Thursday, November 24, 2016

Sally Steel and the Miniature Menace by Cally Harris: Book Review

Sally Steel series are pulp fiction aimed at young adults (middle school).  What pulp means is that the characters are generally or specifically competent. The young adult target implies that some of the conflicts are those that are of special interest to young adults.

The setting is midwestern farm country in the early 1900s, and Sally Steel is a teenage girl. Who happens to be gifted in all things mechanical. This leads to a number of problems in her life. Largely due to the fact that she is a girl. And there are expectations of girls in that setting. So she gets teased because she is a girl with her interests, because she is good, she is prevented from getting recognition by society so she does not upstage the boys. Her father chooses to be blind to her abilities (but her mother and brothers all see it).

The meat of the story is Sally being caught up in an adventure with her good friend, Jet Black (whose main character trait seems to be fearlessly going into danger). And, it turns out that there are intelligent, reasonable, and capable adults that she runs into who are also allies. but, this being a Young Adult novel, she has to learn that she does not handle everything by herself.

As a story, it is a fun one. Sally and friends get into and out of trouble at a pretty good pace. The meet friends and enemies, and false friends one after another. For those who are familiar with the Dinocolypse series from the same publisher that features older versions of the same characters, it seems like the book was trying a little to hard to fit everyone in (it is a bit of a stretch to think that the people whose actions will affect the world happened to be the same age and cross paths in rural Illinois as teenagers).

But at its heart, pulp is a story about heros who are capable, in this case, even a hero that is a teenage girl. And it is a fun story at that.

Saturday, November 05, 2016

Parenting month 72: Maker vs consumer

Another year. Since T's birthday I've probably said that he was five at least five times.  It is hard to get into the mindset that they don't freeze in time.

Some highlights of this year:

1. Movies on the big screen: The Martian and MacGillivray Freeman's Humpback Whales.
2. Live professional sporting events:  The Washington (PA) Wild Things and the Pittsburgh Pirates
3. Playing on a sports team:  Eagles Soccer
4. Taekwondo rank. Purple belt (ATA taekwondo)
5. Starting first grade

Playing a Circuit Playground fruit piano at Makerfaire
Demonstrating a fruit piano
Some changes over the past month.

1. Social  -  Teachers report that he is apparently everyone's best friend. However, he is still a  relatively controlled one in the class. They report that he regards the overall silliness and chaos of first grade but does not actually take part.
2. Making - We have been trying to get him to regard activities as one where he is a consumer to one where he is an active part in its creation. So it means showing people how things work and being part of the entertainment (i.e. playing piano in public) His old habit of freezing in public performance seems to be overcome, with a few public performances without a hitch. He is freer about talking to strangers, but not on command (i.e. we would like him to be able to demonstrate things he knows, not talk to random strangers without cause).  One thing is that he is better about asking questions and requesting opportunities, which got him some nice experiences at times.
3. Soccer is over. While a good experience, we're pretty sure he does not have any desire to do this again. Nothing against soccer, but he realizes that he sacrificed taekwondo for it, and he also notices that a lot of things he used to do on Saturdays got pushed out because soccer takes out the flexibility of his weekends.
4. Sense of urgency/speed. His teachers observed that he knows how to do anything asked of him, but he does it slowly. A big reason is that we did not drill him in anything over the summer, which is how you develop speed, especially in arithmetic.  So we started him on the online math program his school uses (some of the activities are timed, the first times he did them he timed out, he has gotten much better) and mommy school has started to include drilling.

This is how to program the Lego robot
Learning to program a LEGO robot
Taking apart a battlebot to fix it
Taking part in maintenance of a battle bot
We had one existential crisis. We found out from one of the teachers that some of the other kids in first grade learned multiplication over the summer. And we did no such thing, making us wonder if there was anything else we did not do! The teachers have assured us that they did not actually want us to teach him multiplication or other things, but the fact that they noted that some of the kids did (and that they had immediate recall from memorizing their times tables) makes us take that skepticism with a dash of salt.

A (2 1/2 years) has become more comfortable with day care. Now she waves goodbye at dropoff without a glance back. Teachers report that she sings alot.  What we notice is that she is much more talkative.  Her extended babbling at 18 months have converted to non-stop talking and singing.  We just took a 2 hour road trip where she was singing and telling stories to herself for the entire trip.