What We All Can Do

I have felt a range of emotions as I read and watch the news over the past couple of weeks. I generally try to see things from all points of view, and sometimes the media makes this hard to do. That’s why I read a wide range of media. I wish I could help more, but I think the best thing I can do is continue listening, learning and helping my children learn.

No matter what your political leaning may be, I think we can all agree that learning about other people and their experience is a good thing. During this time, it’s especially important to focus on why #BlackLivesMatter, and there are plenty of resources to do this. I try to read or watch a little something everyday — I don’t have a lot of time — but I bookmark a lot articles that I want to come back to later. I don’t typically share things on my blog that I haven’t already read or used, but in this case, I thought I would list a few of the resources I’ve found in case it might be helpful to anyone.

This is how I plan my homeschool too. I read booklists, and I slowly sift through materials until I find what I think will be most beneficial to my boys. I have already been planning a literature unit for next year that would include historical fiction set in the U.S. This way I can combine literature and history for my soon-to-be 8th grader. Of course, I wanted to include plenty of black writers in my list, so in this blog post you’ll find a few of the titles I’m looking at. While I might not include them all in my literature unit for next year, we’ll probably get them and read them anyway.

This is not an exhaustive list! It’s only a few items that I’ve found. Please share your own articles, books and resources in the comments below because I’m still looking! (I also want to thank my friend Diane Magras for recommending a few of the middle school literature books.)

Middle School Historical Fiction by Black Authors

Flygirl by Sherri Smith

The Rock and the River by Kekla Magoon

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor

Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper

Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis

The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson

Betty Before X  by Shabazz

Helpful Articles During This Time

For Our White Friends Desiring To Be Allies

What I Said When My White Friend Asked for My Black Opinion on White Privilege

10 Habits of Someone Who Doesn’t Know They’re Anti-Black

Anything on goodblacknews.org

For Adults to Consider

A History of Race and Racism in America, in 24 Chapters – A good list of literature to consider, if you want to explore this topic. Some of the works on this list are racist (so be sure to read the descriptions in this article) and others sought to destroy it. Some of my favorite books from my youth are mentioned on this list, such as Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, Roots by Alex Haley, and Beloved by Toni Morrison.

If you enjoy watching movies, you might like to peruse this list: Movies to Watch to Educate Yourself About Racism, Protests on Time

Book: Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race by Beverly Daniel Tatum (There are many books on this subject that you can easily find by doing a search. This book has been around for a long time, and it’s been updated. I have been wanting to read it for some time.)

Talking to Kids About Racism & History

How to Talk to Kids About Race: Books That Can Help

Civil Rights Then & Now by Kristina Brooke Daniele

And Because I’m Raising Musicians

19 Black Musicians Who Have Shaped the Classical Music World  ❤️

 

Again, please feel free to add additional resources that you find to be helpful in the comments below. Thanks!

March

February came and went, and I had every intention of writing a blog post last month, but I was never able to finish anything I started.

February is usually the coldest month in Georgia, and this year was no exception. It even snowed one day, and it was beautiful for a few hours. Mostly it’s been raining and dreary, and now at the beginning of March, we’re getting more rain. But we’re also seeing a few blooms and signs of spring, so that offers hope.

We’ve begun what I fondly call “competition season.” That is, my young pianist will be in the state competition and another one, and we’ve also got a big project we’re working on. We usually hunker down at home this time of year so that we can concentrate on this work and homeschooling. We try to stay healthy and focused, but no matter how we schedule our time, there never seems to be enough time to do everything we need to do. That’s okay. At the end of the summer when I look back over our year, I’m usually impressed with everything we do.

I’ve been reading disconcerting news, following elections, and hoping for the best outcomes. I don’t want to use my blog as a place to complain or whine about things I can’t change. All I will say is: try to read as widely as you can about all the issues. Don’t rely on one news source for all your information. And when you can, Go Vote. And let’s remember that we’re all in this together. What impacts one person impacts another. Words matter. Intentions matter. It can’t be said enough: be kind. When you are angry, breathe. When you are happy, breathe.

