Frozen Secrets: Antarctica Revealed by Sally M. Walker

Frozen Secrets: Antarctica Revealed by Sally M. Walker (Carolrhoda Books, 2010) is an in-depth look at some of the historical details, scientific research, and geological facts about the coldest and most uninhabited continent on earth. Interspersed among the thorough text are bright photographs, illustrations, and maps to further inform about the continent. Although the book is billed as a text for juveniles, probably middle school and older, I found the content to be fascinating and sophisticated. Not ever student researching Antarctica is going to need this level of detail in their nonfiction accounts, but others will, like me, be fascinated by the abundance of facts and details.

Although I have not often in my life thought much about the continent of Antarctica, Ms Walker’s book put the history of the continent and the implications of it’s changing nature into context. Her five chapters focus on the the difficulty of visiting Antarctica (both in history and currently); the impact of snow and ice on the continent; the scientific research that reveals the little bits of life and history to be seen beneath the ice; the ancient history found in the rocks; and the impact of global warning on Antarctica and, subsequently, the rest of the globe.

Part of what I am enjoying about my son’s “school at home” afternoons (see this post) is the fact that Raisin is constantly finding things that he’s fascinated by and asking to learn about. Because he is interested in maps, we learned about the seven continents (essentially, the simple fact that there are seven continents). I asked which of them he wanted to learn about and Antarctica won!

We’ve read a few children’s nonfiction books about the subject and he’s enjoyed them. We read a little bit about penguins too. And then I found this book, and I found myself immensely interested in Antarctica. It is far too advanced for my four-year-old but I hope to convince him to pour over the pictures with me and maybe we will be able to learn a little bit more about the continent now that I have a better foundation.

Shakespeare: The World as Stage by Bill Bryson (Brief Thoughts)

Bill Bryson is not a Shakespeare scholar, and his brief biography of Shakespeare (published 2007 for HarperCollins as part of the Eminent Lives series) reflects that. The tone of the book is light, accessible, and succinct. Bryson’s approach to the Bard was to admit the gaps in his life and rather focus on what we do know, that being the era he lived in, Elizabethan and Jacobean England.

For the casual reader interested in knowing a little bit about the Bard, including knowing just how much we don’t know, Shakespeare: The World as Stage will probably satisfy. In less than 200 pages, one gets a general overview of the possibilities for how Shakespeare’s life panned out, for some possible reasons he knew what he was writing about, and some of the controversies and influences his writing made on the culture of the world. It was a very quick and easy read and to be honest, I love the idea of reading more brief biographies in the Eminent Lives series. Those 600+ page biographies really take a long time to get through.

However, as approachable and easy-to-read as Bryson’s book was, I was disappointed. I have heard such great things about Bryson’s biography of the Bard that I was very excited to dive in to it. But the general feel of the book was far from satisfying for me.

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Sleepwalking Land by Mia Couto

Sleepwalking Land by Mia Couto1 blends two stories of seeking for one’s identity in the midst of war-torn Mozambique. In the first, an old man and a young orphaned boy have fled a refugee camp and seek shelter in a burned-out bus on the side of the road. Near a corpse, they find a set of journals written by Kindzu. These journals, which tell Kindzu’s story, form the bulk of the novel by portraying life during the Civil War2 in a fantastical magical realism setting.

I tend to enjoy reading magical realism because it mixes fantasy in to seemingly realistic settings and gives a story a very different feel3. In Sleepwalking Land, that not-straight forward feeling was perfect in providing me, a reader unfamiliar with both Mozambican history and life during a civil war, with a dream-like introduction to life in a confusing political and violent setting. I struggled to understand the reasons behind various violence and betrayals, and yet I realized that understand the context absolutely did not matter: Couto’s book instead illustrated how life (such as it was) continued for the people in the land, and the confused tone of what was real or not provided a perfect atmosphere for the hopelessness of the era.
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  1. First published in 1992 in Portuguese as Terra Sonâmbula; translated by David Brookshaw and published in English in 2006.
  2. According to Wikipedia, the Mozambique Civil War lasted from 1977 (upon freedom from colonialism) until about 1992)
  3. I must point out, however, that as in most magical realism, there is a fair amount of sexuality in this book. I personally didn’t find it very tastefully written this time…