phd mama

from diapers to deconstruction


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A Sap for a Story

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After years of trying to coordinate a trip to one of our local maple syrup houses, my family finally made it this year to an event for NY’s Maple Weekend. I expected an afternoon of tromping through snow and tapping trees, but our experience was much sleeker and more sophisticated than that (you can read about that visit here). We decided to extend our field trip with large bottles of maple syrup and lots of library books about the history and process of sugaring. This list reflects the old-fashioned methods I’d imagined as well as more modern processes, and, of course, some stories that are just about sticky fun. These books aren’t quite as delicious as syrup-soaked pancakes, but they’re all good reads.

  1. From Maple Tree to Syrup by Melanie Mitchell
  2. At Grandpa’s Sugar Bush by Margaret Carney and Janet Wilson
  3. If You Give a Pig a Pancake by Laura Numeroff and Felicia Bond
  4. Maple Moon by Connie Brummel Crook
  5. The Maple Syrup Book by Marilyn Linton
  6. Maple Syrup Season by Ann Purmell
  7. From Maple Trees to Maple Syrup by Kristin Thoennes Keller
  8. The Missing Maple Syrup Sap Mystery: Or, How Maple Syrup Is Made by Gail Gibbons
  9. Sugar on Snow by Nan Parson Rossiter
  10. Sugar Snow by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Doris Ettlinger
  11. Sugarbush Spring by Marsha Wilson Chall and Jim Daly
  12. Sugaring by Jessie Haas
  13. The Sugaring-Off Party by Jonathan London and Gilles Pelletier
  14. Sugaring Time by Kathryn Lasky and Chrisopher Knight
  15. A Tree for All Seasons by Robin Bernard
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It’s Electric!

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Our unit study on electricity included experiments, reference books, fiction, and scientific biographies. We looked at amazing moments in the history of science and marveled at the ways that electricity transforms our lives. My elder daughter especially loved playing with the Snap Circuits, and these resources changed the way we all appreciate and understand the electricity that flows through our home. We attended a local library program on Squishy Circuits where we learned about conductivity. And, of course, we discussed electrical safety (no kite flying in thunderstorms for us!). I hope this list of resources charges you up just as much for studying electricity!

  1. Watch The Animated Hero Classics: Benjamin Franklin
  2. Batteries, Bulbs, and Wires by David Glover
  3. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba, Bryan Mealer, and Elizabeth Zunon
  4. Charged Up: The Story of Electricity by Jacqui Bailey and Matthew Lilly
  5. Electrical Wizard: How Nikola Tesla Lit Up the World by Elizabeth Rusch and Oliver Dominguez
  6. Energy Makes Things Happen by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley and Paul Meisel
  7. DK’s First Science Encyclopedia
  8. How Ben Franklin Stole the Lightning by Rosalyn Schanzer
  9. Jackrabbit McCabe and the Electric Telegraph by Lucy Margaret Rozier and Leo Espinosa
  10. The Magic School Bus and the Electric Field Trip by Joanna Cole and Bruce Degen
  11. My Light by Molly Bang
  12. Oscar and the Bird: A Book about Electricity by Geoff Waring
  13. Watch Popular Mechanics for Kids: Lightning and Other Forces of Nature
  14. Watch Disney’s Safety Smart Science with Bill Nye the Science Guy: Electricity
  15. Watch Disney’s The Science of Disney Imagineering: Electricity
  16. Experiment with Snap Circuits
  17. Switch On, Switch Off by Melvin Berger and Carolyn Croll
  18. Thomas Edison by Barbara Kramer
  19. Who Was Ben Franklin? by Dennis Brindell Fradin and John O’Brien
  20. Who Was Thomas Alva Edison? by Margaret Frith and John O’Brien


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In Defense of Libraries

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(This image courtesy of Carolina Weick’s Walk With Me Photography)

Last week in The Guardian, author Terry Deary made the controversial claim that libraries foster “this idea that we’ve got an entitlement to read books for free, at the expense of authors, publishers and council tax payers. This is not the Victorian age, when we wanted to allow the impoverished access to literature. We pay for compulsory schooling to do that.” Citing the ideas behind libraries as “no longer relevant,” Deary has been roundly chastised (most notably by fellow best-selling author Neil Gaiman) for his position. While I understand Deary’s concerns about artistic integrity and making a living off of his creative work, I find his position on libraries fundamentally flawed (not least because tax dollars go to libraries as well as to schools). Here’s why:

  1. Collections don’t build themselves.

Working with a budget as well as an area of expertise and extensive reading, librarians don’t just buy books. They build collections. They read and research widely to keep apace with the publishing industry and to find the best and most relevant books for their patrons. In doing so, librarians foster quality, breadth, and depth in the reading lives of their communities.

  1. It goes beyond books.

Deary compares his work to film, arguing that audiences will pay for movie tickets but not for books. That’s simply untrue. Libraries circulate books, audio-books, movies, music, e-readers, magazines, language-learning software, video games, etc.; libraries provide newspapers to peruse on site. One library even circulates a notoriously popular (and pricey) American Girl doll to children who could never afford to purchase it. If we read only what we can afford to purchase, all of us will be reading less.

  1. Perusal precedes purchase.

Deary also assumes that people who borrow library books would purchase said books if libraries did not exist. One needs only to look at the music industry and the Napster controversy to see that audiences will access a lot of things for free that we would never be willing to pay for. Oftentimes libraries provide a point of first contact, where patrons learn about (and, yes, borrow) books to find out if we like them enough to buy them.

  1. Behold, the digital divide.

Compulsory schooling may provide exposure to literature, but the years of mandatory public education are limited. Before, during, and beyond those years, libraries give access to books, other media, and technology. For many users, public library computers offer internet and computer access that is only becoming more essential in the 21st century.

  1. Digital natives get lost.

Wired Magazine’s Clive Thompson reports that while younger generations may feel most comfortable using technology, their skills are basic and limited; where information abounds, they lack the ability to find credible information. Librarians help train patrons in fundamental computer skills as well as more advanced research strategies. Freely available information is useless without the proficiency to find it, analyze it, and put it in context. That’s just one way librarians help.

  1. Community matters.

My local library offers preschool story hours, after-school craft programs, children’s play spaces, crafting groups, book clubs, art classes, art exhibits, exercise classes, public speakers, movie nights, book sales, craft fairs, and more. These are the official programs, beyond the friends and neighbors who meet up to enjoy and appreciate the library as a community center—for the books and so much more. Libraries are inter-generational, cultural, educational hubs.

  1. Diversity counts.

I have spent much of my life in public libraries, as a student, a teacher, a tutor, a mother, and, above all, a reader. I’ve used libraries as tutoring spaces for learners with developmental disabilities, adults learning to read long after their schooling years, and children struggling in the classroom. Libraries give all of those groups, and everyone in between, safe spaces to explore books and learn at their own pace. Libraries honor all reading levels and supply materials like large-print books, multi-lingual texts, and audiobooks so everyone can be included.

Libraries go beyond books, and I say that as someone whose love affair with books is nearly boundless. I even like the way old books smell. Libraries are about books, yes, and also technology, research, equality, accessibility, and community. Libraries are about librarians and patrons and communities in relationship. In a time when more individuals are struggling financially, it makes sense not to condemn libraries but to support them as lifelines for entire communities—a way to pool our resources for the collective good: educationally, culturally, socially, technologically, and relationally. And despite what Terry Deary might say, those relationships are priceless.

Follow me: @ErinWyble