Sunday, September 25, 2016

Perfect for the Young Artist: The Drawing Lesson

by Mark Crilley

My children love graphic novels. Last year, First Son and First Daughter both concentrated on drawing in their art lessons. First Son, loves drawing comics more than any other non-screen related activity, and is continuing his drawing focus this year. A graphic novel designed to teach drawing seemed a natural fit for our family.

Mr. Crilley has created a story showing David working with a mentor to learn drawing over the course of a few weeks. Each meeting is a lesson about a different aspect of drawing. My own artistic knowledge is nearly all based on high school freshman art class, so it's hard for me to judge how reliable the information is. After sketching a bit this summer in my nature notebook, however, I can say much of this information would have been useful and immediately applicable. If I ever learned about reflected light, I'd long forgotten it, but now I'll remember to notice it in the future.

The lessons address: drawing what you see, shading, beginning with a loose sketch, understanding light and shadow, using negative space, checking proportions, simplifying things, creating a composition, and bringing it all together. Each chapter ends with a suggested drawing assignment, many of which could be completed more than once with different subjects.

One of the aspects I like most about our current art curriculum is the introduction of art history in each chapter. This book lacks that kind of connection, but the lessons themselves seem solid and I think they are presented in a way that makes the reader feel invited to experiment with paper and pencil (and eraser).

Becky, David's art mentor, also provides valuable advice outside of the strictly artistic. For example, the very first time they meet, she says:
You don't get better at things by pretending that you never make mistakes.
Later, she says:
Art isn't a contest, David. I'm trying to teach you the pleasure of drawing well.
Trust me. When it comes to art, you will never know everything. I've been at this for years. Every day I learn something new.
I've been withholding this book from my children because I was afraid it would disappear before I had finished writing about it. They've seen it, though, and are anxious for their chance. I think it would make an excellent gift for a young artist, especially a boy interested in comics or graphic novels. (Is there a boy who isn't?)

I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review. The opinions above are my own. The links in this post are not affiliate links.

Friday, September 9, 2016

July and August 2016 Book Reports

Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child by Anthony Esolen - link to my post. (Kindle edition)

The Bee-Friendly Garden by Kate Frey and Gretchen LeBuhn - link to my post. (book review for Blogging for Books)

The 101 Damatians by Dodie Smith is a delightful story; I'm sorry I never read it as a child myself. This will either be a family read-aloud for us or First Daughter will read it during her independent reading. I'm dismayed the Amazon link says it's "abridged" as the book I read from the library has the same cover, though it doesn't say it's abridged anywhere. I may invest in the Audible book, just to see if there's a noticeable difference. (library copy)

Hilary McKay's Lulu series - link to my post. (library copies)

Julian, Secret Agent by Ann Cameron is an early reader, and one in a series. Julian and his best friend start a detective agency with his little brother and learn it's best not to jump to conclusions. His father takes their escapades in stride and allows them the freedom to explore and investigate in a way that's probably impossible in today's world, but commendable. This will be an option for Second Daughter in her reading aloud to me. (library copy)

A Traveller in Rome by H. V. Morton - link to my post. (borrowed copy)

Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Stuart Little by Peggy Gifford is a humorous easy chapter book about a girl who avoids reading her assigned book the entire summer and the events that transpire the last afternoon. It's not clear to me that Moxy learns or changes much in the short book, though she does eventually read Stuart Little. It's odd that there's a much younger boy (she's 9 and he's 6) who has a "crush" on her, follows her around and does whatever she says, a boy she considers her "boyfriend." For those who are concerned about such things, she does live with her mom and stepfather, though it doesn't say anything about divorce. My girls want to read this book, because they've seen it around the house, and I will let them, but I wouldn't offer it during the school year and I won't mention it's the first in a series. (library book)

Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children's Book edited by Anita Silvey is a series of brief essays, some only a few sentences, of a successful person from a variety of careers, though there are lots of writers and illustrators, sharing a childhood memory of a book that impacted their lives. A variety of books are features, not all of them even written for children. Many of the stories reinforce Charlotte Mason's insistence on a broad feast of excellent books, as people draw different strengths and ideas from different books at different times. Each essay includes a full page excerpt, often with illustrations, from the featured book as well as a brief introduction to the book or series (in teeny tiny print) from the editor. One of my favorite stories told how Dr. Seuss had given up publishing his first children's book and was on his way home to burn it when he met a college acquaintance who just happened to be newly assigned to the children's book arm of his publishing house. Book lists appear at the end, but there are others I like more. (library book)

The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene - link to my post. (owned copy)

Black Fox of Lorne by Marguerite de Angeli - link to my post. (PDF copy from publisher, complimentary copy of the book when published)

At the Back of the North Wind by George MacDonald is the story of a young boy named Diamond who is befriended by the North Wind. He learns to trust in her even when he knows she sometimes causes what seems to be evil. In our favorite chapter, Diamond observes (and understands) two horses conversing in horse language. The reader in our audio version sounded a bit like a grandmother which was a bit confusing to me when the narrator became a part of the story and was obviously male. The children didn't seem to mind, though, perhaps because they've listened to their mother read just about anything aloud to them. (audio book from Audible)

