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So you’re writing that sweeping historical novel full of war and political intrigue, and you maybe need some inspiration. Where better to turn than to history books? Only problem is that they can be a bit dry, and at times the forced impartiality (“I must present this as facts uncoloured by my opinion!”) can make the prose frustratingly ambiguous. Then there’s the whole “history is written by the victor” thing. The phrase reveals the difficulties readers face when approaching historical writing. Not to mention, it’s practically impossible to write about a historical event in a completely detached way without it sounding like a recipe.
Honestly, it makes me glad I write fiction. The pressure of writing a history book is terrifying. What sources you include, and where you include them, and why…no matter how you organize them, there will always be an expert disagreeing with you.
Enter Gregory of Tours. He was a 6th century bishop of (you guessed it) Tours, France, and is our best contemporary source of the Merovingian dynasty in modern-day France and Germany. He wrote history, but it’s only in very recent times that we started giving him more credit as an actual historian. Why did it take so long? You only need to take a gander at all the wild stuff he says in his most famous work, The History of the Franks.
Here’s the deal. Remember the whole “no such thing as no bias” spiel? This is very apparent in Gregory. A lot of people read the Histories assuming they’re a moralistic work about how those who aren’t Catholic will suffer the demons of hell, and those that are will be saved in heaven. To be fair, it’s not a hard conclusion to reach. There’s one story of a priest conspiring against his superior, and as alleged punishment from God, on the morning the priest is getting ready to betray him, this happens: “He went off to the lavatory and while he was occupied in emptying his bowels he lost his soul instead.”
Lost his soul on the can. He quite literally shit himself to death. There are fewer effective ways to teach someone a lesson about going against a saintly authority.
But then, in another story, Queen Deuteria is afraid that her husband might “desire and take advantage of” their maturing daughter so she puts her in a cart drawn by untamed bulls and the daughter crashes into a river and dies. And this happens in like three sentences with no moral. No ceremony, no “The shadow of sin is cast upon the loveless mother!”, no “Don’t lust after your own daughter or else your wife might kill her (and also, sin)!”, only a few nearly parenthetical phrases, perhaps just to explain what happened to the daughter when the King later takes a new wife and refuses to take Deuteria back. I wonder why he’d do that.
So you have this one priest’s story taking up a few sizable, memorable paragraphs about him conspiring against his bishop, and then you have this other one of a horrific filicide told in a measly three sentences. That’s the fascinating thing about this work. It’s a bunch of to-the-point recitations of facts mixed together with wildly moralistic tales where common sicknesses and coincidences are explains away as God’s doing. In some sections it even reads like fantasy. It’s as full of people having prophetic dreams and being warned about the dangers ahead as it is of short side notes about a perfectly Christian king being poisoned just because…well…he was king, and he was poisoned.
But the reason the Histories are so valuable today, aside from being a long and spectacular feat of story-telling, is because there really is a genuinely massive amount of historical information within them. Every so often you’ll find entire letters Gregory directly transcribed so he could give us the primary source rather than rephrasing an event in his own words. Some of these letters survive in different forms and can be used to cross-reference events in the book. Others only survive through his writing. There is a ton of specificity about the Church, and especially about the history of the bishopric of Tours. There’s stuff in there about the actual daily lives of people living in the 6th century, their traditions, habits, and gossip, written by a person living in the 6th century. That is absolutely invaluable.
Not to mention a freaking amazing read. Merovingian kings and queens meant business. The backstabbing, the stealing of territory, copious amounts of regicide, broken alliances, queens abandoning their husbands for other kings because others were manlier and held more promise as conquerors… These people were ruthless. Contrast that with the general thread of what it means to be a good Christian weaving through the work, and you’ve got some damn awesome dichotomies going on.
So move this baby up your to-read list. Not only is it full of events that actually happened, making it an excellent book to read for personal research, but it’s also a great literary window into the workings of 6th century Continental Europe.
Biljana Likic is working on her fantasy WIPs and has just started her MA in Medieval Studies, from which she can’t wait to graduate so she’ll finally have all the time in the world to write. You can follow her on Twitter.
Scholars have written a lot about the difficulties in the study of religion generally. Those difficulties become even messier when we use the words black or African American to describe religion. The adjectives bear the burden of a difficult history that colors the way religion is practiced and understood in the United States. They register the horror of slavery and the terror of Jim Crow as well as the richly textured experiences of a captured people, for whom sorrow stands alongside joy. It is in this context, one characterized by the ever-present need to account for one’s presence in the world in the face of the dehumanizing practice of white supremacy, that African American religion takes on such significance.
To be clear, African American religious life is not reducible to those wounds. That life contains within it avenues for solace and comfort in God, answers to questions about who we take ourselves to be and about our relation to the mysteries of the universe; moreover, meaning is found, for some, in submission to God, in obedience to creed and dogma, and in ritual practice. Here evil is accounted for. And hope, at least for some, assured. In short, African American religious life is as rich and as complicated as the religious life of other groups in the United States, but African American religion emerges in the encounter between faith, in all of its complexity, and white supremacy.
I take it that if the phrase African American religion is to have any descriptive usefulness at all, it must signify something more than African Americans who are religious. African Americans practice a number of different religions. There are black people who are Buddhist, Jehovah Witness, Mormon, and Baha’i. But the fact that African Americans practice these traditions does not lead us to describe them as black Buddhism or black Mormonism. African American religion singles out something more substantive than that.
The adjective refers instead to a racial context within which religious meanings have been produced and reproduced. The history of slavery and racial discrimination in the United States birthed particular religious formations among African Americans. African Americans converted to Christianity, for example, in the context of slavery. Many left predominantly white denominations to form their own in pursuit of a sense of self- determination. Some embraced a distinctive interpretation of Islam to make sense of their condition in the United States. Given that history, we can reasonably describe certain variants of Christianity and Islam as African American and mean something beyond the rather uninteresting claim that black individuals belong to these different religious traditions.
The adjective black or African American works as a marker of difference: as a way of signifying a tradition of struggle against white supremacist practices and a cultural repertoire that reflects that unique journey. The phrase calls up a particular history and culture in our efforts to understand the religious practices of a particular people. When I use the phrase, African American religion, then, I am not referring to something that can be defined substantively apart from varied practices; rather, my aim is to orient you in a particular way to the material under consideration, to call attention to a sociopolitical history, and to single out the workings of the human imagination and spirit under particular conditions.
When Howard Thurman, the great 20th century black theologian, declared that the slave dared to redeem the religion profaned in his midst, he offered a particular understanding of black Christianity: that this expression of Christianity was not the idolatrous embrace of Christian doctrine which justified the superiority of white people and the subordination of black people. Instead, black Christianity embraced the liberating power of Jesus’s example: his sense that all, no matter their station in life, were children of God. Thurman sought to orient the reader to a specific inflection of Christianity in the hands of those who lived as slaves. That difference made a difference. We need only listen to the spirituals, give attention to the way African Americans interpreted the Gospel, and to how they invoked Jesus in their lives.
We cannot deny that African American religious life has developed, for much of its history, under captured conditions. Slaves had to forge lives amid the brutal reality of their condition and imagine possibilities beyond their status as slaves. Religion offered a powerful resource in their efforts. They imagined possibilities beyond anything their circumstances suggested. As religious bricoleurs, they created, as did their children and children’s children, on the level of religious consciousness and that creativity gave African American religion its distinctive hue and timber.
African Americans drew on the cultural knowledge, however fleeting, of their African past. They selected what they found compelling and rejected what they found unacceptable in the traditions of white slaveholders. In some cases, they reached for traditions outside of the United States altogether. They took the bits and pieces of their complicated lives and created distinctive expressions of the general order of existence that anchored their efforts to live amid the pressing nastiness of life. They created what we call African American religion.
Headline image credit: Candles, by Markus Grossalber, CC-BY-2.0 via Flickr.
Hilary Mantel’s newest book, a collection of short stories titled The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher, has been getting quite a bit of press. It seems many people have decided to take offense at the titular story in which an IRA assassin tricks a woman into letting him into her apartment which has a perfect view, and perfect shot of the back of a hospital through which Thatcher will shortly be exiting. The woman at first is alarmed but ends up being sympathetic and helps the man by showing him an escape route through which he might be able to get away without capture. The story ends just before the gun is fired.
It’s a pretty good story. We are left wondering whether the assassination was successful. Well, we know it wasn’t, don’t we? Mantel isn’t out to rewrite history. So the shot was missed for some reason. We are left to wonder at the aftermath, left feeling sympathetic for the IRA man who fully expects to get caught but shows the utmost concern for the woman whose apartment he took over. And the woman? She’s middle-aged, single, tidy, reliable, caught in the habits of her daily life and not one to rock the boat. But this man gives her a chance to break free from the ordinary without much risk and she takes it. You can read the story yourself if you haven’t already.
Unfortunately all the talk about the one story has overshadowed the rest of the book. Most of these stories are complete stories with beginnings, middles and ends, no brief slice of life stuff that just goes for mood or effect, things happen in these stories. Whether it is an English woman living in Dubai with her husband for his job who inadvertently finds herself being courted by another man or a husband caught kissing a neighbor in the kitchen by his wife the shock of which actually causes his wife to die from an unknown heart defect, the stories feel complete.
Then there is the story “Comma” about two young girls, about twelve. The one who narrates, Kitty, lives in a solid, middle-class household. Her friend, Mary Joplin, who lives just across the street, is from a family of dubious status. But Kitty is friends with Mary and the pair slip away from the parental gaze to go wandering through the surrounding neighborhood. Mary discovers the house of a rich family across a field. At this house they have something that should be a baby but there is something wrong with it. Our narrator and Mary sneak over and spy to try and figure out what the adults refuse to talk about. And while we think the story is about this baby it is really about the relationship between our narrator and Mary and then finally on Mary’s low-class status and how that ultimately affects her life. We catch a glimpse of the two in middle age, Kitty recognizing Mary on the street one day:
It passed through my mind, you’d need to have known her well to have known her now, you’d need to have put in the hours with her, watching her sideways. Her skin seemed swagged, loose, and there was nothing much to read in Mary’s eyes. I expected, perhaps, a pause, a hyphen, a space where a question might follow . . . Is that you Kitty? She stooped over her buggy, settled her laundry with a pat, as if to reassure it. Then she turned back to me and gave me a bare acknowledgement: a single nod, a full stop.
