• 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)
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The full impact

Pulitzer and Griffin prize-winning poet and essayist Charles Simic has a moving and thought-provoking blog post at the New York Review Blog this week, “A Country without Libraries”, from which:

All across the United States, large and small cities are closing public libraries or curtailing their hours of operations. Detroit, I read a few days ago, may close all of its branches and Denver half of its own: decisions that will undoubtedly put hundreds of its employees out of work. When you count the families all over this country who don’t have computers or can’t afford Internet connections and rely on the ones in libraries to look for jobs, the consequences will be even more dire. People everywhere are unhappy about these closings, and so are mayors making the hard decisions. But with roads and streets left in disrepair, teachers, policemen and firemen being laid off, and politicians in both parties pledging never to raise taxes, no matter what happens to our quality of life, the outlook is bleak. “The greatest nation on earth,” as we still call ourselves, no longer has the political will to arrest its visible and precipitous decline and save the institutions on which the workings of our democracy depend.

I don’t know of anything more disheartening than the sight of a shut down library. No matter how modest its building or its holdings, in many parts of this country a municipal library is often the only place where books in large number on every imaginable subject can be found, where both grownups and children are welcome to sit and read in peace, free of whatever distractions and aggravations await them outside. Like many other Americans of my generation, I owe much of my knowledge to thousands of books I withdrew from public libraries over a lifetime. I remember the sense of awe I felt as a teenager when I realized I could roam among the shelves, take down any book I wanted, examine it at my leisure at one of the library tables, and if it struck my fancy, bring it home. Not just some thriller or serious novel, but also big art books and recordings of everything from jazz to operas and symphonies.

How Simic’s library made him a more interesting, and interested, person:

In Oak Park, Illinois, when I was in high school, I went to the library two or three times a week, though in my classes I was a middling student. Even in wintertime, I’d walk the dozen blocks to the library, often in rain or snow, carrying a load of books and records to return, trembling with excitement and anticipation at all the tantalizing books that awaited me there. The kindness of the librarians, who, of course, all knew me well, was also an inducement. They were happy to see me read so many books, though I’m sure they must have wondered in private about my vast and mystifying range of interests.

I’d check out at the same time, for instance, a learned book about North American insects and bugs, a Louis-Ferdinand Céline novel, the poems of Hart Crane, an anthology of American short stories, a book about astronomy and recordings by Bix Beiderbecke and Sidney Bechet. I still can’t get over the generosity of the taxpayers of Oak Park. It’s not that I started out life being interested in everything; it was spending time in my local, extraordinarily well-stacked public library that made me so.

Simic on those who downplay the importance of libraries in our communities, our society:

I heard some politician say recently that closing libraries is no big deal, since the kids now have the Internet to do their reading and school work. It’s not the same thing. As any teacher who recalls the time when students still went to libraries and read books could tell him, study and reflection come more naturally to someone bent over a book. Seeing others, too, absorbed in their reading, holding up or pressing down on different-looking books, some intimidating in their appearance, others inviting, makes one a participant in one of the oldest and most noble human activities. Yes, reading books is a slow, time-consuming, and often tedious process. In comparison, surfing the Internet is a quick, distracting activity in which one searches for a specific subject, finds it, and then reads about it—often by skipping a great deal of material and absorbing only pertinent fragments. Books require patience, sustained attention to what is on the page, and frequent rest periods for reverie, so that the meaning of what we are reading settles in and makes its full impact.

How many book lovers among the young has the Internet produced? Far fewer, I suspect, than the millions libraries have turned out over the last hundred years. Their slow disappearance is a tragedy, not just for those impoverished towns and cities, but for everyone everywhere terrified at the thought of a country without libraries.

Read the entire post here. Read the NYRblog here, where you can find posts by everyone from Margaret Atwood, Diane Ravitch, and  Mary Beard to Harold Bloom, Michael Chabon, and Joseph Lelyveld.

Support your local library.  Visit often, with your children. Get library cards for the whole family, and use them. Join your Friends of the Library group to help with much-needed fundraising. Take boxes of chocolates and plates of homemade cookies to your librarian and the staff. Join your local library board.  Become volunteer or library page at your branch. Read deeply and widely. Imagine your town, city, or neighborhood without a library.

*  *  *

Earlier Farm School handwringings about libraries:

Those pesky outdated and inaccurate books

Ray Bradbury on libraries

The latest book buzz, or, For whom the bell tolls

A hub for home schoolers

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”.

A little light reading

Very funny, very wicked — wickedly funny and funnily wicked — and very Canadian (featuring a Mountie and set on an island much like Salt Spring), not to mention very suitable for older children:

Let’s Kill Uncle by Rohan O’Grady

From which, a bit about the children, Christie and the orphaned Barnaby, delivering bread,

And then on to Lady Syddyns. Wearing her faded purple velvet dressing gown and floppy-brimmed hat, she was, as usual, doctoring her roses.

She opened her arms to them and declared they must stop for tea.

Barnaby only smiled absently and did not answer, but Christie, pointing to the undelivered bread, declined with regret.

Surely next week then, said the old lady.  They would have cucumber sandwiches and plum cake.  She thumped both their heads affectionately with an insecticide sprayer, gave them each a rose and went on with her gardening.

The title page of the Bloomsbury edition is the original cover with art by Edward Gorey, which is marvellous,

[PS Edward Gorey fans should go to Boston for the new exhibition at the Athenæum, “Elegant Enigmas: The Art of Edward Gorey”, running through early June

PPS Gorey illustrated an earlier book by Miss O’Grady, Pippin’s Journal, republished as The Curse of the Montrolfes, still in print thanks to Second Chance Press]

When I read that The Bloomsbury Group would be republishing the 1963 classic Let’s Kill Uncle in July 2010, I put it on my wish list.  I was never a fan of the movie version, which is not only a very bad movie and poor adaptation, but is more malice than mischief.

According to Bloomsbury’s author page, “June Skinner [aka Rohan O’Grady] did not publish her first book until she was nearly 40, and she did her writing alone in suburban West Vancouver while raising three children.”  Shades of Shirley Jackson and Life Among the Savages

This biography at abcbookworld, complete with picture, seems quite comprehensive. The ending is moving: “Discouraged by minimal recognition, a lack of literary fellowship and slim earnings, June Skinner put away two unpublished manuscripts in the early 1970s, and stopped writing altogether. At 81, she does not regret giving up the writing life. ‘The creative juices don’t need to flow through a pen’, she says.”

Thoroughly deserving of more recognition — buy a copy of Let’s Kill Uncle and The Curse of the Montrolfes today.

You can find the new edition of Let’s Kill Uncle

at Chapters in Canada

at Amazon.ca

at Amazon.com

at Book Depository

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.

