Kids Book Corner

  • Goose Girl
  • Mrs. Frisby and The Rats of NIMH
  • Peter and The Shadow Thieves
  • Peter and The Star Catchers
  • Simon Bloom, The Gravity Keeper
  • Stella Brite and The Dark Matter Myster
  • The Island of The Blue Dolphins
  • The Phantom Toll Booth
  • The School Library Journal
  • The Sisters Grimm
  • Tuck Everlasting


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Noahism 2012

I had just started eating some grits after making the kids breakfast, when I dumped a spoonful of grits on my hoodie. I said, "Great! Really? Again!" Noah asked what was the problem. I told him I had already spilled pancake mix on myself. His sage advice (given in a prophetic voice) was:

"Maybe your time has come and your luck has run out."

Thanks, Noah. Give the Mayans my love.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Time Well Spent


***Book Reviews Covering April-October

There are several books this time around, so I will split them into Non-Fiction and Fiction with a sub category for Young Adult Fiction and Kid Fiction:


Shermer lays out his case for Evolution and how Intelligent Design proponents are undermining science curriculum in school systems throughout the country. He also explains why debating the issue is important, as it gives both sides an opportunity to lay out their arguments. He goes on to state that the world is separated into three types of people: "True Believers, Fence Sitters, and skeptics." He goes on to state, "Lacking a good explanation, the mind defaults to whatever explanation is on the table, regardless of how improbable it may be." Also, that debate allows the opportunity to show there is a reasonable explanation for what they may see as supernatural phenomenon.
On page 95 he gives Judge Overton's summation of why creation science is not science. Basically, it is not testable, or falsifiable. (From the 1981 Arkansas trial over the constitutionality of the state's Act 590).
In another case from 2005 on page 104, Judge Jones stated, "Both Defendants and many of the leading proponents of ID made a bedrock assumption which is utterly false. Their presupposition is that evolutionary theory is antithetical to a belief in the existence of a supreme being and to religion in general."
I liked how Shermer put the issue in this statement, "The conflict between science and religion is senseless. It is based on fears and misunderstandings rather than on facts and moral wisdom."
Shermer also shares the warning from the late Carl Sagan, "Whenever our ethnic or national prejudices are aroused, in times of scarcity, during challenges to national self-esteem or nerve, when we agonize about our diminished cosmic place and purpose, or when fanaticism is bubbling up around us-then, habits of thought familiar from ages past reach for the controls. The candle flame gutters. Its little pool of light trembles. Darkness gathers. The demons begin to stir."

Excellent book!

Descartes’ “method” asks the question, "What can I know for certain?" He is known for the phrase "I think, therefore I am", but as Shorto shows the nuance is really more "Thinking is taking place, therefore there must be that which thinks." When Descartes died in Stockholm he was buried there instead of being returned to France. Later he was disinterred and removed to France as a relic, which represented a connection between life and death. Shorto explains that Descartes dualism came from separating reason from religion, as he proclaimed his Catholicism all his life. The claim went out very quickly that Descartes "method" would lead to atheism was realized.
This book is a detective story mixed with philosophy, religion and science. Shorto does a fantastic job explaining the life and legacy of Descartes. Great read!

A range of voices and perspectives I was mostly unfamiliar with. Respectful dialogue throughout. Politics, theatre, poetry, and religion were part of the topics discussed. A wonderful compilation.

Public education has always struggled to meet the needs of a diverse population in capabilities, culture, and desire to learn. What the U.S. has now is No Child Left Behind, which has steered us into the culture of teaching to the test and teachers evaluated on those tests. Critical thinking and the rich landscape of knowledge that is available is truncated to meet the ever-changing curriculum. The struggle of the school system to meet the needs of the lowest performing students was encouraged by the development of charter schools, which were to take innovative teaching methods and take the ideas that worked back to the public school system. Instead charter schools morphed into a system that became a competitor for students and funding, which undermined the very community schools they were supposed to improve. Ravitch calls for standardized curriculum, among other things. She chronicles the changing ideas that she held earlier in her career and the science on which it is bases. She has a heartfelt plea to shore up the public school system and ways that it might thrive. She worries about well meaning philanthropists skew and derail the system by not looking at the data disproving some of their beliefs. Education is a fundamental for an society to thrive. Well worth the time to read.

