in the Dakotas  

Not to mention family favorites Mary Azarian, Edward Ardizzone, Ring of Bright WaterStudy Is Hard Work, and Swallows & Amazons

:: For adults and older readers:

The Superior Person’s Field Guide: to Deceitful, Deceptive & Downright Dangerous Language by Peter Bowler, illustrated by Leslie Cabarga; and other Bowler books

Noel Perrin, Noel Perrin, Noel Perrin

Henry Beston, Henry Beston, Henry Beston, Henry Beston

Will Cuppy

A Year with Emerson: A Daybook, selected & edited by Richard Grossman, with wood engravings by Barry Moser (psst — a steal of a deal in paperback for $10)

:: For foodies:

Elizabeth David

Bemelmans (beyond Madeline…)

The Kitchen Book & The Cook Book by Nicolas Freeling (beyond the murder mysteries…)

:: For music lovers:

Easy to Remember: The Great American Songwriters and Their Songs for Broadway Shows and Hollywood Musicals by William Zinsser

:: For gardeners and naturalists:

The Once & Future Gardener: Garden Writing from the Golden Age of Magazines, 1900-1940, edited by Virginia Tuttle Clayton

Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities!: Notes from a Gloucester Garden by Kim Smith

Songs to Birds by Jake Page, illustrated by Wesley Bates. From DRG’s description: “Jake Page is one of those rare and refreshing naturalists with a palpable gift for writing. Here he concentrates, more or less, on his favorite subjects: birds. And in these essays, they are presented in every stripe, the swaggering starlings, the querulous gulls, kingbirds, blackbirds, and crows. But birds only provide the skeletons upon which Page hangs the real meat of the pieces: how animals behave with each other, with us, and with the world at large. His real story is how life evolves and interacts, how ponds gradually support an ecosystem, how birds migrate, how animals communicate (even how toads copulate).  Page asks questions and gives answers with a marvelous wit and the curiosity of a humanist and the insight of a scientist. It is this combination of his scientific curiosity and his ability to express himself so stylishly that makes him a writer of such charming felicity. His is a mind of uncontrolled inquiry, one attuned to the natural (and often unnatural) world around him, a sensiblity that delights us with is intelligence and insight.”

:: For typography types 

And last but not least, the Words & Humor category, perhaps my favorite.

That should keep you busy.  I can’t mention, or even read, all the books, but maybe between us we can give it a good try!

Those pesky outdated and inaccurate books

Oh, Canada.

From today’s Globe and Mail,

Today, many Canadian children have never even seen a school librarian and never will. Nova Scotia has none, and the full-time equivalent of just three are left in all of New Brunswick. At least one school board in Ontario hasn’t had a teacher-librarian in 15 years, and numbers have declined in Alberta and British Columbia as well [certainly in our part of Alberta].

Spring is a hard season for bibliophiles, as school boards across the country set their budgets for next school year. In recent weeks at least two Ontario boards have decided to cut library staff.

Teacher-librarians have been among the first to be sacrificed when boards make cuts, and the digital innovations they help students navigate are now being used as the justification for eliminating their jobs, and Canada is bucking an international trend of investing in school libraries.

People for Education, an Ontario advocacy group, will release a special report on the decline of school libraries on Monday.

The study shows that less [erm, fewer…] than 12 per cent of Ontario elementary schools have a full-time librarian, and small communities, particularly in the north, are most likely to go without. Today, barely half have even a part-time librarian, down from 80 per cent in 1997/98.

The group’s concerns are about more than nostalgia: School libraries and librarians have been linked to several measures of student achievement, including standardized test scores and a love of reading. Most studies have come out of the United States and Australia, but Canadian researchers confirmed in 2006 that these benefits transcend borders and remain strong in a post-internet world.

“It’s not surprising that when you’ve got engaged teacher-librarians, they’re going to engage the students more and the more they engage our children the better they learn,” said Donald Klinger, the Queen’s University professor who led the new study.

What did surprise Prof. Klinger was the strength of the association between students’ performance on standardized tests and the presence of school librarians: His study showed scores were boosted by as much as 8 per cent.

If reading all of that makes you sad, this will make you even sadder [boldface mine]:

In April, declining enrolment forced the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board in southern Ontario to make up a projected $8-million to $10-million reduction in provincial funding. Trustees voted to lay off 16 secretaries, several teachers, and nearly all 39 library technicians. At the same time, Peterborough’s Catholic school board, east of Toronto, also said it is cutting library staff.

“We have to get past the old concept, the old tradition of what libraries used to be…” said Cathy Geml, associate director of education for the WECDSB. Books quickly become outdated and inaccurate, and the board is focusing its resources on internet research.

“We have people in various capacities in the secondary schools that are teachers and administrators who could support and teach digital literacy throughout the day.”

It gets worse.  According to The Hamilton Spectator, the decision was made behind closed doors and with no public input:

In a controversial decision — which even some students are protesting — the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board has laid off all but four of its library technicians and is dismantling all its libraries.

It has started to divvy up the library books in its elementary schools and distribute them to individual classrooms instead.

Among the board’s reasons, according to Ms. Geml:

schoolchildren spend time walking to the library, choosing books and returning to class. “That’s lost instructional time,” she added.

