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Farming (certified organic, but of course), family, books, food, classical secular home education, journeys, music, thoughts, dual citizenship, oh Canada, the occasional movie, and books. We're a farming, homeschooling, and occasionally travelling family of five.
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1. New home


Farm School has a new home and a new look for the new year. Come join us!

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2. Poetry Friday: The Round Up Is Here

Peter Mark Roget, inventor of the slide rule but most famous for his thesaurus, boon to poets everywhere, was born on this date in 1779. In his honor, I give you not a poem but an entry:

poetry, poetics, poesy, Muse, Calliope, tuneful Nine, Parnassus, Helicon, Pierides, Pierian spring. versification, rhyming, making verses; prosody, orthometry.
poem; epic, epic poem; epopee, epopoea, ode, epode, idyl, lyric, eclogue, pastoral, bucolic, dithyramb, anacreontic, sonnet, roundelay, rondeau, rondo, madrigal, canzonet, cento[obs3], *monody, elegy; amoebaeum, ghazal, palinode.

When I signed up several months ago for today's round-up, I didn't know about two days of snow and windstorms that would create drifts to complicate farm chores considerably, or that the round up would land smack dab in the midst of the annual three-day Farm Curl, where Tom and the kids and one adult friend make up one of the teams (no, I don't curl and after 13 years still haven't figured out the rules or the scoring; the only thing I find that makes curling tolerable, besides my kids' shining faces, is Paul Gross). And after a morning of chores and curling all afternoon, Laura and I head to a three-hour 4H meeting at 7 pm.

So please leave your poems with Mr. Linky, and a comment below, too, please, and I'll try to do my assembling on Saturday before setting out for the curling rink yet again.

I take it back -- just a wee bit of verse from Robert Service ("the Canadian Kipling"), born 16 January 1874. He composed some of his first lines at the age of six,

God bless the cakes and bless the jam;
Bless the cheese and the cold boiled ham:
Bless the scones Aunt Jeannie makes,
And saves us all from bellyaches. Amen

Susan at Chicken Spaghetti is still celebrating Twelfth Night with Shakespeare and continuing to enjoy her Christmas present to herself, the Complete Arkangel Shakespeare. Why? Because, as Susan writes, "you can't see, hear, or read too much Shakespeare."

Stacey at Two Writing Teachers stumbles into a colleague's first grade classroom and discovers poet Zoe Ryder White, who turns a sentence into a poem with line breaks.

Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect shares Louisa May Alcott's Thoreau's Flute, and encourages you to read this week's poetry stretch results, which include "some great centos created from titles of favorite books". By the way, for those of you who would like to share the Alcott poem -- her tribute to her old friend and mentor, Henry David Thoreau, with whom she shared many nature walks -- with your children, see if you can find Louisa May and Mr. Thoreau's Flute by Julie Dunlap and Marybeth Lorbiecki, with illustrations by the great Mary Azarian (who also illustrated Snowflake Bentley and the new Tuttle's Red Barn). There's more here on Thoreau's Flute as well.

MsMac at Check It Out is going back in time to the First Friday in January, with some original poems from some very young and very talented writers in her classrooms.

Becky at Becky's Book Reviews has been revisiting Narnia and offers a musical Narnia tribute.

Kelly at Big A little a is making the best of yet another Snow Day, with the help of Billy Collins. And don't miss the bonus snow day poem in Kelly's comments, either.

Melissa Wiley at Here in the Bonny Glen is in an Elizabeth Bishop mood today, with an elegant villanelle on the relaxing art of losing.

Suzanne at Adventures in Daily Living is also thinking snowy thoughts, with Mary Oliver's "poem of the night", Snowy Night. And, as she does every Friday, Suzanne offers a delightful personalized Poetry Friday button, as you can see at the top of this post; the html code is available at her post. Thanks, Suzanne!

Rebecca at Ipsa Dixit offers the sheer poetry that is Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday, and a poem by some fellow named Shelley -- "You just keep your mind off the poetry and on the pajamas and everything will be alright, see." Perfectly delightful. Thanks, Rebecca.

Mary Lee at A Year of Reading, after a hard day's work, has what one of her commenters aptly calls a most "satisfying" poem by Marge Piercy.

John Mutford at The Book Mine Set serves up pure Canadian content with the original epigram Newfoundland Diet PSA.

More Shakespeare, now from cloudscome at a wrung sponge, who has his Sonnet No. 116 ("Let me not to the marriage of true minds/Admit impediments") and takes it out of the realm of the couple to the family. cloudscome writes, "Now that I've reached middle age and been a parent for over 20 years [the sonnet] makes even more sense."

Over at Read Write Believe, Sara Lewis Holmes is Crossing Unmarked Snow with William Stafford, in a poem that reflects Sara's post earlier in the week about her new notebook and her plans for it.

writer2b at Findings has an original poem about her young daughter's passion and the horses that fill their worlds. And nifty quotes from Pablo Picasso and Rachel Carson, too.

Andrea and Mark at Just One More Book offer a podcast Straight from the Pooches’ Mouths -- a review of the children's poetry book Good Dog by Maya Gottfried, illustrated by Robert Rahway Zakanitch.

Laura Salas at Writing the World for Kids has two entries for today. She shares some poems and some of the process too, from her her new children's book, Tiny Dreams, Sprouting Tall: Poems about the United States. Congratulations, Laura! And Laura also has some of the results from her snowy 15 Words or Less photopoetry project, and a standing invitation to join in the fun.

jama rattigan celebrates the birthday of A.A. Milne, born on this date in 1882, with thoughts on loving a bear and Milne's poem Teddy Bear.

Shelf Elf shares a Pablo Neruda poem and one of her "most treasured books: Pablo Neruda’s Ode to Common Things. It is full of perfect, deceptively simple seeming poems in praise of ordinary objects and creatures."

Elaine Magliaro as always has multiple offerings to tempt us. At Wild Rose Reader, Elaine gave this week's poetry stretch (see above) a try and wrote two centos with children's poetry book titles, with terrific results. And at Blue Rose Girls, Elaine has advice on How to Change a Frog Into a Prince.

Christine M. at The Simple and the Ordinary is celebrating her husband's birthday and A.A. Milne's too with balloons and morning walks, which sounds like a dandy way to celebrate. Many happy returns and "HIPY PAPY BTHUTHDTH THUTHDA BTHUTHDY" to you, Mr. M.! And if you recognize that from "Eeyore Has a Birthday", you can have a balloon, too.

Mary Ellen Barrett at Tales from The Bonny Blue House offers her daughter's beautiful selection for their home school poetry reading next month.

Ruth at Two Writing Teachers tries something new for Poetry Friday, an original poem in etheree form accompanied by a photo quatrain. Ruth writes in the comments below, "It's focused on syllables, starting in line one with one syllable and increasing each line until you get to ten. I loved the way it stretched me creatively on this Friday morning."

Little Willow offers up the fun to read aloud Cat Scat. No, it's probably not what you're thinking. Think along the lines of Ella Fitzgerald instead. Well, Ella Fitzgerald by way of Mozart.

Karen Edmisten is making a joyful noise today with her kids and a classic book of children's poetry.

Dawn at By Sun and Candlelight and her family take a walk through the snowy woods with Robert Frost and a camera, and she writes, "Doesn't poetry compliment nature so nicely?" Of course, Dawn goes the extra mile (in the snowy woods and elsewhere) and comes up with yet another nifty project idea.

Sylvia Vardell at Poetry for Children has a post about the surprising number of poetry books that received recognition from the ALSC/YALSA awards this week. Sylvia notes, "I’m happy to say that ALL of these books appeared on my own lists of the best poetry of 2007 (see Dec. 31, 2007) or 2006 (see Dec. 29, 2006). How wonderful to see these rich and engaging works of poetry get the recognition they deserve. Now I hope they will also find their way into the hands of many young readers!"

TadMack at Finding Wonderland has X.J. Kennedy's moths to the flame. And don't miss TadMack's link to LitLinks (the first link in her post).

