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: 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.

In Common: Sleeping Giants

IMG_2964I’ve been juggling several books – education philosophy books, history books, parenting and theology books.

I haven’t sat down with a Sci-Fi book, just for fun, in months.

I’ve just joined the Litsy online community, and my first day there a post about a new book, Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel, came across my feed.

I saw several posts about this book and my interest was piqued. I placed an order that night and my book arrived just a couple of days ago.

This book focuses on a presumed alien artifact that was unearthed almost two decades ago, and how the person who accidentally discovered it comes full circle to be the lead investigator in its origins and meaning.

I.am.hooked.

I am really enjoying this book and I am especially glad it’s the first in a series!

I tend to fall in love with characters and storylines and hate when they end after only one book.

Written as a collection of interview transcripts, journal entries, newspaper articles and mission logs, this format just works. And it is a creative way to tell the story from multiple points of view.

An excerpt from an interview with the main character, Dr. Rose Franklin:

And you now know what it is we are looking for?

– I haven’t the faintest idea. But I think that’s a good thing. I think those who looked at it before failed because they knew too many things, or so they thought.

Sometimes we need to step back from our weightier reading selections and just enjoy some fiction. This is my book treat!

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In Common: The Heirloom Life Gardener

At any given moment, I am cycling through a tall stack of books – books on parenting, history, education, theology, even fiction when I can squeeze it in.

I love the idea of sharing short excerpts of what I am am currently reading. Look for these updates each week as the feature In Common.

This week I am excited to share a new book that arrived just days ago.

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If you garden at all you may be familiar with Baker Creek Seed Company. They specialize in heirloom varieties of everything imaginable (or least it seems that way).

Flipping through their catalog is one of the best ways to pass the colder months while you dream of a spring garden.

Don't let the abundance of awesome pictures fool you. This is not a coffee table book. It is packed full of information!
Don’t let the abundance of awesome pictures fool you. This is not a coffee table book. It is packed full of information!

The Heirloom Life Gardener: The Baker Creek Way of Growing Your Own Food Easily and Naturally is a wonderful book published in 2011, and tells the history of Baker Creek Seed Company and of its founder, Jere Gettle.

The motivating story of how someone grew up with a passion for seeds and heirlooms and has turned it into his mission.
The motivating story of how someone grew up with a passion for seeds and heirlooms and has turned it into his mission.

But it’s so much more than a history of the company. It’s a plea for the return to a more natural way of gardening, before the richness of heirloom varieties are lost to the forward march of agroindustry, GMOs and monoculture.

You don't have to live on 174 acres in the Ozarks to grow your own food! Gettle includes ideas and suggestions for growing your own food and supporting local agriculture even if you live in a city.
You don’t have to live on 174 acres in the Ozarks to grow your own food! Gettle includes ideas and suggestions for growing your own food and supporting local agriculture even if you live in a city.

This book is a wonderful introduction to planting, growing, harvesting and seed-saving. An A to Z Growing Guide, including many heirloom varieties (many you’ve probably never seen or heard of before!), rounds out this fascinating and colorful book.

Prepare to be amazed. This guide includes crops you are familiar along with many heirloom varieties you've probably never seen before.
Prepare to be amazed. This guide includes crops you are familiar along with many heirloom varieties you’ve probably never seen before.

Enjoy this excerpt from Chapter 3: Seeds in America:

A hundred years ago, children spent time in a garden while they were growing up. If you wanted to eat lunch, you often needed to work in the garden. Hundreds of schoolschildren visit Baker Creek each year to take tours of our Bakersville pioneer village. Many of them have never planted seeds or even seen a garden up close. I love watching them giggle when they see our big old turkeys wobbling around – because although these kids may have eaten a fair share of turkey sandwiches in their life, this is the first time they’re getting to see where the turkey comes from. When they see our gardens, they are excited. Wow, they say, I can actually grow my own food? I can plant a garden all by myself? The idea of getting something to eat anywhere outside of a supermarket, convenience store, or fast-food restaurant is fascinating to them. Their eyes nearly pop out of their heads when they see what we’re growing and realize what it is possible to do on a farm.

I am at once encouraged to hear about children’s excitement when seeing gardens for the first time and saddened about their ignorance of something as simple as the source of their food. This book is motivation to not only garden for the sake of gardening but also to play a part in the preservation of our future food supply.

 

 

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Finding Children’s Books

childrensbooksI am always on the lookout for excellent book selections for the children. We love illustrated books and try to read several throughout the week as part of our school day. I will often find the children reading them together in the evening as well. 

 
While I can scan the shelves or displays at our library branch easy enough, and we do tend to come home with several books that we just grab off the shelves, our library system has several branches and content changes as books are reshelved where they are returned. 
 
I also prefer books that I’ve read some feedback on or that have been recognized in some way for their content. I regularly sit down with book lists compiled from various websites and request them from our library. Then I can pick them up from our branch’s hold shelf. Super easy! Here are some of my “go to” resources for children’s book recommendations.
 
ALA Book Awards
 
Various book medal awards are given each year by the American Library Association to recognize outstanding books. The Caldecott medal is awarded each year for children’s picture book, and the award goes to the artist, regardless of whether they are also the author of the book. The Newberry Medal is awarded each year to the author of the most distinguished contribution to  American children’s literature. The Silbert Book Medal is awarded to the author and illustrator of the most distinguished informational book each year. 
 
Current medal recipients, as well as winners from previous years, are listed on the ALA website. Additional award lists can also be found on the ALA website under Youth Media Awards.  The ALA also puts together a list of Notable Children’s Books. This is an excellent source of children’s book titles to include in your weekly reading.
 
SB&F Prizes for Excellence in Science Books
 
Science Magazine also includes a roundup of science and nature themed children’s books each year when they publish the AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prizes for Excellence in Science Books. Often there are medal recipients included in this roundup. Current and previous years are available here
 
Goodreads
 
Goodreads  is also another great resource for book recommendations. You can “Explore” book selections by genre, and see new releases as well as most read each week. There are also Lists  – Goodread members often put together lists of their own recommendations or contribute to larger lists that are searchable. Each book selection includes reviews and commentaries by members. 
 
Pinterest
 
Pinterest is a great resource for book lists. A simple search for children’s literature will turn up a large selection of blogs and websites that contain children’s book recommendations. These book lists range from the top books “all children should read” to content specific titles such as “books about courage.”
 
Author’s Websites
 
Another way to find books is to explore a particular author. Once we’ve read one book from a particular author, we usually seek out other titles, which are often award winning books too. A simple Google search will usually turn up an author’s website and book list. For example, right now we are reading through several selections by Molly Bang. Look for an upcoming post on a science series she has put out!