Navigating Early … Connecting the Dots

Whether by coincidence or serendipity, my daughter recently recommended a book to me and I delighted in not only engaging her in a conversation about good literature, but I began to see connections in our own lives. Once I started paying attention,

Navigating Early is written by Newberry Award winner, Clare Vanderpool.  Her books fall within that special category of middle grade fiction that speak as well to adults as to children, capturing not only the magic of childhood but also the hard hitting realizations of growing up. This is an odyssey-like adventure of two boys’ incredible quest on the Appalachian Trail where they deal with pirates, buried secrets, and extraordinary encounters.

Connecting the dots.  That’s what Mom said stargazing is all about.  It’s the same up there as it is down here, Jackie.  You have to look for the things that connect us all.  Find the ways our paths cross, our lives intersect, and our hearts collide.

The story of friendship between a new kid at a Maine boarding school and a fellow student as they go on a journey together, all the while discovering things about themselves. What I loved about this book is that the two character studies are written in parallel. The narrator, Jack, is dealing with the recent death of his mother, while his friend Early Auden is dealing with the death of his brother Fisher.

Set just after World War II comes to a close, we come to realize that Early has Asperger’s syndrome, a high functioning form of Autism, though in 1945 he is identified only as strange. In addition, he is a savant with an instinctual understanding and interpretation of math that blurs into synesthesia. Early sees Pi as more than a number–he sees a story, and Jack is the one boy willing to ask Early the all-important question: “Who is Pi?”

pi

The story that Early tells to accompany an irrational number not only explains the connections in his life in an orderly, mathematical way, but Pi’s adventures also serve a dual purpose, on one hand allegorical to symbolize Jack and Early going on this journey to try to find their place in the world, on the other, as a sort of counterpart to their journey that cleverly foreshadows a lot of the events.

No one say anything about knowing the names of the stars. No, the sky, it is not a contest or an exam. The only question is, can you look up? Can you take it all in? As for the names of the constellations, they are not the be-all and the end-all.  The stars, they are not bound one to another.  They are meant to be gazed upon. Admired, enjoyed.  It is like the fly-fishing. Fly-fishing is not about catching the fish.  It is about enjoying the water, the breeze, the fish swimming all around.  If you catch one, good.  If you don’t … that is even better. That means you come out and get to try all over again!”

All the while reading this delightful book, in our own lives there were many parallels or coincidences:

  • Jack and Early meet up with an old Norwegian woodsman who reminded me of my father
  • The Norwegian teaches the boys how to fly-fish – not two weeks prior to reading this book, my daughter had just returned home from fish camp and while camping, my father taught my son how to fish
  • We recently learned that my nephew has been diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder, a form of autism
  • We encountered a medal plaque along the pier in San Francisco (pictured above) and the kids delighted in how the numbers disappear
  • Via a Google+ community, I discovered the  THE ART OF π – This is awesome!!

Part adventure story, part eulogy, part character sketch, and part coming of age, this is a book you can immerse yourself in and come out feeling the better for having read.

 

Living Books for Science Education

One of my goals as a science educator and homeschool parent is to pass on to children a love for science and for learning.  I am often asked what books I would recommend for particular science disciplines.  What books do I most enjoy sharing with my own children?  Which books are the living books?  First coined by Charlotte Mason, living books are described as “… complete works, firsthand sources, classics, books that display imagination, originality, and the human touch.” 

Charlotte Mason did not give us a list of the hundred best books, nor did she compose a checklist of what to look for in a living book.  Along our homeschool journey, I have therefore looked for living books for science that were not only of high literary quality, but that also communicated important knowledge about a given subject, especially biography, science, nature, and geography.  I’ve compiled some of my favorite books for you here – books you’ll enjoy reading again and again.

Biographies

Giants of Science series by Kathleen Krull

This is a great series of books about some of the most recognized names in science including Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, Leonardo da Vinci, Isaac Newton, and Sigmund Freud.  Amusing comic illustrations accompany the text and Krull’s anecdotal stories bring each scientist to life.

Chemistry & Physics


The Periodic Table: Elements with Style!

There are numerous books in this series by Adrian Dingle. When I taught a chemistry unit with my kiddos a year ago, they devoured these. The Periodic Table introduces budding chemists to the world of the elements with wit and humor while also presenting factual information.

Nature


Books by Jean Craighead George

One of my all-time favorite authors, George has been the recipient of many literary awards.  My Side of the Mountain, the story of a boy and a falcon surviving on a mountain together, was a 1960 Newbery Honor Book.  Growing up in a family of naturalists, it is no wonder her books resonate with a love of nature.


Books by Jim Arnosky

I enjoy Arnosky’s books as much for the text as I do the illustrations. An artist and naturalist, his accurate illustrations, and his attention to detail makes it easy for children to see how carefully nature has designed plants and animals to function in their natural habitats. “I prefer to show rather than tell,” he explains, “to teach rather than preach, to guide rather than simply warn. In showing my readers what I look for in my ramblings, I hope that they will keep an eye out for such things and make discoveries of their own when they are outdoors.”


Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices

Written to be read aloud by two voices ~ sometimes alternating, sometimes simultaneous ~ this collection of charming poems celebrates the insect world, from the short life of the mayfly to the love song of the book louse. I found an audio version to which we listened first – and then we had a blast reading them together.

Who’s Been Here series by Lindsay Barrett George

My children have enjoyed this series of books since they were toddlers.  I would often read one aloud prior to a nature outing.  Then as we began to explore, I would point out signs of wildlife and ask the kids, “Who’s Been Here?”  Slowing down to look at small details, the kids began to ask question and make hypotheses of their own.

Birds Every Child Should Know by Neltje Blanchan

Originally published in 1907, Birds Every Child Should Know is a collection of storylike descriptions of more than one hundred birds commonly found in the United States.  Detailed descriptions of birds—their physical attributes, calls, nesting and mating habits, and other behaviors—read almost like fairy tales.  My daughter loved this book.

Geology & Geography

Books by Bryd Baylor

Bryd Baylor is one of my favorite children’s authors.  She lives and writes in Arizona, presenting images of the Southwest and an intense connection between the land and the people. Her prose illustrates vividly the value of simplicity, the natural world, and the balance of life within it.


The Coast Mappers by Taylor Morrison

I discovered this book quite by accident but upon reading it, wanted for my own collection.  In this beautifully illustrated book, Morrison chronicles the challenges and adventures the US Coastal Survey team faced and the methods they used to accomplish this monumental, and essential, task.

Astronomy & Space


Books by Gail Gibbons

Gibbons is another wonderful and prolific writer of children’s books. The titles I have in my own collection include, The Moon Book, The Planets, and The Reason for Seasons.  Her clear writing style and the accompanying illustrations help to explain concepts that are difficult to grasp. I’ve used these books to help dispel misconceptions with adults.


Seymour Simon books

The author of more than 250 highly acclaimed science books, Simon has been called the ‘Dean of Children’s Science Writers”. He uses his website, SeymourSimon.com, to provide free downloads of a wealth of materials for educators, homeschoolers and parents to use with his books.

Do you have a favorite science living book or children’s science author?  I would love to learn of new authors or books.  Leave a comment  below and let me know.