The Rocks Don’t Lie

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I first heard about The Rocks Don’t Lie from Janet at Across the Page. David Montgomery is a geologist who in his own words set out to “present a straightforward refutation of creationism…” [by creationism he means young-earth creationism]. What he ended up writing was somewhat different. He doesn’t come anywhere close to accepting a young-earth creationist viewpoint but he does discover a “much richer story of people struggling to explain the world-and out place it it” than the “standard conflict between reason and faith” that he was expecting.

Montgomery looks at the history of the development of the field of geology and the history of different theories about Noah’s flood and Biblical creation. The interesting thing is how much these two histories intertwine. Early geologists were often also clergy who were setting out to find proof of a Biblical flood. He also traces the emergence of modern day young-earth creationism.

Overall, I found the book very interesting. I felt like Montgomery is mostly fair to both “sides” although young-earth creationists may disagree. He is somewhat dismissive about a trip he takes to the Creation Museum, but I found that understandable. As a Christian who definitely believes in an old earth and in evolution, I found his treatment of faith to be very reasonable. I disagreed with some of his arguments about Biblical interpretation but that was a relatively small part of the book and not his area of expertise. The other major flaw is that color pictures or maps/diagrams would have added so much to this book. A lot of the descriptions of rocks made my eyes cross a little trying to imagine what he was describing in my head. A color photo would have been very welcome.

In the end I most appreciated the central thesis which is that it is possible for science and religion to coexist in a way an attempt to better understand our world.

..just because science can neither prove nor disprove the existence of God does not mean that it says religious faith is an illusion. Thoughtful discussions of the relationship between science and religion are impossible when fundamentalists disguise religious arguments as science and scientists dismiss religion as childish superstition. In reality, faith and reason need not be enemies if one views ignorance as the enemy of both.

What We’re Reading

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Sometimes the perfect is the enemy of the good. This is often the case for me with blogging about books. I feel like I need to think about a theme or look for new books to blog about in order to make it worth the reader’s time. Sometimes that works well with what we are reading for school or sometimes I happen to have pulled off a bunch of cool new books off the new shelf at the library. But sometimes, the books we are actually reading neither fit together or are new and feel “blogworthy”. Such has been the case lately. So I decided to try a new thing: books we liked this week/what we’re reading.

The first book to share has been Ruth’s clear favorite for the past couple of weeks. Ballet Kitty by Bernette Ford and Sam Williams is about a kitty who loves ballet and pink and who is having a playdate with another purple loving princess kitty. I think that’s really all I have to say to explain why Ruth, age 4 LOVED this book. Loved, loved, loved it.

I think my favorite picture book this week was The Secret Olivia Told Me by N. Joy. I don’t typically like books that teach a lesson and this one has a lesson (the dangers of gossip and breaking a friend’s trust) but overall this one is so charming that the lesson isn’t too heavy-handed. Rhyming text tells what happens as a girl accidentally tells a friend’s secret. The real charm though lies in the illustrations by Nancy Devard. Done entirely in black and white silhouettes they are striking in their simplicity. A red balloon in the background gets bigger and bigger clearly representing the growing secret itself and providing a clever visual representation of the theme.

A Funny Little Bird by Jennifer Yerkes actually was off the new shelf at our library. Often we like the same books as a family. But sometimes we don’t. This was a case where several kids really liked a book that I just didn’t. The funny little bird of the title is white so that on a white page anything he stands in front of disappears. At first this makes him sad because he is ignored by everyone. But after venturing into the world he discovers that his ability can also help him hide new friends and himself from danger. I think it’s supposed to be about learning to like yourself and your quirks or unique abilities but something about the story just fell flat. The graphics are cool but not cool enough for me to make up for the story. I think I couldn’t get past figuring out if the bird was white or invisible or both or what the deal was. Like I said, earlier, my kids are more accepting and thought this one was really funny. Ruth asked me to read it several times to her and I saw her ask David to read it also. David read it to himself at least a couple of times. So, I’m including it here in the list of the books that caught our attention this week because from their perspective it was a clear hit.

All Joy and No Fun

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I admit that I expected to dislike this new book by Jennifer Senior. I’m not sure why; all the reviews I had read were good but something about the title or what I thought it was about rubbed me the wrong way. I thought it was going to be a “woe is me” essay on how parenting is so hard and how we just all need more me-time. However, I wanted to read it because I kept seeing it mentioned and it felt like the new parenting book that everyone was talking about.

In the end, I quite liked it. It’s honest and funny but also much more insightful than I expected it to be. It turned out to be one of those books that I kept feeling compelled to read parts of out-loud to H. Since it’s been more than two weeks since I finished it, I’ll abandon any attempt at a further “review” on my part and instead share some of those parts with you:

Today women have abandoned this form of domestic science, spending almost half as much time on housework as they did in {Betty} Friedan’s day (17.5 hours per week, to be precise, versus nearly 32 hours a week in 1965). But they  have become domestic scientists in another way: they’re now parenting experts….It was a woman in Minnesota who clarified this shift for me. She pointed out that her mother called herself a housewife. She, on the other hand, called herself a stay-at-home mom. The change in nomenclature reflects the shift in cultural empasis: the pressures on women have gone from keeping and immaculate house to being an irreproachable mom. (p. 154)

 

