Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Graciously Consubstantial, Like The Dewfall

I have been putting off this post, hoping I would get over it.  Until lately, every time I heard the word consubstantial, I'd twitch with a slight feeling of annoyance.  You see, I can't help remembering a few angry letters to the editor of our local Catholic newspaper concerning the new translation. I don't have the exact words, but some readers complained about the annoying use of the phrase "graciously grant."  Another complained about "under my roof" which I defend here.  Still another complained about that most brutally burdensome of all the words in any language, "consubstantial."  Each of these letters irked me, but I decided that answering the complaints would probably do no good.  The Mass has changed, and if these Catholics refuse to grasp the reason, no amount of explaining will help.

I have been giving some thought lately to the idea of "willful ignorance," and I am pretty sure that's what we have here.  Rather than explore the meanings and reasons for the new translation, they are satisfied to complain about them.  And they find they are not alone.  There is no lack of listeners who will readily add their voices to the complainers' chorus.  Oh, if they would only sing (good music) as loudly as they complain!

But a year into the new translation, there's good news:  Catholics Overwhelmingly Approve the New Missal.  So.

I love the word consubstantial, and that is due to, I suspect, my love for language studies.  There is a school of thought in linguistics that there is a physical or intuitive relationship between a word and its meaning--a certain kind of iconicity.  I know it is not always true, though there are some fun examples to add to the discussion, like matching IKEA items to their catalog designations, or not.  In the case of consubstantial, the word itself is consubstantial, together in an inseparable way that make it one word.  I find it way more evocative of the relationship between the Father and the Son than "one in being with" ever could be.  "One in being with" is awkward, and sounds like bad grammar.

Look.  We humans are linguistic geniuses.  We use words because we want to communicate   We use big words to communicate big ideas.  People raised on big words learn them just as easily as they learn small words.  If we are capable of learning these longer, more precise words, then let's do it and stop disparaging the new translation for its differences, and embrace a bigger reality that requires more precision and more thought.

Monday, December 3, 2012

BEST Chem Lab Book for Home Use (and more)

So...The kids are rapidly approaching high school age, and you are worried about science.  You can probably handle biology, astronomy, earth science and even physics, but what about chemistry?  Is it possible to provide a student with chemistry labs at home?

It's not hard to teach basic chem.  If you find it too difficult, pick up a used copy of The Teaching Company's Chemistry course, or a new copy at The Great Courses website, a few good (living) books (see booklist at the end of this post), a review book for a topic spine, and do labs.  

OK.  So how do we add a lab?  Glassware is readily available.  A small scale and coffee filters will help.  But how do we get chemicals?  A few are easy.  I got a roll of magnesium ribbon from Amazon (lighting a strip and watching it burn brightly demonstrates activation energy--adding a bit of energy to start an exothermic reaction).  But many other necessary chemicals are simply not legally shipped to home chemistry labs.

The solution (heh!) is simple:  The Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments.  Yeah, yeah...sure, I thought.  Ha!  It's fine if you can get the chemicals.  But look.  Not only does this book tell you where you can buy chemicals, it tells you how you can make the chemicals you can't buy!  And best of all, since a few of these are very simple qualitative recipes, younger siblings can follow the instructions and get a taste of elementary chemistry without doing the harder stoichiometry.  Everybody wins.  Here's an example:

[...long pause.  The problem with really good books is that they sprout legs in this house, and migrate away from my review pile and into some kid's room, book bag (good luck getting that back) or shelf.  Oh, good; I found it.]

"You can produce ammonium acetate by neutralizing clear household ammonia with distilled white vinegar and evaporating to dryness."  The younger kids can then watch the older student use it as he determines the pH of an aqueous salt solution.  And he will gleefully remind his younger sibling,  "If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the precipitate!"  (Yes, there's a t-shirt for that.)

And just a reminder:  You don't have to complete the book.  Do what you can, and that will suffice.  Make sure you follow the safety instructions, and have your students (even the younger ones) document everything they do.  This book has some very heavy-duty experiments for the more dedicated chemistry student, but it also has some of the very basic experiments that most high school students will need.

Here's a quick list of books (gleaned from the old MacBeth's Opinion site):

 The Joy of Chemistry (Warning:  This is a  wonderful new book, with labs included...easy to understand, and uses common and familiar items...but, you might need to take a black marker to the preface and introduction, as the authors compare this book briefly to The Joy of...something else.)

 Stories of the Invisible  Small stuff!

Bright Earth  Find out about the chemistry, history, and language of color!  A wonderful book for young artists.

CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics (reference "must have" for those hoping to study science in college) .

Molecules at an Exhibition : Portraits of Intriguing Materials in Everyday Life by John Emsley  This is such a fun book that the one objectionable chapter is excused (see end of review).  Chemicals are grouped in "galleries" of similar molecules, and the author gives us a neat story of the history of the stuff and its use or effect on the body or the world.  The first gallery includes chocolate, cola, garlic, and selenium.  Other chapters include the metals we need in the body, chemicals in the home, harmful chemicals (including some drugs), plastics, common elements, radioactive elements, and more.  I do wish that the author had included a diagram of the molecules he lists, and he makes the unsupported assertion that the world is overpopulated by humans during a chapter on chemicals and sex.  So skip chapter three, or talk about it, but the rest of the book is fascinating.

