Weekly Wrap-Up: Apollo Missions

While we’ve been doing a truncated version of school all summer, we went back full-time on Monday. StatsGuy and I had to start teaching that day, so it seemed appropriate to start the kids that day as well. I decided we’d start the year off while the Apollo missions to the moon, since it’s the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing. Our local library system had lots of books on the Apollo mission – it was hard to pick just a few to request, and I still ended up with a big stack.

Two the kids chose to read this week included One Small Step: Celebrating the First Men On the Moon. This is a scrapbook style book with each page a collection of images, text, and lift-the-flap pages. It covers everything from why we wanted to go to the moon in the first place, the space race with Russia, the actual moon landing, and some of what we’ve done in space since. It’s a great book to sit down with and flip through.

The other book was Moon Landing by Nadia Higgins. This book is a nonfiction narrative of the Apollo missions, focusing on Apollo 11. It’s much longer than One Small Step (about 90 pages of text), but there are many side panels with relevant stories and photos.

The last book we started using this week was Geometry: Seeing, Doing, Understanding, 3rd Edition by Harold Jacobs. I had a hard time coming up with a math topic for Mr. Curiosity to cover for the year. Middle school math seemed like a whole bunch of the same, just getting slightly harder each year. Not what I was looking for. So, I did some research on Geometry books, and this one kept being mentioned. The bummer thing was it’s a textbook, so buying it costs textbook prices. I didn’t want to spend $80 (used) on a book I hadn’t had a chance to flip through and check. Luckily, I was able to request the book through the Penn State library system, and I can see why it’s talked about so highly. You do all the geometry you’d expect, but with real world applications in every chapter. I was hooked. Mr. Curiosity was a little overwhelmed on the first day, since he’d never used a textbook like this before, but once I sat down with him and walked him through some problems, he was good.

And those are the books we’ve been using this week!

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The Recognitions by William Gaddis

Published: 1952

Genre: fiction

Length: 956 pages

Setting: mid 1900s, East Coast and parts of Europe

Interest: It was a  Time Top 100 book

Summary: We follow a set of characters as they interact in the party circuit in New York and then travel to Europe. The main character is a painting forger. He’s supported by Recktall Brown, who’s in it just for the money. There’s a side story of someone trying to write and tell a play, someone who forges money, and all the people who show up at the parties. In the last third, everyone goes to Europe for various reasons.

Final thoughts: A rather annoying book. I kept waiting for a plot to show up, but nothing really seemed to happen. I could only handle about 200 pages at a time before the writing style (particularly at the parties where everyone talked over each other) drove me crazy and I had to put it down for a while. I kept picking it back up, though, because I wanted to know how it ended.

Title comes from: There was a common theme of the recognition of your soul/spirit (or not) in others.

Reading challenges fulfilled: None since this was a review of a book read in a previous year.

If you’re interested in purchasing the book, you can click on the cover image to follow an Amazon affiliate link to the book and thanks for supporting my blog!

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Feed by Mira Grant

Published: 2010

Genre: post-apocalyptic zombie fiction

Length: 571 pages

Setting: the U.S., 2039

Interest: I put it on my reading list when it first came out (yes, my reading list is full of books that have been on it a long time). I finally got around to reading it because I wanted something I was fairly certain I would enjoy, after a string of bad books (Rabbit is Rich and The Volunteer).

Summary: Our main characters are a brother and sister blogging team, living in a world where there are zombies trying to bite and infect you. Georgie is a Newsie, meaning she tries to present the facts straight up, while Shaun is an Irwin, so he looks for the dangerous situations as often as possible. They, along with their Fictional associate, Buffy, are selected to cover the campaign of Senator Peter Rynman as he runs for President. They’re able to cover two major zombie outbreaks associated with the campaign. Shaun and Georgia uncover evidence of a conspiracy trying to assassinate Rynman using zombies (a big no-no in the zombie-filled world).

