Monday, December 10, 2018

Shakespeare for Everyone: How to Read and Understand Shakespeare

How to Read and Understand Shakespeare, one of the Great Courses audiobooks, with Professor Marc C. Conner

Over the past few years, I have been purposefully reading and studying Shakespeare, both as an aid to teaching my children and for my own personal enjoyment. We've been reading and memorizing using How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare (highly recommended) and I've read many plays directly using editions like Shakespeare Made Easy and No Fear Shakespeare. I listened to Peter Saccio's course, "William Shakespeare: Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies," (mentioned here) and found it helpful.

My sixth grader and my ninth grader are both reading three plays each this year and I've read them all myself in preparation. (Realizing I never studied any Shakespeare in college, I decided to expose my children to as large a number of his plays as I can before they leave home just in case it's all they get.)

I picked up this course, How to Read and Understand Shakespeare, in order to continue my Shakespearean education, especially as my oldest started high school. Now that my children are older, I listen to audiobooks using bluetooth headphones while I'm washing dishes and folding laundry and they've practically changed my life. I love doing chores!

In this course, Professor Conner, explores the themes of twelve of Shakespeare's plays over a series of 24 lectures.

  • A Midsummer Night's Dream
  • Romeo and Juliet
  • Twelfth Night
  • Richard II
  • Henry IV, Part I
  • Henry IV, Part II
  • Henry V
  • Macbeth
  • Hamlet
  • The Merchant of Venice
  • Measure for Measure
  • The Tempest
As he introduces each play, he teaches "tools" for understanding Shakespeare like the order characters are introduced or the contrasts between characters or places in the plays. These tools can be applied to many different plays and he showed connections between them I had not recognized before.

The PDF included with the audiobook contains all the tools and extensive notes on the lectures.

Despite the tools being introduced and explained in a particular order, I do think a student could listen to just the lectures on a particular play. Be aware that some of the lectures touch on mature themes. One of the Macbeth lectures in particular, if I remember correctly, touched on events in Othello I would not want my young children to hear.

Of all the books, plays, and lectures I've listened to in the past few years, this one was the most helpful. If I could recommend just one resource for a homeschooling mother hesitant to read and assign Shakespeare, this would be it. (Followed closely by How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare, which you'll need once you've listened to this course and are looking for a place to begin.) One of the best aspects of this course is how it's focused not on the specialized Shakespearean student, but on showing how anyone can read and enjoy Shakespeare. Professor Conner wants to encourage everyone to read more Shakespeare and it shows in his lectures.

I would really like to assign this course to my high school student, but I think I may wait until junior or senior year, mostly because some of the mature content that is touched upon. There's nothing that's not also in the plays, but I don't intend to assign Othello (for example) for the same reason.

I purchased this course, probably during a 2-for-1 Great Courses sale, as a member of Audible. Links above are affiliate links. I did not receive anything for writing this honest review.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Invitation to Observation: Nature's Everyday Mysteries

by Sy Montgomery (The Curious Naturalist)

This is one of the supplemental reading books for nature suggested by the Mater Amabilis™ beta plan for Level 5 (first two years of high school). It's a series of essays that (I think) originally appeared in a regular newspaper column, organized around the seasons of the year. Written by a New England author, they focus mainly on the wildlife of that area like porcupines, beavers, turkeys, and mushrooms.

Each essay is full of delightful comments and information on the natural world. There were plenty of humorous descriptions which will appeal to a high school reader. The subject matter and tone of the essays are inviting, encouraging to someone who will be heading out into the world for nature study every now and then.

The essays are fairly short and, while enjoyable and well-written, will not be difficult to understand, making the book a good complement to more focused study of the natural world.

Be aware there are a few descriptions of reproduction that might require explanations if the reader doesn't know the general facts of life.

I purchased this book used and received nothing for this post. Any links to Amazon are affiliate links.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Faith and Adventure: Ship's Boy with Magellan

by Milton Lomask

This is an enjoyable and exciting fictional account of Magellan's voyage around the world from the point of view of a boy escaping his murderous uncle. Milton Lomask, the author, also wrote some of the Vision saint books. This book is part of our history work this year which is pulled mostly from Connecting with History.