Lost, indeed. I’m not quite sure how much anyone in the Windsor-Essex Catholic school district has been learning over the past few generations if school board members believe that that books are purely for research, reference, and information. Whatever happened to wisdom, knowledge, and a great story?  How disappointing that there are trustees who think it comes down to Stephen Leacock vs. Google, Jane Austen vs. the current edition of the World Almanac, Billy Budd vs. Bing.  Am I really surprised to find that there are school board members who believe this?  No.  It’s one of the reasons we home school, and one of the reasons we’ve made a good home library a priority.

The good news, if there is any, is that not everyone in Windsor agrees:

“We believe students’ physical well-being is important, so we have a gym. As a Catholic school, we believe religion is important, so we have a chapel. If we believe literacy and reading is important, why wouldn’t we have a library?” said Windsor-area parent Donna Tonus, who is banding together with others to fight the board’s decision. A student protest is also planned on Monday.

Interestingly, one of the links provided by The Globe & Mail in a sidebar is for a story last December about Victoria, B.C.’s booming public libraries — because, as reporter Tom Hawthorn wrote, “The Greater Victoria Public Library embraces technology while respecting the time-proven value of that fine medieval invention, the printed book”.

Lately, at BookCloseouts

I don’t like the new look of BookCloseouts’ website, but they’ve got some wonderful goodies at the moment, worth considering if you are looking for books for your home school studies and/or have any autumn/winter birthdays and holidays to shop for:

Howtoons: The Possibilities Are Endless! by Saul Griffith, Nick Dragotta, and Joost Bonsen; only $6.99, and just try buying it somewhere else.  Very good for birthday presents.

The Pocket Dangerous Book for Boys: Things to Do; small and handy

The Pocket Dangerous Book for Boys: Things to Know; equally small and handy

We the Kids by David Catrow; excellent for American history

The Dragonfly Pool by Eva Ibbotson; a wonderful story full of thrills, spill, chills, folk dancing, the young crown prince of Bergania, and some Nazis.  And only $2.99. More Ibbotson books here, including her equally good Star of Kazan.

To See Every Bird on Earth by Dan Koeppel; a good stocking stuffer for the bird lover in your life, also only $2.99

Tamburlaine’s Elephants by Geraldine McCaughrean; historical fiction; also at BookCloseouts by McCaughrean, her retelling of The Odyssey, a Puffin Classic

Many volumes in the Poetry for Young People series

*  *  *

And not from BookCloseouts, but fresh from The Book Depository and the publisher, on the advice of Elaine’s Random Jottings blog post — My Last Duchess by Daisy Goodwin, for $9 pre-order* rate, hardcover.  Hee…

I’m looking forward to it as a late summer read, having very much enjoyed, a couple of years ago, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Shuttle, from Persephone Books, and then Consuelo and Alva Vanderbilt: The Story of a Daughter and a Mother in the Gilded Age by Amanda Mackenzie Stuart.

P.S.  From Daisy Goodwin’s New Statesman interview earlier this year:

Q: Michael Gove thinks schoolchildren should be learning poetry by rote. Are you with him?

A: Learning poetry by heart is like seeing it in 3D. If you do it when you’re a child you never forget it. And kids who aren’t great readers can learn verse perfectly. So I think it’s a fantastic thing to do. It would almost make me vote Tory.

* …much as I hate the term (and am confused by the idea of) “pre-order”, which is up there with “pre-registration” in my curmudgeon’s book.  You are either ordering or registering, or you are not.  If it’s too early for either, it’s too early.  If you mean reserve, say so.  The end.

Christmas in July

Bingo!

Even before we started home schooling, I started adding to the Golden Books, especially the Giant and De Luxe Golden Books, collection of my childhood.  I’ve been able to find more titles at garage sales and the Goodwill shop in town, and Abebooks when necessary. Some of our favorites are The Golden History of the World by Jane Werner Watson, and illustrated beautifully by Cornelius DeWitt — perfect for the grammar stage — and Ben Hunt’s crafts and lore books (which I’ve written about before, including here).

The two most elusive titles have been The Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments by Robert Brent and illustrated by Harry Lazarus, and  The Giant Golden Book of Biology, written by renowned children’s science writers Gerald  Ames and Rose Wyler, and illustrated by the even more renowned Charles Harper.  I’ve written about the scarce Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments before (here and here); that one is scarce because of the subject and because of nonsense (including much internet nonsense) that the book was once banned, by the government no less.

The Golden Book of Biology owes its popularity and high prices not to its content but to Charley Harper’s artwork and his popularity among graphic artists and designers, and the recent Todd Oldham-inspired Charley Harper renaissance.  Copies of The Giant Golden Book of Biology, published in 1961, the 1967 revised edition (The Golden Book of Biology), and the 1968 second edition have been selling for anywhere from $100 to $600. I’m not a collector of graphic design works* and didn’t want the book to put on the shelf, I just wanted a good quality working copy my kids could read.

Well, I finally lucked out  the other week with a 1967 copy at eBay, and while I didn’t pay anywhere in my customary 25 cents to $5 range, I didn’t pay anywhere near $100 either (or $500, yikes); little enough that I can leave the book on the coffee table for the whole family to enjoy and let the kids read it without encasing them or the book in plastic.  So the lesson here is that patience will pay off…

For me these books, and many of the Giant and De Luxe Golden Books, on astronomy (also by Rose Wyler and Gerald Ames), the human body, natural history, physicsworld geography (“A Child’s Introduction to the World”), world history, mathematics (another one with crazy prices), and the Golden Book encyclopedia set, are desirable because although they remain, after 40 to 50 years, some of the very best examples of children’s nonfiction. As MAKE’s Mark Frauenfelder wrote about The Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments,

The book is an example of everything great about vintage children’s science books. Once you lay your eyes on it, you will come to the sad realization that our society has slipped backwards in at least three important ways: 1. The writing quality in old kids’ science books was better; 2. The design and illustration was more thoughtful and skillful; 3. Children in the old days were allowed and encouraged to experiment with mildly risky but extremely rewarding activities. Today’s children, on the other hand, are mollycoddled to the point of turning them into unhappy ignoramuses.

