John Adams: Advice to Johnny

Sprinkled throughout David McCullough’s biography of John Adams is the father’s advice and guidance to his young son, John Quincy. Since father and son were often separated, John Adams wrote his son letters full of fatherly counsel, recommendations for his education, and general wisdom. Here are a few quotes from John Adams’ letters to his son, John Quincy Adams:

As a branch of knowledge, geography was “absolutely necessary to every person of public character,” and to every child, Adams declared. “Really there ought not to be a state, a city, a promontory, a river, a harbor, an inlet or a mountain in all America, but what should be intimately known to every youth who has any pretensions to liberal education.”
(Of course, “America” was much smaller in John Adams’ day.)

“A taste for literature and a turn for business, united in the same person, never fails to make a great man.”

“I advise you, my son, in whatever you read, and most of all in reading the Bible, to remember that it is for the purpose of making you wiser and more virtuous. I have myself, for many years, made it a practice to read through the Bible once every year. I have always endeavored to read it with the same spirit and temper of mind, which I now recommend to you: that is, with the intention and desire that it may contribute to my advancement in wisdom and virtue.”

“But above all Things, my son, take Care of your Behaviour and preserve the Character you have acquired, for Prudence and Solidity. Remember your tender Years and treat all the World with Modesty, Decency and Respect. . . .”

Saturday Review of Books: March 4, 2017

“The only thing I regret is that I will never have time to read all the books I want to read.” ~Francoise Sagan

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Welcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.

Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.

After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read.

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

I read and reviewed this slim novel back in 2012, and since it’s supposed to be coming out as a movie in March, I thought I’d repost, FYI. I’m wondering how well the movie will be able to capture the “unreliable narrator” point of view.

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I do believe SFP at pages turned nailed this one. (You’ll only want to read her thoughts after you’ve read the book.) It’s a short book, a novelette really, but the ending isn’t . . . exactly. Hence the title.

The book is only 176 pages long, but it tells the story of Tony Webster’s life from his perspective, which it turns out is somewhat skewed. Maybe. Tony doesn’t “get it.” The book raises the possibility that we’re all like Tony, that our memories are unreliable and we really don’t understand each other or the events of our lives very well.

The Sense Of An Ending won the 2011 Man Booker prize for literature. I think it well worth the the time invested to read it and think about it.

“How often do we tell our own life story? How often do we adjust, embellish, make sly cuts? And the longer life goes on, the fewer are those around to challenge our account, to remind us that our life is not our life, merely the story we have told about our life. Told to others, but – mainly – to ourselves.”

“We live with such easy assumptions, don’t we? For instance, that memory equals events plus time. But it’s all much odder than this. Who was it said that memory is what we thought we’d forgotten? And it ought to be obvious to us that time doesn’t act as a fixative, rather as a solvent. But it’s not convenient— it’s not useful— to believe this; it doesn’t help us get on with our lives; so we ignore it.”

“History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.”

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Saint David’s Day

Daffodils
The patron saint of Wales is Saint David, or Sant Dewi as the Welsh call him. He lived in the sixth century and became the Archbishop of Wales. He was particularly fond of bread, vegetables, and water, drinking nothing but water for most of his life. He is also associated with water because it is said that a spring of water came bubbling up where he walked at significant times and places during his life. I’m interested in Saint David partly because some of my ancestors came from Wales.

The Welsh celebrate Saint David’s Day with leeks (remember Fluellen in Shakespeare’s Henry V?) and daffodils, male voice choirs, and harp concerts. If you would like to celebrate this Welsh holiday with your children, the website below has coloring pages, craft projects, a recipe for leek soup, and more information on David’s life.
St. David’s Day Activities for Kids
St. David died in about 589, and his last words were recorded as:

“Be joyful, and keep your faith and your creed. Do the little things that you have seen me do and heard about. I will walk the path that our fathers have trod before us.”

‘Do the little things’ (‘Gwnewch y pethau bychain’) is today a very well-known phrase in Welsh. It reminds me of Elisabeth Elliot’s admonition to “do the next thing.” Either way it seems to me to be a good motto. Sometimes it’s all I can do– to do the next little thing that needs to be done, and sometimes it’s enough. Happy St. David’s Day!

The Most Wonderful Doll in the World by Phyllis McGinley

I wrote a post a week or two ago about doll stories, when I was reading some of Rumer Godden’s stories about dolls. Now I’ve found another doll book to add to the list—the 1951 Caldecott Honor book, The Most Wonderful Doll in the World. Poet and author Phyllis McGinley wrote this tale of a girl, Dulcy, with a powerful imagination. In fact, Dulcy’s mother says she has “too much imagination” because Dulcy is always dissatisfied with the dolls she receives as gifts and must imagine them just a little bit different or better.

