Adding to the Blogroll

I’m cleaning up and adding to my blogroll on the side menu (way down to the side of the home page). I’ve deleted a few sites that are no longer being updated. Now you’ll see several new links on education and parenting. (That’s my whole life lately, isn’t it? Education and parenting. Not a bad thing.)

Jillian Kuhlman

Jillian’s an old friend from grad school. I read her first novel this past year and thought it was great. I used to have her old blog up here, but now I have her professional author page.

Put a Bib on It

Jillian sometimes writes for this parenting blog maintained by an organization called 4C for Children, which aims to support parents and caregivers in the Cincinnati area and advocate for early childhood education. Lots of wise words on babies and littles.

Liberating Working Moms

This site is all about supporting moms who work outside the home. I had a couple things published on this blog last year, so it really belongs on my list of permanent links.

Longest Shortest Time

This is a podcast and blog that has created one of the most vibrant, nonjudgmental and funniest community of parents I’ve ever seen on the internet. And since parents are known for being pretty judgmental and humorless, especially on the internet, that’s saying something. The title comes from the idea that early parenthood seems like it lasts forever, but then it’s over really quickly.

Since becoming involved in the Tennessee Bad Ass Teachers organization, I’ve been learning a lot and have discovered a few bloggers who are saying the things that need to be said and asking the right questions. These are a few of the voices on education that I’m following.

Curmudgucation

Peter Greene is always spot on with his critiques and rants about testing, teacher evaluation, charter schools, and other stupid policies legislators come up with that  He posts frequently and covers education debates all over the nation.

Diane Ravitch

I’ve said before she’s my favorite education guru. Her blog is really a wealth of information and a great way to keep up to date about nationwide policy debates.

Dad Gone Wild

I met Thomas Weber through the Bad Ass Teachers group, and his blog is focused on Nashville’s particular education issues. He takes a philosophical perspective and has lots of insights on parenting as well.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

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Before picking up this book, I knew Shirley Jackson best from her sick and twisted short story “The Lottery.” This book is similar to that story in that it’s short, its language is very carefully chosen, and its plot is fueled by a scapegoat mentality and mob violence. The narrator is Mary Catherine Blackwood, youngest surviving daughter of a rich family that was devastated by a mass poisoning. Her psychology is rife with magical thinking and OCD tendencies: she keeps burying objects for protection or some other made-up reason. The town sees her, her older sister, and disabled uncle as pariahs, and people are often cruel to them. The plot ramps up when a cousin shows up to disrupt their routines. It’s a very voice-driven novel, and Mary Catherine is a very intense character. It’s a kind of creepy book, with some fairy tale elements. Highly recommended.

The Mysterious Howling

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place Book One: The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood

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This children’s book series is inspired by gothic novels and literature about governesses, books like Jane Eyre and The Turn of the Screw. It gently mocks that tradition while paying homage to it. The protagonist is Penelope Lumley, graduate of the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females, in her first governess job at Ashton Place, in charge of three feral children. They’ve truly been raised by wolves. Of course, under her tutelage, they make remarkable progress, but not quite enough to avoid a crisis when the lady of the house wants to throw a big holiday party. The children’s antics and mischief are silly in a way that young readers will appreciate. The children’s origin is a mystery that will drive the entire series.

The best thing about this series might be that it teaches kids new words and concepts in a fun way. Ideas like hyperbole and irony are introduced in a way that’s funny, and words that will stretch the vocabulary of young readers are used in contexts that make their meanings crystal clear. The sense of humor driving the narration is somewhat dark, perhaps only a step to the sunny side of Lemony Snicket. Hopefully, familiarity with the gothic tropes found here will make readers eventually seek out the books that inspired this series.

Atlantia

Atlantia by Ally Condie

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I really liked Ally Condie’s Matched trilogy, so I was happy to pick up her next YA fantasy romance. Atlantia is about two sisters, Rio and Bay, growing up in a city under the sea. Their mother dies mysteriously, and soon after, Bay decides to leave Atlantia and go to the surface, surprising her sister. Rio, the narrator, has a secret talent: she’s a Siren, and her voice can compel people to do things. The plot is driven by a mystery about Rio’s mother’s death, the society’s origins and Bay’s reasons for going Above.

