Saturday, November 3, 2012

October 2012 Book Reports

Born On A Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant by Daniel Tammet is the memoir of a still-young man on the Autism spectrum. It is eloquent if sometimes stilted and provides an interesting glimpse into the world of others who may not have the verbal skills to describe their thoughts and emotions. I enjoyed reading about how his large family (lots of siblings!) forced him to develop social skills, helped him learn to cope better with noise and change, and taught him how to interact with others by providing lots of examples of social interactions. There are a few times when he expands his experiences, generalizing to others who fall on the same spectrum, with thought-provoking applications to modern society. At the end, there seemed to be some random forays into other areas like organic food and making meals from scratch. This book won and award for young adults, but I would caution about sharing it with children that are young as he shares more than I wanted to know about his relationship with his partner. I liked reading this book overall, but I did enjoy Thinking in Pictures by Temple Grandin more. I'd recommend that one if you only want to read one. (library copy)

Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling by Ross King was a highly enjoyable book focused on the painting of the Sistine Chapel. It includes descriptions of the politics, geography, artistry, and living conditions of the time. I learned a great deal and am glad I read it before we studied this time period (purchased at a bargain at a library sale)

Can You Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope is a very long novel. Once I settled in to Trollope's style, I enjoyed it. There is much to ponder here on marriage, women (and their more limited role at the time of the novel), and British society. (free Kindle edition)

Notes from the Underwire: Adventures from My Awkward and Lovely Life by Quinn Cummings is a series of short essays. I was really looking for her new book, The Year of Learning Dangerously: Adventures in Homeschooling, which I read a bit of at a bookstore and loved, but our library didn't have a copy. I read this instead and enjoyed it. Ms. Cummings lives a very different life than I do, but I found common ground and a lot of reasons to laugh in her book. Some of the topics warrant maturity (living together outside of marriage, AIDS, openness to alternative lifestyles). I've put in a request for the newer book through inter-library loan. (library copy)

Flowertown by S.G. Redling is the fictional account of an Iowan farming community polluted horribly by a chemical spill. The government and the company responsible establish what is essentially a ghetto to minister to the survivors and contain the environmental damage. I have an arguably poor opinion of pesticide companies, but even I found the actions of this one hard to believe. Still it was an entertaining book. As with others this month, I'd recommend it only for mature readers. (Kindle edition, borrowed for free from the Kindle Owners' Lending Library)

The Great Turkey Walk by Kathleen Karr is based on the true tale of an ambitious plan to herd a bunch of turkeys to Denver during a gold rush soon after the Civil War to cash in on the lack of delicious fresh poultry on the frontier. It's pretty funny and touches on a lot of topics of interest for the time-period. I was considering reading it aloud to the kids, but there were a few too many references to ladies wearing skimpy clothes for me to feel comfortable sharing it. (Not that anything bad happens in that vein, but it seemed to imply an older audience for the book than my 8, 6, 4, and 2 year olds.) (library copy)

The Schoolhouse at Prairie View by Marshall A. Barber is the memoir of a Kansan who grew from a farm boy to an internationally-recognized chemist. It's focused on his time at school, reading like an oral history. Our little library had a copy returned recently by a man reading primary sources on Kansas history and our librarian set it aside for me; she knew I'd enjoy it. I did! (library copy)

Towards A Philosophy Of Education (Charlotte Mason's Original Homeschooling Series) by Charlotte Mason, the sixth in her series. It took me something like fifteen months to read this book! I've pondered it so slowly I can barely remember the beginning, but I think it's good to always be reading something like this as I continue to figure out our homeschool. I'm not a pure Charlotte Mason teacher, but I like contemplating her ideas and balancing them against whatever we're doing. I've now read the first and sixth books and will eventually get to the ones in between. At this rate, I expect to finish the last one about the time Second Son is graduating from high school. (I read this Kindle edition, but there are a number of them available)

Word Myths: Debunking Linguistic Urban Legends by David Wilton is one of the very few books I've purchased for my Kindle, not counting the ones I "purchase" for $0.00. I bought it when it was the Kindle deal of the day last January thinking it would be interesting. It was, but it wasn't as interesting as I'd hoped. More than anything, I liked how it forced me to think critically about some of the stories I'd heard about how words and phrases begin. It's well-researched and a valuable source of information on any of the topics it includes. (purchased for the Kindle)

Tested: One American School Struggles to Make the Grade by Linda Perlstein is the story of one elementary school in Maryland through the 2005-2006 school year as the principal and teachers struggle to prepare themselves and their students for the big annual test and what it means to make adequate annual progress for No Child Left Behind. I was so very saddened at the lives these children lead and the way they spend their time at school. I talked with a friend who is currently an elementary school principal and he says the testing situation is much better than it was at the time of this book, but this book is a great way to see how a well-intended governmental attempt to improve education for struggling students can hamper the ability of teachers and schools to do just that in unexpected ways. I also found this particularly interesting as I compared what First Son's third grade experiences were and what his skills might be in different areas with what was expected of the third graders in the book. Though in many ways he far surpassed any of the students in the class, he could never have written a "BCR" until I taught him exactly how to do so. (library copy)

