Home Education Magazine
March-April 1997 - Columns
So Many Books - Joan Torkildson
The Voice of the People, My Fellow Americans, A Young Patriot, The Sandman
The Shelter of Each Other: Rebuilding Our Families
The Shelter of Each Other: Rebuilding Our Families, by Mary Pipher, Ph.D., G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1996, ISBN 0-399-14144-8, $24.95 hardcover, adults
The premise of this book is simple and straightforward: families are ancient institutions, and, imperfect as they are, we need them to survive. The question is, how do families stay intact and healthy in an ailing culture? "Our institutions are failing us," Pipher writes, "and our collective culture is having a nervous breakdown." Pipher's contention is that families have been deeply hurt by the loss of old-fashioned communities and by the growth of consumerism, which strives to teach our children that products, not people, are what matter. Complicating the host of challenges that families face are the messages promoted by popular psychology: that families often get in the way of individual fulfillment. "[The] crisis in meaning in our culture...comes from our isolation from each other, from the values we learn in a culture of consumption and from the fuzzy, self-help message that the only commitment is to the self and the only important question is--Am I happy?"
Pipher's prescription for rebuilding our families is a nurturing, reassuring blend of honesty and common sense: take shelter in one another, draw strength from the natural world, work to rebuild community, limit the use of distractions such as televisions, computers, and VCRs, and use available resources wisely. Indirectly, the book makes a strong case for homeschooling, for it brings to mind the best argument I can think of for home-based education: it's just plain good for families. Indeed, Pipher uses a homeschooling family, the Millers, as an example of one that has "made careful decisions about what they will and will not take from the broader culture." Jim and Jane Miller have five children--Karl (15), Matthew (13), Cora (9), Grace (4), and Ruby, (13 months). Of the children, Pipher writes, "They were enjoying listening to their parents and me. They didn't have television-age attention spans nor had they been socialized to think their parents were stupid and ridiculous. They weren't addicted to being the center of attention." Fifteen-year-old Karl echoes many of our sentiments when he says, "I think it's spooky that liking my family is considered crazy."
Pipher's writing style throughout is clear and engaging: "Good families are about joy. Strong families find ways to make time sacred, to make days special. People eat meals together, sing or play baseball or violins. They make jokes and hug, smile at the thought of a get-together. Strong families find something to appreciate in every day and teach their members to wrest beauty from a mottled reality."
Amid the challenges and struggles of daily living, it's easy to lose sight of why we embarked upon this homeschooling venture in the first place. I loved this book because it reminded me of all the good and important reasons why we've chosen this path, and how we can make our family even stronger. In our own small way, I believe we're beginning to succeed in "wresting beauty from a mottled reality."
With Needle and Thread: A Book About Quilts
With Needle and Thread: A Book About Quilts, by Raymond Bial, Houghton Mifflin, Month 1995, ISBN 0-395-73568-8, $14.95 hardcover, ages 8-12
Here's a fascinating look at the myriad roles that quilts have played throughout history. In typical Bial style, the author has "carefully selected and arranged key pieces' of text and photographs to make this book into a lovely and orderly patchwork."
More than a homegrown art form, quilts have been used for utilitarian purposes in Colonial America and during the westward expansion--to wrap family treasures, to mark births, deaths, and illnesses, and to serve as remembrances of those who died. During the nineteenth century, quilts began to be used to make political statements and to raise funds for various causes, such as women's suffrage and the abolition and temperance movements. "Crazy quilts," popular during the late 1800s, reflected women's emerging independence and collective spirit of rebellion. The bright colors and attractive designs of quilts made during the Great Depression were meant to bolster flagging spirits. Quiltmaking has long been used to strengthen families and communities, particularly in Appalachia, where quilts are made to welcome new neighbors, babies, and brides. Also pictured are colorful and well-known Amish quilts, which have since the 1830s provided opportunities for self-expression, something not often found in humble Amish communities. The end of the book is devoted to other traditions and voices of quiltmaking, such as African American and Hmong.
With Needle and Thread would make a nice addition to a unit study on quiltmaking, or could simply add depth and background to a family quiltmaking project. Ambitious types might try researching a few of the hundreds of colorful names (Broken Dishes, Chinese Coins, Drunkard's Path, Trip Around the World) to uncover more of the history of this gentle "art within."