MotherReader is another Poetry Friday participant taking Tricia's book title cento challenge, with some of the 2007 books she's planning to read.

Anne Boles Levy at BookBuds has a review of Nikki Grimes' new book, "Oh, Brother!" about the shrinking step between new brothers.

Kelly Fineman at Writing and Ruminating, with one of my all-time favorite blog banners, has an original poem and one of my favorite post titles for today -- In the Bathtub of Possibilities. Speaking of possibilities, Kelly's poem has been included in Laura Salas's new book, Write Your Own Poetry. Congratulations, Kelly!

Jill at The Well-Read Child (where the tag line is "Instill the joy of reading in your child") offers Phenomenal Woman, which she was once lucky to hear Maya Angelou recite in person. I have it on good authority that at least fifty percent of all well-read children grow up to be phenomenal women...

Sheila at Greenridge Chronicles writes that she's feeling silly but short (I'm assuming she means time rather than stature), and gives us a little bit of Ogden Nash, always a delightful way to start the weekend.

Chris Rettstatt has a poetry mash-up -- he's posted the first line of a collaborative poem and has turned it into a contest. Chris writes that "the person who adds the final line in the comments “kills” the poem. And wins a signed copy of his Kaimira: The Sky Village.

It's the first Poetry Friday for Devin McIntyre at Speak of the Splendor, and we extend a big Poetry Friday welcome. Devin has a lovely poem from Emily Dickinson.

Jennifer at S/V Mari Hal-O-Jen heads for land to go fly a kite, as she writes in the comments below, getting a jump start on the Chinese New Year with one of our favorite Christmas presents." Don't miss the great kite and Chinese New Year book links at the end of her post. Happy flying and sailing, Jen!

Liz Garton Scanlon at Liz in Ink makes good on a promise in a big way with an original villanelle inspired by a George Bellows lithograph at the Blanton Museum of Art (UT-Austin). Liz writes, "A poet friend solicited the work, inspired by pieces in the museum's permanent collection. Some of the poems will eventually be posted next to their visual muses in the gallery, and all of them will come together in some sort of collection -- printed or online."

Anamaria at Books Together, who lives within easy visiting distance of the Smithsonian museums, has a review of the new children's poetry title Behind the Museum Door: Poems to Celebrate the Wonders of Museums, compiled by the indefatigable Lee Bennett Hopkins. My request for this one has been in to interlibrary loan for a while, so I'm heartened to hear that the wait is worthwhile!

Tiel Aisha Ansari at Knocking From Inside offers an original sonnet, Paper Jam: "This is a hybrid rhyme scheme -- call it a Spenserian/Italian sonnet."

Ruth at There is no such thing as a God-forsaken town offers hope, comfort, understanding, and poetry for refugees, in light of current events in Kenya.

Miss Erin sets off on travels with Edna St. Vincent Millay.

Charlotte at Charlotte's Library offers a look at Four Fur Feet by Margaret Wise Brown, "with never before seen illustrations and an additional verse, plus a useful poetry-related web link" for explaining alliteration to young children.

Crispus Attucks at Dominant Reality shares For I Must Sing of All I Feel and Know, probably one of the lighter and more hopeful poems by the Victorian-era Scottish poet James Thomson (B.V.).

Jennie at Biblio File is dancing in the snow with Emily Dickinson.

Marcie at World of Words is nibbling on icicles.

Anastasia Suen at Picture Book of the Day, a blog where Anastasia explains how to teach the six traits of writing, shares a bit of verse from Where in the Wild?: Camouflaged Creatures Concealed…and Revealed by David Schwartz and Yael Schy, with photography by Dwight Kuhn, which includes "animal facts (in poetry and prose) and an 'I spy' element." By the way, Where in the Wild is one of the Cybils 2007 Nonfiction Picture Book finalists.

Felicity at Look Books also offers Edna St. Vincent Millay on the joys of limited travel.

The Reading Zone shares another Scottish poet named Thomson, this time Alexander Thomson and an excerpt from his ode to Glasgow.

Literacy Teacher at Mentor Texts, Read Alouds & More shares a recently discovered resource for finding Found Poetry.

And there, that's it -- all 50 entries for this week's Poetry Friday! Many thanks to all who participated for their poems and patience, and apologies again for the delayed rounding up. Though I'm delighted to report that the Farm School team won their second curling match in a row yesterday and head toward the last day's game in very good spirits today. Tom told me last night when we returned from the curling rink that toward the middle of the neck-and-neck match, seven-year-old Davy stuck his head in door and asked with a grin, "Are we winning yet, Dad?".

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3. Cybils widget fun

Look what I have -- over there on the right.

It's a widget with all the Cybils Middle Grade/Young Adult Nonfiction nominees. I found about it from my Cybils GoogleAlert; you can read all about the new widgets at the Cybils website and also at the blog for Adaptive Blue, which did all the widget wizardry. You can click on the book cover or the little blue arrow in a box for the Smart Link information (which you can learn about with the two previous links), or click on the book title for Adaptive Blue's Amazon Associate link to the book. There's a widget available for each of the eight categories, so you can get your own or collect 'em all...

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4. The 50 Greatest Books ever written

"Over the coming year, an international panel chosen by The Globe and Mail will select the 50 Greatest Books ever written. Each week, a single work will be discussed by an expert or a writer passionate about the work in question. This is the first in the series."
Just started the other day (Saturday, in the weekly Books supplement) and not a bad way to spend a year. Up first -- The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, considered by Globe & Mail Books Editor Martin Levin.

Next week: Proust's Remembrance of Things Past.

By the way, I'm not sure of the official policy, but at The Globe & Mail anything older than a week or so is no longer accessible for free. So best hurry up if you're interested.

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5. Great assumptions

Sophie Gee, an assistant professor of English at Princeton University and author of The Scandal of the Season, wrote in yesterday's NY Times Book Review section,

Mass-market adaptations make Great Books go bad. Or so conventional wisdom would have it. But every so often, plundering and pillaging a canonical text for the sake of entertainment gives it the kiss of life. Take “Beowulf” and “Paradise Lost.” The unpalatable truth is that both originals are now virtually unreadable.
Or so conventional wisdom would have it.

I'll bet you a loonie I already know what Mama Squirrel in her Treehouse is thinking.

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6. Another red herring

Yesterday I quoted this section from a New York Times article about the tragedy of the Jacks family in Washington, DC,

Mitchell L. Stevens, an associate professor of education and sociology at New York University, said school officials, who are required by law to report suspicion of child abuse, were society’s best watchdogs of how parents treat children.

“Home schooling removes children from a lot of that surveillance,” Mr. Stevens said ...
And this afternoon while listening to the radio and folding laundry, I discovered that the topic of today's CBC call-in show "Cross Country Checkup" is school safety, prompted by the release the other day of the Toronto District School Board's School Community Safety Advisory Panel report. According to a CBC news article on the report,
A report on violence in Toronto schools says gun-sniffing dogs may be needed to combat a problem that is not restricted to troubled neighbourhoods in the northwest area of the city.

Lawyer Julian Falconer, who led a three-member school community safety advisory panel, stressed there have been scores of incidents involving guns in schools in other Toronto areas.

"Ladies and gentlemen, nothing could be further from the truth than that this is a problem involving the black kids at Jane [Street] and Finch [Avenue]," he said Thursday as the report was officially released.

"That's simply an utter, specious myth." ...

The panel was assembled by the Toronto District School Board after the shooting death of 15-year-old Jordan Manners in a hallway of C.W. Jefferys Collegiate Institute in May. Falconer asked for a moment of silence in the boy's memory before outlining the panel's findings.

According to the panel, Toronto's school system has become a place where violent incidents go unreported, and where there is fear among both students and staff.

The report says a "culture of fear, or culture of silence, permeates through every level of the TDSB [Toronto District School Board]."

The panel made more than 100 recommendations, one involving the creation of a website on which students could file anonymous reports of violence.

But the idea getting the most attention involves buying sniffer dogs that would seek out guns in student lockers and other hiding places.

