Teaching Life and Liberty

February 3, 2015 at 11:17 pm (Education) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

P1000701Title: Thomas Jefferson

Author/Illustrator: Maira Kalman

Publisher: Penguin

If you want to teach about the founders of America via biographical picture books, Maira Kalman is a great place to start.  With spunky pictures and fonts, Kalman introduces children to Jefferson (and in another book she tackles Lincoln), his love for books, language, and gardening.

Kids can discover in Thomas Jefferson quirky details about how Jefferson got out of bed in the morning, his obsession for peas, and learn the quote he told his wife:

“Determine never to be idle.  No person will have occasion to complain of the want of time who never loses any.”

There’s a few pages dedicated to Jefferson’s friends: John Adam, Benjamin Franklin, and George Washington, and the ideals the team struggled for.

Kalman doesn’t pull any punches.  She talks about slavery and addresses the truth of Sally Hemings.  Jefferson had so many wise quotes that adults praise and sharing them with a four year old is especially wise:

“When you are angry, count TEN before you speak; if very angry, to ONE HUNDRED.”

The book ends with a visit to his burial grounds and notes regarding his epitaph.

As a whole it’s lovely and educational.  When I told kiddo I was finally posting the review and asked her what she wanted to say about it, she said, “I think we should read it again.”

President’s Day is fast approaching.  This one is worth having in your hands on that day.

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How a Reader/ Texan/ Redneck Does 4th of July

July 5, 2014 at 8:06 pm (In So Many Words) (, , , , , , , , , , , )





No words needed.

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Random Post on Random House

October 7, 2013 at 5:36 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , )

jeffersonNormally I post on the quality of the topic of a book, not the quality of the book itself. Sometimes I mention these factors, but usually only a line or two within a rant about how impressed I am  with the content.

I’ve been reading Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham.  It was published by Random House in 2012.  And it’s beautiful.  Not the biography itself, it’s pretty good, don’t get me wrong – but the book – the book is beautiful.

I didn’t notice it right away. It took me holding it for hours to truly appreciate the matte finish of the dust jacket.  There is a lot of feeling missing from my fingertips from years of me abusing my own hands with activity; but during rare moments of my hand brushing against the jacket just so or turning the page and letting the weight fall in my left hand just right, I felt with pleasure the smooth grit of a not entirely slick dust jacket.  I love that feeling.

Jon-Meacham_bookThe binding is nothing special. I’d like to report that it is sewn AND glued just how I like it, but it’s just glued in sections.  But the classic photograph and illustration pages in the center found in almost all history books and biographies, they are lovely.  They aren’t the typical glossy finish ones that you find in most biographies.  They are not the twelve year old girls’ room poster quality.  Instead, they appear to be printed on acid free paper.  The ink quality is something to behold while the pages maintain a slightly matte appearance as well.  It’s pretty gorgeous.  It is the book I’ll use to show my daughter pictures of many of the men who laid the framework for our independence.  It’s where we will look to see a depiction of the surrender of Cornwallis.

I read a lot and I acquire a lot of books, but not everything I acquire are good quality copies.  I am notorious for reading coffee stained, marked up, dog eared paged crap that someone else was throwing in a recycle bin.  It does not phase me to peruse something that smells like my grandmother’s attic (or your grandmother’s attic, or my dog’s grandmother’s attic…).  So it was a little different and refreshing to read something so…. nice.  And it sounds silly to be saying this to such a large publishing house, but: Good Job, Random House.

We’ll be discussing the actual content of the book tonight at the Half Price Books Humble book club meeting at 7:30 pm. Come join us.

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Happy Fourth of July

July 5, 2013 at 7:05 pm (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


The Half Price Books Humble book club read John Adams by David McCullough this month.  We discussed it together Monday night, even though I had only read the first 400 pages.  The best thing about holidays, for me, though is their ability to mandate what gets read off the TBR pile next.  So this week, as I researched for book club, lounged with family, watched fireworks, and read to the kiddo… this is what freedom looked like:

John AdamsTitle: John Adams

Author: David McCullough

Genre: History

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Length: 751 pages

1001 and one things to discuss about this book, and we mostly got caught up in the assessment of the character of John Adams.  Was he an ambitious man willing to run off from the family and farm at a moments notice to pursue more exciting ventures of fame? Or, was he a great man of virtue who was gifted with the sight of the big picture, willing to sacrifice personal happiness for the greater good of the establishment of our country?  Before reading the book, considering my skepticism regarding ALL politicians, I probably would have said the former.  But McCullough has me convinced it was the latter that held true.

Of course, I am biased, mostly by the sheer fact that Adams was a great reader.  Nothing romanticizes a person more to me than their love for a good book, for the art of research, and for a passion for knowledge and action.  Several times throughout the biography, Adams is quoted saying such excellent things as,

“I must judge for myself, but how can any man judge, unless his mind has been opened by reading.”

