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Blog: Perpetually Adolescent
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A week or so ago I rubbed shoulders with some of Kids’ Lit most illuminating talents at the Book Links’ QLD (The Centre for Children’s Literature) third Romancing the Stars event. The objective of these evenings is to meet and listen to as many authors and illustrators wax lyrical about their latest publication as possible in a frenzy of succinct deliveries and rotations – rather like speed dating, but with books and ultimately more satisfying.
Amongst them was, rising star, Andrew King. I first met Andrew and Engibear, both instantly likeable fellows, last year when Andrew and I were amongst the ‘daters’. I confess the first time I laid eyes on his non-typical picture book, I baulked at the complexity of its design and presentation. Perhaps it is the poor mathematician in me, but there seemed too many labels and numbers and graph grids! The detail overwhelmed me and the thought, ‘too much’ flickered through my mind like an wavering light bulb.
But Andrew’s compelling fervour for his work convinced me to look more closely. So I did, and fell in love with what I saw. Engibear’s Dream is neither too busy nor over-detailed, but rather a masterfully thought out and delivered tale of simplicity and perseverance. Engibear’s life is too full to pursue both his dreams and work. He needs help and being a clever engineer like his creator, sets out to design a Bearbot to help him achieve more. But grand schemes are rarely realised first time round. It takes Engibear several attempts to ‘get it right’ but he never gives up on himself or his Bearbot.
More than just a cute rhyming counting book about the rigours of planning and design, Engibear’s Dream covers the themes of sustainable living, finding balance in a world of progress and change and being innovative and tenacious in the face of failure. Mighty issues for small minds, but ones they will assimilate as they follow Engibear’s attempts to succeed, all superbly illustrated both schematically and in explosive colour, by qualified architect Benjamin Johnston.
I needed to find out more about the man behind the bear, behind the robot. So this week I have a bona fide, qualified engineer behind the draft table. Here’s what he had to say…
Q Who is Dr Andrew King? How would you best describe present self?
A 48 year old mixed bag: self, husband, dad, son, brother, relative, friend, engineer, co-worker, band member, aspiring author, committee member, community member, etc…
Fortunately, from my perspective, I have been very lucky and the mix has been good to me – I am trying to be good back.
Q Describe your 10 year old self. Did you have any concept then of what you wanted to do or be when you grew up? If so, what?
A 10 year old mixed bag – just a bit less in the mix – son, brother, relative, friend, school student, footballer, etc…
Fortunately (again) I had a very pleasant and carefree childhood. So carefree that I don’t think I had any real idea of what I wanted to do when I grew up. Interestingly though, I remember that a friend and I were writing and illustrating small books of jokes back in grade 6 and trying to sell them (for about 2 cents each). It has been more than 30 years since I last tried but I am now trying to write and sell books again.
Q Writing for children is not your first chosen occupation. Why take up the challenge now?
Kelly and I have been writing and drawing with our kids for years. We ended up developing characters like Engibear and the Bearbot and writing about their adventures in Munnagong. A few years ago my daughter, Marie-Louise, suggested that we should write a book.
Q Engibear’s Dream is your first picture book for children. What are you trying to impart with this book and why choose the picture book format?
The book started as a way of making engineering more accessible to young children. However, we wanted to make the book something more than an instruction manual. Therefore, we included a storyline (in this case a story about perseverance) and tried to include humour. We have also added numbers so that it can be used as a counting book.
To me drawing is a very powerful communication tool. The combination of words and pictures used in engineering drawings is a particularly useful way to communicate design ideas. The opportunity to include these types of diagrams and images of Engibear and the Bearbot meant that the book had to include pictures.
Q What sets Engibear’s Dream apart from other picture books currently on the shelves?
Engineering – in two ways.
Firstly, having a character that is an engineer, there are very few engineers in children’s literature. To me this is surprising as children seem to be very interested in the things that engineers do. Engibear provides a “friendly face” of engineering and therefore a way to introduce engineering to young children at the right level.
Secondly, including detailed engineering drawings. Ben Johnston is an architect who is used to working with engineers. Ben has created loveable characters and has also been able to contrast them with fantastically detailed design drawings of Munnagong, Engibear’s house and workshop, the Bearbot and its working parts. I think this combination of drawing styles allows children to enjoy the characters and the story and then also spend time thinking about how things work and making things (engineering).
Q How long from conception to publication did it take to realise Engibear’s Dream?
Building Bearbot was an early family story that is about 10 years old and was the basis for Engibear’s Dream. It sat in the cupboard for a long time. However, once we decided to write a book and chose this story it took about three years to get to publication.
Q It takes Engibear up to 10 types from prototype to final version before he engineers the perfect Bearbot. Does it take engineer Andrew the same number of attempts to design something new before getting it right?
If it is a book, yes – easily!
Depending on the complexity of the project I think engineering design can also take a lot of work. However, engineers have developed systems such as standards, computer modelling and design reviews to help make the design process robust.
Q Engibear’s dream is to have a life less strenuous with more time for enjoying the simple pleasures. What’s the one thing on your non-writing wish-list you’d like to tick off /achieve / produce?
I would like to read more fiction.
Q Do you have other writing dreams you’d like to fulfil?
I have a series of Engibear books planned. Munnagong is a busy place; there is a lot of engineering going on and a lot to write about.
Q Engibear is written in quatrain rhyming verse. As a first time author, did you find this difficult to pull off? Why did you choose to tell the story in this way?
