Published by Sasquatch Books, 2013. Ages 4-8.
Sunday, January 26, 2014
Published by Sasquatch Books, 2013. Ages 4-8.
Friday, January 10, 2014
Though the reasons seem obvious, articulating them off the top of one's head can lead to mental stuttering. Why else does the question arise perennially? Think of all those writers trying to justify spending so many hours of their lives playing with words that may -- or may never -- be read, never mind generate any income. Or for that matter, readers explaining to their partner, parent, or maybe even boss, why they wasted an entire afternoon reading a novel when they could have been doing something productive. On an institutional level, librarians are routinely asked to clarify why taxpayers should support and even encourage consumption of all that writing. Information is okay, but that made-up stuff -- who needs it?
Turns out, we all do.
Those of us who love to read and write already know this instinctively. But two recent articles provide scientific evidence that reading is measurably good for us. And not just informational reading, but fiction.
An article in the Science section of The Guardian reports that a study at Emory University found "reading a good book may cause heightened connectivity in the brain and neurological changes that persist in a similar way to muscle memory." These neurological changes persisted, as measured by brain scans taken for five days after students finished reading a page-turner novel. Not only does reading an engaging piece of fiction transport us imaginatively, but it improves our brain functioning!
I can't tell you how much I love this.
In October Science published an article titled "Reading Literary Fiction Improves Theory of Mind," which they define as "understanding others' mental states" and identify as "a crucial skill that enables the complex social relationships that characterize human societies." In other words, reading literary fiction develops empathy. Anyone think the world could use more of that?
Then I came across the poem "Hospital Writing Workshop" by Rafael Campo (thanks to Poem-A-Day on Poets.org). Because both my daughters work directly in the trenches of the medical system, and because of the incursion of cancer into my household this past year, this poem hit home more than many. Campo, a practicing physician, writes in his note about the poem, "I have witnessed first hand the power of writing poetry in abetting healing -- poetry is able to name when the diagnosis eludes us, it calls us into community when symptoms makes (sic) us feel isolated or alone or even silenced, it engenders empathy when the doctor would distance himself -- it even allows us to transcend our mortality by creating something that endures on the page long after we're gone."
Healing, empathy (again), community, transcendence -- all resulting from words put together in writing and reading.
So the next time someone brings up the subject of why reading and writing matter, consider forgoing the usual arguments about literacy as an essential foundation for successful democracy and economic prosperity; or success in school; or even improved reading scores. Explain that reading and writing are necessary for brain development, empathy, healing, community, and transcendence. In short, for living -- and dying -- well.
Thursday, December 26, 2013
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
Indoor scenes focus on the faces and body language of the characters, with a wider range of color in clothing and home furnishings. The northern lights, described as “quivering bands of color,” are ethereal, evoking in their fluid swirls the movement and changing colors of the aurora borealis.
Monday, November 25, 2013
Saturday, November 23, 2013
Monday, May 9, 2011
First, a little background for non-Alaskan readers. The Tlingit Indians are indigenous people of Southeast Alaska. The Raven House of the book’s title is a clan house, used by the Indian community, in Haines, Alaska. You may have seen a photograph of the beautiful carving of a raven by renowned carver Nathan Jackson, which is attached to this building.
The story, a picture book, is told from the perspective of an orphaned mouse who stumbles into Raven House, attracted by the warmth emanating from a dryer vent as winter is setting in. Soon the little mouse observes the traditional dancing, drumming and singing practices that take place in the house, which is occupied by a man called “the caretaker.” Impressed by the dancers’ regalia, the mouse makes his own button-blanket, head band and drum from salvaged scraps. Soon he is practicing along with the Tlingit dance troupe, unobserved (he believes). Adventures and friendship ensue…
This interesting little story amuses and intrigues as much as it teaches. Tlingit cultural values are integral throughout, portrayed thoughtfully through the plot, characters, language, foreward, author’s note, glossary and art, rather than heavy-handed didacticism. Robert Davis, a Tlingit artist from the small village of Kake in Southeast Alaska, employs a traditional style of designs based on carving to represent all the characters, both people and animals.
Coupled with clean lines and plenty of white space, the overall effect is direct, unpretentious and engaging, the type of art that supports and enhances the story rather than overwhelming it with gorgeousness. This highly symbolic style of art, best known outside of Alaska in totem poles, is surprisingly effective, though it may require some interpretation for children unfamiliar with it. In terms of synthesizing the traditional and the modern, I especially enjoy the illustrations of the “dryer vent with glorious blast of steam,” the Christmas tree, and the caretaker, snoozing in his recliner amidst his regalia.Author Jan Steinbright dedicates Raven House Mouse to elder Austin Hammond (Daanawáak in Tlingit), who was the caretaker of Raven House for many years and “freely shared his wisdom and knowledge with all people.” He died in 1993. Steinbright explains in her author’s notes that inspiration for the story came from a little mouse that lived at Raven House with Mr. Hammond’s approval. This attitude of acceptance taught her a lesson about respect for all living things, which is reflected in this story.
Raven House Mouse includes a foreward, author’s notes, glossary, and three photos.