A lovely coming of age story about a girl who would grow up to become a key player in the civil rights movement.
Naturalist John James Audubon's biography comes to life in this gorgeous graphic novel that's a must-read for every bird lover.
Adventures with the Bloomsbury set, gossipy Edwardian servants, a delightful Victorian mystery, and more Library Chicken.
Scooby Doo meets Lovecraft, Plato fan fiction, classic and new British mysteries, and some feminist biographies feature in this week's Library Chicken.
Why doesn't Harriet Tubman have her own Netflix series yet?? Plus getting the band back together, a Wodehouse homage that didn't work, and more books in this week's roundup.
A strange book about an equally strange disappearance, a modern take on Sherlock, biographies of 19th century people we should know more about, and more in this week's Library Chicken.
Lots of Transcendentalists, why does no one talk about how terrible Bronson Alcott is, Suzanne finally reads some Faulker, and more Library Chicken.
The summer issue is coming together, and—as usual!—I think it's kind of awesome.
around the web
Love this: How historians can become activists
A really excellent guide to what makes a great children’s science book
Relevant to my interests: Behind the scenes at the National Spelling Bee
I bet anyone who read this piece about spies and knitting could have guessed that it would end up in my favorite links
on the blog: I’m talking about our (mostly successful) first year homeschooling high school
also on the blog: We tried doing the Book Deal of the Day on the blog, but people seemed pretty split on whether they liked it, so we are keeping all the book deals on the book deal page.
Suzanne is giving me a major inferiority complex with her Library Chicken success lately. I have been making a dent in my graphic novel/comics reading list because I’m working on a round-up for the summer issue. Highlights so far: Berlin (about the politics and problems of Weimar Berlin in the years leading up to the Nazis), Hark a Vagrant (thank you, Suzanne, for introducing me to the ultimate book nerd comic), Zita the Space Girl (feminist-y sci-fi!), and The Last Unicorn (which may be partly because of the sheer nostalgia factor). Do you have a fave graphic novel I should be sure to check out?
In my continuing effort to pick up books outside my comfort zone, I’m reading In the Garden of Iden, which I apparently put on my holds list at some point. (I sometimes log into my library account after a couple of glasses of wine, which is probably not a good idea but which has brought some interesting books into my life.) This book is technically sci-fi, about a cyborg botanist who travels to Elizabethan England to rescue specific plants from extinction, but it’s really gorgeous historical fiction plus star-crossed love story, and I’m totally okay with that.
My son and I are diving into biographies this summer, starting with Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix, which is one of the coolest picture book biographies I’ve discovered. This one corresponds nicely with our cooking shows obsession. (Next up: Creekfinding: A True Story, which is a biography of an ecosystem rather than a person.)
We’ve been cooped up for a couple of weeks with some yucky health stuff, so we’ve been binging obscene amounts of television. The kids discovered Malcolm in the Middle, which I missed when it was actually on but which is pretty fun to watch on Netflix.
I’m knitting up a few shawl-y things to keep me warm in the classroom this fall, and I think I’m going to start with this super-snuggly one.
Everyone is talking about Wonder Woman (and fair enough—it’s about time!), but I’m already counting down to the new Murder on the Orient Express. (You should watch the trailer just for Kenneth Branagh’s spectacular mustache.)
It's no secret that we at HSL totally buy into Brontes mania, but the three sisters of literary legend make a great high school lit study, especially if you add this academic biography to your reading list. Even if you think you know all about Charlotte, Emily, and Anne (and Branwell—don't forget Branwell!), you'll discover new details in this deeply researched study. One of the best ways to learn how to write intelligently about literature is to read intelligent writing about literature—this book definitely fits the bill.
(Hey, are you a fan of the daily book deal? Leave a comment—we've been doing them for a couple of weeks and want to be sure we're not cluttering up the blog with stuff you don't want to see!)
We're highlighting our picks for best book deal of the day on the blog, but you can always find our favorite Kindle book deals here.