Ruby Lu, Brave and True by Lenore Look is a early reader chapter book, one of a series about a young Chinese American girl who loves performing magic tricks, adores her brother, and has a delightful family. It's cute and sweet and one I'd be happy for my young readers to enjoy. (library book)

Under the Lilacs by Louisa May Alcott - I started to read this aloud to the kids from my Kindle when we were stranded outside Sequoia National Park. They were drawn in right away by the dog in the first chapter. We finished the book on Librivox. The girls (8 and 9) loved this book the most. First Son, I think, anticipated the ending and found it a little too "girlish" for his taste (though he loved Little Men last year). I found the Librivox reader a little perplexing in her pacing, but the children didn't seem to notice anything odd about it. I hadn't read this one myself before. It was fairly moralistic and the ending was predictable (but I still loved that predictable ending). (free Kindle book, free Librivox recording)

For the Children's Sake: Foundations of Education for Home and School by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay and Towards A Philosophy of Education (Charlotte Mason's Original Homeschooling Series) by Charlotte Mason were read with my Start Here book club. We spent nearly 18 months reading through the study and I neglected to take extensive notes on the books. For the Children's Sake is an excellent introduction to Charlotte Mason and her principles. I recommend it for people who are new to Charlotte Mason, especially if her original volumes are intimidating. (purchased copy of For the Children's Sake at some long unknown time and place, purchased used copy of Towards a Philosophy of Education)

Humility of Heart by Fr. Cajetan Mary da Bergamo - link to my post. (purchased used on Amazon)

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens - link to my post. (read for free on the Kindle, but I have an old used copy for First Son to read purchased at a library book sale)

Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin - link to my post. (library copy)

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by John Tiffany and Jack Thorne - There was really no way to avoid reading this book, which is really the script of a play. It was weird to read a Harry Potter play. The plot and character development are limited in a script; so much of that happens on stage. Many of the characters seemed like they were there just for show (especially Ron). Kansas Dad had trouble imagining Harry having so much difficulty relating to his son, but I personally think that could be managed. Really, though, I'd prefer to see this play performed. Maybe one day we will. (purchased copy, with a generous gift card from my godparents)

The Captain's Dog: My Journey with the Lewis and Clark Tribe by Roland Smith is recommended by RC History for volume 2. First Daughter read it independently and I read it just ahead of her. It seemed to do a good job of describing the trials and hardships of the journey without being too explicit for younger readers. The dog's point of view is also a benefit for more reluctant readers. It does present spirit animals (of a Native American tribe) as real and instrumental in the story, if that concerns anyone. We were fine with that as a literary technique. I linked above to the RC History website (an affiliate link), but the book is also available from Amazon (another affiliate link). (library copy)

Father Elijah: An Apocalypse by Michael D. O'Brien - In this fictional apocalypse, a Jewish convert priest does spiritual battle with an Anti-Christ who has risen to great political power in Europe. What does evil look like in the present world? How are we deceived by evil masquerading as doing good? How do we cultivate faith when the world seems so terrible? There is only minimal resolution in the book and I read recently there is a new book in the series. (parish library copy)

Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded by Simon Winchester - link to my post. (library copy)

Books in Progress (and date started)

The italic print: 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). 

Try Audible and Get Two Free Audiobooks - another affiliate link.

Any links to RC History and PaperBackSwap are affiliate links.

Other links (like those to Bethlehem Books) are not affiliate links.

These reports are my honest opinions.

Monday, September 5, 2016

The Joy of Morals

I'm reading through Aesop's Fables with Second Son. This is my fourth time through the book but I'm am still amazed at how much the children enjoy it. It's probably his favorite school book. (His favorite lesson is math when he gets to play games; the Empire totally destroyed my ill-guided Rebel force in Star Wars Risk last week.)

I always cover up the moral written in the book and ask what he thinks the moral is. Last week, he responded promptly with:
Don't listen to your breakfast!
Wise advise.

It reminded me of the time First Son surprised me while reading the same book.

This book is seriously one of the best investments I ever made.

Friday, September 2, 2016

The History of the World through a Volcano: Krakatoa

About five years ago, Kansas Dad and I saw something about Krakatoa in a documentary we were watching, so I added this book to my reading list. So of course, it was finally time to read it.
In the aftermath of Krakatoa's eruption, 165 villages were devastated, 36,417 people died, and uncountable thousands were injured--and almost all of them, villages and inhabitants, were victims not of the eruption directly but of the immense sea-waves that were propelled outward from the volcano by that last night of detonations.
In this book, Winchester weaves together a story of geology, plate tectonics, biology, Dutch colonialism, Javanese culture, Islamic militarists, art history, and, of course, Krakatoa.

