Kelly Yang

Global Positioning

My son and I have chosen global positioning as a study theme for 2022.  For every topic we tackle this year we are going to to answer this question: where in the world is this or where did it come from?  (We are primarily limiting our focus to countries.)

Our world map and colored pens are at the ready.  Every time we find out where something originated we mark a color coded dot on the map (example:  goat breeds – a black dot, penguin breeds – a silver dot).  Our big map is becoming our big polka dotted map.  The idea is to find ourselves at the end of 2022 knowing where every country on the globe is located.  

To illustrate:  reading from Jack Byard’s “Know Your Goats”, we learned

  • the Girgentana goat (best in class for truly WOW horns) originated in Sicily:  mark a dot on the island of Sicily.  
  • the Boer goat (super sweet Basset Hound ears) is indigenous to South Africa:  mark a dot on South Africa.
  • the Kiko goat (off-the-charts hardy – resistant to disease, parasites, weather) initially from New Zealand:  mark at dot on New Zealand.
  • we have read about 6 breeds of goat from Switzerland.  When you keep going back to Switzerland to mark yet another dot, you finally learn where Switzerland is (this is for my son’s benefit, please don’t think I didn’t know where Switzerland was).

Our topic line-up so far:  goats, penguins (hey! 18 species of penguins and only 2 live their lives in Antarctica: so, 18 sparkling silver dots scattered about our map’s southern hemisphere), owls, bears, and here’s a change of pace:  breads of the world.  This dot marking is more satisfying than one would think.

But all other topics get a dot on the map, too.  Example:  we are reading Lori Alexander’s well researched, well written, “All in a Drop – How Antony van Leeuwenhoek Discovered an Invisible World” (BTW:  illustrations by Vivien Mildenberger are just so right for this book)(and another BTW:  the timeline at the back of the book is worth the price of the book) .  

  • I can finally pronounce his name without pausing to gather my wits:  “LAYVENHOOK” 
  • this man ground down a lentil shaped lens (hey!  we learned “lens” comes from the word “lentil”) and made a separate microscope for every single item he viewed 
  • kind of chilling: van Leeuwenhoek saw things under his microscopes that had NEVER EVER BEEN SEEN before.  My son and I reflected upon this crazy wonderfulness
  • after seven years of heel dragging, the Royal Society in London finally accepted van Leeuwenhoek as a Fellow (1677)

Yes, yes, yes, but where did he come from?  Delft, The Netherlands.  Bring forth the map and mark a gold dot on The Netherlands.

Current Fiction Reads (and global positioning dots) – 

“Room to Dream”, Kelly Yang.  The third in her very readable and very worthy series.  At the point we are in the story, protagonist Mia’s family is about to embark on a trip (from Anaheim, CA) to see family in China (2 dots marked on the map).

“Surviving the Applewhites”, by Stephanie S. Tolan.  I think this is our 4th time through this relentlessly entertaining book.  With each reading we discover new truths about human nature and the creative spirit.  Location?  North Carolina: another dot on the map.

Back to the Goats: Story Problem – 

Farmer Brown has 6 acres of overgrown weeds that need to be cleared out, so he is hiring a team of goats from neighbor, Farmer Fran (yes, THE Farmer Fran of “Farmer Fran’s Grazin’ Goats”), to get the job done.  Farmer Fran has a herd of 30 goats that can clear a half acre in 3 days. The cost runs $400 per acre.  

1)  How long will it take the goats to clear Farmer Brown’s 6 acres?
a-  3 days     b- 18 days     c- 30 days     d-  36 days

2)  How much will it cost to have the land cleared? 
a- $240     b-  $400     c- $2,400     d-  $4,000

3)  If Farmer Brown hires a local construction company to clear the brush, it will cost $4,000 per acre.  How much will he save if he hires the goat team instead?
a- $0 (they both cost the same)     b- $2,400     c-  $4,000     d-  $21,600
(answers at bottom of post)

Classical Music Time with the Goats – 

Farmer Fran says that her goats work more efficiently if they are munching to music, so my son and I looked for music with a happy, rambunctious melody and rhythm – 

