Saturday, June 29, 2013

What Do Ya Call 'Em?

There has been a lot in the news lately about someone using "the N Word." Over the last two centuries the terms for that racial group have changed many times as a generally accepted term became considered offensive. Often the term in use was considered insulting because of the attitude of the people who used it.

Now "African American" is generally accepted, but I've known dark skinned people from India or Europe who found that term offensive since they either had no African ancestry or didn't live in America.

The same thing has happened with terms for people who have special needs. "Crippled" or "Disabled" got to be considered insulting, Then "Handicapped" was no longer thought to be polite and various other terms like "Differently Abled," and "Special Needs" were used.

Similar things have happened with words used for various other groups.

The reason those terms keep changing is because people consider belonging to a certain race or having physical or mental limitations something to be ashamed of.

Those people are wrong.

I hope someday we'll agree that all people are created equal and stop needing to change our vocabulary because of prejudices.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Alabama Moon

Alabama Moon is an amazing adventure story. It was published in 2006 but takes place in the 1970s. (I guess that's considered historical fiction now.)

Moon is the name of the main character in the book. He has lived most of his life in the wilderness of Alabama with his strange father who is paranoid about "the government." The paranoia is probably due to PTSD since the father is a Vietnam veteran.

When his father dies Brook, who has never known anyone else except for some slight contact with a storekeeper in a nearby town, must fend for himself.

Although he's only ten years old, Moon knows everything he needs to survive alone in the wilderness, but he's not able to stay there. The storekeeper let the authorities know Brook is orphaned so they pursue and capture him. Then he's taken to a locked home for boys.

Amazingly, Brook helps two other boys escape from the high security facility with him.

From then on the story keeps getting even more exciting as the boys try to survive and keep from getting caught.

This is a book that will appeal to boys, even reluctant readers, because of the exciting plot. It will also teach readers a lot about the wilderness and probably help them appreciate the homes and relationships they have. I recommend it highly.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Gatsby Again

In March I reviewed the first book in the series, Gatsby's Grand Adventures. Now book two in the series is out and it's as good as the first one.

Each of Barbara Cairn's books in this series is about a cat named Gatsby who has the magical ability to jump into a classical painting at night. This time the painting is The Apple Seller by Auguste Renoir.

Gatsby wants to play with the little girls in the picture, but he forgot to take the dog into account. Oh, oh!

The picture is completely changed because of the cat's error. Will he be able to get back and make everything right before anyone sees what has happened?

The story will appeal to kids as young as five years old and the information in the back about Renoir and links to websites about him will be helpful to older kids and even adults wanting to learn more about that famous artist.

The illustrator, Eugene Ruble, does an excellent job of capturing the feeling of the art without imitating it.

This book would be a great addition to school libraries and make a good gift for kids who are interested in art or who like to use their imaginations.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Times and Seasons

June 21st will officially be the first day of Summer in the Northern Hemisphere.

The four seasons take place logically because of the relative positions of the Earth and the Sun. But some ways we measure time are just arbitrary.

It's logical to call the cycle of the four seasons a year. Approximately twelve times a year the moon appears, becomes full, and disappears from our view again so it's also logical to have twelve months in every year.

But there's no logical reason to call seven days a week. We have weeks simply because people in the dominant cultures have agreed to do that for centuries.

Yes, we have morning, noon, evening and midnight because of the sun and moon, but dividing the time in between into 24 hours, hours into 60 minutes, and minutes into 60 seconds doesn't happen because of any natural phenomena. Again, that's just something people all over our planet agree about.

There are lots of things humans can't agree on, but at least we do all think alike about a few things.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Schools Then and Now

When I was a kid back in the 1940s and 50s the California schools were known to be the best in the United States.

Grammar school went from Kindergarten through Eighth Grade, although Kindergarten wasn't required and due to the unexpected influx of kids from the post- World War Two baby boom, some children weren't able to attend Kindergarten. Some first grade classes were held in nearby churches, libraries, or other public buildings and might have as many as 42 students. Lots of new schools and classrooms were built during that time.

Once adequate classrooms were available we normally had 32 students in each classroom.

The only homework we had before High School was studying for a test or completing something we hadn't finished in class. We had two ten minute recesses in the morning, an hour free for lunch, and PE in the afternoon. As well as the academic subjects, our classroom teachers taught PE, art, and music. Every classroom had a piano and being able to play it was a credential requirement.

The schools provided all the books, paper, pencils, etc. students needed.

Of course girls always wore dresses or skirts to school.

Once a week a group of mothers would come in and prepare a hot lunch, usually hot dogs, which kids could buy for a small amount of money. Otherwise we all brought our own lunches in tin lunch boxes or paper bags and, if the weather permitted, we ate outside in the schoolyard.