I initially planned to read this aloud, and I still think it would be a marvelous family read aloud, but if we don't have time for it, it's one my ten-year-old could easily read independently. (In fact, my eight-year-old probably can, too, though I can't remember if that's normal for eight.)

The book shares plenty of information about what sailing was like at the time of Magellan and how a ship's boy would be treated (by a kind captain). Magellan's slave, Enrique, is treated as an honest, courageous, and kind friend for the young boy.

I had no idea Magellan was such a staunch evangelist, ensuring preaching to people they encountered on their voyage was a top priority. At first I thought the book exaggerated the details, but a little research seems to indicate it is true.

The author of the book claims the Philippines were predominantly Christian as a direct result of Magellan's lingering to allow a priest to instruct and baptize people on island after island.
Young as he was, Pedro recognized that these were the great moments of the great voyage. He could not, however, look into the future of foresee the long-lasting effects of what Father Valderrama was doing with Magellan's help.
Despite pleas from priests (according to Lomask) later explorers were much more ruthless.
They were often cruel to the natives of the new countries to which they were sent by their kinds. Some explorers did little or nothing to assist the priests who traveled with them. Instead of trying to Christianize the natives, they enslaved them.
It's probable there is much more to the story than just Magellan's effect on the Philippines; the islands have a long and nuanced history. We'll leave more details until the kids are older.

The fictional account mainly follows the story of Magellan. After he dies (gallantly defending his sailors in their ill-fated attack), the story rushes ahead to the return of the beleaguered ship to Spain. I would have liked to hear more about the rest of the voyage, but the book is plenty exciting.

This edition by Hillside Education is nicely bound. The illustrations in the book by William Plummer are superior to the cover art. Hillside is one of those publishers I regard highly for their excellent craftsmanship and their dedication to republishing worthy books.

I purchased this book (from Sacred Heart Books and Gifts - not an affiliate link). I have not received anything in exchange for this honest review. I did learn of the book from RC History in the Connecting with History syllabus and lesson plans. The links to RC History in this post are affiliate links. The book is also available at Amazon (another affiliate link).

Friday, November 2, 2018

September and October 2018 Book Reports

The Tower of Swallows by Andrzej Sapkowski - This is a continuation in the Witcher series (and not yet the final book) in which we find plenty of degradation, death, destruction, and a bit of hope. Not for the young or the sensitive, but it's still an enjoyable story. (library copy)

The Lost Dinosaurs of Egypt by William Nothdurft with Josh Smith - link to my post. (purchased used copy)

Exodus from the Long Sun by Gene Wolf - This is the final book in the Book of the Long Sun series. It is at once a conclusion, one that leaves some questions unanswered, and a beginning for the Short Sun series. (library copy)

Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood by Oliver Sacks - link to my post. (purchased used copy)

The Rescuers: a fantasy by Margery Sharp - I read this aloud to the children. I can't remember where I saw it recommended. It's really kind of an odd story. The children adored it, but I was a bit disappointed at the ending in that Miss Bianca did not overcome her fears enough to choose a relationship with a mouse over her relationship with the Boy. (library copy)

The Silver Branch by Rosemary Sutcliff - This is the second book of the Roman Britain trilogy, sequel to The Eagle of the Ninth, though it follows more the story of Roman Britain itself rather than people from the first to the second book. Set late in Roman Britain, as the power of the Roman legions is failing there and elsewhere, it dramatically tells events of the rise of Emperor Carausius, his death, and the aftermath. I think First Son will enjoy it if he chooses it from his options for British History supplemental reading. It's one of the suggestions on the Level 5 Mater Amabilis™ plans. (library copy)

On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius - link to my post. (purchased copy)

Links to Amazon are affiliate links. As an affiliate with Amazon, I receive a small commission if you follow one of my links, add something to your cart, and complete the purchase (in that order). Links to RC History and are affiliate links. Any other links (like those to Bethlehem Books) are not affiliate links.

These reports are my honest opinions.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

An Early Apology: On the Incarnation

by St. Athanasius

This is one of the books suggested for supplemental spiritual reading for Level 5 Year 1 in the Mater Amabilis™ high school beta plans (available in the high school facebook group).

My copy includes a letter from St. Athanasius to Marcellinus on the psalms in an appendix, but I didn't read it yet.