A woman’s wit

Lady Russell had little taste for wit, and of anything approaching to imprudence a horror.”
from
Persuasion by Jane Austen

If you happen to find yourself in New York City between this Friday and March 14, 2010, head over to the Morgan Library & Museum for their new exhibition, “A Woman’s Wit: Jane Austen’s Life and Legacy”.  As The New Yorker noted recently, “If you blanch at the idea of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, take solace” at the Morgan’s exhibit:

This exhibition explores the life, work, and legacy of Jane Austen (1775–1817), regarded as one of the greatest English novelists. Offering a close-up portrait of the iconic British author, whose popularity has surged over the last two decades with numerous motion picture and television adaptations of her work, the show provides tangible intimacy with Austen through the presentation of more than 100 works, including her manuscripts, personal letters, and related materials, many of which the Morgan has not exhibited in over a quarter century. A Woman’s Wit: Jane Austen’s Life and Legacy also includes first and early illustrated editions of Austen’s novels as well as drawings and prints depicting people, places, and events of biographical significance.

The exhibition is organized into three sections — Jane Austen’s life and personal letters (one-third of all of her surviving correspondence are at the Morgan), her works, and her legacy — and also includes a documentary-style film directed by Francesco Carrozzini with interviews with Fran Lebowitz and Cornel West, who may or may not be Janeites.

And if you find yourself in NYC with children, bring them along.  On Saturday, February 6, the Morgan offers the Family Program, “Paper Dolls at the Ball: Jane’s Fashion for Kids”.  Then again, if you can’t make it to NYC and still want paper dolls at the ball, try this Dover book or Donald Hendricks’ Paper Dolls website for Miss Austen herself as well as many of her characters, including a jazzy Catherine Morland from Northanger Abbey, an elegant Emma, and Anne Elliott and a very dashing Captain Wentworth from Persuasion.

National Poetry Month 2009: Essential Pleasures

Poetry is like peace on earth, good will toward men.  It’s something we should read and enjoy year-round, not just in spring and all, but for many of us, without the extra effort of a special day or month, it gets rather lost of the shuffle of daily living.

National Poetry Month is celebrated both in the US, under the auspices of the Academy of American Poets (whose page has oodles of links — some good ones are How to Read a Poem [often] and  Tips for Booksellers), and in Canada, under the auspices of the League of Canadian Poets, where this year’s theme is “Poetry Planet”.

Of course, we wouldn’t need a special month if we lived on a Poetry Planet…

And if we did live on a Poetry Planet, I have no doubt I’d find there my old Poetry Friday and Fib Friend, Gregory K. who blogs at GottaBook and who is planning to announce, on Monday March 23, his monthlong Poetry Party, with new poetry every day of the month and much much more.  For all sorts of wonderful original poetry by Greg, from his poems to his fibs to his very funny Oddaptations, check his sidebar.  UPDATED March 23 to add: Greg’s monthlong poetry party is “30 Poets / 30 Days”, where he’ll be posting a “previously unpublished poem by a different poem” for each day of April.  Check his blog, GottaBook, for details and the list of celebrated contemporary children’s poets.

Greg also has an update on what else is going on in the Kidlitosphere (which now has its own planet, er, website) to celebrate National Poetry Month:

* Sylvia Vardell at her Poetry For Children blog, which has a wealth of information year-round,will be reviewing a new children’s poetry each day for the entire month of April

* Elaine Magliaro at Wild Rose Reader has some plans up her sleeve for the month too (she’ll be offering some lovely books as prizes), as well as a new blog of political poetry and a long, rich post from early March featuring her updated Resources for National Poetry Month (including some tidbits for teachers and home schoolers).

* Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect is featuring interviews with three dozen poets for her series, Poetry Makers.

* Anastasia Suen at the Pencil Talk blog will celebrate by the month with school poems written by children, posting one every day.

Former US Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky will spend the month of April blogging about Poems Out Loud.  You can sign up to join him.  As Poet Laureate, Mr. Pinsky created the Favorite Poem Project to encourage Americans to read their favorite verses aloud. April will see the publication of Essential Pleasures: A New Anthology of Poems to Read Aloud, a book and CD set edited by Mr. Pinsky. Also good to read: the 2007 Mother Jones article on Robert Pinsky the poetry popularizer; and Mr. Pinsky himself, “In Praise of Difficult Poetry”, and on “Poetry and American Memory”.

Poetry podcasts and other online audio poetry:

The Library of Congress’s guide to online poetry audio recordings

The Academy of American Poets “Poetcast”

The Poetry Foundation’s podcasts and audio selections

Cloudy Day Art podcasts

Houghton Mifflin’s “The Poetic Voice”

HarperAudio!, where you can hear Ossie Davis read Langston Hughes, Peter Ustinov read James Thurber, and Dylan Thomas read his own works

The UK Poetry Archive

BBC’s “Poetry Out Loud”

PennSound

Learn Out Loud’s “Intro to Poetry” podcast

The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer’s Poetry Series podcasts

Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac

First World War Digital Poetry Archive podcasts

Poetry at NPR

KCRW’s Bookworm podcast

Some wonderful new, newish and newer poetry books to share with your children:

The Cuckoo’s Haiku: and Other Birding Poems by Michael J. Rosen, illustrated by Stan Fellows (Candlewick, March 2009)

A Foot in the Mouth: Poems to Speak, Sing and Shout, compiled by Paul B. Janeczko and illustrated by Chris Raschka (Candlewick, March 2009), from the same pair who brought us A Kick in the Head: An Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms in 2005.  And really, what better way to celebrate poetry every day of the year, not just in April, than to speak, sing, and shout poetry aloud?

A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet.   A Caldecott Honor picture book biography of the American poet and physician (1883-1963) who wrote “A Red Wheelbarrow” and “This Is Just to Say”

The Visions in Poetry series from Canadian publisher Kids Can Press, where classic poems are combined with new Canadian artists, sometimes in startling ways, especially on the cover of The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes, illustrated by Murray Kimber.  Other volumes include Casey at the Bat by Ernest L. Thayer, illustrated by Joe Morse; Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll, illustrated by Stéphane Jorisch; The Lady of Shalott by Tennyson, illustrated by Geneviève Côté; My Letter to the World and Other Poems by Emily Dickinson, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault; Edward Lear’s The Owl and the Pussycat, illustrated by Stéphane Jorisch; and The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe, illustrated by Ryan Price.  And not new but fabulous from Kids Can Press: their picture book editions of Robert Service’s poems, illustrated by Ted Harrison. Canadian classics.

Douglas Florian‘s brand new Dinothesaurus: Prehistoric Poems and Paintings (and his not new but entirely seasonally appropriate, his energetic exploration of the vernal equinox, Handsprings)

The lovely new picture book version, illustrated by E.B. Lewis, of The Negro Speaks of Rivers, written by a very young Langston Hughes (Hyperion, January 2009)

I haven’t yet seen Rabbie’s Rhymes: Burns for Wee Folk newly out for the Robbie Burns 250th anniversary, but think it looks adorable.

