Books: Wonder

July 19, 2015

This was our book club selection this past month. There seems to be general agreement that books to read during the summer should be fairly undemanding, both in terms of being quick and easy to read, and not dealing with difficult or painful themes.

It hadn’t actually been the intended selection, but whatever that was, there was some problem with the book order and thus the need to come up with another idea quickly. Wonder was recommended by the children’s librarian (it is marketed to middle school children), and it turned out to be a good choice.

One could argue, of course, about whether the topic is in fact difficult or painful. The main character, Auggie, is a ten-year-old with a facial deformity so bad that even people who want to be accepting of his differences may flinch when they first see it.

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Books: Nineteen Minutes

June 17, 2015

A good friend of mine told me that her favorite author lately is Jodi Picoult. I’d never read anything by Picoult but decided to give her books a try. So I checked out Nineteen Minutes on audiobook from the local library.

It’s a thought-provoking book, exploring the circumstances and motivation of a school shooting by a boy who had been bullied since he was in kindergarten. It is told primarily from the perspective of the boy, the girl who was once his best friend but who rejected him in order to be accepted by the popular group at school, and their parents.

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Books: The Children of Men

December 20, 2014

I had not heard of The Children of Men until reading about it in an article about P.D. James after her death a few weeks ago. I was somewhat surprised to see it listed as one of her best known novels. Browsing in the library a few days later, I came across the book and promptly checked it out.

It is quite a change from the crime novels for which she is so well-known. The Children of Men presents the chilling picture of a dystopian future in which humankind has mysteriously become infertile. No child has been born for twenty-six years. An aging population, bereft of the joy of children in their midst, tries to find pleasure in the birth of pet animals, and in old video and sound recordings that are now the only place to see and hear children.

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Books: The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid

June 2, 2014

Our book club selection this month was Bill Bryson’s The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir. Having previously read his book The Mother Tongue – English And How It Got That Way, I was happy to read something else by Bryson.

It took me a while to realize that while it is written in the form of a memoir, it really is not so much about Bryson as about what it was like growing up in the 1950’s and early 60’s. As I was born a decade later in the early 60’s, and in the middle of Connecticut rather than the middle of Iowa, I find some of his recollections similar to my own, and others very different.

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Leprechaun trap

March 17, 2014

For Toastmasters this evening, members had been invited to bring stories, jokes, etc. related to St. Patrick’s Day or Ireland in general. Pam, the director of the library where our club meets, brought in this unusually decorated cake.

leprechaun trapShe explained that it was a leprechaun trap. I’d never heard of this tradition, but apparently it has become very popular in recent years. (I can’t help suspecting that, like most of our St. Patrick’s Day traditions, it is far more American than Irish. But so what?)

Leprechaun traps, she explained, can take any number of forms. Hers is a cake decorated to look like a tree stump, with a hidden hole in the middle for the leprechaun to fall into when he follows the trail of the gold coins.

It makes me wish my boys were young enough to want to try to make one. I’ve always loved arts and crafts, and I was always glad when Al showed an interest in making stuff because I could work on it with him. (Our older son rarely did crafts except when a school project required it.)

Leprechaun traps can be virtual too – i.e. computer programs. I’m sure Al would like it if I could create a computer game to trap a leprechaun, but my programming skills do not include the expertise in graphics that are integral to today’s computer games.

I enjoy looking at some of the ideas other people have come up with, though. Another cute cake idea – similar in concept but quite different in appearance – has a rainbow hidden inside.

I suppose someday I’ll probably have grandchildren. Maybe one of them will inherit my love of crafts and want to trap leprechauns with me.


Intergenerational reading

December 7, 2013

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal got me thinking about children’s books, and how my attitude towards them has changed over the years.

I’m not sure when I decided I had outgrown children’s books, perhaps when I was in high school. I read a lot, for pleasure as well as for classes, but I tried to make even my pleasure reading the sort that developed my mind rather than just entertaining it. Children’s books hardly seemed suited to that purpose.

When I was in college, browsing in the college library as I often did for books for my own enjoyment, I came upon the Narnia Chronicles one day and decided to reread them. I was amazed at how much more I could appreciate them than I had when I was a child, and realized that they had a great deal to teach adults as well – and that they were just plain good reading.

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Innoculating against innumeracy

August 29, 2012

For years parents have been told how important it is to read to their young children. Today I read that it may be just as important to do household math with young children. An article in the Wall Street Journal reports that

Math skill at kindergarten entry is an even stronger predictor of later school achievement than reading skills or the ability to pay attention, according to a 2007 study in the journal Developmental Psychology.

My first thought was surprise. How could math be even more important than reading? My next thought was that now conscientious parents will feel pressured to improve their children’s math skills prior to age 5.

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