Lewis wrote a brief introduction for the Popular Patristics Series edition published by St. Vladimir's Seminary Press. (This is the translation Kansas Dad recommended when I was deciding which one to purchase.) One of the points he makes, one I think I've heard Bishop Robert Barron talk about as well, is that reading primary sources and older books (in this case about theology) is important for our own growth in the faith and, according to Bishop Barron, for evangelism as well. Every time period has its own bias and false assumptions.
None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books. Where they are true they will give us truths which we half knew already. Where they are false, they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill. The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. 
It's easy to see where older books are wrong. We use a lot of older books in our history studies and my children are quite adept at identifying Victorian bias (as an example). What is more difficult, but also vastly rewarding, is learning to sift through an older book to discover the truths that are within and which have been clouded by time or, more often, resurfaced as a "new" argument against the faith that has been addresses time and again throughout the past two thousand years.

On the Incarnation addresses some of the most basic tenets of our faith:
  • Why do we need to be "saved?" (Creation and the Fall)
  • How can salvation be accomplished and what the incarnation does (The Divine Dilemma and its Solution in the Incarnation)
  • Why Christ had to die on the cross (The Death of Christ)
  • Why Christ had to rise again (The Resurrection)
Speaking of the Fall, St. Athanasius explains why sin leads to death.
But men, having turned from the contemplation of God to evil of their own devising, had come inevitably under the law of death...For the transgression of the commandment was making them turn back again according to their nature; and as they had at the beginning come into being out of non-existence, so were they now on the way to returning, through corruption, to non-existence again.
Though the whole book is about the incarnation, this one sentence is almost all you need.
He assumed a body capable of death, in order that it, through belonging to the Word Who is above all, might become in dying a sufficient exchange for all, and, itself remaining incorruptible through His indwelling, might thereafter put an end to corruption for all others as well, by the grace of the resurrection.
My favorite chapter is the seventeenth. In it, St. Athanasius writes of the paradox of an eternal being dwelling in a mortal body.
The marvellous truth is, that being the Word, so far from being Himself contained by anything, He actually contained all things Himself.
You can read the chapter on the New Advent site, but I liked the translation in my copy better.
Existing in a human body, to which He Himself gives life, He is still Source of life to all the universe, present in every part of it, yet outside the whole; and He is revealed both through the words of His body and through His activity in the world.
St. Athanasius addresses many doubts about the incarnation, death, and resurrection. In one chapter, he considers the number of days between the death and the resurrection. If it had been less than one or two days, people would have doubted he had really died. If he had waited longer, they would have forgotten about his death on the cross or the people would have left Jerusalem and returned home, unable to witness and confirm the resurrection.
No, while the affair was still ringing in their ears and their eyes were still straining and their minds in turmoil, and while those who had put Him to death were still on the spot and themselves witnessing to the fact of it, the Son of God after three days showed His once dead body immortal and incorruptible; and it as evident to all that it was from no natural weakness that the body which the Word indwelt had died, but in order that in it by the Saviour's power death might be done away.
In the sixth, seventh, and eighth chapters,  St. Athanasius speaks directly to some of the specific concerns of Jews and Gentiles of his time. These refutations are provided "for the student" with a note they can be skipped, but I enjoyed them and recommend them. It turns out the likes of blog posts denouncing the stupidity of those who refuse to acknowledge Christ have a history that goes back at least to fourth century.

Many of the arguments are still wavering, not yet completing understood or explained as we would find today in the catechism. Yet the heart of many of the doctrines are already clear and it is interesting to read the arguments St. Athanasius thought most important to make.
In short, such and so many are the Saviour's achievements that follow from His Incarnation, that to try to number them is like gazing at the open sea and trying to count the waves. One cannot see all the waves with one's eyes, for when one tries to do so those that are following on baffle one's senses. Even so, when one wants to take in all the achievements of Christ in the body, one cannot do so, even by reckoning them up, for the things that transcend one's thought are always more than those one things that one has grasped.
Because I have assigned a commentary on Genesis for First Son, this book is listed as optional on his plans. I highly doubt he'll read it this year, but I am glad I did.