Or the story “Winter Break” in which a husband and wife on a winter holiday, riding through the night in a taxi to their distant hotel are disturbed when the car hits something. The driver bundles it up in a tarp and puts it in the trunk. The couple think it is a goat which they have seen running around everywhere. But they discover something else when they reach their destination.
These stories are about normal people in their everyday lives. Husbands and wives, friends, coworkers, getting on as best they can, scared, alone, confused, making mistakes, trying to figure things out. The most exotic person is a writer in the story “How Shall I Know You?” who is invited by a book group to visit and give a talk. And while the story seems to be all about the writer, like “Comma” it ends up being about something else. Something bigger, that lifts it up from the ordinary to the extraordinary, if not for the characters in the story, at least for the reader who gets to see the big picture.
I’ve only ever read Mantel’s Cromwell books so I was expecting some interesting narrative stylings in the stories. But they are all pretty straightforward. I was not disappointed by that because I don’t need stylistic dazzling in my short stories; they aren’t long enough for me to get used to something unusual and by the time I’d get my bearings I’m afraid the story would be over and I’d be wondering what just happened. This is not to say that Mantel’s style is plain. She uses various structural elements that we are all familiar with: flash backs, foreshadowing, story breaks that indicate the passage of time. What I really liked about many of these stories is that often they were about something other than I initially thought they were about. And those moments in the story when I realized there was something else going on were very pleasurable.
So don’t be put off from this collection by all the press and all the controversy over the titular story. These stories are good reading.
This week’s book picks include entries from Unit Editions, Princeton Architectural Press and Ridinghouse. See all the books and images after the jump.
Type Plus Edited by Adrian Shaughnessy and Tony Brook / Published by Unit Editions 320 Pages / Paperback
Type Plus investigates the practice of combining typography with images to increase effectiveness, potency and visual impact. Today, graphic designers use type in partnership with graphic elements in ways that turbo charge meaning and impact.
By focusing on a host of contemporary practitioners from around the world, Type Plus creates a picture of a new dynamism in typographic expression. The era of type as a passive, semi-invisible holder of meaning is long gone.Book includes interviews with Non-Format, TwoPoints.Net and Erik Brandt.
Abbott Miller: Design and Content By Abbott Miller, Rick Poynor and Ellen Lupton / Published by Princeton Architectural Press 272 Pages / 8.6″x10.9″
Abbott Miller: Design and Content is the first monograph on the award-winning graphic designer known for his innovative work at Pentagram, where as a partner he leads a team designing books, magazines, catalogs, identities, exhibitions, and editorial projects, creating work that is often concerned with the cultural role of design and the public life of the written word. Collaborating with performers, curators, artists, photographers, writers, publishers, corporations, and institutions, Miller has created a unique practice that alternates between the printed page and the physical space of exhibitions. In his work as an editor and writer he pioneered the concept of designer-as-author, both roles he assumes for this beautifully produced and lavishly illustrated edition. Miller presents his work as a catalog of design strategies, emerging from the unique circumstances of form and content. Four categories: Books, Exhibitions, Magazines, and Identity provide insight into Miller’s influences and working process while showcasing his best designs.
Infographic Designers’ Sketchbooks By Steven Heller and Rick Landers / Published by Princeton Architectural Press 351 Pages / 9.3″x12.1″
Infographic Designers Sketchbooks, more than fifty of the world s leading graphic designers and illustrators open up their private sketchbooks to offer a rare glimpse of their creative processes. Emphasizing idea-generating methods, from doodles and drawings to three-dimensional and digital mock-ups, this revelatory collection is the first to go inside designers studios to reveal the art and craft behind infographic design.
Abstract Vaudeville: The Work of Rose English By Guy Brett / Designed by Sarah Schrauwen / Published by Ridinghouse 432 Pages
This comprehensive monograph documents Rose English’s 40-year career to date, including legendary ephemeral, site-specific performances and large-scale spectaculars.
Accompanying many rare archival photographs and performance scripts, a major essay by Guy Brett surveys the artist’s work and life alongside a collection of interviews with some of English’s collaborators.
Disclosure: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, we will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, we only recommend products or services we use personally and believe will add value to our readers.
At the dawn of the 20th Century, thousands of immigrants are arriving in the promised land of New York City. Sarah has always dreamed of America, a land of freedom and possibility. From her small village she stares at a postcard of the Statue of Liberty and imagines the Lady beckoning to her. When Sarah and her mother finally journey across the Atlantic, though, tragedy strikes—and Sarah finds herself being sent back before she even sets foot in the country.
Yet just as Sarah is ushered onto the boat that will send her away from the land of her dreams, she makes a life or death decision. She daringly jumps off the back of the boat, and swims as hard as she can toward Liberty Island, and a new life.
Her leap of faith leads her to an unbelievable hiding place: the Statue of Liberty itself. Now Sarah must find a way to the mainland, while avoiding the night watchman and scavenging enough food food to survive. When a surprising ally helps bring her to Manhattan, Sarah finds herself facing new dangers and a life on her own. Will she ever find a true home in America?
From acclaimed author Robert Sharenow comes this heartfelt novel of resilience, hope, and discovering a family where you least expect it.
Robert was kind enough to swing by The Pageturn and answer some questions for us!
What inspired you to write this story? Do you know the story of how your ancestors came to America?
One of my great-grandfathers came to this country with very little money or possessions. But he was a button-hole maker and owned his own tailoring scissors. It amazes me that he was able to forge a life for himself in a brand new country with such meager beginnings. I was also fascinated by the fact that the first immigrant processed at Ellis Island was an Irish teenager named Annie Moore who was traveling with her siblings to meet her parents who were already in the U.S. I couldn’t imagine sending my own children on such a daring journey. And, of course, there is the Statue of Liberty itself, which has always loomed large as a powerful symbol of the positive promise of America around the world. The exact moment of inspiration came when I re-read Emma Lazarus’ poem about the statue that described her as “Mother of Exiles.” The idea of a motherless immigrant girl and the Statue of Liberty becoming like mother and child set the whole thing in motion.
What kind of research did you do for this novel?
I always read history books and novels set in the time period I’m writing about. But for this one, I was also able to walk the streets of Chinatown and the Lower East Side of New York and see many of the places described in the book. Of course, I also visited landmarks like the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty, but there are also lots of ordinary 19th century factory buildings and apartments that have changed very little too.
Would you have wanted to live in New York at the time Sarah lived? Why or why not?
I would be fascinated to experience life at that time, to see, touch and feel what it was like. It was a time of great hope and progress, but also of great struggle. Times were harder then. Scores of children lived in poverty and on the streets. There were brutal living and work conditions for poor people and much more overt and institutionalized prejudice than there is today. So, I definitely prefer our modern New York. The Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side of Manhattan gives you a wonderful sense of what every day life was like for new immigrants at that time. And it was not at all luxurious or easy.
Have you ever been to the Statue of Liberty? If so, do you remember the first time you visited?
Yes. I’ve been a couple of times. My parents took me when I was 7 years old and it is one of the fondest memories of my childhood. I remember being completely awed by her. I still get a feeling of wonder whenever I see the Statue of Liberty, even from afar. When I visited more recently during the writing of the book, I was amazed at the incredible variety of people from so many different countries, races and religions. The power and reach of the Statue’s symbolism has only grown since Sarah’s time.
Do you have a favorite neighborhood or place that Sarah visits in the novel?
I’ve always loved New York’s Chinatown. And it remains a very distinct and exciting neighborhood. You can walk the crowded sidewalks and not hear much English and feel like you are lost in a foreign country. The streets are alive with sights and smells of the food vendors and shops, and the signs are written in colorful Chinese characters. And, as described in the book, it’s very close to the Jewish Lower East Side and Little Italy, so you get a sense of just what a melting pot New York was and continues to be.
In honor of the 40th anniversary of Austin City Limits, the longest running live music show on television, we spoke to author Tracey E. W. Laird, author of Austin City Limits: A History, about the challenges the show has faced, the ways that it has adapted to a rapidly changing music industry, and what makes ACL perennially appealing to viewers.
What is the biggest challenge that Austin City Limits (ACL) has faced over the years?
One of the show’s biggest challenges for the first 25 years was funding. In the ups and downs of the public broadcasting world, largely dependent on fundraising and philanthropy, Austin PBS affiliate KLRU could never be certain that the show’s current year would not be the last. This anxiety peaked during the mid-to-late 1990s with a change in structure for PBS program distribution. Stations that once received Austin City Limits as part of their basic subscription package suddenly had to pay extra for the show. To make matters worse, a PBS competitor, Sessions at W. 54th, launched around this time, with slicker production and full Sony underwriting (I still recall seeing Beck on that show, where his performance was interspersed with footage of him walking down the street, looking hip in an all-white suit). Ultimately, for reasons I talk about in the book, Sessions survived only 3 years. That whole crisis time — when Austin newspapers ran stories about whether or not Austin City Limits would endure — led to a major turning point when the people behind Austin City Limits made the radical decision to redefine its modus operandi.
How has ACL managed to transcend the many changes that have taken place in the way we listen to and discover music?