This blog post at Codex xcix shows a number of illustrations from the book, which gives you an idea of just why the book is so desirable for the art alone. Codex writes,

Charley admitted that he had to learn the subject while he was doing the illustrations, after all, he was an artist, not a scientist. The result, however, was a masterpiece – the quintessential mid-century children’s science text. It is widely seen as his magnum illustratus and has been widely influential to two generations of illustrators and designers. Todd Oldham described it as “…one of my favorite things I’ve ever had in my life,” and the illustrator Jacob Weinstein as “the world’s most attractive textbook.”

More illustrations from the book are at this Grain Edit post.

If you get the chance at library book sales or garage sales, keep your eyes peeled for books by Gerald Ames and Rose Wyler, who were married to each other and who together and separately wrote 50 or so children’s books, mostly on science but also on (science-based) magic tricks and other subjects.  Their publishers included Golden/Western, Harper & Row for a number of Science I Can Read Books, and Julian Messner. According to their individual obituaries in The New York Times, Mr. Ames died in 1993 at the age of 86,  Miss Wyler died in 2000 at the age of 80;

Ms. Wyler once recalled that as a girl she ”always had a collection of stones, bugs or leaves and always wanted to know more about nature.” She never could find books on nature as a child, she said, so at 11 she decided she was going to write them.

Among their best known titles: the highly recommended The Giant Golden Book of Astronomy: A Child’s Introduction to the Wonders of Space (1950), Magic Secrets (first published in 1954 and still in print as an I Can Read Book), Secrets in Stones (1954), The Earth’s Story (1957), First Days of the World (1958), The First People in the World, illustrated by Leonard Weisgard (1958),  Inside the Earth (1963), Prove It! (A Science I Can Read Book, 1964), The Story of the Ice Age (1967), and Spooky Tricks (originally published in 1968 and not too long out of print).

The Messner books, written mostly by Rose Wyler, are lovely for young children if you run across them: the “Science Fun” series, including Science Fun with Toy Boats and Planes (1986), Science Fun with Mud and Dirt (1987), and Science Fun with a Homemade Chemistry Set (1988); and the Outdoor Fun series, including The Starry Sky (1989), Puddles and Ponds (1990), and Seashore Surprises (1991).

*  *  *

Interview with Charley Harper at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology

* Although I do have my mother’s old copy of Betty Crocker’s Dinner for Two Cook Book, also illustrated by Charley Harper and held together with a rubber band for the past 40 years.

A laughing sound

That would be me, delighted because Colleen Mondor in her latest Bookslut in Training column recommends as her Cool Read The Robin Makes a Laughing Sound: A Birder’s Journal by Sallie Wolf.  Delighted because next month is Laura’s 13th birthday, and the book — a “blend of poetry, field guide and nature notes” — sounds perfect for her.  Colleen, who also blogs at Chasing Ray, writes,

Wolf arranges her entries by season, and includes bird lists, haiku, observations, ruminations, watercolor illustrations and drawings on every page. Essentially, she is inviting the reader into her life, providing a space at her window and her desk. It is a very personal work, for all that it does not share about Wolf’s actual personal life. You are merely seeing what she sees, and perhaps altering your own conclusions about art and nature through her influence. Teen readers who might be wary of their own creativity, and are reticent to face the blank page, will find a sympathetic fellow artist here — someone who uses the barest of brush strokes to capture the creatures she sees. Exquisitely designed by Charlesbridge, The Robin Makes a Laughing Sound is one of the more elegant books to come across my doorstop in a long time. I hope a lot of young birders and artists and poets find it.

I think the book might be a bit young for Laura but I still think she’d enjoy having it, and she can always use another journal.  There’s another bird book I’d really like to get her, too, and while it shouldn’t be listed at an online bookseller for a decent price, it is.  I’ll post the title if I manage to get my mitts on it*.

The publisher’s page with various links and downloads is here.  Sallie Wolf has a blog and a website (where I learned that much like Davy, as a child Sallie loved Ben Hunt books and wanted to be a Mohawk. Davy wants to be an Iroquois, but why quibble?)

You can find all of Colleen’s warm weather reading titles for your favorite children and young adults in this post, Summertime, and the Reading Is Easy.

* Apparently the book is still in stock and winging its way to me:  the hardcover edition of Tim Birkhead’s The Wisdom Of Birds: An Illustrated History of Ornithology, for $10.11 CAN, much cheaper and sturdier than the paperback edition coming out in March.  And for some reason the copies at Amazon.ca are  $26.92 and $39.57 — odd.

In search of lasting import

Over on the right, in one of the sidebars (“Our Curricula/For the Parents”) ever since I started this blog about four years ago has been a link to Jane Healy’s book, Endangered Minds: Why Children Don’t Think And What We Can Do About It, first published in 1999. It was one of the first books I read after we decided, fairly abruptly, to begin home schooling, and it dovetailed neatly with our choice of a classical education.

