Encyclopedia Mythologica – Gods and Heroes

February 24, 2010 at 9:22 pm (Book Review) (, , , )

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I opened up Encyclopedia Mythologica’s Gods and Heroes popup book by Matthew Reinhart and Robert Sabuda.  A giant popup Anubis was a delightful surprise on the first page.

The images in this work are bright, colorful, highly detailed and will easily engage the attention of readers young and old.  When I described this book to my friends, many of my adult friends expressed an interest in seeing it.  These images are also highly detailed and multilayered, and through several re-readings, I have seen different things within the illustrations and inside the popups.

Scattered around the many large and small pop up images are bits of information about culture, history and religion from the cultures that the main images come from.  Much of the information is accurate, though sparse.  These are more tidbits to awaken a young person’s curiosity about these ancient cultures than to be a main educational source.  If homeschooling young children, I think this would make an excellent foreshadowing activity before embarking on a unit about mythology.

One thing that truly brings a smile to my face is the wealth of tiny images in the smaller popups off to the side.  Some of these are very multilayered, and just today, when scanning the book for a third time as I am writing this review, I discovered another image that I had not yet seen before.  This book has the potential to reveal new secrets every time you look at it.

My favorite page by far, though I imagine given my user name, will hardly come as a surprise to my readers, is the page on the Norse Gods.  The brilliant center piece is the god Thor, with hammer Mjöllnir raised overhead.  The side panels reveal a colorful Asgard, Loki dressed in drag, and a Valkyrie racing into battle.

The only things that I can find room to be critical on this particular book is that the balance of localities is about what you find in school text books.  A bit on Egypt, with a random panel on the Fertile Crescent thrown in, twice the amount of Greece/Rome as any other culture, Asian and New World mythologies all mashed together as if they are the same thing.  What would be more interesting to me is to see a separate book for each culture, going into more detail.  I would also be interested in seeing a works cited in the back, suggesting sources for children who would like to learn more.  However, this is not to take away from my opinion that this book is a stunning display of paper art that will captivate young imaginations and delight people of all ages.

At this point I will extend a word of caution.  Though the book is marked ages 5 and up, this is definitely a book to be read under adult supervision.  The pop up images are exceptionally complex and detailed, and fold back amazingly easily, but they *must* be opened and closed SLOWLY, or else risk damaging the art.  There are a wealth of hidden surprises in the smaller side panel popups, but these must be opened very carefully as they can get caught on the central popup.

Overall, this is a high quality book written with care to engage students in learning more about the past.  It is whimsical, funny, and brief enough to not exhaust the attention span of younger children, and I think it is bound to become a reading time favorite.

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Just Chillin’

July 16, 2008 at 5:47 pm (Book Review) (, , , )

This isn’t a new release, but I made a decision to myself that I would review all of my college textbooks as I go along, because some texts are clearly better than others.

Just Chillin’ is a case study of adolescent development. It takes place at a Middle School near Baltimore Maryland, a primarily middle to upper middle class community in a suburban neighborhood. It follows several students in 6th, 7th or 8th grade, with each student chosen to highlight a particular aspect of adolescent development. Eric represents the family relations aspect, Lily the social aspect. Another student, Jackie was representative of “the average sexual experiences of middle school students” I put this in quotes not because it is directly from the text, but to underscore my sarcasm at this. I think that this book has an overly naive view of how middle school students are, and how inexperienced they are these days.

I think that the author went through considerable effort to produce an entertaining and readable case study, but because it reads more like a novel, I was surprised to find it was actually a researched case study. Perhaps I just didn’t do my homework, but the casual tone of this makes it less believable as a properly performed case study. I also question the value of this book for a course on adolescent development in a program that focuses on inner city middle schools.  Our students don’t have the kind of family structure or lifestyle that is portrayed in the book. I would like to see a case study along the same lines at a type of middle school that is far more common.

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more thoughts on Kabul Beauty School

July 10, 2008 at 3:58 pm (Book discussion) (, , , , , )

I do not think I focused enough on the incredible opportunity that she was offering these women.  In a country where women went from relative equality in the 80’s to extreme censorship in the 90’s and 2000’s so many women lost the ability to support themselves.
Even in the US, a woman in a bad situation – abusive husband, father, parents, etc who cannot support herself is trapped unless she is extraordinarily lucky and finds the emotional support to free herself.  By empowering these women to have marketable skills like being a beautician – and how to do so by combining traditional Afghanistan techniques and Western techniques (including proper hygenic treatment of the tools of the trade) they open the door for these women to begin making some choices and freedoms of their own.  Deborah takes her own experiences with an abusive and controlling spouse and fights back and works through these issues by helping other women find a way to make money to help their family, or to save money more than the husband knows about to be able to do have more choice in their lives.

Whether or not you can see eye to eye with Deborah on her personal choices, and the way that she makes decisions that affect the lives of her closest friends and family; she definitely makes an impact on the lives of many women in Kabul.