The report says that "all potential storage areas for weapons" should be subject to "regular non-intrusive searches, including consideration being given to the random usage of TDSB-owned canine units that specialize in firearms detection."

Falconer said the dogs would not be large or aggressive and would merely sit in front of lockers when they smelled guns inside.

In releasing the report, he highlighted the results of a survey of students at North York's Westview Centennial Secondary School. Twenty-three percent said they knew someone who brought a gun to school in the previous two years, and six per cent said they knew four people who did so.

The danger is from "disengaged, marginalized youth" who are legally required to attend school, Falconer said.

He said the board needs more funding to ensure schools are safe, but stressed that hard-nosed enforcement is not the answer.

"We miss the point if we believe that the road to health involves punishing or using enforcement methods to try to re-engage youth. It doesn't work. We suspend in droves. It fails." Falconer said.

"We as a society failed these youths. The Toronto school board is downstream and houses these youths between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. from Monday to Friday."

Among other recommendations by the panel:

* Transfers between schools should not be used as an alternative to discipline, and administrators should not urge judges or police to impose conditions that require students to be transferred from their home schools.
* School uniforms should be required except where individual school councils opt out. The uniforms should comply with the Ontario Human Rights Code and should be affordable, and the board should subsidize the cost where necessary.
* In cases of sexual assault on students under 16, school officials should report the crime to the police and, barring exceptional circumstances, notify the victim's parents.
* In cases of sexual assault on students 16 or older, the decision to file a police report and/or notify parents should be left to the student "in order to encourage victims of sexual assault to come forward and protect the school community."
* Students should be required to wear identity cards on lanyards around their necks "for the purposes of quickly identifying students and intruders."

The school board issued a statement saying it welcomes the report.

"These insights will, I am confident, guide us as we make our schools the safest and fairest learning environments they can be, for each and every one of our students," TDSB director of education said in the statement.

Doug Joliffe, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, said he outlined the problems from his members' perspective in discussions with the panel.

"I don't think it's such a culture of fear — more a culture of frustration," he told CBC News before seeing the full report.

"There is bitter frustration that has been expressed to [the OSSTF] by members, that they don't feel they get the support they need in dealing with the issues in the halls at their schools."

"There's been incidents where teachers have tried to enforce rules where they have instead been told not to do so. So the frustration happens."
And from The Globe & Mail on the report, the article "Teachers face mixed messages":
Educators across the country were undoubtedly rattled by the release yesterday of the School Community Safety Advisory Panel report, which suggests there may have been hundreds of incidents of violence within the Toronto District School Board that have gone unreported by teachers.

But some teachers say they are not equipped or trained to deal with the serious array of behaviours and issues being exhibited by students today, and that zero-tolerance policies often directly conflict with the pressure to keep kids -- especially those from at-risk backgrounds -- in school.

"There are kids whose behaviour is so bad that 20 years ago they'd be told to leave school -- they don't want to be there, they're not respectful, they're aggressive and quite prepared to be violent if they need to be - and yet the school system is trying to keep them in school and trying not to disaffect them by punishing them for everything," said one Toronto teacher, who asked not to be named. "So consequently, there's a bit of a mixed message." ...

But, he added, some teachers are finding that action is not always taken when they do report incidents to their superiors.

"A lot of the time, teachers' actions could be nurtured by what has happened in past similar situations," he said.

"Lets say that teacher X reported something and the administration chose not to do anything with it. If a similar situation came forward again, would that teacher be more hesitant to bring it to the administration's attention? I think that would be human nature."

Mr. Coran agreed that there is "tremendous pressure" on schools to increase graduation rates and success among students, a goal that sometimes conflicts with the reality of today's school environments.

"A lot of this stuff is really more societal problems - there's so much poverty, so much gang involvement," he said. "Teachers are grappling with some really important and complex issues and I don't think this situation is going to disappear overnight."

Morven Orr, a teacher with 30 years of experience who works with the Toronto District School Board's Beginning Teacher Coaches program, said she recommends that educators report all potential issues to their principal.

"They should have been given some advice in teacher's college. You're certainly made aware of your legal obligations," she said. "I would immediately tell them to talk to their boss."

But Ms. Orr said that being able to discern which problems require outside intervention can be extremely fraught.

"When a child presents with a problem, you have no idea what might have caused it," she said. "And although as a teacher it's important to keep the idea of abuse in your head, you can't phone someone every time a child is sad, or depressed or crying. There's a million reasons."

Mr. Coran believes that school boards simply need more bodies, and that an infusion of teachers, educational assistants and support staff would go a long way toward helping teachers deal with the problems outlined in the report, including gun incidents, robberies and sexual assaults.

"All of these things require a lot of professional attention," he said. "This behaviour needs to be corrected and not just ignored."

Ms. Orr said many teachers are also mindful of making false accusations or suggesting any interventions when none is necessary, a move that can alienate students and anger their parents."If you do phone [the authorities], the parent often knows it's come from the school and they're furious if there's no reason for it," she said. "They're often furious if there is a reason for it."
And finally, from another Globe & Mail article on the report, "Fears of career suicide stopped educators from reporting violence",
Teachers and school staff are too intimidated to speak out about violence in Toronto's public schools, a damning report charges.

A school safety panel revealed yesterday that employees of the Toronto District School Board told them they feared that revealing school safety issues or anything that would reflect negatively on the board would be "a career-limiting move."

As a result, hundreds of incidents that should have been reported were not. This "culture of fear" led to a failure of the system and its overseers to protect students from violence, including robberies and sexual assault, on school grounds, the report said.

"Jordan Manners died on May 23, 2007, of flat neglect, pure neglect," panel chair Julian Falconer said yesterday, referring to the 15-year-old whose shooting sparked the inquiry.

The panel's findings had officials at Canada's largest school board facing uncomfortable questions about why so many violent incidents go unreported, and why it took the death of a 15-year-old to prompt a review of school safety.

"I think that until [the Jordan Manners shooting] happened, we probably thought we had a pretty good handle on it," said John Campbell, chair of the TDSB. "And I think what that did is it really drew attention to the fact that we didn't have a very good handle on it."

Mr. Falconer said many officials within the school system are too intimidated to report violent incidents. Many of the school officials interviewed by the panel refused to go on the record for fear of reprisal.

"People are afraid and it's not just students; it's teachers," Mr. Falconer said. ...

But Mr. Falconer said there is no "quick fix" to the board's problems.

"You could fill a Home Hardware with the amount of knives kids bring to school, but we don't find them," he said. ...

At C.W. Jefferys yesterday, students didn't seem too concerned about the dire condition the report says their school is in. However, some said that students simply don't talk about violent incidents.

"The reputation going around is: when you talk, you're basically a snitch," said student Chandé Wilmot. "[People worry] that they might get beat up."

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7. Red herrings, falling through the cracks, homework, and choice

Kate at I Think Therefore I Blog hits the nail on the head about The New York Times's misguided and insufficiently researched article today about the tragic deaths in Washington, DC, of four children. Kate has also done her research, something that can't be said for Times reporter Jane Gross. Read Kate's post here. And this thorough account at The Washington Post; here is only the tip of the iceberg,

A single parent at 16, eventually dependent on public assistance, she spent years tangled in court cases, seeking financial support from the fathers of two of her girls. She lifted herself up for a time -- learned a skill, cosmetology. With a new boyfriend, and two more daughters, she seemed happy, doting on her girls. Then she plunged into poverty and homelessness.

After her boyfriend succumbed to cancer last winter, acquaintances said, she lost her grip entirely.
As for the claims by The Times's "experts" --
Clive R. Belfield, a professor of economics at Queens College and formerly a researcher at the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education at Columbia Teachers College, said that “limited compliance and follow-up” [of home schoolers] gave abusive families “an excuse to get out of being observed.”

Mitchell L. Stevens, an associate professor of education and sociology at New York University, said school officials, who are required by law to report suspicion of child abuse, were society’s best watchdogs of how parents treat children.