The Chemical History of a Candle by Michael Faraday was written as a series of lectures by the famous scientist himself.  The science is clear, and you can follow the experiments along with Faraday.

 The Mystery of the Periodic Table How did it ever come to be?

The Periodic Kingdom by P. W. Atkins follows CM's suggestion for science of a literary character.  The periodic table of elements is treated as a geographical place, with each element being a different country, similar to the countries surrounding it, but with subtle differences.  This is an excellent introduction to the elements.
Camelot Chemistry Primer is the best work/text for chemistry I have seen.  It is literary and fun, but includes the mathematical chemistry that a serious science student needs.  This book will help quantify all of the qualitative information he has learned through years of nature study.

Life's Matrix: A Biography of Water by Philip Ball tells us all about water, from the moment of creation (Big Bang) to the present.  Water, a common molecule, is unique!  Use this book for biology, too.

Mendeleyev's Dream : The Quest For the Elements by Paul Strathern (history of the periodic table of elements) .

The 13th Element : The Sordid Tale of Murder, Fire, and Phosphorus by John Emsley (real life drama about phosphorus--engaging!) .

The Chemical Tree: A History of Chemistry by William Brock (history of this science in a quick 744 pages) .

Chemical Magic by Leonard Ford (old-fashioned demonstration book--dove-tails nicely with history of chemistry, but some of the experiments are dangerous!)

Radioactive Substances by Marie Curie (Madame Curie's thesis; great for physics and chemistry students)    

Update:  The wonderfully trustworthy Karen Richards adds Caveman Chemistry to the list of books.  Thanks Karen!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

25 Picture Book Favorites

A list with relevant comments.

1. Make Way for Ducklings  What?  You didn't grow up in Boston?  Get a taste of the best city on earth (politics excepted) through the illustrations in this book.  Ironically, I understand that the author studied ducks for the illustrations in his apartment in that other northeastern city.  This book was at my grandmother's house, and it is the first book my mother buys for her grandchildren.

2. Ping  Ping is also about ducks, but Ping is domestic, kept by a family living on a boat in China.  Ping gives us a peek into a China that is nearly gone--a China where big families are typical.  Ping has siblings, and so do the children in the wise boat.  Contrast this with the Ping-inspired, lavishly illustrated China of Daisy Comes Home.  This new China has no families, no siblings, and like the people of post-revolutionary China, unrelated hens are crammed into quarters with each other.  When one hen resists and runs, she is relentlessly hunted down and forced back into the communal life.  The little girl who cares for the hens is so similar to the little girl on the "one child" billboards in China that it gives one the creeps.

3. The Five Chinese Brothers are lucky they have each other.  Had the first brother been born under the one child policy, he'd have been put to death for sure.  This is one of my favorite books of all time.  Every time I am at the beach at low tide I think of the first scene, where the first brother swallows the sea.  This book was always at my grandmother's house, and I read it over and over again as a child.

4. Blueberries for Sal Trip once told me that I never read this book enough.  Poor Paul does not even remember it.  The bear is the best part.  I suspect that McCloskey did not keep a bear in his apartment while illustrating this classic summertime story.

5. Jamberry More Berries! During the same discussion we had about Blueberries for Sal, Trip told me he wished to live in Jamberry.  It's not just about the berries, but the canoe and the waterfall!

6. Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny  My opinion on GNM is long; read it here.  TRB has a different charm.  While putting together this post I asked Paul about his favorite picture book, and he chose this one.  Really??  When Paul was little he hated this book with such a passion!  He cried and got angry every time the bunny's escape was foiled by his crafty mother.  In fact, after reading The Edison Trait I emailed the author and told her about Paul's issue with the book.  She reassured me that this was typical Edison kids behavior.  Aha!!

7. Millions of Cats OK.  So the cats have a big fight and eat each other.  Don't let that put you off. The last kitten is so sweet.  Read it with funny voices, especially for the cats.

8. Harry the Dirty Dog I love this book more now since we actually had two dogs that resembled clean and dirty Harry.  And it's also a view into places in the city that only a dog would visit.

9. The Wall  Back to communism.  Were you enthralled by the illustrations in Daisy?  Here's a first hand look behind the iron curtain's colorful veneer. What jolly drab fun, comrades! Rejoice with the author as he escapes to the Land of the Free.

10. Rapunzel (Zelinsky) When it comes to fairy tales, the creepier the better.  These are cautionary tales of the best type, and are meant to frighten.  We enjoyed the illustrations in this version, and the story, but...This isn't Disney.  Rapunzel is visited by the prince and falls pregnant!  The notes at the end explain the historical accuracy.  Perhaps this is a version best left for more mature readers.