As Dr. Healy wrote back in 1991 (here),

Fast-paced lifestyles, coupled with heavy media diets of visual immediacy, beget brains misfitted to traditional modes of academic learning. In a recent survey, teachers in both the United States and Europe reported overwhelmingly that today’s students have shorter attention spans, are less able to reason analytically, to express ideas verbally, and to attend to complex problems.

Recently, Dr. Healy’s ideas have been supported by Nicholas Carr, author of the infamous Atlantic article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” and the new book arising out it, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains; and last month’s report from Duke that high speed internet and universal access to home computers “widen the achievement gap in math and reading scores”.  Worth noting that the study took place from 2000-2005, before MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter took off.

And in today’s New York Times came David Brooks’ column, ‘The Medium Is the Medium”, about a new study; from the column,

Researchers gave 852 disadvantaged students 12 books (of their own choosing) to take home at the end of the school year. They did this for three successive years.

Then the researchers, led by Richard Allington of the University of Tennessee, looked at those students’ test scores. They found that the students who brought the books home had significantly higher reading scores than other students. These students were less affected by the “summer slide” — the decline that especially afflicts lower-income students during the vacation months. In fact, just having those 12 books seemed to have as much positive effect as attending summer school.

…there was one interesting observation made by a philanthropist who gives books to disadvantaged kids. It’s not the physical presence of the books that produces the biggest impact, she suggested. It’s the change in the way the students see themselves as they build a home library. They see themselves as readers, as members of a different group.

As Brooks writes, emphases mine,

The Internet-versus-books debate is conducted on the supposition that the medium is the message. But sometimes the medium is just the medium. What matters is the way people think about themselves while engaged in the two activities. A person who becomes a citizen of the literary world enters a hierarchical universe. There are classic works of literature at the top and beach reading at the bottom.

A person enters this world as a novice, and slowly studies the works of great writers and scholars. Readers immerse themselves in deep, alternative worlds and hope to gain some lasting wisdom. Respect is paid to the writers who transmit that wisdom.

A citizen of the Internet has a very different experience. The Internet smashes hierarchy and is not marked by deference. Maybe it would be different if it had been invented in Victorian England, but Internet culture is set in contemporary America. Internet culture is egalitarian. The young are more accomplished than the old. The new media is supposedly savvier than the old media. The dominant activity is free-wheeling, disrespectful, antiauthority disputation.

And more, emphases still mine,

These different cultures foster different types of learning. The great essayist Joseph Epstein once distinguished between being well informed, being hip and being cultivated. The Internet helps you become well informed — knowledgeable about current events, the latest controversies and important trends. The Internet also helps you become hip — to learn about what’s going on, as Epstein writes, “in those lively waters outside the boring mainstream.”

But the literary world is still better at helping you become cultivated, mastering significant things of lasting import. To learn these sorts of things, you have to defer to greater minds than your own. You have to take the time to immerse yourself in a great writer’s world. You have to respect the authority of the teacher.

Right now, the literary world is better at encouraging this kind of identity. The Internet culture may produce better conversationalists, but the literary culture still produces better students.

It’s better at distinguishing the important from the unimportant, and making the important more prestigious.

Perhaps that will change. Already, more “old-fashioned” outposts are opening up across the Web. It could be that the real debate will not be books versus the Internet but how to build an Internet counterculture that will better attract people to serious learning.

I’d tell you to read the rest, but I’ve included pretty much the entire piece above because I think David Brooks wrote such an important essay that supports what so many of us are trying to do with a classical education. There will always be two camps on this — witness one of the column comments that a friend’s son improved his reading by playing World of Warcraft — and neither side will be much convinced of the other’s merit, but I’m happy to be in the Brooks camp.

World Science Festival 2010

I’ve been remiss in posting World Science Festival 2010 information, despite all the emails I’ve been receiving.  This year’s festival will be held in New York City on June 2-6, with 40 events scheduled and an opening night gala honoring Stephen Hawking, featuring “a performing arts salute to science”.  The Festival is the creation of renowned physicist Brian Greene, who is tireless in his efforts to popularize science in general and physics in particular.  The Festival’s mission is to “cultivate and sustain a general public informed by the content of science, inspired by its wonder, convinced of its value, and prepared to engage with its implications for the future.” Best of all, the World Science Festival “takes science out of the laboratory and into the streets, theaters, museums, and public halls of New York City”.  If we could be in New York in early June, we would be at the Festival!

There are free events and young people/family events (many are both), including:

The James Webb Space Telescope at Battery Park (June 1, 2010, 11 AM to Sunday, June 6, 2010, 6 PM): A full-scale model (80 feet long, 37 feet wide and nearly 40 feet high) of the world’s most powerful future space telescope, a successor to the famed Hubble Space Telescope ,will be on public view in Battery Park, along with interactive exhibits, videos about the Webb Telescope,  and scientists on-hand to answer questions.  On Friday June 4 from 8-11 PM, the venue will host “From the City to the Stars”:  “Join professional and amateur astronomers at the base of the full-scale, tennis court-sized James Webb Space Telescope model for a free evening of star-gazing in Battery Park. John Mather, Nobel laureate and the Webb telescope’s senior project scientist; John Grunsfeld, astronaut, physicist and “chief repairman” of the Hubble Telescope and planetary astronomer Heidi Hammel, with journalist Miles O’Brien moderating, will be with us to talk about the discoveries anticipated when the world’s most powerful space telescope, the successor to the Hubble, launches in 2014.  It will be a festive evening of appreciating the vast wonders of the cosmos. Bring your telescope if you have one or plan to use one of the dozens we’ll have set up.” FREE

Eye Candy: Science, Sight, Art (Thursday, June 3, 2010, 7-8:30 PM): “Are you drawn to Impressionism? Or more toward 3D computer art? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Or is it? Contrary to the old adage, there may be universal biological principles that drive art’s appeal, and its capacity to engage our brains and our interest. Through artworks ranging from post-modernism to political caricature to 3D film, Margaret S. Livingstone and Patrick Cavanagh join cartoonist Jules Feiffer and others in an examination of newly understood principles of visual perception.”