“Home schooling removes children from a lot of that surveillance,” Mr. Stevens said, adding that the vast majority of home schooling families are “overwhelmingly trustworthy people who place a very high value on parental autonomy.” And thanks to the advocacy of the legal defense fund, he continued, “they have been largely successful since the late 1980s in getting the law to favor parental rights.”
-- the most cursory search of GoogleNews turns up the following:

from CNN, January 11, 2008: "It's happened again. A teacher is accused of having sex with a student and, like many times before, cell phone calls and texting reportedly had a role in sexually abusing a minor."

from a Florida CBS affiliate, January 8, 2008: "Broward County School Superintendent James Notter has issued a memo reminding all teachers and principals on the district's policy for reporting abuse. This comes after a parent, whose child attends ... Middle School, was outraged after her daughter was allegedly sexually assaulted during the time in which she was supposed to be in constant supervision by school staff. To make matters worse, no one informed the mother of what happened until two days later."

another Florida TV news station, December 27, 2007: "The state attorney's office recently announced child abuse and child neglect charges against a Paxon Middle School physical education teacher have been dropped. Aaron Jackson was arrested earlier this month after investigators said he encouraged a father to come to the school to whip his son with a belt. They said Jackson also gave the dad a room near the gym, where he could whip the boy. Earlier this month, authorities said Jackson called 41-year-old Henry Crimes and told him to come to the school with a belt to discipline his 13-year-old son."

from The Arizona Republic, December 20, 2007: "A... High School guidance counselor accused of twice failing to report child abuse is on administrative leave and could face criminal charges. Deborah Ray is the second southwest Valley educator removed from a campus for disciplinary issues in recent months. ... According to police:
* A 16-year-old girl reported in March that an unidentified person had attempted to molest her.
* A 17-year-old girl reported in April that she had suffered physical abuse."

And this past week marked the second anniversary of the murder of Nixzmary Brown, age 7, of Brooklyn, New York, as covered by The New York Times, January 12, 2008

And what of the infants and children too young for school? More from a quick survey of GoogleNews:

from The Florida Sun-Sentinel, January 10, 2008: "A grandmother pleaded no contest today to aggravated manslaughter and aggravated child abuse for the death of a 3-year-old boy who was dipped in scalding water as punishment and left to suffer for a week until dying."

from the Rochester, Minnesota Post-Bulletin, January 12, 2008: "Ty'Shay Staten was still in diapers when she became a victim of violence. She died this week at age 4, nearly three years after being shaken and thrown down a flight of stairs by her father. Timothy Lee Staten is serving more than 16 years in prison for nearly killing his daughter in March 2005. Police officers responding to Staten's Red Wing home for a domestic disturbance witnessed Staten shaking Ty'Shay, who had also been bitten in the cheek and torso, before he threw her down the stairs. At his sentencing in 2006 for second-degree attempted intentional homicide, Staten said he was under the influence of drugs at the time. Ty'Shay suffered a fractured skull among other injuries from the assault. She was at Saint Marys Hospital in Rochester for several months, and eventually placed in foster care."

from The Baltimore Sun, January 9, 2008: "Child Protective Services had already taken two of her daughters, but Vernice Harris was raising her third girl amid squalor and boarded-up rowhouses on East 25th Street. Apparently frustrated that the crying 2-year-old was disturbing her and her drug-addicted friends, Harris began giving the girl methadone to keep her quiet, according to police charging documents. Harris told authorities that she found the girl unresponsive in an upstairs bedroom about 3 a.m. June 5. She carried the toddler downstairs, where friends and paramedics were unable to revive her. Two months later, medical examiners ruled that Bryanna Ashley Harris' death was the result of a methadone overdose and a beating to her stomach."

Whether or not you home school, you should decide the best use of your tax dollars to help children -- to supervise home schooling parents, the majority of whom are law abiding and mentally and physically healthy; or to unburden already overburdened Family Court judges, as in New York, and to relieve overworked and train undertrained staff in child welfare systems throughout North America. You choose. This is not about home schooling, but putting scarce dollars, time, and people where they will best be used to save children's lives.

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8. Time for delurking

Kris Bordessa, who blogs at Paradise Found, home schools, and writes nifty nonfiction for kids, says it's Delurking Week so I believe her. Having made so many invisible friends through this blog, and from leaving comments at others' blogs, I like the idea of meeting, and getting to know, new readers. Now's your chance, before I break into song like Deborah Kerr and Marni Nixon.

So whether you're a regular reader (in which case, thank you, thank you, thank you) or the people looking for answers to "what to do when somebody steels your account on stardoll" or "what would you do if your farm was taken away after world war 2" (I'm sorry, I don't have any suggestions for either situation) or the person at GreekGoogle looking for "the golden book of chemiSTRY experiments DANGER" (leave a comment below with your email and I just might be able to steer you in the right direction) or the folks from Rancho Cucamonga and Alamo, California; Brooklyn and Bangor; Regina and Saskatoon (why, you're nearly neighbors!); not to mention Cyprus, Costa Rica, Warwickshire, Milan, Tokyo, the Netherlands, Belgium, Dubai and Durban, please stop in and say hello.

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9. Poetry Friday

No. 668, c1863
by Emily Dickinson

"Nature" is what we see –
The Hill – the afternoon –
Squirrel – Eclipse the Bumble bee –
Nay – Nature is Heaven –
Nature is what we hear –
The Bobolink – the Sea –
Thunder – the Cricket –
Nay – Nature is Harmony –
Nature is what we know –
Yet have no art to say –
So impotent Our Wisdom is
To her Simplicity.

Today's Poetry Friday round-up is here, hosted by John Mutford over at the Book Mine Set. Thank you, John.

By the way, John, who hails from Iqaluit, Nunavut, has the Great Canadian Book Challenge, which could be a fun way to spend the new year. You definitely have plenty of time to read 13 Canadian books before Canada Day.

And just a head's up that Poetry Friday will be hosted here next Friday!

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10. Announcing the Cybils shortlist for Middle Grade/Young Adult Nonfiction

The official announcement has been made over here, at the Cybils blog. You can find the remaining short lists up today, too, including Nonfiction Picture Books, one of our family's favorite categories.

In alphabetical order:

Marie Curie (volume 4 in the Giants of Science series) by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Boris Kulikov; Krull's Isaac Newton made it to last year's short list
Viking Juvenile

The Periodic Table: Elements With Style! created (and illustrated) by (Simon) Basher, written by Adrian Dingle
Kingfisher

Smart-Opedia: The Amazing Book About Everything, translated by Eve Drobot
Maple Tree Press

Tasting the Sky: a Palestinian Childhood by Ibtisam Barakat
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Tracking Trash: Flotsam, Jetsam, and the Science of Ocean Motion (from the Scientists in the Field series) by Loree Griffin Burns
Houghton Mifflin

The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Peter Sís
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Who Was First?: Discovering the Americas by Russell Freedman (whose Freedom Walkers won this category last year)
Clarion

Getting down to brass tacks now is the Judging Panel, comprised of

Tracy Chrenka at Talking in the Library
Emily Mitchell at Emily Reads
Camille Powell at Book Moot
Alice Herold at Big A little a
Jennie Rothschild at Biblio File

* * *

It was a wild ride. Five panelists, one newborn baby, a couple of holidays over several months, and 45 nominated children's nonfiction books published in 2007 -- on the subjects of history, science, mathematics, reference, biography, memoirs, humor, how to, essays, popular culture, music, and more. Much more.

What an absolute delight to work on the MG/YA nonfiction nominating panel alongside Susan at Chicken Spaghetti, Vivian at HipWriterMama, Mindy at Proper Noun Dot Net, and KT at Worth the Trip, all under the leadership of master wrangler and organizer Jen Robinson. The other panelists made the job of distilling the 45 nominated titles down to seven as easy as possible under the circumstances, and I continue to be amazed at how smoothly our negotiations and jockeyings went. Thank you each, thank you all for several marvelous months.