This novel suffers in comparison with the Matched books. The concept of the setting is more ‘out there,’ and the romance plot is less well developed, so the fantasy elements have to carry more weight. It’s still worth reading for anyone who likes the genre, though.

The Flamethrowers

The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner

TheFlamethrowersKushner This novel is about a young artist in 1975 New York. She’s called Reno because that’s where she’s from, and she’s interested in filmmaking and motorcycles. Much of the plot is driven by her relationship with Sandro Valera, an artist whose family owns a motorcycle and tire company in Italy. The climax comes when she is visiting his family in Italy and witnesses a riot protesting the Valera company’s labor practices. The setting was probably the most interesting part of the book to me. The art scene when Manhattan was cheap, the urban unrest in both New York and Milan, the underground resistance movements that Reno got involved in were fascinating. The novel definitely has concerns larger than the protagonist’s love life, and its politics were definitely in sympathy with these workers’ movements. There was even a passage describing the Valero company’s expansion of its rubber harvesting operations into Brazil, including the perspective of a worker in the second person. Two characters, Ronnie and Giddle, were total enigmas to me: they seem to come from nowhere and have no past, so they constantly reinvent themselves, and this involves lots of lies. By the end Reno has been used and betrayed, but she seemed to be picking herself up from it all in a way that I admired. It’s a gritty book, and one that immerses you in its grittiness.

A Million Suns

A Million Suns by Beth Revis

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This book is a sequel to Across the Universe, second in the trilogy set on a spaceship bringing colonists from Earth to a new planet. It’s told in alternating chapters from Amy and Elder’s perspectives. Amy comes from Earth and was cryogenically frozen; Elder was born on the ship and is its young leader. They have a budding romance that gets less focus than you might expect in this genre, but so much other stuff is going on that it didn’t bother me.

The structure of the story is a mystery. It begins with Elder directly addressing the crew on the question that was revealed to be crucial at the end of the first book, and he gets an answer that baffled me in all the best ways. Amy and Elder follow clues left by Orion, the first book’s villain, to find out what the ship’s real problem is. The answer was something I didn’t expect, and I love it when books surprise me. Meanwhile, Elder has to deal with increasing upheaval on the ship: people disagree with his rule and are refusing to work and to distribute food fairly. And people are getting killed by overdoses of Phydus, a Xanax-like drug that makes them calm and compliant. The plot depends on things happening very quickly; I kept wishing I could call time out and sit everyone down to talk things out. I enjoyed this book just as much as the first one, and that’s saying something. I’ve already started the last one and it’s as much fun as the first two.

The Happiest Toddler on the Block

The Happiest Toddler on the Block: The New Way to Stop the Daily Battle of Wills and Raise a Secure and Well-Behaved One- to Four-Year-Old by Harvey Karp, MD

9780553802566_p0_v1_s260x420I read The Happiest Baby on the Block over a year ago and thought it was ok. This book is about as good as that one is. It gives a few good tips and tells parents some ideas of what to expect from the developmental stages between ages 1 and 4. Throughout the book, Karp uses a metaphor comparing kids to cavemen, comparing the growth children experience as toddlers to the way humans evolved over millions of years. The tone and style reminded me of children’s television, so I found reading the book somewhat irritating. I felt I was being talked down to.

The core method of this book, the thing that’s supposed to make toddlers so happy, is that parents are instructed to reflect the toddler’s emotions back to them in simple, emphatic language. This gets the toddler’s attention and makes him feel understood. When he feels understood, he calms down and becomes more cooperative.

I haven’t really found this to be the case with my son. I like the idea of making him feel understood, but making it clear to him that I understand how he feels does not seem to have any effect on his tantrums unless it follows by my giving him what he wants. He’s a pretty stubborn, determined, focused kid, and he doesn’t just forget about the fact that he’s not getting that thing that he wants. I’ve tried to do what the book says, but mostly it just means his crying is joined by my fake-crying. The overall volume just increases.

Maybe I’m not doing it right. Reading parenting books and not getting the amazing results they promise makes me feel like a worse parent because obviously I’m not doing it right. Oh well. At least I’m trying.