On Raising Future Public Defenders (A Review of Louis Sachar’s Holes)

Holes coverMany months ago, via Twitter, a fellow blogger recommended a book for my seven-year-old twins. It was Holes by Louis Sachar.

I was already familiar with Sachar and his alter ego, “Louis the yard teacher,” from the humorous Wayside School series. My children loved all three of those books, particularly the first one, Sideways Stories from Wayside School.

So, I downloaded Holes to my Kindle and started to read it aloud to my children without any further parental due diligence.

Chapter One begins like this:

“There is no lake at Camp Green Lake. There once was a very large lake here, the largest lake in Texas. That was over a hundred years ago. Now it is just a dry, flat wasteland.

[…]

The only trees are two old oaks on the eastern edge of the ‘lake.’ A hammock is stretched between the two trees, and a log cabin stands behind that.

The campers are forbidden to lie in the hammock. It belongs to the Warden. The Warden owns the shade.”

I stopped right there and thought to myself: Dammit. This book is about a juvenile detention facility!

That’s an unusual setting for a middle grade chapter book. In real life, there is nothing fluffy about the juvenile justice system in the United States.

Wanting to avoid this heavy topic, I suggested to my girls that we read a different book and return to Holes later—you know, in about 3-5 years.**

But they were already hooked on the story. I gave in, knowing that at least I’d be able to answer their questions about the setting and the plot as we went along. As I said in Reading Aloud: Ephemeral Entertainment I Wish Would Last Longer:

“It’s so interesting to read books with my kids. Not only is it an opportunity for me to model literacy for them and assess their reading progress, but it also gives me a chance to talk to my children about topics that wouldn’t come up otherwise.”

With Holes, I also got to know my daughters better by witnessing their reactions to the topics in the book.

Holes features teenager Stanley Yelnats, who goes to Camp Green Lake as a result of a family curse attributed to his “no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather.” A judge mistakenly finds Stanley responsible for stealing a pair of stinky sneakers that had once belonged to a famous athlete. Now a “delinquent,” Stanley has to go to either Camp Green Lake or prison. Stanley chooses the camp. He’s never been to a camp before.

Unfortunately for Stanley, Camp Green Lake is nothing like summer camp. It’s a cruel program that forces children to dig holes in the desert under the Texas sun. Stanley won’t survive this brutal experience unless he finds a way to break his family’s curse.

Sachar’s Holes has earned many honors, including the Newbery Award in 1999. The Committee Chair called the novel, “As timeless as folklore and as outrageously funny as a tall tale…”

While I agree that Holes has its humorous moments, I wouldn’t call this middle grade novel “outrageously funny.” This book, which even includes a racially-motivated murder, made my soft-hearted daughters cry several times.

First, they were angry about the miscarriage of justice that led to Stanley’s confinement at Camp Green Lake, which included a delayed trial, lack of legal representation, and irrelevant evidence:

“… Stanley’s trial was delayed several months. His parents couldn’t afford a lawyer. ‘You don’t need a lawyer,’ his mother had said. ‘Just tell the truth.’”

“Stanley had a poster [of the athlete who once owned the stinky sneakers] hanging on the wall of his bedroom… It had been taken by the police and was used as evidence of his guilt in the courtroom.”

My daughters have only a vague understanding of what lawyers do — and they are far too young to know about In Re Gault, the 1967 case in which the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Constitution guarantees minors the right to legal representation in delinquency proceedings — but they still believe that Stanley deserved to have a lawyer even though his family couldn’t afford one. As my second daughter (younger by six minutes) explained, “Lawyers are there to help people, and Stanley needed help.”

Her twin sister took issue with the relevance of the poster and questioned why this case was prosecuted. She said, “That poster doesn’t mean a thing! I bet tons of kids have the same one in their bedrooms. This crime doesn’t sound very serious to me. It’s just smelly old sneakers.”

I’m  joking when I say that my daughters are future public defenders—they’re only seven!—but the way they identified the “holes” in the case against Stanley made my heart swell with pride. This novel has reinforced their belief that everyone in our society deserves to be treated fairly, even those accused of committing crimes.

Second, my daughters were shocked by the brutal conditions at Camp Green Lake, and they became emotional whenever anyone showed kindness to the boys confined there. For example, my second child teared up when Camp Green Lake employee Mr. Pendanski says to Stanley, “[E]veryone makes mistakes. You may have done some bad things, but that doesn’t mean you’re a bad kid.”

