Review: John Ronald’s Dragons

Earlier this year we were delighted to read a gentle introduction to the early life of J.R.R. Tolkien.

Written by Caroline McAlister and illustrated by Eliza Wheeler, John Ronald’s Dragons: The Story of J.R.R. Tolkien introduces the reader to a boy who loved dragons, hearing stories read aloud by his mother as a child.

Lovely illustrations detail important events in Tolkien’s life, such as living with an aunt after the unfortunate death of his mother, meeting and marrying his wife Edith, serving as a soldier in World War I, and even meeting at the pub with fellow writer friends (their group affectionately known as the Inklings).

Finally we see read about the “birth” of the hobbit, born of Tolkien’s imagination and brought to life through stories he told his children.

So many of us know the name Tolkien because of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Hobbit, but we know little of the man behind these stories.

This wonderful story makes Tolkien accessible to readers, young and old, and illustrates how many life experiences, even darker ones such as the death of a loved one and a world war, shaped the man who created an entire fantasy world that is loved the world over.

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Review: Out Of School And Into Nature: The Anna Comstock Story

One book that is a staple in many homeschoolers’ personal libraries is Anna Botsford Comstock’s Handbook of Nature Study.

Comstock’s Handbook deserves its own review but today I wanted to share a picture book we have thoroughly enjoyed here.

Out of School and Into Nature: The Anna Comstock Story, written by Suzanne Slade and illustrated by Jessica Lanan, is a wonderfully put together introduction to the life of Anna Comstock.

It shares the story of Anna’s childhood love of exploring nature, and how this love matured along with her, into a life’s passion for studying nature.

Anna did not marry right away, but went to college (in a time when this was not the norm) to learn more about plants and insects.

“Such thousands of insects I never saw before.” Anna Comstock

She spent time developing her art skills, drawing insects. Her drawings were even used by a professor in his lectures, as well as by farmers identifying insects that were destroying their crops.

Some of the lovely illustrations in the book.

She also used engraved wood prints to produce very detailed images. One thing that I love in this book is the recreation of these wood prints – some can be found in her Handbook of Nature Study.

Side-by-side view of the illustrator’s rendering of Comstock’s wood stamp drawings, and the images from The Handbook of Nature Study.

Anna Comstock wasn’t just a scientist and artist though – one of her passions was getting children out into nature. She worked hard to convince teachers to include nature study – real study with children getting OUT into nature and not just reading about it at their desks – in schools.

“Nature study cultivates in the child a love of the beautiful.” Anna Comstock

I think The Handbook of Nature Study is an essential addition to any homeschool library, and we so enjoyed learning about this remarkable woman who made this work possible.

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This book gave an abbreviated introduction to Comstock’s life – but you can read more at Britannica,  and wikipedia includes references and external links to check out.

Two resources worth mentioning that use The Handbook of Nature Study:

The Handbook of Nature Study: The Outdoor Hour

Exploring Nature With Children

 

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Review: The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating

In a recent Facebook book club discussion about science books, the book title The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, by Elizabeth Tova Bailey, caught my attention. Intrigued, I found it on amazon and immediately ordered it for myself.

Though much of my reading in this season is focused on education philosophy, my background is in science, and I’m trying to make room in my reading schedule for more science titles. This book certainly fit the bill.

This book is part memoir, part natural history and biology of the snail. The author manages to find the perfect balance between the two.

“Time unused and only endured still vanishes, as if time itself is starving, and each day is swallowed whole, leaving no crumbs, no memory, no trace at all.” (p. 6)

Bailey writes about the year following a debilitating illness that left her unable to get out of bed or care for herself. Lying in bed was her existence, and even rolling over was a feat.

“It took time for visitors to settle down. They sat and fidgeted for a while, then slowly relaxed until a calmness finally spread through them. They began to talk about more interesting things. But halfway through a visit, they would notice how little I moved, the stillness of my body, and an odd quietness would come over them. They would worry about wearing me out, but I could also see that I was a reminder of all they feared: chance, uncertainty, loss, and the sharp edge of mortality. Those of us with illnesses are the holders of the silent fears of those with good health.” (p. 40)

During the author’s convalescence, a visiting friend brings in a garden snail with a potted plant. As she watches the snail she becomes intrigued by its habits, and over the course of several months that the two are “roommates” she makes incredible observations.

“Several times I was lucky enough to see it grooming; it arched its neck over the curved edge of its own shell and cleaned the rim carefully.” (p. 33)

The author weaves scientific facts about snails, along with excerpts from a surprisingly vast collection of literature, poetry and natural history writing about snails, with details and reflections of her time being bedridden and isolated from the world.

“I found that every field, from biology and physiology to ecology and paleontology, was packed with insights on gastropods… Then I discovered the nineteenth-century naturalists, intrepid souls who thought nothing of spending countless hours in the field observing their tiny subjects. I also came across poets and writers who had each, at some point in their life, became intrigued with the life of the snail.” (p.40-41)

At the end of the book, we find out that while she has regained some independence, the effects of her illness linger. The release of her snail back to its natural habitat, followed by the release of one remaining offspring she had kept, was somewhat symbolic to her reentry, of a sort, back into the wider world.

“The snail had been a true mentor; its tiny existence had sustained me.” (p. 160)

This book is beautifully written, it is really just lovely. The book is a quick read, but it has a calm pace. And while there are scientific details in the book, it is not science heavy. Readers will gain an appreciation for their own health, as well as an appreciation for the simple garden snail, after reading this.