Final thoughts: As anticipated, a most excellent book for many reasons. Most of those reasons spoil the plot, so if you like zombies, stop reading the review and just read the book first. Then you can come back and see if you agree with my opinion. You’ve been warned.

I loved Georgia as the narrator. She has a strong voice and because she’s a Newsie, it makes sense that she explain the situation and provide backstory. I was also impressed with the world-building. There’s a reasonable, scientific explanation for the zombie epidemic – we’ve cured the common cold! And cancer! Oh, and those two cures interact in your body to reanimate your corpse and turn you into a flesh-eating zombie. Oops! The CDC is suddenly the most powerful agency in the U.S. as well, and the bloggers have become an important source of news. The traditional news sources blew off evidence of the zombie outbreak while people were dying. And George Romero, whose zombie movies turned out to be prophetic, is a world hero.

I was heartbroken when Georgia was infected. She was the voice of the book – how you can kill her? I’ll be curious to see how the next book in the series works with Shaun as the narrator instead.

Title comes from: Two uses of the word – there’s the obvious zombies feeding on the living, but it’s also a reference to an RSS feed (the symbol on the cover) since the main characters are bloggers.

Reading challenges fulfilled: 63/100 in my 100 Book Challenge

If you’re interested in purchasing the book, you can click on the cover image to follow an Amazon affiliate link to the book and thanks for supporting my blog

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The Colossal Book of Mathematics by Martin Gardner

Subtitle: Classic Puzzles, Paradoxes, and Problems

Published: 2001

Genre: nonfiction mathematics

Length: 694 pages of text, 725 pages with indices

Interest: I was looking for books for Mr. Curiosity to use for math this year, and did a quick search of my local library system. This came up as something and it sounded like it was full of potential topics for our fun math Friday activities. I figured it was worth checking out.

Summary: The book is actually a collection of Gardner’s Scientific American Mathematical Games columns put forth as brain teasers and activities you can do that related somehow to a field of mathematics. There’s quite a collection of topics, arranged into twelve sections including arithmetic and algebra, plane geometry, solid geometry and higher dimensions, symmetry, topology, probability, infinity, combinatories, games and decision theory, physics, logic and philosophy, and a miscellaneous section. Each chapter also includes an addendum that updates the topic (since his original columns were written decades ago) and a bibliography if you’re interested in more material.

Final thoughts: While most of the topics are well beyond what we could manage now, I’ve gotten several ideas from the book – every from hexaflexagons to Conway and Paterson’s Sprouts game (we did his Game of Life last year) to replicating polygons. It’s definitely not something you’re going to sit down and read from cover to cover. Interestingly, StatsGuy recognized Gardner’s name as a well-known mathematician.

Reading challenges fulfilled: none since I’ve just been skimming topics and not actually reading each chapter

If you’re interested in purchasing the book, you can click on the cover image or subtitle to follow an Amazon affiliate link to the book and thanks for supporting my blog

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Natural Born Learners edited by Beatrice Ekwa Ekoko and Carlo Ricci

Subtitle: Unschooling And Autonomy In Education

Published: 2014

Genre: nonfiction, education

Length: 380 pages

Interest: It was linked to from at least one of the homeschooling blogs I read when it first came out. I picked it up for my Kindle when it when it was available for free. I’ve been reading a bunch of homeschooling books for inspiration this summer, and this one sounded interesting.

Summary: The book is a collection of interviews that have been transcribed into chapters. The interviews are broken into three sections. The first section attempts to describe self-directed/natural learning. In the second section, we see examples of people doing and providing and opportunity for self-directed learning. Finally, we have adults who were raised in an unschooling environment talk about their life past high school age.

Final thoughts: I found this book to be very informative, especially the last section which highlighted how the unschooling attitude works once you’re an adult. If you’ve every been curious about how unschooling/self-directed/natural learning actually works, this would be a helpful book for you. I was impressed I actually recognized a couple of the names (Gatto and Farenga). Each chapter ended with a bibliography of any resources referenced, so I added a book and several blogs to my reading list. I actually had to give up on taking notes and just start highlighting things because there was so many good quotes in the chapters.

