Thursday, February 22, 2018
Today was the nicest weather we've seen since summer ended. I made a point to go to Prescott Park so I could read my book while feeling the sun shine on my face. I recently started reading The Radium Girls by Kate Moore and the story she weaves together, featuring a large cast of characters, is fascinating.
I thought I knew the story of these women. I know that radium is poisonous, and I knew that these women were exposed to it for hours a day without any type of protective clothing over the course of years, so that they all developed horrible cancers from their work.
Those are the basics, but I always pictured the beginning of the story differently. I thought that Big Business was to blame for these women's ordeals because it selfishly allowed them to work in dangerous conditions, exploiting the cheap labor and mistreating the employees. Most of the narrative of women in the working conditions follows that plot line (The Lowell Mills, Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, Norma Rae). I was completely unaware of the celebrity involved.
The employees weren't celebrities; the celebrity was radium. Radium was viewed as a miracle in itself. Marie Curie called it "my beautiful radium." Many people referred to it as "liquid sunshine." Because radium was the most expensive substance in existence, it was associated with wealth and luxury.
People drank radium water, and bought radium chocolate:
They used it to cover their gray hair, and whiten their smiles:
There were songs about it, and dances inspired by it:
Indeed, even the teenage girls and young women who sought to work, detailing the watch dials with the luminous paint, were ecstatic when they first got hired. Most of them had minimal education, and the radium jobs paid more than any other type of factory job. In fact, the companies were known as "radium studios" which made them seem more artistic and glamorous, and the girls were permitted to talk and socialize as they worked. They felt privileged to have those jobs, and they were envied by girls in other jobs that did not pay nearly as well.
This book has the gears in my mind turning with all the possibilities for Makerspace projects.
There's a product by Tim Holtz, small wooden watch faces which are used for mixed media art assemblage, and they could be painted with glow-in-the-dark paint so that students could understand what the work was like.
Or perhaps the students could design a picture or message that they think represents the story. After sketching it out on plain white paper, lightly with pencil, they could go over it with glow in the dark puff paint. After the paint has dried, they can see the pictures by turning out all the lights.
The story would also translate well into a game, either board/card or role playing. Maybe a pack of neon-colored index cards could be used, and facts from real historical figures could be written on them and passed out during the game. For example "You've just been hired at the radium studio! Collect $20!" and as the game continues, players receive cards that read "Four of your teeth have fallen out, so you visit the dentist. Lose $5."
If the game idea seems too irreverent, then perhaps students could research some of the actual radium girls, and then use the Inklewriter platform to write their own Choose Your Own Adventure stories, based on what they read.
This story is ideal for connecting history and science curriculum, and Maker mindset.
Thursday, February 15, 2018
Brandie is a bridal stylist in a local boutique, and she utilizes her artistic talents in creating beautiful window displays. When I first saw photos of some of the dresses she has created for the seasonal displays, I knew I had to find out more about her process.
She made a dress completely out of discarded book pages, and added words and characters of her own creation. She talked to our students about going to art school for illustration, and the materials she uses to create her displays. But since she also has a background in sewing, she talked to them about sewing her own wedding dress and Halloween costumes, and when she had to restore a bustle on a Victorian dress.
I know that to a middle-schooler, it's impossible for them to imagine being an adult with a career, and understand the realities of how people end up in the jobs they do. For example, just because a boy likes basketball and plays well on the court doesn't mean he's going to end up in the NBA. I don't expect them to understand those realities yet, and I certainly don't want them to give up on their dreams. I do think it's important to expose them to a variety of possibilities though.
My roommate in grad school was an art major, and she often complained that people didn't know how she was going to apply her degree in the 'real world.' They assume someone going to school for fine arts is hoping to become a famous artist; that's like going to school for English and saying you're going to write the Great American Novel. Going to art school doesn't mean you'll become a famous artist, but it doesn't mean you can't apply that passion and knowledge in other careers.
Furthermore, I think it's vital to show them that we should never stop learning and acquiring new skills and interests. When Brandie was telling them about the warp and the weft of paper, and how she used that knowledge to create the pleats and curves of the paper dress, I was fascinated. And when one of the students asked her about making wedding dresses, and she explained that America produces almost no wedding dress fabric, fine silks and delicate laces are imported from other countries, I started thinking about how this topic could encompass a whole curriculum. Sewing involves measurement and math, fashion has a long and storied history, the fashion industry is rife with discussion of ethics related to labor and materials, and of course using upcycled materials like discarded textbooks is a prime example of Maker mindset.