UPDATED to add: Indefatigable children’s poet J. Patrick Lewis, one of the participants in Greg at Gottabook’s April 30 Poets / 30 Days poetrypalooza, was kind enough to send me a very sweet note complete with ruffles and flourishes — rather than the plank walk at swordpoint I deserved for the omissions — to remind me of his many varied works coming out in 2009:

The Underwear Salesman, And Other Jobs for Better or  Verse by J. Patrick Lewis, illusrated by Serge Bloch (Atheneum, March 2009)

Countdown to Summer: A Poem for Every Day of the School Year by J. Patrick Lewis, illustrated by Ethan Long (Little, Brown, July 2009)

Spot the Plot! A Riddle Book of Book Riddles by J. Patrick Lewis, illustrated by Lynn Munsinger (Chronicle Books, September 2009)

The House by J. Patrick Lewis, illustrated by Lynn Munsinger (Creative Editions, October 2009); I’m excited to hear about this one because I loved their previous collaboration, the beautiful, marvelous The Last Resort.

If you or your children aren’t familiar with the poetry of J. Patrick Lewis, I urge you to run to the library or your favorite bookstore.  Pat has written so many illustrated books of verse on such a wide variety of subjects — art, biography, history, science, holidays, bible stories, animals, general silliness, general spookiness, arithmetic, geography, music, reading and libraries, folk tales, castles and pirate kings, and more — that I dare you not to find something appealing. Also his timely tome on Galileo for this year — it’s a pop-up too, great fun.  Best of all, Pat has free printable bookmark poems (or poem bookmarks).  If you’re going to carry a poem in your pocket (an idea sparked in New York City), I can’t think of a handier way to do it!

Coming out soon:

A Mirror to Nature: Poems About Reflection by Jane Yolen, with photographs by Jason Stemple (Wordsong, April 2009)

Previous National Poetry Month celebrations and other Poetry Posts at Farm School (you can also click the green “Poetry” page link up above, second from the right over the carrot leaves):

Poetry Friday: The February hush

The February Hush
by Thomas Wentworth Higginson (1823-1911)

Snow o’er the darkening moorlands,
Flakes fill the quiet air;
Drifts in the forest hollows,
And a soft mask everywhere.

The nearest twig on the pine-tree
Looks blue through the whitening sky,
And the clinging beech-leaves rustle
Though never a wind goes by.

But there’s red on the wildrose berries,
And red in the lovely glow
On the cheeks of the child beside me,
That once were pale, like snow.

From my copy of Into Winter: Discovering a Season by William P. Nestor, illustrated by Susan Banta (Houghton Mifflin, 1982, out of print); the poem was originally published in Afternoon Landscape: Poems and Translations by William Wentworth Higginson, 1889.

For more Poetry Friday fun, head over to Mommy’s Favorite Children’s Books, where Karen is hosting today’s roundup.  Thank you, Karen!

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Thomas Wentworth Higginson was an American Unitarian minister, Transcendentalist, writer, Civil War soldier, abolitionist, and supporter of temperance, labor rights, and the rights of women. A particularly good online biography is here, as part of “Notable American Unitarians”.  Col. Higginson born on December 22, 1823 at Cambridge, Massachusetts, the descendant of a Puritan minister who emigrated to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and the grandson of Stephen Higginson, a member of the Continental Congress.  Higginson attended Harvard and was a schoolmaster for two years after graduating in 1841.  He returned to Harvard to study at its Divinity School.  Higginson proved to be too liberal for his first church, the First Religious Society (Unitarian) in Newburyport, Massachusetts, and was asked to leave after two years.  An admirer of the writings of William Lloyd Garrison and Lydia Maria Childs, Higginson was one of the “Secret Six” who supported John Brown in his raid on Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, in 1859. During the Civil War, Higginson served the 51st Massachusetts Volunteers as captain, leaving this post to serve as colonel for the first black Union regiment, the First Carolina Volunteers (33rd Infantry Regiment, U.S. Colored Troops), comprised of escaped slaves.

Higginson was an early champion of Emily Dickinson, and the two enjoyed a 23-year-long correspondence; their relationship is the subject of a new book, White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson by Brenda Wineapple (Knopf, 2008). After the poet’s death in 1886, her family asked Higginson and Mabel Loomis Todd to edit and prepare for publication Emily Dickinson’s first collection of poetry.

From the time of the Civil War, Higginson published a number of works — poetry, biography, memoirs, essays, and history, including his Young Folks’ History of the United States; in 1875, The New York Times called the book one “which no American boy or girl can fail to read with pleasure while he or she learns from it all of the essential facts in the progress of the country”. Higginson was poetry editor at The Nation for 26 years, and wrote a regular column for Harper’s Bazaar, “Women and Men”, on equality of the sexes.  A selection of his letters can be found here, though none to Miss Dickinson survive.  One of his first books was a volume of collected natural history essays, Outdoor Papers, each originally published in The Atlantic.  Higginson sent one copy of the book to Charles Darwin and another was found in the Dickinson family library.

Higginson died on May 9, 1911, at the age of 87 at Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The Magnificent Activist: The Writings of Thomas Wentworth Higginson, edited by Howard N. Meyer

White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson by Brenda Wineapple (Knopf, 2008)

Army Life in a Black Regiment: and Other Writings by Thomas Wentworth Higginson

The Complete Civil War Journal and Selected Letters of Thomas Wentworth Higginson, edited by Christopher Looby


“Deep, recurring human truths”

Reading through The Guardian online last week I came across the news that UK Poet Laureate Andrew Motion, an atheist (and also one of the directors of The Poetry Archive), has “called for an overhaul of the school curriculum to reverse the ‘depressing’ trend which threatened to leave future generations unable to fully understand the works of Milton and Shakespeare or even more recent writers such as TS Eliot”:

Mr Motion, who holds a chair in creative writing at Royal Holloway, University of London, said that he had struggled to teach Milton’s Paradise Lost to undergraduates because they had no concept of the fall of man.

“These were all bright students, very hard-working, all with good A-levels, but their knowledge of the great ancient stories was very sketchy,” he said in an interview.

“So when the time came to talk about Milton, I found very few knew there had been a civil war. As for the Bible, forget it, they just about knew who Adam and Eve were.”

He insisted that while secularist ideas had put many people off studying the Bible, parents who do not believe in God should have nothing to fear from their children learning about the Bible.

“If people say this is about ramming religion down people’s throats, they aren’t thinking about it hard enough,” he said.

“It is more about the power of these words to connect with deep, recurring human truths, and also the story of the influence of that language and those stories.”

And he warned that growing ignorance of the great stories of the Bible as well as classical mythology was becoming an increasingly serious handicap for those studying literature.

“Many of my students stumble into vaguely mythological stories in their writing,” he said.

Read the rest of the article here.

Here’s the perfect example of what you can do with a little book learning, not to mention a great deal of craft and patience: retired farmer Alec Garrard’s 12′ by 20′ model of  Herod’s Temple; as Mr. Garrard notes, “I have an interest in buildings and religion so I thought maybe I could combine the two and I came up with the idea of doing the temple”.  A detailed slide show of the model is here.