The question that always comes up when we’re talking about people like the Founding Fathers is this one: How could the people whose legacy is the freedom and democracy established by the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution keep slaves? This book doesn’t attempt to answer that unanswerable question. Instead, it shines a spotlight on some of the people enslaved by these heroes of early U.S. history—which, in the case of this well-researched and utterly compelling collection of mini biographies, feels like the only reasonable way to approach this not-so-beautiful piece of our history.
Davis focuses on the lives of five enslaved people (he specifically avoids calling them slaves because of the way that word can dehumanize people by reducing them to property): Billy Lee, who was George Washington’s valet; Ona Judge, another enslaved member of Washington’s household who the family pursued aggressively when she escaped to freedom; Isaac Granger, a skilled metal worked owned by Thomas Jefferson and given by him, along with the rest of the Granger family, to his daughter as a wedding present; Paul Jennings, who served as James Madison’s valet, and Alfred Jackson, who was an enslaved person owned by Andrew Jackson’s family. At first, these may seem like stories of ordinary, everyday people, but that’s the point: For every person like Billy Lee who left more than a bill of purchase in the annals of history, there are hundreds, maybe thousands, whose stories we just don’t know. Davis does a great job piecing together the scraps of available history into narratives that capture the experience of being a slave in the early days of the United States. Some of it is really hard to read—Washington’s dogged pursuit of his escaped slave stood out for me—but these feel like stories that need to be told. I also appreciated that Davis addresses upfront the problem of history and enslaved people—namely, that slaves are not likely to speak ill of masters with the power of life and death over them and that chroniclers of enslaved people might have had a tendency to pick and choose what they included in their narratives, often biasing their work toward positive comments.
This book isn’t a hatchet job on our Founding Fathers, but it does point out the inherent contradictions between their ideal of democracy and their pragmatic approach to slavery in their own lives. I think this should be on every middle grades and high school U.S. history reading list. I had a few problems with the book—the author has a tendency to talk down to his audience and overexplain, which got in the way for me sometimes—but on the whole, it’s an excellent read on an important subject and well worth adding to your library hold list, stat.
Here’s your (new!) weekly round-up of what the BookNerd is reading and how many points I scored (or lost) in Library Chicken. To recap, you get a point for returning a library book that you’ve read, you lose a point for returning a book unread, and while returning a book past the due date is technically legal, you do lose half a point. If you want to play along, leave your score in the comments!
The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft edited by Leslie Klinger
I’ve watched television and movies inspired by Lovecraft’s tales, played board games based on his works, and read countless novels and short stories set in the world he created, but I’ve read very little by the man himself, which is embarrassing given my self-proclaimed status as a hard-core bookish sf/fantasy nerd. This beautiful oversized volume collects 22 of Lovecraft’s Arkham Cycle stories, with extensive annotations by Klinger and a short biographical preface. (Spoiler: Lovecraft was super racist!) Lovecraft definitely has a specific (and repetitive) style — narrators share events almost TOO TERRIBLE TO RELATE involving INDESCRIBABLY HORRIFIC TENTACLED ENTITIES the mere mention of which MAY DRIVE YOU MAD — and may not be for everyone, but this is a great introduction to his work, definitely worth passing along to any teens or adults who may have a Cthulu t-shirt or two but have never gotten around to reading the original. (LC Score: +1)
The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann
As a fan of Victorian novels, I can’t tell you how many characters I’ve watched gracefully waste away after being stricken with consumption. And there are times (especially after a not-so-successful day of homeschooling) where being an invalid on top of a mountain somewhere, breathing the crisp fresh air while a handsome young orderly adjusts my lap blanket before wheeling me to another part of the meadow, sounds pretty awesome. Except, of course, for the whole coughing up blood and dying part. Mann’s famous (and famously long) German novel, set just before the Great War, describes the kind of sanatorium I’ve always imagined myself in and the people that inhabit it more or less permanently. I enjoyed this novel, though I only understood about 80% of it, not including the almost-entirely-in-French chapter that my translation (by H.T. Lowe-Porter) didn’t bother to translate to English and which I didn’t understand t al, forcing me to spend quite a bit of time arguing with Google Translate before discovering a more recent and more friendly edition (by John E. Woods) online. (NOTE: For the past few weeks, I’ve been reading this book alternately with the Lovecraft collection and they went surprisingly well together. I have no idea what that means.) (LC Score: +1)