ACL producers made a conscious decision right around the 25th anniversary to operate differently, recognizing that changes in the television industry and in the way people engage with music demanded flexibility and openness to new ideas. The alternative was obsolescence. They very deliberately articulated the core vision and mission for the show in broad musical terms that crossed a wide range of genres. Sincerity and quality are characteristics that might apply equally to, say, Esperanza Spaulding and Brad Paisley, Grizzly Bear and Ladysmith Black Mambazo. They also conceived ACL as a musical experience that includes the core television broadcast but expands outside it as well. Festival, venue, DVD, website, and so on, are all predicated on an outlook that is open to building on that core in new ways without diluting it.
How are the live performances on Austin City Limits different from other live performances?
That “live-ness” distinguishes ACL from other examples of televised musical performance. It goes back to the show’s beginnings. Its originators were motivated mainly by their own transcendent experiences seeing live music. Trying to capture that experience has been the central goal for Austin City Limits, despite any shifts in equipment, style, or genre. That differs from the central goal for most television productions, normally to produce a highly polished end result that fits the time constraints for commercial broadcasts. They require performers to repeat a song, sometimes multiple times, to allow the best possible camera angles and to tailor a song to fit time parameters shaped by commercial rather than artistic concerns. ACL, by contrast, lets its cameras and mics capture the music that has always been center. It is so unusual to see a televised performance unfolding according to the energy and communication between musicians and a live, interactive audience. It’s so simple, yet so rare.
What is your favorite ACL performance, and why?
If I had to pick one it would probably be Tom Waits in 1979 (Season 4). Most of all, it’s a fantastic performance, but it also represents an early turning point for Austin City Limits when it sloughed off any bounded, over-determined expectations for who might appear on its stage. It also shows how important the show’s PBS context is for its long and momentous history – no other media outlet in the United States would have aired an hour of Tom Waits. It is a treasure. But, then, over the years there are so many episodes about which I might say the same. Fats Domino is another one I will never forget. Oftentimes my favorite episode is the one I’ve just seen. I recently watched an episode with Raphael Saadiq that I had missed — they had it streaming on the “acltv” website — and I was excited about his music in a way that I wouldn’t have been if I had just heard a studio recording. I had a similar experience last year when I saw a DVD of a performance by Susan Tedeschi. This happens over and over again with Austin City Limits.
What’s one of your favorite behind-the-scenes stories about ACL?
I love the stories the crew tells about their work, like when sound engineer David Hough explained how they cover up the tally lights on the cameras so that performers never know which one is feeding into the master cut. A little trick like that helps insure that the performer stays focused on performing for the audience in the room. I also love to hear crew members talk about particular shows that stand out to them. To hear them talk underscores the very personal nature of musical performance; a performance that might leave me flat can deeply move someone else. Everyone there loves the work, so it’s a joy to listen to a staff member reflect. To return to Hough, for instance, when I interviewed him he went into a kind of reverie talking about his approach to mixing the sound for a given show. He’s a wizard – the end results sound good whether you listened through a mono TV speaker in 1976 (as in the first full season) or a digital 5.1 Dolby surround sound. He has been with the show that long, and listening to a wizard talk about his magic is fascinating. Many other crew members are equally inspirational to talk with. Outside that, there are well-traveled stories, the most famous of which describes how the electricity went off just as a performance (by Kris Kristofferson) was about to begin. 800 or so people filed down six flights of stairs and out the building via flashlights and cigarette lighters, amiably singing “London Homesick Blues” together. Anecdotes don’t get much better than that.
Featured image: Night view of Austin skyline and Lady Bird Lake as seen from Lou Neff Point. Photo by LoneStarMike. CC BY 3.0n via Wikimedia Commons.
Author of the book Night, Elie Wiesel, in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech stated, “I remember: it happened yesterday, or eternities ago.” This quote holds true for many who have survived terrible tragedies or traumatic events in their lives. Often, survivorship and healing after trauma are long and personalized journeys, individualized paths of learning how to live a meaningful life after surviving trauma or tragedy. Each person’s life trajectory is unique, and however painful that journey may be, hope, renewal, and healing are possible.
The young, frightened mother who huddled in the basement with her infant during a tornado as debris swirled around them; the young man who survived a tragic automobile accident in which friends did not survive; or the child who witnessed a terrifying shooting in her neighborhood – these are all examples of individuals who have survived traumatic events. To hurt emotionally after experiencing a tragedy simply means that you are human. To process the traumatic event, heal emotionally, and move forward in life may be difficult, but it is achievable. When disaster or trauma strike, the immediate impact and after-effects of the event can feel intensely frightening, anxiety-provoking, and often life-changing. Earthquakes, fires, tornadoes, hurricanes, tsunamis — as well as bombings, shootings, genocide, sexual assaults, domestic violence, child abuse, and traffic accidents — these natural disasters and manmade traumatic events can invoke feelings of fear, anger, anxiety, and grief. Many times, victims and those around them feel a sense of helplessness and hopelessness, as they could not control the traumatic event nor did they have a way to prevent it from happening. They may blame themselves for the disaster or traumatic incident, even though they are not to blame. When feasible, victims and observers of trauma need to feel safe and protected immediately after the trauma occurs to help them regain a sense of safety after feeling so threatened in such a personal and direct sense.
Children, adolescents, and adults may all experience the impact of trauma. Some people may be easily startled after hearing the sound of cars backfiring or doors slamming. Others may have terrifying nightmares or immobilizing flashbacks of the traumatic events during the day, sometimes when it is least expected. Seeing images on television or online that remind victims of the trauma may be difficult for victims to view. Each person’s experience, and each person’s reaction to that experience is unique.
Immediately after a tragedy occurs, people may experience acute stress that is a temporary period of adjustment after surviving a trauma. If symptoms such as hypervigilance, flashbacks, and nightmares continue for a prolonged time period, they may be experiencing symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress. These traumatic events may alter the course of peoples’ lives and can be emotionally painful- but working toward feeling better after surviving a traumatic event is important. Traumatic life experiences can alter peoples’ lives and can be extremely emotionally painful. It is normal to feel emotional pain after something very frightening happens. Though it may take time, recovery is achievable. Everyone’s healing journey is unique, and is customized to his or her own circumstances including the impact the tragedy or traumatic event has on his or her life.
After trauma, some people may seek the comfort and support of friends or family members. Others may find solace in spirituality or their chosen faith. Some may benefit from meditation, yoga, exercise, or spending time in nature. For those creatively inclined, creative outlets such as storytelling, drama, music, art, or writing may be beneficial to themselves and other trauma survivors by releasing and sometimes, when desired, sharing their trauma related story to assist them and other survivors in moving forward toward healing and personal growth. Some may benefit from becoming advocates for other victims of trauma or may find meaning through efforts targeted at preventing future tragedies, disasters, or traumatic events from happening again in the future. Yet others may choose various therapeutic interventions with the help of a caring mental health professional.
Every person who has survived a disaster or traumatic event has a personal story of survivorship. And every person deserves the chance to process that story in his or her own unique way, in his or her own time. Healing from trauma is individualized as well, and each person finds what promotes healing for him or her. Sometimes a goal is to lessen, soften, or subdue traumatic memories so people can live today. Seeking solace, comfort, and sometimes professional help when needed after trauma can be beneficial- and can help people move forward toward a healthier, happier, meaningful life.
by Pat Zietlow Miller, illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf.
We first read this absolute gem of a picture book last year during the CYBILs. Fell so utterly in love with it—the lot of us—that a library copy wouldn’t do; we had to have our own. Huck and Rilla were overjoyed when I pulled it out this morning. Sophie’s instant bond with a butternut squash is utterly believable, and not just because Huck formed a similar attachment once upon a time. “Bernice” becomes Sophie’s best friend and closest confidant, all through a bright and beautiful autumn. But as winter approaches, Bernice begins to get a bit squishy about the edges. Sophie’s parents make gentle attempts to convince Sophie it’s time to let her friend go, but since their suggestions involve treating the squash like, you know, a squash, Sophie’s having none of it. Her own solution is sweet and heartwarming, and it makes my kids sigh that contented sigh that means everything has come out exactly right.
Color names have been investigated in almost overwhelming detail, but it is not the etymology but usage that tends to “throw us off the scent.” One can have no quarrel with the statement that different communities will use a certain term differently, for the basis of comparison may be different (so Francis A. Wood, a great specialist in historical semantics). Wood cited the case of “smeared.” Some people associate “smeared” with “dirty” (hence “brown; black”), while others with “oily” (hence “shiny” and even “bright; yellow; white”). It is harder to agree that “in primitive times colors were not carefully distinguished,” because we don’t know what “primitive times” means. The centuries of Classical Greek, Old English, or some remote epoch from which we have no documents and about whose language habits we can judge only from those of modern “primitive peoples” studied by missionaries and anthropologists? Also, how “careful” should one be in distinguishing colors? The idea that some general notion like “smeared” can diverge and yield opposite meanings is fully acceptable. We are in trouble when a word displays seemingly incompatible meanings in the same language or in closely related languages.
Metaphors do not confuse us, and therefore we accept the idiom green years. We can also let greenhorns and our acquaintances who are still green behind the ears enjoy their youthful inexperience. Perhaps green in greencheese, the moon’s main ingredient in folklore, does mean “fresh,” as I have read, but I still feel some discomfort when an Icelandic saga mentions green meat, green fish, and green butter. In the sagas, green also means “safe, excellent” (and green roads in Old Germanic referred to good roads devoid of danger), so perhaps not fresh (unsalted?) meat, fish, and butter are meant but products of exceptional quality, something one can eat without fearing for one’s health?
Red yolk, occurring in Old Icelandic, also amazes me (in English, yolk has the root of yellow), and so does red gold, a collocation used in the epic poetry all over Europe. Does red mean “scintillating” here, or do we not know something about ancient minting? And how did red gold become a formula in several traditions? Some such phrases have been explained, but the explanations do not always sound fully convincing. In dealing with color names one cannot be too careful. Etymology is of little help here. For example, green has the same root as grow (thus, green is the color of vegetation) and cats have green eyes; yet we still don’t quite understand why jealousy, if we can trust Shakespeare, is a green-eyed monster. Likewise, red is, from an etymological point of view, the color of ore (as follows from Russian ruda “ore”; stress on the second syllable), but coins were not made from ore.