Tuesday, February 6, 2018
I've been reading alot of non-fiction lately. I'm still working on Prairie Fires, but I just couldn't help scooping up some more non-fiction to add to my pile.
This one actually blends fact with fiction, but it is inspired by the story of Dita Kraus, who was a Jewish prisoner at the Nazi death camp.
The 'library' consisted of only eight battered books, but since books were forbidden, she risked her life to protect them and circulate them among the other prisoners.
This book has gotten quite bit of attention recently. I've been reading about it in publishing magazines, hearing about it on NPR, and seeing articles pop up online about these women. They worked in factories, painting clock faces with newly discovered radium, and it was too late before we discovered the horrifying effects they would suffer as a result of their exposure.
This book was easy to dive right into. With discussions on common language, ("You guys" referring to a group of men and women, sexist expressions ("You throw like a girl"), the messages we receive about our bodies from fashion magazines and advertisements, and the words we use to refer to female genitalia. The foreword is by Emma Watson, and so of course if Hermione/Belle is impressed with the book's content, then it's worth a read.
I would recommend adding this to a highschool/YA collection, but some of the tongue-in-cheek remarks, terminology and sarcasm might be too much for a middle-school audience.
Sunday, February 4, 2018
I went for most of my life so far not listening to audiobooks. The first time I attempted to listen to one was during grad school, when I was trying to track down a book I needed to read for class, and the only edition I could find locally was an audiobook- on tape! Luckily, my car at the time (the one I named Silver Tongue) still had a cassette tape player. It helped me get a slight grasp on the book I was supposed to be well-versed in, as I listened to it during my commute to Boston for class, but I can't remember anything about it now.
I wasn't really good with audiobooks because I struggled to retain what I was hearing. I wasn't absorbing the words, they were just washing over me. But I have tried some audiobooks in the past year or so, and now I am finding that I prefer listening to books rather than the inane chatter of morning radio DJs. I am more than halfway through the new biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder, Prairie Fires by Caroline Fraser. I'm enjoying it, but it's very dense. I decided to get a couple more audiobooks for when I want to listen to something lighter:
I love Jim Gaffigan. I watch his stand-up specials pretty often, and even though his book Dad is Fat included many of the jokes and stories from his specials, there was some material in there that was new to me. The books chronicles the trials and tribulations of parenting his five children.
After I finished Dad is Fat, I moved on to Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari. When I requested this book, I thought it was just a humor book. However, this book is actually the result of a collaboration between Ansari and Eric Klinenberg, a professor of Sociology at NYU.
Ansari writes many of his hilarious anecdotes about his dating experiences and his own observations about how courtship and marriage have changed with the span of one generation, thanks to technology. The book also includes tons of research that has been done on the topic from a variety of sources: sites such as OK Cupid, which willingly provided their stats, studies and critical work from doctors and professors, and of course interviews with everyday people, of many ages, from around the world. I've only just started listening to this audiobook, but so far I'm intrigued.
Maybe I'm not great at listening to novels via audiobook, but so far I seem to be doing well with non-fiction.
Friday, February 2, 2018
If you like Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier and/or Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol, then you'll want to check out Laura Terry's graphic novel Graveyard Shakes.
Also, if you love the 1995 movie Casper, you owe it to yourself to get this book.
Let me show you why:
Casper's a friendly ghost. That's his thing. Whenever he tries to make a new friend, he extends a polite greeting. However, people are frightened of ghosts, so whenever he attempts to befriend someone, they scream in horror and head for the hills.
In the 1995 movie, Casper does manage to make a friend at last. Kathleen Harvey, aka Kat, moves into Whipstaff Manor with her adorable ghost-hunting dad who practices paranormal psychiatry.
Kat's mother died suddenly, plunging both her and her father into grief, and motivating Dr. Harvey to travel around the country, searching for the ghost of his beloved wife. Graveyard Shakes also has a Dead Mother trope:
Dr. Harvey believes that ghosts are simply spirits without resolution. They have "unfinished business", so to speak.
And of course, every girl in the 90's was envious of Christina Ricci because she got to slow dance with Devon Sawa:
It's not surprising that Laura Terry's book pays homage to Casper, because she does acknowledge him in the dedication:
Tuesday, January 30, 2018
Still working through my pile of books, so here's another update:
I waited for a copy of this book since I saw it was being published. Like many others, I appreciated the original stories, and the Netflix series Anne with an E, renewed my interest in it and it refreshed the story with new faces and some additional storylines that put the classic in a modern context. Brenna Thummler's bright illustrations match the romantic whims and optimism that characterize our favorite red headed heroine.