While we had a fraction of the books some of the other panels had to read (though more than I had to deal with last year on the poetry panel), our hunting and gathering skills were put to work tracking down titles for which review copies weren't furnished. So I'd also like to thank the patient and quick-working libraries in our system that sped books to me, often shortly after processing. And lastly, a big thanks to my kids, who put up with a good deal of questioning, poking, and prodding about what they liked and didn't about the the books they read, with and without me.

And special thanks, again, to Anne Boles Levy and Kelly Herold for coming up with the idea of the Cybils and organizing everything.

One of the reasons I wanted to serve on this particular panel is that for our family, and so many other home school families we know, high quality nonfiction titles are the backbone of our curricula, as well as our some of our children's favorite free-time reading. I wanted, through the Cybils, to be able to publicize some of the best of the bunch, so you and your kids can include these new gems on your "to read" lists.

The other reason is that I realize, sadly, that for many non-home schooling families, nonfiction children's titles are considered the second rate, second tier, B List, utility grade, inferior choice when it comes to children's books, and I wanted to be able to use an opportunity like the Cybils, with such a terrific short list of books of marvelous depth and range, to show that children's nonfiction is not only chock full of superior choices, but every inch the equal of fiction.

I'd like to encourage other readers and fans of children's nonfiction, especially those who are concerned about what children's nonfiction author Marc Aronson calls "nonfiction resistance", to keep up with the subject on Marc's blog, Nonfiction Matters

And one final note -- a raft of terrific children's 2007 nonfiction titles didn't make it to the list of nominees to be considered for the above short list. If your favorite wasn't nominated, it's because you didn't speak up for it. Don't let that happen next year.

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11. Beowulf and Grendel

rendered in Lego

by MicahBerger at Brickshelf. Click each thumbnail for a larger view.

This turned up in my "Beowulf" GoogleAlert...

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12. Oh no Canada

Canadian teenagers, from bad to worse. Much, much worse.

A Good Samaritan became a victim of crime himself as he went to save a woman from a mugging at a downtown [Edmonton] LRT station Wednesday.

Jonas Servage's duffle bag was allegedly stolen by three bystanders [ages 18, 17, and 15] as he attempted to catch the [15-year-old female] attacker.
* * *
Camrose [Alberta] police have charged four teenagers after a cat was found dead in a microwave.

Police said the cat was killed on Dec. 30 after the teenagers, aged 13 to 15, broke into an empty house for the second straight night. ...

The cat was found by someone taking care of the house for the owners while they were away from Camrose, which is about 100 kilometres southeast of Edmonton.
* * *
On the first day of this year, a 15-year-old Toronto girl was busy cleaning up her bedroom in preparation for her coming sweet 16 party, her lawyer says.

At the same time, police say, a 17-year-old male - who turns 18 today - was stabbing another teenage girl to death at the 15-year-old's command. However, allegations that the girl is a manipulative killer are fiercely challenged by her lawyer, who says his client is anything but.

Stefanie Rengel, 14, is the city's first homicide victim of 2008. According to a Crown synopsis, she died at the hands of the 17-year-old, who was driven to do it by the 15-year-old girl, who was fuelled by jealousy. Both teens now face first-degree murder charges in Stefanie's death.

Friends and neighbours of both the victim and the two suspects said she and the 17-year-old had been in a relationship that ended, and that the two suspects later began dating. The girl's lawyer says his client was not at the scene of the crime and should never have been charged with first-degree murder.

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13. Yo walks in beauty, like the night

The current issue of New Scientist reports on new American Speech.

To which I can only add, sure, why the hell not?


may i feel said yo
by E.E. Cummings

may i feel said yo
(i'll squeal said yo
just once said yo)
it's fun said yo

(may i touch said yo
how much said yo
a lot said yo)
why not said yo

(let's go said yo
not too far said yo
what's too far said yo
where you are said yo)

may i stay said yo
(which way said yo
like this said yo
if you kiss said yo

may i move said yo
is it love said yo)
if you're willing said yo
(but you're killing said yo

but it's life said yo
but your wife said yo
now said yo)
ow said yo

(tiptop said yo
don't stop said yo
oh no said yo)
go slow said yo

(cccome?said yo
ummm said yo)
you're divine!said yo
(you are Mine said yo)

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14. Dangerous things

The last TedTalk to make a big impression on the home education blogs and groups was Ken Robinson's, on how schools educate children to become good workers rather than creative thinkers.

The next TedTalk to start making the rounds and already making a splash is Five Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Kids Do by Gever Tulley of The Tinkering School, a summer program to help kids ages seven to 17 learn to build things. The talk comes from Tulley's book in progress, Fifty Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Children Do; click the book link and you'll find some of Tulley's labels which should be familiar to Make fans; we here at Farm School are always keen on subversive labels and stickers. As I once quoted Charles Darwin,

"Doing what little one can to increase the general stock of knowledge is as respectable an object of life as one can, in any likelihood, pursue."
Gever Tulley and Matt Hern, author of Watch Yourself: Why Safer Isn't Always Better (and whom I wrote about here) certainly seem to be on the same wavelength.

Oh -- those five (really six) things? Not including playing with power tools at age two, which Tulley mentions at the beginning of his talk (and one of these days I'll have to write about my daycare program for Laura when I was pregnant with Daniel; it consisted of sending Laura to work with Tom, her father the builder, six days a week to build a house for a client. Power tools, scaffolding, ladders, and openings to the basement without stairs, were a given. Needless to say, they're all whizzes with power tools by now.)

1. Play with fire

2. Own a pocket knife (better yet, two or three or four, one for each pair of pants)

3. Throw a spear (or a paper airplane, or a baseball)

4. Deconstruct appliances (Tulley suggests a dishwasher, but radios and toasters are great good fun, and if you don't have a dead one of your own, you can find them cheap and ailing at your local Goodwill or Salvation Army store)

5. Break the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (which we apparently do routinely)

6. Drive a car (or truck or tractor if you have no cars about)

Some helpful related links

Interview with Jean Liedloff, author of The Continuum Concept

Kitbashing in the homeschool with Willa at Every Waking Hour and Mama Squirrel at Dewey's Tree House

GeekDad, where I first read last week about Gever Tulley's TedTalk

Boing Boing

Make Magazine and Maker Faire (where the motto is "Build, Craft, Hack, Play, Make")

Make Blog

Craft Magazine

Craft Blog

And, of course, the usual Farm School ramblings about childhood fun, danger, acceptable risk, responsibility, and independence.

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15. The Learning in the Great Outdoors Carnival is up

The New Year's edition of the Learning in the Great Outdoors Carnival is up, hosted by Terrell at Alone on a Limb. Terrell writes,

Learning in the Great Outdoors is intended as a trading center for those who use, or want to use, the environment as an integrating context for learning. If you are a teacher, a nature center educator or naturalist, a homeschooler who wants to use the environment in your studies, an amateur or professional botanist or zoologist or geologist or other science buff, a parent, a student --- anyone with an interest in sharing the environment with children, please join us!
Not only are there some nifty and fun posts and pictures to keep you reading for quite some time, but news of some new (and new to me) and helpful blogs, including Open Wide, Look Inside, with links for using poetry and children's literature in just about every subject, from Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect.

So head out for the limb. After all, as Will Rogers said, "Why not go out on a limb? That's where the fruit is." Thanks, Terrell, for some terrific New Year's reading when we all finally head indoors.

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16. Happy anniversary, George and Martha

Twelfth Night in Historic Camden County

















Illustration from The Granger Collection, New York


And it's always nice to have a holiday excuse to post one of Anna's recipes, this one for Twelfth Night Cake

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17. World War I by blog

I picked up The National Post while in town on Saturday afternoon, and found this article about a blog created by Bill Lamin of Cornwall, using his grandfather Harry Lamin's letters home from the front during World War I. Grandson Bill is posting the letters 90 years to the date they were written by grandfather Harry.

The blog is WW1: Experiences of an English Soldier.

Bill Lamin has also created a blog with entries from the official War Diary of the 9th Battalion of York & Lancaster Regiment.