  • “Hoe-Down”, from “Rodeo” by Aaron Copland (1942).  An A+ performance by the USA National Youth Orchestra of 2018.  Thanks to the outstanding percussion section we can imagine the goats’ little hoofbeats all over this exuberant composition –

  • “Maple Leaf Rag”, Scott Joplin (1916).  Oooooh, we found an actual pianola roll played by Scott Joplin.  The tempo is much faster than we’ve ever heard this piece played.  Just the right thing to keep those goats moving – 

  • Alexander Glazunov’s “Symphony No. 4”, movement 2 (1893).  This piece transports us smack into the middle of Farmer Brown’s acreage.  We can feel the fresh air, we can see the goats scampering from one clump of weeds to the next.  They are making short work of this 6 acre task!  This is not exactly rambunctious music, but there is a playfulness and joyfulness present –

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answers:  1) d- 36 days     2) c- $2,400     3) d- $21,600 )

Making the Grade

Straight A’s  for everything in our July book basket – 

A+:  A History of Pictures” – by David Hockney and Martin Gayford.  It is really called “A History of Pictures for Children” and we are perplexed:  this stunner of a book is for EVERYBODY.  It is thought-filled and thought-provoking, tempting us to take a fresh look at cave paintings, Egyptian wall paintings, mirrors, shadows, Disney cartoons, pencil marks, brush strokes, perspective, collage, and the influences of photography, movies, and computers. The 4 page timeline of inventions that pertain to drawing and painting is worth the cost of the book alone.  This book is in line for a re-read.

A+: One Real American, The Life of Ely S. Parker” – by Joseph Bruchac.  A superb book about the Seneca sachem (chief) and Civil War general.  Easy to read, filled with information that was new to us (go ahead, ask us about the Iroquois League, ask us about Red Jacket, ask us about Ely S. Parker), extremely well edited and documented, and a timeline is included at the back of the book.  My son and I are impressed by both Ely S. Parker and author Joseph Bruchac.

A+:  “What Linnaeus Saw” by Karen Magnuson Beil.  In my last post, “Our Hour”, I mentioned that we had read about artist/nature observer Maria Merian, who was cited so very many times by Carl Linnaeus.  So, we HAD to read about Carl Linnaeus (1707 -1778), whose quest was to systemize, classify, and name every animal, plant, and mineral.   The book is a weency bit repetitive, but the author is forgiven – Linnaeus’s path to the goal was neither short nor direct.

A+: Three Keys” – My son got a feel for the term “refugee” in “Home of the Brave” by Katherine Applegate (the finest book we read in 2020).  He is now beginning to understand the plight of the immigrant via Kelly Yang’s book “Three Keys”.  This is about friendship, open mindedness, hard work, and having the confidence to speak out for what is right.  We really liked the prequel, “Front Desk” and we will definitely be reading “Room to Dream” when it comes out in September.  Kelly Yang:  A+!

Other study topics from the July book basket

  • The Everglades   “Everglades National Park” by Grace Hansen.  This book is written for the younger reader, but it does come across with the basic facts and the photos (including a nice photo of President Harry Truman dedicating the park) are large and representative. 
  • Geometry   “Everything You Need to Ace GEOMETRY in One Big Fat Notebook” by Workman Publishing.  Oooooh, I do not like this book because any venture into math that doesn’t involve a story problem leaves me dizzy.  BUT, my son really likes it.  DARN.  So we sally forth learning about congruency, chords, transversals, etc.  With each page, I feel like my head is diving deeper into a swirling fog, so I just read the words aloud and marvel that my son is entranced.  I give myself a C-.  
  • Geography – “Bird’s Eye View – The Natural World” by John Farndon/Paul Boston.  Very pretty book, soothing illustrations, AND we both learned a new word!  We LOVE being smacked in the face with a new word!  We have never come across the word MEANDER used as a noun.  A meander is a bend in a river or a road.  It takes so little to make us gleeful.