Mrs. Pollifax and the Second Thief by Dorothy Gilman
This 10th entry in the Mrs. Pollifax spy series — think Miss Marple, CIA agent — has, as usual, a faintly ridiculous plot (set in Sicily this time around), but makes a delightful change from tentacled monsters and German consumptives. (LC Score: +1)
The Rose-Garden Husband by Margaret Widdemer
I think I picked this up based on Amy’s recommendation — and it is indeed a charming little romance, once you get past the racism, which is still kind of charming. (At least compared to Lovecraft.) (LC Score: 0, read on Kindle)
Russell, burnt out from her high-powered London life, moves to Denmark after her husband gets a job at Lego. This is the memoir of her “Danish happiness project”, investigating the claim that Danes are the world’s happiest people and trying to figure out why. I’ve had this book on hold since I read a similar travel memoir — The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia by Michael Booth — but apparently the idea of moving to Denmark strikes a nerve with my fellow metro Atlantans, because I had to wait months for it to become available. I was reminded of the very similar (but non-Danish) The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, and of the two Scandinavian memoirs I think I preferred the Booth book, but it’s still an entertaining read. It left me with NO desire to move to Denmark, however. (LC Score: +1⁄2, loses half a point because I returned it overdue)
Constance Fenimore Woolson: Portrait of a Lady Novelist by Anne Boyd Rioux
I love a literary biography, especially of a female writer, but it’s unusual for me to read one about an author I’ve never heard of or read before. Woolson is primarily known today for her close friendship with Henry James, but in her time she achieved both popular success and critical acclaim. While the reviews of the day hailed her as a permanent addition to the American literary canon, my library doesn’t even have copies of all her major works, though it carries several biographies that (no doubt) emphasize her relationship with James and her death by probable suicide in Venice, proving that fame is fleeting but gossip is forever. (LC Score: +1)
Georgia Odyssey: A Short History of the State by James C. Cobb
I grew up in Florida, so while I learned how to pronounce Ponce de Leon correctly (hint to fellow Atlantans: ‘ponts-dee-lee-on’ is not the usual way to say the name of that street downtown where the Kripsy Kreme is located), I don’t know much about Georgia history. As I’m going to be teaching a class on the history of my adopted state in the fall, I’ve started reading up and have learned that most of Georgia history can be subtitled “Don’t Be Bringin’ Any of That Yankee Nonsense Down Here.” After reading a couple of volumes heavy on cotton crop statistics and making my way through all 1,037 pages of Gone With the Wind, it was wonderful to discover this lively and surprisingly entertaining history by native Georgian and UGA professor James Cobb. At just under 200 pages, it lives up to its title’s promise, but Cobb packs a lot in there. (LC Score: +1)
Library Chicken Score for 4/14/17: 5 1⁄2
On the to-read stack for next week:
Fanny Kemble’s Civil Wars: The Story of America’s Most Unlikely Abolitionist by Catherine Clinton (for the Georgia class)
Quite a Year for Plums by Bailey White (reread for the Georgia class)
Fanny Burney: A Biography by Claire Harman (because it’s the week of Fanny, I guess?)
Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie (because I’m gonna need some space opera after spending all that time in Georgia)
One of my pet peeves book-wise is the lack of good biographies for kids. Unless you want to read about Justin Bieber or someone from the 1850s, there just aren’t a lot of good options out there. So I was pretty darn thrilled when I discovered that Lerner Publications had launched a series of biographies that focus on modern day STEM professionals, including (gasp!) some pretty cool women. These are some of the modern innovators you can meet:
Who she is: a video game designer who believes gaming can make the world a beer place. her best-known games include EVOKE, Superstruct, World Without Oil, Cruel 2 B Kind, and The Lost Ring.
Read all about her in: Alternate Reality Game Designer Jane Mcgonigal by Anastasia Suen
Who he is: The guy who invented some of today’s most buzzworthy robotics, including Google glasses, robotic mapping, and the Google self-driving car— he’s also the founder of the Google X lab.