We wrote the book in quatrain rhyming verse because this is how we made up verses when my children were younger – it just seemed to be a natural way to rhyme. However, while this worked for family stories, it was very difficult to do it properly. As an engineer I have some technical writing skills but I had to learn a lot about writing verse. Therefore, I did a course with Dr Virginia Lowe at Create a Kids Book and Virginia then mentored me.
Q You chose to publish your book via a partnership publishing company (Little Steps Publishing). Why? What other publication avenues did you explore if any?
I did contact some traditional publishers and received very polite rejections. I thought that rather than keep going down that route it would be better just to get on with it – self publishing seemed to be the answer.
Q What is on the design board for Andrew? What’s your next ‘writing’ project?
We have been making models of the characters in Engibear’s Dream and we have created a rsk based engineering game. I am also working on the next planned Engibear book “Engibear’s Bridge”. This book is about construction of an iconic “green bridge” near Munnagong State School which will be opened as part of the Munnagong Festival.
Brilliant Andrew! You know I can’t wait to meet your new characters and see their designs.
Like the most enthralling kids’ movies, Engibear’s story doesn’t just end with a ‘happily ever after’ moment. Keep page turning and be fascinated by full page project drawings of BBT-10, the Final Version, resplendent with some side-splitting specifications. My young miss could not go past the line drawn end pages detailing Munnagong, home of Engibear either. A fascinating read.
Designed for 3 – 8 year olds. Also riveting for boys, those with inquisitive minds, budding designers and anyone who likes to dream big.
Little Steps Publishing 2012
Sometimes you’ll find a screen printer who touts their enviro-friendliness by advertising, “We only use water-based inks!”
Maybe you care about chemicals that go into our water supply, and maybe you don’t. For people who do care, this kind of claim really shouts out to you. “These are my people! They care about the Earth like I do!”
That may be true. I give a lot of credit to intention. Before we wave our hands in the air like we just don’t care… I also give a lot of credence to the Buddhist saying about the finger pointing to the moon, which is about looking beyond the finger to find the truth. Sometimes the truth is that the printer intends to do the right thing for the environment by using water-based inks. They are moving in the right direction by being conscious about their screen printing practices. That’s very mindful of them and I applaud it. But to be truly “earth-friendly,” we need to look deeper and understand what’s behind the curtain of water.
People sometimes assume that because it’s water-based, it’s automatically earth-friendly. It definitely sounds friendly, like we could drink a tall, cold glass of screen printing ink and not die. Or, we could just wash it all down the sink with the moldy salsa. The problem is that water-based ink is not just water. There are pigments, binders, thickeners, and sometimes, even co-solvents in the ink residue (source:Ryonet).
So even though it sounds enviro-friendly, water-based ink can still be toxic and not good for municipal sewage systems – or the oceans and rivers where the water eventually winds up.
If the ink itself weren’t enough, we have to consider how the screens are cleaned. Water-based inks can be cleaned with water… unless they dry out. Then we need to use much stronger solvents. While they do make solvents that are more enviro-happy, we can’t assume every shop who says they use water-based ink is using them. Or that they’re following other earth-happy shop practices.
In our shop, we use plastisol inks for most of our printing. They are PVC-based, Phthalide-free inks that when cured with heat turn to a solid. We clean our screens with a soy-based cleaner and cotton rags. There’s no water involved, so no ink goes down any drains.
Is that better than water-based? It’s not a death match between water-based and plastisol. There are good reasons for using both, depending on the situation. For example, we need to print on spandex with plastisol ink (it’s stretchy). We print posters with water-based ink (you can’t heat cure paper).
Good shops are never perfect, but they are open about their methods (truth) and always improving (intention). Those shops that tout their use of water-based inks should be just as knowledgable and open about their ink’s content and cleaning methods.
Do you care? Then do this!
If you care about the environment, ask lots of questions of your printer before you assume they’re more earth-friendly than others. Try these:
What type of ink do you use? Can you point me to the manufacturer’s web site?
What solvents do you use to clean your screens?
Where does the water go when you clean screens? Is it municipal drainage or you have a different disposal solution?
What are the right answers? They’re the answers that make you feel comfortable about getting your printing done. It’s that simple. But I will say that if a printer refuses to answer them, you should keep looking.
If this sounds like a lot of work just to get some frikkin’ t-shirts printed, you’re right. If you care, you care. If not, you probably stopped paying attention a few paragraphs ago.
The point is, you can never assume that something is environmentally friendly by reading an advertisement. Do a little homework. If you really do care about the environment, it won’t hurt a bit.
Here’s a quick visual recap of our Saturday, cleaning Topanga State Beach with Heal the Bay. Our Keep our water clean t-shirts were a hit and we promise they’ll be available for purchase very soon! From the Heal the Bay website, it sounds like people from all over cleaned up 24,000 lbs of trash on Saturday. I’ll remind our teen of this fact every time he has to haul our own garbage to the curb.
For even more photos (of people besides us), check out Heal the Bay’s Flickr page: https://secure.flickr.com/photos/healthebay/sets/72157635737501184/
For me, a nightmare.
I admit it. I’m one of those anti-litter freaks. My intolerance of litter goes way back. It wasn’t instinctual and, like many people, I had to learn it. Thankfully I had someone there to teach me.
When I was 11, I visited my uncle in Missoula. He lived near the University of Montana. I would go exploring the foothills by myself and sometimes he would join me. On one hike, we kept passing bits of trash along the trail. A beer can here, a McDonald’s wrapper there. I would hike past them but my uncle kept stopping and going out of his way to pick the stuff up. I sighed, impatient. Then he handed me some. “Why are we doing this?” I asked. “Do we really have to carry all this trash around all day?”