When Dulcy gets a new doll, Angela, from her friend, the elderly Mrs. Primrose, Dulcy thinks Angela is a fine doll, but she can’t help wishing that Angela’s hair were black instead of yellow. However, when Angela is lost, Dulcy’s longing and imagination transform the missing doll into the most wonderful doll in the world.

I couldn’t find much information about Helen Stone, the illustrator of this little story. She won two Caldecott honors for books upon which she collaborated with Phyllis McGinley. Her other Caldecott honor book is called All Around the Town by Phyllis McGinley, and it seems to be an alphabet book. Helen Stone also illustrated my favorite Phyllis McGInley story, The Plain Princess.

Read more about Phyllis McGinley here.
If you know or find out more about Helen Stone, please leave a comment.

Rocks in his Head by Carol Otis Hurst

I’ve seen this picture book biography recommended on several lists of “living books”, particularly living science books, and I agree that it’s a beautiful and inspiring story. The author’s father, who is never actually named in the text, was a collector of rocks. But more than a collector, he was a student and archivist who carefully curated and labeled his collection of rocks from all over the country.

Since Ms. Hurst’s father and his family were living through the Great Depression, her father’s day job was minding his gas station. When the gas station went broke, he took other jobs to support his family. Because he had never been to college or formally studied geology, most people thought Carol Hurst’s father’s passion for rocks was simply an amusing hobby. However, he eventually met someone who appreciated the informal study he had done and the depth of knowledge he had acquired.

Rocks in his Head is the kind of story our children need. They need to see that if they pursue an interest with persistence and passion, they can become experts. And they can do that whether or not this interest or passion becomes their job. I have an adult daughter who is teaching herself Polish because she is interested in all things Polish at the moment. I have a son who is becoming a talented and expert musician, in his spare time. I am an amateur, part-time librarian. So far, none of my children has “rocks in his head”, but if that were to be someone’s passion, I would encourage them to study and collect and learn with all the resources available to them. Because our economy is generally much better than that of the time during the Great Depression when Ms. Hurst’s father was living, we have much greater opportunities to both make a living for our families and pursue our own interests. Encourage your children and yourself to take advantage of every opportunity.

Saturday Review of Books: February 25, 2017

“I read a book one day and my whole life was changed.” ~Orhan Pamuk

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Welcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.

Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.

After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read.

Something Beautiful, Something Good

Ada’s Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay by Susan Hood, illustrated by Sally Wern Comport.
Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell, illustrated by Rafael Lopez.
Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph by Roxane Orgill, illustrated by Francis Vallejo.
Freedom in Congo Square by Carol Boston Weatherford and R. Gregory Christie.

I checked out these four 2016 picture books from the library because they sounded interesting and had received some accolades and good reviews. Then, as I read them, I realized that, serendipitously, they all carry a similar theme: art and beauty can emerge from the depths of poverty, suffering, and confusion. And that art can be a source of inspiration and celebration for the artists and for those who can find the ability to appreciate their art. Maybe “emerge” isn’t quite the right word; it takes perseverance, insight and ideas, and hard work for the art to “emerge” in all of these stories.

Freedom in Congo Square is a verse story about the weekly Sunday celebration of freedom and community that the enslaved and the free black people of New Orleans came together for in Congo Square. The rhythm and rhyme of this poem mirrors the week to week rhythm of work and rest that comprised the lives of of hundreds of African Americans, and the folk art style complements the story. Dance, music, community and hope for freedom from oppression are all celebrated in this paean to a New Orleans tradition. The foreword and the author’s note also give more historical information about the development of the gatherings at Congo Square.

Jazz Day is a compilation of mostly free verse poems inspired by a famous 1958 photograph by Art Kane for Esquire magazine of a gathering of famous and not-so-famous jazz musicians. Mr. Kane had the idea of inviting all of the jazz community to come to Harlem and pose for a photograph in front of an “absolutely typical brownstone.” The invitation to the photo shoot was open to all jazz musicians, and 58 of them showed up for the photo, including Count Basie, Roy Eldridge, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonius Monk, and Lester Young. The illustrations include color paintings of the crowd milling about and the individual musicians and a foldout image of the famous photograph itself.