Read all about him in: Google Glass and Robotics Innovator Sebastian Thrun by Marne Ventura
NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON
Who he is: The question isn’t so much who the director of the Hayden Planetarium and popular astrophysicist is, but why it’s taken so long for someone to write a biography of him.
Read all about him in: Astrophysicist and Space Advocate Neil DeGrasse Tyson by Marne Ventura
Who she is: One of the celebrated women of silicon valley, she’s the brains behind super-popular community photo-sharing website Flickr and creator of the decision-making website Hunch.
Read all about her in: Flickr Cofounder and Web Community Creator Caterina Fake by Patricia Wooster
Who he is: One of the fathers of the iPod, Fadell is the techie who came up with the more-than-a-music-player’s distinctive look and functionality and the Wi-Fi enabled, learning-programmable Nest Labs thermostat.
Read all about him in: iPod and Electronics Visionary Tony Fadell by Anastasia Suen
This reading list was originally published in the spring 2014 issue of HSL.
If women get short shrift in history textbooks, black women get doubly short-changed—and that’s a shame, because cool women like these deserve wider recognition. Now’s the perfect time to get to know them better.
Ballots for Belva: The True Story of a Woman’s Race for the Presidency by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen
Reading level: Elementary
Whatever your opinion about this year’s Presidential election (and if my friends on Facebook are any indication, most of you probably have a lot of opinions!), it’s pretty amazing that just a century after women won the right to vote, a woman has a real shot at becoming President of the United States.
But Hillary Clinton won’t be the first woman to appear on the ballot—that distinction goes to Belva Lockwood, who — in 1884 and again in 1888 — decided to do something about the fact that women weren’t allowed to vote by running for President. (That’s right—though there were laws prohibiting some from voting, no laws said women couldn't run for President.) It was a bold move, but Belva’s life had already been a history of bold moves: Unlike most of her peers, Belva went to college and to law school, and became a lawyer, even arguing cases before the Supreme Court. Plenty of people thought Belva was being unladylike and inappropriate, but she was undeterred. And she had a surprising amount of support: Even though women couldn’t vote for her, Belva managed to receive more than 4,000 votes in the 1884 election as the official candidate for the National Equal Rights Party. Ballots for Belva: The True Story of a Woman's Race for the Presidency tells her story—one that doesn't appear in most U.S. history books.
This picture book biography of Belva’s life keeps things simple, introducing readers to Belva through a series of events in her extraordinary-for-her-time life. The author pays special attention to Belva’s passion for equal rights for everyone—for women, yes, but Belva’s campaign also advocated equal rights for African-Americans, Native Americans, and other marginalized groups. She also takes a fairly matter-of-fact approach to the criticism Belva received for her unorthodox activities—from both the media and more traditional people and sometimes even from her fellow women’s rights activists.
Though this is a picture book, it’s not just for younger readers. Older kids will find Belva fascinating, too, and this book is a great introduction to her life. (The bibliography at the back of the book guides you to further reading suggestions,) I liked the period illustrations (though what’s with the random cats?), which really help tell the story. There are a few places where the storytelling falls a little flat for me, but Belva is absolutely interesting enough to pull you along through an occasional dry patch.
(If you’re playing summer reading bingo, this one counts as a biography of a historical figure you learned about this year if you’ve been following the 2016 election, as a nonfiction book, or as a book you can finish in one day.)
Discover some of history’s forgotten, neglected, and misunderstood heroines this March for Women’s History Month. In this edition: Three women who made the literary world a more interesting place.
For Women’s History Month, we’ll be featuring biographies of women in history who may have beenforgotten, neglected, or misunderstood by traditional history books. In this edition: three women who contributed to the world’s mathematical understanding.
Sorry, Steve Jobs, but Lord Byron’s daughter Ada Lovelace may just be the pioneering genius behind modern day computer science. Lady Byron steered her daughter toward science and mathematics, which inspired her to work wit Charles Babbage, a mathematics professor whose Difference Engine is often considered the first proto-computer.
Read more about her in: Ada’s Algorithm: How Lord Byron’s Daughter Ada Lovelace Launched the Digital Age by James Essinger
Albert Einstein called Noether the most important woman in the history of mathematics, and even if you’ve never heard her name before, you’re familiar with her work if you’ve ever studied abstract algebra or theoretical physics.