Superb photography and interesting facts make this book much more than eye candy. I have always been thrilled to get an opportunity to look at images from microscopes and this book delivers.

The words and phrases in this book make me question if I was actually brought up in the U.S. I am quite unfamiliar with what many groups of people say. Interesting.

Explaining the history of how scientists figured out how and why the Earth has a magnetic field was interesting. The magnetic poles switching and why is amazing. A well written history.

I don't think this should come as a surprise, but their is a lot of colorful language in each of these vignettes.
I have enjoyed satire since staying up late to watch Saturday Night Live with my grandmother. I love the satirists taking information and making you look at it in a different and often startling way. As Billy Connolly stated, "We need to be reminded that you can step out of the box- and get back in again if you want, too,"
Paul Mooney's coming to the conclusion to no longer use the N word in his comedy was interesting.
I liked Conan O'Brien's comment, "...people using their talent is never wasted." People using their talent in good faith will always be food for mankind in some way."
I have always enjoyed the clever humor of Monty Python. Provenza interviewed Terry Jones and he explains that they were going to do a movie about a funny version of the Life of Christ, but first reread the Gospels and said the humor wasn't there. It was how people interpret the Gospels. "Christ talks about peace and love, and two thousand years later people torture and kill eah other because they can't quite agree on how he said it-what hats you should wear, how you should dress, or what services you should have in church."
I also enjoyed the interview with Tom Lehrer, Marc Maron, Dana Gould, Bob Odenkirk, and Rick Overton.

Another great quote: I love not knowing stuff and then learning it." Rick Overton

The lab rat studies and the lessons that are learned are cautiously correlated with human behaviour. Rats are clever and exhibit similar responses to various stressors. A really interesting read.

Fascinating essays on different science topics. If you want a primer, or refresher, this book will fit the bill.

The Periodic Table has always intrigued me and the different properties of the elements. The story of their discovery and uses made me a bit awe struck in the clever, fearless, and sometimes, seemingly, serendipitous way the scientists used their skill to get to the basics.

Biologist Rob Dunn writes about how our body systems evolved along with other species, but as we have found ways to cleanse ourselves of them, inside and out, we are feeling negative repercussions. Really interesting book.

Understanding common sense and why it fails to predict human behaviors is thought provoking.


A young, talented, fashion designer is thrown for a loop when her mother dies and long-term boyfriend leaves her. She takes a small sum of her inheritance to travel to her ancestral home of Ireland to push through the pain of her loss. She serendipitously meets William the Traveler who drops her off at the sea village called Glenmara where she is befriended by Bernie. Bernie is part of a group of lace-makers scrapping by in a sleepy community on the brink of financial ruin. Together they learn to deal with love and loss, while forging a new path with their lace-making skills. In a few places the author reveals the characters to long for a sense of their loved ones who have passed and their experience with the supernatural that the characters are conflicted in talking with others. The author sets up the Irish stereotype of mixing mythical beliefs with Catholicism (leprechauns, selkies, ghosts, and crucifixes).
(*just note there is a bit of swearing, but in written with an Irish accent, lightly sprinkled in the book).

A page turner. I was quickly pulled into the story with its varying perspectives. I am always horrified by the practice of infanticide, so it was helpful to read about from a cultural perspective that is not my own. The world is not black and white, which is apparent in this book. There were so many characters you were rooting for throughout the book to figure things out and have a good life. The flawed Jasu being able to redeem himself is one of the more touching developments of the book. Well worth the time to read.

Another solid offering by Charles Finch. Charles Lenox is a likable gentleman character, but a particularly like the intelligent and efficient butler, turned secretary, Graham. You get a mixture of society with Lenox working with a cadish gentleman named John Dallington, high society with his wife, Lady Jane, and the servants and other working folk through Graham. The rigors and strata of Victorian society drive me to distraction, but the story is good.

