Archive for June, 2011

Keeping it Simple

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

Garages and closets are filled with failed educational gifts–the unopened science lab, the dusty rock tumbler, the broken ant farm. Like a foreign language, these can fade from memory if left unused. Worse, if they require extra materials or a complicated set up, chances are they won’t be a go-to activity. That’s not to say that these types of projects can’t be great or even helpful, but if you really want to foster a love of science, art or math, it should be an easy, every day event. It also doesn’t have to be expensive or require fancy equipment. Brainetics, a DVD and book program, offers some really cool card tricks that are actually math games. has science experiments that only involve a few staples from the kitchen pantry. The same goes for fostering the artist in your child. Looking for clever or interesting art projects? Check out which often holds challenges for people to reuse and repurpose common household items. The key is not to miss everyday teaching moments because you might think you need fancy or expensive equipment. And that can be as simple and easy as taking the time to ask why or how.

A Storm in Young Adult Literature

Thursday, June 30th, 2011
Bread and RosesGood FortuneBlue
A controversy has erupted over young adult literature.  In her editorial “Darkness Too Visible”, children’s book reviewer Meghan Cox Gurdon of the Wall Street Journal questioned whether the content of young adult literature has become excessively grim.  Self-harm, sexual assault, abuse, and other negative behavior are more portrayed more vividly and with less grace than they have ever been before, she notes. Gurdon writes:
[I]t is also possible—indeed, likely—that books focusing on pathologies help normalize them and, in the case of self-harm, may even spread their plausibility and likelihood to young people who might otherwise never have imagined such extreme measures. Self-destructive adolescent behaviors are observably infectious and have periods of vogue. That is not to discount the real suffering that some young people endure; it is an argument for taking care.
Gurdon does not suggest that challenging subjects not be broached at all in young adult literature, but rather that the current crop of YA books does not portray these subjects sensitively enough.  Her follow-up essay explains this. She worries that that books may normalize cutting, substance abuse, and depression to an impressionable audience who will begin to believe these behaviors are expected of them.
Whether you agree with Gurdon or not, most parents will acknowledge that navigating bookstore aisles (or online searches) can be tough.  We would like to offer our Parents’ Choice Award winning suggestions for well-written examples of YA books tackling the struggles of compelling young adult protagonists.  Each faces adversity in ways that we hope will be a positive influence on readers.
  1. All Things Quiet, Anna Jarzab, Random House
    Popular prep school junior Carly Ribelli is dead and though there’s a man behind bars for her murder, the students of Brighton Day School are still unsettled. Something doesn’t seem right.
  2. The Anatomy of Wings, Karen Foxlee, Random House
    The “wings “of the title is a metaphor that ties into the narrator’s encyclopedic obsession with birds. There’s a lovely scene near the end incorporating this theme that perfectly punctuates this moving story. The Anatomy of Wings is one of those Young Adult novels that make adult readers question the distinction.
  3. The Higher Power of Lucky, Susan Patron, Atheneum/Richard Jackson Books
    “When Lucky’s mother is electrocuted and dies after a storm, Lucky’s absentee father calls his ex-wife, Brigitte, to fly over from France to take care of the child. Two years later, the 10-year-old worries that Brigitte is tired of being her guardian and of their life in Hard Pan (pop. 42) in the middle of the California desert. ” — School Library Journal via Amazon
  4. This Girl is Different, JJ Johnson, Peachtree Press
    Books about high school tend either to be about peer politics and romance or about the injustice of oppressive adult systems. This book combines both plot types, intelligently and humorously. Evie (and therefore the reader) struggles with complex ideas about justice, liberty, and responsibility, but she also struggles to manage her friendships and romances.
  5. Blue, Joyce Moyer Hostetter, Boyd Mills Press/Calkin Creek Books
    Ann Fay Honeycutt is thirteen years old, living in Hickory North Carolina when her Daddy is conscripted into the Army to go off and fight Hitler. She is in charge of her little sisters, her brother Bobby and the large vegetable garden that helps feed the family.
  6. The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, M.T. Anderson, Candlewick Press
    Octavian is trying to survive the buildup to-and his involvement in-the Revolutionary War. As a black man his lot is precarious at best. He is given a chance to secure his future and finds that freedom cannot be gained simply by siding with the enemy of one’s oppressor.
  7. Bread and Roses, Too, Katherine Paterson, Houghton Mifflin/Clarion Books
    Life in Lawrence, Massachusetts in 1912 wasn’t easy. Thirteen-year old Jake lives with his savagely abusive father who takes the little bit of money Jake earns in the textile mill for drink. Jake frequently sleeps anywhere, a pile of garbage, rather than return to the shack he shares with his father.
  8. The Book Thief, Markus Zusak, Random House Children’s Books, Knopf
    A book that shows how important small triumphs can be in the most devastating circumstances. Narrated by Death, set in Nazi Germany, and utterly engrossing, The Book Thief is a fine addition to holocaust literature for young adults.
  9. The Darkangel, Meredith Ann Pierce, Little, Brown, & Co.
    Following her mistress, Eoduin, into mountainous, dangerous territory, Aeriel is the terrified witness to Eoduin’s abduction by the Darkangel, an exquisitely beautiful vampyre. Resolutely setting out to find and confront the vampyre, Aeriel is, of course, found by him. This strange, rich, evocative fantasy not only stirs up familiar longings in the reader, it satisfies them.
  10. Good Fortune, Noni Carter, Simon & Schuster
    Captured at the age of four in Africa, a young girl lost everything: her mother, her brother, all her other family members, and even her own name, Ayanna. Now called Sarah, she is a smart and beautiful young girl enslaved on a plantation in Tennessee. Sarah not only suffers daily brutality, which includes beatings and fear of sexual assault, she suffers from vivid nightmares of her terrifying childhood experiences.

