Moto Perpetuo

A Glimpse and a Glance

What was life like for my son’s grandparents, who were teenagers during the Great Depression and young adults during World War II?  

We got a glimpse of the Great Depression – through Cheryl Mullenbach’s first-rate book “The Great Depression for Kids”:

  • setting the scene for the Great Depression: the roaring twenties
  • Herbert Hoover’s policies and FDR’s “New Deal”
  • and when things could not get any worse: the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s
  • differences between city schools and country schools
  • fun diversions:  roller derbies, the circus, Shirley Temple
  • neighbor helping neighbor, farmer helping farmer  (very heartening)
  • vocabulary and concepts defined:  migrant workers, prohibition, the stock market, banks collapsing, breadlines, striking workers, rationing, silent movies /“talkies”, rural, urban

We got a glimpse of the early days of World War II – through Richard Peck’s YA novel, “On the Wings of Heroes”.  Peck’s short chapters seamlessly combine the realities of a nation at war with a middle school student’s realities:

  • an adored older brother serving in the air force
  • rationing (we did not know that even shoes were rationed)
  • collection drives for the war effort (rubber tires, paper, all types of metal), culminating in the most wonderful town event:  a parade of rusted out jalopies headed for the scrap yard
  • ineffectual teachers vs. dynamite craftier-than-a-fox teachers
  • classroom bullies (who are served their just desserts)
  • the best friend
  • the hilarious next door neighbors

This is a comforting book set during nervous times and a perfect follow up to our study of the Great Depression.

A glimpse at trees and the high seas – 

Trees, a Rooted History” –  Socha and Grajkowski explore 32 tantalizing tree topics and team them with clever, superbly executed illustrations.  Our favorite two-page spreads: prehistoric trees (lots of fern-like leaves), the tallest trees (FYI, the tallest tree in the world:  “Hyperion”, a coast redwood in California), tree houses (why yes, we would like to stay in the treehouse on the grounds of  Amberley Castle in England), and the art of bonsai (who can’t love the sheer art and patience evident in a bonsai tree?).

We concluded our tree unit with a fill-in-the-blank version of the Joyce Kilmer’s poem of 1913, “Trees”.  (This was easy for my son – we have read this poem many times.)

Speaking of trees:  a Farmer Brown story problem – Farmer Brown’s cat, Olive, loves to scamper to the top of the front yard apple tree, but is jittery about the descent.  Smart thinking Farmer Brown has been successful in coaxing Olive down the tree with a fragrant offering of tuna.  If a can of tuna costs $4 and Farmer Brown needs to lure Olive down around 7 times a month, will $400 be enough to cover the cost of Olive’s “rescue tuna” this year?  (answer at bottom of post)

deep sea voyage

Professor Astro Cat’s Deep-Sea Voyage” – YAY! We have the new book by Dr. Dominic Walliman and Ben Newman!  My son and I have loved every book by this team (especially “Professor Astro Cat’s Frontiers of Space”).  And once again, THIS IS WHAT A LEARNING EXPERIENCE SHOULD LOOK LIKE IN BOOK FORM.  We are only half way through, but here is what has grasped our attention so far:

  • How low can you go?  My son and I both shivered as we read about depth zones in the ocean.  How it gets darker/colder and darker/colder and darker/colder the lower you go (thank heavens for deep sea vents) .  We found the Mariana Trench (the deepest known place on Earth) on our globe and pondered how anybody found this in the first place.
  • Ocean birds:  We are giving “A+ for Effort Awards” to cormorants, sea birds that can dive to 130 feet below sea level, and Arctic terns, who migrate further than any other animal on Earth (from north pole to south pole).
  • Octopuses have NINE brains: each arm has a brain – after getting over the semi-creepiness of this, we mused over the mechanics of an arm having a brain.
  • Most thought provoking:  those who have viewed fish tanks at any aquarium will have seen schools of fish moving together quickly and almost poetically.  Now that we think about it, we have never seen fish bumping into each other.  WHY?  Because fish have something totally confusing called the LATERAL LINE SYSTEM which enables them to detect vibrations, movement, and pressure from their surroundings.  

manderinefish

  • The utterly elegant manderinefish:  our new favorite fish 

A glance at ants –  If you need to know about ants, may we recommend, “The Life and Times of the Ant”, by Charles Micucci.  It is simply jammed with all sorts of stuff we budding ant scholars did not know previously, like:  

  • an ant scholar is properly known as a myrmecologist (what an RTW – really tough word)
  • a queen ant can live for up to 15 years and can produce 1million eggs annually
  • all worker ants are ladies;  the only job for male ants is fathering ant young ’uns
  • ants rely on the senses of touch, smell, sound, and taste (but not sight)

Concluding thought:   ants have been busy on Earth for around 100 million years.  They are smart, strong and supremely organized.  Homo sapiens have been busy on Earth for less than 1 million years.  Some of us are smart, some are strong, few are supremely organized.  No wonder we cannot get a handle on how to deal with ants in the sugar bowl.