If you follow my blog regularly, you’ll know that my family and I love nature, and we like to spend time outdoors when we can. Even when we can’t get outdoors, we watch a lot of nature documentaries and enjoy the views from our windows. We feed our bird friends and get excited whenever a new visitor comes to our yard. We also love books about nature….

I read The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings to my ten-year-old. It’s a classic that was originally published in March 1938. It was a best selling book at that time, and it won the Pulitzer Prize in 1939. Later it was made into a movie. I never saw the movie, and I never read the book until now, but I’m so glad I was able to read it to my son. It’s going on my shelf as one of my favorite books ever. One of the reasons is that when you read this book, you feel like you’re spending time in nature. It’s about a young boy named Jody and his parents who live in Florida in the 1870s. Not only are they surrounded by nature and have many animal encounters, they are part of nature themselves. It’s a story of Jody growing up and learning difficult lessons, but it was a beautiful, beautiful book.

Granted, having been written in the 1930s, it contains some sentiments of the 1930s that would not be appropriate today, but unlike some old books I’ve read, this one is mild. However, if you have a problem with hunting, you may not like it. The book offered opportunities to talk to my son about attitudes that change over time. In addition, Rawlings wrote the dialogue in the vernacular of the people at this time and place, and this will make the book difficult for young people to read on their own. Since I read it out loud to my son, I was able to explain the language to my son, and after awhile, it was easier for him to understand.

If you haven’t read it yet, I recommend that you do! Also on my bookshelf is James Herriot’s All Things Bright and Beautifulwhich is the second in this series my husband bought me a few years ago. I’ve been saving them for when I need something light and uplifting to read, and during this busy time, it’s just what I needed.

Since we’ve been hibernating, there isn’t much more to report. And it looks like I finally finished a post! Thanks for reading. 🙂

Have you read any good books lately? Please stay healthy and happy. 

Book: The Buddha Sat Right Here

Twenty years ago I traveled through India for three weeks, so when I heard Dena Moes interviewed about her family’s eight month pilgrimage to India, I knew I wanted to read her travel memoir about that journey, The Buddha Sat Right HereI thought it would be a fun to “see” India again through someone else’s eyes, and I was right.

The Moes family is a Buddhist family from California. Dena and her husband had two young girls at the time of their trip, and they wanted to take them away from their modern life in order to help them understand why their parents chose to raise them as Buddhists. But, for me, this book was not so much about religion, which is why I’m reviewing it here on my blog. Dena does describe some of the sacred sites and their experiences in beautiful detail, but the book was more about traveling as a family and being a family. Dena faced some difficult feelings about how she didn’t want to return to the way things were when they returned home, and she makes some serious, life-changing decisions while they are in India. Ultimately, the pilgrimage they took into their hearts and minds was more meaningful than the pilgrimage through India.

I thought it was a worthy book because I could relate to all the family stuff — the good, the bad and the in between of daily life, which is exacerbated whenever we’re away from our creature comforts. While I would never want to undertake a journey such as this, and I couldn’t relate to all the reasons they had for visiting each site in the book, I think many women can identify with Dena’s struggles to balance being a wife and mother while running a thriving business as a mid-wife.

If you like to read travel memoirs, or if you are interested in India, Buddhism, or reading about the ups and downs of family life, you’ll enjoy this book. If you like all those subjects, you’ll love it.

Giant Pumpkin Suite by Melanie Heuiser Hill

You know how Amazon.com will make recommendations to you based on your previous purchases? Well, after buying some cello repertoire for my 10-year-old cellist, Amazon recommended the young adult novel Great Pumpkin Suite by Melanie Heuiser Hill. After reading the about it, I decided to check it out from the library.

At first my 10-year-old looked at it and said, “Ah, I don’t want to read that.”