The Local Diner plans for August (story problem) –  The diner is installing a pop-up snow-cone hut on the diner’s back deck for the month of August.  It will be manned by a high school summer-time employee, who will work 5 hours a day for $12 an hour.  There will be 3 flavors of snow cones:  cherry, mint, and watermelon, and a commercial snow cone machine has been purchased for $250.  The diner is making the syrups and providing the ice.  So the questions are:

  1. How much will the diner pay a week for a high school snow cone artisan?  
  2. If the diner sells a snow cone for $2.00, how many will have to be sold to recoup the money spent of the snow cone machine?
  3. Will the diner spend more on the snow cone machine or employing the high school worker (for the month of August)? (answers at bottom of post)

Classical music:  A+ Musicians  

It was VIRTUOSO NIGHT last night.  My son made the selections (the writing chaos on the side of the page is my son indicating “Yes” or “No” for each of my suggestions) –

On the flute:  James Galway – We both love James Galway and we both love Tambourin, a short, happy piece for flute composed by Francois-Joseph Gossec in 1794, for his opera, “Le Triomphe de la Republique”.  For some reason, midway through the video there is a blank screen for about 40 seconds, but NO WORRIES, the spritely music continues – 

On the violin:  Itzhak Perlman   We have compared Itzhak Perlman’s performance to other violin virtuosos and no one touches the finesse he puts into this performance of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor, the finale (composed in 1844).  BTW, my son and I refer to this as the Cat and Mouse movement – 

On the piano:  Simone Dinnerstein   We consider ourselves members of the Simone Dinnerstein fan club.  Her discs are part of our music line-up as we drive to In-N-Out Burger twice a week. We LOVE her way with a Bach invention – 

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answers:  1)  $420,  2)  125 snow cones,  3)  the diner will spend more for the high school worker)

Doc and Bach

front desk book

Last week’s stories and studies agenda:
  become informed about world ecosystems via Rachel Ignotofsky’s superb book, “The Wondrous Workings of Planet Earth”:  CHECK
  cheer for everything protagonist Mia Tang stands for in Kelly Yang’s important fiction read, “Front Desk”:  CHECK
But really, the past week has been dominated by Albert Schweitzer and Johann Sebastian Bach.

schweitzer at organ face right    bach organ

Scholarly, Spiritual, Musical – Albert Schweitzer (1875 – 1965) – doctorates in theology (vocab), philosophy, and medicine.  Pipe organ virtuoso.  Authority on the works of JS Bach (and 4 published papers to prove it).  Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1952.  Whoa.

We are leaning forward as we read through Ken Gire’s bio of Dr. Schweitzer, “Answering the Call”.  The book begins as Schweitzer and his wife, Helene, make their way to Lambaréné, Gabon (Africa) where they set up the area’s first hospital.  The past few evenings we have been learning about how WWI – so very far away in Europe (globe out) – drastically affected the economy in Gabon.  And FOR HEAVENS SAKES Albert and Helene were sent back to France to be imprisoned during the war, leaving the people of Lambaréné with no medical care. (Discussion topic with my son:  is this right?  what would we have done?)  What next?  We’re riveted.

albert and bach books

Schweitzer’s interest is our interest – Because of Schweitzer’s fascination with all things Bach, we are darting around David Gordon’s “The Little Bach Book” learning lots about Bach’s world (1685-1750).  This neat little reference is packed with well researched information, delivered with sly humor (pretty much an A+ sort of book): 

  • quotes about Bach by other composers (superlative after superlative) (vocab) 
  • feather pens; until 1820 (when metal ink pens debuted), composers used feather quills to write their music.  We found out that one could write/compose for about 5 minutes with a particular feather before it had to firm up, be cleaned or recut
  • men’s hair fashion (wigs)  
  • dental care in the 1700’s (yeeks)

violin outdoors

Meanwhile, BACH at the ranch (a Farmer Brown story problem) This summer, Farmer Brown’s ranch will be the site of a series of 3 outdoor symphony concerts featuring 30 Bach compositions, which may sound like a lot of Bach, but when the BWV (which my son and I learned was the official Bach Works Collection listing) was last tallied in 1998, the list of compositions attributed to this musical genius totaled over 1,100 pieces.   Approximately what percentage of Bach’s total output will be performed during the ranch concert series?
A.   1%     B.   3%     C.   15%     D.   30%     (answer at bottom of post)