Read more about her in: Emmy Noether: The Mother of Modern Algebra by M.B.W. Tent
Leavitt’s work at the Harvard Observatory in the early 1900s was supposed to be methodical and uncreative, but Leavitt was too intelligent to record without analyzing. Using blinking stars to determine brightness and distance from the Earth, Leavitt helped astronomers understand that the universe was much larger than anyone had previously suspected.
Read more about her in: Look Up!: Henrietta Leavitt, Pioneering Woman Astronomer by Robert Burleigh
This information was originally published in the winter 2015 issue of home/school/life, but Women’s History Month seemed like the perfect time to bring it to the blog. You can read the full article—with lots of other cool women included—in that issue.
For Women’s History Month, we’ll be featuring biographies of women in history who may have been forgotten, neglected, or misunderstood by traditional history books. In this edition: three women whose big ideas changed the world.
I think winter is probably one of my favorite times to be a homeschooler. By February, we’ve hit our groove, we’ve usually got a few awesome projects going, and it’s still cold enough so that cuddling on the couch is a featured morning activity.
around the web
It’s like Patricia is living inside my brain with this post about her son’s professed disinterest in reading. (This is one of those times where just knowing that I am not alone helps SO MUCH.)
Another you-read-my-mind post: What’s up with sites creating situations where kids have to lie about their age?
The In Search of Lost Time graphic novel is at the very top of my I-want-this list, y’all .
in the magazine: We’re working on a piece about experiences every homeschool family should have. What’s on your homeschool bucket list?
in the archives: When I need a little jolt of inspiration, I find myself turning back to Tracy’s post on the three words every homeschool parent should know.
I love starting a new readaloud, and Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library has all the makings of a new favorite.
I may have preordered the Doctor Who coloring book.
I will read anything about the Tudors, but even if you don't share my obsession, I can wholeheartedly recommend The Lost Tudor Princess: The Life of Lady Margaret Douglas, Alison Weir’s new biography of one of family’s lesser-known members.
Pretty much all we talk about at dinner these days is Undertale. (Are your kids obsessed, too?)
Jason and I are on the last season of Smallville. I am all over the place about this show—I am glad we watched it because some of it has been really interesting (and I really love Ollie and Lois), but it is so uneven.
We are finally easing back into meal planning (after months of kitchen exile), and I love getting to make actual food again. (The bolognese from Ruth Reichl’s My Kitchen Year is my favorite cooking project so far, no question!)
We’ve started watching an episode of Good Eats together most afternoons (a lot of episodes are free on Netflix now), and it’s become one of the most fun parts of our day. I love all the random information that sends us off on tangents together.
My friend’s daughter had so much fun in this Expressive Picture Book Characters Craftsy drawing class that I signed my daughter up, too.
We have been gearing up for Leap Day with some of these activities. The calendar math puzzling has been a surprise hit. Are you doing anything special for Leap Day?
The red-winged blackbirds are back — which means spring is coming, even though our back deck was dusted with snow a couple of days ago. This winter has been cold but not snowy, so we’ve spent a lot of time inside around the fire this year. That means lots of books and artsy-crafts projects in our house.
:: We have a lovely stack of biographies to read for Women’s History Month. (Did you see all the great recommendations we had in the winter issue? I think the Marie Curie biography is one of the best-written biographies I’ve read in a long time, but my daughter is loving Invincible Louisa, which didn’t even end up on our final list for the magazine.)
:: Everybody seems to be having babies this year, and I’ve made Milo and the Puerperium Cardigan (free) so many times I can knit them even when I get caught up in the Buffy musical (which may be the greatest single episode of television ever, no?).
:: My daughter is very into making felt portraits of her favorite anime characters right now, so we have been on the hunt for quality felt. We’re digging the plant-dyed colors from A Child’s Dream, which are richer and more subtle than some of the crayon brights we’ve discovered. Bonus: The pink is apparently just the right shade for Madoka’s hair.