Time Shift Your TV: A 4th of July Round-Up

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

Sparks will fly this weekend as we celebrate July 4th, a holiday filled with fun summer possibilities. Stay home and have a family cook-out? Visit friends? Head to the beach or the lake? No matter what you’re doing, watching fireworks is the way most of us cap off the big night. In our family, one of our sons never liked the loud booms of the fireworks. We never went to big noisy local displays. Instead, we often set off a few small fireworks in the yard while he watched from inside the house. Sometimes we opted to watch July 4th shows on TV. It’s not bad avoiding the crowds and bugs in order to enjoy the lights, colors and sounds of the holiday while curled up on the couch. If that sounds appealing to you, here are several programs that feature fireworks.

Before the 4th, if you want to understand the science behind the fireworks, check out the National Geographic channel’s special, The Secret World of Fireworks. It airs Thursday, June 30 at 10pm and repeats Saturday,, July 2, at 8pm  The show explores the work of the Zambelli family, often referred to as “America’s First Family of Fireworks.” The show goes inside their laboratory to find out exactly which chemical powders make colors and how the light is given off when they explode. Watch as they turn basic materials – paper, string and gunpowder – into amazing, million-dollar fireworks displays.

Then, on Monday, here are three of the biggest fireworks shows on the East Coast, all of which are being televised:

1. Singer Lionel Richie will perform on the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular, broadcast live from the Charles River Esplanade in Boston at 10pm ET on CBS. Actor and Boston-area native Michael Chiklis will host the special, which is sure to feature wonderful music along with the pyrotechnics.

2. For another patriotic backdrop, tune in to PBS’ annual show, A Capitol Fourth, airing live from Washington at 8 pm ET. Actor Jimmy Smits will host a line-up that includes Steve Martin performing with the Steep Canyon Rangers, Josh Groban, Matthew Morrison, Jordin Sparks, Little Richard with the cast of the Broadway hit Million Dollar Quartet, the National Symphony Orchestra and more. In celebration of America’s 235th birthday, the show will be capped off with a rousing rendition of Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” accompanied by live cannon fire provided by the United States Army Presidential Salute Battery.

3. And if you want to see the impressive display of fireworks that are shot out over the Hudson River in New York, you’ll want to watch the Macy’s 4th of July Fireworks Spectacular.  Nick Lachey will host and musical guests include Beyonce and Brad Paisley. It airs on NBC at 9 p.m. ET.

Afterward, you can argue about which fireworks display was the best!

Teen Time

Friday, June 24th, 2011

Take a look at the current TV line up and you’ll notice a large proportion of teens with transformative powers. The newest is MTV’s reworking of Teen Wolf, about a young lacrosse player juggling school, sports and the supernatural. ABC Family has The Nine Lives of Chloe King, which features a young girl who dies but comes back with super catlike abilities, like cat woman. The Vampire Diaries, H20, and even Harry Potter deals with some sort of magical transformation during the teen years. Granted, fantasy has always been great fodder for TV (Bewitched, The Munsters, My Favorite Martian), but when it comes to shows about teens, there’s a little more under the surface. Sure, part of it is Hollywood jumping on the Twilight bandwagon, but as kids transition from tweens to teens, elementary school to middle school and high school, it can feel other worldly. All of these shows about kids facing scary situations, uncontrolled emotions, are often an allegory for puberty. And while your child may not expect to grow fangs or fish tales on his or her thirteenth birthday, it’s important to acknowledge this critical time in their life. Different cultures have ways of marking this transition, like the Quinceañera or the Bat Mitzvah. While no one wants to go the way of MTV’s My Super Sweet Sixteen, you may want to mark these important milestones with some sort of recognition, even something as simple stepping up their responsibilities at home; increasing their allowance or throwing a party in their honor. Perhaps it’s time to let them watch The Wolfman remake. Cause chances are, if that acceptance letter from Hogwarts hasn’t come yet, it just isn’t going to happen.

Technology: How does it really affect families?

Monday, June 20th, 2011

“Tech: Plug in to See the Brighter Side of Life”, a new report from Communispace and Ogilvy Chicago, offers the results from a survey of over 1,000 parents.  The report responds to many of the worries we have about children, families and technologies.  Does technology make us smarter or dumber?  Does it bring families together or weaken them? We’ve pulled out some of the observations and conclusions from the report below.  Do their findings apply to you?  How tech savvy is your family?

*     72% of parents surveyed believe “technology facilitates closer relationships rather than pushes families and people apart” (22).  The report observes that “Relationships may not look exactly as they once did, but reports of their death have been greatly exaggerated…technology is more of a connective force than one that tears us apart” (28).

*     Many parents worry that their children’s brains will “turn to mush” from too much technology and media exposure.  However, tech savvy parents see their children’s generation as being highly intelligent and adaptive, as they are able to learn new technology quickly, divide their attention among many tasks (as demanded by many contemporary jobs), and develop skills via game-playing better than previous generations could (38).

*     Will creativity be lost to technological advances?  People will continue to wonder whether technology engenders a “dependence on quick answers…[that breeds] a culture of laziness” or if, as this report suggests, it “allows for a more immersive, flexible, and personalized experience for the creator.”  Creativity might look different today, but it still exists.

*     As to whether technology helps or hinders safety measures that parents take, the report offers a nuanced assessment.  Technology can increase safety when, for example, a child is able to use a cellphone when lost.  If not understood properly, parents and children are vulnerable to internet-based information leaks and predators.

To read the rest of the report, visit here.