*  *  *

Polymath Isaac Asimov’s Guide to the Bible: A Historical Look at the Old and New Testaments

The Bible: A Biography, Islam: A Short History, and A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam by Karen Armstrong

Biblical Literacy: The Most Important People, Events, and Ideas of the Hebrew Bible by Joseph Telushkin

Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know — And Doesn’t by Stephen Prothero

World Religions: The Great Faiths Explored & Explained by John Bowker (DK Publishing)

The Bible Literacy Project

Darwin 200: Charles Darwin’s Day

(Previously posted last year as “Funny, you don’t look a day over 198”, with some updates and revisions)

adday

“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 200th 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, 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.

Science historian and songwriter Richard Milner performs a one-man musical show about Charles Darwin, “Charles Darwin Live and In Concert”.  Find him in concert or lecturing at a venue near you.  Milner has been a guest on WNYC (and here‘s his WNYC visit the other year). If he won’t be close by, check the 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 his longtime friend 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

Evolution: How We and All Living Things Came to Be by Daniel Loxton

Darwin: With Glimpses into His Private Journal and Letters by Alice B. McGinty, illustrated by Mary Azarian (Houghton Mifflin, April 2009)

What Mr. Darwin Saw by Mick Manning and Brita Granström (Frances Lincoln, March 2009)

What Darwin Saw: The Journey That Changed the World by Rosalyn Schanzer (National Geographic, January 2009)

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.

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.

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

Galapagos George by Jean Craighead George, illustrated by Wendell Minor (HarperCollins, April 2009). 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”.

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)

Ringside, 1925: Views from the Scopes Trial by Jen Bryant (no relation, I believe, to William Jennings…)

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

The Cartoon History of the Earth series by Jacqui Bailey and Matthew Lilly, published by Kids Can Press; including the titles The Birth of the Earth and The Dawn of Life

Eyewitness: Evolution by Linda Gamlin (Dorling Kindersley)

From DK, Evolution Revolution: From Darwin to DNA

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

Around the World with Darwin by Millicent Selsam, illustrated by Anthony Ravielli (Harper &  Row, 1961); you can’t go wrong with Millicent Selsam

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)

The Norton Critical Edition of Darwin, edited by Philip Appleman (third edition, 20001), first published in 1970 and considered by Dr. Stephen Jay Gould to be “the best Darwin anthology on the market”.

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

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

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).

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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 also offers on February 12, 2009 a special Darwin Day podcast

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” and his editorial today, “Darwin at 200: The Ongoing Force of His Unconventional Idea

On Film

“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 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.

Music

Gilbert & Sullivan’s comic opera “Princess Ida”, first performed in 1884, features the song “The Ape and the Lady” (see the accompanying illustration by Gilbert himself below).  You can listen to a 1924 HMV D’Oyly Carte recording; and here are the lyrics from “The Ape and the Lady”,

A Lady fair, of lineage high,
Was loved by an Ape, in the days gone by
The Maid was radiant as the sun,
The Ape was a most unsightly one.
So it would not do ;
His scheme fell through,
For the Maid, when his love took formal shape,
Expressed such terror
At his monstrous error,
That he stammered an apology and made his ‘scape,
The picture of a disconcerted Ape.
With a view to rise in the social scale,
He shaved his bristles, and he docked his tail,
He grew moustachios, and he took his tub,
And he paid a guinea to a toilet club
But it would not do,
The scheme fell through
For the Maid was Beauty’s fairest Queen,
With golden tresses,
Like a real princess’s,
While the Ape, despite his razor keen,
Was the apiest Ape that ever was seen!
He bought white ties, and he bought dress suits,
He crammed his feet into bright tight boots
And to start in life on a bran new plan,
He christened himself Darwinian Man!
But it would not do,
The scheme fell through
For the Maiden fair, whom the Monkey craved,
Was a radiant Being,
With a brain far-seeing
While a Man, however well-behaved,
At best is only a monkey shaved!

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 theBeagle 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’.” Colin also has a Charles Darwin/Posse store at Cafe Press where you can outfit yourself completely for the festivities.

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 NSCE has a new page on the Darwin Bicentennial in the News

Nature Podcast: Darwin

New York Times “Times Topics” page on Charles Darwin

New York Times “Times Topics” page on Evolution

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

Readers and scientists celebrating Darwin, new books for children

Just a theory, celebrations at Cambridge University

Radio Darwin, radio and television celebrations at the BBC

“Part of nature”, Desmond Morris salutes Charles Darwin as a “Hero for our age”

Science resources for The Coalition On The Public Understanding of Science’s Year of Science 2009. Guess what’s up for February?

Celebrating Christmas with Colin Purrington’s Axis of Evo project

Banned Books Week 2008

The new anti-intellectualism plus scientific illiteracy equals the perfect storm over evolution

Arabella Buckley and Darwin

Lincoln and Darwin together again (2008)

Charles Darwin and Sir David Attenborough, in cold blood

Funny, you don’t look a day over 198 (the original February 2008 version of this post)

I typed this all by myself with my opposable thumbs, a post for the creation museum carnival (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 have moved around by themselves, disappeared, etc. more than once), please add them to the comments below. Thank you!

“The best Abe Lincolns”

The Horn Book Magazine has a new special feature about the best children’s biographies of our 16th President, from picture books for the youngest readers to titles for young adults.

If you have time to go to the library to find some new reading before tomorrow, go!

Two different schools of reading

in England.

UK children’s laureate Michael Rosen wonders, in The Guardian Book Blog, “just how difficult would it be to get schools currently teaching ‘literacy’ to teach a genuine love of reading instead?”  Mr. Rosen is hoping, with the help of the BBC, to spark a “reading revolution”, beginning with a school in Cardiff, Wales.  According to a related Guardian article [links added by me],

… Michael Rosen is set to do for books what Jamie Oliver did for school dinners, with a new BBC show in which he attempts to get a Cardiff primary school to fall in love with literature in just 10 weeks.

The hour-long show, Just Read with Michael Rosen, is due to appear in February. It will see Rosen, author of Mustard, Custard, Grumble Belly and Gravy and We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, giving staff at the school permission to shake up their timetables in an attempt to get classes reading for fun. Many of the children at the school have few books at home, and have never visited a library. …

With teachers under pressure to deliver a “reading curriculum”, Rosen said that schools have developed what he dubbed “excerpt-itis”, where classes read an extract from a book and are immediately asked questions about it. “It’s absolutely pathetic – they don’t even tell the whole story,” he said.

And, finally,

“It’s not rocket science – it’s just doing all we can and doing it with enthusiasm,” he said. “It’s about putting books at the centre of the curriculum, getting children engaging with worlds beyond their own, reading about complex ideas in an enjoyable way.”

“Just Read with Michael Rosen” airs tomorrow evening, Sunday, February 8, on BBC Four at 9 pm.