He was not exactly amused and probably surprised by my bratty whine. He didn’t shed a tear like the Indian in the commercial, but he did sternly explain that if everyone littered and nobody cared enough to pick it up, the whole mountain would look like a dump. Then he took the trash away from me to carry it himself and didn’t say much for the rest of the hike.
I was embarrassed and felt like a complete loser, but the message was driven home. Ever since that day I have made it my mission to pick up any litter I find. Even if it’s out of my way.
Yup, I’m that guy.
Imagine how hard it was for me to live in NYC. Manhattan is like litterZILLA, so what would otherwise be a pleasant walk on the Upper West side was an exercise in restraint. Must… keep… enjoying… too much… garbage…can’t… ignore…
Still, litter irritates me to no end. I just don’t get it. I see an empty Big Gulp cup lying on its side, not three feet away from a trash can and my skin starts to turn green. I grunt and burst out of my shirt, leaving only knee-length cutoffs. That cup is now in mortal danger.
So yeah, I have this thing about litter. And when I can, I do something about it. So for my birthday on Saturday, I’ll be in litter cleanup heaven. Yup, I’m that guy.
Join us this Saturday, September 21st for Heal the Bay‘s Coastal Cleanup Day! We’ll be there with our buckets collecting old water bottles, cigarette butts, wrappers, and other trash that makes our beaches and creeks nasty.
The Race to Save the Lord God Bird
by Phillip Hoose
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004
Grades 6 and up
The reviewer borrowed a copy of the book from the public library.
Louise and I read a lot of nonfiction, but we both enjoy fiction as well. Last week I read The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt. The Ivory-billed Woodpecker plays an important role in this
by Jennifer Keats Curtis; illustrated by Chad Wallace
Henry Holt and Company. 2013
Preschool to Grade 2
I borrowed this book from my local public library.
Two new books about what lives in our oceans.
In Seahorses, Jennifer Keats Curtis uses rich language to give a brief overview of the life of this fascinating sea creature.
In the warm, salty water, a
Potatoes on Rooftops: farming in the CityHadley DyerAnnick Press. 2012ISBN: 9781554514250Grades 3 and upI borrowed a copy of this book from my local public library.Did you know that city dwellers can grow food too? In Potatoes on Rooftops: Farming in the City author Hadley Dyer will show you there are a myriad of doable possibilities to having your own garden; anything is possible.Using a
The Tapir Scientist: Saving South America’s Largest Mammal
Text by Sy Montgomery; Photographs by Nic Bishop
(Scientists in the Field)
Houghton Mifflin. 2013
Grades 6 to 12
My review copy was sent to me by the publisher
Put that video game on pause!
Grab a cuppa and...settle in with the newest title in the Scientists in the Field series.
The Tapir Scientist
ERUPTION!: Volcanoes and the Science of Saving Lives
(Scientists in the Field series)
by Elizabeth Rusch; Photographs by Tom Ullman
Houghton Mifflin. 2013
Grades 6 and up
To review this title, I checked the book out of my local public library.
Me: Aiden, what do you want to be when you grow up?
Aiden: A VUL-CAN-OLOGIST!
ME: A what?
Aiden: I want to study volcanoes and
A few years ago, the Nature Conservancy ran an article at its website on a "green book club" that had been meeting for ten years. As a former member of a book club (I was one of the two people who started it), I can say that the ten years part is pretty remarkable, particularly since the group read
Woop-dee-do and yippy-kay-ayy, we’ll be at WorldFest this coming weekend!
So if you’re in the Los Angeles area, come out and join us on Sunday, May 19th. This is us officially inviting you to hang out in a beautiful park for a day listening to live music, sampling tons of vegan food, plus a beer and wine garden hosted by Lagunitas Brewing Company. Um, beer. Yes? Beer. Yes. The event is all about promoting health, environmental, humanitarian and animal welfare issues. No reason we can’t have some fun doing it!
Since we run an environmentally sustainable screen print shop – not to mention being vegan – we couldn’t think of a better way to participate than with our goofy vegan t-shirt designs. Naturally, we’ll be exhibiting our super soft vegan t-shirts at our booth. We’ll also have stickers, window decals, tote bags, and prizes to give away. So aside from the beer, food, and Ed Begley, Jr., you can score some very cool stuff from us!
We’ll also be educating people on what it means to run an environmentally-conscious business. Especially in the screen printing industry, there are a lot of chemicals that are used for preparing and cleaning screens. We only use drain safe, biodegradable, citrus and soy-based cleaners in our tiny little shop. There are a lot of things we plan to do as we grow (we’d love to be 100% solar-powered), and we’ll be learning about some options at WorldFest.
We hope to see you there!
David & Jenni
Here’s something to muddle over this week:
Is it possible to be passionate about a cause and keep a sense of humor about it?
While you ponder that with your own passionate beliefs, here’s our story. Jenni and I are both vegan. We care about things like animals being tortured and our water being polluted. While we’re at it, we’d love to see every person in the world have enough to eat.
Our efforts toward these causes are serious and dedicated. For example, here are just a few things we do:
- We eat a plant-based diet.
- We use environmentally-friendly products and practices in our screen print shop.
- We buy from companies that support our values and ideals
- We get involved with events and organizations that support the causes we believe in
In all of these activities, we interact with people who care about the same things we do. Some of these people are serious, too. Very serious. Very… very serious.
Here’s a quick self-check guide to see if you’re getting a little too serious about your cause:
- Have you ever thrown red paint on anyone (frat parties don’t count)?
- Have you ever crawled into a grocery store meat case and snuggled the packages, whispering, “You didn’t have to die for us?”