Mathemagician and the Mathemagician’s Apprentice (Saturday, June 5, 2010, 11AM – 12:00 noon):  “Mix math with magic and the result is thrilling. Mathemagician Arthur Benjamin returns in an encore presentation, with mesmerizing feats of mental mathematical gymnastics. Followed by Mathemagician’s Apprentice … where Benjamin will divulge his secrets of doing lightning-fast mental math. … Apprentice limited to 50 people, ages ten and older, and is an hour long. Arthur Benjamin is a professor of mathematics at Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California. A professional magician, Benjamin can also multiply large numbers faster than a calculator, figure out the week day of any date in history and has memorized the decimal numbers of pi out to 100 digits.” Dr. Benjamin is the co-author, with Michael Shermer, of Secrets of Mental Math: The Mathemagician’s Guide to Lightning Calculation and Amazing Math Tricks.

Cool Jobs (Saturday, June 5, 2010, 5 – 6:30 PM): “Imagine hunting extraterrestrial life for a living. Or getting paid to study South African penguins. Meet scientists with some of the coolest jobs in the world; watch as a neuroscientist scans a brain and a robot inventor brings his complex and novel creations to life. Get inspired by the possibilities. Participants include roboticist Dennis Hong, neuroscientist André Fenton, astronomer and extraterrestrial life hunter Jill Cornell Tarter, and aquatic biologist Pamela Schaller.”

Astronaut Diary: Life in Space (Sunday, June 6, 2010, 11:30 AM – 1:00 PM): “Astronauts who’ve lived on the International Space Station and ‘walked’ in space tell all: what it’s like to ride on a space ship, and to eat, sleep, exercise, and even do science—in space. Come hear firsthand from the world’s most intrepid explorers—including astronauts Tracy Caldwell Dyson, Leland Melvin and Sandra Magnus—and Dava Newman, designer of an innovative spacewalking suit, about what it’s like to soar upward and leave our home, planet Earth, behind.” FREE

Icarus at the Edge of Time (Sunday, June 6, 2010):  “What if Icarus traveled not to the sun but to a black hole? This 40-minute, 62-piece orchestral work is a mesmerizing adaptation of Icarus at the Edge of Time, Brian Greene’s book for children. A re-imagining of the Greek myth, which brings Einstein’s concepts of relativity to visceral, emotional life, it features an original score by Philip Glass, script adapted by Greene and David Henry Hwang and film created and directed by Al + Al. Performed live with narrator Liev Schreiber and the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, conducted by Brad Lubman.”

World Science Festival Street Fair at Washington Square Park (Sunday, June 6, 2010, 10 AM – 6 PM), FREE:  The New York University/Washington Square Park area will become a science wonderland when the World Science Festival Youth and Family Street Fair returns to New York City on Sunday, June 6. This free, day-long extravaganza showcases the intrigue and pure fun of science with a non-stop program of interactive exhibits, experiments, games, and shows, all meant to entertain and inspire. Join us for a day of family fun”. Some highlights of this year’s Fair include: Discovery Theatre and Author’s Alley, The BioBus, Museum of Mathematics, Franklin Institute Traveling Scientists, NY Hall of Science, Math for AmericaNYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program, Come and Play at the Games for Learning Lab, Liberty Science Center, Philadelphia Zoo on Wheels, Discovery Labs, Central Park Zoo’s Wild Life Theater, Robotics & Mechanisms Laboratory. FREE

A complete list of events is here. While some events are already sold out, note that tickets may be available at the door 30 minutes before the event.

Spotera!*: Recapturing a writerly fairyland

A few weeks ago The Guardian featured a lovely article by Valerie Grove as part of the marvelous “Life in Writing” series, an overview of her new biography of Kaye Webb, So Much to Tell, to be published in Canada next week in time for Puffin’s 70th anniversary.  Miss Webb established the Puffin Club for young readers in the 1960s, and I was a devoted member across the pond in the early seventies.  I wrote a bit about the Puffin Club just over a year ago, here.  And while I didn’t get Mars Bars from Roald Dahl, I did spend afternoons with Ezra Jack Keats and author Ben Lucien Burman and his wife, illustrator Alice Caddy, who gave us Puffineers autographed copies of the Catfish Bend books.

Miss Webb rather fell into children’s book publishing, having read only few children’s books in her youth,

Her luck was to arrive at the dawn of a second “golden age” in children’s books in the 60s. Enduring classics were being written by authors such as Philippa Pearce and Rosemary Sutcliff. Improved colour printing brightened picture books and inspired illustrators such as Brian Wildsmith and Quentin Blake. American publishers (Grace Hogarth, Marni Hodgkin) infused the scene with transatlantic know-how. New magazines gave guidance for parents on the best new books for their children; soon there was the Bologna children’s book fair, and the broadsheet papers were devoting whole pages to reviews of children’s fiction.