Where others in the group found him willing to cast aside his wife and children for politics, I found him endearing.  He wrote to his wife avidly.  He and Abigail would often refer to each other as ‘dearest friend,’ and their relationship seemed to be what kept him grounded and successful.  In addition to that, it also seemed that any chance he had to take his children with him, he did.  Off sailing across the pond to Europe, the boys equipped with an educated father and a personal tutor, they got first hand experience seeing how nations make peace and build relationships.  Sure, Adams renounced his son Charles later in life and that relationship was never rebuilt before Charles’ death, but in my opinion Charles did not deserve anymore second chances.  Charles, the favorite as a child, turned out to be the bad seed in the bunch – possibly spoiled by being the favorite to so many – as he turned to alcoholism and abandoned his family.  It was John and Abigail who raised his children and looked after his wife, leaving their own son to his own devices as they tried to do right by all his mistakes.

John Adams was quite the fascinating man, one I have, until now, always overlooked in history.  Having shared a birthday with George Washington my whole life, he always got my ‘favorite’ vote as a child.  As an adult, the Alexander Hamilton vs. Aaoron Burr phenomena fascinated me – mostly driven by that infamous ‘Got Milk’ ad as well as Joseph Ellis’ riveting storytelling in Founding Brothers.  It wasn’t until reading McCullough’s version of Adams life that I really began to understand what a crucial role Adams played in the timing of the Declaration of Independence and all the aftermath of our fight for freedom.  And of course, timing is everything.

With all this important political talk, I found it necessary to re-read the Declaration.  With toddler in tow for nearly all my reading ventures, it’s important to find kid friendly things to read alongside all my own reading.  That’s where Sam Fink comes in handy…

Sam FinkTitle: The Declaration of Independence

Illustrated & Inscribed: Sam Fink

Publisher: Scholastic Nonfiction

Length: 160 pages (but only takes about 15 minutes to read aloud)

I absolutely adore this copy of the Declaration of Independence.  As a homeschool mom, I love creating my own curriculum and finding unique ways to share information with my kid.  Kiddos everywhere, whether homeschooled or public schooled, should find this a fun way to absorb the meaning behind the declaration and be introduced to the ideas of why it was so important for it to be made and signed.

With large print, clear illustrations, and political cartoons to accompany nearly every sentence – if not sentence fragment – Fink helps walk a kid (and even some adults) through every nuance of our founding fathers’ meaning and intention.  If read often enough, you may find you have a kid who has memorized the declaration long before they are ever asked to do so for school purposes.  This is just a good old fashioned fun picture book that just so happens to also be an important document to our country’s history.  Sam Fink is pretty awesome and I am so glad he tackled this project.

In addition to all that,

George IIITitle: George III

Author: Christopher Hibbert

I’ve been plucking through a biography of King George III for awhile now.  It’s been loitering on my TBR pile and periodically I get the bug to read a chapter or two.

I am no where near finished reading this book, Hibbert is very detailed but also very dry as a biographer, but I find it a handy reference and do look forward to the times that I decide to sit down with it.

I like having large sweeping views of history as well as the tiny details.  Reading through John Adams and peeking here and there at George III this week, I was grateful to have already tackled Napoleon’s Wars recently. It helped me keep straight in my mind what was happening with the French while a few of the Adamses friends were busy getting beheaded. Another handy tool for both children and adults while reading through history is The Time Chart of History of the World. I don’t take a step into non-fiction without it.


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True to the Code

June 22, 2013 at 2:37 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , )

True to the CodeTitle: True to the Code

Author: Peter Devine

While reading Peter Devine’s new book True to the Code, I realized that this is not a book to read in one sitting. Instead, it should be divided up over time and each story discussed in a club or an ethics class along with that portion of history.

Devine has married ethics, history, and the over all culture of America into a book that defies category. Novel? Not really. Collection of short stories? Probably the most accurate, but still not quite how I’d like to label it. Philosophy? Yes, but easier to read.

So where do you put this in a bookstore? My easy solution… up front with the author.

Devine is most engaging when interacting with other readers. His lovely wife pours lemonade and serves cookies while he pleasantly gets to know those around him. It’s impossible not to feel like you get to know him a little back.

me with Peter DevineHe has the air of being well traveled and well researched. He has a comfortable patriarch mentality to him splashed with a bit of edgy hippie. He is fun, endearing, knowledgeable, and a joy to have in a bookstore. Although I met the man at a very informal event, I imagine he could make a cozy guest speaker at a gathering similar to the ones Mensa is known for.

I plan to keep his book True to the Code on hand and place the stories as supplemental reading for the kiddo’s homeschool curriculum. After kiddo has read all the stories in chronological order of their place in history side by side her research, I’d like her to review them as a whole.

This is a great book to keep around for students… of both the traditional and world variety.

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Meet Behcet Kaya

May 2, 2012 at 3:41 am (Interviews) (, , , , , , , )

Just last week, I read the debut novel of Behcet Kaya (who goes by Ben).  Voice of Conscience was beautiful, interesting, and made me extremely curious about its author.  (Read my Review here.)  Luckily, Ben agreed to an interview! Maybe I should have looked through his website a little more closely prior to the interview, because I definitely would have asked him about his acting experiences! This is him on IMDB.com: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0443210/

Many reviewers have referred to Voice of Conscience as a Shakespearean Tragedy.  Was that your intention?

