Nonfiction Monday: The Noisy Paint Box

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Barb Rosenstock’s The Noisy Paint Box introduces kids to Vasya Kandinsky, a proper Russian boy, who studies math and history and has to practice scales on the piano. Then one day, his aunt gives him a box of paints and he hears the colors sofly hiss to him. In Rosenstock’s telling, Kandinsky is torn from then on between a desire to paint and create art and the more conventional life that his parents desire for him. He went on to become a lawyer but at the age of 30 two experiences so influenced him that he quit the law to study art full-time. The first experience is not told about in this book but Kandinsky described in his writings as seeing Monet’s Haystacks for the first time and realizing that painting didn’t have to be realistic. The second, which Rosenstock focuses on,  was hearing an opera (by Wagner) and experiencing the sounds as color and shape. After studying art, Kandinsky eventually goes on to become the first truly abstract artist.

A good picture book biography by nature has to choose which incidents of a life to focus on. Rosenstock wisely chooses to focus on Kandinsky’s unique “seeing sound and hearing colors”. He is thought to have had synesthesia which is an incredibly cool condition where people experience one sense when a different sense is activated. For example, they might taste numbers or see letters and words as having a particular color or even emotion. Or they might hear colors.

The illustrations by Mary Grandpre use color beautifully to show Kandinsky’s metamorphosis from lawyer to more conventional art student to abstract painter. One of my favorite pages showed the little boy Kandinsky bored at dinner with all the grownups “talking and talking”. The adults are illustrated as collages of mixed up words, which is how I imagine we seem to kids sometimes.

The endpages include photographs of several of Kandinsky’s works and an author’s note that explains what parts of the book are historical and what are imagined (the dialogue). She also includes several references, including works by Kandinsky himself who was knows as a leading art theorist as well as an artist.

I have found picture book biographies of artists to be a perfect way for us to include some art study in our homeschool. Usually we do some kind of accompanying art project. To go with the discussion of Kandinsky and synesthesia we used a project suggestion from MaryAnne Kohl’s Discovering Great Artists: Hands-On Art for Kids in the Style of the Great Masters. First, I had David and Ruth listen to a piece of music while lying down with their eyes closed. Then we listened again and painted as we listened.

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While listening to Aaron Copeland’s Appalachian Spring. (From top to bottom: me, David, Ruth)

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While listening to U2′s Sunday Bloody Sunday (Again: me, David, Ruth)

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While listening to Abba’s Dancing Queen. (Top to bottom: Me, David’s 1st painting, David’s 2nd painting when he decided he liked my spirals, and Ruth). Either disco takes Ruth to a really dark place or she was in her usual “mixing all the colors together” phase.

Previous art/artist study posts here at Supratentorial:

Matisse

Georgia O’Keefe

Picasso 

Alexander Calder 

Magritte

March Reading

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Fiction Read in March

The Good Lord Bird by James McBride

The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson

Dear Life by Alice Munro
I’m not a big short-story reader but I wanted to read this, the latest collection by the 2013 Nobel Prize winner for literature. Munro has been called a master of the short-story for good reason. I don’t particularly like the people she writes about, the situations she puts them in or the genre she uses. Yet she writes in a way that is compelling and true and beautiful and that makes all of that seem not so important. 

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
This was the first time I’d read this classic thriller. I loved it and couldn’t believe I hadn’t read it before. 

The Art of Detection by Laurie R. King (audiobook)

The False Prince
by Jennifer Nielsen
Recommended by John, who loves fantasy books. He read this last year and then recently got it out of the library to re-read it which made me want to see what was so good. This mistaken identity story with a twist rises to the top of the crowded fantasy middle grade genre. I’m looking forward to reading the next two in the trilogy. John promises they are just as good. 

Non-Fiction Read in March:

Ten Years in the Tub: A Decade Soaking in Great Books by Nick Hornby

With the Kids:

The Dragons of Blueland by Ruth Stiles Gannett

Obi, Gerbil on the Loose by Michael Delaney

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle

Poetry Friday: The Donkey

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The Donkey
By G. K. Chesterton

When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born.

With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil’s walking parody
On all four-footed things.

The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.

Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.

This is the poem we’re working on memorizing this month. To give credit where credit is due, I got the idea from Amy at Hope is the Word who mentioned it in a recent post.

Poetry Friday is posted at The Poem Farm today.

 

Poetry Friday: Once Upon a Memory

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Does a feather remember it once was a bird?

Does a book remember it once was a word?

Nina Laden’s Once Upon a Memory uses beautifully poetic text to explore the concept of memory. The soft watercolor illustrations invite the reader into the imaginary world of a a little boy populated with animals and a sense of wonder.

Much more poem than prose, there is no real story here but the question and answer format leads the reader to think about the world in a slightly different way. It reminded me very much of one of my favorite book poems for kids, A Sock is a Pocket for Your Toes.