Brown is no less opaque than green or red. Older scholars traced brown to the root of burn (Old Engl. brinnan ~ birnan, Gothic brinnan, and so forth). Allegedly, that is why brown can refer to both dark and bright shades. But brown and burn are hardly related, and, even if they were, those who spoke Old English and Old Icelandic would not have been aware of the ancient root. As mentioned in Part 1 of this essay, brown horses or possibly shields of Germanic speakers seem to have impressed the Romance world so strongly that the word for “brown” made its way into the speech of the French, Italians, and others. In the Germanic languages, shields and occasionally helmets and swords were called brown (= “shining”). This sense returned from Romance to English, which has burnish from French and the verb to brown; both mean “to polish.” In some parts of the German-speaking world (predominantly in the south), braun “brown” means “violet”; Luther used it in this sense. In medieval German literature, compounds turned up that can be glossed as “scarlet-brown” and “black-brown.” Their second components must have emphasized their sheen.
In the past, several distinguished language historians thought, and some of their followers still think that brown “shining” and brown “violet” are homonyms, both etymologically distinct from brun (long u, as in Engl. woo) “brown.” Fortunately, there has been no agreement among them, and this explanation has not become dogma, but the idea that braun “violet” owes its existence to Latin prunum “plum” (hence Engl. prune) has gained wide acceptance. For example, it was endorsed by Elmar Seebold, the latest editor of Kluge’s German etymological dictionary, a deservedly authoritative source. According to the rule known as Occam’s razor, entities should not be multiplied (with regard to etymology, I discussed it briefly in the post on qualm). Jacob Grimm suggested that, in dealing with ancient homonyms, it is advisable to treat them as going back to the same root. Given the baffling variety of senses the main color names typically show, it is perhaps more prudent to stay with one basic word that branched off in many unpredictable ways.
What else has been recorded as brown? If the color brown had magical connotations, Germanic shields, swords, and horses may have inspired awe and fear rather than admiration. In the broad Slavic-Iranian belt, brown was a common epithet of stallions and deities. There it was obviously not borrowed from Germanic. In German baroque literature, the phrase braune Nacht “brown night” appeared, and poets began to speak about the brown shadows of night. This usage has been explained as a loan from Romance. Even if so, today we don’t think of night or shadows as brown (compare Byron’s clear obscure, an English version of Italian chiaroscuro).
During the Renaissance, brown competed with black as the color of mourning, especially with reference to mourning women. It suggested merging with the background, being somber, unattractive, inconspicuous. We note with surprise how many Ancient Greek names began with Phryn- “brown” (Phryniskos, Phrynion, and the like). They remind one of Jude the Obscure. Didn’t they originally refer to the insignificance or low status of the bearers? In Part 1, I wrote that the family name Brown ~ Braune needs an explanation but was reminded of Black, White, and Green. Black and White can also be accounted for in several ways. In the population of blonds, would “white” have become a distinguishing feature? To my mind, brown as an allusion to the color of the person’s hair does not look persuasive. How many Greeks had brown hair? If their rarity is the origin of the moniker, then what was so special about Germanic speakers with chestnut-colored hair?
Perhaps an especially revealing phrase is Dante’s sangue bruno “brown blood,” said about gore, that is, blood shed and clotted or simply clotted. English speakers had the word dreor “gore, flowing blood.” It is still alive as the root of the adjective dreary, originally “bloody, gory, grievous, sorrowful,” later “dismal, gloomy.” Homer called blood porphyros “purple” (or “crimson”?), but he also used this adjective when he described descending death. These bridges between “brown” and “red” will perhaps allow us to understand the strange predilection for brown waves (as in Beowulf), wine-colored sea (as in Homer), and the colors of the planet Saturn, which was called by the ancients black, brownish, and fiery. One thing can already be said now: in the history of the Indo-European languages, “brown” designated both a dark and a bright color. Our modern gloss “brown” does it less than full justice.
Question: Can anyone say why Hitler’s SA adopted brown shirts as its uniform? Did the color have any symbolic value?
To be continued.
Image credits: (1) Moon with an unhealthy greenish coating, modified from Michael K. Fairbanks’s photo. Image by Naive cynic, CC-BY-SA-3.0-MIGRATED; GFDL-WITH-DISCLAIMERS via Wikimedia Commons. (2) Illustration from The Innocence of Father Brown, public domain via Project Gutenberg Australia.
Is Panem modeled after ruthless dictatorships of the past?
Is the harsh world of the Grimm's more than a reflection of the past?
Does children's literature, in books and movies, bring the past into the present?
Can childhood stories open the doors of the mind to the present -- and the future?
High Stakes of YA Dystopia.
In earlier eras, there were adult works of literature set in dystopian milieus... they includeThe Trial, Brave New World, Animal Farm, 1984, Childhood's End, The Quiet Ameriican, The Naked and the Dead, A Rumor of War, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Farenheit 451, All Quiet On the Western Front, The Spy Who Came In From The Cold and many more.
To one degree or another, these books are classics. And like children's and young adult (YA) books of our current era, many were reinvented as theatre and movies.
Today, we seem to have a run of dystopian-centered books and films for young adults (YA). Many are in the form of a series and are followed by films -- also in series. The books, although some may be well written, do not pretend to be literature. Rather, the books, like the films, seem primarily designed to be popular and succeed in the marketplace.
Controversy has followed...most of the films are characterized by great violence; and they all seem to have teen age protagonists who are themselves commiting violence (usually for survival).
Crossover. I don't know if the term YA, and the definition (12-18 year olds) came from marketeers or librarians, or both. I do know that the lines have been blurred, with children and adults both crossing over into the realm of YA.
I doubt that there will be clear lines in the future. The finacial stakes are too high. YA books and movies are a multi -billion dollar business.
Personally, I don't care if adults read YA books. Hopefully, they do so with discernment.
I do care about the amount of over-the-top violence that children are subjected to in YA movies.
For any child, there is a huge difference in the impact found in the brief mention of Gretel pushing the murderous witch into the oven, when compared to the long, unrelenting, realistic, hardcore violence (supported by thunderous sound and music) of the Ring movies.
Hopefully, Alice In Wonderland, Winnie-the-Pooh, Snow White, HisDark Materials, Tales from the Brothers Grimm, and other classics -- themselves often fraught with danger, fear, and violent events -- will continue as the main source for bringing the past -- or the future -- into Children's minds.
Dystopia and the Grimms
The world of the Grimm's fairy tales is filled with fearful events, dark forests, curses by evil witches, and cruelty -- dystopia, but always relieved by magic, marvels, courage, beauty and happy endings...
"The unsparing savegry of stories like the Robber Bridegroom is a sharp reminder that fairy tales belong to the childhood of culture as much as the culture of childhood...they capture anxieties and fantasies that have deep roots in childhood experience"- Maria Tatar,The Grimm Reader: Classic Tales of the Brothers Grimm.
"It is worth noting that the lives of all people in the land of the Grimm's was in was in constant turmoil and change during the time that the Grimm's collected, wrote, and published their books." - Seth Lerer, Children's Literature, A Reader's History from Aesop to Harry Potter.
The illustration from The Robber Bridegroom is by John B. Gruelle
"'Well, dear little children. How in the world did you get here? Just come right in, and you can stay with me. You will come to no harm in my house.' She took them by the hand and led them into her house...The old woman had only pretended to be kind." - Hansel and Gretel meet the Wicked Witch
"For children in their most impressionable years, there is in fantasy, the highest of stimulating and educational powers." -Arthur Rackham
Kaitlin Jenkin's has two blogs, She Speaks Bark and Pet Parent.Kaitlin has a background of working in many dog related jobs, including foster care and 7 years as a shelter worker. She has two adopted dogs (seen on the left), Bear and Scooter. She recently wrote an excellent and informative review of C.A. Wulff and A.A. Weddle's book for dog owners, Finding Fido. Here are excerpts...
"The thought of Bear or Scooter going missing, or being stolen is one that I don’t let my mind entertain. To say I’d be devastated doesn’t even begin to cover it, and I know you all feel the same about your pets! Would you know what to do if your pet suddenly went missing? Where to begin? What to do first?
Finding Fido is essentially a Pet Parent’s guide to preventing the loss of a pet, as well as a guide on exactly what steps to take should that awful moment ever happen to you. Authors C.A Wulffand A.A.Weddle are the administrators of the Lost & Found Ohio Pets service and they collaborated on this helpful guide in order to address the sad reality of so many lost pets in America....
If our pets were to become lost, it would be absolutely devastating. We may not even be able to think logically in order to act effectively to work towards their return. That’s why this book is great- it’s literally a step by step guide to finding your lost pet. Full of resources for Pet Parents to utilize, and all at the turn of a page.
... I think that Finding Fido is a great read for all Pet Parents and pet lovers. If you’re a first time Pet Parent or a long time, seasoned Pet Parent, there are tips and tricks in here that will be helpful to you! Everyone should read the sections entitled ‘Before You Lose A Pet‘" ...
Adults Continue to Cross the Borders of Imagination Into Y.A.
As part of a post that I wrote in our September blog about the trend of adults reading Y.A. books, I quoted journalist (Atlantic, Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe) Ruth Graham'sarticle in Slate with this headline: "Read whatever you want. But you should be embarrassed when what you're reading was written for children."
Graham's article provoked substantial controversy including a very thoughtful rebuttal, in Hairpin, by journalist and author(Save The Date ) Jen Doll: The Trouble With Reader-Shaming: A Y.A.Book List Here are excerpts from Jen Doll's rebuttal:
"The great debate over whether grownups should read young adult literature—and further, what the nature of reading should be—has come up again, thanks to a piece in Slate telling adults they should feel ashamed about reading books for kids...
