Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Three Good Books

I try to surround Bonnie with lots of good books and let her choose what interests her. Sometimes her choices are right up my alley too, such as is the case with the following three.

Lynne Kelly's  Skeptic's Guide to the Paranormal does a great job of debunking popular superstitions and mysteries, including psychic readings, Nostradamus, telepathy, alien abductions, crop circles, astrology, and more. I like that the book gives practical advice to the reader on ways to think through and debunk the superstition for herself. One of my favorite chapters is the one on ESP, in which the author discusses the dangers of using anecdotes as evidence for anything. My kids will be faced with all sorts of anecdotal "proof" from religious folk trying to persuade them into believing in a supernatural god. It's good for them to realize that they need to find their own evidence in these cases.

Sugar Changed the World: A Story of Magic, Spice, Slavery, Freedom, and Science by Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos, does a wonderful job of helping us understand the vast and brutal history of the sugar cane industry, with a focus on the institution of slavery. It talks about how the farmers who grew sugar cane and planned on making sugar faced special challenges that caused the growth of a new form of farming: the plantation.

The only way to make a lot of sugar is to engineer a system in which an army of workers swarms through the fields, cuts the cane, and hauls the pile to be crushed into a syrup that flows into the boiling room. There, laboring around the clock, workers cook and clean the bubbling liquid so that the sweetest syrup turns into the sweetest sugar. This is not farming the way men and women had done is for thousands of years in the Age of Honey. It is much more like a factory, where masses of people must do every step right, on time, together, or the whole system collapses. (Sugar Changed the World 27.)

I want my kids to fully understand our nation's special history with slavery. Most of our founding fathers owned other human beings. What does that say about everything it means to be an American? I'm not sure how to get past all the questions that are raised through in-depth research into our history. But I know we have to ask them.

Finally, Bonnie loved Susan Campbell Bartoletti's Growing Up in Coal Country, the story of children growing up in the coal country of Pennsylvania in the early nineteen hundreds. The author was able to offer glimpses of hope and happiness while conveying the incredibly difficult, dangerous lives these children and their families lived. I love that Bartoletti discusses the banding together of miners to form unions. This book, perhaps more than any discussion I've ever had with Bonnie, has shown her exactly why we have unions today and why we must continue fighting for them. Though set in Pennsylvania, this is Kentucky's coal history too.


  1. I assume you've read Carl Sagan's "Demon-Haunted World" yes?
    If no, please -- go find a copy asap! ;]

  2. Growing Up In Coal Country took place where I grew up and where I live now. We're in NE Pennsylvania, just outside of Hazleton. I may have to pick up that book. Thanks for the recommendation.

    1. You're welcome. My Bonnie loved it. :)

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