Fractions and bases

So, we’ve been enjoying Hard Math for Elementary School (for somewhat complex definitions of “enjoying” that involve both frustration and eventual pride).

Today DC1 said, “Different bases is just like fractions.”  Explaining a little more, ze noted that when you’re doing fractions with a denominator of 8, the numerator works just like when you’re counting in base 8.

By golly, I thought, ze’s right!

In base 8 you count, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 10, 11..

When you’re counting eighths, it’s 1/8, 2/8…7/8, 1, 1 and 1/8.

Adding works the same way too… 2 + 7 in base 8 is 11.  2/8 + 7/8 is 1 and 1/8.

Multiplying won’t be the same because we tend to cancel things out on the bottom, but in a world where we didn’t do that and we didn’t allow improper fractions, I think it would be the same.  So it could be the same.

Anyhow, that’s super cool.  Yay DC1!  And yay math!

A budding feminist spec fic reader

A boy who is turning 12 years old wants to read sci fi and fantasy with strong females.  We have suggestions, of course.

Ursula K. LeGuin is probably the textbook choice, along with contemporary writer Andre Norton.  These strong women both address feminist themes through science fiction, though in different ways.

Ann McCaffrey is often suggested because she’s a woman who writes science fiction and therefore must be feminist.  Turns out that’s not true.  She’s a VERY BAD CHOICE as she promotes rape culture.  (Third book, protagonist rapes his girlfriend, and makes everything ok by helping her clean afterward.  No. No. No. No.  I stopped reading her after that book, but I am told that her later books have similar or worse issues with rape.)  (Thanks to #2′s warning, #1 hasn’t read that series, but I haven’t found anything problematic in the McCaffrey I have read.  #2 notes that’s probably because McCaffrey coauthors with actual feminists in many of her other series.)

I keep meaning to read C. J. Cherryh‘s  Pride of Chanur series.

Elizabeth Moon.

Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett are excellent choices, together or separately (try The Wee Free Men).

Brian Sanderson’s Mistborn series is fantastic.  The Hunger GamesOctavia Butler.

Tamora Pierce in general and in specific, though #2 has a bit of a problem with the fourth book in her first series… the main character has a lot of messed up sex, and by messed up, she means messed up in terms of power differentials.  The sex is not really consensual given the power differences in one “relationship” and the age differences in the other.  (#1 missed that series.  The Pierce I have read has been fantastic!)  Holly Lisle probably has too much sex for a 12-year old.  Pre-read Diplomacy of Wolves to see if your kid is old enough for it.

Robin McKinley (her lighter stuff… Deerskin [a retelling of Donkeyskin] is feminist, and amazingly good, but it contains rather violent incest… Sunshine has happy sex in it IIRC, but is definitely more YA than Junior). The Blue Sword was the first grown-up fantasy book I ever read (fourth grade assigned reading, I LOVED Mrs. A.) and it got me hooked on the entire genre.

Patricia C. Wrede, particularly the first two books in the Dragon series (Dealing with Dragons is the start).  The third and fourth books leave the protagonist somewhat helpless until a boy grows up to save the day.

Carolyn Stevermer, both with and without Patricia Wrede.

Joan Aiken’s Dido Twite series: first is The Wolves of Willoughby Chase.

Martha Wells.

Margaret Ball.

Nina Kiriki Hoffman.  Though she does address some adult themes, they always have happened off-stage before the book starts.  The characters heal during the book.

For hard sci-fi, you could start the Honor Harrington series with On Basilisk Station by David Weber. Jane Yolen’s graphic novel Foiled is a must (the sequel is Curses! Foiled Again). Anything by Susan Cooper, though #2 notes that The Dark is Rising has a stereotypical female character, the stereotypical “male” action coming from the boys.

Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger (her other series is for adults, but this one is YA with no sex).  IT IS ADDICTING.  I WANT MORE MORE MORE.

You could try Diane Duane’s series starting with So You Want to Be a Wizard. Everything by Diana Wynne Jones is very excellent, though her last book has an inappropriate sexual relationship thrown in as an afterthought.  A 12 year old might not notice it. (#1 didn’t.)

The Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman.  Only sort of fantasy, but has sequels if you like it.

The Blossom Culp series by Richard Peck (time travel, ghosts, etc. put this fully into spec fic!)

Lloyd Alexander’s Vesper Holly series, starting with The Illyrian Adventure (spec fic in the sense that Indiana Jones is spec fic).

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy.  (Sure, this is historical, but… you could pretend it’s fantasy.)

The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde (the sequel, The Song of the Quarkbeast, is out now).

Graceling by Kristin Cashore is excellent (though somewhat hardcore, violence-wise). It has sequels but I never read them.

Other good YA stuff is by Zilpha Keatley Snyder (any of it).

I can go on if you want… but I would need to check DC’s bookshelves for all my old YA books.  (I’m totally going to read hir The Real Me at some point, though that is not science fiction or fantasy at all.)

Chime in, readers!

What are we reading over break?

I just finished The Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson.  A thousand pages of epic high fantasy, and it went pretty quickly.  Interesting characters, some more compelling than others, and unique magic systems that have a lot of potential.  Two characters in particular allow it to scrape a pass on the Bechdel test.  Near the end of the book was a revelation so shocking that I would read the sequel right now if it were out yet.

Also, Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened was a big winner in our family this year.  Several of us gave it to each other.  I laughed and cried, sometimes at the same time.  I’m happy to support this artist!  (Currently bathroom reading for #2.)

#2 finally got a chance to have some mental space outside of Georgette Heyer rereads!  Sure, she’s only up to children’s literature but…

Unfortunately, her first pick was Wednesdays in the Tower.  She has literally three shelves double stacked of books she hasn’t read before and she picked this one because she liked Tuesdays at the Castle so much.  Wednesdays in the Tower is a lovely HALF of a book that ends exactly on a cliffhanger.  The next book doesn’t even have a title yet.  So wait to start this one until Thursdays off the Cliff (or whatever she decides to call it) at least gets a release date you can live with.

#2 was also jonesing for some Blossom Culp, which is possibly Richard Peck’s greatest series.  #1 was delightful enough to get her the entire set both new and used.  It was every bit as enchanting as #2 remembered, perhaps even a bit more as I get more of the adult jokes that probably went over my head when I read and reread these books from the library.  The first is The Ghost Belonged to Me, but the first from Blossom’s perspective is Ghosts I Have Been.  And for those of you who grew up in the 1980s, it’s interesting thinking about how this generation would read The Dreadful Future of Blossom Culp… her going from 1914 to the 1980s would be like us going to the 1950s… an odd thought.  Kind of like when you watch Back to the Future.

Finally, we recommend The Book Shopper: A Life in Review by Murray Browne if you like books even half as much as we do.

Do you?

Do the holidays stress you out?

I have a confession to make.  They totally don’t stress me out.  I find them to be totally relaxing.  Holidays are awesome.

And yes, I’m the one with kids.  And yes, we celebrate Christmas.

Now, the end of the semester is a bit stressful.  Finishing up classes, then the final exam, then grading.  Also the OMG everybody is about to disappear we must have these last 50 faculty meetings to discuss urgent business.  Oh, and the 20 referee reports that are due right in the beginning of December.  And the 30 letters of recommendation.  That part is kind of stressful.  When all of that is over and the students are gone, it’s hugely peaceful.  So our Christmas season doesn’t really start until classes end (sometime in the late teens or early 20s of December, depending on the year).  The kids don’t seem to mind an abbreviated season at home even if school and stores start at Thanksgiving.

Do we make Christmas cookies?  Sometimes.  If we feel like it.  Ditto Christmas breads.  I like buying a little live rosemary tree a week or so before Christmas and we decorate that.  Christmas shopping mostly happens online.  Stocking stuffers (the only thing “Santa” brings) get bought at Target when we pick up gift cards for the teachers.  We’ve taken the oldest to see the Nutcracker.