More and More Bach – Over the years my son and I have downloaded several (32 to be exact) Bach compositions onto our iPod and this week we listened thoughtfully to each one.  My son “reviewed” each piece, and we listened again to his favorites:

bach quiz

  • Sheep May Safely Graze, composed in 1713.  Calming perfection:

  • Invention No. 13 in A minor, composed about 1720.  A super short jewel played skillfully on the harpsichord by a 9 year old!

  • Finally, we listened to THE GRAND, THE MIGHTY, THE REPETITIVE Symphony No. 5 in F minor, movement 5 (the toccata) (1879) composed by Charles-Marie Widor, recognized Bach scholar AND Schweitzer’s organ professor at the Paris Conservatory.  A high energy performance by virtuoso Frederick Hohman:

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answer:  B.  3%)

Referencing Robert Burns

On the grounds that my son has enough to deal with – I do my best to keep themes of MAN’S INHUMANITY TO MAN* removed from our stories and studies.  However, last night three of our books ambushed us with the ugliness of RACISM:

three books 

  • From Kelly Yang’s novel, “Front Desk”:  racism and racial profiling
  • From Rachel Ignotofsky’s “Women in Science”:  we hated learning that brilliant ophthalmologist/inventor Patricia Bath contended with racism throughout her academic career
  • From Kekla Magoon’s novel, “The Season of Styx Malone”:  we are pretty sure that the reluctance of our protagonists’ father to allow his children to venture into the big city is based upon a past trauma rooted in racism

I provided my son with a concise explanation of racism, and followed up with some questions:

  • does it seem smart or ridiculous to assign specific characteristics to an entire group of people based on appearance?
  • do we need to make others look bad to make ourselves feel good?
  • is racism ever acceptable?
  • what letter grade would we give racism?

robert burns

*“Man’s inhumanity to man” – the phrase was first used by Scottish treasure, Robert Burns, in his lengthy poem of 1784, “Man was made to mourn:  A Dirge”.  We carefully examined each line of this stanza (vocab):

Many and sharp the numerous ills
Inwoven with our frame!
More pointed still we make ourselves
Regret, remorse, and shame!
And man, whose heav’n-erected face
The smiles of love adorn, –
Man’s inhumanity to man
Makes countless thousands mourn!

natural attraction book

Why can’t we be friends? – My son and I are reading from Iris Gottlieb’s cutie of a book “Natural Attraction”, which is filled with examples of unexpected and beneficial partnerships in nature:  tarantulas/frogs, ants/aphids, whales/barnacles.  (New vocab:  symbiotic and mutualism.)  This book offers an uplifting way to conclude each night’s academic agenda.

scot lion

Story problem from Le Fictitious Local Diner – to bring attention to Robert Burns’ 260th birthday, the diner owner was thinking about adding “A Taste of Old Scotland” onto the dinner menu, but there proved to be no interest among the chefs in preparing haggis, so as sort of a second choice, butterscotch sundaes were added onto the dessert menu as a watered down nod to the great poet’s homeland.  I know, so lame.  Over the course of the first month on the menu, 500 butterscotch sundaes were served up, 80% to teenagers.  How many non-teenagers enjoyed a butterscotch sundae during this time?  (answer at bottom of post)

red rose

Music to celebrate Robert Burns – we listened to the well known Burns song, “Oh, My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose”, and then selected two pieces that idealize his native Scotland –

  • “Oh, My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose”, lyrics by Robert Burns (1794) set to a traditional Scots folk melody.  This is a lovely rendition, but BTW, there is the most adorable performance in the 1999 movie, “My Life So Far” –