What Webb brought to the changing scene was her enormous personality. She acquired new titles, brokering deals with the enterprise of an innocent. She cajoled hardback publishers – still sceptical and snooty about paperbacks – to yield up rights. She founded a Children’s Book Circle, wooed librarians and booksellers. She commissioned in her distinctive style: “Darling! I’ve got this wonderful idea, you have to do it, come straight round, it’s your big chance!”  …

Only months after taking the position at Puffin, Kaye Webb’s mother died and her husband, the celebrated cartoonist Ronald Searle, abruptly left her and their two teenaged children, for his lover in Paris, informing her by letter.  But, Ms. Grove, writes,

The Puffin job proved the making of her: she set about establishing the brand as the marque of excellence in children’s literature, and increased sales by 300% within a year. To the Narnia books and Noel Streatfeild she added Mary Poppins, Paddington Bear, Clive King’s Stig of the Dump, Dodie Smith’s The Hundred and One Dalmatians [Grove has also written biographies of Dodie SmithLaurie Lee, and my father’s beloved John Mortimer]. Soon, authors needed no persuading: “I could have all the authors I wanted,” Webb said. Roald Dahl, who had taken years to get his children’s books published in Britain in 1967, actually asked to be in Puffin (at a 17.5% royalty, which he repaid in astronomical sales.)

And then things get truly exciting:

Webb had always encouraged her son, John, to be fearless. She once drove him to Chesil Bank in Dorset, the setting for J Meade Falkner’s Moonfleet, and suggested he dive in and test out the fierce undercurrent that had wrecked many ships. Children liked to have adventures away from their parents, as children do in books. Heedless of health-and-safety, she took readers to see real puffins, on the precipitous Yorkshire coastline. In fact, the first Puffin Club adventure, a trip to Lundy Island, could have been disastrous. The boat almost capsized in choppy seas. Webb had to tie the children down and pray that none were flung overboard. After that she collaborated with Chris Green, the schoolmaster founder of Colony Holidays, lifeline to many frazzled mothers confronted by long school holidays in the 60s and 70s. There were Puffin holidays, winter and summer, at castles such as Featherstone in Northumberland, or vacant boarding-schools, where the children (benignly supervised) could scamper in fields and woods, write and perform plays, bird-watch, build boats, produce newspapers, sing round campfires. Webb scorned parents who apologised in advance that their “shy” children would be reluctant joiners-in. There was no such thing, Webb said, as the shy child.

Nobody doubted that Webb enjoyed her jamborees as much as the children did. Conflating Hallowe’en and Guy Fawkes, she would dress up as a wizard, a cat or a silver fairy queen at “Guyween” fireworks-and-bonfire parties. The chaotic Puffin office seemed to hold endless celebrations; it was always someone’s birthday, an excuse for balloons, jellies and “Puffins pleasure” cocktails, filling the Penguin HQ with shrieks of laughter. Every Puffineer got a personalised greeting, each birthday. They were effusively grateful. “Thanks awfully for my purple bag,” wrote one prize-winning child. “I think it’s super and a marvellous prize. Did someone make it specially? If they did, could you thank them terribly?” Puffineers became substitute grandchildren for Webb, before she had one of her own.

After which come the late seventies, and the end of that second golden age,

doubts began to be voiced at Penguin about whether Webb was sufficiently aware of deprived children whose homes were not book-lined. Was she doing enough to attract the reluctant boy reader, or appeal to ethnic minorities? Webb bridled in self-defence. She cared little for social engineering, only about upholding the high standards, and imaginative writing of the kind adults could enjoy reading aloud time and again. …

In 1978, aware of the threat to literacy from television, she organised a Time Capsule containing books, messages from authors and from readers, ceremoniously buried (by Patrick Moore) in the garden of Penguin headquarters at Harmondsworth, to be opened by the grandchildren of the “Puffin Guardians” in 100 years’ time. Only 10 years later, noting the rise of the computer and a less biddable, less bookish generation, Webb told me the capsule would probably have to be exhumed much earlier.

Her successor at Puffin, Tony Lacey, launched the popular Fighting Fantasy and Dungeons and Dragons books aimed firmly at boys, to Webb’s dismay: what had become of literary merit? Puffin Club membership dwindled, the magazine was no longer cost-effective, and was closed down in 1987. Her long retirement was afflicted with crippling arthritis – she had often had to conduct Puffin business from her hospital bed – and she died at 82 in 1996. She did not live to witness the Harry Potter phenomenon. She would certainly have been horrified to learn that in 2009 it was reported that many children go through their schooldays without ever reading “a whole book”.

Read the entire article, “Queen of the Puffineers”, here.  Long live the Queen.

*  *  *  *

* The reply to the secret Puffin password “Sniffup!” Together, they spell out, backwards, Puffins are tops.  Indeed.

The magic of reading aloud

Michael Winerip writes about a remarkable nine-year-plus readaloud streak in “A Father-Daughter Bond, Page by Page” in this week’s New York Times:

Their shared reading provided a shared language. When Mr. Brozina asks if Kristen’s absolutely sure, she’ll answer, “Certain there’s a jertain in the curtain” (Dr. Seuss). If Mr. Brozina orders a hamburger, Kristen will say, “I am a great eater of beef and I believe that does harm to my wit” (Shakespeare, “Twelfth Night” ). By high school, Kristen had a busy social life. “I’d be out with friends, and say, ‘It’s 11:30, we need to stop back at my house.’ A carload of teenagers would come in. They’d play some game or cards in the living room. I’d go upstairs to Dad’s room and he’d read to me.”