Young Adult Fiction

Beatrice has turned 16 and now must decide if she stays with her faction, or break all contact with her family and join another faction. She knows she doesn't fit in with the rules of her faction and the test that will help her decide leaves her more confused and in danger. Beatrice is divergent and must tell no one. The pace is quick and the concept of the future world being separated into 5 main factions and with those who aren't able to fit in becoming factionless is intriguing. It makes you think about how difficult and subversive to human nature it is to force a person to eschew the many facets that make up our personalities and how we interact and make decisions. Great read.

The Bill of Life was the deal that was supposed to get the warring factions of Pro Choice and Pro Life to come to their senses and stop fighting and come up with a better way to solve their disagreement and end The Heartland War. Unfortunately for teenagers from the age of 13-18 they can now be retroactively aborted, but the term will be "divided" with 100% of their body used to help others. The rule of Unintended Consequences reins down terror to children throughout U.S. Connor Lassiter becomes an unwilling participant and takes us along for a wild journey. Fast paced and thought provoking.

Good spooky teen book.

Fablehaven's mysteries are about to be discovered by two siblings on a vacation to their grandparent's home. Sinister and enchanting this preserve lures the adventurous and the reluctant to investigate. A book that will grab your attention.

Vague hints from a prophecy creates anxiety among the leaders of Regalia and their hope for fulfilling that prophecy. Gregor allies with Ripred the Rat and goes on another adventure. The choice that Gregor makes is surprising and creates problems for him in Regalia, though it retains his humanity.

Gregor is pulled back to the turmoil of the underland and is confronted with a plague that is ravaging his bond, Ares. Soon his mother also contracts the plague. Gregor and his companions seek the cure and have to fight physical obstacles and the sinister politics of the underland.

Teen angst in the witch, shapeshifter, faerie, vampire, and demon world. A book about learning who you are and how to fit in when most of the truth is concealed from you. This book will appeal to older teens. Beware that here is a liberal sprinkling of peppery language, but my daughter says she hears worse on the school bus.

More angst, demon family history, and a good looking, possible, nemesis. A trip across the pond takes Sophie to her father's home base and away from the reform school and her mystical peers. Appeals a lot to the teen girl set.

Kid Fiction:

Edward is a handsome and well-dressed rabbit who doesn't know how to love the little girl who loves him. His secret is known by the grandmother that had him created. Edward's journey begins when he is rudely grabbed by some boys and accidentally tossed in the ocean. It reminds me a bit of the Grinch with a lot more learned incrementally as Edward meets different people along the way. There is some tear-jerking moments. Well written and offers discussion opportunities about compassion, friendship, and love.

I thoroughly enjoyed the humor of this book. I got the opportunity to read it with my daughter and found it quite clever. It surely is a page turner.

Persimmony Smudge learns that her home is atop a sleeping giant. She must get the arrogant young king and the leaf-eaters to stop digging, which would wake the giant. The colorful characters and the crazy adventure make for a fun read.

I hope you find something that interests you, or spurs your desire to pick up a book...or your e-reader.


Monday, September 19, 2011

My Sentimental Hoarder Wanna Be

Michael and I took the front door off to sand it, re-stain, and replace the hardware. Noah wondered out to the garage (he must have been incredibly bored). He asked what we were doing and I explained it to him. He saw the old hardware sitting on the work table and asked if he could have the old knob and we told him no.
Fast forward to this morning. I was relating the story to Rachel. Noah heard his name and came into the living room. Rachel rolled her eyes at the story and she was not surprised. Noah stated boldly, "It was an awesome door knob, and we were all used to it!"

Be afraid...very afraid.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Fire and Ice

Here is Aaron making his glass flower using black and violet:

I'll post some other things this weekend.


One of the things I love to do with my time is to help researchers go through their mountain of data. If you would like to help out, scientifically, with a bit of your time here are several things to check out:

Ancient Lives

Help transcribe ancient papyri, written over 1,000 years ago by the citizens of Oxyrhynchu, the City of the Sharp-Nosed. Everyday life and writing, that we need your help to uncover.

I "helped" out transcribing and measuring a couple of fragments. It is quite hard, but I can see where familiarity would make things easier in a little bit of time.