I said what I always say: “Let’s read the first three chapters. If you don’t like it after three chapters, we don’t have to finish it.” He agreed. (So far we have never not finished a book after using this strategy.)

What’s funny is that after three chapters, I wasn’t as interested in reading the book (I liked it okay), but I thought for sure my son wouldn’t want to read it. Instead he said, “We can keep reading it.”

While it was a rather slow beginning for me, it hooked him, and since it’s a young adult book, that’s not surprising. But after we kept reading, I began to love the story more and more. 

It’s about twelve-year-old Rose and her twin brother, Thomas. Although they are twins, they are different in many ways. Rose is very tall for her age, but Thomas is not. She’s also very gifted — school work is easy for her, and she is a prodigy at the cello. She practices as much as she can. She’s very goal-oriented, and she doesn’t let anything get in her way of achieving her goals. At the beginning of the book, she’s preparing for an important competition, and it’s all she can think about. If she wins, she’ll get to study cello with the esteemed Dr. Wallerstein.

Thomas has trouble with school work, and besides that, he’s a very energetic boy who would rather be outside or doing anything besides schoolwork. At the beginning of the book, he discovers that their elderly neighbor, Mr. Pickering, has fallen down his basement stairs. Thomas and his family help Mr. Pickering, and while he’s in the hospital, Thomas takes care of a very important seed that Mr. Pickering is growing. He learns later that it’s a giant pumpkin seed, and he plans to help Mr. Pickering grow it.

Mr. Pickering needs more than just Thomas’s help, however. They get Rose to help them whenever she can, and slowly the whole neighborhood gets involved. The book is full of fun and interesting characters who live and work in her neighborhood.

After a terrible accident, the pumpkin project helps Rose get through her summer, and she and Thomas make many new friends. Best of all, throughout her turbulent, pumpkin growing summer, Rose learns that there is more to life than cello and school work.

I highly recommend this book to all parents and their young children. It makes a great read aloud.

The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason

Recently I read The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason. It was published in 2002, and I think it was also turned into a movie, but I haven’t seen that yet. I would recommend it for adults. I doubt I would have liked it as a teenager.

It’s set in 1886 and begins in London where we meet Edgar Drake, a piano tuner, and his wife, Katherine. The British War Office summons Edgar and gives him a strange commission. They ask him to travel to Burma and tune a rare Erard grand piano that is sitting in the jungle. It belongs to Surgeon-Major Anthony Carroll.  Carroll is beloved and respected by most of the soldiers who have worked under him, but some of the officials in the military get irritated at the mention of Carroll and his piano. They tolerate him only because he has proved himself indispensable in furthering the expansion of the British Empire.

Edgar, with the support of his wife, decides to make the journey, and it’s after he leaves London that the book starts to get interesting. I felt that it had a slow beginning, and he doesn’t actually meet Carroll until much further into the novel. He has some strange encounters and experiences on his trip, but the book kept my attention, and I wanted to keep reading. In Burma, Edgar meets a beautiful woman who seems to be close to Anthony Carroll, but we’re never quite sure what kind of relationship she has with him. As we keep reading, we realize that Edgar is falling for her, and he becomes Odysseus-like in that he can’t go home. However, unlike Odysseus, we know he could go home, if he really wanted to.

Although the act of tuning a piano is only a small part of this novel, I loved the way that the author described Drake tuning the piano and the feelings it evoked in him. I also loved his use of classical music and sound in the imagery and plot. He gives much respect to the craft of tuning. This and his descriptions of the Burmese countryside and the Shan people are probably the best parts of the book. It’s worthy to note that this is the first novel by Daniel Mason, so I would be curious to read his other works and see how they compare.

The ending has a twist, and I’m still trying to decide what I think about this book. If you have read it, please tell me your impressions of the book. If you haven’t, I recommend it, but at the same time, I would not say it’s a “must read.” I could see how some people might not care for it at all, but I think it would be perfect for a book club because it leaves the reader with a lot of questions.