"What the piece itself rails against—that Y.A. offers pat, easy or at the very least "satisfying" solutions aimed at kids and doesn’t make adults think—could be said for the very type of internet writing it embodies. Here, precisely, is how you should feel, it says. Here are the answers, tied up in a bow: You be embarrassed for wasting your time reading Y.A., because Y.A. is not for adults, and you should be reading something appropriate to your age. It is easy and not challenging. You should not be "substituting maudlin teen dramas for the complexity of great adult literature." This is an argument that speaks from a place of truth and rightness, or at least, intends to; there is little room for nuance.
Yet, nuance persists. There are many, many factors that go into what makes something complex, great, or "appropriate to one's age," and most of all this depends on who is reading it—not based in age, because age categorizations do not always match prescribed reading levels; just ask any kid sneaking illicit tomes off her parents' bookshelf because all "her" books have already been devoured—but based in who that person is, what they want, and what they bring to the table..."
Update: Jen Dollis now writing a column of YA book reviews for the venerable New York Times: "Y.A. Crossover". The Times they are a changing. Congratulations, Jen Doll.
The Photo is of Ms Doll. The two books pictured are from Ms Doll's Y.A. Book List.
KidLitosphere is the best source that I have found for locating children's literature blogs. KidLitosphere has helped many readers find their way to these pages. Here is an excerpt form their home page..."Some of the best books being published today are children’s and young adult titles, well-written and engaging books that capture the imagination. Many of us can enjoy them as adults, but more importantly, can pass along our appreciation for books to the next generation by helping parents, teachers, librarians and others to find wonderful books, promote lifelong reading, and present literacy ideas."
Geno is retiring. An 8 year old German Shepherd, Geno is highly regarded by the Kane County Sheriff's Office for his loyalty, courage and intelligence. Here are excerpts from his bio as posted by the Sheriff's Office:
"Geno has served with the KCSO since 2009. Deputy Bill Gatske, Geno’s handler, has served with the KCSO for 15 years and Geno will continue to live with Gatske and his family in retirement. Over his career, Geno has... performed numerous dignitary and presidential protective sweeps and participated in sweeps before games at Soldier Field in Chicago along with conducting countless explosivedetection searches, suspect apprehensions and missing person searches. Geno may be most remembered, though, for his appearances with local area children where he taught the value of policing and reinforced the fact that law enforcement officers exists to serve their community"...
The cost of replacing Gino with his special skills in explosives detection, tracking, missing person searches, and more is very expensive. Once again, Planet Dog Foundation is providing support for a service dog. They have come together with theSpirit of Blue Foundation to award the Kane County Sherrif’s Office a $12,500 grant to acquire and train a new explosives detection K9 to replace the very special Geno.
The Planet Dog Foundation has awarded over a million dollars in funding to support dogs helping people in need.
“We dogs are happy and help each other because love is the most important part of our lives. When you give love,” she said, “You bring out love in others. If we come to Planet Earth, and people spend time with us, there will be fewer lonely people and more happy people.” - Miss Merrie, Queen of the Dogs
“But Mole stood still a moment, held in thought. As one wakened suddenly from a beautiful dream, who struggles to recall it, but can recapture nothing but a dim sense of the beauty in it, the beauty! Till that, too, fades away in its turn, and the dreamer bitterly accepts the hard, cold waking and all its penalties.” -- Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows Illustration by E.H. Shepherd
Snow Valley Heroes, A Christmas Tale at the Independent Publishers of New England Exhibits (IPNE)
If you are a New England librarian and headed to Boxborough, MA, for the NELAConvention (October19-21), we invite you to visit the Independent Publishers of New England (IPNE) exhibit where you will find Snow Valley Heroes, A Christmas Tale.
If you are a New England book lover and are headed to the Boston Book Festival (BFF) 0n October 25, we invite you to the Independent Publishers of New England (IPNE) exhibit where you will also find Snow Valley Heroes, A Christmas Tale.
Children's Literary Salon...New York Public Library
Saturday, November 1, 2014, 2PM, Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, South Court Auditorium...Speaker: Howard Scherry...Hosted by Elizabeth Bird
Margaret Wise Brown & Antoine de Saint-Exupery: Parallels in Their Life, Comparison in Their Literature...free admission
The Past is Always Present
UPDATE: Y.A. Distopian Movies Keep Coming -- And Making Money...Variations and Reinterpretations of Books of the Past by Movies are Omnipresent ...
No one is safe...not family, nor friends, nor any of the good folks in Katniss' "hometown" -- District 12. Empire. Oppression, and teen warriors again prevail as the Hunger Games story of resistance and survival continues. Dystopia will mean box office dollars when this third episode (there will be one more) of the Hunger Games, Mockingjay-Part1, opens in theaters worldwide, starting on November 19 -- November 21 in the USA.
For some perspective on the Hunger Games series, take a look at this review from Salon by Andrew O'Hehir "Whose Revolution Is It It?"
"Much of the genius of the “Hunger Games” franchise lies in its portrayal of a dystopian future society that lacks any specific ideological character. Panem, the deep-future dictatorship that has apparently replaced present-day America after an unspecified combination of civil war, social meltdown and ecological catastrophe, has the semiotic appearance of fascism – white-helmeted storm troopers and barbed-wire walls – but is really more like an old-fashioned feudal society, concerned entirely with maintaining its internal order. In reviewing the first “Hunger Games” movie, I observed that the relentless media onslaught of the Information Age has been rolled back, in author Suzanne Collins’ fictional universe, to one TV network and one reality show. Politics has been stripped down too: There is nothing except Empire and Resistance."
The Hunger Games Films have thus far grossed over 1.5 billion dollars
The critics were generally hard on Divergent, but the Box office has been excellent - over 288 million dollars thus far - and two sequels will follow. Based on a very popular Y.A. series by Veronica Roth. Here is an excerpt from a review by Brad Keefe in ColumbusAlive.
... “Divergent” is an adaptation of a popular young adult fiction trilogy featuring a smart, underdog heroine who fights against a corrupt power system in a dystopian future.
If you haven’t read the books, you’ll see “Divergent” as a convoluted “Hunger Games” knock-off. If you have, you’ll find the production values and performances are solid. But the movie is still convoluted.
In the crumbling ruins of a near-future Chicago, a post-war society has established peace by creating five “factions” of the population based on character traits (brains, brawn, compassion, etc.). Teens are tested for their aptitude in these fields, but they can choose their own faction (as long as they don’t mind leaving their family).
It’s like society based on a high-school clique system, so it resonates with teens (along with themes of non-conformity). And our heroine Tris (Shailene Woodley) embodies that moment of 'what do I do with my life' confusion." ....................................
Earlier this Fall, we had The Maze Runner, another YA movie set in a YA Dystopia. In less than a month, the Maze Runner has grossed over 83 Million dollars.
Also based on a successful book series (by James Dasher), it was described by Ben Kienigsberg in the International New York Times as a "perfectly serviceable entry in the young-adult dystopian sweepstakes. It combines elements of “Lord of the Flies” with the Minotaur and Orpheus myths, but it plays as something closer to “The Hunger Games” experienced through a dissociative fog. Much suspense comes from wondering which favored Hollywood twist the movie will employ...." .............................
Even if one adjustedthe figures for inflation etc, I doubt if the combined monies made by the books of Anderson, Dodson, St. Exuprey, the Brothers Grimm et al could compare with the box office receipts of these Y.A. movies.
More violence arrives in time for Christmas. The Hobbit, Battle of the 5 Armies opens on December 17. Here is a link to the trailer: Battle
If you've had enough of YA Dystopian Violence there is good news for children's films...
Boxtrolls is doing well and the Tale of Princess Kaguya, from Ghibli Studios is coming. Advance reports on Princess Kaguya suggest another outstanding film from the studio that gave us Howl's Moving Castle and Spirited Away.
Building Blocks in the past...Minecraft today and tomorrow
In case you were unaware of the scope of Minecraft, here is the opening of the excellent and comprehensive article by Stuart Dredge in the Guardian. The article is entitled: Minecraft movie will be 'large-budget' but unlikely to arrive before 2017. The article also contains videos that will take you into the digital world of Minecraft.
"What is Minecraft? It’s a game, obviously: one that its developer Mojang has sold nearly 54m copies of across computers, consoles and mobile devices so far.
But Minecraft is also an educational tool in schools through the MinecraftEduinitiative, and the driver for Block by Block, a partnership with the United Nations Human Settlements Programme to get young people involved in planning public urban spaces, starting with a pilot in Kenya.
Minecraft is also one of YouTube’s most popular video categories – right up there with music – fuelling hugely popular channels..."
Amazon-Hachette Battle Continues with Authors United
Power, money, books, writers and control are all involved as this battlle continues...Here are excerpts from a New York Times article by David Streitfeld.
"Amazon is at war with Hachette, and it sometimes seems as if it has always been that way.
As a negotiating tool in the battle, which is over the price of e-books, Amazon is discouraging its customers from buying the publisher’s printed books. After six months of being largely cut off from what is by far the largest bookstore in the country, many Hachette writers are fearful and angry. So...they are trying a new tactic to get the ir work unshackled.
Authors United, a group of Hachette writers and their allies, is appealing directly to Amazon’s board. It is warning the board that the reputation of the retailer, and of the directors themselves, is at risk.
UPDATE...This battle has expanded to include many prominent writers who are not published by Hachette. David Streifeld continues his coverage in what has become a series in the New York Times. Here is an updated excerpt...
"Now, hundreds of other writers, including some of the world’s most distinguished, are joining the coalition. Few if any are published by Hachette. And they have goals far broader than freeing up the Hachette titles. They want the Justice Department to investigate Amazon for illegal monopoly tactics..."