Having the kids home 24/7 can be a little stressful, whether it’s Christmas or not.  (At least until DC2 learns to read like DC1.)  We try to arrange family visits so they overlap at least a little with kids’ vacation so that they can burn some of their energy off on the relatives.  Spread it out, so to speak.  We definitely use daycare as much as it’s open, and DC1 goes to daycamp for one of the weeks that ze is off (same place ze goes in the summer).

This time of year articles start popping up about the Elf on the Shelf and all sorts of crafty etc. time-consuming holiday traditions that moms can do to make things magical.  And that’s great for the parents who get utility out of doing stuff like that.  We love that DC1′s best friend’s mom is doing another gingerbread house party this year.

But what about people who feel compelled to do all the Christmas stuff even though they hate it?  The folks who are totally stressed out because they have to remember to move the elf every night, or they would rather watch a movie than make cookies, or they have a racist uncle Mike that they hate seeing every year at Christmas dinner?

Think about your sources of holiday stress (if any).

What happens if you:

1.  Don’t do them?  Would the world end if you just didn’t visit your racist relatives and stayed at home with the family you chose and you love instead?  If you don’t do outdoor lights?  Will the children be scarred for life if the elf moves to another house and never returns?

2.  Pay someone else to do them instead?  I learned this year that I will never adopt a family and go shopping for them again– instead I’ll just give money for someone else to shop with.

3.  Get someone else in the family to do them?  Why is it always mom’s job to bring holiday cheer?  Maybe another family member can step in and take the kids to see the lights or bake cookies and clean up the kitchen etc.

4.  Change them so they’re less stressful?  Maybe instead of getting a big cut tree you can get something that’s more manageable.  Maybe you can change a tradition so it’s more chill.  Instead of 12 different batches of cookies, maybe one or two.  Maybe it’s time for Santa to drop off the packages early and to leave them with some assembly required after they’re unwrapped.

5.  Reframe them so they’re not as stressful?  Sometimes you can just will yourself to enjoy a long drive (in the snow) to see the grandparents.  It’s an adventure instead of a chore.  Sometimes that’s not possible, but if you can’t get out of doing something, might as well make the best of it.

Do you have holiday stress?  What tips do you have for avoiding holiday stress?  What have you tried that’s worked for you?

Read these! Read these!

What have we been reading lately (that we loved)? Click the titles to see the descriptions on amazon.

The Incrementalists, by Steven Brust and Skyler White.  It reminds me of Kage Baker’s Company series, and of Charles Stross, and both of those are good things.  Not that wonderful on representations of women, but worth it nonetheless.

The Unquiet Bones: The First Chronicle of Hugh de Singleton, Surgeon. Looked interesting from the description, and I already like the Father Cadfael series.  I’m glad I started this series, and I’m several books in by now.

The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist.  It’s sweet and somewhat peaceful until it gets darker and darker… Would make for a great discussion of utopia/dystopia.  If you’d like to see a female protagonist over the age of 40, pick this one up!  Passes the Bechdel test.

Married with Zombies by Jesse Petersen.  A bickering couple arrives for their couples counseling… to find their therapist gnawing on the previous client.  The initial premise got me, and it turned out to be delightful and surprisingly moving. I will probably read the sequel.

Trial of Flowers by Jay Lake, a cool guy. Strange, wondrous, interesting.

The Lab Rat Chronicles: A Neuroscientist Reveals Life Lessons from the Planet’s Most Successful Mammals by Kelly Lambert — Makes a great gift for whoever likes nonfiction.  Fascinating! After the first few chapters I didn’t expect too much, but I actually learned a lot of cool things.

Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg is amazeballs.  I read it in one sitting, staying up way too late. Read this! It packs an emotional punch but is also funny (especially the parents) and sweet.

#2 has been slowly rereading Georgette Heyers that we’ve already talked about here the first and second time she read through them!  Poor #2.  Maybe she’ll get some brain power back over Christmas break.

What have you been reading lately?

Fun books that our parents read as young adults

And we read at the library as teens…

I wonder if our kids could do the same or if they’re long gone?  Ah, the glorious 60s.