Wesley the Owl by Stacey O’Brien

When Stacey O’Brien was introduced to a little barn owl chick that had nerve damage in his wing, making it impossible for him to return to the wild, she knew she was meant to become his caretaker.

Wesley the Owl is a heartwarming memoir that I believe both mature teens or adults could enjoy. Stacey takes you on a journey as she raises Wesley from a three-day-old chick. She keeps him until the end of his life, which at 19 years is much longer than the average lifespan of a wild barn owl.

Her trials and tribulations with Wesley are not much different from parents raising human children except that when Wesley comes of age, he doesn’t see Stacy as his parent. He sees her as his mate. This creates some funny and embarrassing moments for Stacey, but she is able to record some remarkable data that had never before been observed with a wild or captive owl. Not only did she form a life-long bond with such a beautiful, intelligent creature, he saves her life in return and teaches her many life lessons. In her book, she passes those lessons on to us. 

This book touched me to my core, and I highly recommend it. I am saving it for my boys to read when they are in high school. It is a book in which science and the spiritual side of life come together in a beautiful and rare way.

Chickadee by Louise Erdrich

Chickadee by Louise Erdrich is the fourth book in the Birchbark series for young adults, and I read it out loud to my boys last year. We love this series, and I highly recommend it. You can find links to my reviews of the previous books on my book recommendations page, starting with The Birchbark House.

I should also note that Louise Erdrich has always been my favorite writer of adult books. I have followed her work since I was introduced to it in my American literature class in college. She’s a wonderful storyteller and writes beautiful prose. I was thrilled to learn that she has written this series for young adults too, and I think they are some of my favorite books by her.

In this book, Omakayas is grown up, and now she has a family of her own, including her eight-year-old twin boys, Chickadee and Makoons. I loved the previous books about Omakayas so much that I didn’t feel ready to focus on new characters yet, but, of course, I should not have felt that way because Erdrich drew me in with her lovable cast, suspenseful story and beautiful writing. When Chickadee is kidnapped, we are taken on a journey with him as he learns that despite his size, he can still fight his way back to his family. And I was delighted to see that Two Strike has become a new favorite character of mine as well.

I am not going to tell you any more about this book, but I will urge you to read it. If you haven’t already, you need to start at the beginning of the series. You won’t regret it! These books are delightful enough to read whether you are a youth or an adult.

Book: My Family and Other Animals

Thanks to Laura H., who left a comment on my blog about a year ago recommending Gerald Durrell’s books, I have a new favorite book…or books. (I am planning to read all of Durrell’s books as soon as I can get my hands on them.)

My Family and Other Animals combines my two favorite things: nature and good storytelling. In this book (and its sequels), Durrell writes about an idyllic time he spent with his family on the island of Corfu, off the coast of Greece, during the late 1930s when he was about ten years old. He was a budding naturalist, and on this island, he had the freedom to roam on his own and spend hours watching and studying the insects, birds and other animals he found. He collected dozens of specimens, much to the bewilderment and sometimes horror of his family, but somehow they put up with his little zoo. Actually, I think it was his mother who was the champion and allowed him the freedom and space to keep his animals.

Reading his long passages about the wildlife on Corfu was enough to make me fall in love with this book, but that is just icing on the cake. He also writes about each of his family members, who were quirky and moody, and it all adds up to one hilarious book. Whether or not you enjoy reading nature books, you’ll probably enjoy this memoir of a boy’s candid memories of his family, who make every other family appear normal. Durrell’s memories are those of a clear-headed, thoughtful, and innocent ten-year-old child, yet he writes in a beautiful prose that only an adult could master.

I have read the second book in his trilogy, Birds, Beasts and Relatives, and it’s more of the same — delightful and funny. I haven’t yet been able to get my hands on the third book, Garden of the Gods, or as it’s been renamed, Fauna and FamilyIf you haven’t read any of the books yet, however, you may just want to buy the Corfu Trilogy, which combines all three books.