Ice Hunters

Help to discover Kuiper Belt Objects with just the right orbit and just the right characteristics to make them eligible for a visit from the New Horizons mission.

This is the one I've been working on the most. I was invited during the beta phase and Eveybug even came an sat down with me to look for solid round objects and possible asteroids. Super cool...literally!

Planet Hunters

Using public data from NASA's Kepler mission, we are looking for planets around other stars.

The Milky Way Project

Sorting and measuring our galaxy, the Milky Way; we're asking you to help us find and draw bubbles in beautiful infrared data from the Spitzer Space Telescope.

Old Weather

Help scientists recover worldwide weather observations made by Royal Navy ships around the time of World War I.

Moon Zoo

Explore the Moon in unprecedented detail using images from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Galaxy Zoo: Hubble

The latest version of the original Zooniverse project. Help astronomers figure out how galaxies form and evolve by classifying their shape. Now with added Hubble galaxies.

Solar Stormwatch

Help spot explosions on the Sun and track them across space to Earth. Your work will give astronauts an early warning if dangerous solar radiation is headed their way. And you could make a new scientific discovery.

Galaxy Zoo: Mergers

Understanding what happens when galaxies merge is one of the most important questions in astronomy. Help astronomers by trying to match a merger from SDSS with a simulation.

Galaxy Zoo: Supernovae

Help us to catch an exploding star. Astronomers are following up on your best candidates at telescopes around the world.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Book Review Catch Up

These are all the books I have read from March until now. There are several I thoroughly enjoyed and recommend. I hope you get a chance to grab a few. If you have a book suggestion please let me know.

Myth busting at its finest. Mr. Martinez presents several science myths and lays out the evidence to refute them, while clarifying their origins. I am in agreement with the author in that truth is so much more fascinating. Grab a copy and do some myth housekeeping in your brain too.

Dated dialogue and contrived plot. Not one of her better stories.

Though she had many salient points her indignation was so extreme that it was very off putting. Her acid tongue often had me flinching, even when I agreed with her premise. I agree she had a right to be upset, but she is a masterful enough writer to have presented her ire with the same backbone without losing her reader in the cascading waterfall of anger.

Well researched, as always. Some things are touched on more deeply in his previous books, so you may want to read those first. The scholarship and detective work gone into to explain the books of the New Testament and their authorship is amazing and on going.

A dystopian, not to distant future, where children are pressed into workhouses for the spending sins of the parents. If a family overspends their debt limit the oldest child is put to work to pay it off. There is another sinister twist in this tale. It is a quick read for the young adult set. Interesting, but not spectacular.

Three kids backed by their membership as Realitants take on a mission to stop the evil, Reginald Chu and his nefarious plans. The story is a bit long in the tooth, but moves pretty quickly. Dark and a bit scary, not surprisingly. This is one that appeals to elementary and middle school ages.

Engaging characters, quick-paced story line, and a fantastic setting makes this book great for the older elementary school kid to adult in appeal. I look forward to reading the sequel.

WOW! Thoroughly fascinating physiology and behavior. These creatures intrigue me and the research going on is amazing.

Some great information about slugs and snails, also how to coexist with them. I have to say their number of teeth and ability to replace them like sharks unnerved me a bit.

A little spoiler...yes, you can get hooked on lip balm. Even though you know that little tidbit there is much more too learn in this book about beauty and hair facts.

Fabulous book on invasive species and the toll they take on the ecosystem they are found. Well written essays create each chapter.

A book with a gypsy fortune teller is bound to be interesting and this one is. It is always great to see what Flavia has managed to get herself into, hang out with Dodger, and learn more about the mystery of Flavia's mother. A sequel I quite enjoyed.

Sarah Vowell brings so much pithy charm to her presentation of history that I look forward to each installment. Learning some Hawaiian history and about American imperialism was eye opening.