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18. Quickie thumbnail reviews of Cybils middle grade/young adult nonfiction nominees, Part I

Not all of them, just the ones the publishers were kind enough to send along, because with the short list ready to be announced tomorrow, I want to finally finally finally pick up the pile of books from the carpet and put things away -- on the shelves for the keepers, in the library bag for donation for the rest. Some of the links that follow are Cybils Amazon associate ones.

Smart-Opedia: The Amazing Book About Everything
translated by Eve Drobot
Maple Tree Press

This one is up first because every minute this one has been out of Davy's possession, it's been almost physically painful. For me too, what with the constant noisy reminders and bee-like buzzing around ("Could I please have my Bookopedia back now? Now? Soon? Now? Please? M-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-m!). In fact, he took such an instant like to this book right after it arrived -- and it was one of the first, thank you very much to the kind folks at the Canadian publishing house, Maple Tree Press -- that I decided to give it to him for his birthday. I told him it was his present from the Cybils and Maple Tree. And then promptly took it back to put on the pile for consideration. We've been having a tug of war over it ever since, and more than once I've had to steal it out of the bed of a sleeping child.

Smart-opedia is about as close to the entire world in only 200 charmingly illustrated pages as you're going to get, with entries on everything from animals and art, history and human rights, to space and cyberspace, most with a double-page spread. Entertainingly and clearly presented, this is a one-volume reference book that eight- to twelve-year olds (and probably their younger and older siblings, and parents too) will be reaching for even when no homework assignment is in sight, one reason why you might want to consider springing for the hardcover instead of the only slighter cheaper paperback edition. Home schoolers will find this delightful for free, pleasure reading. By the way, those charming illustrations are the work of no fewer than 17 different artists, who've somehow managed to make their styles look of a piece. Very similar in style and tone as the Usborne reference books, but nowhere as busy.

Ms. Drobot has done a masterful job singlehandedly translating a team effort originally published in France; near as I can tell, this is the original French version, from publisher Editions (Fernand) Nathan. Maple Tree recommends this for ages nine to 12, but I'd follow the original publisher and get it into kids' hands much earlier, at ages six or seven or whenever they're reading well on their own. By the time they're nine or 10, it will be a good friend and constant companion. This one's definitely a keeper for us.

From Slave to Superstar of the Wild West: The Awesome Story of Jim Beckwourth
by Tom DeMund
Legends of the West Publishing Company

A solid and engaging biography of American frontiersman Jim Beckwourth, From Slave to Sueprstar of the Wild West has definitely been a labor of love for author DeMund, who self-published the book and sent it along to me with a delightful letter. The book is written in a very companionable, casual tone, the author more or less taking the young reader aside to tell his tale, made all the more interesting by the fact that it's true.

Aside from the word "Awesome" in the subtitle (I tend to find it overused and it makes me cringe), there's very little about this book I didn't like. And a great deal that I did, especially Chapter 0, "Why Write -- or Read -- a Book about Jim?", which functions as the author's historical note the reader. Not only is at the front of the book where it should be, along with instructions to "Please read this Chapter 0 before charging on to Chapter 1", but it also includes a Special Note on Names of Groups,

To be considerate of people's feelings today, I should use the words African American, Native American, and Hispanic American. But during Jim's lifetime those words were unknown. Because this book is all about Jim's time (around 1800 to 1866), I've used the words used in that era. African Americans were called Negroes or blacks, Native Americans were called Indians, and Hispanic Americans were called Mexicans. know that I'm not being incorrect by modern standards, but for proper historical flavor I've used the words from the years between 1800 and 1866. I hope you won't object.
Short, sweet, to the point, and much appreciated. The back of the book includes a timeline, comprehensive bibliography, and index. The Wild West is a popular subject around here, so this lively, comprehensive biography is definitely a keeper for us. Especially ecommended for ages eight or nine to 12 or so.

Another Book About Design: Complicated Doesn't Make It Bad
by Mark Gonyea
Henry Holt and Co.

A vibrant, punchy explanation of basic graphic design for kids ages eight to 12 or so. A very effective way of presenting concepts such as color, shape, size, and space to a young audience, and a boon to young designers and design fans, who likely won't look at their favorite comic books the same way. A keeper, and we plan to take it along to the next art lesson to show the kids' teacher.

Artist to Artist: 23 Major Illustrators Talk to Children about Their Art
compiled by the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art
Philomel

For families who read a good deal of picture books, this book will be an absolute delight. You'll find many old and exceedingly talented friends here, from Mitsumasa Anno, Eric Carle, Tomie dePaola, and Mordicai Gerstein, to Steven Kellogg, Leo Lionni, Wendell Minor, Alice Provensen, Sabuda and Reinhart, Maurice Sendak, Rosemary Wells, and Paul O. Zelinsky. Each artist gets four pages, with one page of text to tell the first-person story of how he or she (though the 23 artists represented are almost all men), grew into, and as, an artist; two pages of how they make their art; and the last page as a self-portrait. A very special book for children, and their parents, who want a peek into the artist's studio. When Davy picked up the book, it opened immediately to Sabuda's and Reinhart's special pop-up, and Davy gasped. As Robert Sabuda writes in his section, "all of the hard work is worth it when someone opens the pop-up and exclaims 'WOW!'". This book gives you the how and the wow. A keeper for us.

Ox, House, Stick: The Story of Our Alphabet
by Don Robb, illustrated by Anne Smith
Charlesbridge

This is the kind of title that home schoolers tend to snap up, while the general reading public gives it a wide berth, in part because the material is considerably more interesting for those kids who already know something about ancient history and even, dare I suggest, some Latin and Greek (at the very least word roots). Which is a shame, because Don Robb gives a brief overview of the history of our alphabet, followed by a story for each letter, all delightfully illustrated by Anne Smith in her first children's book. A wonderful addition to ancient history and English -- and ancient -- language studies, not to mention the perfect book to hand to the son or daughter who asks where the alphabet came from. And to those youngsters who think of the alphabet as something to be texted with thumbs, well, you don't know what you're missing.

Robb is also the author of the picture books This Is America: The American Spirit In Places And People, illustrated by Christine Joy Pratt; and, especially useful this year, Hail to the Chief: The American Presidency, illustrated by Alan Witschonke

Across the Wide Ocean: The Why, How, and Where of Navigation for Humans and Animals at Sea
by Karen Romano Young
Harper Collins (Greenwillow)

A fascinating account about the how the mysterious deep is navigated, in turn, by a sea turtle, a sailboat, a whale, a submarine, a shark, and a container ship. Young discusses currents, magnetic force, and navigation in a lively fashion. Unfortunately, the book's design is too lively, and too dark as well, in shades of blue meant to evoke the ocean. By the end I was feeling more than a tad dizzy and seasick, which was a shame because with some restraint, this would have been a perfect ride. A keeper, but the kids will have to read it on their own next time.


Math Doesn't Suck: How to Survive Middle-School Math Without Losing Your Mind or Breaking a Nail
by Danica McKellar
Hudson Street Press

Somewhere in this world there's a happy medium between Hollywood actors who have co-authored groundbreaking mathematical physics theorems and Disney Princess Queen Bee Wannabees who detest math. This book isn't it.

Which is a great shame, because underneath, way way underneath, all the cutsy-ness and pop culture expectations of girls worried about breaking nails and "running through the snow in pearls and four-inch heels" (as Ms. McKellar tells us her sister did, and at Harvard Law of all places -- like, ohmygod!), and the execrable title, is a decent guide to upper elementary/middle school math, with some handy tips and tricks.

The entire style of the book undermines Ms. McKellar's message, that "math is actually a good thing", because "Most of all, working on math sharpens your brain, actually making you smarter in all areas. Intelligence is real, it's lasting, and no one can take it away from you. Ever." Especially when you are having trouble staying upright tripping across Harvard Yard in your four-inch heels. Though much as Ms. McKellar keeps telling her audience how cool it is to be smart, it's hard to believe it as she tries so hard to appeal to her "I'd rather be shopping" audience. Another duality that disturbs me is the fact that though the book is meant for middle school girls, it goes on and on about bikini waxes, "perfect black heels", sparkly diamonds, and iced lattes. Maybe middle school in Hollywood is different than it is here. And what the heck do they shop for when they hit high school?