“Then she’d go back out with her friends and I’d go to bed,” Mr. Brozina said. …

Like all earth-shattering acts, there was more to The Streak than met the eye, although for years it was unspoken. About the time The Streak started, Kristen’s family shrunk from six to two in a year’s time. Her two surviving grandparents died. Her sister, who is seven years older, went off to Yale. And her mother left her father. “It was just the two of us,” Kristen said. “The Streak was stability when everything else was unstable. It was something I knew would always be there.” ..

Her father felt that, too. “With a family of two, I wanted her to be absolutely sure in her mind that I was here for her,” he said.

But he had other reasons. At 61, he’s part of a generation that held reading as an almost magical ticket to upward mobility. He’s been a school librarian here for 38 years, knows most everyone in this modest blue-collar town, and whenever he bumps into one of his former students, the first thing he asks is, “Are you reading?” followed by his mantra: “If you love to read, you’ll probably go to college, maybe for free. You’ll get a better job, get a higher income, live longer.”

Over the years, he has built a collection of 700 of the best books he and Kristen read together. “I don’t have much money to pass on,” he said. “But these books, she’ll read to hers and they’ll read to theirs. And they’ll read to the generations down the lines. It’s a means for me to touch generations I’ll never see. They’ll all be smart. I can’t imagine these books will never be used. Every single one of them is so good.”

Read the rest, aloud or to yourself, here.

For Canadiana fans

To be published in May, Picturing Canada: A History of Canadian Children’s Illustrated Books and Publishing by Gail Edwards and Judith Saltman (University of Toronto Press, May 29, 2010); $25.04 in paperback, $59.57 in hardcover.

I’ve already placed my order.

According to this press release for a grant the authors received in 2008, the book

is the first interdisciplinary history of children’s publishing in Canada from 1800 to the present, interweaving Canadian history with the history of Canadian literature and publishing, illustration and design, childhood and education, and children’s librarianship. Not only historically situated, Picturing Canada documents recent developments in children’s publishing and the book trade, the emergence of Aboriginal Canadian publishing, Canadian publishers in the US market, the decline of school libraries, and government funding to libraries and publishers.

The book sounds like a very useful resource for those of us who like, or need, to use older, out-of-print books in our studies, especially illustrated ones to use with younger children.  And when it comes to children’s books on Canadian history, unfortunately most of the better books tend to be out-of-print.

And I love the cover illustration.

Messing about in boats

I posted the following, part of the very famous first chapter of The Wind in the Willows, at one of my homeschool groups the other day, in response to a mother who’s been having so much trouble getting her young son to stay on course with their Well-Trained Mind studies that, as she wrote, she was ready to throw in the home schooling towel.  After receiving a variety of replies, including one from me recommending Melissa Wiley’s idea of “Tidal Learning”, the mother wrote, “It’s hard to know when to keep the boat in the current and when not to try and push the river and when to allow the boat to drift into an eddy.”

Which immediately brought this to mind,

“This has been a wonderful day!” said he, as the Rat shoved off and took to the sculls again. “Do you know, I’ve never been in a boat before in all my life.”

“What?” cried the Rat, open-mouthed: “Never been in a — you never — well I — what have you been doing, then?”

“Is it so nice as all that?” asked the Mole shyly, though he was quite prepared to believe it as he leant back in his seat and surveyed the cushions, the oars, the rowlocks, and all the fascinating fittings, and felt the boat sway lightly under him.

“Nice? It’s the ONLY thing,” said the Water Rat solemnly, as he leant forward for his stroke. “Believe me, my young friend, there is NOTHING — absolute nothing — half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Simply messing,” he went on dreamily: “messing — about — in — boats; messing —-”

“Look ahead, Rat!” cried the Mole suddenly.

It was too late. The boat struck the bank full tilt. The dreamer, the joyous oarsman, lay on his back at the bottom of the boat, his heels in the air.

“– about in boats — or WITH boats,” the Rat went on composedly, picking himself up with a pleasant laugh. “In or out of ’em, it doesn’t matter. Nothing seems really to matter, that’s the charm of it. Whether you get away, or whether you don’t; whether you arrive at your destination or whether you reach somewhere else, or whether you never get anywhere at all, you’re always busy, and you never do anything in particular; and when you’ve done it there’s always something else to do, and you can do it if you like, but you’d much better not. Look here! If you’ve really nothing else on hand this morning, supposing we drop down the river together, and have a long day of it?”

The Mole waggled his toes from sheer happiness, spread his chest with a sigh of full contentment, and leaned back blissfully into the soft cushions. “WHAT a day I’m having!” he said. “Let us start at once!”

Funny, isn’t it, the affinity between water and sailing metaphors and home schooling.  There’s also the famous quote from that other celebrated watery children’s book Swallows and Amazons — “BETTER DROWNED THAN DUFFERS IF NOT DUFFERS WON’T DROWN”, our unofficial family and school motto.

The Book of Life

This has long been on my wish list at Amazon.com for the kids — The Book of Life: An Illustrated History of the Evolution of Life on Earth, edited by Stephen Jay Gould.  A few times a year, it goes back and forth between my wish list and shopping cart, and it was in my shopping cart in January when I hit send to order a few things for my mother to help spruce up the kitchen.

Since I missed Darwin Day 2010, I’ll offer this book as my belated many happy returns to the great man.  And a reminder for anyone who hasn’t seen it before, my big Darwin Day roundup from last year is here at Darwin 200: Charles Darwin’s Day.