A world of difference from the news reported last autumn that a secondary school (high school) in Chesterfield, England, would be turning its library into a “virtual-learning environment” in this new year; the librarian would lose her job.  Author Philip Pullman, alerted by author Alan Gibbons (founder last autumn of The Campaign for the Book) joined in to try to save the school’s library,   sending a letter to the headteacher.  From which,

I am deeply dismayed to learn, from the Campaign for the Book, of your decision to close the library at your school and make the librarian redundant. This simply cannot be in the best interests of your students. A
library, with a dedicated and professional staff, should be at the very heart of any institution devoted to learning. Nothing can replace a proper library, with its resources centrally available, and with the expertise of a qualified librarian to guide the students in the best and most productive ways of research.

As for the idea that fiction is not worth looking after properly and can be relegated to “break times and after school clubs”, and does not need a qualified librarian to deal with it, that runs contrary to every experience I have ever had as a teacher, as a pupil, and as a writer. …

Have you no idea of the richness and depth of modern (and classic) children’s fiction, and the profound importance it
has not only in the classroom but in the hearts and minds of the pupils in your care? Have you any idea how valuable the knowledge and experience of librarians is in this field alone? Are you going to relegate the whole activity of reading fiction — novels being, in the words of Jane Austen, “work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its
varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language” — to the status of a trivial and innocuous activity like stamp-collecting or playing with a frisbee?

I urge you to think again. Do you really want your school to be a by-word for philistinism and ignorance? I can assure you that that will be the result of your present policy.

Or, as Mr. Rosen might put it, it’s not rocket science, is it?

*  *  *

Interestingly, while looking for the links to Mr. Rosen’s books, the following came up at Amazon.com:

Promoting Reading for Pleasure in the Primary School by Michael Lockwood, originally published in the UK last June.  Not surprisingly, Mr. Pullman offers the following blurb, emphasis mine:

This book is first class. It puts the matter very clearly and succinctly, and presents a great deal of evidence to support the argument that pleasure is not a frivolous extra, but the very heart and essence of what reading is about. It also gives readers plenty of ideas for carrying the principle into the classroom, and for justifying it… This is an excellent piece of work, which I hope will find a place on every staffroom bookshelf.

Then again, it’s not rocket science, is it?

Then again, we’re at the point where the idea that “pleasure is not a frivolous extra, but the very heart and essence of what reading is about” requires justifying.

Poetry Friday: Old Abe in the marble and the moonlight

In celebration of the upcoming bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln, a poem for a President who loved poetry,

Lincoln Monument:  Washington
by Langston Hughes

Let’s go see Old Abe
Sitting in the marble and the moonlight,
Sitting lonely in the marble and the moonlight,
Quiet for ten thousand centuries, old Abe.
Quiet for a million, million years.

And yet a voice forever
Against the
Timeless walls
Of time–
Old Abe.

*  *  *

The official Lincoln Bicentennial Commission website has an entire page of poems inspired by the 16th President

The Library of Congress has a web page on Lincoln as Poet and also on Abraham Lincoln and Poetry

And, a recent Atlantic article, “Obama’s Poetic Predecessor” (December 5, 2008) features Lincoln’s poem, “The Bear”, and notes,

When it came to turning a nimble stanza, the old railsplitter was no slouch. Shot through with salty frontier humor and earthy vernacular gusto, Lincoln’s rollicking ballad makes for lively reading from start to finish, and while the relish it takes in blood-sport carnage might be a bit pungent for modern tastes, it’s hard to fault the poem’s chops: the very least to be said about his backwoods verse-yarn is that it briskly goes about its business with nary a dull moment or false step.

*  *  *

The Poetry Friday roundup, a splendid all-day all-you-can eat affair, is hosted today by Elaine Magliaro at Wild Rose Reader.  Thanks, Elaine!

We’re busy this weekend with a curling bonspiel (rocks on ice, alllll day) Saturday and 4H Public Speaking Day on Sunday.  It will be Daniel’s first, and I know he’s looking forward to saying his piece and putting the day behind him…

Happy birthday, Edgar Allan Poe

Another bicentennial to celebrate this year: Edgar Allan Poe was born on January 19, 1809.

The fine folks at Naxos Audiobooks, whose Junior Audiobooks selection we are especially fond of, are offering a free download of Poe’s The Raven:

The Raven (MP3 file, 8 mins., 2.9 MB)

*  *  *

And, also from Naxos for another bicentennial, a free download of Abraham Lincoln’s The Gettysburg Address,

The Gettysburg Address (MP3 file, 3 mins., 1.1 MB)

Not free, but new this year for the Lincoln bicentennial is Naxos’s The Essential Abraham Lincoln: Speeches and letters by Abraham Lincoln, compiled by Garrick Hagon and Peter Whitfield with a biography by Peter Whitfield, and read by Peter Marinker and Garrick Hagon

The joy of books, by ear

In the previous post, below, about author Susan Hill and reading literature in the classroom, JoVE commented about some comments in Miss Hill’s Standpoint article, about the benefits of reading aloud, even to older children.  Readalouds are a central part of our day, something which we started long before we began home schooling.  Here are the Standpoint comments (which you can read here), first from a teacher named Kit,

“To add a more positive note. I have regularly taught ‘The Woman in Black’ to GCSE students in an FE college. They have all failed the exam in school and so they aren’t the brightest or the best motivated students. I don’t believe in doing ‘bits’ of a novel or a play – it just spoils the whole thing, apart from any more academic considerations but I have to say that they way I cope with the whole text would not please any Ofsted inspector. I read the whole thing to them and they sit and listen, folowing [sic] in the text. It’s like Jackanory. They’re mostly boys and many of them are planning to join the armed services. After the first week, when they’re understandably a bit sceptical about it, they’re in the room before me, pushing the tables together so we can all sit round one space. Some even stop me round the campus to ask: ‘Are we doin’ more of that story about the ghost?’ I’m too old to care that my methods would not be seen as interactive enough. I know most of them can’t read well enough to enjoy the text on their own.”

(“Jackanory”, by the way, is a longtime BBC show similar to “Between the Lions” or “Reading Rainbow”, designed to get kids reading)

And then a reply from Miss Hill, with her own capitals preserved,

“I am absolutely DELIGHTED that they should listen to it being read to them. It does not trouble me in the least that someone else is doing the physical reading bit. That is why I am delighted that the downloaded audiobooks of the novels are extemely popular among students. They are wonderfully well read and they help them to concentrate. I published a children’s book last year for the 7-12 age range [I think it may be this] and had a letter from a teacher to say she had started to read it aloud every Thursday morning to a class of unruly 9-10 year olds with many boys among them who found it almost impossible to sit still. But they became so engrossed in her reading that nobody so much as wriggled, and they were all sitting on the mat waiting for her, eager and attentive, every Thursday. Most of them had reading difficulties but once they had heard the book, wanted to try for themselves. She also reported several who had asked parents to buy it so that they could read at home. In three cases this was the first book the parent had ever bought. I am more proud of this, as I am of hearing about the army-bound older boys listening to the reading of The Woman in Black so attentively, than I am about almost anything. I don’t want them to have to strain to analyse and answer exam questions on my ‘text’ if this is something they genuinely find difficult, I want them to read or listen to the books and find that a positive and enjoyable and enriching experience which may encourage them to read or listen to another book.”