I purchased this book at a local retreat center and received nothing in exchange for this blog post. The link above to Amazon is an affiliate link.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

A Life Upheld by Curiosity: Uncle Tungsten

by Oliver Sacks

This book is one of the options listed for recommended supplemental reading in First Son's ninth grade chemistry course from Sabbath Mood Homeschool. It's a wonderful memoir of an inquisitive and intelligent boy's immersion in a world of scientific inquiry. His grandparents, aunts, uncles, and parents were at the vanguard of scientific inquiry before the Second World War and his relationships with each of them were shaped by their intellectual pursuits.

Dr. Sacks writes eloquently of his fascination with the natural world and the chemistry that holds it together.
Reading Dalton, reading about atoms, put me in a sort of rapture, thinking that the mysterious proportionalities and numbers one saw on a gross scale in the lab might reflect an invisible, infinitesimal, inner world of atoms, dancing, touching, attracting, and combining.
As a boy and young man, Dr. Sacks experienced chemistry as it unfolded. Using old chemistry books and a lab his parents allowed, he developed a relationship with the different kinds of elements, allowing him to become intimately familiar with the chemical groups and the similarities in the ways they interacted with each other. The Sabbath Mood Homeschool course is organized in the same way. First Son is reading The Wonders of Chemistry, an older book, but one that invites the reader to engage with the chemical world. Each week, there are experiments, many pulled from the text. Chemistry is not just a series of expressions or elements to memorize, but a world to discover.

The chapter on Mendeleev and the Periodic Table is illuminating. I've read a little about the struggle to organize the elements into this particular order, but reading Sacks's response to the news of the table and his first glimpse of it at the local science museum brought it to life in a remarkable way.
To have perceived an overall organizing, a superarching principle uniting and relating all the elements, had a quality of the miraculous, of genius. And this gave me, for the first time, a sense of the transcendent power of the human mind, and the fact that it might be equipped to discover or decipher the deepest secrets of nature, to read the mind of God.
At the end of the chapter, he writes:
In that first, long, rapt encounter in the Science Museum, I was convinced that the periodic table was neither arbitrary nor superficial, but a representation of truths which would never be overturned, but would, on the contrary, continually be confirmed, show new depths with new knowledge, because it was as deep and simple as nature itself. And the perception of this produced in my twelve-year-old self a sort of ecstasy, the sense (in Einstein's words) that "a corner of the great veil had been lifted."
This book does include some mentions of disturbing experiences. His mother, a gynecologist and obstetrician, sometimes brought home fetuses to dissect in front of him and even insisted he do so himself at a young age. It also mentions how occasionally she or the nurse would euthanize babies they believed (rightly or wrongly, it's impossible to know) would never have a conscious life. He also participated in a dissection of a girl nearly his own age when he was a young teenager. These are not portrayed as beneficial experiences for Sacks.

Covering Sacks's teenage years, this book does include some mentions of puberty and the kinds of things that entails. I didn't find anything inappropriate for a high schoolers, but people have different opinions about such things. I know there's some in the chapter called Cannery Row, but it might appear in other places as well.

I enjoyed this book tremendously. Despite taking advanced chemistry classes in high school, general and organic chemistry in college, and earning a degree in genetics and cell biology, I feel like I really understood many chemical concepts for the first time while reading this book.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Grit and Luck: The Lost Dinosaurs of Egypt

by William Nothdurft with Josh Smith

This book begins with a vivid description of destruction raining down on dinosaurs from above.
The second extinction of the dinosaurs from the Bahariya Oasis began shortly after midnight. It came from the sky. It began with a barely discernible disturbance in the air, a distant rumble that insinuated itself into the quiet of the night and quickly grew in intensity to a deafening roar. Then, suddenly, the sound became sight and the dark became light as the sky itself became fire. Moments later the roaring was punctuated by a stunning explosion that shattered the still night air. Then another. Then dozens more, until the earth shook and the ground split.
I anticipated my son being immediately transfixed. This book is recommended for Earth Studies in year 1 of Level 5 (ninth grade) in the beta Mater Amabilis™ high school plans, currently found only in the high school group on Facebook. I think it would also work in the second year of Level 5 which includes a study of Africa.

