Saturday, June 27, 2009

Gregor the Overlander

     No, Suzanne Collins, the author of Gregor the Overlander, is not related to me (At least not as far as I know) so when I evaluate her book my opinion is unbiased. 
     The book is a good one.
    This sci-fi fantasy for middle grade kids is about an exciting and believable world, dark and scary enough to keep the pages turning. The characters, human and otherwise, are realistic and I cared what happened to them. I especially liked "Boots," the little sister who acted like many two-year-olds I've met but wasn't just there to be cute. Her behavior caused some important incidents in the plot. 
     Gregor the Overlander is the first in a series. Unlike some series books I've read, the plot comes to a satisfying conclusion but it still leaves possibilities open for future books. Kids who like excitement will probably enjoy reading it.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Baby Talk

     Perhaps my life-long interest in Linguistics began when I was three years old. My younger brother was just learning to talk and I could usually understand him although the adults seldom could. How proud it made me feel when our parents asked me to interpret his babble for them. I could actually do something grown-ups couldn't do!
     Now I realize they were trying to decipher the sounds of individual words while I was focusing on my brother's intonation patterns, body language, and facial expressions.
     Babies don't all learn to talk the same way. Some start with individual words like "Mama" and gradually add one word at a time to their vocabularies. Others, like my brother, focus on the intonation patterns, etc., although they usually include a few intelligible words in their sentences and the number of those increases as they learn.
I wonder if babies' temperaments influence how they begin to communicate. It's not very scientific but, in my limited experience it seems like the little ones who began trying to talk with intonation patterns before using clear words became especially sociable, outgoing, and friendly children and adults. Maybe those personality traits made them more aware of the emotional side of communication. 
     Even if someone were able to collaborate that tendency by a scientific study, it wouldn't be able to show which was cause and which was effect, so I guess I'll never know if my theory is correct or not.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Stranger Danger

As a substitute teacher I was assigned to a Kindergarten class in a school where I had never worked before. When the bell rang, the children lined up on the playground and the regular teachers escorted their classes inside, but instead of following me the children I was supposed to teach just stood still, looking frightened.
     "I'm not a stranger," I explained.
     They relaxed and followed me into the classroom .
     Most children are taught not to talk to strangers or go with them, but I wonder how many know just because someone says, "I'm not a stranger" it doesn't mean they aren't.
     But they should know it is okay to go with a stranger who is wearing a uniform and helping them in case of an emergency. For example they should let a fireman take them out of a burning building, let a paramedic put them in an ambulance if they're hurt, or get into a police car with an officer who has found them if they were lost.
     Older children can understand it is okay to talk to people they don't know when those people are at work doing their jobs. For instance it's okay to talk to a salesclerk in a store, a receptionist in a doctor's office, or a librarian in a library, but they should know not to go with those people if they meet them in other places. Even if they have seen them many times at their jobs, they are still strangers.
     And it would be nice if kids understood that it's okay to follow a substitute teacher into their classroom.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Night at the Museum

    The movie we recently saw, Night at the Museum, was apparently a sequel to a previous one, which I think had the same name. 
    Anyway, I loved it. There was lots of exciting action, but nothing too scary for most kids. The special effects, which were probably in at least half the scenes, were both convincing and amusing.  
    The characters were convincing, too. I especially enjoyed Robin Williams, reprising his role as President Theodore Roosevelt, because he both acted and looked the part. Amelia Erhardt was also believable and I loved the way her lines included slang and terminology that would have been used when she lived.  
    All in all, this movie was fun.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Nursery Rhymes and Politics

     "Duh" may sound like contemporary slang, but variations of the word have been around for centuries. In England during the 1500s it was pronounced "Daw" and meant a foolish or stupid person. You may remember a certain woman named Marjorie who was called a daw in a nursery rhyme.
     In America, where we're guaranteed freedom of speech, it's hard for us to imagine what life was like back when people were imprisoned or killed for expressing political or religious beliefs that disagreed with the people in power. Many nursery rhymes were actually ways of expressing those things without getting caught. For instance, I remember reading years ago that Rock-a-Bye Baby was really about overthrowing the king and his infant son.
     Whenever more than two people are together there will always be politics. It can be frustrating to hear about government and church politics but things could be a lot worse. Duh!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Things Not Seen

Andrew Clements has written an exciting book for middle grade readers based on a unique and original concept. Bobby, the main character, wakes up one morning and discovers he has become invisible. He must keep his condition secret from everyone but his family to avoid being locked up for government experiments, but needs to go out into the world to discover the cause and search for possible cure. 

He makes friends with a blind girl who at first doesn’t realize nobody can see Bobby, and the two of them manage to get into some dangerous and exciting situations. 

While this book is mainly an adventure story, it involves some Science Fiction, just a touch of romance, and family relationships play an important part as the story unfolds. In my opinion, Things Not Seen should appeal to most young readers because it includes something for nearly everyone.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

More About Names

     Sometimes when people name their babies they don't realize they're choosing something that is a pun or has an unexpected meaning. Those meanings can be appropriate. For example, Joe King (joking)  has a great sense of humor and J.A. Berry (jabbery) tended to talk a lot. But sometimes names, like Terra Bell (terrible) wouldn't have been chosen if the parents had realized what they were doing. 
     I think it's unkind for parents to deliberately give their children names that are plays on words because that sets the kids up for possible embarrassment. I would never have named a child Krystal Shanda Lier (chrystal chandelier) but some parents did.  Of course kids will be teased no matter what they are named, but why make it any worse? It's a good idea for parents to carefully consider all possible variations, nicknames, and initials before naming babies in order to prevent making life harder for their children. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Baby Names

     Popular names change from time to time and even parents who thought they were choosing unique ones later find many other kids about the age of their own have the same names. 
     I had never known anyone named Mia or Myah until about a dozen years ago when every preschool class seemed to get at least a couple of girls with those names, though the spelling varied. 
     Boys names don't seem to follow fashion quite as much as girls' do. There are still lots of boys named Michael, Christopher, and John but masculine names do change with trends too. Often girls start getting named something that had formerly been used only for boys and after that fewer boys are given those names. Some examples are Corey, Kelly, Kimberly, Lindsey, Madison, Morgan, and Sidney. 
     Sometimes lots of babies are named after a famous person. When I was born there were very few girls in America named Janet, but a few years later Janet Leigh became a famous movie star and thousands of baby girls were given that name. 
    As a kid I wanted to be called Jenny, but my mother wouldn't allow it. She said everyone knew Jenny was a name for a mule, especially one that had been in the comic books back when Mom was younger. But 30 years ago Jennifer became one of the most popular names for girls. I guess by then everyone had forgotten about the famous cartoon mule. Very few boys are named Donald today, and Mickey is seldom used as a nickname for Michael anymore, for obvious reasons. Fame can also be a deterrent to the use of certain names.