Not at all. Although I have read Shakespeare extensively, the inspiration for Voice of Conscience was the 1958 movie “The Bravados” starring Gregory Peck, who seeks to avenge the murder of his wife and, in the process, nearly destroys himself.

You were born and raised in Turkey? So was Ramzi.  Did you want to write a biographical novel to celebrate your roots and experiences? Or was The Voice of Conscience merely an example of someone writing what they know?      

As a first time writer, I wanted to tell a story in a way that would remain in the reader’s mind, a story with the message that vengeance only destroys, and so I wrote the story and based the characters around what I was familiar with. Since most of my readers think this is my biography, I began having doubts as to whether I was a writer or not. In an attempt to find out whether I could write a story completely separate from any of my experiences, I spent two years doing in depth research and completed my second novel, Murder on the Naval Base in December of last year.

Both in your book and in your real life you’ve spent time at the Texas Pancake House in London.  As a proud member of the Lone Star State who has never been to England, I have to ask: What’s so Texas about it? Do you know if it is still there? And have you ever spent time in Texas?                     

The walls of the Texas Pancake house were filled with photographs of scenery of Texas, the booths were large and comfortable, and the portions served were Texas-size. The restaurant specialized in pancakes, and they were so large that most people could not eat more than two. Unfortunately no, it is no longer there. It is now a McDonalds. Yes, I have been to Texas, but only passing through, and I am still amazed with the vastness and beauty of the area, and the fact that it takes more than two days to drive across the entire state.

Other than what you’ve included in your novel what would you like your readers to know about your homeland?    

Where do I start? Turkey has 13,000 years of history.  Over the centuries, Constantinople, renamed Istanbul in 1923, has been the point where East meets West, the crossroads of many civilizations, and the capital of two grand empires. The Byzantine Empire lasted from the fourth century to the 15th century, when the Ottoman Empire took over, ruling through the end of World War I. Just to name one of our many treasures – in Istanbul, we have one of the greatest houses of worship in both the Christian and Muslim worlds: Hagia Sophia, the Great Church of Constantinople. Built by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian in the early 6th century on the grandest scale possible, it faces Jerusalem. It was later converted into a mosque by the conquering Ottomans and today it’s a museum. Beyond Istanbul, there is Izmir, Konya, Cappadocia, and so many more areas with historical and cultural significance. Our history is rich; the diversity of our landscape is immense; from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea, from Istanbul to the Georgian border. Although Turkey is 90% Muslim, we are NOT an Arab country. Modern Turkey was born in 1923 from the ashes of the old Ottoman Empire and we are proud to be a secular democracy. Our people are friendly and welcoming to more than 31 million tourists a year.

I’m a big foodie and enjoy celebrating good books with a good meal.  What’s your favorite Turkish dish?

I have several favorites, all of which are traditional Turkish dishes, including kuru fasulya (white beans with meat), shiskabab with rice pilaf, and siron (very thin bread topped with yogurt, garlic and melted butter).

From what I understand, you’ve been living in the U.S. for years now, after spending time in England.  What are your favorite things about the three countries you’ve called home? What made you choose the U.S. for now?    

I am proud to say my roots and culture are Turkish, my education and love of learning comes from my schooling in England, and the U.S. is where I feel at home.

Who are your favorite authors? What genre do you prefer to read? Which do you consider your major influence?   

My favorite authors are Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, and Yashar Kemal, and I prefer to read classic literature. Being a Turk, I would have to say Yashar Kemal is my major influence. However, in writing my second novel, Murder on the Naval Base, I did extensive research by reading biographies of prominent naval heroes, and many fiction as well as non-fiction novels about the navy.

How did you come to be published by AuthorHouse? In your future ventures in the publishing world, what would you do differently?

Frustrated at not being able to enlist the help of an agent, I decided to self-publish and AuthorHouse was recommended. I would prefer, in the future, to be represented by a literary agent, and published by one of the major publishing houses.

You’ve written two books in addition to The Voice of Conscience.  Can you tell us a bit about them?

My second book is Murder on the Naval Base, a murder-mystery about a young navy lieutenant falsely accused of the murder of his wife and former best friend. It is currently in publication in e-book form and available for Kindle, Nook, Sony Reader and Apple. My third book, Erin’s Story is still in progress, and it is the sequel to Voice of Conscience. Ramzi’s daughter, Erin, returns to Turkey on a mission of self-discovery, and in the process finds mystery, intrigue, and love.

How would you feel about having your books made into movies?      

Thrilled!! I can see Voice of Conscience being made into a three-part movie (movie of the week perhaps?) and preferably produced by the BBC. Murder on the Naval Base, according to Pacific Book Review, “is easily adaptable for a screenplay and an excellent choice for a Hollywood blockbuster.”

For more information on Voice of Conscience, Murder on the Naval Base, Erin’s Story, or Behcet Kaya himself, check out his site: http://www.behcetkaya.com/

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