We had to revisit those words, which my daughter called “the nicest thing I’ve ever heard,” when Mr. Pendanski shows that he is also capable of doing “some bad things.”

It’s one of many important lessons in this outstanding work of children’s literature.

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*Thank you to Maggie from Macarons & Paperbacks for recommending this book.

** According to Amazon, Holes is recommended for children ages 8-12. My twins are 7, but often read books recommended for slightly older children, depending on the subject matter.

***This book is the basis for a 2003 film with the same name. I’ve never seen it.

Posted in Books, Children's Books, Law, Parenting | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

Authors Can’t Bullshit Around Libel & Invasion of Privacy Torts

We’ve all seen the disclaimer on the first page of a book that asserts redundantly that a particular work of fiction is, indeed, “a work of fiction”:

“Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental. This is a work of fiction and are either products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner.”

Recently, the Huffington Post featured a piece by author Kristen Houghton, who wrote:

“Legally every published book should have the [“purely coincidental”] proviso. Every fiction writer I know is happy to have the statement included on the first page of his or her book. It’s as much a protection for the author as the copyright and ISBN number.

With all due respect to Ms. Houghton, the disclaimer offers far less protection than the copyright, which gives an author exclusive rights to the distribution and use of his or her book. The disclaimer at best offers about as much “protection” as the ISBN number, which is for identification and promotion purposes. Really, neither the disclaimer nor the ISBN number offer much legal protection at all.

As I discussed in That Crazy Little Thing: Is That My Husband in Your Book?, authors and publishers slap the disclaimer on the first page of books to deter individuals who bear a resemblance to characters in the book from filing invasion of privacy or defamation lawsuits.

However, the words in the disclaimer aren’t going to outweigh the words in the book.

If a fictional character and a real-life individual are uncannily similar, a generic assertion that “the resemblance to any persons living or dead is purely coincidental” isn’t going to mean much. See, e.g., Landau v. Columbia Broadcasting System, 128 N.Y.S.2d 254 (1954), 257-58 (“To make [an] accidental or coincidental use of a name a libel would impose a prohibitive burden upon authors, publishers and those who distribute the fruits of creative fancy… The line of demarcation is not obscure. The difference between coincidental use and consciously disguised defamation is one of proof.”)

In other words, authors can’t bullshit their way around defamatory or invasive remarks. The true test is whether the character in a work of fiction is actually identifiable as, and the work is defamatory towards, a real person. The vast majority of works of fiction are “protected” by actually being fiction, and the tiny number of works that defame people — something that will only happen if the author intends as much — will not be able to evade liability with a disclaimer.

Though Ms. Houghton’s Huffington Post piece begins with a reference to the disclaimer’s supposedly protective effect, the rest of the article is about whether authors bear a resemblance to the characters in their novels (and the author certainly isn’t going to sue herself for “invasion of privacy” or defamation!).

She writes, “There’s always a piece of an author in each character.”

I have a tendency to believe that authors are similar to their main characters, partly because it makes me feel like I actually “know” something about the writers behind my favorite novels. I suspect, though, that the litigious J. D. Salinger was far less likable than the troubled, but endearing, Holden Caulfield, and that Emily Brontë was probably far more likeable than just about anyone in Wuthering Heights (which really sets a low bar for humanity).

Two Lovely Berries_Cover August 2014As for me, I don’t identify much with the main character of my own New Adult novel, Two Lovely Berries. Nora Daley is a struggling 20-something who faces a profound loss related to the legal work I do but otherwise unlike anything I have experienced directly. She and I are both from the Philadelphia area and have similar educational backgrounds, similarities that I hope add to the realistic feel of the story and the sense of “place.” However, unlike Nora, I am not a classicist (but my sister is), and unlike Nora’s father, mine is not a lawyer* (but almost everyone else I know in real-life is).

I am not my main character, but I do make a cameo in the story in a scene drawn from an experience I had in a gourmet foods shop. I imagined an entire life for the cashier who made a passing remark about a spatula to one of my twins.

So, what about you?

Writers, how similar are you to your characters? Theo Fenraven, are you anything like Gray from the Precog in Peril series? Roy McCarthy, apart from the running, do you share any other similarities to the title character of Barry?

Readers, do you feel like you “know” authors because you’ve gotten to know the characters they’ve created?

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*Nor is my lovely dad an a-hole (Nora cannot say the same about her father).

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Sparky. Sparky? Sparky!