Wool - Omnibus Edition by Hugh Howey was another Kindle deal of the day, and probably the Kindle purchase I've most enjoyed since I bought the second and third books of the Hunger Games trilogy. It's actually five books published together, the first being no longer than a short story. They follow individuals living in a silo, buried in the ground from a toxic world. Every so often, for the greatest crimes, people are sent out to "clean" the sensors and test the suits built to withstand the environment. Or are they? You can read the first book for free: Wool. Highly recommended. I promised myself I could buy the next book in the series (actually a prequel) when I finished my most recent review for The Catholic Company. (purchased for the Kindle)

Lost in Peter's Tomb by Dianne Ahern, illustrated by Katherine Larson, is a book I read about as a great Catholic mystery for young readers. Two young children are sent to spend the summer with their aunt, a Franciscan nun outside Rome who turns out to work covertly for the Pope and the Italian police as a consultant. It's a little far-fetched and not exceptionally well-written, but it's acceptable. I'm not sure First Son will read it before it has to go back and I probably wouldn't bother to buy it for him. (inter-library loan)

Saint Who?: 39 Holy Unknowns by Brian O'Neel (a review for The Catholic Company)

The Groundbreaking, Chance-Taking Life of George Washington Carver and Science and Invention in America (Cheryl Harness Histories) by Cheryl Harness was a book I really wanted to like and started out enjoying it. Ms. Harness has interesting illustrations throughout and a fascinating timeline of George Washington Carver's lifetime, showing events around the world, along the bottom pages of the book. I was a little annoyed by her use of initials. Sometimes (not always), George Washington Carver was GWC. Sometimes (not always) Booker T. Washington was BTW. Theodore Roosevelt was sometimes TR. I really should be able to get over that. I was also concerned by the description of a black man accused of raping a white girl and then brutally murdered before Carver's eyes. The murder was horrible and my children don't know what "rape" is yet; I'd rather not explain it until after they've learned more about married life in a good and beautiful way. (The rape was not described, just the murder.) I did appreciate the discussion in the book of the differences between Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. De Bois. Overall, I'm not interested in giving this book to my third grade son to read on his own and at the moment don't have any other recommendations. I'm open to other suggestions. (library copy)

The Night the Bells Rang by Natalie Kinsey-Warnock is a tale of a young boy, Mason, near the end of World War I, mainly of his struggles with a local bully and his younger brother. After an act of kindness, the bully enlists in the armed forces. Mason hears shocking news and eventually realizes how his own behavior has been damaging his relationships with his family. It's a tale that includes some historical information and a change of heart. I'm a little leery of asking First Son to read it (it is well within his reading ability) because of the examples of bullying (though they are not portrayed as good or beneficial), but I think it has much to offer, so I've put it on the syllabus as independent reading for our study of World War I. (library copy)

Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke (library copy)

Little Britches: Father and I Were Ranchers by Ralph Moody was fantastic. It reads like a fascinating memoir, almost as if the author were in the room with you, telling about his life. Ralph moved to Colorado in 1906 with his large family. The book would work well as a family read-aloud for that time, but it is also a wonderful story of a wise man and his relationship with his rambunctious son. There is much courage, perseverance, and forgiveness. I'll let you read the reviews on Amazon, which are much better than what I can write in the few minutes I have. This book is now on our family read-aloud list for this year, but I really recommend it to anyone. (library copy)

Did you notice I finished all of the books on the "Books in Progress" list last month? When I finished Can You Forgive Her?, I knew I was within an hour of the end of Towards a Philosophy of Education, so decided I'd set myself a goal of finishing the rest of them.

Books in Progress (and date started)


  1. Oh my goodness, you are so ambitious you exhaust me! I'm intrigued by the Unconditional Parenting one you have in progress. Anxious for a review, I may need to check that out. Not into gimicky parenting books but the review on amazon sounded intriguing.

  2. Monica, that book has me thinking so much! It's going to take me a little while to get through it. (Don't request it from the library; I don't want to have to return it yet!) So far I think it's worth reading and I'll definitely be blogging at least a little about it.

  3. Haha, I will not request it then. ;) Several of my friends have recently read The Passion of Mary Margaret (a fiction, but sounds like it has some great spiritual lessons as well) so I have that on hold now. I'll refrain on the parenting one, and in the meantime be curious what you have to say.

    Parenting is such a process, and it's so easy (at least for me) to have an idea how I should handle things, but then when I get frustrated and such all my reason just seems to fly out the window. But along the vein of what the Amazon review said (I think), I want my kids to behave because it's the right thing to do...not because they are afraid of punishments, or because they think I will love them more if they do...but because it's what they *should* do, and I'll agree sometimes it is a tricky balance trying to figure out how to "teach" them that. Probably because we're all human. I always appreciate most of what Sears has to say in his parenting books, and I liked Parenting with Grace as well. Both seemed very genuine, real-life approaches to raising children.

    I'll be anxious [looking] for your reviews ;-D

  4. I happened to notice the library has two copies, so I guess you could request it if you wanted. I wouldn't be surprised if you only have time for one book at the moment with your three little ones, though!

  5. Haha, true, I'll keep that in mind though thanks!!!


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