11. The Wild Swans And when it comes to brutal fairy tales, no one tells a better one that Andersen, whose characters are as cruel as the thrashing sea that threatens to swallow the eleven enchanted bothers and their sister.  The image of crushing nettles into flax and spinning and weaving the fibers has stayed with me since childhood.

12. Stephen's Feast The simply-told story based on the carol Good King Wenceslas earns a place on this list because it makes the lyrics clear to little ones.  The illustrations are lively, ranging from warm and fire-lit to cold and snowy. The page from the second verse is the eponymous Stephen.

13. Stone Soup Stone soup, nail soup, whatever you call it, this is a story of sharing, and is not to be confused with the miracle of the loaves and fishes, though there seems to be some trend in canned homilies to turn the feeding of the multitudes into some kind of hunger-crazed mob sharing event.  This is also an interesting reminder that we, too, have troops coming home from wars.  How do we (people, not government) treat them?

14. The Huckabuck Family is one of Sandburg's funniest and weirdest tales.  I have not tried it, but this book might be a good launching point for a gardening unit.  Try growing popcorn, or placing a small Chinese slipper buckle on a squash blossom and see if the fruit grows around it, revealing the buckle when the squash is cut.  Be careful, though...your luck might change!  Also?  Try calling your family members by their first names twice (Paul-Paul!) to see if they respond more quickly.

15. Peter Rabbit  The only thing I can say here is what a shame it is that the Peter Rabbit game we got from the Traditional Game Company (SAC) is no longer made.  Hours of Peter Rabbit fun in a box enhanced our reading!  Some few online interactive games and more are out there, though.  Peter is a disobedient rabbit who finds there is a reason for the rules.  Check out Potter's other books, especially Ginger and Pickles, The Tale of Two Bad Mice, and the horrible Tale of 
Samuel Whiskers.

16. Little Tim and the Brave Sea Captain (and other Tim books) Before reading Swallows and Amazons, read these.  Ardizzone's illustration take us to the quay side.  These are stories of daring rescues, tall ships, and kids who talk to strangers.  As we always said, "Everyone's a friend on the sea!"

17. Letters from Father Christmas Tolkien.  Christmas.  What could be better?  Goblins!  a polar bear!  What will happen next year on the North Pole?  Unlike the author's children, yours ill not have to wait a whole year to find out (unless you read one letter per year).  All the letters are in one place.  And Tolkien's own illustrations bring the book fresh from the author's mind into your home.

18. Madeline We'll always have Paris, as long as we have Madeline.  Really.  when the girls and I were in Paris for Libby's concert tour, all they kept saying was, "Remember when Madeline was here?"  It was a real picture book tour, and we were not even trying.  The one thing we didn't see much of were vines.  There were plenty of old houses, but no vines covering them.

19. The Little Island Is another terrific pre-Swallows and Amazons book.  Read this, and take the kids to a little island.  Sometimes, a little island is a pile of mud in a puddle.  Sometimes it's a biggish island in a bay.  Sometimes it's just a rock at low tide on the sound.  In any case, an island is a place the children will find unique creatures and adventures they can call their own.  Enticed by an island in the marsh beyond my aunt's house, Trip was determined to make this journey.

20. The Shoemaker and the Elves is one of the few fairy tales with a nice cast of characters.  the evil is poverty, but the elves and the shoemaker and wife are just nice.  My favorite retelling was on a film strip in elementary school.  Heh.  Remember film strips?

21. Many Moons  Thurber.  Funny, thoughtful, and fresh.  Grab a copy with the 1943 illustrations by Slobodkin, if you can. This is a story of common sense triumphing over the brains of the elite.  Oh, if we only had more of that today.  After reading this, I wanted a moon necklace.  Someday.  But it has to really be the moon.

22. The Magic Fish Bone A Dickens short story.  This is the tale of a very poor princess and her family, how she came to have a magic fish bone, and how she learns to live by "contriving" instead of by magic.  It is, if nothing else, a story of patience.  Those soft-hearted among you might want to skip the very last sentence, wherein a pug meets a bad end.

23. Where the Wild Things Are This is a book for every child who has ever misbehaved, and for every loving parent to read to that child.  Not too many children's books include gnashing of teeth, but this one does.  Of course, any book with a sailboat is for me.

24. The Little Red Lighthouse A local treat for us New Yorkers is this story of the red lighthouse in the harbor and the George Washington bridge.  Every time we cross the great gray bridge over the Hudson the kids look for the lighthouse.  Since there is usually terrific traffic on the bridge, the search for the lighthouse is a great distraction.  And any lighthouse then becomes a magical place.

25. Trolls  No picture book survey would be complete without a selection from the D'Auliares.  The Greek Myths, The Norse Myths, and the historical books are all a bit long for simple picture books, though they are gorgeous and ought to be part of your collection.  Trolls is a big, wonderful tour of a very northern part of the world of Norse mythology.  These ugly, icy creatures will frighten and delight the kids.  This is a favorite book for all ages.