The Hero of Color City
This film opened in early October to mediocre reviews,but very young kids seem to like it.You be the judge. Here is the trailer: Hero of Color City
Complimentary Holiday Dog Books for Therapy Reading Dogs…
Christmas is coming and Barking Planet Productions is sending complimentary reader copies of ourholiday book,Snow Valley Heroes, A Christmas Tale, Volume 3 in the Planet of the Dogs series, to libraries and teachers participating in therapy reading dog programs and to therapy reading dogs owners and organizations.
To receive your copy, email us at email@example.com
Snow Valley Heroes, A Christmas Tale, is an illustrated first chapter fantasy-adventure book for children 6-12 and dog lovers of all ages.
Long, long ago, there were no dogs on planet Earth. It was during that time that two of Santa’s reindeer went missing and there could be no Christmas.
Far out in space is the Planet of the Dogs. Dogs have always lived there in peace and happiness.
When the dogs learned that there would be no more Christmas, they came down to planet earth to challenge the King of the North, free the reindeer from the Ice Castle, and save Christmas for children everywhere.
To read sample chapters, visit: www.planetofthedogs.net.
Insights on Visual Storytelling
Lizzy Burns is a proilfic, outspoken, caring and engaging blogger (A Chair, A Fireplace and a Tea Cozy )
She usually reviews YA booksand strongly supports those she likes. I'm interested in younger readers, however, I find her YA reviews to be insightful and very lively reading.
I have excerpted comments on her emotional response to the Y.A. book and movie, If I Stay, and her insights into visual storytelling...
"Here is the thing. I cried at the trailers for this film. I cried when I read the book. I knew all the plot points. There were no surprises. And yet...I cries through the whole film.
Because sometimes, it's not what happens. It's the emotional journey. And no matter how many times you go on that journey, it remains heart wrenching...
One thing I like about visual storytelling is it can show me things, reveal things, that I may not have picked up in the book. And yes, sometimes this is because of changes in the adaptation, but i t's often about staying true to the spirit of the book if not the text. So, for me, the movie made me understand more how Mia viewed her father leaving his band to pursue a job that was more stable as something he did because of her younger brother, Teddy -- never realizing it was also for her.
The movie is true to the book, but something happened at one point where I both feared and hoped that a change had been made and I said to myself, please please please even though there was no way, no way, and it was just like in the book BUT STILL MY FOOLISH HEART, IT HOPED...."
Here the link to her review/article of If I Stay. When she isn't blogging, Elizabeth Burns is the Youth Services Librarian for the New Jersey State Library Talking Book and Braille Center. Here is a link to her blog.
Nancy Houser has another excellent article that solves questions about feeding dogs and taking into account breed, age, health condition -- and she's not selling dog food, not pushing a brand. Here is an excerpt and a link:
"Dog diet is one of the most confusing aspects of taking care of your dog, a vital part of its care. Deciding on the correct dog diet and how to feed your dog is considered a highly complicated task.
Political economy is back on the centre stage of development studies. The ultimate test of its respectability is that the World Bank has realised that it is not possible to separate social and political issues such as corruption and democracy from other factors that influence the effectiveness of its investments, and started using the concept.
It predates the creation of “economics” as a discipline. Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Thomas Malthus, James Mill, and a generation later Karl Marx and Friederich Engels, explored how groups or classes in society exploited each other or were exploited, and used their conclusions to create theories of change or growth.
Marx’s ideas were taken up in the 1950s by economists and sociologists of the left, such as Paul Baran (The Political Economy of Growth, 1957) and later Samir Amin (The Political Economy of the Twentieth Century, 2000) who linked it to theories of imperialism and neo-colonialism to interpret what was happening in newly independent African countries where nationalist political parties had taken power.
Marx and Engels in their early writings, and Marxist orthodoxy subsequently, espoused determinist theories in which development went through pre-determined stages – primitive forms of social organisation, feudalism, capitalism, and then socialism. But in their later writings Marx and Engels were much more open, and recognised that some pre-capitalist formations could survive, and that there was no single road to socialism. Class analysis, and exploration of the economic interests of powerful classes, and their uses of the technologies available to them, could inform a study of history, but not substitute for it.
That was how I interpreted what happened in Tanzania in the 1970s. The country was built around the economic interests of those involved, and the mistakes made, both inside Tanzania but also outside. It focussed on the choices made by those who controlled the Tanzanian state or negotiated “foreign aid” deals with Western governments—Issa Shivji’s bureaucratic bourgeoisie. These themes are still current today.
I am not alone. Michael Lofchie’s (A Political Economy of Tanzania, 2014) focuses on the difficult years of structural adjustment in the 1980s and 1990s). He argues how the salaried elite could personally benefit from an overvalued exchange rate. From 1979 on, under the influence of the charismatic President Julius Nyerere, Tanzania resisted the IMF and World Bank which urged it to devalue. But eventually, around the mid-1980s, they realised that they had the possibility of making even bigger financial gains if the country devalued and there were open markets, which would allow them to make money from trade or production. They were becoming a productive bourgeoisie.
Lofchie’s analysis can be contested. The benefits of the chaos that resulted from the extremely over-valued exchange rates of the 1980s were reaped by only a few. It is true that rapid growth followed from around 1990 to the present, but that is also due to the high price of gold on international markets and the rapid expansion of gold mining and tourism. There is still plenty of evidence of individuals making money illegitimately – corruption is ever present in the political discourse, and will continue to be so up till the Presidential elections due in October 2015.
A challenge for the ruling class in Tanzania, leaving the 1970’s, was would they be able to convert their economic strategies into meaningful growth and benefits for the population? By 2011 the challenge was even more acute, because very large reserves of gas had been discovered off the coast of Southern Tanzania, so money for investment would no longer be a binding constraint. But would those resources be used to create real assets which would create the prerequisites for rapid expansions in manufacturing, services and especially agriculture? Or would they be frittered away through imports of non-productive machinery and infrastructure (such as the non-existent electricity generators purchased through the Richmond Project in 2006 in which several leading members of the ruling political party were implicated)? Or end up in Swiss bank accounts? The jury is very much still out. To achieve the current ambition of a rapid transition to a middle income country will require much greater understanding of engineering, agricultural science, and much better contracts than have been recently achieved – and more proactive responses to the challenges of corruption. It will need to take its own political economy seriously.
Headline image credit: Tanzania – Mikumi by Marc Veraart. CC-BY-2.0 via Flickr.
I was browsing through my online TBR fiction list earlier today looking for a book whose title I could not remember but I was pretty sure I had put it on my list. That’s what these kinds of lists are for right? So I wasn’t worried about not remembering the title, I’d recognize the book when I came to it I was sure. Well, as I was scrolling through the list I came upon a book I actually did read. Given that I had well over 200 items on this fiction list I was pretty pleased that I could take one off. I checked the box next to it and clicked “delete” and when the popup window came up to ask me if I really wanted to delete the item from the list I said “yes.” Except that is not what the popup window was asking me.
Turns out in my still cold medicine addled brain I had clicked on the button not to delete the book from my list, but to delete the entire list. And that popup wanted to know if I was sure I wanted to delete that list of 200+ items. And I clicked “yes.”
List gone. No take backs.
At first I couldn’t believe what I had actually done. Was the list really gone? I clicked to view a list of my lists. Yup, gone. Then I kind of wanted to cry. That list is where I save all the books I think sound really good when I am out and about on the internet reading blogs or other book news. I have no way of recreating this list.
I’ve been trying to comfort myself with things like “Well that’s one way to reduce your TBR pile!” And, “You were never actually going to be able to read all those books anyway.” But it’s not been working very well and pouting just feels so much better. When I told Bookman he immediately suggested I contact WorldCat and ask them if they can recover it from a backup tape or something. Bless my dear beloved for trying to be helpful and not laughing at me. I have no idea if WorldCat would help me out like that, but I am not going to bother to find out. It’s just a list of books and I figure the ones I really want to read will bubble up into my awareness again sometime. And if they don’t, well, I won’t miss them since I don’t remember what they were to begin with.
All the same, I made a new list to save fiction titles to. There is nothing on it. Yet.
As soon as your category chair begins approving nominations, you’re on the library website, putting titles on hold like crazy. You’ll have barely two months to read dozens, maybe even hundreds (depending on your category), of books. The sooner they come rolling in from branches all across the county, the better.
I gave my branch librarians a heads-up to let them know I’d be reserving a tremendous lot of novels. Promised to stop in often to pick up new arrivals, so as not to overfill the hold shelves. “No worries,” they told me. “We’ll move ’em to the bottom shelf if we need to.” There’s an empty slice of shelf there, under the Last Name T-Z reserves.
I stopped by today expecting to find the P shelf squeezed full of my holds. Nope, although as usual P—, LYD (last name redacted) had a small handful of appealing titles awaiting her. I’m assuming she’s a she—Lydia? Lyddie? No idea, but for the eight years I’ve been glimpsing her reserve books next to ours (PETERSON, SCO) on the shelf, and when it comes to books we are clearly such kindred spirits that I’ve been tempted to leave her a note in one of them. Except that might seem a little creepy. Whereas blogging about it totally isn’t weird at all. Ahem. MOVING ON.
Okay, so I’m expecting a bunch of books but they aren’t on the P shelf, and they aren’t on the spillover bottom shelf either. I run my (okay, Scott’s; I lose things) library card under the scanner next to the shelves, and it says I have 16 titles ready for pickup. I’m just about to track down a librarian when I spot the cardboard box on the floor.
The biggest story heading into the 2014-15 National Hockey League (NHL) season appears to not be what is happening with players on the ice. Rather, it is the people working off the ice who evaluate players’ performance on the ice that have a leading role in the NHL’s narrative. The analytics movement has come full force to professional hockey. Teams all across the NHL have hired people with expertise in analytics that can develop proprietary statistical analysis to give their teams a competitive edge. The Toronto Maple Leafs alone hired three analysts this past offseason.