As Casey pointed out in one of comments in the previous post, “The great think [Casey meant “thing”, but “think” works equally well in this context] about reading aloud to kids is it helps them learn to listen and sustain that auditory attention. We (Hombre more than I) do a *lot* of reading aloud to the boys. I remember my teachers up thru 5th grade reading aloud to us daily. I don’t know that there’s time for that anymore.”  It strikes me that most home educating families somehow include reading aloud in some form in the day or the week; it’s a habit that we don’t seem to outgrow once the kids “get too old” for picture books (mine haven’t yet) or start school.

Here we read aloud for fun and for school work.  For school books, whether the subject is literature, history, or science, it’s a wonderful way to cover the same subject with three kids of different ages, helping us to stay on the same page.  I’ve also noticed that my kids, unlike their mother, are very good and careful listeners, which I put down to once- or twice-a-day readalouds from the time they were babies.

Since we’re talking about listening to books, I’m going to stick add our incomplete and highly subjective list of audiobook and podcast links here, since Laura received an iPod Nano from her grandparents for Christmas, and I’m in charge of the syncing.  It was my idea to get her an iPod, as a way to manage the vast collection of CDs that seems to filter down from our main floor to her basement bedroom and also to give her access to various podcasts without having to burn them on CD (and further add to our unwieldy collection).  Laura’s iPod came with strings, and I’m not talking about the earbuds: first, the gizmo is a tool and not a toy; it will contain a healthy amount of the spoken word and audiobooks in addition to music; and it will be listened to mainly with speakers (I found an inexpensive alarm clock radio/dock with speakers which was under the tree, too) rather than earbuds and won’t make too many appearances out of the house other than for airplane trips.

Russell Educational Consultancy and Productions’ (RECAP’s) podcast directory for educators, schools, and colleges; a UK website I haven’t even begun to explore properly

Prufrock Press’s list of “Podcasts for Gifted Kids”, eminently suitable too for those who happen to be bright and motivated. Though the list of National Geographic‘s podcasts includes only the Dog Whisperer and not what Laura finds much more appealing, NG’s Traveler Magazine “Walks” podcasts.  And I’m looking forward to the White House podcasts, especially the Presidential Speeches and the Presidential Weekly Radio Address, but not until later this month, I think.

On the Prufrock list, you’ll find Colonial Williamsburg’s podcast page, where if you scroll down to the bottom of the list and click on “People”, you’ll find all sorts of interesting things, including categories for “Historical figures” (“Hear the words that were catalyst to the Revolution, read by Bill Barker, Colonial Williamsburg’s Thomas Jefferson”), “African Americans”, and “Women”.

PBS’s “American Experience” (favorites include podcasts on Riding the Rails, FDR, Minik the Lost Eskimo, Buffalo Bill, Kit Carson, Annie Oakley, the Gold Rush, Hoover Dam, the Fourth of July 1826, Remember the Alamo, and Coney Island)

“Animal Planet” podcasts, some of which (Jane Goodall, Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom) are better than others

CBC Radio’s “The Best of Ideas”, which archives podcasts only for four weeks

CBC Radio’s “Vinyl Cafe”

BBC’s “Great Lives” (Paul Robeson, Alfred Russel Wallace, George Cruikshank)

PBS’s NOVA, with oodles of science and history subjects

NPR’s “Hmmm… (Robert) Krulwich on Science”

NPR’s “Present at the Creation”

NPR’s “Story of the Day”

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (from William Bowler to Victoria Woodhull to Piltdown Man)

Scientific American‘s Science Talk

The Engines of Our Ingenuity, written and hosted by John Lienhard and others, on National Public Radio

How Stuff Works, especially the Stuff You Missed in History Class podcast

WNYC’s “Please Explain” with Leonard Lopate

Last summer I somehow tripped over the Children’s Vinyl Record Series website, which appeals to me because I had a great number of those LPs as a child.  In fact, I still have them, but the record player is in the living room.  The website, with downloadable zip MP3 files, is much more handy.  You can find old Tale Spinners records, with a full cast and classical music telling everything from fairy tales to composers’ biographies (“The Story of Chopin”) to more advanced literature (“The Count of Monte Cristo”)

Golden Records, with some Danny Kaye, “A Child’s Introduction to” everything from the Orchestra, Gilbert & Sullivan, Mozart & Beethoven, Spanish, French, Jazz (with Bob Keeshan aka Captain Kangaroo)

Riverside Wonderland, with “Songs Children Sing: France” (one of my childhood favorites, and there are versions too for Germany and Italy), more “A Child’s Introduction to” records, including Jazz again (this one narrated by Julian “Cannonball” Adderley), Ballet with Moira Shearer, Multiplication, and Shakespeare

If you love old LPs and things such as Kiddie Records Weekly, which I just found out is back for one more year in 2009, Children’s Vinyl Records will be right up your alley.

Fear, loathing, and bad manners in the classroom

Still across the pond, English author Susan Hill, whose books are included in GCSE and A-level syllabi and who has more patience in one pinky than I do in my whole body,  in The Telegraph says that “she has been flooded with ‘desperate’ emails from pupils struggling to understand her novels”:

“It saddens me greatly to think that my own novels may be taught so badly, so dully and so mechanically that they will contribute to this loathing of books. I have seen enough school essays and coursework to know that standards are lower than they were.”

And,

“It has become distressingly clear to me that too many school pupils are taught badly, lazily, unintelligently and cursorily,” she said.

“They are not taught how to read and understand novels or to write essays and coursework and answer questions about them. Judging by the evidence of their emails, many should not be studying English literature at all, but with guidance, understanding and above all enthusiastic teaching they could certainly be helped to get more out of books – any books – than they are.”

Miss Hill also believes that not all pupils should be required to study GCSE English:

“Not all of them need to, or will ever, find practical application for those particular skills,” she said. ” If those who struggle… were introduced to a wide variety of books which they simply might enjoy reading, far fewer would be put off all literature for the rest of their lives.

Read the rest of the article here, and don’t miss the examples of emails sent to Miss Hill, who points out that teachers (and, I’d add, parents) are doing a poor job in the grammar and manners departments as well: “Manners are not automatic, like breathing. Nor is grammar.”  The Guardian article, by the bye,  came about as a result of a recent Standpoint magazine article by Miss Hill, “A Novel Way to Treat a Writer”.

Recent related articles:

“What Ails Literary Studies: Leaving Literature Behind” by Bruce Fleming in the Dec. 19, 2008, Chronicle of Higher Education (many thanks to Jo for letting me know about The Chronicle Review earlier in the year and also for sending me a number of articles behind the [shhh…] subscriber-only firewall): “We’ve turned revelation into drudgery, shut ourselves in airless rooms, and covered over the windows.”

