“You can find magic wherever you look. Sit back and relax all you need is a book!”
– Dr. Seuss
We’re book obsessed in this household as you might have noticed from previous posts. Here are some of the magical books we’ve been reading this month:
As part of our marine biology unit study (see this post for more information), they’ve been learning about the Linnean classification system to better understand the groupings of the various animals in the ocean. And what better way to bring this concept to life than through a gorgeous picture book about the man himself? Karl, Get Out of the Garden, is a beautifully illustrated publication about one man’s mission to give every living thing in the world a scientific name.
Born in 1707, Karl Linne spent most of his childhood outside, fascinated as he was by the natural world, whilst distinctly bored by his schoolwork… Irritated teachers proclaimed he wasn’t smart enough to become a minister, so his parents planned an apprenticeship with a shoemaker. Fortunately, one teacher recognised his talent and recommended studying medicine since in those days plants were medicine, so he could continue to spend time in his beloved garden.
Whilst pursuing this vocation, he became frustrated by the lack of a consistent and simple naming convention to allow easy identification of the different plants. “Some plants had thirty or forty different names!” Karl was determined to bring order to this chaos and so embarked on a quest to allocate all living things a clear and simple name. In the process, he grouped them all according to their external and internal characteristics into the categories that we still use to this very day.
The Beans particularly loved that he left room for animals that were rumoured to exist, such as dragons and unicorns, just in case they were real, by giving them their own class: Class Paradoxa!
“Karl classified and named more than twelve thousand species of plants and animals.” And in the process, he designed a new language of science, allowing people across the globe to communicate without confusion.
“Karl never did get out of the garden!”
We’d highly recommend this book – it’s one of our favourites.
Another excellent supporting book for our marine biology unit study is Big Blue Whale by Nicola Davies.
Full of fascinating facts about the blue whale and paired with gorgeous pictures, this was another hit for the Beans. They particularly love the fact that some whales spend their summers around the South Pole and swim north to winter at the equator, whilst others summer in the North Pole and swim south to the equator for their winter. But, given the seasons are reversed in the different poles, the two groups of whales never meet!
This was their favourite illustration, as Bean7 remembered being captivated by the baleen plates of the minke whale we saw at the amazing Sea Creatures exhibition, on in London over the summer.
A completely different, but equally beautiful and poignant book is The Matchbox Diary by Paul Fleischman (also available in paperback).
This book tells the story of how a little girl visiting her grandfather finds a cigar box, inside which holds a selection of matchboxes with various important treasures. Ranging from olive pits to tickets to newspaper cuttings, they were kept by her grandfather throughout his lifetime as a kind of object-based diary, since he was unable to read or write until he was much older.
As they open each box to discover its contents, they relive his past and journey from a life of poverty in Italy across the Atlantic to the promise of a better life in America. The trip took him nineteen days, which he recorded by putting a sunflower seed shell in one of his matchboxes every morning.
Having been entranced by the museum at Ellis Island in New York earlier in this year, the Beans were better able to appreciate just what he would have encountered at this immigration station. The book tells of how terrified he was as a small child at the prospect of the “buttonhook men” – the men who checked for eye diseases on entry into the country. His eyes were red from crying with fear of these men, which initially caused them to refuse his entry into the country, assuming he had an infectious disease. Fortunately, they found an Italian-speaking doctor to explain their predicament and the decision was overturned. But we remembered the pictures in that museum of those unlucky people refused entry into the country and sent back home on another perilous journey across the Atlantic.
The story then describes the emotional reunion with his father (OK I might have cried a little here myself!), their life of hard work in the canneries; rolling cigars and shelling nuts; and down South, peeling shrimp and opening oyster shells. It describes the bullying they suffered for being Italian but ends on a high as he is sent to school, learns to read and write (which he in turn teaches to his sisters of an evening) and becomes a printer, later on opening his own bookshop.
A thought-provoking story told in such a way that children can relate to – another highly recommended selection.
Next up are two of Bean7’s current favourites: The Pocket Dangerous Book for Boys and the Children’s Book of Sport. He’s read these books from cover to cover more times than I can remember! It’s not an unusual occurrence to find him snuggled in his bed in the morning poring over these works, or to hear him reading out a fact he’s amazed by and just has to share, over a lunchtime meal!
In the Children’s Book of Sport, a double page spread is dedicated to each sport with a section about the aim of the game, how to do the sport, interesting facts and piece about the essentials – what kit you need. Here are two sports he’s been fascinated in recently (he’s especially keen to try out the surfing!):
The Pocket Dangerous Book for boys has been a best-loved volume for a long time. It includes a varied selection of activities boys (and girls!) love to do, from how to skim stones, to making a periscope to constructing a bow and arrow. The instructions are simple, easy to follow and extremely engaging for little boys!
Bean7’s current favourites are:
1. How to play and score a game of conkers, combined with a description of how best to prepare your conkers:
2. Marbles and how to play three marble games: Ring Taw, Bounce About and Hundreds:
3. The five basic knots every boy should know:
and 4. Making a quill pen, which he’s keen to try out:
Another title which has proved popular this month is On a Beam of Light, an wonderful picture book about the life of Albert Einstein.
These two pages, about all the questions Albert asked, really resonated with the Beans, particularly Bean7 who never stops asking questions – I can’t get through a single page of a story without him firing millions of questions at me. It’s how he learns, through talking, which is both exhausting and yet joyful at the same time as he looks at the world in such a unique way.
“They said he would never amount to anything unless he learned to behave like all the other students.” Quite honestly, thank goodness he didn’t behave like them!
There are so many examples of this in history where truly great men and women who have designed ground-breaking inventions or made huge strides in scientific understanding, failed spectacularly at school and were often told they’d fail in life.
It’s a great lesson in remembering not to be defined by what society thinks is successful, but instead to nurture each individual’s unique gifts and talents and so allow them to fulfil their potential, whatever that may be. Let them dance to their own rhythm and be who they’re meant to be.
The book describes his scientific discoveries in simple terms but focusses more on what Albert was like as an individual: how he would wander around the town deep in thought licking his ice cream or play his violin to help him think better or go out in his sailing boat to let his mind be free.
A perfect book for your budding thinker.
And finally, it would be remiss of me not to mention the series of books that has beguiled Bean9 for the last month: the Rick Riordan Percy Jackson series. She’s been lost in the world of twelve-year old Percy Jackson – half human, half god – and his adventures for many a day and, in the process, has learned a huge amount about the Greek myths and legends – just in time for our visit to Athens (don’t you love it when a plan comes together!).
She’d highly recommend this series to any young bibliophiles!
And that’s it for this month. Hope you’ve enjoyed the selection.
What have you been reading recently that you’d recommend? Please feel free to share below in the comments.