She said the evening ritual of guiding her sons through their {homework} assignments was her “gift of service.” No doubt it is. But this particular form of service is directed inside the home, rather than toward the community and for the commonweal, and those kinds of volunteer efforts and public involvements have also steadily declined over the last few decades, at least in terms of the number of hours of sweat equity we put into them. Our gifts of service are now more likely to be for the sake of our kids. And so our world becomes smaller, and the internal pressure we feel to parent well, whatever that may mean, only increases: how one raises a child, as Jerome Kagan notes, is now one of the few remaining ways in public life that we can prove our moral worth. In other cultures and in other eras, this could be done by caring for one’s elders, participating in social movements, providing civic leadership and volunteering. Now, in the United States, child-rearing has largely taken their place. Parenting books have become, literally, our bibles. (p. 180)

 

…happiness is an unfair thing to ask of a child. The expectation casts children as “antidepressants,” he notes, and renders parents “more dependent on their children than their children are on them.”
   Just as important…producing happy children may not be fair to ask of parents. It’s a beautiful goal- one I’ve readily admitted to having myself- but as Dr. Spock points out, raising happy children is an elusive aim compared to the more concrete aims of parenting in the past: creating competent children in certain kinds of work; and creating morally responsible citizens who will fulfill a prescribed set of community obligations. 
    The fact is, those bygone goals are probably more constructive- and achievable. Not all children will grow up to be happy, in spite of their parents’ most valiant efforts, and all children are unhappy somewhere along the way, no matter how warmly they’re nurtured or how stoutly they’re protected.
(p. 234)

 

Kids may complicate our lives. But they also make them simpler. Children’s needs are so overwhelming and their dependence on us so absolute, that it’s impossible to misread our moral obligation to them. It’s for life…But it also is our lives. There’s something deeply satisfying about that…..I suspect that parenthood helped reduce the number of existential questions she had…She knew what she had to do each day, and why she was here. (p. 264-265)

April Reading

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Fiction Read in April:

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
Epic saga of brothers who grow up in India and then end up with very different lives. Lahiri follows the modern trend of using multiple perspectives and having each chapter be almost a short story in itself. This particular style always leaves me feeling slightly detached from the characters and it’s not my favorite format but still she writes beautifully and I’m not sorry I read it.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
My book club picked this one to read (before it won the Pultizer, leading us to coin the term “book hipster” to express how we are on the leading edge of the book world, if not fashion world). This is a LONG book, and probably could have been edited. Still, for the most part it was a page-turner. Tartt tells a compelling story that is on one level a mystery/thriller centering around a stolen painting and on another level a coming-of-age story. And on yet another level it’s an exploration of big themes like whether good can come from bad and whether people can change and whether or not fate is real or things just happen for no reason. I’ve seen it compared to Dickens (especially David Copperfield and Great Expectations) and that’s a very apt comparison.

One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories by B. J. Novak
Novak is probably best known to most people as Ryan from The Office. He was also one of the writers and producers of The Office. One More Thing, his first book, is a collection of short fiction. Some is very short (think more of a several lines joke), some are sketches and some are more traditional stories. Novak is clever, funny and obviously smart (he’s a Harvard grad in addition to his other accomplishments). His voice is cynical and acerbic and reading these altogether left me feeling slightly depressed. Some of these are quite funny: a short sketch starring Wikipedia Brown and an updated Aesop’s Tortoise and the Hare fable were favorites. I think I would have enjoyed the rest of the sketches more if I’d read them a few at a time, rather than all in one chunk. Unfortunately, it was due back at the library so I had to binge read and ended up feeling a bit hungover.

The Language of Bees by Laurie R. King (audiobook)
Continuing the Holmes/Russell series, this was the first one I’ve listened to that I hadn’t previously read. Just as good as the others. 

Non-Fiction Read in April:

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
I’ve been wanting to read this for awhile and it was worth the wait. Fascinating. I read huge sections aloud to H. and probably bored lots of other people talking about it. 

 

Non-Fiction Monday: The Greatest Dinosaur Ever

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So which dinosaur was the greatest?

Was it the tallest, the biggest, the strongest, the smartest, the weirdest, the fastest, or the smallest? Or was it the oldest bird, the best parent, the one with the best night vision, the toughest armour, or the longest nail spikes? 

There are a LOT of books about dinosaurs for kids out there. But there are also a LOT of dinosaur obsessed kids out there so there is always room for one more well-done book. Brenda Guiberson and Gennady Spirin (the same author-illustrator team that brought us the excellent Frog Song last year) have created a book worthy to add to this overcrowded genre.

Each page features a different dinosaur explaining why he was the greatest dinosaur of them all. There are familiar dinosaurs (Stegosaurus, Ankylosaurus and Tyrannosaurus Rex) and not so familiar dinosaurs (Therizinosaurus and Laellynasuara). Guiberson finds ways to describe the dinosaurs that show the reader even the most familiar dinosaurs in a new light. (Did you know T. Rex could crush and swallow 500 pounds of food in one single bite?) As in Frog Song, Spirin’s paintings of the dinosuars are beautifully detailed.

Even though there is some new information here, most of the text is familiar territory. I think this would make a great book for a preschooler just starting to learn about dinosaurs. Or perhaps for an older kids who was never really bitten by the dinosaur bug as a preschooler. David was never that into dinosaurs and he really enjoyed this book. In fact, he enjoyed it so much that he told me he thought I should consider it for that “book judging thing” (meaning the Cybils). So I’m taking his advice and adding it to my list of possible Cybils candidates for 2014.

Head over to the Non-Fiction  Monday blog for more great non-fiction for  kids.

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?

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.