I came to this book with a humorous state of mind – I mean – seriously – beauty school?  How does that change the world?  I walked away with a radically different state of mind.  Beauty in a world where women were hidden and with no public agency or voice, can have more impact on the individual than I can really grasp in a world where beauticians are everywhere.  I can only hope that the political sphere over there improves and the funding returns for the school to carry on.

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July 9, 2008 at 1:47 am (Book Review) (, , , , , , )

Kabul Beauty School by Deborah Rodriguez

My initial response to this book was this, pulled from my library thing review:

This book was…incredible. I could not put it down. I bought it at 7:00 this evening and just finished it now at 12:30.

She paints a vivid description of the many joys, fears, successes, and troubles she found on her amazing journey passing back and forth between the States and Afghanistan. She shows the type of courage that would make the world a much better place if more people had her sense of humanitarianism and perseverance.

There are parts of this book that make you laugh and laugh, as you read about her various blunders and faux pas, and then again, there are times I was hard pressed not to burst into tears at some of the more emotional moments. This describes a period of intense ups and downs in the lives of many women.

At the end of it all though, you don’t want the book to be over, you ache for her and Sam’s difficulties, and you long to know how everyone is doing now, even though the afterward updates you through 2007. If you enjoy reading about current events, people’s lives, and stories that aren’t so much about happy endings as they are about gripping reality, this is a book you need to get your hands on.

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To that I feel that I need to add something.

I still say that it was a very rewarding book to read.  After a lot of reflection though, I feel that I cannot agree with many of the choices made by the author of these memoirs.  Some of the details she gives about the life of those around her concern me.  They are details that would be a source of incredible difficulty for the people she talks about, and in at least one incident – that of a friend’s wedding and wedding night, something that the people involved can’t help but recognizing as their own story – could have horrible repercussions.  Some things should remain secrets between friends – no matter how juicy the story.

I also observed that for a memoir about charitable work, the person doing the work was extremely self absorbed.  I find that she has a lot of disdain for traditional culture, makes spur of the moment decisions that effect everyone around her with consideration only of herself, and in the end, I feel like the charity work in and of itself was a method of making her feel better more than anything else.

This in no way diminishes my enjoyment of the book, and I really recommend it.  I would love for other people who have read this book to respond with their own opinions.

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Three Cups of Tea

July 3, 2008 at 2:57 am (Book Review) (, , , , )

Greg Mortenson grew up the child of missionaries in Africa, has trouble adjusting to American life, and only finds his true goal and purpose upon getting lost after an abandoned attempt to climb one of the deadliest mountains in the world. A year later, determined to keep his promise to those who nursed him back to health, he returns to begin a years-long mission to create moderate secular schools for some of the poorest and most likely to be neglected communities on the planet.

Reading Three Cups of Tea was an interesting experience for me. It wasn’t as gripping as Kabul Beauty School in that I was able to put it down from time to time, but I still finished it in 2-3 days. Unlike Kabul Beauty School, it was told far less from the point of view of the person that the story is about, being occasionally from Greg’s point of view, but including opinions, positive and critical, held by those that work with him closely. The parts that are told from Greg’s point of view can get a sensitive reader quite emotional because everything is told with sincerity and depth. You can picture the scenes that he vividly describes, almost feel the emotions of the people around him.

One of the things that impresses me most about Greg Mortenson, even more than his persistence, determination, and noble spirit that drives him in his work is his ethics. Given other training, Mr. Mortenson might make a fine anthropologist. Whether consciously or unconsciously, he picks up a lot of the traits and mannerisms of the people that he works with. He has a keen sensitivity to taboos and traditions and follows them, not to be a mimic, but to show people that he sincerely understands and honors their culture, regardless of their religious or political differences. He does not pass judgment on everything around him, but observes with an open mind. I also admire his courage and truthfulness to stand up for a group of people that America was trying to go on a witch hunt for. You cannot blame the actions of a few brainwashed individuals on an entire religion that spans large portions of the world, and runs the entire political spectrum. Greg gets to the source of the problem: a lack of education and resulting lack of economic opportunities. When people have the ability to travel, have clean drinking water, and access to education, there are more economic chances for success and survival.

One of the things that interested me most about the book while I was reading it, is the political story of the late 90’s through mid 2000’s that is woven in the background. I do not think that this book set out to be a political history, but you can see the transition in the US from Clinton to Bush, the effects of the wars at home and overseas, and even have some political cameos throughout the book.

The only reason this has 4.5 rather than 5 stars from me is that at some points when David Oliver Relin is relating the stories of various encounters and episodes in this decades long effort to educate those most in need, where the narrative becomes a bit garbled, and you aren’t sure what is happening to whom, or even if the people that they are discussing have been talked about before. However by rereading a passage or two I can usually figure it out. I can say one thing, I am curious about doing a penny drive at my school.

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