(Cybils 2012) Friends and Stories

This week’s Cybils batch includes some fantastic books. I’ve decided to focus on some that are (more or less) based on the concepts of Friends and Telling Stories. These are common themes for picture books, and these books I list below are some fantastic examples.Continue Reading

No More “I’m Done!” by Jennifer Jacobson

I mentioned last year that my son is a very creative child. He is regularly having imaginary adventures with his imaginary friends, and he constantly comes up with stories for me, stories he tells as if he’s surely experienced them. Given his intense interest in creative writing, I was seeking further instruction on how to nurture his creativity in his early years.

No More “I’m Done!” by Jennifer Jacobson (Stenhouse Publishers, 2010) is an inspiring how-to manual for early primary grade teachers. Subtitled “Fostering Independent Writing in the Primary Grades,” Jacobson’s book describes a system of nurturing creative writing that lets children take control of the process. After she describes her system, she provides a year’s worth of mini-lessons for encouraging development of ideas in various segments of writing (including voice, organization, word choice, fluency, details) all using well known and beloved children’s picture books as examples. Although I am not a teacher in a classroom setting, her ideas have given me the confidence to institute some similar casual instruction during our “school time.” It is informative and inspiring, helping one think outside the traditional box of writing prompts.

Continue Reading

Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman

I am falling in love with biographies for young adults. I love how in less than 300 pages, I get a (partial) picture of some historical figures I’ve always wanted to study, but that I’ve never studied because of lack of time to delve in a full-length biography for adults.

Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman (Henry Holt, 2009) is not a typical, full-life biography because it focuses on specific aspects of the Darwins’ married life, of course in the context of Charles Darwin’s scientific studies. As a former religious studies student, the author Deborarh Heiligman married a scientist. When she discovered that scientist Charles Darwin likewise married a religious woman, she was intrigued to know how Emma reconciled her faith with science, thus beginning her study to understand the Darwins’ relationship.

I loved how Ms Heiligman brought the relationship alive. After reading the book, I feel somewhat close to Charles and Emma, because their personalities were so carefully developed. Further, Charles’ struggle to have faith and Emma’s struggle to come to terms with Charles’ scientific understandings were so poignant to me. Given the strict literal religious understandings of the era and the novelty of Charles’ scientific findings, I could really relate to the couple’s struggle.

Further, I loved the emotion with which Ms Heiligman discussed Charles’ developing scientific understanding in the context of his own family. My favorite part of the book was the discussion about his daughter who passed away at a young age. I found myself in tears as I considered this small family’s pain at their loss, especially given the family’s struggles to accept religion. Further, Annie’s death brought the implications of Charles’ scientific theories (especially the concept of “survival of the fittest”) into context.

Emma’s struggle with acceptance of Charles’ lack of faith was likewise emotional to read about. She frequently sent him inspiration-filled letters asking him to accept God, and she worried throughout their life that he would go to “hell” because of his lack of faith. Although Charles found he ultimately could not accept God (as an agnostic, he believed there was no way to know one way or another), he still treasured Emma’s faithful encouragement. I loved the tenderness with which the two corresponded throughout life about both science and religion.

As I mentioned, Charles and Emma does not feel like a complete picture of the scientist Charles Darwin. Nevertheless, it does provide a context for Charles Darwin’s life and scientific findings, and the author brings the reader in the Darwin’s family life and their personal struggles between science and religion with sensitivity and understanding.

As a religious person with a faith in God, I personally do not struggle as I embrace scientific fact as well as religious faith, but I can understand how one might. Charles and Emma’s story does not answer any questions but it does paint a clear picture of how such questions have always arisen for the faithful. I found it marvelously executed.

My Business Is To Create: Blake’s Infinite Writing by Eric G. Wilson

William Blake has always fascinated me as a poet and also as a man. He was quite strange, but his writing is incredible: it’s powerful, it has a message, and yet it sounds so good. That said, I haven’t read much Blake poetry since my years in college and I’m certainly out of practice in literary and poetic criticism in general.

My Business Is To Create: Blake’s Infinite Writing by Eric G. Wilson (published May 2001 by University of Iowa Press) is partly an homage to the life of William Blake, partly an exercise in literary criticism of Blake’s writing and messages, and partly a manual in how to apply Blake’s literary approach in successfully creating our own beautiful writing. I don’t consider myself either an expert on Blake or a creative writer but I enjoyed the insights into the creative process. Mr Wilson’s short essays on various aspects of the writing process, as related to William Blake’s own processes, were wonderfully written and poetic as themselves even apart from the information they share.Continue Reading