- Do you have any tattoos of Al Gore’s face? Anywhere?
- Have you angrily shouted the words “bone char” or “fracking” more than once this week?
- Do you get tweets from Alec Baldwin telling you to lighten up?
If you said “yes” to more than one of these, you may be too serious. And, you may actually be hurting the causes you’re trying to promote. For example, there’s nothing wrong with being passionate about rescuing animals from slaughter. If your end goal is to convince someone that slaughtering animals is wrong, getting up in their business with a few choice accusations probably isn’t going to do it. And they’ll go away convinced of only one thing: Those damn animal lovers are freaks, man. Message lost, mission unaccomplished.
I read somewhere that if you can get people to laugh, you have their attention. I read a lot of things “somewhere” and then forget the source. It sure sounds like somebody said it. Lucille Ball? Dale Carnegie? Hannibal Lecter? Let’s say I made this up and move along.
Sometimes when people find out I’m vegan, I instantly become a target for teasing and animal rights jokes – not to mention dissecting my whole way of eating and thinking. I get it, I’m weird. If people realized truly how weird, they would forget about my diet. So it’s good that I have that to distract them.
In those situations where people are testing me, it would be easy to get angry and put up my dukes to defend myself and my cause. I could get all huffy (or Schwinn) and whine, “You just don’t understand the kind of evil the meat industry perpetrates! Your food is shit! You are gonna die! You’re assisting in the mass slaughter of cuddly critters and the careless destruction of the Earth, you non-caring animal-wearing meat whore!”
Instead, I answer questions and deflect “testing me” questions with humor. Then I let it go. It’s not that I’ve changed my beliefs or even hinted at agreeing with them. You catch more flies with honey than vinegar. And yes, I just advocated the use of honey for catching flies. Double-bad vegan-whammy to me on that one.
Surprisingly, what typically happens is that those testing people approach me when I’m alone and start asking more earnest questions about how to make vegan meals (which I then hand over to Jenni because I never remember how to cook anything).
When we decided to launch a line of vegan t-shirts and totes, it took a few months to sort out what the designs would be. My initial sketches all had some sort of serious “We are all one world” kind of message. Which is fine. I’m not knocking the sentiment. But jeez looweez, don’t we see that everywhere? After a while we get desensitized to the ubiquitous messages of love all, serve all. We start branding people who sport those messages by saying, “Those damn hippies again.” I’m guilty of this myself.
So we went the other way. We went the weird cartoon humor route by creating some goofy t-shirts. In fact, we even have a bacon shirt (a bacon-destroying video game). Plus, we’ve got more vegan and non-cause-related t-shirt designs on the drawing board. See? We’re so serious about our health, animals, and the Earth that we can’t help smiling about it.
In Saving the Planet & Stuff there is a recurring storyline about all the things Walt and Nora have been saving in their spare bedroom because they were dead certain that it was all useful. (Like hoarding, but different.) Michael is set to work finding useful and attractive projects to turn what he believes to be trash into...something else.
This isn't some far-fetched idea or an old one from back in my wish-I-were-a-hippy days. This kind of thing is going on right now. As I right these words, someone is making something out of plastic bags.
Check out Danny Seo turns trash into treasures in "Upcycling Celebrations" in the Los Angeles Times.
I usually do an environmental post on Thursdays, but today is Earth Day, and, hey, I can adapt. So I'm getting all environmentalish with a climate fiction post on Monday this week.
Climate fiction? you say. Yeah, I just heard about it a couple of days ago, too. Climate fiction, according to NPR is a genre, well, an "emerging" one, anyway, in which writers "set their novels and short stories in worlds, not unlike our own, where the Earth's systems are noticeably off-kilter." That's how it differs from dystopian or apocalyptic novels in which a futuristic world is suffering because of (usually) human-made environmental disaster or just a human-made "oops." Climate fiction is set in a contemporary world.
This article at Grist looks like a review of a couple of cli-fi novels, though one seems a little futuristic/apocalyptic.
I suspect that NPR's definition of cli-fi as being something separate from the dystopian/apocalyptic stuff isn't generally known. Here someone uses the term "cli-fi thriller" to describe the same book set 75 years in the future with climate disaster that Grist included in its review column.
Climate Change and Contemporary Fiction appears to be a blog that deals with this very subject.
I'm going to admit that though I have an interest in environmentalism, as a reader I find environmental/climate change disaster stories cliched. The first few were interesting, sure, but now they leave me with a feeling of, "Oh. I've read this. Several times." Or, "Of course. The tech people/scientists are the bad guys. Again." It's not that the problems aren't real or serious, but they've become formulaic as far as literature is concerned. I also wonder if there isn't a message quality to some of these books, a lesson that readers are supposed to be learning. There's sometimes a propaganda quality to some of these stories. This preaching issue is discussed in Few A-List Novelists Tackling Climate Change in Their Plots at Climate Central.
Novelists Try Climate Change Story Telling: A Critical Review of Two Recent Entries published at The Yale forum on Climate Change & The Media ends with "Are there other ways that climate change can make for good reading? It’s a question more than a few hope to see answered in the affirmative. As Bill McKibben wrote in 2005, climate change still lacks resonance in American culture. “Where are the books? The poems? The plays? The goddamn operas?” he asked. “Compare it to, say, the horror of AIDS in the last two decades, which has produced a staggering outpouring of art that, in turn, has had real political effect.”"
I am not knowledgeable about AIDS literature, but I think the question being raised here is is climate change being used in literature other than in novels? Certainly a different form--poetry or opera, for instance--might help to break the formula of human-made disaster leading to woe.
Happy Earth Day.