Katie Green's illustrated portrayal of her struggles with anxiety, obsessive thoughts, an eating disorder and recovered memories of sexual abuse is well rendered in the stark black and white drawings. The way that she depicts the weight of these issues is a simple, yet fitting, scribble of black ink that floats above her head and follows her throughout the story.
I probably wouldn't purchase this for a middle school, but I think teens and adults would find value in reading about these types of mental health and emotional struggles.
My son just turned three, so it's been a while since I was pregnant or in the post-partum period (generally seen as six weeks after birth). But I recently talked to one of my friends, who is training to become a post-partum doula, and as we shared what our experiences had been with pregnancy and birth and adjusting to life with an infant, I realized that there is a whole kaleidoscope of possibilities, and even the ones that are not typical are not "abnormal." If my experience was abnormal, then I wouldn't be able to read and hear similar stories. I just wish this book had been available a couple years ago.
I've been gifted a number of doll-making pieces in the past year. I thought it would be fun to try making some assemblage art pieces with them, so I found this book to inspire me a bit. I haven't had the time to try much yet, so I'm still perusing the pages.
Wednesday, January 24, 2018
I haven't written in over a week because I've been too busy reading. Here's a look at a couple of the books in my current reading pile.
In the spirit of the New Year and self-improvement and all that, I decided to check this book out. I've been hearing the buzz around it for a month or so, and I wanted to see if the interior of the book was as confidence-inspiring as the title.
I approach self-help types of books pretty much the same way I approach religion; I take what I can from it to enhance my beliefs, values and purpose in life. The ideas may be helpful and guiding, but the text is not dogma. There are some places where the author's suggestions seem too simple or irresponsible, like quitting your job in order to fulfill a dream. I think that's everyone's ideal, but most of us wouldn't be able to afford to eat or put a roof over our heads without aforementioned job. But there are a couple chapters that I found more value in.
The next book in my pile is one that I requested over a month ago. Its publication prompted every single fan of Little House on the Prairie to rush out to their libraries and order it. Since I received my copy a couple days ago, there are ten people in line behind me, waiting for it.
I can understand who so many of us are eager to read Caroline Fraser's new biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Her books are beloved by generations of readers, and even though we know that she is painting a softer portrait of pioneer life than the historical record shows, her descriptions of simple pleasures like wildflowers and wading in creeks on hot summer days remind us that we should take time to connect with nature and appreciate the world around us.
Since the biography is an intimidating tome of information, some of it quite dense and relating to aspects of history I am not particularly well-versed in, I am double dipping and listening to it on audiobook in my car, and reading the print book at other times.
I'm really enjoying Fraser's book because it provides readers (and listeners) with a much more developed picture of the struggles of the Ingalls family, and the characters that we love from the books are presented as round, three dimensional people rather. For example, Fraser broaches the topic of the Civil War, and questions why Charles Ingalls never served. He would have been in his twenties during the war, so he was obviously at a preferred age (rather than too young or too old). He did not enlist in the army, even though his younger brothers ran away to join the cause, and his brother-in-law also served. There is no record of where he lived during those years, so one theory is that he spent that time moving from place to place, in order to avoid the draft. Fraser is able to question our popular perceptions of these saintly characters without slandering them.
The last book is the one I've been able to read the quickest. The Trouble with Angels is one of my favorite movies, but I only recently learned that the 1966 film is based on Jane Trahey's account of her high-school education at St. Mark's school, a Catholic all-girls boarding school. Only one library in our ILL network had the book, and it arrived lacking its dust cover. I assume that since it's a first edition hardcover that its dust cover would have been this version:
The first one is a paperback, and the cover shows the little characters that grace the beginning of each chapter. The second book is clearly a paperback that was released simultaneously with the film based on it.
The third cover I found for this book is bizarre, though:
Though obviously, the movie starring Hayley Mills and Rosaline Russell is not scandalous like the Stanley Kubrick movie.
Anyways, I am pleasantly surprised at how closely the film follows Trahey's writing. The name of the school was changed, along with some of the character names, but many of the other details remained intact.
I have a number of other books in my pile, so I'll be writing another post like this soon.