Phyllis Diller, with some assisstance, writes about her life. She has had a pleaser personality since she was born to older parents who weren't interested in having a baby. Her poor self esteem was fuel for her comedic routines her entire life. She had a 25 year marriage to a man with a severe mental disorder and who had 2 children that suffered from different degrees of the same problems. Her life was one of much turmoil and traveling, but she proclaims belief in positive thinking turned things around after she read The Magic of Believing by Claude M. Bristol.
I learned that she was an accomplished singer and piano player, as well. I like her zany, off-beat humor when I was growing up in the 70's and 80's. My kids know her voice from "A Bug's Life."
This book has a smattering of bad language and a few crude jokes... not surprising. I thought overall that it offered a glimpse into the life of a woman that made me laugh from time to time, so it was interesting to find out a bit about her life.

Brilliant book. Fascinating research and proposals.

Abigail Adams, a prolific letter writer, gives insight into her feelings and the politics of the time during and after the American Revolution. The author is able to use the primary sources to interpret the feelings of Abigail on many topics. Abigail's New England upbringing molded her strong sense of duty and service. Her love and bond with her husband, John, is a wonderful story apart from the history of the fledgling United States. The narrative seemed to bog down several times due to explaining abigail's actions versus what she said. Overall, the book gave a perspective of a woman who had a large part to play in the history of our nation.

The characters and subject of this story are painful simplistic and boring. The Nate the Great series makes me feel sorry for the trees felled to put print on them.

I am a fan of mysteries and problem solving books, so I was surprised to find that I disliked this book from beginning to end. The characters are not interesting, nor is the mystery to be solved. This is the second book that my daughter and I read together from this series and I had hopes that it would be written better than the first one she selected, but it was not.

Atticus "Tick" Higginbottom is sent a mysterious letter that sends him on a perilous journey. He is blessed with a supportive family, which and softness and comfort in a world turned upside down. The story drags on a little too long to get to some of the major plot points, but the subject matter dealing with quantum physics peaked our interest enough to keep turning the pages. Two of my four kids found it very interesting and were interested enough to read the second book in the series.

3 of my 4 kids were part of the faction that took umbrage that Pluto was "demoted" to dwarf plant status, or Trans-Neptunian object. Michael and I have always been of the opinion that Pluto does not care how it is classified. Neil deGrasse Tyson does a marvelous job explaining his reasoning and giving the floor to others to voice theirs in the discussion of how to properly classify Pluto along with similar objects in the solar system. Dr. Tyson's ability to remain respectful to others sets him apart as a true class act. He received the ire of people of varying age groups, but especially 2nd and 3rd graders who learn about the planets and get upset that there is one less. Humans love to persona objects. Pluto was also more endearing to Americans because of its discovery by an American, Clyde Tombaugh. Clyde Tombaugh was an amazing astronomer and the homemade telescopes he created are down right cool. Unfortunately, being a great person and making cool stuff doesn't override the science. When we learn we often have to adjust.
I, particularly, liked the letter of apology Dr. Tyson received from a second grader that he uses to open his book. I cry every time I read it.
This is a book about science, history, civility (uncivility), and learning to see things from a new perspective. The companion dvd was fantastic too.

This was an insightful look at what it meant to be human. It is written to an audience of aliens who find earth after the human race is extinct. The book resembles a school text book and is written by a group of writers from The Daily Show. If you ever watch The Daily Show you will be aware of the off-colored language and suggestive and sometimes pointed remarks about human nature. If you are not a viewer take in to account the previous sentence as a warning.

One of my favorite comments was on skin color, "...pigmentation was a quick and convenient way of judging a person. One of us, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., once proposed we instead judge people by the content of their character. He was shot." Another comment I liked was in the chapter titled "Society" that said, " Through war we arrived at definitive answers to questions at the very heart of our existence, from "Which is the one true religion?" to "Which European power gets to kill the Zulus?" (Answers: Pantheism, Judaism, Roman Paganism, Christianity, Islam, Christianity again, Catholicism, Nazism, then finally Democracy; and the Dutch.)"
Another one that had me laughing was the comment on advertising, "Early 2000s, Our relationship to commercial products entered a new phase, wherein we believed we were expressing our individuality by paying to adorn ourselves with advertisements for good that other people profited from."
So it is great commentary on human behavior, but sprinkled liberally with colorful language.