Education: valuable or dangerous?

I went to the post office one day to mail a book. The clerk was one who knew me as a regular, often mailing my Paperback Swap books on to another reader. As he went through the standard script and asked, “Does the package contain anything potentially hazardous?” I replied flippantly, “No, independent thought is still legal.”

He laughed, thank goodness. I can just see the post service suddenly searching my mail because of my slightly sarcastic sense of humor. Oops.

There have been a few changes since that day.

  • This guy, one of my favorite clerks, has since retired.
  • There’s a new majority on Capital Hill.
  • A recent poll indicates that the new majority, the Republican side, doesn’t value education in general. Worse: the Republican caucus thinks higher education is a waste of time and even bad for the U.S. (See the Pew Study results here)

Independent thought may still be legal, but learning and thinking are less and less valuable to our government. In fact, the impression I get is that the current folks in charge want to keep the populace ignorant, malleable, and easy to control.

This is scary, people. Very scary. Dare I suggest – keep reading, keep learning, and keep connecting with your legislators. Remind them that they work for all of us, not just those who voted them into office. Call, email, send postcards, attend town hall meetings. If you dare, participate in rallies and protests.

Independent thought is still legal. Let’s keep it that way.


The 40 Bag Project and Books

I’m making a serious effort to keep up with this de-cluttering project. I had a rough morning today, though. I decided to go through a box of books leftover from my classroom days. Classroom libraries are a source of joy and a major cost factor for most teachers. I managed to donate mine to a new teacher when I moved to teaching online, but there are still a few boxes in the house. I went through one this morning. It wasn’t easy.

I listed several on my Paperbackswap account. One has already been requested. I have great hopes for more to fly out the door by way of the Post Office. There were a few, however, that I couldn’t post.

Three didn’t have ISBN numbers. Yes, readers, I have books old enough that they don’t carry that magic number. Without it, I couldn’t post them on the swap site.

Then there was the domino effect. I attempted to stack the new entries in the bookshelf with the others, but there wasn’t enough room. My solution: sort through the contents of the shelf and make room. I managed to group several folders together so they didn’t take up quite as much space, and I also found ancient paperwork worthy of the shredder. I reorganized so that all garden-themed books (not going anywhere, thank you very much) have one section of the shelves and all textbook types are together in another.

At this point the table was covered with piles of books and my laptop, open to the “Post Books” tab on Paperback Swap. Craziness, eh? More so than you realize; we had a meeting scheduled in less than an hour and we’d need the table by then. I did manage to get the books back on a shelf, power down and stash the laptop, and wipe down the table before our meeting began.

And I haven’t even mentioned the books I didn’t post or set aside for an upcoming rummage sale: a Leo Lionni, a Tomie dePaola Strega Nona book, and a couple more that need to be stored with others of their kind in the attic.

Books. It’s not easy being green when it comes to literature. I might sort through the garden stack again – or maybe not. It’s a good season for selling those to Half Price Books; it’s also a good season to browse through a few of my favorites.

Books. It’s not easy being green when it comes to the written word. Heaven help me if I ever have to decide between books and shoes for shelf space.

The Book Club – Dystopian or Apocalyptic?

It’s not an annotated bibliography, but a short plot summary for each should do.

Phoenix Rising, by Karen Hesse. Nuclear meltdown in a nearby power plant puts a whole community at risk of fallout contamination. Told from the perspective of a teen girl, this story will both touch and frighten readers. Masks, Geiger counters, and other protective gear become everyday items. When her family takes in a boy with radiation sickness, the girl starts to see the disaster with new eyes.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. If you’ve seen the movies, you’ll like the books even more. By telling the stories in first person, Collins helps readers understand Katniss’ point of view and how and why she becomes the reluctant role model for the revolution.

1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale would have to be on the high school or college list. The more recently published Cyberstorm could join those. If you’re really brave, try Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and don’t forget Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.

Are you with me so far? Required reading for facing a Trump presidency will show the frightening ways that life imitates art.

I asked some of my friends on social media for suggestions.

Animal Farm becomes more relevant as Russia leans more toward its Soviet Union past. We the Living by Ayn Rand; One Second After. by William R. Forstchen. Brave New World, of course. They listed A Clockwork Orange – shudder.