“Shakespeare, Dickens and Palin. Discuss.” by English writer and critic Philip Hensher in The Independent, on “the place of the illustrious dead”.  (That would be Michael, not Sarah, by the way.)  From which,

The determination to study “the contemporary” and “the relevant” has resulted in a weird situation where a writer’s work never needs to find a public who actually likes the work. Instead, a bureaucrat approves, a volume is bought by huge numbers by schools, and the question of engagement with a living public never seems to arise.

Quite how bizarre this situation is has been pointed out by a mesmerising article by Susan Hill in the recent Standpoint magazine. She is an author with a genuine, living public; other books of hers are favourites, apparently, with the GCSE setters.

And

A Michael Palin travelogue* may not be the place to look to find out what great literature looks like. On the other hand, we are fairly sure that Coleridge is that place.

* Phileas Fogg and friends

Book Smart

On the trip I collected the recent issue of my high school alumni magazine, which my parents saved for me.  I’m not usually around to collect and read it, and my patience tends to be limited for a magazine for a school where the tuition nowadays averages $30,000 US a year a student.  Toss in books, blazers, and bagels from H & H, and we’re probably talking a cool $100,000 to educate my three darlings each year.  At least one of whom probably wouldn’t exist, for reasons of both space and finance, if Tom and I had chosen to settle in NYC rather than on the prairie (where they spent this morning skating on Wollman Rink North).

But in the pages I did find mention of an intriguing, fairly new book (October 2007) written by one of my favorite teachers, who made English class come alive: Book Smart: Your Essential Reading List for Becoming a Literary Genius in 365 Days by Jane Mallison.  At $10.17, that’s as close as my kids are going to get to a private NYC prep school education, aside from the gems from Miz Mallison and the many others I still recall and impart.

Here are a few online reviews I came across:

Elizabeth Bachner’s review at Bookslut

Bethanne Patrick at Publishers Weekly’s Book Maven blog

Sharon Goforth’s review at Ex Libris

Mary Lancaster’s article for The Nantucket Independent

Harold Bloom’s advice

Harold Bloom, the author, literary critic, and professor, in today’s New York Times, “Out of Panic, Self-Reliance” (emphasis mine):

The similarities between the crashes of 1837 and 1929 are evident again today. I am not an economist or a political scientist, but having been born in 1930, I retain poignant early memories of the impact of the Great Depression upon my father, a working man who struggled to maintain a family with five children in a very hard time. I am a scholar of literature and religion, and would advise whoever becomes president to turn to Ralph Waldo Emerson, whose influential vision of America was deeply informed by the crisis of 1837

Read the rest here. Some Emersonian essays for potential Presidents to read:

“Self-Reliance”, from Essays, First Series; one of lessons that made the deepest impression on me in reading Marva Collins’ Way was her teaching of the essay to even her youngest students (“‘Now’, she said, ‘self-reliance means to believe in yourself. … Mr. Emerson is telling us to trust our own thoughts, to think for ourselves and not worry about what other people tell us to think’.”)

“Prudence”*, from Essays, First Series

“Wealth”**, from The Conduct of Life

Five years ago, Professor Bloom reminded us that the Sage of Concord still had much to teach us; as Prof. Bloom wrote in The Guardian then,

Fundamentally, America in 1860 and in 2003 are little different. Our current bruisers (Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld et al) are distinctly not “frank and direct, and above falsehood”, because they come from the corporate world, but certainly they know “how much crime the people will bear”, and much of the opposition we can muster is, alas “snivelling”. An uncanny ironist, as a prophet must be, Emerson is archetypically American in his appreciation of power: “In history, the great moment is, when the savage is just ceasing to be a savage, with all his hairy Pelasgic strength directed on his opening sense of beauty – and you have Pericles and Phidias – not yet passed over into the Corinthian civility. Everything good in nature and the world is in that moment of transition, when the swarthy juices still flow plentifully from nature, but their astringency or acridity is got out by ethics and humanity.”

Self-reliance has been a popular subject here at Farm School, both our home school and the blog, because I think it’s one of the most important lessons and virtues we can learn ourselves and teach our children. Preferably before we are in dire need of a bit of it. A few other posts:

Back to school

All roads lead to home and hard work

Further thoughts on self-esteem and self-confidence

Little Heathens and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle in The Christian Science Monitor

More from Millie Kalish

* Here’s a bit from “Prudence”: “But what man shall dare tax another with imprudence? Who is prudent? The men we call greatest are least in this kingdom. There is a certain fatal dislocation in our relation to nature, distorting our modes of living, and making every law our enemy, which seems at last to have aroused all the wit and virtue in the world to ponder the question of Reform. We must call the highest prudence to counsel, and ask why health and beauty and genius should now be the exception, rather than the rule, of human nature? We do not know the properties of plants and animals and the laws of nature through our sympathy with the same; but this remains the dream of poets. Poetry and prudence should be coincident. Poets should be lawgivers; that is, the boldest lyric inspiration should not chide and insult, but should announce and lead, the civil code, and the day’s work. But now the two things seem irreconcilably parted. We have violated law upon law, until we stand amidst ruins, and when by chance we espy a coincidence between reason and the phenomena, we are surprised.”

** And a bit from “Wealth”: “Every man is a consumer, and ought to be a producer. He fails to make his place good in the world, unless he not only pays his debt, but also adds something to the common wealth. Nor can he do justice to his genius, without making some larger demand on the world than a bare subsistence. He is by constitution expensive, and needs to be rich.”

Celebrating International Literacy Day, Part I (redux)

::A repeat from three years ago, with a (very) few new additions, mostly in the “Something New” section::

(There may be some wonky links — I noticed some hiccups moving the old Blogger post to WordPress. Let me know in the comments if you find anything odd and I’ll see if I can fix it.)

How to Read (for Children and Adults) and How to Enjoy Reading

The ABC’s and All Their Tricks by Margaret M. Bishop

McGuffey’s Eclectic Readers by William Holmes McGuffey

Why Johnny Can’t Read: And What You Can Do About It by Rudolf Flesch; recommended by Flesch, and still available secondhand, is the old textbook Reading with Phonics by Julie Hay and Charles E. Wingo [I used this as a supplement with Daniel to great success, having found a copy on eBay]

The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Reading by Jessie Wise, co-author of The Well-Trained Mind. The WTM website also has a number articles on reading; “Games to Play with Phonics“; “Teaching Reading: Phonics Programs That Work“; “Why Whole Language Seems to Work for Some Children“; “Our Favorite Books by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer“; and “Our Readers’ Favorite Books

The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease

Educating Esmé: Diary of a Teacher’s First Year and How to Get Your Child to Love Reading: For Ravenous and Reluctant Readers Alike by Esmé Raji Codell; she has a nifty children’s literature website, too, Planet Esmé, and a blog.

How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren; you may decide you require the study guide How to Read “How to Read a Book”, by Maryalice B. Newborn.