As the home schooling mother of a 10-year-old daughter who has her struggles with math, this might have a been a good choice with a different presentation. Laura's just too much of a tomboy, and isn't as steeped in pop culture and worried about her looks as the book assumes she is, so the approach would be a huge turnoff for. A good choice for middle school girls who don't favor the Teen Cosmo style, by the way, is Math Smarts: Tips, Tricks, and Secrets for Making Math More Fun! by Lynette Long for the American Girl Library. And for girls and boys, Marilyn Burns's Math for Smarty Pants. By contrast, as you can probably guess, I don't much care for Burns's The I Hate Mathematics Book, either. I understand the idea behind the "I Hate Math"/"Math Sucks" type of books, but introducing ideas like that kids when they're having trouble tends to cause more trouble than it solves. I'd like to see Ms. McKellar follow this book up with another one for young girls who, as she was 20 years ago, are unapologetically smart, interested in math and science even when the work gets tough, and like their studies. You know, the ones who would rather draw, ride horses, read a book, go for a hike, help a friend, or practice gymnastics than go shopping. And the ones who know that iced lattes at age 10 will stunt their growth, if not their bank accounts.

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19. Still sniffing around the kitchen: Chemistry with the Curious Cook

More apologies. I've been meaning to post links to all of Harold McGee's "Curious Cook" columns in The New York Times but fell down on the job. I was reminded by yesterday's column, so below is the list. Once again, you need to register to read NY Times articles, but registration is free.

Harold McGee is the author of the classic On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, and also of its (apparently out-of-print) follow-up, The Curious Cook: More Kitchen Science and Lore, from which the Times column takes its name.

* * *

The Invisible Ingredient in Every Kitchen, January 2, 2008; go to The Curious Cook website, where you'll find a link to this NPR column by Bill Buford on Mr. McGee and heat.

A Blue Blood New in Name Only, December 5, 2007

Stalking the Placid Apple’s Untamed Kin, November 21, 2007

Organic, and Tastier: The Rat’s Nose Knows, October 3, 2007

The Essence of Nearly Anything, Drop by Limpid Drop, September 5, 2007

Ice Cream That's a Stretch, August 1, 2007

Testing Whether the Crunch Is All It’s Cracked Up to Be, July 4, 2007

Extra Virgin Anti-Inflammatories, June 6, 2007

The Five-Second Rule Explored, or How Dirty Is That Bologna?, May 9, 2007

The Red-Meat Miracle, and Other Tales From the Butcher Case, April 4, 2007

What’s a Great Way to Get a Fish Fried? Give It a Shot of Vodka, March 7, 2007

In a Bottle, the Scent of a Mouse, February 7, 2007

Trying to Clear Absinthe’s Reputation, January 3, 2007

When Science Sniffs Around the Kitchen, which kicked off the series, December 6, 2006

* * *

And, not part of The Curious Cook series, but also interesting, The Times ran this article, "Food 2.0: Chefs as Chemists" the other month.

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20. Retro chemistry

I'm so far behind in my Boing Boing reading that it's not even funny -- GeekDad I can manage (and there's a nifty post today about sorting/storing Lego) -- but my spidey sense started tingling when I read Melissa's frog post at Here in the Bonny Glen.

Melissa links to an article from the 1934 issue of Modern Mechanix and Inventions, reprinted over at the Modern Mechanix blog, which is new to me -- a veritable treasure trove. And looking down the blog's list of categories I came to "Chemistry" and got ridiculously excited. Heaps and heaps of articles, mostly from Popular Science and mostly by Raymond B. Wailes, author of my old childhood favorite Manual Of Formulas: Recipes, Methods and Secret Processes. By the way, here's a spiffy article by Norm Stanley on the subject of amateur science that mentions Mr. Wailes, from the Society of Amateur Scientists website.

There are also categories for History, Science, Toys and Games, and enough other subjects to keep the retro heart beating quickly all year.

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21. Banned in Boston

One of the funniest obits I've read in a long time, from today's New York Times for the late great Ruth Wallis:

Ruth Wallis, a cabaret singer of the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s who was known as the Queen of the Party Song for the genteelly risqué numbers she performed for happy, and very occasionally horrified, listeners worldwide, died on Dec. 22 at her home in South Killingly, Conn. She was 87. ...

Ms. Wallis, who began her career performing jazz and cabaret standards, soon became known for the novelty songs — more than 150 of them — she wrote herself, all positively dripping with double entendre. Even today, only a fraction of her titles can be rendered in a family newspaper, among them “The Hawaiian Lei Song,” “Hopalong Chastity,” “Your Daddy Was a Soldier” and “A Man, a Mink, and a Million Pink and Purple Pills.” Her signature number, “The Dinghy Song,” is an ode to Davy, who had “the cutest little dinghy in the Navy.”

In 2003, Ms. Wallis’s work was the basis of an off-Broadway revue, “Boobs! The Musical: The World According to Ruth Wallis.”

Though Ms. Wallis performed in some of the most glittering nightclubs in New York, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and elsewhere, her career was largely overlooked at the time. Few mainstream newspapers, after all, dared print even faintly suggestive titles like “Johnny Has a Yo-Yo,” “De Gay Young Lad,” “Stay Out of My Pantry” and “Don’t Bite Off More Than You Can Chew.” Nor could they reproduce Ms. Wallis’s lyrics, in which body parts, real or merely implied, tended to loom large.

In Boston, Ms. Wallis’s songs were banned from the radio. In Australia, her records were seized by customs agents when she arrived there for a tour. Both incidents only made her more popular, according to later news accounts.

Ruth Shirley Wohl was born in New York City on Jan. 5, 1920. She chose her stage name in honor of Wallis Warfield Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor, her son said. ...

Long may the party continue!

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22. Poetry Friday: That's life

Life
by Charlotte Brontë

Life, believe, is not a dream,
So dark as sages say;
Oft a little morning rain
Foretells a pleasant day:
Sometimes there are clouds of gloom,
But these are transient all;
If the shower will make the roses bloom,
Oh, why lament its fall?
Rapidly, merrily,
Life's sunny hours flit by,
Gratefully, cheerily,
Enjoy them as they fly.

What though death at times steps in,
And calls our Best away?
What though Sorrow seems to win,
O'er hope a heavy sway?
Yet Hope again elastic springs,
Unconquered, though she fell,
Still buoyant are her golden wings,
Still strong to bear us well.
Manfully, fearlessly,
The day of trial bear,
For gloriously, victoriously,
Can courage quell despair!

* * *

Mary Lee and Franki at A Reading Year aren't content to celebrate the new year and their blogiversary with just a four-day blog birthday gala. No, they're hosting today's Poetry Friday round-up too! Thanks, Mary Lee and Franki, and all best wishes for the new year.

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23. But will they change Titty's name?

From tomorrow's London Times:

BBC hopes youth of today will thrill to Swallows and Amazons
by Ben Hoyle, Arts Reporter

It’s as far from a toxic childhood as you are likely to get. Captain John, Able Seaman Titty and Ship’s Boy Roger are to set sail again in a big-screen adaptation of the Arthur Ransome classic Swallows and Amazons.

Inspired by the success of The Dangerous Book for Boys, the BBC is betting that camping, fishing and messing about in dinghies will seem as thrillingly exotic to modern children as any special-effects-laden superhero movie.

The producers believe that the resourceful young heroes of Swallows and Amazons and the book’s idyllic Lake District setting possess an allure that they did not have when the tale was last filmed in 1974, before childhood hobbies became as sedentary, solitary and technology-driven as they are today.

It is a hope backed by the National Theatre, where a musical of Swallows and Amazons is in the pipeline, and at the National Maritime Museum in Falmouth, where an exhibition on Ransome’s work will open later this year.