The NHL is the latest league to make a significant investment in analytics. Major League Baseball (MLB) is well-known for its use of sabermetrics, as most famously deployed by general manager Billy Beane and the Oakland Athletics. The National Basketball Association (NBA) has spent the last decade hiring people for senior level positions with strong analytics backgrounds, as exemplified by the Houston Rockets selecting Daryl Morey for their General Manager role.
The rise of analytics to evaluate player performance raises a natural question. If teams and leagues increasingly believe analytics can provide a competitive advantage during competitions, then why not make more use of use analytics to help their businesses as well? In fact, sports teams and leagues should take advantage of the opportunities to hire quantitatively-savvy managers and analysts focused primarily on growing an organization’s revenue.
What value does this provide to an organization? In a recent article in Forbes, I showed how combining analysis of a quarterback’s on-field and off-field performance can provide a more holistic view of his value to an organization. However, focusing on individual athletes’ economic impacts is only the start of how quantitative analysis can impact sports organizations’ businesses. The most common example is with pricing tickets. Dynamic pricing has changed the way that teams, fans, media, and sponsors think about how they purchase tickets. Secondary market ticket sites, such as StubHub, and new dynamic ticket pricing models, such as Purple Pricing, have provided sports organizations with the opportunity to make more money while giving fans better options for buying tickets to games.
Ticket pricing is not the only revenue stream where analytics can be applied. For example, sponsorship revenue can use a more analytical approach to demonstrate how sports organizations often generate a significant return on investment for their partners. Sports organizations have traditionally used qualitative approaches to demonstrate a return on investment for their corporate partners in sponsorship deals. This includes developing recaps that have pictures of sponsorship activation elements during the course of the season such as a picture of a brand’s logo on signage at a sports venue.
However, corporate partners should be presented with a dollar amount for the return on investment that they are receiving by sponsoring an organization. Teams can use analytical models to show how the impressions they generate with lucrative sports audiences creates new customers, helps retain current customers, increases brand awareness, or enhances brand perception. Employing analytics in sports sponsorship provides sponsors with clear reasons why they are getting value by working with a sports organization.
Employing business analytics also helps to specifically address issues when a team or athlete is not successful in competition. Relying on winning is a losing strategy. Teams that rely on winning do not always achieve financial success. In addition, winning is still difficult to predict or control – even as teams hire more people to analyze their competitive performance. Deploying business analytics helps to address these issues. It can show what strategies, marketing campaigns, and promotions work best to generate revenue regardless of a team’s performance. With the influx of new technology into the sports industry impacting ticket purchases, in-game concession sales, digital and mobile streaming, social media engagement, and many others, there is a wealth of new data available to sports organizations. The next Moneyball will be the teams that can find insights from this data to generate money for their organizations.
Reconstruction was a time of great change in the city of New Orleans. The Civil War had just ended, and the South was devastated. Although Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had done much for racial equality, racial tension and conflict was ubiquitous in New Orleans. In June 1870, at the height of Reconstruction, 17-month-old Irish-American Mollie Digby was kidnapped from outside her home. The kidnapping was highly publicized in the media of the day, and residents of New Orleans followed the story with intense fervor, all the way to the sensationalized trial of two Afro-Creole women. In The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case: Race, Law, and Justice in the Reconstruction Era, Michael A. Ross looks at why the story of Mollie Digby was so important, and what it reveals about that point in New Orleans history. Below is an infographic depicting life in New Orleans at the time of Mollie Digby’s kidnap.
What is the human touch in online learning? How do you know if it’s there? What does it look and feel like? My epiphany on this topic occurred when a student told me “I thought I would have done better if I had a real teacher.”
This pronouncement triggered a cascade of questions: Why didn’t she see me as real? Because we weren’t in the same physical space? The physical separation of instructor and students creates a psychological and communications gap, and the missing element is the perception of people as real in an online environment — the human touch. Did she think the computer produced the instruction and the teacher interaction? How could this happen when I felt deeply involved in the course — posting detailed reading guides and supplementary materials, leading and participating in discussions, and giving individual feedback on assignments? Was technology getting in the way or was it the way I was using it? In the online classroom we hope that the technology becomes transparent and that students just have a sense of people interacting with other people in an online learning community. And this issue isn’t limited to students. Instructors are sometimes concerned that they won’t be able to achieve the energy of the face-to-face classroom and the electricity of an in-person discussion if they teach online. It’s a matter of presence and personal style.
We can create the human touch by establishing an online presence – a sense of really being there and being together for the course. To be perceived as real in the online classroom we need to project ourselves socially and emotionally, and find ways to let our individual personality shine through whatever communications media we’re using. We can look to our own face-to-face teaching style for ways to humanize an online course. What do we do in a face-to-face classroom to make ourselves more approachable? We talk with students as they arrive for class, spice up lectures with touches of humor and relevant personal stories, treat discussions as conversations, and sometimes depart from what we planned so we can follow more promising asides.
To translate these techniques for the online classroom we can look to the issue of physical separation. We use the terms “face-to-face” and “online,” but online isn’t synonymous with faceless and impersonal. In fact, faces can contribute to the human touch. Pictures of the instructor and the students, brief instructional videos, and video-enabled chat all provide images of real people. They add a human touch and contribute to a more vivid sense of presence — of being perceived as real. And posting short introductory autobiographies helps course participants establish personal connections that pave the way for open communication and collaboration. With the use of strategies like these the technology may begin to recede from consciousness, the focus can shift from technology to people, and ultimately the technology may even seem to disappear as people just interact with each other.
Once you’ve established a sense of presence, you want to maintain and extend it. Regular, brief, informal announcements like those we typically make in a face-to-face class — a welcome message at the beginning of a course, reminders of due dates for assignments, current news items relevant to course content — help make our presence felt and assure students that we’re there, we’re working along with them, and we’re interested in their progress and success. Using our normal conversational tone for any online instructional posts (the agenda for the week, descriptions of readings, instructions or prompts for discussion posts) reinforces that sense of personal style. A practice of poking your head in to asynchronous discussions and making brief comments lets students know you’re there and available for help, but avoids the impression of dominating the discussion. Audio or video-enabled synchronous meetings provide a place where people can be themselves, join in informal discussions, show their enthusiasm for their subject matter with individual presentations, or experience the energy of brainstorming sessions — much as they would in a face-to-face classroom. All these techniques can contribute to that human touch, helping us reveal our real selves and engage our students in a vital online learning community.
What personal touches have you used online? Have you found particularly successful techniques you’d suggest others try?
Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations is a remarkable phenomenon, a philosophical diary written by a Roman emperor, probably in 168-80 AD, and intended simply for his own use. It offers exceptional insights into the private thoughts of someone who had a very weighty public role, and may well have been composed when he was leading a military campaign in Germany. What features might strike us today as being especially valuable, bearing in mind our contemporary concerns?
At a time when the question of public trust in politicians is constantly being raised, Marcus emerges, in this completely personal document, as a model of integrity. Not only does he define for himself his political ideal (“a monarchy that values above all things the freedom of the subject”) and spell out what this ideal means in his reflections on the character and lifestyle of his adoptive father and predecessor as emperor, Antoninus Pius, but he also reminds himself repeatedly of the triviality of celebrity, wealth and status, describing with contempt the lavish purple imperial robe he wore as stained with “blood from a shellfish”. Of course, Marcus was not a democratic politician and, with hindsight, we can find things to criticize in his acts as emperor — though he was certainly among the most reasonable and responsible of Roman emperors. But I think we would be glad if we knew that our own prime ministers or presidents approached their role, in their most private hours, with an equal degree of thoughtfulness and breadth of vision.
Another striking feature of the Meditations, and one that may well resonate with modern experience, is the way that Marcus aims to combine a local and universal perspective. In line with the Stoic philosophy that underpins his diary, Marcus often recalls that the men and women he encounters each day are fellow-members of the brotherhood of humanity and fellow-citizens in the universe. He uses this fact to remind himself that working for his brothers is an essential part of his role as an emperor and a human being. This reminder helps him to counteract the responses of irritation and resentment that, he admits, the behavior of other people might otherwise arouse in him. At a time when we too are trying to bridge and negotiate local and global perspectives, Marcus’s thoughts may be worth reflecting on. Certainly, this seems to me a more balanced response than ignoring the friend or partner at your side in the café while engrossed in phone conversations with others across the world.
More broadly, Marcus, again in line with Stoic thinking, underlines that the ethics of human behavior need to take account of the wider fact that human beings form an integral part of the natural universe and are subject to its laws. Of course, we may not share his confidence that the universe is shaped by order, structure and providential care — though I think it is worth thinking seriously about just how much of that view we have to reject. But the looming environmental crisis, along with the world-wide rise in obesity and the alarming healthcare consequences, represent for us a powerful reminder that we need to rethink the ethics of our relationship to the natural world and re-examine our understanding of what is natural in human life. Marcus’s readiness to see himself, and humanity, as inseparable parts of a larger whole, and to subordinate himself to that whole, may serve as a striking example to us, even if the way we pursue that thought is likely to be different from that of Stoicism.
Another striking theme in the Meditations is the looming presence of death, our own and those of others we are close to. This might seem very alien to the modern secular Western world, where death is often either ignored or treated as something too terrible to mention. But the fact that Marcus’s attitude is so different from our own may be precisely what makes it worth considering. He not only underlines the inevitability of death and the fact that death is a wholly natural process, and for that reason something we should accept. He couples this with the claim that knowledge of the certainty of death does not undermine the value of doing all that what we can while alive to lead a good human life and to develop in ourselves the virtues essential for this life. Although such ideas have often formed part of religious responses to death (which have lost their hold over many people today) Marcus puts them in a form that modern non-religious people can accept. This is another reason, I think, why Marcus’s philosophical diary can speak to us today in a language we can make sense of.
Featured image: Marcus Aurelius’s original statue in Rome, by Zanner. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
With the end of 2014 approaching and the publication of the 21st edition of Oxford’s Atlas of the World, we’re considering the most noteworthy places from the past year with our annual Place of the Year (POTY) campaign.