In the first two books, and probably others, you may be a little shocked to read how Durrell trapped and kept his animals, and though he didn’t mean to hurt them, sometimes they would die. This was actually a common practice among naturalists and researchers in the past, but it’s not common practice anymore. However, it’s because of Durrell’s love of nature and his great efforts to study animals up close as a child that he became a beloved naturalist, conservationist, zookeeper, and spokesperon as an adult. He created the Durrell Wildlife Park and Durrell Wildlife Conversation Trust, which tirelessly works to help animals who are at risk for going extinct.

The other book that Laura recommended to me is Durrell’s The Amateur NaturalistIt’s more of a field guide for naturalists, or in some ways, it’s a naturalist’s memoir of different habitats. (Minus the funny parts about his family.) It’s a beautiful book, and I keep it by my bed when I need a little nature in my nighttime reading. I’ll write about it someday too.

All of these books I plan to give to my son to read when he’s a little older. Right now, I think some of the British humor would go over his head, and he probably would not have the patience to read The Amateur Naturalist. But these books will always be on my bookshelf, and they will always be on my “highly recommended” book list.

Have you read any of Durrell’s books? What is your favorite?

Book: Anna Karenina

Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina was always on my bucket list, so my husband bought me the new translation by husband/wife team Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. They are translators of many Russian novels, and their work is critically acclaimed. This translation of Anna Karenina was published in 2000 and was the winner of the Pen/Book-of-the-Month Club Translation Prize. According to the Paris Review, “Pevear and Volokhonsky’s translations have been lauded for restoring the idiosyncrasies of the originals—the page-long sentences and repetitions of Tolstoy, the cacophonous competing voices of Dostoevsky.”

I had never read the previous translation, and this was my first Russian novel. (Well, I tried to read Gogol’s Dead Souls, but I just couldn’t finish it. Maybe I didn’t have the right translation.)

(SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t read the book yet, and you think you’d like to, stop reading now.)

I loved Anna Karenina. Before I read the book, I knew it was about a woman who cheated on her husband, but I didn’t know it was also about the character of Konstantin Levin. His story is juxtaposed against Anna’s story. He is struggling to find himself as he tries to prioritize work while also nursing a broken heart. He is young and anguished, and at times, annoying, but slowly, his circumstances change, and he becomes a better man because of all his experiences.

Anna is in a loveless marriage, though she seems content enough at the beginning of the book, and she adores her son. It’s not until she meets Vronsky, the man who becomes her lover, that everything goes wrong. Unfortunately, she lives in a society that is not kind to anyone who decides that they want to leave their marriage. It was very interesting to learn about 19th century high class Russian society, which reminded me a great deal of Victorian England. I spent most of the book wondering who to blame — Anna, Vronsky, Anna’s husband, or the society they lived in — and my sympathies changed constantly. I thought Tolstoy’s brilliance was being able to show how complicated people and life are. There are no clear cut lines.

Despite being enthralled with the story, I can’t come away from Anna Karenina saying it’s one of my favorite books. At times the book was boring — Tolstoy adds a lot of social commentary on Russian society that was lost on me — and Levin’s long, drawn-out religious conversion at the end was a let down when I wanted to spend more time with Vronsky and those mourning Anna’s death. I understood that this, too, was a sign of the times and commentary from Tolstoy, but that didn’t make me like it better.

Having not the advantage of reading this in a Russian literature class, or discussing it with others, I still enjoyed it, and I’m so glad I read it. Have you read it? What did you think of it?

Book: Ravens in Winter

One of my goals is to read more nature and science books, and I particularly love birds, so when I found Ravens in Winter by Bernd Heinrich at a library book sale, I couldn’t pass it up. I knew that more research had already been done on ravens because I had seen an interesting documentary about them. (This book was published in 1989.) But since I still don’t know that much about ravens, I knew I could enjoy the book anyway. (The latest news is that scientists have figured out that ravens can plan ahead for the future.)