Sparky!One of the books we gave our four-year-old daughter for her birthday was Sparky!, a mildly playful children’s book by Jenny Offill.

Does that author’s name sound familiar to you?

Jenny Offill is a noted children’s book author who is also the woman behind two books for adults, including the highly acclaimed Dept. of Speculation (2014). I reviewed it back in April. So did Mr. AMB, who, in Dept. of Speculation: Being Thirty-Something Sucks, called it “poignant, funny, and concise.”

The same could be said of Offill’s Sparky! It’s thoughtful, a little sad, mildly amusing, and sparse.

The story features a little girl who wants a pet. Her mother says, “You can have any pet you want as long as it doesn’t need to be walked or bathed or fed.”

Somehow a sloth fits the bill (presumably, it feeds and hydrates itself from the leaves in the yard).* Based on the name of this animal alone, we can all guess how “exciting” this pet is. It sleeps all the time, just like the sloth my family sees at the zoo:

Two-Toed Sloth_Philadelphia Zoo

However, Offill’s fictional child hopes that her sloth, Sparky!, can be trained out of his slothful behavior. Will he adapt to meet her expectations—and earn the exclamation point beside his name–or will she learn to accept him as he is?

The lovely watercolor/pencil illustrations** that accompany Offill’s text and grace the jacket depict a far less controversial-looking sloth than the ones on the cover of Adam Rex’s Pssst!, which I discussed in Is This Book Adorable or “Lewd” and “Unsuitable for Small Children”? (a post that has led a number of people to this blog in search of information on “sloth sex,” as though I could possibly be an expert on the matter).

cover of sparky!I’ve spent quite a bit of time focused on the cover of Sparky!–which is the image to the left, not the one at the top of this post–because I use it to teach my youngest child about the difference between an exclamation point and a period.

First, I have her say the title of the book as it is, with the exclamation point. She bellows, happily, “Sparky!” Then, after I cover the vertical line with my hand, she says in a monotone and sometimes with a frown, “Sparky.” This goes on and on until one of us has had enough (usually me).

The day after we gave this book to our daughter, I came across a Huffington Post article, How The Exclamation Mark Went From :-O To ¯\_(ツ)_/¯, in which Maddie Crum writes:

“[H]istorically, the [exclamation] mark has been used for anything emphatic, be it silly or serious… [However] [t]he period has usurped the role of transforming a sentiment into something weightier — something more emphasized… [The exclamation] mark can be interpreted not as a yell or an interjection, but as a sort of textual smile.”

Just as our words and the ways we connect them are ever-changing, the marks we use to punctuate our written thoughts change over time too. Crum uses the example of a friend who says, resignedly, “I hate him!” when talking about a frustratingly uncommitted love interest. Replace the exclamation point with a period, and the sentence assumes a more serious, bitter tone.

Yes, the exclamation point often conveys a friendlier, lighter meaning than a period does. However, the exclamation point retains its serious connotation in certain contexts. For example, “I hate him!” standing alone sounds lighter than it would following a long string of how awful the guy is and a description of the steps the exclaimer has taken for revenge. The sentences contain the same words and the same exclamation point, but convey different messages.

In our digital world with ever-shrinking space for context, though, the exclamation point probably suggests light-heartedness more often than not.

So it goes! Or rather: so it goes. Is there a difference?

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*I reminded my daughter that sloths and other wild animals shouldn’t be pets!

**Chris Appelhans—whose signature includes an exclamation point—is the illustrator.

***Research suggests that women use exclamation points more often than men.

***If you’ve read Dept. of Speculation, you may be interested in the “spoilers-welcome” discussion at Socratic Salon.

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The Prophetic Properties of Apples (A Review of Garden Spells & First Frost)

SAA Two CoversApples aren’t as fancy as more recently touted “superfoods” like mangosteen (which I love) or chia seeds (which taste like dirt), but scientific studies regularly show that the high fiber, nutrient rich fruits that many of us grow in our backyards are very good for our health. As the well-known 1860’s proverb goes, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.”*

Research suggests, for example, that apples reduce the risk of chronic diseases, improve cardiovascular health, bolster weight-loss efforts, and encourage graceful aging.**

In Garden Spells (2007), a novel by Sarah Addison Allen, the apples of one tree in Bascom, North Carolina exhibit a rather unusual property: they tell people what the biggest event in their lives will be.