Classical Music Time – we created a soundtrack for busy ants:

  • Moto Perpetuo by Niccolo Paganini,  1835.  We’re imagining ants with teeny iPods, working non-stop to the rhythm of Paganini’s composition.  Do they notice how this four and a half minute piece seems to be managed on a single breath by trumpet virtuoso, Wynton Marsalis?

  • Arrival of the Queen of Sheba, composed in 1748 by George Frideric Handel for his oratorio, “Solomon”.  All hail the Queen of the Ant Colony!  After producing all those eggs, this little lady deserves all the royal pomp that Handel can muster – 

  • Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4, movement 3 – Oh my, it is as if Tchaikovsky was writing about ants marching toward the ultimate prize:  A PICNIC BASKET.  There they go!  March, march, march, up and down little hills on the trail, no time for funny business.  But wait!  About a minute and a half in, AN OBSTACLE in the middle of the path!  A big leaf perhaps?  But take heart, quick thinking ants maneuver around the leaf and by minute 3, they are back on track.  What a grand ending as the picnic basket is reached (even the orchestra’s conductor is jubilant!).  Treasures (maybe a potato chip and cookie crumbs) are hoisted to bring back to the Queen, and the march back to the colony’s nest commences.  (My son LOVED the commentary and welcomed it again in the next night’s music line-up)(success!) –

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answer:  yes)

Bee Plus!

bees

Let’s pretend that you need to brush up on your knowledge of bees. May we suggest, “The Life and Times of the Honeybee” by Charles Micucci?  This sort of looks like a little kids book, but every single page intrigues with surprising information – my son and I were amazed to learn that a colony of 10,000 to 60,000 bees includes only 100 male bees (the drones)…Those worker bees flitting about in gardens? The bees that sting you? The bees that make the honey?  ALL female.  So my son and I worked the ratios – if there are 100 males and 10,000 in the colony, the ratio of male to female is 1:100.  If there are 100 males and 60,000 in the colony, the ratio is 1:600. (This ratio reminded me of the Jan and Dean hit of 1963, “Surf City” – which starts out “Two Girls for Every Boy” – so I forced my son to view a video of Jan and Dean on The Steve Allen Show. I don’t think I can get him to watch this again.)

But back to “The Life and Times of the Honeybee” – we give this bee book an A!

microscope book

Blood, blood, and more blood (gross overstatement) – Just last night we were reading through “The Usborne Complete Book of the Microscope”, learning the difference between optical (vocab) and electron (vocab) microscopes.  Well!  This morning at a doctor’s appointment, we saw a sample of my son’s blood through the mechanism of an electron microscope!  Perfect timing!  The computer screen view was fascinating – from a pinprick of of blood on the glass slide, the jillions of red blood cells were so easy to see.  Fabulous technology.

The Hand Thump of Appreciation – Sometimes when I read to my son and I think he is dozing off, I consider stopping for the night – and then the HAND THUMP OF APPRECIATION happens. Just as I am about to shut the book, my son’s hand comes crashing down on the page of the book, inferring VEHEMENTLY, “this is cool. KEEP READING”.  This happened last night – we were reading the multi-award winning “Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library” by Chris Grabenstein (a group of 12 lucky kids win the opportunity to spend the night in eccentric Mr. Lemoncello’s brand new city library).  Apparently my son is really enjoying the book!  YES.  Happy day.

bee-keeper-with-smoker

Story Problem Alert! Farmer Brown raises bees!  Of course he does.  This past week Farmer Brown purchased new beekeeper outfits for two of his ranch hands.  A complete suit costs $109.  One of the ranch workers needs the 4XL size, which runs and additional $25.  Farmer Brown decided to buy an additional veiled helmet for just in case. The helmet costs $24 and the veil $20. How much will Farmer Brown spend on the new protective wear? (We are not adding in tax or shipping.) (Answer A at bottom of post).  If Farmer Brown sells a pint of honey for $5, how many pint jars will he need to sell to pay for the new beekeeper outfits? (Answer B at bottom of post)

bee on daisy

A soundtrack for worker bees – Our picks:

  • Moto Perpetuo” composed by violin virtuoso, Niccolo Paganini, in 1835.  This is an exhausting piece to play and reminds us of the field bee’s exhausting day – about 10 journeys a day to collect nectar and pollen, with each trip lasting about an hour.

  • The Pizzicato”, from Leo Delibes’ ballet “Sylvia” (1876).  We learned that the bee’s most important contribution is not the honey, but the service of pollination.  We can easily envision a bee delicately darting from flower to flower, pollinating away to the rhythm of this piece.

  • And of course, Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee”, written for his opera “Tsar Saltan” in 1899.  Well, this is perhaps too obvious a choice, but it is a tiny jewel of a masterpiece, and it belongs here.  We like this performance by the London Cello Orchestra, boasting the largest number of cellos that we have ever seen together.

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
A.  $287
B.  58 jars