Title comes from: Descriptive of the topic

Reading challenges fulfilled: 62/100 in my 100 Book Challenge

If you’re interested in purchasing the book, you can click on the cover image or subtitle to follow an Amazon affiliate link to the book and thanks for supporting my blog

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The Volunteer by Carter Coleman

Published: 1998

Genre: fiction

Length: 296 pages

Setting: the Umsambaras mountains region of Tanzania, present day

Interest: It fulfilled two of my book challenges

Summary: Jordan Rutledge is a Peace Corps volunteer in Tanzania teaching people how to farm fish. He’s also a deeply troubled, lonely young man who’s used the Peace Corps to run away from his failed relationship with Anna. During the story, he spends his time either obsessing about Anna or raising a crowned eaglet, Pasipo. Then he meets Zanifa, a 16-year old school girl who brings him his weekly chickens for Pasipo. Zanifa turns into his new obsession, especially when he learns she’s engages to Kimweri, the sultan of the Umsambaras. Even worse, Kimweri want Zanifa to undergo jambo (female circumcision). Jordan then conceives of a plan to put Zanifa in a boarding shcool in neighboring Kenya, all the while introducing Zanifa to the pleasures of oral sex.

Final thoughts: I did not like Jordan, especially in his relationship with women. (I need to read a book where the guy is not all about sex – this is the second book in a row where the guy is creepy.) He was completely flabbergasted that Anna wouldn’t forgive him for his multiple bouts of infidelity and take him back. Then, he decides to seduce Zanifa, “for her own good” of course. Too much “Come one, it’ll be OK” and “trust me”s for my taste. I wasn’t sure if I wanted Jordan to get Zanifa away. I did for her sake, but not his. The ending gave me a nice middle ground that I hadn’t thought of. The setting was quite impressive, and I loved his work with Pasipo, even if it was just another example of him being special and not needing to follow the rules.

Title comes from: Jordan, the main character, was a Peace Corps volunteer

Reading challenges fulfilled: 61/100 in my 100 Book Challenge, a V in my title Alphabet Challenge and Africa in my Global Reading Challenge

If you’re interested in purchasing the book, you can click on the cover image to follow an Amazon affiliate link to the book and thanks for supporting my blog!

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Anne of Windy Poplars by L. M. Montgomery

Published: 1936

Genre: fiction

Length: 258 pages

Setting: Prince Edward Island, early 1900s

Interest: It’s the fourth book in the Anne of Green Gables series, following Anne of the Island, and I’m reading Miss Adventure the series at bedtime (interspersed with other books).

Summary: Anne has graduated from Redmond and has been appointed principal of Summerside High School for three years. Gilbert is off in medical school, so Anne writes him many letters about her adventures in Summerside. She first has to win over the Pringles, the ruling family of the town who had someone else in mind for her job. Then, she smooths down the prickles on Katherine, a fellow teacher. Anne takes an interest in little Elizabeth, a girl who lives next door. Plus we read about all the ins and outs of life in a small town.

Final thoughts: Another solid Anne book. Anne is getting older and no longer at Avonlea, so the cast of characters is different from the first few books. I must admit, I miss Diana and Gilbert in this book. Anne’s still Anne, though, finding friends and adventures in unlikely places. The book works fairly well as a read-aloud. Montgomery’s prose is always delightful, but the chapters tend to be too long to read in one night. Finding a place to stop could be tricky some nights.

Title comes from: Windy Poplars was the name of the house Anne lived in while she worked at Summerside

Reading challenges fulfilled: 60/100 in my 100 Book Challenge

If you’re interested in purchasing the book, you can click on the cover image to follow an Amazon affiliate link to the book and thanks for supporting my blog!

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