Poetry Friday is hosted this week by A Year of Reading.  And don’t forget that April is National Poetry Month!   Do you have plans to celebrate?

Things to Read Elsewhere

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Some education-related articles that have caught my interest lately: 

From “The half-day kindergarten time crunch” by Michael Alison Chandler in the March 25,  2014 Washington Post:

So after morning kindergarten finished at 10:30, 6-year-old Carter took his place in a long line of students who supplement their public kindergarten experience with another half day at a private school.

The kiss-and-ride outside his Ashburn school was filled with white vans and school buses bearing the names of private schools, tutoring centers and tae kwon do academies. Carter boarded the bus for Golden Pond, a small brick school tucked behind a strip mall 15 minutes away.

The afternoon kindergarten enrichment program, which costs about $6,000, starts with recess. Then comes lunch….

After lunch, the children typically have Spanish or music and lots of time for group art projects and other hands-on lessons based loosely on the state’s Standards of Learning. Then there’s another recess.

It’s like what kindergarten used to be “before it became teaching to the test,” said admissions officer Margaret Grace.

And from a related post about a 25 year veteran kindergarten teacher who quit because the job had become about “tests and data”  (March 23, 2014, The Post’s Valerie Strauss’s Answer Sheet blog):

When I first began teaching more than 25 years ago, hands-on exploration, investigation, joy and love of learning characterized the early childhood classroom. I’d describe our current period as a time of testing, data collection, competition and punishment. One would be hard put these days to find joy present in classrooms.

An article about the intense pressure in local area high schools: (“In McLean, a crusade to get people to back off in the parenting arms race,” Brigid Schulte,The Washington Post, March 23, 2014)

“There’s such a status thing here: ‘I went Georgetown. I want my kid to go to Georgetown or better.’ It’s such a rat race,” says Bowers, who has lived in McLean for 24 years. “Nobody is taking a step back and asking, ‘Is going to Princeton going to make me happier in the long run? Is this even right for my child?’ Because there are real consequences to living this way.”

and finally….

Nick Anderson’s “Inside the admissions process at George Washington University” from the March 23, 2014 Washington Post is a great look at what really happens on a college admission committe.

 

Ten Years in the Tub

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After the last book I read, I needed a very particular type of book. Non-fiction. I couldn’t get involved with other fictional characters after inhabiting Adam Johnson’s North Korea. I couldn’t have read something that was too sad or about the evil in the world. I also didn’t want something that was too funny or lightweight. So really my choices were down to some bland not-too-hot-and-not-too-cold book or one of the random catalogs that come in the mail. Luckily for me, I realized I had a third choice: Nick Hornby’s Ten Years in the Tub which happened to be on my shelf of books recently checked out of the library.

Ten Years in the Tub is one of my favorite kinds of books: a book about books. It’s actually a collection of columns Hornby wrote for The Believer magazine over the past 10 years. The title of the column is “Stuff I’ve Been Reading” and the skeleton of each column is just that: Hornby’s reflections/reviews of what’s he’s been reading. But you also get thoughts on football (soccer to those of us in the US), musings on art and relationships and parenting and best of all Hornby’s thoughts on the act of reading itself.

Hornby and I are really nothing alike. He’s a 57 year old British man who clearly leans much more to the left than me politically and who mentions once that although he won’t read Phillip Pullman’s Dark Materials series because he doesn’t like fantasy and sci-fi, he’s ok with the “God being dead” idea. (What does it say about me that I was more bothered by the idea that he doesn’t like fantasy at all than his anti-religious feelings?) I’m not any of those things. I’m also not an Oscar-nominated screenwriter and author who is married to a director. Heck, I’d never even heard of the clearly hip and arty magazine that his column has been in for 10 (!) years. I do, however, share one important character trait with Hornby. We are both readers.

I could probably turn to just about any page of the book and find a quote by Hornby that I found funny, inspiring, intriguing or just plain true. Hornby’s approach to reading reminded me quite a bit of Alan Jacob’s in The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction although their writing styles are quite different. Both Hornby and Jacobs are of the “read what you want” rather than what is deemed “important”. Read at whimsy. Read one thing and let it lead to another. Read because you want to rather than because you have to.

I thought about making a long list of all the books that I’ve added to my own to-be-read list just by reading this book. But that would be a little boring and to be honest, I didn’t actually make a list. I kept thinking about making a list. Just about each column had me thinking, “Ooh! That sounds good, I want to read that.” But I didn’t sit down and write down each and every book I thought sounded great while I was reading this one. I probably should have but I was usually too into reading to stop and take notes. Plus, I’m usually reading doing something like brushing my teeth or sitting at swim practice or curled up in bed at night. On one hand, I’m sad that I didn’t write them down because I feel like I’m certainly going to forget about that one book that I really really wanted to read. On the other hand, it feels right to not have kept a list. Keeps the door open for whimsy and all that.