The road to history

Beloved of home schoolers, the writer and illustrator Jeanne Bendick, who from what I understand just celebrated her 91st birthday on February 25th, has a new children’s history book, Herodotus and the Road to History (Bethlehem Books, September 2009).  From the BB page for the book,

Best-selling author Jeanne Bendick takes us for another informative—and amusing—journey into places and events of long ago. Herodotus and the Road to History, written in the first person, details the investigative journeys of Herodotus—a contemporary of the Old Testament prophet Malachi—as he takes ship from Greece and voyages to the limits of his own ancient world. His persistence, amidst disbelief and ridicule, in the self-appointed task of recording his discoveries as “histories” (the Greek word meaning “inquiry”), means that today we can still follow his expeditions into the wonder and mystery of the “barbaric” north, Syria, Persia, and Egypt. Jeanne Bendick’s lucid text, humorous illustrations and helpful maps entertain and instruct as they open the way for readers young and old to join Herodotus . . . on the road to history.

Small Press Bookwatch in December noted,

Herodotus and the Road to History is a fictionalized account of the travels of Jeanne Bendick, detailing the story of Herodotus, the man who is often referred to as the father of history. Facing criticism in his day, Jeanne Bendick does well in presenting a thorough story of the man and his travel with many charming, simple illustrations. Herodotus and the Road to History is a fine pick for younger readers with an interest in history.

Jeanne Bendick‘s other books in print, all staples on most home schoolers’ bookshelves, include Along Came Galileo (Beautiful Feet Books, 1999), Archimedes and the Door of Science and Galen and the Gateway to Medicine, the last two part of  Bethlehem Books’ “Living History Library”, Worth noting that another book in the library, The Mystery of the Periodic Table by Benjamin Wiker, is illustrated by Mrs. Bendick.  Here you can find a timeline of BB’s books.

According to the biographical note for the Jeanne Bendick papers at the University of Oregon libraries,

An author and/or illustrator of over one hundred books, Bendick is particularly noted for her comprehensive research, clear text, and simple illustrations; her work reflects her ability to hold a reader’s interest even when elucidating a complex principle or invention. Much of what she has written clarifies the areas of television, movies, time, shapes, numbers, ecology, astronomy, heredity, and science history, urging in her readers a basic understanding followed by the curiosity to learn more.

On November 24, 1940, she married Robert Bendick [see which], a photographer who became one of the first three cameramen at the emerging CBS-TV network. This connection enabled her to work in the television field as a story editor and scriptwriter for series such as NBC-TV’s The First Look from 1965-1966, and Giant Step, 1968, as well as a segment for ABC-TV’s 20/20 titled “Evolution/Creation.” …

Bendick has commented, “One part of the job I set for myself is to make those young readers see that everything is connected to everything-that science isn’t something apart. It’s a part of everyday life. It has been that way since the beginning. The things the earliest scientists learned were the building blocks for those who came after. Sometimes they accepted earlier ideas. Sometimes they questioned them and challenged them. I want to involve readers directly in the text so they will ask themselves questions and try to answer them. If they can’t answer, that’s not really important… Questions are more important than answers… If I were a fairy godmother, my gift to every child would be curiosity.”

If you like garage and library sales, keep your eyes peeled for Mrs. Bendick’s older, out of print titles such as Exploring an Ocean Tide Pool, How to Make a Cloud, and Why Things Change: The Story of Evolution.

Belated birthday greetings, Mrs. Bendick, many happy returns, and many many thanks all of the wonderful books, including the newest.

*  *  *

Other Herodotus resources for children:

The Boys’ and Girls’ Herodotus by John S. White; free online too

Stories of the East from Herodotus by Alfred J. Church; book version from Yesterday’s Classics or free online from The Baldwin Project

The Story of the Persian War from Herodotus by Alfred J. Church; book version from Yesterday’s Classics or free online from The Baldwin Project

Herodotus resources for older readers:

The Landmark Herodotus, edited by Robert Strassler and translated by Andrea Purvis (Pantheon, 2007); the NY Review of Books essay is here

Herodotus by James Romm (Yale University Press, December 2008); The New Yorker review of the Landmark volume and Romm’s volume is here

Travels with Herodotus by Ryszard Kapuscinski; published two years ago, Kapuscinski’s last work

Just out this month — The Way of Herodotus: Travels with the Man Who Invented History by Justin Marozzi

Herodotus on the Web

Herodotus at MIT

Herodotus to listen to:

At LibriVox

Washington, DC sights and resources: Part 1

Before we dash off this afternoon to pick cherries (hurray!), here are some things I’ve recently discovered and what we’ve been reading and watching to prepare for our trip next month:

The National Portrait Gallery: when I was living in Washington in 1985-90, this was nowhere near as crowded as the Smithsonian museums on the Mall, and I’m hoping this is still true now.  The NPG has a “Face to Face” podcast series, which I plan to load on Laura’s iPod; current exhibitions include Thomas Paine; Presidents in Waiting; America’s Presidents; American Origins, 1600-1900; and Twentieth-Century Americans.  Opening at the end of this month is Faces of the Frontier: Photographic Portraits from the American West, 1845-1924.   Also useful before you visit are the NPG’s brief “orientation videos”, one for teachers and one for students.

Capital by Lynn Curlee; I bought a hardcover edition from BookCloseouts several years ago and was delighted to find it on the shelves the other day.