Why the book list, people might ask. Why? Well, folks, I suggest that reading a few of these, followed by some serious thought and observations, might open some eyes. More than that, analysis of many of these plots has the potential to open minds.

Friends, family, readers, can you suggest other titles?

Walk a Mile in my Shoes Empathy Book Club

Sanctuary cities. Executive orders. Airport detentions. A border wall. The news is full of negatives, stereotypes, anger, and fear. What’s missing? Empathy. Here’s a book list to encourage empathy for those who come to America from other cultures, whether voluntarily or as refugees. With the exception of the first title, all are suitable for young people.

  • A Step from Heaven by An Na
  • A Korean family moves to America, and the daughter has to find her inner strength to keep herself and her family whole. Despite her intelligence and ability to learn the language quickly, the girl encounters racism and sexism as she adjusts to her new home.
  • The Late Homecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir by Kao Kalia Yang
  • The Hmong people were recruited to help American troops during the Vietnam war. After the war, when the new government began to persecute them, the United States provided a safe haven for Hmong refugees. Kao Kalia tells the stories of several generations as they flee Laos through camps in Thailand and eventually settle in the Midwest. The first person accounts make for a powerful read.
  • Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan
  • Esperanza is forced to leave Mexico after a tragedy takes her safety and her family’s wealth. She is unprepared for the challenges of living in a new country with no money and no home. Esperanza is Spanish for hope, and 13 year old Esperanza finds her inner strength as she follows a path that leads to hope and a better life. This book won the Newbery Award in 1999.
  • Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhja Lai
  • A new home in Alabama means safety from the Vietnam war, but this family misses their old home in Saigon as they adjust to the new culture, new landscape, and strange foods and customs. Discrimination is rampant for their Asian appearance and poor English skills. A Newbery honor book in 2012 – well worth the time for the amazing writing and heart felt story.
  • In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Bette Bao Lord
  • The story takes place in Brooklyn, NY, during 1947. The backdrop of Major League Baseball’s integration helps Shirley Temple Wong and her family adjust to being recent immigrants from China. Winner of many awards, this is a valuable read.
  • Grab Hands and Run  by Francis Temple
  • Felipe is twelve when his father is killed and he must grab hands with his sister and mother and flee El Salvador for safety in Canada. This book follows their long and difficult journey, and includes the dangers they face and their doubts about leaving their home.

Readers, what are some other books you recommend – for young adults or those who are grown-ups?

And still another key to comprehension: questioning

I kept thinking of the George Carlin quote about reading and questioning, but it didn’t quite fit. I went with Jack Prelutsky instead.

Meanwhile, I shared this post with the online world.

“Don’t just teach your children to read…
Teach them to question what they read.
Teach them to question everything.” — George Carlin, comic genius

Books – Ambrosia for the Mind

An encore post from several years ago – I still remember the child popping up and looking confused. I would have hugged him, but I’m sure he would have been utterly embarrassed. As we’re saying goodbye to my book-loving stepfather, this post reminds me that books are amazing.

It was a typical class transition, which in my class means a struggle to get everyone to shift gears mentally and physically. Then, guide all 25 of them into the hallway (quietly!) and across the hall for Science, and welcome the other group of 9- and 10-year-olds into my classroom for Social Studies. We made it through these maneuvers, I allowed one girl and one boy to use the rest rooms, and then turned out the lights and turned on the overhead projector to introduce the details of the upcoming research project.
Suddenly a confused-looking face peeked up from the Book Nook corner behind the computers. One of mine, looking confused, stood up and shook his head a little. He had been so involved in the book he was reading, so totally lost in its world, that he never noticed the rest of the class putting away their math books, getting out their science folders, and leaving the room. He smiled sheepishly, gathered his materials and left the room.
No, I didn’t give him grief. I couldn’t. You see, I recognized a little of the fourth grade me in this kid. My mother remembers the time I walked home from school reading a book and I walked right past our house. Books? They’re great. Who needs TV?

In case you’re wondering, the book was a Junior Classic, an abridged version of Robinson Crusoe that I picked up for $1 at a thrift store.
It was a dollar well spent.