There are 12 Swallows and Amazons adventures and BBC Films is close to acquiring options on all of them. Jamie Laurenson, executive producer for BBC Films, is hoping for a cinema release next year. He said: “It’s a great story and a fantastic adventure.”

If Swallows and Amazons is to work, Mr Laurenson said, it also needs to make the natural world genuinely frightening. “For a modern audience you need to bring out that feeling of danger. It’s only implied in the action because of when it was written, but it’s about children taking on adult responsibilities. The youth of today are cosseted. We rail against couch potatoes and obesity in children but ban conker fights [see aforementioned Dangerous Book], so I think this is very timely.”

Ransome would have agreed. He was a charismatic man with a love of the outdoors. In a life packed with adventure he married Trotsky’s secretary and may have spied for the Bolsheviks before settling down in the 1920s to work as an occasional foreign correspondent and angling columnist for the Manchester Guardian. He made his breakthrough as an author with Swallows and Amazons, which was published in 1930. ...

Purists should be reassured that they will still be set in the prewar years, he added. “I think that period feel is part of their charm.”

Geraint Lewis, chairman of the Arthur Ransome Society, said that the modest nature of the stories themselves was an important element of their appeal. “Ransome was a very good writer and his deceptively simple style has endured. They have never gone completely out of fashion but there does seem to be a welling of interest in them now,” he said.
And the related leading article, also in tomorrow's Times,
No Duffers
Don’t just watch Swallows and Amazons — be them

From an ancient farmhouse on a peaty fellside, into the jump-cut mayhem of X-boxes and preteen blockbusters, come John, Susan, Titty, Roger and a gaff-rigged dayboat called the Swallow. They’ll fill her up with bread and cheese and tents stitched by their mother. They’ll sail her from a Peak in Darien to an island in the “great lake in the North”. They will find a secret harbour and the perfect campsite. Nearby, still warm, there will be embers. Undeterred, the Swallow’s crew will unroll their sleeping bags and wake to the hearstop-ping sight of an arrow in the gnarled bark of the great tree at the high end of the island.

Oh, to be under surveillance by a faceless enemy armed to the gunwales and master of the timing of her attack! Yes, hers, because the Amazons will soon reveal themselves, not just to the Swallows but to a global audience of millions courtesy of BBC Films. The rights to Arthur Ransome’s books may not be in the bag but they’re being hotly pursued. A feature is planned, and possibly a franchise. Time’s wheel has alighted on the most wholesome of all parallel children’s universes as the best bet for a filmic expression of everything that Nintendo is not.

Good luck to the producers. What greater thrill can there be for any child, in any age, than to create her own world in the real world and be allowed to risk her life in it? For that is the explicit premise of Swallows and Amazons, set out in the children’s father’s legendary telegram sent from his naval ship on service in the Far East: BETTER DROWNED THAN DUFFERS IF NOT DUFFERS WONT DROWN. Tough love was never since so tough (and in any case has long since been outlawed by social services). But this was the green light that sent Roger hurtling down towards a mythic Coniston to tell his siblings their great adventure was a “go”. Let the film version spawn thousands more like it – real ones, rich with the smell of wet rope, burnt camp-fire sausages and lichen on granite. Because Tomb Raider takes some beating.
In other words, paddle your own canoe, and mess about in your own dinghy.

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24. On the eleventh day of Christmas

my true love gave to me,

eleven ladies dancing.

And a few of their friends,










You might know them as Rose campion (Lychnis coronaria) "Dancing Ladies", because they look like little swaying dancers in brightly-colored ballgowns. Especially if you are in the garden early in the morning before that first cup of coffee and without your glasses.

The picture above is from the online catalogue of Johnny's Selected Seeds in Maine, which offers a great variety, including organic and heirloom seed. Imagine a whole garden full of dancing ladies, for the bargain price of $1.80 -- the cost of a packet of seed.

This is the season gardeners love, planning the new year's garden while snow is still on the ground. For me this involves stacks of printed gardening catalogues (and no, it's just not the same online, though I do request them by email), a pen, Post-It notes, and a graph paper pad filched from Tom.

This recent Sioux City Journal newspaper article includes a number of good US seed and plant houses to contact for catalogues.

And here's an online Guide to Gardening by Mail, Mail Order Gardening, and Catalogs, from DavesGarden.com. Very, very thorough, and includes Canadian seed and plant companies as well; there's a nifty "Browse by North American State/Province" feature.

Canadian Gardening magazine has its 2007 list online.

I'll leave the last word to Katharine S. White, E.B. White's wife, an editor at The New Yorker, and ardent and opinionated gardener. After she retired from her editing duties, in the late 1950s, she began a series of garden pieces for the magazine. More than a few columns were reviews seed and nursery catalogues, which Mrs. White considered as seriously as any other American literature. After Mrs. White's death in 1977, her husband collected them into a delightful volume, Onward and Upward in the Garden. From her first piece, dated March 1, 1958,

For gardeners this is the season of lists and callow hopefulness; hundreds of thousands of bewitched readers are poring over their catalogues, making lists for their seed and plant orders, and dreaming their dreams. It is the season, too, when the amateur gardener like myself marvels or grumbles at the achievements of the hybridizers and frets over the idiosyncrasies of the editors and writers who get up the catalogues. They are as individualistic -- these editors and writers -- as any Faulkner or Hemingway, and they can be just as frustrating or rewarding. They have an audience equal to the most popular novelist's, and a handful of them are stylists of some note. Even the catalogues with which no man can be associated seem to have personalities of their own.

Before we examine the writers and editors, let us consider the hybridizers, and the horticulturists in general. Their slogan is not only "Bigger and Better" but "Change" -- change for the sake of change, it seems. Say you have a nice flower like the zinnia -- clean-cut, of interesting, positive form, with formal petals that are so neatly and cunningly put together, and with colors so subtle yet clear, that they have always been the delight of the still-life artist. Then look at the W. Atlee Burpee and the Joseph Harris Company catalogues and see what the seedsmen are doing to zinnias. Burpee, this year, devotes its inside front cover to full-color pictures of its Giant Hybrid Zinnias, which look exactly like great shaggy chrysanthemums. Now, I like chrysanthemums, but why should zinnias be made to look like them?
By the way, any Katharine White fans who have despaired of ever reading more of her garden writings would be very happy with Emily Herring Wilson's 2003 compilation, Two Gardeners: A Friendship in Letters, Katharine S. White & Elizabeth Lawrence, the latter a talented and prolific garden writer.

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25. On the twelfth day of Christmas

my true love gave to me,

twelve lords a-leaping.

At first I considered the Lords of the Dance.

Like the Nicholas Brothers,


















Or Russ Tamblyn in "West Side Story".























Leapin' lizards.

Or Baryshnikov.
















Who is so good he gets two pictures.





















Lordy lordy.

But then I thought of my darling children and their shining faces on the twelfth day of Christmas, and knew it had to be marvelous, incredible leaping Lipizzaners












"Cerbero"; oil on copper, c1725, by Johann Georg von Hamilton
Cerbero was a Neapolitan brown piebald, one of Emperor Charles VI's favorite riding horses. From the collection of the Lipizzaner Museum.












"Scarramuie"; oil on copper, c1725, by Johann Georg von Hamilton
Scarramuie was a dapple-grey of the Neapolitan school, and here performs a piaffe (a trot in place) in the hands of a stable boy. From the same collection.
















"Courbette"; watercolor, 1923, by Ludwig Koch, from the same collection

For more about Lipizzaner horses, Laura recommends:

White Stallion of Lipizza by Marguerite Henry; available new from from Sonlight

Album of Horses, also by Marguerite Henry

The 1963 movie "Miracle of the White Stallions"

and for your own wee riding school, Schleich's Lipizzan horse family

And to all a goodnight.

With that, folks, Christmas is officially over at Farm School as of tomorrow and if I have the energy -- after the 12 days of Christmas, this recent blogging spurt, and the Cybils (short list to be announced Sunday, which I'll post here after swilling my coffee) -- the tree will be "planted" in a snowbank outside and the decorations returned to their boxes.




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