The Waverley family, the stewards of this tree and all that grows in the enchanted soil around it, have learned to never eat these apples. However, they regularly harness the power of other magically endowed foods:

Excerpt from Garden Spells

Allen’s novel features likeable characters, light magic, and small town charm. While I felt that the author explained too much about the plot and character’s motivations — the “telling instead of showing” problem that plagues many writers the book is a good choice for those looking for easily digestible entertainment.

Garden Spells has been popular enough to warrant a sequel, First Frost, which Allen published in 2015, several years after the first book. Both novels feature Bascom’s subtly magical Waverley clan, ten years apart.

In First Frost, the female leads continue to adhere to the seemingly authentic, but sometimes perplexing, mix of progressive and traditional attitudes that they exhibited in Garden Spells. For instance, a character who is independent and competent enough to run her own business, albeit in the beauty industry, also desperately hopes for a son to take over the dairy farm her husband inherited from his grandfather. Um, aren’t girls capable of doing that?

excerpts from FFHer only child, a daughter named Bay, is a five-year-old, secondary character in Garden Spells and a fifteen-year-old, main character in First Frost. Her large role in the latter book places it more firmly into the young adult genre than the so-called “women’s fiction” category that many readers would use to describe Garden Spells.

In First Frost, we also learn more about Bay’s long-deceased great-grandmother, known as “Grandmother” or “Grandma Waverley” in the first book and “Grandmother Mary” in the second. It’s odd that the living Waverleys refer to the matriarch of their family differently in the two books, but the novels otherwise fit together nicely.

Overall, Garden Spells and First Frost are enjoyable, fluffy books. I liked the first one enough to read the second, and I liked the pair of them enough to wonder whether Allen will write a third.*** The feisty tree at the heart of both of these stories also had me yearning for apples, especially for the fresh, local varieties we have in the fall. Real-life fruit can’t divulge the future, but it generally improves the odds of having a healthier one.

Check out these other reviews:

  • Melanie of The Indextious Reader on Garden Spells: “Unfortunately I think I will be in the minority when I say that I really didn’t love it. I thought it was just alright… Each Waverly woman has a special gift, but really, hairdressing as a special magical talent?”
  • Katie of Words for Worms on First Frost: “This book was the perfect read for me at the perfect time… Sarah Addison Allen is often compared to Alice Hoffman, which is apt, but where Hoffman goes dark, Allen goes light. That, my friends, is pure magic.”

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*See also, An Apple (or Two) A Day (discussing Fancy Nancy: Apples Galore!).

**See, e.g., C. Samieri, et al. Dietary Flavonoid Intake at Midlife and Healthy Aging in Women, American J. of Clinical Nutrition (2014) (defining “healthy aging as surviving to older ages free of major chronic diseases and maintaining good cognitive, physical, and mental health.”); D. A. Hyson, A Comprehensive Review of Apples and Apple Components and Their Relationship to Human Health, Advances in Nutrition: An International Rev. J. (2011).

***I’m curious to know what happens when the Clark/Mattesons return to Bascom. Emma, whose inherited “talent” perpetually annoyed me, isn’t going to be a happy camper!

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Station Eleven: The Importance of Memory After The Apocalypse

Tweet on oyster list

When Mr. AMB saw The Oyster Review’s selection of the “100 Best Books of the Decade So Far,” he said that the list consisted of “a handful of good [books], but mostly wankery.” Check out his review of Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven to see whether he thinks this Oyster favorite falls into the “good” or “wankery” category.

~AMB

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Via Mr. AMB:

station elevenI’m a sucker for post-apocalyptic books and movies. I saw Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven recommended on many of the same lists that included The Martian, and I added it to my ever-growing list of “maybe” books, but I got wrapped up in other books and forgot about it. Then, in the span of a month, Station Eleven was listed by George R.R. Martin as the “best novel” of 2014 and it won The Millions’ Tournament of Books*, so it ended up back on my radar.

Superficially, the book bears a striking resemblance to Stephen King’s The Stand: over 99.9% of the world’s population is swiftly killed by an influenza pandemic, and thereafter the survivors are so widely dispersed, and so suspicious of one another — not least because so many survivors have either gone mad or are downright predatory — that even rudimentary interactions with strangers present a life-threatening challenge. And then there’s a charismatic and ruthless “prophet.”

But the similarities end there.

Like Martin says, “One could, I suppose, call it a post-apocolypse [sic] novel, and it is that, but all the usual tropes of that subgenre are missing here, and half the book is devoted to flashbacks to before the coming of the virus that wipes out the world, so it’s also a novel of character…”  The “flashbacks” show us both how the world before the collapse continues to have repercussions on the world thereafter,** and how skewed the characters’ priorities were in that world.