  • Max Bruch’s “Scottish Fantasy”, movement 4 (selected because the dominant melodic theme is based upon a Burns song, “Scots Wha Hae”), composed in 1880.  Interesting note:  Max Bruch’s first visit to Scotland was one year AFTER the premiere of his “Fantasy”.  Another interesting note:  this youtube video indicates that we are listening to movement 5, but we are not.  This is fake news;  there is no movement 5.  This is a clerical error. –

  • Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3 in A minor (known as “The Scottish”), movement 2, composed in 1842, as he reflected upon his 1829 sojourn to Scotland.  The short movement is full of bounce and spirit and this performance is conducted by Gustavo Dudamel.  Winner, winner! –

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answer:  100 non-teenagers)

For the record…

science women

We love this book – We continue to be so impressed with the 50 brilliant, determined women showcased in Rachel Ignotofsky’s “Women in Science”.  My son and I were happy to read an entry on Lillian Gilbreth – a women we were already acquainted with – psychologist,  industrial engineer, mom of 12 (!) AND matriarch of the “Cheaper by the Dozen” clan (a book we have read 4 times).  But maybe our very favorite scientist is Marjory Stoneman Douglas – writer, conservationist, AND civil rights advocate, AND suffragist – whose work led JUST IN THE NICK OF TIME to the creation of the Everglades National Park in Florida.  A quote from Ms. Douglas has stayed with us: “I’d like to hear less talk about men and women and more talk about citizens. 

marjory 3

And we love this book – “Front Desk” by Kelly Yang.  Because of its underlying theme of SELF RELIANCE, this is the type of fiction I am always excited to share with my son.  Every chapter has our protagonist, Mia, dealing with the latest disaster at the motel her family is managing.  Every chapter bursts with sidebar discussion topics – we’ve considered the bravery needed to move from one country to another (Mia’s family is new to the USA from China), loan sharks, Monopoly, how to make a key, employment contracts, nice neighbors and crooked landlords.

front desk

To complement “Front Desk”, we are reading through Lonely Planet’s “China – Everything You Ever Wanted to Know”.  We are just barely into this book, but so far we have read about dragons, the gargantuan Chinese population, board games, dynasties, tea and paper (HEY!  We did not know that the Chinese invented TOILET PAPER). 

smoke detector

The Farmer Brown SAFETY FIRST story problem – Farmer Brown will be installing new smoke detectors throughout his barns.  Twenty devices (vocab) need to be ordered.  

He can either purchase 10-year lithium battery detectors for $13 each or he can purchase detectors for $12 each, that use a 9-volt battery (at $1 each), and replace batteries annually.  

Over the course of 10 years what would be the difference in cost between lithium battery detectors and 9-volt battery detectors?

A.  $20     B.  $26     C.  $150     D.  $180  (answer at bottom of post)

golden record

From the HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL department:  MUSIC IN SPACE –  with a degree of astonishment and skepticism, my son and I have been reading about the golden records that were placed aboard NASA’s 1977 Voyager I and Voyager II space missions.  FYI, at present, both spacecraft are waaaaaaaay far away, with Voyager I scheduled to pass near the star Gliese in 40,000 years.  40,000 YEARS.  (We discussed.)

The 31 music tracks – to be played by an advanced extraterrestrial civilization that has record players (WHOA.  We discussed.  Is it just us or do others see this endeavor as curiously preposterous?) – were selected by a committee headed by eminent American astronomer, Carl Sagan, of Cornell University.  Of the selections, seven are classical pieces – two from Beethoven and three from Bach (if they had only known!) (we discussed).  Last night we sampled the wide variety of the music chosen: 

  • Bach’s “Brandenburg Concerto No. 2”, movement 1, composed in 1721 (showcasing one of the most difficult-to-play trumpet parts in the classical music repertoire):

  • “Melancholy Blues” by Louis Armstrong, written in 1927.  This is the sole jazz selection on the golden record:

  • “Johnny B. Goode” by Chuck Berry, written in 1958, said to be one of the most recognizable songs in the history of popular music:

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answer:  D.  $180)