It's Our Garden: from seeds to harvest in a school garden
Candlewick Press. 2013
I borrowed a copy of this book from my local public library
Recently, at the day care center where my husband works as cook (Cooker John) they were awarded funds to purchase supplies to create a garden. Maine has adopted the 5210 Let’s Go! Childhood Obesity Prevent
No trees are destroyed in the making of an eBook. Sounds like a good thing, n'est-ce pas? You take a living tree, kill it, mash it into pulp, squish it into paper, print a book on it, read it, and, some day, it's going to end up in book heaven. A book, it could be argued, is pre-trash.
So shouldn't an eBook, which is kind of nothing, a lot better environmentally speaking?
Some would say that it depends on how many books you read. Producing devices for reading eBooks requires resources, as does producing traditional books. How many traditional books do you have to replace with eBooks to offset the environmental impact of the creation of the reading device? As few as fourteen? As many as a hundred? Estimates vary.
Some would say that it depends on what kinds of devices the eBooks end up being read on. If readers move to some kind of tablet that they use not only for reading but for accessing the Internet so that they no longer need a desktop or laptop, they'll be using a lot less equipment and the resources required to make them.
Some would say that it really just depends.
Linda Crotta Brennan
's newest book,When Rivers Burned: The Earth Day Story
, will have its official book launch on Sunday, April 21, the day before Earth Day
. The event will be held at the Audubon Society of Rhode Island's Environmental Education Center
from 1 to 4 PM. There will be a book discussion, question and answer session, and book signing. A dollar from every purchase made that day will be donated to the Earth Day Network
And I found it! I heard about this at the Kidlitosphere listserv, lost--Oh, you don't need to hear about all that.
What I've got here is a list of children's books on Green Issues/Sustainability/Recycling posted at Playing by the book. Check out the comments for more recommendations.
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, Environmental & Life Sciences
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By Michael Ferber
The Very Short Introductions are indeed very short, so I had to cut a chapter out of my volume that would have discussed the aftermath or legacy of Romanticism today, two hundred years after Romanticism’s days of glory. In that chapter I would have pointed out the obvious fact that those who still love poetry look at the Romantic era as poetry’s high point in every European country. Think of Wordsworth, Keats, Shelley, Pushkin, Mickiewicz, Leopardi, Lamartine, Hugo, and Nerval. Those who still love “classical” music fill the concert halls to listen to Beethoven, Schumann, Chopin, Berlioz, and Wagner; and those who still love traditional painting flock to look at Constable, Turner, Friedrich, and Delacroix. These poets and artists are still “alive”: their works are central to the culture from which millions of people still draw nourishment. I can scarcely imagine how miserable I would feel if I knew I could never again listen to Beethoven or read a poem by Keats.
But more interesting, I think, is the afterlife of the Romantics in more popular culture. Take William Blake, for instance. Almost a century after he died, Charles Parry set Blake’s sixteen-line poem “And did those feet in ancient time / Walk upon England’s mountains green” to a memorable hymn tune. It was first intended for a patriotic rally during World War I, but it was soon taken up by the women’s suffrage movement and the labour movement because of its moving evocation of a once and future Jerusalem in “England’s green and pleasant land.” It is now England’s second national anthem, and is sung in America too: a Connecticut friend of mine always sings “in New England’s green and pleasant land.” It also inspired the title and the music of the 1981 movie Chariots of Fire. Emerson, Lake and Palmer have recorded an acid-rock version of the hymn in Brain Salad Surgery (1973) and Billy Bragg made a more restrained but eloquent one in 1990. In 1948 William Blake “appeared” to Allen Ginsberg in a hallucination, and thus takes much of the credit (or blame) for the Beat poet’s immense poetic works. I often see Blake’s “Proverbs of Hell” as grafitti on walls or as slogans on bumper stickers. When I was an underpaid teaching assistant I joined a picket line carrying a sign I had made: “The tygers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.” Even as a well-broken-in horse of instruction today I still see much truth in that proverb.
A major legacy of Romanticism is the environmental movement. John Muir (1838-1914), the great pioneer of the wilderness preservation movement, and founder of the Sierra Club, combined a Romantic sensibility with an outlook based on the Bible. He absorbed Burns from his native Scotland, Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Shelley from England, and Emerson and Thoreau from his adopted America. Thoreau himself, who was close to the Transcendentalist group, which grew in large part out of German and British Romanticism, was the first great nature writer in America; his Walden is still required reading not only in universities but among those who are devoted to conservation and sustainability. Wordsworth himself, of course, deserves some credit for his role in preserving the Lake District; he is sometimes called the grandfather of the National Trust of the UK
It is true that the environmental movement owes much to modern science, and most modern scientists no longer consider Romanticism a useful source of concepts. However it is also true that without something of the Romantic sensibility, especially the feeling of connectedness to nature or rootedness in the earth, it would not be much of a movement. “Organic” metaphors were common among the Romantics, notably the idea that nature is not a mechanism but a living organism and that in an open and imaginative state of mind we can, as Wordsworth put it, “see into the life of things,”. It seems to me that the holistic and ecological outlook owes much to this spirit. Aldo Leopold (1887-1948), famous for his best-selling Sand County Almanac with its “land ethic,” writes of the “biotic community” and the importance of “thinking like a mountain” to understand the complex interrelationships of humans and nature. And what could be more holistic than the “Gaia” theory of James Lovelock (born in 1919), according to which the whole earth acts like one huge organism or ecological unit?
“Romantic” is often a pejorative term, used to dismiss unrealistic, escapist, woolly, or dreamy ideas. But it now seems likely that if we don’t soon become a little more Romantic, the earth will dismiss us.