Potter Returns

Harry had never even imagined such a strange and splendid place.

What makes a book or series worth re-reading? A good story, believable and likable characters, a unique world so strange and splendid it can’t be imagined – unless described by a brilliant storyteller. Harry Potter is one such series.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone has a special magic. The shortest of the seven, it introduces Harry and his readers to a whole new world: a world of magic. Witches, wizards, a sport played on flying broomsticks, owl post, powerful potions, and more incredible yet believable things exist in this parallel world. In The Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry first learns of his family and his wizard identity.

Readers can share his awe as he learns that his new school has its own train that leaves from platform Nine and Three Quarters at Kings Cross Station. Somewhere between platforms nine and ten, he encounters the Weasley family, asks them for help finding the train, befriends Ron, and the rest, as they say, is history. Mythology? Legend? Wizardry? Ghostology?

I enjoy rereading The Sorcerer’s Stone because of JK Rowling’s genius. The settings are magically unique, but she describes them in a matter of fact tone so that we readers know this is only the beginning. When she describes the staircases at Hogwarts’ School for Witchcraft and Wizardry, all 142 of them: “…wide, sweeping ones; narrow, rickety ones; some that led somewhere different on a Friday…” it’s simply in a paragraph about Harry attempting to learn his way to his classes.

And the classes! No Intro to British Lit here. Harry takes History of Magic (taught by a ghost), Herbology, Charms, Transfiguration, Potions, and the cursed (literally, but we don’t know that until a later book) Defense Against the Dark Arts.

The “strange and splendid place” in the first line is the Great Hall as Harry sees it on his arrival at Hogwarts. In his limited upbringing by his neglectful Muggle (non-magical) relatives, he had never even dared imagine a world so wonderful.

Thankfully for all readers, JK Rowling did imagine such a strange and splendid place – a world nearby, yet far different from our everyday Muggle existance. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone stands on its own as a wonderful story and sets up the reading world for an adventure that begins – and ends, several books later – on Platform Nine and Three Quarters at Kings Cross Station.

This is an encore post. On a Saturday night in the cold Wisconsin winter, Chuck and I settled down on the couch to relax, and the first movie in the series came on TV. We enjoyed the details and reminisced about our own Potter-related memories. 

All This for a Stack of Books?

It’s not just any stack of books. In my family? Books fill and overflow the shelves until we have book piles – and that’s after I swap away quite a few and deposit a few more in neighborhood Little Free Libraries.

But I’m already getting off topic. La Petite called and asked if I could help her transport a bookshelf she would like to buy. I was going to be there anyway, coming to pick up Amigo after a weekend visit. Of course I said “Sure, why not?”

First: the bookshelf she wanted, a display model, flew off the store shelves before we arrived. It was gone. The store had the item in stock at full price, but La Petite wasn’t quite prepared to pay that much that day. That’s my girl: frugal to the end, even with a bookshelf.

But we had the van. And the shelves were unlikely to fit in her Saturn. Unlikely? Impossible .And the shelf unit was perfect, just perfect, for her apartment and the Big Art Books that needed a home. The shelf unit was a little more than she wanted to pay, but the Momvan was temporarily available, and it was Black Friday weekend, after all. She asked for a manager – nicely, of course.

The manager on duty offered her 20% off – close to $100 discount. We bought the shelves.

With a big box of ready-to-assemble bookshelf loaded into the Momvan, we realized we didn’t have a hand truck or dolly to help us maneuver this big, not too heavy but definitely awkward box from the parking lot to her apartment. We found a nearby Menard’s (doesn’t every strip have a nearby Menard’s?), bought a simple hand truck and a toy for the Toys for Tots box, and we were ready.

It wasn’t easy, and it was punctuated by repeated utterances in the category of “Mom, you’re pushing the wrong way,” but we got the Big Awkward Box to her door and then up to her second floor apartment. Luckily (for me, anyway), she didn’t want the shelves up in her loft bedroom.

And so, all was well with the world. Amigo and I hit the road with a few chips and sodas for a snack and the Green Bay Packers battling the New England Patriots on the radio. La Petite watched the game and put together her new set of shelves.

Home, sweet home.

Home, sweet home.