The detonations were heard (and recorded in official reports) 2,968 miles away, on Rodriguez Island.
And the 2,968-mile span that separates Krakatoa and Rodriguez remains to this day the most prodigious distance recorded between the place where unamplified and electrically unenhanced natural sound was heard and the place where that sound originated.
It is not a book entirely friendly to Christianity, but the small slights were not too bothersome.

I had considered sharing this book with First Son, as a reward at the end of two years of geology. There is an excellent introduction to plate tectonics and description of the forces that account for the violent volcanoes found in the Indonesian islands.
Suddenly a Hadean nightmare is created miles beneath the subducted continental crust: Immense volumes of boiling, gaseous, white-hot magma, alive with bubbles, energy, and restless muscle, seethe in vaults and chambers of unimaginable size and temperature. The Promethean material searches ceaselessly for some weakened spot in the crust above it. Every so often it finds one, a crack, crevice, or fault, and then forces its way up into a holding chamber. Before long the accumulating pressure of the uprushing material becomes too great, and the temperature too high, and the proportion of dissolved gas becomes too large, and it explodes out into the open air in a vicious cannonade of destruction.
Later he explains specifically what happens when continental plates collide with oceanic plates. The oceanic crust, being heavily, is pushed under the continental crust, taking with it just the right amount of water. This water allows the rocks of the mantle to melt at a lower temperature, and decreases the density at the same time which opens a path for that partly melted rock to escape, which then melts even more rocks.
 Then, with the dissolved carbon dioxide and water vapor suddenly turning back into gas and frothing out of solution, the whole mass rushes up and out as a torrent of phenomenal explosivity into the unsuspecting open air: as a gigantic and classical subduction-zone volcano.
Over the last several years, I've read a number of descriptions of subduction-zone volcanoes with First Son and First Daughter. This book described them in a manner both more exciting and more clearly than anything I've read before. Unfortunately, it's surrounded by chapters and chapters of other topics which, while I found them interesting, First Son may not entirely enjoy.

After describing all the effects of 1883 eruption of Krakatoa, the author asks why such things happen. He answers with a description of earth's perfect placement in the universe for the development and support of life.
And then there are the volcanoes--just the right number, of just the right size, for our own good. The deep heat reservoir inside the earth is not so hot, for instance, as to cause ceaseless and unbearable volcanic activity on the surface. The amount of heat and thermal decay within the earth happens to be just perfect for allowing convection currents to form and to turn over and over in the earth's mantle, and for the solid continents that lie above them to slide about according to the complicated and beautiful mechanisms of plate tectonics.
I also rather wish the author had provided endnotes or footnotes, rather than a general bibliography. There were a few times I would have liked a bit more clarification or to look at another source for a fact, but they weren't identified that way.

If you want to learn about the eruption of Krakatoa, you can probably find more succinct descriptions in other books. If you want to delve deeply into the world of 1883, including extensive history of its development, in addition to a complete history of Krakatoa's emergence as a volcano eons before, this book is the one for you.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Work and Marriage: Dispossessed

The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin

In this science fiction novel, a man from an anarchist society leaves his world to pursue his own scientific research and to attempt to persuade his people to reconnect with the worlds outside their own.
He looked up, and as he stepped off the ramp onto the level ground he stumbled and nearly fell. He thought of death, in that gap between the beginning of a step and its completion, and at the end of the step he stood on a new earth.
I have read a few books by Le Guin, and every time I find myself wondering what I'm supposed to take away from them. While reading this one, I often considered rewards and punishments, and the purpose of Work. Why do people do hard work? This book suggests a few answers: because it is pleasant to change our work sometimes (in the anarchist society, the more dangerous and unpleasant jobs are rotated between people ); for the challenge in doing something difficult; to show off; to earn the respect of others in our community.

The final response of the protagonist was the most compelling.
But really, it is the question of ends and means. After all, work is done for the work's sake. It is the lasing pleasure of life.
In the Odonian (anarchist) society, work therefore became more than just a job or some task to be accomplished and ended.
For her as for him, there was no end. There was process: process was all. You could go in a promising direction or you could go wrong, but you did not set out with the expectation of ever stopping anywhere. All responsibilities, all commitments thus understood took on substance and duration.
Against the norms of their society, the protagonist and his partner established a "long-bond," essentially a marriage.
So his mutual commitment with Takver, their relationship, had remained thoroughly alive during their four years' separation. They had both suffered from it, and suffered a good deal, but it had not occurred to either of them to escape the suffering by denying the commitment.
Given our current society, it was refreshing to read about why someone would establish a marriage in a society that did not value it.
For after all, he thought now, lying in the warmth of Takver's sleep, it was joy they were both after--the completeness of being. If you evade suffering you also evade the chance of joy. Pleasure you may get, or pleasures, but you will not be fulfilled. You will not know what it is to come home.
The marriage enriches their lives, provides a base for everything else they do. Of course, he leaves her to return to their ancestral planet, but perhaps her love and commitment is partly what makes it possible for him to journey into an alien society.