But there’s more than just flashbacks. In the post-apocalyptic present, more than a decade after, the characters struggle with the past, both the golden age before the collapse and the initial year or two after the collapse, during which life was so dangerous, uncertain, and painful that most of the characters have effectively erased it from their minds.

Age plays a big role there as well. Some of the characters are so young that they do not remember the time before the collapse, while others are at impressionable ages and have some memories, many of which they question, wondering if they’ve invented a different past. Then there are others with a crystal-clear recollection of the time before. The book thus also explores the role of memory in constructing a person’s identity and in forming social bonds, and the obligation people feel both to preserve their memories and to pass them on to the next generation.***

All in all, Station Eleven is one of the best post-apocalyptic books out there, and one of the best recently published books I’ve read.

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* Winning the Tournament of Books was not, to me, a decisive factor in buying it. The Tournament of Books has always struck me as agenda-driven, with the judges trying harder to be “right” by picking the book more likely to win a subsequent prize than trying to actually guide readers to better books. I have tried to read several of the books that won the “ToB,” and I gave up reading more than one of them.

** As Faulkner wrote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Thank goodness I don’t have to pay for the privilege of quoting two lines from him.

***If you’re interested in how we preserve memories–and the collective “myth-making” that often results–3quarksdaily recently posted a combined analysis of Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant and Avishai Margalit’s The Ethics of Memory.

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Updating Dr. Seuss for a 21st Century Kid

Great Birthday Bird
Dr. Seuss’s “Great Birthday Bird” from Happy Birthday to You! has delighted girls and boys for over half a century. Earlier this week, Seuss’s festive feathered friend visited my daughter on her birthday for the first time. She’s four-years-old.

I downloaded the ebook version of this classic children’s book a few months ago, just after Jeanne from Necromancy Never Pays mentioned it in a comment to my post about the dissenting opinion in Yates v. United States, in which U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan cited Seuss’s One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish.

Jeannes Comment

Happy Birthday to You! is as charming and entertaining as anyone familiar with Dr. Seuss’s other books would expect. Also, like other Seussian classics, its 60+ pages of tongue twisters are somewhat challenging for those who don’t practice reading it aloud ahead of time.

My daughter enjoyed the book, even when I tripped up on the rhymes and pro-nun-see-eye-ations (as Dr. Seuss would say).*  ;-)

My daughter also shared Jeanne’s appreciation for the sentiment that, when finding a pet as a birthday present, “the best pet is the tallest of all-est.” At the 98th percentile for height, my [not-so-] little girl seems to be taking after her 6’5” dad instead of her 5’2” mom.

Now I’m wondering whether I can make the book even better for my children. As much as I love the dated classic feel of this Dr. Seuss book, I’m going to slightly tweak the text when we read it next time.

The original text reads:

“The Great Birthday Bird!
And, so far as I know,
Katroo is the only place Birthday Birds grow.

[…]

And, whether your name is Pete, Polly, or Paul,
When your birthday comes round, he’s in charge of it all.

Whether your name is Nate, Nelly, or Ned,
He knows your address, and he heads for your bed.”

At least three of those names — Polly, Nelly, and Ned — are far less common today than they were in 1959, the year Dr. Seuss published Happy Birthday to You! For example, the name “Ned” dropped from its place as the 310th most popular name in the United States in 1900 to #530 in 1959 to “not in the top 1000 names” by 2000.

Most of the substitute names I’m planning to use are likely far less common in the United States than “Ned” is today, but they better reflect my daughter’s diverse community than the six names of European origin in the original text.

The next time I read this story, I will say:

“And, whether your name is [Ai, Aiden, or Amal],
When your birthday comes round, he’s in charge of it all.

Whether your name is [Zack, Zayla, or Zay-ed],
He knows your address, and he heads for your bed.”

I think my little Z will love seeing her name and mine included in the story. I have alliterative replacements that include my twins’ names ready to go too.

I also considered adding a hometown touch to the story by changing “Zummer” to “Mummer,” referencing a beloved Philadelphia tradition in which men and (a few) women dress up in elaborate costumes and parade through the city streets on New Year’s Day.

The new text would’ve been:

“First, we’re greeted by Drummers who drum as they come.
And next come the Strummers who strum as they come.
And the Drummers who drum and strummers who strum
Are followed by [Mummers] who come as they [mum].
Just look at those [Mummers]! They’re sort of like Plumbers.”