One last testament to how much I’ve enjoyed this book. The book was due yesterday at the library but couldn’t be reviewed because it has a hold on it. I hate to have library fines. Not because I mind the money, I figure at about $1.00 I’m still getting a great deal. But because I feel like I’m betraying the other reader out there who is waiting patiently for his hold to come in. I rarely keep books out past the due date in this situation, sometimes I return them and then put them on hold again. But I’ve kept out Ten Years in the Tub. It’s just that good. So if you’re a Fairfax County library goer who has Ten Years in the Tub on hold, sorry. I promise I’ll take it back tomorrow.

 

 

 

Overheard

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(In the car, on the way to ballet, David was reluctantly playing one of Ruth’s favorite imaginary games.)

Ruth: Ok. Do you want to be magic or non-magic?

David: Uh, magic. (Said with a note of duh in his voice)

Ruth: Ok you have to be a girl. Only girls are magic.

David: Whatever.

Ruth: Ok, are you magic or not magic?

David: Hmmm….magic. (Said with a gleam in his eye)

Ruth: Ok. Then you are a girl.

David: Ok.

Ruth: Ok, now do you want…

David: Poof. Now I’m a boy.

Ruth: You can’t do that.

David: Sure, I can. I’m magic.

Ruth: NO! You aren’t playing right.

Pause

Ruth: Ok. Are you magic or not magic?

David: Magic.

And repeat.

Luckily ballet is only about 5 minutes from our house.

The Orphan Master’s Son

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I’m not really sure I can do justice to this book in a review. Nor can I go the lazy way and share my favorite quotes with you because I had to return it to the library today. Since it won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and was named a best book of the year by just about every major newspaper and even won the more quirky Tournament of Books in 2013, I’m not sure why I even feel the need to mention it here on my little ol’ blog anyway.

Probably for the reason that I’m fairly sure that when I look back at the end of the year this will be my best book of the year.

The story is of Jun Do, an North Korean orphan who grows up to be a kidnapper and spy. I don’t really want to give away more of the plot than that. It’s complicated and complex. The things it tells of are horrific and gruesome and sad. I never knew what was going to happen next because I’d never have been able to predict the mind-blowing horror of the North Korean prison camps or the sheer unbelievability of life in a totalitarian state.

My book club read this and when we chose it one of the women (who felt that our previous book was too emotionally difficult) asked, “Is it depressing?” To which we looked at her and said “Well, it is about North Korea.” If you are someone who is very sensitive to scenes of torture or violence I would not read this book.

And yet.

Somehow Johnson manages to tell a story filled with unspeakable evil and make it a page-turner. I don’t know how he does it. It’s never gratuitous in its depiction of violence. He tells you only what needs to be told and nothing more. It’s unbelievable but rings true. There is also a slim thread of redemption and even hope within Jun Do’s story. Not redemption as in happy ending with all the bows tied up neatly. (That’s not a spoiler; no one would ever read this book and think it was going to end happily.) But redemption as in there is a shred of hope for the future. It’s a shred but it’s there.

What more is there to say? Except maybe: Read it.

The Good Lord Bird

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I’ve heard this 2013 National Book Award Winner most often described as satire or even farcical. Satire, it is. Take a cross-dressing, wise-beyond-his-years, 12 year old slave who is kidnapped/rescued by John Brown. Mix in a rag-tag band of John Brown’s followers. Stir in a skirt-chasing Frederick Douglass, a slave rebellion in a whorehouse and a leader who prays for hours at a the drop of a hat and you’ve got a fast-moving, page-turning, thumping-good read of a book

Like all good satire, there is a heart underneath all the craziness. There were passages in this book that made me laugh out loud but there were also passages that just resonated as TRUE. And sometimes they were the same passages.

even though I’d gotten used to living a lie-being a girl- in come to me this way. Being a Negro’s a lie, anyway. Nobody sees the real you. Nobody knows who you are inside. You just judged on what you are on the outside whatever your color. Mulatto, colored, black, it don’t matter. You’re just a Negro to the world.

and later….

But a spell come over me that night, watching him eat that bad news. A little bit of a change. For the Captain took that news across the jibs and brung hisself back to Harpers Ferry knowing he was done in. he knowed he was gonna lose fighting for the Negro, on account of the Negro and he brung hisself to it anyway, for he trusted in the Lord’s word. That’s strong stuff. I felt God in my heart for the first time at that moment. I didn’t tell him, for there weren’t no use bothering the Old Man with that truth, ’cause if I’d’a done that, I’d’a had to tell him the other part of it, which is that even as I found God, God was talking to me too, just like He done him, and God the Father was tellin’ me to get the hell out.