Children behaved well in school most of the time. We sat quietly and seldom talked in class without raising a hand and being called on by the teacher. If kids didn't follow the rules they'd be kept in at recess or after school and required to write the same sentences about proper behavior many times. California schools did not allow corporal punishment, but if a kid misbehaved so badly that parents were contacted they would usually spank their child at home.

The same text books were used for years, so the schools didn't have to keep buying new ones. Of course there was less history, a lot of scientific discoveries hadn't been made yet, and only basic arithmetic was taught in grade school. But what we did need to learn, we learned well.

I wonder if a child from the 1950s and one from today were to time-travel and take each others' places in school which one would do best. They'd both certainly have a lot of adjusting to do.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Fantasy World - Or Not

I came from The Land of the Walking Dead. It consisted of The Island That Wasn't, The Island That Isn't, and The Unknown Island.

That sounds like something from a fantasy novel, doesn't it? But it's actually true.

I used to live in Alameda, in the San Francisco Bay Area. Back in the 1800s they called it The Land of the Walking Dead because the water table was so high there could be no graves and all bodies had to be buried in nearby Oakland.

Originally the main island was a small peninsula extending into San Francisco Bay, but near the beginning of the twentieth century a channel for boats was dredged through making that part of the small city into an island. I call it The Island That Wasn't.

Bay Farm Island was originally an island but the area between it and Oakland was filled in so it's now actually a peninsula connected to Oakland. There's only a short bridge connecting it to the rest of Alameda. So now I call it The Island That Isn't.

Coast Guard Island is the third part of Alameda. Most of it is taken up by the United States Coast Guard Base and it can only be reached from the rest of Alameda either by water or by driving across a bridge to Oakland, then crossing another bridge a few blocks away. Most residents of Alameda have never been there, so I call it The Unknown Island.

Okay, I must admit my writerly imagination has been active here. If you were to use your imagination to describe your home town what might you say about it?

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Learning Styles

I am a visual and Kinesthetic learner. If I only hear something I probably won't remember it, but if I see it or write it down I'm less likely to forget.

There are three basic learning styles and most people have one dominant one. In my case, it's visual, but using a physical action like writing uses the Kinesthetic style. That's my second one. And auditory is my least effective one. I guess I'm not a very good listener.

But all three learning styles are equally valuable, so having any one of them dominant is fine.

Kids do best in classroom situations that allow them to use their primary learning style, and adults find it helpful to know what their dominant style is since that helps them predict what they'll do best.

Do you know yours?

I found out about a link to a website with a quiz that will help people discover what kinds of learners they are.  And don't worry, it's not at all difficult. Just scroll down and follow the arrows from the things you choose.

Here's the link:

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Magical Mea

Last year I posted a review of Magical Matthew by Penelope Anne Cole. A sequel to that book has just been released. The title is Magical Mea and it's about Matthew's little sister who got magical powers when he lost his.

Unlike her older brother, Mea is sort of a brat. She uses her magic to get attention and thinks it's funny to fool people and make them upset.

If Mea were the only character in the book kids wouldn't want to read it, but the plot shows her brother and his friend Lily trying to stop Mea from causing trouble.

Since Mea is magical and they aren't, that's not an easy thing to do.

But Mea gets into a situation where her help is needed. Will she finally discover the joy of using her powers for good?

One thing I especially appreciate about this book is the way Lily is portrayed as an ordinary girl in spite of the fact that she uses a wheelchair.

Magical Mea will be a good book for kids experiencing sibling rivalry. While not everyone has a younger sister or brother with magical powers, lots of older brothers and sisters can identify with Matthew's efforts to stop his little sister from causing problems. And they'll find the ending reassuring.

Of course kids without little brothers or sisters will also enjoy the book just because it's fun.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Ins and Outs of Air

 As with the other books in his series, The Sum of Our Parts,  Bill Kirk has done a great job with The Ins and Outs of Air. This book gives lots of practical, scientific information while being entertaining.

While it's intended for 8 to 12 year olds, the rhymes on each page could be read aloud to younger children, perhaps even Kindergarteners, and the information in the Factoids on each page might be informative to older Middle Schoolers.

Of course Eugene Ruble's illustrations are accurate and informative, too.

When I was a child I had severe, chronic asthma and would have found The Ins and Outs of Air helpful in understanding what happened inside me.

But the book isn't only helpful to kids with breathing problems or others who want to understand those. Any youngsters who are interested in science and how our bodies work would appreciate this book. Like the other books by this author, it would be valuable for schools to have in their libraries.

I think every pediatrician's office ought to have copies of all Bill Kirks' The Sum of Our Parts books in their waiting rooms.

And the details might even keep kids who read it while riding in cars so interested that they'd forget to ask, "Are we there yet?"