Drummers who drumWhat I like about the substitution of “Mummer” for Dr. Seuss’s “Zummer” is not only that my daughters would recognize the word, but also that real-life Mummers actually have a historical connection to the building trades, including plumbing. In 1994, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer:

“The bawdy Happy Tappers[‘]… theme was ‘Mummers Plumbers.’ Their float consisted of a very large toilet bowl and a gang of plumbers dressed in yellow satin shirts and green silky coveralls. Others wore bright orange and blue.”

However, I probably won’t mention the Mummers the next time we read Happy Birthday to You! The Mummers are loved by many Philadelphians who look forward to their performances year after year, but I find it hard to forget that they are a racially homogenous and gender imbalanced group (especially when there has been a Minstrel-style performance in recent years).**

So, referencing this Philadelphia tradition may detract from my goal of updating Dr. Seuss’s book to include diversity and better reflect my daughter’s world. The types of controversies that surround the Mummers are sadly part of that world, but they shouldn’t be, and books can reflect a better reality than the one we actually live in.

Here is a picture of my four-year-old (and here she was last year on her special day). She had a great birthday!

Zayla is four

*In Happy Birthday to You!, the Great Birthday Bird is trained by the “Katroo Happy Birthday Asso-see-eye-ation.”

**You can see a video of the parade here and, in the comments, some defenses to the blackface-inspired performance.

 

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Thunder Lizards, Van Gogh, & Raising Writers

Did you hear the news?

Sisters - dinosaur Late 80s

Yes, I am the blue brontosaurus

(1)  Brontosaurus may be back! As I discussed in my favorite post on this blog, The Brontosaurus Between Us, it’s been the scientific consensus since 1903 that what had been called Brontosaurus was really an Apatosaurus. That didn’t stop 20th Century books about dinosaurs from including the Brontosaurus. Can you blame them, though? It’s an awesome name for an awesome dinosaur.

One of my favorite books from the late 1980s, Stan and Jan Berenstain’s The Day of the Dinosaur, said:

The giant Brontosaurus
was seventy feet tall.
Its name means ‘thunder lizard.’
It was the biggest one of all.

This reference to Brontosaurus was out-of-date then, but it might not be out-of-date now!

New research suggests that “the original thunder lizard is actually unique enough to resurrect the beloved moniker.” According to one study, there are subtle differences between the bones of the original Brontosaurus and two known species of Apatosaurus. It remains to be seen whether other paleontologists can replicate these results and, if so, whether the scientific community will agree that the subtle differences warrant different names. Still, it’s exciting news.

(2) Moving onto another topic, I’ve decided that I want to learn more about Vincent van Gogh.

Van Gogh 2So, I downloaded all 900+ pages of Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith’s Van Gogh: The Life. Right now, I’m reading about van Gogh’s childhood, when his evenings ended with a book:

“Far from being a solitary, solipsistic exercise, reading aloud bound the family together and set them apart from the sea of rural Catholic illiteracy that surrounded them. Anna and Dorus [van Gogh’s parents] read to each other and to their children; the older children read to the younger; and, later in life, the children read to their parents. Reading aloud was used to console the sick and distract the worried, as well as to educate and entertain.” [Chapter 2]

“Solipsistic” isn’t a word we see every day.

Sadly, reading aloud isn’t an activity that many of us engage in every day either. Reading is usually just one of many forms of solitary entertainment at home.

In my household, though, my children are still young enough to love listening to the books I read to them.

As I mentioned in Reading Aloud: Ephemeral Entertainment I Wish Would Last Longer, we read together at the bus stop in the morning, before bed at night, and whenever we have downtime on the weekends.

Right now, we’re reading From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, a book originally published in 1967 that has been an interesting read for my 21st Century children (a subject for a later post).

The books we’ve read together have encouraged age-appropriate discussions about major issues, like homelessness (thanks to Louis Sachar’s Holes) and the Holocaust (thanks to Patricia Polacco’s The Butterfly). They’ve also been the basis for conversations about writing-related topics, like grammar, plot structure, and character development.

(3) On the subject of writing: Earlier this month, I tweeted about an exchange between my twins:

tweet from april 1st with border

I asked my daughter if she would consider writing down any of those books in her brain.

“I will,” she replied. “When they’re ready.”

I can’t wait! :-)

(4) Finally, this is my 300th post on this blog! Thanks for reading.

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