:: Cold weather apparently makes me want comfort books because I have been rereading some of the cheerfully old-fashioned domestic books I loved in my younger days: The Blue Castle (don’t you really want a movie version of this in which Nathan Fillion plays Barney?), A Woman Named Smith,The Grand Sophy,The Rose Revived …
:: Winter is my favorite time to make complicated, lots-of-prep-work-required recipes, and Nigella’s Mughlai Chicken is one of our favorites — creamy and not-too-spicy served over mounds of basmati rice with spinach on the side.
:: This is also our season of board game playing. Wildcraft remains our family favorite — we always cheer when we draw the chickweed card because that is one handy plant — but we have also enjoyed Quixx (a dice game that’s like a cooler, more strategic Yahtzee), Quilt Show, Tokaido (which nicely taps into the kids’ passion for all things Japanese), and the Laser Maze logic game.
:: We have had a lot of fun with the How to Make a Coat of Arms tutorial at the The Postman’s Knock. I think we now have coats of arms for ourselves, the Grimm sisters, Ciel Phantomhive, Pigeon (of Mo Willems fame), and the Baudelaire and Snicket families hanging up in our art room.
What's your family enjoying this March?
Summer reading is in full swing over here, which means I have a deliciously gluttonous stack of books to report on. Here's what we're reading by the pool, while we're stirring pots of tomato sauce to can, on the hammock, on the deck, in the car, and pretty much everywhere else.
On Our Own
The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester :: I am a little obsessed with the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary. (So much so that I have been known to joke that if we ever have another son, we will have to name him Oedipus so that we can call him OED.) So I relished this book about a little-known piece of its history, a man who contributed more than 10,000 definitions to the dictionary's creation and who also happened to be living in an asylum for the criminally insane.
Little, Big by John Crowley :: Not everybody likes rereading books, but I do—as a kid, I would often flip from the last page of a book I loved right back to the front page so that I could start the whole thing over immediately. I think there's something sort of illuminating about going back to a literary world, and Little, Big is one of those books I can read over and over, finding something new to love every time. It's one of my perfect summer books.
Mimesis: The Representations of Reality in Western Literature by Erich Auerbach :: I read this for a pop culture in philosophy class I'm co-teaching at our homeschool group this fall. (Now watching Doctor Who and Buffy the Vampire Slayer counts as legitimate academic research!) It's an impressively comprehensive look at the history and evolution of Western literature, and each of the essays stands alone pretty well, so it's great for bits-and-pieces reading, which I do a lot of during the summer.
The Magic Treehouse: Dinosaurs Before Dark by Mary Pope Osborne :: I'm feeling super-sentimental watching my son dive into the Magic Treehouse series, just as his sister did before him.
My daughter's been on a feminist biography kick. (I'm not complaining!) I think she was inspired by Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women, which we read together last year, and which, if you haven't read it, definitely deserves a spot on your library list. (I love that in addition to giving the histories of some very cool women and girl inventors, it includes resources to get readers started with their own inventions.) She's breezed through Invincible Louisa (about Louisa May Alcott), The Daring Nelly Bly (from our spring issue!), and Rooftop Astronomer: A Story about Maria Mitchell. With biographies (and honestly with most books), I don't worry much about reading level—I just let her grab whatever appeals to her.
The kids were fascinated by the mystery of the princes in the Tower, who vanished somewhere between Richard III and Henry VII's reign, so I thought The Daughter of Time, a mystery novel by Josephine Tey that tackles the topic with modern-day researching detectives, would be a hit. My 12-year-old is captivated—I don't think it had occurred to her that modern-day historians could try to solve historic mysteries.
Continuing my tradition of forcing my children to listen to readalouds of books I loved as a child, we're reading Honestly, Katie John by Mary Calhoun. Happily, this one has proven to be popular with the kids, too, and we've enjoyed reading about tomboy Katie's adventures.
We keep a running list of readaloud books, and everyone adds books to it as they strike our fancies. My daughter read Lloyd Alexander's Vesper Holly adventure series last fall, and we're finally getting around to The Illyrian Adventure for our bedtime readaloud. It's pure fun reading about 19th century American orphan Vesper, her prim-and-proper guardian Brinnie, and their adventures in an invented Adriatic nation.
So that's what we've been reading. What about you?