Mapping a Changing World
Mapping a Changing World, by Yvette La Pierre, Thomasson-Grant & Lickle, Nov. 1996, ISBN 0-9650308-4-9, $17.95 hardcover, ages 8-up
Consisting of generous text and over 50 color reproductions of both new and antique maps, Mapping a Changing World is meant to take readers "on a journey around the world and through time, using some of the many marvelous maps of the world."
Each chapter opens with an actual historical or modern map, with details on the people, history, and science of mapmaking. There are Dutch, Eskimo, and Babylonian maps, maps made of palm leaf fibers and shells, and maps based on information from Ptolemy's Geographia and other works from Greek scientists and philosophers. Also pictured are maps of the Middle Ages, which blend geography, religious history, and imagination. In this chapter readers will encounter Psalter maps made by early travel writers such as Pliny the Elder (a first-century Roman scholar), Lucian of Samosata, and Julius Solinus. Their maps are populated with imaginary places and creatures--pirates sailing in boats carved from giant pumpkins, dog-headed men and glow-in-the-dark birds, and Ear Island fishermen with ears so large they were able to hear fish under the sea. Other chapters are devoted to Chinese maps, the golden age of mapmaking, the mapping of America, portolan charts (sea maps, developed around A.D. 1300), and a detailed explanation of various map projections, among them the Robinson, Mercator, and (I loved this one) Interrupted Goode Homolosine projections. Rounding out the book are political maps showing the evolution of European boundaries, as well as aerial maps taken from spacecraft and satellites. All in all, this book is a most impressive and beautifully designed visual feast for map lovers of all ages.
My Brother Sam Is Dead
My Brother Sam Is Dead, by James Lincoln Collier & Christopher Collier, read by John C. Brown, Audio Bookshelf, ISBN 1-883332-19-2, $24.95, 4 cassettes, 10-up
My whole family had the opportunity to listen to My Brother Sam Is Dead during the long drive home from a postholiday trip to a neighboring state. As it turned out, the 4-hour running time suited us perfectly; the last tape ended just as we were pulling into our driveway. Prior to that time we had been held spellbound by the story of the Meekers, tavern owners in the Tory town of Redding Ridge, Connecticut. The story is told from the point of view of Tim Meeker, who watches in confusion and pain as his family is torn apart by divided loyalties and the tragedies of war. Tim's 16-year-old brother, Sam, is passionate about his decision to go off to fight with the Patriots. Tim and Sam's father is equally passionate about not getting involved in the inevitable fighting, although he remains throughout a rather reluctant British Loyalist. Of course, as the title indicates, Sam dies sometime during the story, but not in the predictable way one might expect in this Revolutionary War tale. This is a moving, suspenseful story full of contradictions and sorrow, with no clear resolutions to the complex issues raised. The production quality of the tapes is excellent, and John C. Brown's reading is youthful and exuberant.
A cautionary note: The story includes a fair amount of swearing and a few graphic descriptions of the casualties of war, so parents will probably want to listen first before sharing the tapes with children under age 10. Audio Bookshelf also offers recordings of other fine books, such as Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt, Robert Newton Peck's Soup and A Day No Pigs Would Die, Barbara Cooney's Island Boy and Miss Rumphius, and Lives of the Musicians, ...Writers, ...Artists by Kathleen Krull. For a catalog, call 1-800-234-1713.
What Happens When...?
What Happens When...? by John Farndon, illus. by Steve Fricker and Mike Harnden, Scholastic, Nov. 1996, ISBN 0-590-84754-6, $17.95 hardcover, ages 6-10
What happens when you drain the bathtub, turn on a lamp, take out the garbage, or mail a letter? All this (and lots more) is explained on inviting double-page spreads of text and illustrations. The detailed illustrations are accented with numbered blocks of text, glossary words set in bold italics, and a gaggle of Lilliputian-size characters which romp, surf, and frolic throughout the pages. A terrific fold-out section titled "Pizza Time" explains not only what happens when you pick up the phone and order, but also how the pizza is put together, where all the ingredients come from, how mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce are made, how anchovies are caught and processed, and so on. Another fold-out section explains, in similar eye-catching detail, what happens to letters after they're dropped in the mailbox. An informative book that should appeal to those fond of lively text and animated illustrations. © Joan Torkildson
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