This is the first science book I’ve ever read. That is, it’s about one scientist’s ongoing study of a subject and what he learned through his observations and experiments. (He had help from graduate students too.) What I loved about the book is that it perfectly illustrates the scientific method. Heinrich had observed ravens on some land his family owned in Maine. They seemed to be sharing their food and calling other ravens to join them. From this observation, he formed a question, or hypothesis, in his head. Did ravens recruit other ravens when they found food? Most animals do not share their food with others, so what advantage did this give them? Heinrich took a sabbatical from his job as a biologist at the University of Vermont to try to find out the answer.

The study ended up taking four years, and he did most of his work whenever he had some time off during the extremely cold, Maine winters. While I read about his adventures in the subzero temperatures, sleeping in a non-insulated and non-heated cabin, carrying heavy carcasses to places in order to attract the birds, climbing to dangerous heights in the trees to get a better view, I quickly decided that I would never have been a good wildlife biologist.

But I’m glad there are other people crazy enough to go to extremes to observe ravens because he found out some amazing facts about them, and his descriptions of their behavior were fascinating. While reading the book, I felt like a detective, sitting with him out in the woods, spying on these creatures, trying to figure out what all their odd behavior meant. Take this, for example:

NOVEMBER 27. I’m awakened to a rosy red dawn under a crystal clear sky with temperatures at 10 degrees F.

At 6:38 A.M. a raven flies over, then a second one. The pair has come–the Hills Ponders. They quork a few times during their apparent morning inspection for intruders and return down the valley to the pond. For the next three hours I see only the ever-present blue jays. They have not made a sound all morning on their frequent trips to the pile of new bait.

At 9:45 I suddenly see several ravens. I cannot count them because in the next half hour they circle over only briefly, disappear behind the trees, return, circle some more, and disappear again in to the forest. One flies to a tree where another has landed, and the first leaves; the second flies on to another perched bird, and that one leaves also. Two circle the bait together. I hear one set of deep quorks and one set of knocking sounds. There are no juvenile yells and no trills.

The chapters in the book alternate between a diary of his observations and experiments and also the research he did on previous scientist’s observations about ravens around the world. He also writes about observations from people who are not scientists, and though their observations can be helpful, he explains that it’s important for a scientist to remain subjective and not assume that certain behavior equals human behavior.

I was joking, a little, when I called him crazy. I can clearly see how appealing it would be to spend so much time out in the wild — sometimes alone and sometimes collaborating with others. You can get the sense of how he feels about about his work in the following passage:

FEBRUARY 5. The days are getting longer, but it is still deep winter. Last night, the northern lights were flickering across the sky. Tonight the sky is lightly veiled in clouds, and the quarter moon has a halo around it. It does not shed much light as I snowshoe up with my gear. I have to make three more trips, each time carrying about seventy-five pounds of frozen meat in a burlap bag slung over my shoulder. All of this is unpaid volunteer work, of course. It is fun. What I do will never have any major significance in the scheme of things. So it had better be fun.

Finally, near midnight, I’m done with my exertions and gratefully crawl into a cool but comfortable bed. Alone–unfortunately. A coyote barks from Gammon Ridge. It sounds like the dog next door. But out here it seems wild and exotic, elemental and beautiful. I am paid many times over for my efforts. But the same things I experience would not be rewards at all if it were not for the efforts I’ve invested.

Heinrich had to conduct many experiments, but he did find out that juvenile ravens will recruit other ravens to a food source, if it is located in the territory of an adult pair. This way, the adults cannot chase them off as easily. But that’s a very simplified explanation, and there is much more to glean from his data. These birds are very clever and deserve our respect. I encourage you to read the book, if you have any interest in science or birds.

Note: A high school student interested in science may enjoy this book, but younger kids would probably think it was boring.

Heinrich has written many books, and I see he has other books about ravens too. Have you read any of his books? Which do you recommend the most?