Something Beautiful is based on the story of the origins of the colorful murals of East Village in San Diego, California and of the Urban Art Trail, a movement for reviving urban communities through art. In this picture book, a little girl, Mira is the catalyst for a community celebration of color and painting and art. Even the neighborhood policeman becomes involved in the riot of color and artistic freedom that brings life and beauty to an entire neighborhood. The illustrations in the book were done by Rafael Lopez who is the inspiration for the book: the husband in the husband-wife-team who brought murals and bench paintings and public artistic expression to East Village.

Finally, Ada’s Violin tells the story of a community built on a landfill in which the children learn to play instruments made from recycled trash. The Recycled Orchestra of Cateura (Asuncion), Paraguay is a real thing. Families in Cateura spend their days picking through the trash in the landfill to find things they can recycle or sell. The average income is $2.00 a day. Ada Rios is a violinist with the Recycled Orchestra. Her violin is made of “an old paint can, an aluminum baking tray, a fork, and pieces of wooden crates.” THe director of the Recycled Orchestra, Favio Chavez, says, “The world sends us garbage. We send back music.”

Recycled Orchestra from theremix on GodTube.

Indeed, all of these books tell how, in one way or another, art can come from poverty and oppression. It’s not easy. It takes the persistence of a Favio Chavez or an Art Kane or a Rafael Lopez. It takes other people buying into the artist’s dream to create a community of artists. (I think it also takes the inspiration and grace of the Holy Spirit.) But it can be done.

Victoria House by Janice Shefelman

I found this picture book at Goodwill, the resale shop. As I looked through it, the pictures by Tom Shefelman drew me in, and I decided to take a chance and spend the dollar to bring it home to my library. I’m glad I did.

Victoria House is the story of an old country house, vacant and overgrown with weeds. As the developer who bought the land that Victoria House sits is about to have the house demolished to make way for “a boulevard lined with Spanish-style buildings,” the architect, Sarah, asks if she can move Victoria House to the city. She gets the approval of her husband, Jess, and of her young son, Mason, and of Big Earl, the house mover, and the house is carefully moved to a lot in the city.

I have another book in my library called Pete’s House by Harriet Sobol, and it is quite popular. It tells the story of a boy who is watching a house get built. Victoria House would pair well with Pete’s House, since both are about the nuts and bolts of building or remodeling a house. It’s a subject that can fascinate certain children as they think about what goes on underneath the surface in building and remodeling houses we live in.

As I said, the illustrations in Victoria House are stunning. Some of the color paintings reminded Engineer Husband of architectural renderings, which can be a work of art in and of themselves. I can see why someone might want to go to the trouble of moving such a beautiful house from the country to a place in the city where it could be repaired, lived in, and loved.

Victoria House was published in 1988, and it’s out of print. However, if you or your children are interested in old houses or architecture or house-building or moving houses, this book would be worth pursuing.

The Language of Angels by Richard Michelson

The Language of Angels: A Story About the Reinvention of Hebrew by Richard Michelson, illustrated by Karla Gudeon.

I love nonfiction picture books about overlooked and under-reported events and people in history. The Language of Angels is just such a picture book, about Itamar Ben-Avi (Ben-Zion) and his father, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda who were instrumental in the revival and implementation of Hebrew as the official and modern language of the state of Israel.

I knew that when Israel became a nation, that new/old nation adopted Hebrew as their official language. But I had no knowledge at all of the people behind the revival of the modern Hebrew language. When Eliezer Ben-Yehuda moved to Jerusalem in 1881, no one spoke Hebrew as their main, or native language. Today more than three million people speak Hebrew in daily life.

How did Eliezer and Devorah Ben-Yehuda and their son, Ben-Zion, manage to reinvent a language that had been dead as a daily spoken language for over 1500 years? Well, Eliezer started schools where the primary instruction was in Hebrew. And he decided that his children would speak and be spoken to only in Hebrew—a decision which made for a lonely childhood for Ben-Zion, since no one else spoke Hebrew when he was a child. Eliezer Ben-Yehuda also wrote a Hebrew dictionary and enlisted his pupils to help him make up words for modern things such as ice cream cones and bicycles. (Read the book to find out how to add new words to an old language.)

Even with the afterword that has more information about these people and their language-making, I still had unanswered questions. How did Ben-Yehuda get people to agree to have their children educated in Hebrew, an antiquated and unused language at the time? How did someone talk the fledgling government of Israel into adopting Hebrew as the national language? What happened to Ben-Zion during World War II and after? (His father died in 1922.) Of course a picture book can’t answer all the questions one might have about a particular subject, but the fact that this one sparked so many questions is a good recommendation for it.

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