Michael Ferber is Professor of English and Humanities and English Graduate Director at the University of New Hampshire. He is the author of several books including Romanticism: A Very Short Introduction.
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Image Credit: A portrait of William Wordsworth from Portrait Gallery of the Perry–Castañeda Library of the University of Texas at Austin [public domain via Wikimedia Commons]
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, Patricia Prijatel
, Surviving Triple-Negative Breast Cancer
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By Patricia Prijatel
A little evergreen tree has died alongside our road and, as we walked by it yesterday, my husband wondered why. All the other trees around it are healthy and it did not look like it had been hit by lightning or damaged by wind or attacked by bugs. The tree is about six feet tall, so it lived several years. We are in the Rocky Mountains and this little guy took root on its own, growing precariously in that place by the road.
Oak Tree. Photo by Glyn Baker. Creative Commons License.
The trees all around it are scrub oak, so maybe the soil was not right for an evergreen. Maybe it just grew in the wrong place, in soil that could not sustain it. Still, there are evergreens nearby that soar to the sky, so maybe this little tree was just too weak to begin with.
Could we have done something to save it? If we were in the city, would we have babied it and maybe kept it alive? Or would it have died sooner there?
These are the same questions we ponder about why some people get sick, why one disease affects one person more than others, why people who live healthy lives still can’t beat some illnesses, yet people with deplorable habits keep going and going.
It’s the old nature versus nurture argument. Bad genes or bad environment? Or both?
I am sort of over being angry at people who have dodged major illnesses — largely because there aren’t that many of them. Seems like most people I know have something to contend with — debilitating arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s somewhere in their network of family and friends. But when I first got cancer I did look around at people who obviously were not living as healthy as I was and wondered: why me and not them? And then I realized that I had no idea what they were dealing with and I should just stop being so angry and judgmental and get over myself. It was not their fault I got sick.
Still, you have to wonder about this poker game we all play with our health. Some seem to be dealt a good hand to begin with, some make the best of a poor hand, some try but can’t make a straight out of a pair of twos, and some look at their cards and just fold.
I have one friend who never exercises and has a diet full of fat, yet she is in her mid-80s, hale, hearty, and youthful-looking. Another smoked all his life, drank, and never exercised, yet he is pushing 80 and has nothing seriously wrong physically, although I do think he looks back at his life with serious regret. But the big C didn’t get him, nor did any major illness. I wouldn’t swap places with him, though, even if I knew my cancer would return.
I also know a wide variety of cancer patients who approach the disease like the individuals they are — fighters who refuse to let the disease get the upper hand; questioners who search for their own information rather than listening to the docs; accommodators who go along with whatever the doctor says; worriers who can’t get beyond the fact that they might die. Most of us are a mix of these traits, fighting one day, living in worry the next. But we are all built differently, both physically and mentally, so we all react to our disease differently. Nobody is right, nobody is wrong. We’re all just us, being our own little trees fighting our own little battles.
We cannot escape our genes — they make us prone to certain diseases, give us the strength to fight others, and offer a blueprint for either a long or a short life. Still, we can change some of that; the science of epigenetics demonstrates that lifestyle and environmental factors can influence our genetic makeup so that, by improving things such as diet and physical activity and by avoiding unhealthy environmental pollutants including stress, bad air, and chemicals, we can eventually build a healthier DNA.
I was born into a history of cancer. My grandmother and both of my parents had forms of cancer, although none of them had breast cancer. I was the pioneer there. But both parents lived into their 80s and remained in their home until they died, surrounded by their family. So, I might have a tendency toward cancer, but perhaps my genes also mean I will hang around for a couple more decades. And my particular mix of nature and nurture has given me an ability to love, to laugh, to process health information in a way that might make me proactive, and to keep going, assuming all will be well, at least at some level.
Maybe I won’t end up as one of the stronger trees in the forest; maybe I will be the gnarled, crooked one. Maybe disease might slow me, but I feel I am rooted deeply in decent soil — family, friends, community — so I am going to push on, grow how I can, and, in the process, help shade and nurture the other trees around me.
Patricia Prijatel is author of Surviving Triple-Negative Breast Cancer, published by Oxford University Press. She is the E.T. Meredith Distinguished Professor Emerita of Journalism at Drake University. She will do a webcast with the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation on 16 October 2012. Read her previous blog posts on the OUPblog or read her own blog“Positives About Negative.”
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By Andrew T. Guzman
A few days ago, the President of the United States used the State of the Union address to call for action on climate change. The easy way to do so would have been to call on Congress to take action. Had President Obama framed his remarks in this way, he would have given a nod to those concerned about climate change, but nothing would happen because there is virtually no chance of Congressional action. What he actually did, however, was to put some of his own political capital on the line by promising executive action if Congress fails to address the issue. The President, assuming he meant what he said, has apparently accepted the need for a strong policy response to this threat.
Not everybody agrees. There has long been a political debate on the subject of climate change, even though the scientific debate has been settled for years. In recent months, perhaps in response to Hurricane Sandy, the national drought of 2012, and the fact that 2012 was the hottest year in the history of the United States, there seems to have been a shift in the political winds.
Oblique view of Grinnell Glacier taken from the summit of Mount Gould, Glacier National Park in 1938. The glacier has since largely receded. In addition to glacier melt, rising temperatures will lead to unprecedented pressures on our agricultural systems and social infrastructure, writes Andrew T. Guzman. Image by T.J. Hileman, courtesy of Glacier National Park Archives.
