Friday, October 21, 2011

What We've Been Reading This Week

As usual, we've read a lot of good books this week. There are far too many to list here, but I'll recap a few of my favorites.

To go along with our study of German history, we read several books of German fairy tales, including stories by the Brothers Grimm. Bonnie and Jack both loved Paul O. Zelinsky's beautiful Rapunzel the best. I'd grown up being familiar with the tale of Rapunzel and knowing the line "Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair," but had never read or heard a version in which the wicked stepmother found out about the Prince because Rapunzel's pregnancy was starting to show. That made for unexpected family discussions.

The boys wanted to read Our Family Tree: An Evolution Story over and over again. Bright illustrations and simple, flowing text make a great introduction to evolution for preschool and elementary aged kids. The book was well below Bonnie's reading level, but she still enjoyed the pictures and story with us.

Bonnie and I read two books about religious faiths this week, What I Believe: Kids Talk about Faith by Debbie and Tom Birdseye and One World, Many Religions: The Ways We Worship by Mary Pope Osborne (author of the popular and awesome Magic Tree House series for young readers.) Both books did an excellent job of conveying the basic message that there are a variety of religious faiths, but that they are all basically the same. The books encourage religious understanding and tolerance, and are clearly written from the point of view that religious faith is a good thing. Osborne's introduction says this about the seven main religions she chooses to discuss in her book:

They all seek to bring comfort to their followers. They all offer thanks for the world's great beauty and goodness. They all express awe and humility before the mysteries of the universe. In this sense, they are all wise and enduring.

Obviously I believe the above passage reveals that the book is less about religious education and more about religious promotion. While her book does a great job of talking about the good aspects and customs of different religions, she completely leaves out minor details like the fact that the "big three" have been perpetuating horrors against each other for centuries, and the implied lesson is that any religious faith is better than no faith.

The Birdseye book features the stories of six American middle school kids talking about their family's religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Native American. Bonnie liked reading about the different ways kids practice their religious faiths and about the different views they hold. And though Bonnie and I didn't discuss it (because I am letting her make those connections herself) I liked that the kids were pretty obviously just repeating what they've been taught about religion by their parents. Original, critical thought need not apply! I do see the beginnings of skeptical thinking in the Christian boy Alex, who says things like "I believe in God because there are some things that cannot be rationally explained" and "Some people think that God still works miracles. I believe maybe, occasionally." He also talks about not taking the bible literally and not being sure if he's heard god's voice personally, or if they were only his own thoughts.

The best book Bonnie and I read this week was Tobacco U.S.A: The Industry Behind the Smoke Curtain. It's written for young adults, and while Bonnie could read it herself, I read it aloud so that we could stop and talk any time she had questions. Tobacco is a personal topic to me, as I have struggled with smoking in the past, and I lost my mom to COPD and lung cancer. In addition, my siblings and many other family members currently smoke. This book does an excellent job of describing the role tobacco played in the founding of this country, the perpetuation of the slave trade, and in making anti-trust and child advertising laws necessary. Bonnie received a great introduction in our flawed political system that allowed Big Tobacco to remain unchecked for so long. For some reason that is inexplicable to me, there are some who would suggest this book is "biased" against the tobacco industry. To that, I would reply that much of the information found in this book is taken right from the records of Big Tobacco, such as their development and marketing of Joe Camel with the specific goal of attracting new customers in the 14-18 age bracket. In addition to bringing up discussions about child advertising and political lobbying, this book brought up the topic of globalization. We learned that much of the world's tobacco is now grown under the supervision of Big Tobacco in third world countries. The tobacco companies build the same fancy tobacco barns we have here and supply the farmers with the same toxic pesticides. The result is tobacco of the same high quality with farmers existing at a subsistence level and Big Tobacco paying less than 1/3 what they would for the tobacco grown here. Tobacco seems to have come full circle to its slavery roots.

Kelly brought next week's books home from the library yesterday. I love seeing my kids stand around the book bag, eager to see what it contains. And I love learning right along with them.

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