Early in the book, while talking about Dr. Stromer, the German in Egypt, the author describes a feeling that appears often in Charlotte Mason's geography book that we're also reading this year.
He was an unreconstructed colonialist snob. His journal makes it clear that he regarded the Egyptians he hired as inferior beings--ignorant, dirty, greedy, devious, even dangerous. The great irony, one that no doubt would have been lost on a Victorian-era aristocrat like Stromer, was that he depended upon these people utterly--to manage the camels, to guide him through the desert and keep him safe, to cook for him, and to carry burdens.
The book tells the story of one group of paleontologists who sought the original site of a German scientist's discoveries in Egypt before World War I. He was never able to return and, surprisingly given his success, no one else had either. It's a fascinating and fast-paced report of what life is actually like for graduate students and fellows planning an expedition and suffering through it's excitement and disappointments. Allison Tumarkin, a graduate student in the group, wrote in her journal:
Okay, now I know I'm really in the field. My clothes are covered in plaster, my hands are permanently Vinaced, my skin is cracking from plaster burn, my knees and shins are covered with bruises and every other word out of my mouth seems to be an expletive. We have so many inside jokes at this point it's like we've invented our own language. How could anyone ask for more?
There are a few descriptions of interactions with local Egyptians (in addition to the Egyptian scientists who participated in the expedition). Ken Lacovara, who could play the drums a little, talked about the differences between how American play drums and how Egyptians play drums. One evening, he had the opportunity to join in a community event.
For Americans, music--especially jazz--is a form of self-expression. For Egyptians, though, playing in a large group, it's more an expression of solidarity and camaraderie. But it was great fun anyway; I couldn't hold a conversation with these guys, but at least we could speak in music.
There are a few moments in the book that convey the thrill and amazement of field studies. Ken Lacovara talked about a rock he found with a colleague, Jen Smith:
When Jen and I looked at that rock, we were looking literally at a ten-second snapshot of part of the history of the world, a moment almost a hundred million years ago--one frame of the movie--preserved for all time. 
This is a marvelous book of popular science for high schoolers, especially those interested in paleontology. It combines bits and pieces of paleontology (of course), geology, geography, culture, history, scientific methodology, and the culture of science. First Son is only a few weeks in, but he's enjoying it tremendously.

I purchased this book used and have received nothing for this honest review. The links above are affiliate links to Amazon.

Monday, September 10, 2018

July and August 2018 Book Reports

The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise by Robert Cardinal Sarah with Nicolas Diat - link to my post. (library copy)

In the Steps of the Master by H. V. Morton - link to my post. (purchased used)

Calde of the Long Sun by Gene Wolfe - I'm reading this series again and enjoying it more the second time around I think. Sometime in the past few years, the library copy of the last book was damaged or lost so here's hoping they buy another one for me. (library copy)

Echoes by John Ciardi - I picked this book out of the library catalog when I was searching for poetry books for the children. (How to Tell the Top of the Hill is delightful.) This book is beautifully printed on lovely paper. Many of the poems seemed melancholy or dispirited to me, but a few near the end of the book appealed to me. I liked Ten Minutes my Captive in which he describes a turtle he allows to escape "into the green flecked edge of water and home." (library copy)

Joan of Arc by Hilaire Belloc - link to my post. (purchased Kindle version)

Ember Rising by S.D. Smith - We started listening to this audiobook with Kansas Dad, but he asked us to finish it without him because he found it upsetting that the main characters seemed to suffer worse and worse fates as the book progressed. I'm going to have to go against the current on this series and admit I often find the writing almost painful. There's far too much alliteration and minute descriptions; I'm always thinking there should have been more editing. The story is reasonably good, though, and the children enjoy it. I bought it thinking it would be the last of the trilogy, but it's not. I suppose I'll buy the rest of the books for the children to read but I think I'll pass on the audiobook. (Audiobook received from our contribution to the funding page.)

Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the Fight for Europe by Robert Matzen - This incredibly researched book tells Jimmy Stewart's wartime story based on extensive interviews and governmental reports. It gives detailed accounts and descriptions of life for bombers living in England and flying missions over Europe. Stewart's life in Hollywood (with all his exploits) is described just as openly as the often graphic scenes of carnage and struggle in war, so this is a book for mature readers, but it could be a fascinating read for anyone interested in World War II. (borrowed from my dad)

The Blood-Red Crescent by Henry Garnett - link to my post. (purchased used on Cathswap)

Mara, Daughter of the Nile by Eloise Jarvis McGraw - One of the historical fiction books recommended by RC History for Connecting with History volume 1, this is an exciting story of an inadvertent double spy in the time of Queen Hatshepsut. There's a Novel Inquiries guide for the novel which I own, but I haven't decided if we'll use it. First Daughter (sixth grade) is going to read this for independent reading and I might not ask her to do anything in particular other than reading it. It's a good choice for a middle schooler or older student as there is some violence and romance. It's exciting and I enjoyed the story, but I was a little upset at some of the scenes where she flirts with a guard (to get him to let her out of the gate) or her love interest because they reaffirm stereotypes, but First Daughter hears me talk about those things enough for me not to be concerned about her reading them here and there. (purchased used)

Baptism of Fire by Andrezej Sapkowski - This is the third book in the Witcher series. After I read the second book, I wrote that I wouldn't recommend them due to the use of the rape myth in the plot line. Of course, I kept reading them myself and discovered this book has a surprising pro-life message. Entertaining fantasy and moral questions for a mature audience. (library copy)

Crosstalk by Connie Willis - This is a light-hearted science fiction book set in the near future when the instant messaging and texting creates a constant bombardment. I read this book in the twenty-four hours before and during my daughter's surgery. It was nothing major, just pins in a broken finger, but I was worried and this book was the perfect companion as I tried to relax and waited for the results. (library copy)

The Burgess Seashore Book for Children by Thornton W. Burgess - link to my post. (purchased used)

Much Ado about Nothing by Shakespeare - First Son is reading this as his first Shakespeare play of high school so I read it to help myself be prepared. I read the No Fear Shakespeare version (linked) and the one he will read. It helps a lot to have the modern translation and some editorial helps to understand the references. It doesn't include any essays on the meaning, but I found a Cliff's Notes with a bit of information for him to read after he reads the play. (I just requested whatever was available on Reading even those short notes gave me some added dimensions for understanding the play, the characters, and the themes. I am absurdly excited to be reading Shakespeare with First Son and First Daughter this year. (They'll be reading different plays.) I've scheduled three plays for each of them this year, but even if we only make it through two of them, I'll be thrilled. Realizing I didn't encounter Shakespeare at all in college, I've decided this must be a priority for us in middle school and high school. It might be their only experience with the Bard. (purchased book for the play, requested book for the supplementary reading from

The Sea Around Us by Rachel Carson - link to my post. (purchased used)

Usually here I list all the books I'm reading, but that would take too long because I'm reading everything First Son is reading for high school. Yikes! It's a lot.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Poetry in the Sea: The Sea Around Us

by Rachel Carson

This is one of the nature books recommended for Level 5 Year 1 (ninth grade) by the beta Mater Amabilis™ plans (available in the high school facebook group). If you have read books from Mater Amabilis™ through elementary or middle school, you will encounter passages recalling A Book of Discovery and A Doorway of Amethyst, among others. These are fresh in my mind as First Daughter enters Level 3 this year (sixth grade) and it's lovely to consider how these connections will grow and develop over the years, creating a rich background for any future studies.

I have the Special Edition linked above with a beautiful forward by Ann Zwinger and a chapter added at the end by Jeffrey Levinton with updated scientific information (as of 1989).

Though originally published in 1950 and revised in 1961, the scientific information in the book is not generally outdated. Often, Carson described observations rather than formulating theories. When she does talk about theories, there are often competing ones described and an admission that they just didn't know the answers yet. Levinton's chapter at the end provided some scientific updates but I don't remember anything striking me there as out-dated either. His writing is not nearly as lovely as that of Carson.