How to Read and Why by Harold Bloom

The Well-Educated Mind by Susan Wise Bauer

Deconstructing Penguins: Parents, Kids, and the Bond of Reading by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone

How to Read Literature Like a Professor: A Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading Between the Lines by Thomas C. Foster

How to Read Novels Like a Professor: A Jaunty Exploration of the World’s Favorite Literary Form by Thomas C. Foster

A History of Reading by Alberto Manguel

Something Old

The SurLaLune Fairy Tale Pages

Loganberry Books’ Stump the Bookseller

Purple House Press

NYRB Classics

Flying Point Press (which I wrote about here)

Bethlehem Books

The fabulous “horizontal history books” by the fabulous Genevieve Foster

The Little Bookroom: Eleanor Farjeon’s Short Stories for Children Chosen by Herself by Eleanor Farjeon and illustrated by Edward Ardizzone

The Summer Book by Tove Jansson

A Child’s Delight by Noel Perrin

A Reader’s Delight by Noel Perrin

Onward and Upward in the Garden by Katharine S. White

Clementine in the Kitchen by Samuel Chamberlain

The Reader’s Encyclopedia: An Encyclopedia of World Literature and the Arts by William Rose Bénet; my old edition was published by Thomas Y. Crowell in 1948. As handy as a dictionary by a reader’s elbow, especially with little ones asking all the questions they do.

Oxford Companion to American Literature by James D. Hart; I knew my edition was old (1941) but I didn’t realize it was a first edition until I checked for this blog entry. Makes me like it even better.

Something New

The Way We Work: Getting to Know the Amazing Human Body by David Macaulay (Houghton Mifflin, October 2008). By the way, did you konw that Houghton has an online page of Homeschool Resources?

Arthur of Albion by John Matthews (Barefoot Books, September 2008)

Louise, The Adventures of a Chicken by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Harry Bliss (HarperCollins, September 2008); Susan, head’s up!

Peter Pan: A Classic Collectible Pop-Up by Robert Sabuda (Simon & Schuster, November 2008)

Champlain’s Dream by David Hackett Fischer (Simon & Schuster, October 2008)

BakeWise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Baking by Shirley Corriher (Scribner, October 2008)

Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer: A Golden Treasury of Classic Treats by Jane Brocket, a cookbook inspired by children’s literature

The “kidlitosphere” is new, at least since I first wrote this post. I was looking around for a comprehensive list and discovered this list of children’s book related links — from Bound To Stay Bound Books, which is, according to the website, the world’s foremost prebinder of juvenile books as well as a third-generation family-owned business. I was surprised and delighted to see that Farm School is on their blog list, too — for which, many thanks.

Something Borrowed

Quotations about libraries and librarians

Access to the New York Public Library for non-New Yorkers: for Readers & Writers; for Children

The Library of Congress

Library Elf

Burnaby, B.C. Public Library Children’s Literature Page, with lots of links

Multnomah County (Oregon) Library’s book lists for readers of all ages; if you live nearby, sign up for their Read the Classics discussion series

Library Mouse by Daniel Kirk

Library Lion by Michelle Knudsen, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes

Please Bury Me in the Library by J. Patrick Lewis, illustrated by Kyle M. Stone

Our Library by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Maggie Smith

The Library by Sarah Stewart, illustrated by David Small; new in paperback this month

When I Went to the Library: Writers Celebrate Books and Reading by Deborah Pearson

Richard Wright and the Library Card by William Miller

The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel

Library: An Unquiet History by Matthew Battles

Free printable bookplates from Anne Fine’s nifty website

A Passion for Books : A Book Lover’s Treasury of Stories, Essays, Humor, Love and Lists on Collecting, Reading, Borrowing, Lending, Caring for, and Appreciating Books by Harold Rabinowitz

Patience and Fortitude: Wherein a Colorful Cast of Determined Book Collectors, Dealers, and Librarians Go About the Quixotic Task of Preserving a Legacy by Nicholas A. Basbanes; and just for fun, here are the real Patience and Fortitude as well as Nicholas Basbane’s website

The Librarian of Basra written and illustrated by Jeanette Winter

The Book on the Bookshelf by Henry Petroski

Something Blue

Peter in Blueberry Land by Elsa Beskow

Pelle’s New Suit by Elsa Beskow

Uncle Blue’s New Boat by Elsa Beskow

Blue Trout and Black Truffles: The Peregrinations of an Epicure by Joseph Wechsberg

The Blue Fairy Book by Andrew Lang

Is a Blue Whale the Biggest Thing There Is? by Robert E. Wells

The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery

Book Lists

The New York Review of Books Children’s Collection

1,000 Good Books List for Children, arranged by reading levels (K-12) and by author, from the Classical Christian Education Support Loop; not entirely secular but great good stuff

Searchable Database of Award-Winning Children’s Literature

Caldecott Medal & Honor books, 1938-Present, awarded to the artists of the most distinguished American picture book

Newbery Medal & Honor books, 1922-Present, awarded to the authors of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children

Horn Book Magazine’s annotated reading lists for children

Waterboro Library’s complete list of book lists and bibliographies, for adults

Waterboro Library’s complete list of book lists and bibliographies, for children

The Good Books list, from The Great Books Academy

The Baldwin Project: Bringing Yesterday’s Classics to Today’s Children

The Well-Trained Mind K-4 Reading List

The Well-Trained Mind High School Reading List

Junior Great Books/Readalouds (from Mortimer Adler’s Great Books Foundation)

Junior Great Books, Grades K-8 (from Mortimer Adler’s Great Books Foundation)

The Great Books; also GBF’s/Penguin Book’s free online discussion guides for various classics

Miscellaneous “Great Books” sites and lists

Project Gutenberg: Fine Literature Digitallly Re-Published

Bartleby.com: Great Books Online

Banned Books Online

Reading List for the College Bound, compiled by the Center for Applied Research in Education and online courtesy of St. Margaret’s School, Tappahannock, VA; for more, get this from your library

Five in a Row’s Book Lists

Online version of Clifton Fadiman’s New Lifetime Reading Plan (4th edition)

A state-by-state book list for children (not comprehensive but still some good things and a dandy idea); this is one of the only times you’ll find a link on this blog to anything at the NEA’s website, so enjoy it…

Canadian literature links, from Northwest Passages bookseller

Reading with your eyes closed (or while you’re driving) (but not both at the same time, please)

LibriVox

Kiddie Records Weekly, to take you back to your childhood, for free

Just One More Book! children’s book podcast

CBC Radio’s “Between the Covers” podcast and “Writers and Company” podcast

BBC Radio’s “Book Panel with Simon Mayo” podcast and “World Book Club” podcast

Poetry Speaks and Poetry Speaks to Children, both edited by Elise Paschen

Poetry Archive, “the world’s premier online collection of recordings of poets reading their work”

Storyteller Jim Weiss’s audio books/Greathall Productions

Odds Bodkins, another storytelle

And finally

For my father, and in honor of the Rev. James Granger

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Don’t forget Part 2 of Celebrating International Literacy Day over here, with quotations about books, reading, libraries, and librarians.