In 1969, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross described the “five stages” of acceptance: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. For many years, climate change discussions seemed to be about getting our politics past the “denial” stage. Over time, however, scientific inquiry made it obvious that climate change is happening and that it is the result of human activity. With more than 97% of climate scientists and every major scientific body of relevance in the United States in agreement that the threat is real, not to mention a similar consensus internationally, it became untenable to simply refuse to accept the reality of climate change.
The next stage was anger. Unable to stand on unvarnished denials, skeptics lashed out, alleging conspiracies and secret plots to propagate the myth of climate change. In 2003, Senator Inhofe from Oklahoma said, “Could it be that man-made global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people? It sure sounds like it.” In 2009 we had “climategate.” More than a thousand private emails between climate scientists were stolen and used in an attempt (later debunked) to show a conspiracy to fool the world.
Now, from the right, come signs of a move to bargaining. On 13 February, Senator Marco Rubio reacted to the President’s call for action on climate change, but he did not do so by denying the phenomenon itself or accusing the President of having being duped by a grand hoax. He stated instead, “The government can’t change the weather. There are other countries that are polluting in the atmosphere much greater than we are at this point. They are not going to stop.” Earlier this month he made even more promising statements: “There has to be a cost-benefit analysis [applied] to every one of these principles.” This is not anger or denial. This is bargaining. As long as others are not doing enough, he suggests, we get to ignore the problem.
It is, apparently, no longer credible for a presidential hopeful like Senator Rubio to deny the very existence of the problem. His response, instead, invites a discussion about what can be done. What if we could get the key players: Europe, China, India, the United States, and Russia to the table and find a way for all of them to lower their emissions? If the voices of restraint are concerned that our efforts will not be fruitful, we can talk about what kinds of actions can improve the climate.
To be fair, Senator Rubio has not totally abandoned denials. While engaging in what I have called “bargaining” above, he also threw in, almost in passing, “I know people said there’s a significant scientific consensus on that issue, but I’ve actually seen reasonable debate on that principle.” In December he declared himself “not qualified” to opine on whether climate change is real. These are denials, but they are issued without any passion; his heart is not in it. They seem more like pro forma statements, perhaps to satisfy those who have not yet made the step from denial and anger to bargaining.
If leaders on the right have reached the bargaining stage, the next stage is depression. What will that look like? One possibility is a full embrace of the science of climate change coupled with a fatalistic refusal to act. “It is too late, the planet is already cooked and nothing we can do will matter.” When you start hearing these statements from those who oppose action, take heart; we will be close to where we need to get politically. Though it will be tempting to point out that past inaction was caused by the earlier stages of denial, anger, and bargaining, nothing will be gained by such recriminations. The path forward requires continuing to make the case not only for the existence of climate change, but also for strategies to combat it.
The final stage, of course, is acceptance. At that point, the country will be prepared to do something serious about climate change. At that point we can have a serious national (and international) conversation about how to respond. Climate change will affect us all, and we need to get to acceptance as soon as possible. In short, climate change will tear at the very fabric of our society. It will compromise our food production and distribution, our water supply, our transportation systems, our health care systems, and much more. The longer we wait to act, the more difficult it will be to do so. All of this means that movement away from simple denial to something closer to acceptance is encouraging. The sooner we get there, the better.
Andrew T. Guzman is Professor of Law and Associate Dean for International and Executive Education at the University of California, Berkeley. His books include Overheated: The Human Cost of Climate Change and How International Law Works, among others.
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The Green Earth Book Awards singled out two of my NESCBWI colleagues this year. Loree Griffin Burns was the Children's Nonfiction winner for Citizen Scientists and Melissa Stewart's A Place for Bats was named an honor book.
Blog: Perpetually Adolescent
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, Book Reviews - Childrens and Young Adult
, Dimity Powell
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, Doiug MacLeod
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, The Windy Farm
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, Working Title Press
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I’m not big on wind. Of all the meteorological marvels on offer, it’s the least appealing to me, perhaps because I endured a few too many tropical cyclones and missing roofs as a child.
So when The Windy Farm blew onto my shelves, I instinctively hunched my shoulders and wondered what on earth could be so appealing about the latest offering by well-liked picture book team, Doug MacLeod and Craig Smith. Turns out a whole Beaufort Scales worth.
Our plucky young narrator lives with her family on the windiest farm on Windy Hill because it’s all they can afford. Their home is buffeted and bullied by incessant katabatic winds. The kind of wind that permanently bends trees into weird angles; the kind powerful enough to blow away young pigs and little girls. No one is safe from its force, no one except Grandpa who, as the illustrations subtly suggest, is so immense and heavy that he will never budge just like his favourite pig, Big Betty.
The family survive undeterred and, as is often the case, necessity becomes the mother of invention. And indeed this is the case; Mum cannily invents heavy metal shoes to anchor them all to the ground. However, in spite of their best efforts, one day they lose half their home to nature’s tempest.
Rich Uncle Jeff is no help, pointedly refusing to lend them any of his oil-amassed fortune to help fix the house. They resort to good old fashioned ingenuity and Grandpa’s power tools instead but the ensuing crippling power bill plunges them into despair (who hasn’t felt like this after receiving their electricity bill?)
Not easily defeated, Mum comes up with a wily plan; to convert the farm into a sustainable wind farm. Pretty soon things are on the up and up. The farm road is paved in tarmac and truckloads of money from all the electricity they’ve enterprisingly ‘farmed’. Big Betty, the prized pig, returns to a wind-proof sty (she was sold to pay the electricity bills) and although the need to wear heavy metal boots remains, their money worries have been swept away, just like Uncle Jeff who ‘became poor’ after the ill winds of fate blew his way. ‘Never mind,’ Grandpa sanguinely observes; no one really liked him anyway.