Carson begins before there was even an ocean, exploring how the earth formed and eventually water precipitated out and rained down. She explores in thought and word the ocean's surface, it's hidden depths, islands erupting, tides, and climate.
[Islands] are ephemeral, created today, destroyed tomorrow. With few exceptions, they are the results of the violent, explosive, earth-shaking eruptions of submarine volcanoes, working perhaps for millions of years to achieve their end. It is one of the paradoxes in the ways of earth and sea that a process seemingly so destructive, so catastrophic in nature, can result in an act of creation.
She easily brings the ancient life (and death) of the ocean creatures to a modern life, encouraging by her words excursions to seas long expired as well as the current sea-shore.
You do not have to travel to find the sea, for the traces of its ancient stands are everywhere about. Though you may be a thousand miles inland, you can easily find reminders that will reconstruct for the eye and ear of the mind the processions of its ghostly waves and the roar of its surf, far back in time. So, on a mountain top in Pennsylvania, I have sat on rocks of whitened limestone, fashioned of the shells of billions upon billions of minute sea creatures.
In the last paragraph of the book, she writes:
For the sea lies all about us. The commerce of all lands must cross it. The very winds that move over the lands have been cradled on its broad expanse and seek ever to return to it. The continents themselves dissolve and pass to the sea, in grain after grain of eroded land. So the rains that rose from it return again in rivers. In its mysterious past it encompasses all the dim origins of life and receives in the end, after, it may be, many transmutations, the dead husks of that same life.
My father was a bit unnerved that I chose a book by Carson for First Son to read. He believes her Silent Spring was the beginning of policies that have endangered millions of people who now die of malaria. First of all, there's very little of environmental hyperbole in The Sea Around Us. (Frankly, there's more of that in Levinton's chapter than the whole rest of the book combined.)

Secondly, Carson never advocated eliminating pest control entirely, though I'm sure some of her acolytes did. I researched a little about the use of DDT today and learned that some countries are indeed using it because other measures were not as successful at curbing mosquito populations and malarial infections. It seems like most medical communities, however, are concerned about its effects not just on the environment or birds but on the health of people themselves. (Some countries spray it only inside houses, on all the walls.) It seems likely that DDT in these cases prevents deaths from malaria but may be causing other health problems, so it seems prudent to continue to seek for other methods of addressing malaria.

All that to say, this is a book you can read even if you think Carson was completely wrong about DDT, but my own opinion is that DDT is detrimental and we should be continually seeking out other methods of controlling mosquitos and the spread of malaria.

In the Introduction, Ann Zwinger quoted Rachel Carson's speech after accepting the National Book Award:
"The winds, the sea, and the moving tides are what they are," she said. "If there is wonder and beautify and majesty in them, science will discover these qualities. If they are not there, science cannot create them. If there is poetry in my book about the sea, it is not because I deliberately put it there but because no one could write truthfully about the sea and leave out the poetry."
I think it's likely there are lots of academic publications about the sea or the tides that lack poetry, but this book certainly does not. It's absolutely delightful.

I purchased this book used. I received nothing for this review. The links above are affiliate links to Amazon.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Science in Second Grade: The Burgess Seashore Book for Children

by Thornton W. Burgess

This book has been on my shelf for a few years now, purchased when I thought I might read it aloud before we went to the ocean for the first time (and still the only time), but it's never been read. Second Son heard much of The Burgess Bird Book for Children (one of the Level 1A science recommendations on the Mater Amabilis™™ syllabus) as I read it aloud to Second Daughter so I thought he might be interested in this alternative. I offered him the choice of the bird book or the seashore book and, based only on the cover (and maybe what he remembered), he chose the seashore book.

I read it this summer before the school year began because I am ambitiously asking him to read it independently and narrate it to me. I'm fairly certain he can handle the material, given what he reads on his own, though I don't necessarily recommend this route for all second graders. He's a great reader and is already 8 years old since we started kindergarten a year later than recommended.

If you have read any of the Burgess books for children, you will be familiar with the format. An animal or two wander an environment and learn about the creatures that live there. The Seashore Book follows mostly a mouse and a fox. Some of the conversations are stilted, but there are lots of opportunities for curiosity and wonder. If you're near a seashore or manage to find a copy cheaper than the Burgess Bird Book, feel free to substitute this one.

To get through the entire book without reading more than a chapter at a time, I'm assigning this twice a week. Because I have four children and my oldest is starting high school, I made no ambitious second grade science plans this year. We'll read this book and have our nature walk two or three times a month and consider it excellently covered.

I purchased this book used from another homeschooling family. I received nothing for this review. The links above are affiliate links to Amazon.