We’ve compiled a long list of ten places that stood out to us in 2014, and you can vote for your favorite below. Additionally, we’d love to receive nominations that are not included on this long list, and those can be submitted via the comments section. Follow along with #POTY2014 until our announcement on 1 December.
As can be seen in the video we put together of a few of our past winners, Places of the Year have been as geographically varied as Warming Island and Mars, so feel free to be as imaginative as you’d like with your nominations. We will post the short list on November 3, and the Place of the Year 2014 will be announced on December 1. In the interim, be on the lookout for more information on this year’s nominees as well as past winners with maps, videos, and more.
Image credit: World map made with natural earth data, Eckert 4 projection, central meridian 10° east. CC0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Who would you like to see flying through the sky to save the day? In ways big and small we all have someone in our life that is a superhero. To young readers, you yourself may be a hero—a teacher who protects a group of students during a tornado, a librarian who helps you find the perfect book that to turn you a reader…
Have your students and readers tell us about their real-life hero in 500 words or less and they could win a SUPER cool prize: Matthew Cody, the author of Super, Powerless and Villainous will write the winner of this contest into a short story as a SUPER.
Submit real-life superhero stories by December 20th, 2014 to:
Snail Mail: Sadie Trombetta
New York, NY 10019
Matthew, along with four fantastic ace readers from Knopf Books for Young Readers, will select the winners. The grand prize is the short story and a full set of signed copies of Matthew’s books. Five others will receive signed copies of all of Matthew’s books. As a bonus, any teacher who submits stories from her entire class will be eligible to win a class set of Matt’s books, as well as some select additional titles from Random House. The winner will be selected by January 15th, 2015.
Don’t Even Think About It: Why our brains are wired to ignore climate change by George Marshall is pretty darn depressing. Oh he tries to offer hope at the end but it is paltry compared to what comes before. And what is it that comes before? Page after page of psychology and human behavior detailing why this climate change thing is so hard for us to get together and do something about.
The problem is not just one thing, it’s a big prickly ball of things that is going to need to be attacked from all angles at once and not one thing at a time. Where to start? First, there is a disconnect between scientists and the public and the way they talk to us about climate change. They use words that mean something completely different to us. They say, we are almost certain that climate change is happening and that it is caused by humans. What they mean is they are sure but they can’t say that because in science-speak you can never ever be 100% certain about anything. So what we hear is there is room for doubt. If the scientists aren’t certain then they could be wrong. The scientists beat us over the head with statistics and numbers and logic. We say, wow last winter was so cold I wouldn’t mind if it were a few degrees warmer. They give us facts. We want compelling stories to engage our emotions and prompt us to care and they can’t be about drowning polar bears because, sad as it is, a drowning polar bear is too distant for me to really care about it. I need a story about how climate change is going to affect me personally, and not in 30 or 40 years, that’s a long time away, but five years, next year, now.
Also, climate change needs to be placed into a wider context. It has been boxed away as an environmental issue which makes it easy for people to dismiss. Climate change is not an environmental issue. It is about values, politics and lifestyle. It is about food and water and jobs. It’s about safety and security.
We are busy looking around for someone to blame. We want to blame the oil companies and the politicians while we fill up the gas tanks on our SUVs and fly to the Virgin Islands for a mid-winter getaway. We have convinced ourselves that we are doing everything we can, I’ve changed all my lightbulbs to LED, I recycle, I take my own reusable bags to the grocery store, someone else has to do something. When we are all at fault. Us, our parents, our grandparents, our great-grandparents. But to play the blame game will get us nowhere. We will all need to make sacrifices much more drastic than buying an electric car. We’ve gone about “fixing” the problem from the wrong end. Instead of attacking it at the source and limiting coal and oil extraction and use, we go at it from the tail which is like trying to put out a forest fire with a bottle of water.
We are attached to the status quo and will keep doing what we’ve been doing unless given a compelling reason to do something else. And if, or when, things to start to change, everyone needs to be affected just as much as everyone else. Humans are great at detecting inequities and if you are only allowed to drive your one car two days a week but I get to drive mine four, well that’s just not fair.
I could go on and on, this is a substantial little book. In the end Marshall suggests that all the things that keep us from recognizing climate change as a threat can also help up solve the problems climate change will bring us. It will not be simple to change the frames through which we view the problem, but it isn’t completely impossible. He offers numerous ideas of what needs to be done and how we can each contribute to changing the conversation.
Climate change is happening right now. It is going to continue to happen. Things will probably get bad. Really bad. Not tomorrow and probably not next year, but sooner than you think. So what are we going to do about it?
One reason I couldn’t be there is because I was engaged to speak at SCBWI-San Diego on Saturday. (The other reason is because I have a hundred children and am therefore Always Broke. You know how it is.) I’m happy to say my SCBWI talk seemed to go over very well. The topic was Middle-Grade and Chapter Books, two categories of children’s publishing I can speak about with considerable enthusiasm. What’s more fun than speaking to a full house about your very favorite books? The crowd was wonderful, with really smart questions afterward. The only thing that could have made it more fun would have been having the Kidlitcon crowd there.
Speaking of piles of books, the younger set and I finished The Boxcar Children over the weekend (it’s a mighty quick read) and today it fell upon to me choose the next readaloud. Sometimes I know EXACTLY what book I want to reach for next, and other times I have option paralysis. Today was the latter sort of occasion. I got Rose to go around the house with me, pulling likely candidates off shelves, and when we had a comfortable stack, I decided on a Jane-Rose-Beanie favorite, Rowan of Rin. Chapter one was well received. I’ve never read this one aloud before, and there’s always a risk—some great books just don’t make great readalouds. But so far, so good. So gripping!
Mibo, the a UK based design studio of printmaker and illustrator Madeleine Rogers, have launched a new series of children's books. Five animals are explored in each book through rhyme, pictures and pull-out 2D figures to construct into 3D. With two spreads dedicated to each animal, adults will be able to read the short playful rhyme on each spread to children and look at the bright
The development of linguistics as a scientific discipline is one of the greatest achievements of contemporary thought, as it has led to the discovery of some fundamental principles about the functioning of language. However, most of its recent discoveries have not yet reached the general audience of educated people beyond the specialists. Scholars of classics, in particular, have found it difficult to become involved in the debate, since many recent studies in linguistics have been driven by the necessity to free themselves from the subordination to Latin grammar and have put into question the validity of certain aspects of traditional grammar.
As a consequence, progress made by contemporary linguistics has paradoxically had a negative rather than positive effect on the teaching of Latin. Although traditional grammars are now outdated, a suitable replacement has not yet been offered and a widespread scepticism has forced many to keep relying on old fashioned textbooks.
In order to overcome this undesirable state of affairs, it is desirable to bring Latin grammar back to its original high-level scientific conception, going beyond a prescriptive attitude and restoring the original theoretical tension. Although many branches of contemporary linguistics are potentially suited to fulfil this objective, none of them have been fully exploited in teaching yet. Their advantage over traditional approaches lies in their ability to satisfy the same needs as traditional analytical and philosophical Latin grammar, exploiting – at the same time – new methods, which are suitable to formulate more accurate analyses and theoretical generalizations.
Latin grammar should be presented as an activity which raises the linguistic awareness of its readers, using the most recent tools of modern linguistics. This should not be limited to the traditional Indo-European historical perspective, but includes the comparison of different languages and the attempt to represent the way in which grammar rules are codified in the mind.
The hypothesis is that there exists a language faculty underlying all languages, known as Universal Grammar (UG), i.e. a system of variable and invariable factors internalized in the speaker’s mind, which constitutes the basis of the grammar of each language. Understanding the contents of UG amounts to understanding those linguistic phenomena that are common to all languages. In this perspective, it is possible to develop a new method of teaching Latin, which aims at strengthening the cognitive skills of the learner’s mind. This method consists in overcoming the rigidity of a purely normative conception of grammatical rules, in order to make them explicit in a synchronic formal way and thus formulate hypotheses about the mental mechanisms that generate them. This method is an updated enhancement of the old conception of grammatical studies known as progymnasmata, i.e. “gymnastics of the mind,” which introduces the reader to the world of classical scholarship.
On the basis of some recent discoveries made by the neurosciences, it is possible to formulate grammatical rules that represent a better approximation of the implicit and explicit mental operations carried out by the language learner. The desired effect is the activation of the appropriate areas of the brain, i.e. the ones which are naturally devoted to the processing of linguistic information, thus rendering the process of language acquisition faster and more natural. Indeed, a vast number of recent studies have shown that language learning strongly relies on a constant and unconscious comparison between the second language (L2) and the learner’s mother tongue. By comparing linguistic phenomena across distinct languages and by interpreting the results with updated theoretical tools, we intend to underlie the deep similarities among languages rather than their superficial differences. This new teaching perspective represents a fundamental advantage for learners, who can focus their attention on the limits of linguistic variation, making their acquisitional task more feasible. In particular, by overtly reflecting on language and comparing L2 grammars to the structures of the mother tongue, the study of Latin becomes more stimulating and active.
Moreover, as students become aware of the difference between a “mistake”, as banned from the standard language, and linguistic “agrammaticality” (i.e. an option which is disallowed by the deep structure of the language), they become more critical and aware of the level of their written and oral performance in their mother tongue. From this perspective, it is clear that the study of Latin contributes to the overall linguistic education of learners, and not only to the training of those interested in classical studies. Students should no longer learn by heart the obscure rules of school grammars, often rooted on misconceptions, but they should instead explore the discoveries of centuries of classical scholarship in order to actively work out how languages function and change. In particular, they should focus their attention on the aspects of the targeted language they already know, before exploring the points of divergence from their mother tongue. Thanks to this revised methodology, the study of Latin loses any passive connotation and becomes an activity which enhances linguistic awareness, meta-linguistic competence, as well as critical thought.