Doug MacLeod’s contemporary message about the power of wind and its significance in environmental sustainability drifts delightfully zephyr-like throughout this picture book. Told in a concise, witty style, The Windy Farm exposes young readers to a range of fascinating topics including the harnessing of energy, inventions, problem-solving, sustainability and endurance.
No stranger to children’s book illustrating, Craig Smith’s flamboyant, comic-book style pictures and characters are hysterical; from the very top of Windy Hill all the way down to the chooks’ little metal boots. He uses heavier gauche paint to create a deeply detailed yet fluid almost dreamy visual effect that sweeps from page to page. Movement (of the omnipresent wind), is represented magnificently with the use of acrylics. One can see and feel the air swirling through each scene. I found it astounding even though I’m not that big on wind.
Smith and MacLeod include lots of witty references to the use of nuclear power and the need to adopt a clean energy philosophy if we are to enjoy a longer, better existence than poor old Uncle Jeff.
The Windy Farm is not however a heavy prescriptive lesson in world conservation. Rather, it is a light-hearted, fanciful look at ingenuity and tenacity in their purest and funniest forms. My Miss 7 just thinks it’s very cool. Well it would be with all that wind about wouldn’t it?
Breezy, good fun, imaginative with plenty of room for thought. Plus 5s will love it even if they are not big on wind (but most are).
Working Title Press February 2013
The March/April issue of Bookmarks has an article Nature and the Environment that explores "some books on classic nature writing and seminal works in the modern environmental movement." It includes a section on books for younger readers that highlights the following titles:
My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George
Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell
The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare
Hoot by Carl Hiaason
Whalesong by Robert Siegel
Another thirteen books are on a Further Reading list.
I'm not knowledgeable enough about nature/environmental literature to address the question of how well these books fit the topic. The only title I've read among the five main offerings is Island of the Blue Dolphins, which I would have called a survival story. Though there's no reason it couldn't hit the mark for both survival and nature.
What I like about Bookmark's themed roundups is that it digs back into time for titles. The oldest children's book mentioned is My Side of the Mountain, from 1959. The newest, on the Further Reading list, is Empty by Suzanne Weyn, which Bookmark says is from last year. They appear to be referring to the paperback edition, but still, you see what I'm talking about here. The people who compile these books have memories that go back past last season.
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In last week's comments
, David Elzey raised the question of self-published eBook writers using business cards at appearances, because otherwise they won't have anything material to show potential readers. My response included the news that business cards are the only real-world promotional items--the kinds that are created, touched, and thrown away--I plan to use for Saving the Planet & Stuff
During the years that I've been publishing books, marketing materials have increased dramatically. In days of old, you were talking a bookmark, maybe a post card. Now you see pins, cups, pens, pencils, and shirts. Bumper stickers, mouse pads, and key chains
. Lip balm. I heard that rolls of toilet paper were sent to bookstores to promote Walter the Farting Dog
. Evidently whoopee cushions went out, to
Some of these things are more utilitarian than others. It seems as if some of them would get a little use before making the trip to a transfer station. But we are talking material items here that are being created not for functionality but to get attention, and they will, indeed, one day end up in a transfer station. Or, in the case of the Walter the Farting Dog
T.P., maybe a septic system of some kind. But given that to this day everything I read about bookselling and marketing suggests that the publishing world doesn't have a clue what sells books, it seems to me that bling is generating trash for nothing. Note that in this 2012 post at Meghan Ward's Writerland
, not a soul she quoted said, "A key chain put me over the top!"
Given the futility of it all, it seems very inappropriate for me to be generating this kind of trash for a book in which a main character actually voices her frustration with people squandering resources on promotional items. It would be a hypocritical act (of some kind) for which I believe I'd have nothing to gain.
Now, this is not to say I haven't done my share of producing marketing trash in my day. I've been personally responsible for creating and distributing thousands of bookmarks to elementary school students. I always had them made on the cheap at Kinko's because, being an experienced mom, I knew what was going to happen to them. Some other experienced parent was going to find them at the bottom of a backpack weeks later, if the recipients didn't toss them themselves. I would be surprised...no, stunned...if any of those bookmarks generated one sale for me. I got a kick out of signing them all in the evenings before my appearances and giving them out, but the reality is, that's the extent of what I got from them.
I've also done postcards in years past and even mailed out some of them with all kinds of info on the back to booksellers. However, even ten years ago I was hearing from more experienced writers that that was a waste of energy (not so much talk of resources) because booksellers are buried in promotional materials such as postcards. You've got to send them something really unusual--say that toilet paper for Walter the Farting Dog
--before those poor people will be able to lift their heads up over the heaps of stuff in their offices and take notice.
Refusing to create bling isn't a big stand for me to take because Saving the Planet & Stuff
is now an eBook. Booksellers aren't involved so there's no one to send postcards to, even if I believed that would do any good. And you don't use bookmarks with eBooks. On the other hand, I may be shooting myself in the foot by not making some of this other cr-- junk because being able to offer bloggers bling to give away through their blogs might get me more attention there. But, once again, any evidence that blog reviews really sell books? I'm not aware of any.
So, for now, I'm sticking to distributing business cards when I want to distribute something. Why use even those? Because I keep business cards on hand, anyway. I don't have many opportunities to give many away. I don't know anyone in any field who does. But they're something I keep around, with one book cover or another on them, and something I can use in a number of situations, not just for marketing one book.
I think they're a better use of resources than, say, Saving the Planet & Stuff