Richard Armour wrote a series of brilliant hilariously funny lite-history books, with titles starting, “It all started with…”  It All Started With Eve, It All Started with Columbus, It All Started With Europa: Being an Undigested History of Europe from Prehistoric Man to the Present, Proving That We Remember Best Whatever Is Least Important, and so on.  I devoured these in the non-fiction adult’s section.   Twisted Tales From Shakespeare was another fun one.

Peg Bracken wrote a brilliant cookbook called The I Hate to Cook Book.  I recently purchased another copy and read through it, marveling at how nice it is that women are no longer responsible for 100% of the cooking.  And how many of the recipes in there were already familiar to me– things I know how to make from memory because my mother and everybody else’s mother made them too.

Jean Kerr wrote a series of books collecting delightful essays together.  She was in the humor section.  (Please Don’t Eat the Daisies was made into a movie.)  I remember most her essay about why she writes– because she has children and she wants to sleep in and therefore must make enough money to hire a nanny.  Sleep is an excellent reason/way to choose a career.

Erma Bombeck was not quite as good as Jean Kerr, but still good to read.

I suppose James Thurber will still be around and not forgotten… his stuff probably qualifies as classics.

What are your favorite books from the 50s, 60s, and 70s?

warm and fuzzy student things

One of the joys of my job is that I get to remove math phobia from students.  I teach a required math course for social science majors, many of whom come from backgrounds that are not math heavy.  Often this is the first math course they’ve taken since high school.  Many of them think they’re just not good at math.  I spend a lot of time filling in gaps of their knowledge, even doing silly things like going over every step of simplifying a fraction or solving for X, you know, just in case.  (I do this because my Calc 1 instructor SUCKED and I learned almost all of Calc 1 while taking Calc 2 from a different professor at the local university because he would go through every single step of what I’d missed whenever we needed to know it.)  I do extra tutoring in office hours.  I constantly push the growth mindset on students.

From about midterms to getting final grades, my students start to realize that hey, maybe they’re not so bad at math after all.  This week has been especially warm and fuzzy with students popping by during office hours to confide in me that they’re actually “getting” the class, something they thought impossible. (Last week they discovered and informed me that they’re several weeks ahead of the other section and have had much more difficult homework assignments– this has become a point of pride with them.)

Lots of students mentioned in office hours that it’s all coming together on this week’s homework.

One gentleman told me that his entire life he’s taken the easy way out, doing things that maximize how impressive they sound while minimizing actual need for thinking.  This semester he’s taken some (gen-ed fulfilling) classes from our department, including mine, and they’ve challenged him and he’s risen to the challenge and he’s realized he likes to be challenged.  He came by to tell me he’s changed his major to our department from communications.  He’s actually the second person to tell me this week that (s)he’s switched into our major because my class wasn’t anywhere near as frightening as (s)he had thought it would be, not because it’s easy, but because (s)he can do it.

Another woman stopped by to tell me that she’s always been terrified of math and never thought she’d ever be able to do anything with computers, but she feels really powerful whenever she uses her statistical software on the homework.  She can’t wait to take my (more difficult, semi-elective) class next semester.

A senior stopped me in the hall and told me how surprised she’d been to see that A on her transcript last semester, an A she’d earned in my harder semi-elective.  The stuff she learned has been helping her this semester too.

It’s been a warm and fuzzy week.

Do you have any warm and fuzzy student stories to share?

Ten Books By Which Ye Shall Know Me

… As of this moment.

I was re-reading The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction and the author was talking about how you would know him by the books he re-reads.

This list is based on number of re-reads, not on anything else (quality, influence, etc.).  It was hard to make!  It is in no particular order.

1.  Dune – Frank Herbert (SciFi) (my cover is cooler than this, though)

2.  Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte (Classic, Gothic)

3.  Arrows of the Queen – Mercedes Lackey (Fantasy)

4.  Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader – Anne Fadiman (Essays)

5.  Bird by Bird – Anne Lamott (Advice)

6.  Gaudy Night – Dorothy L. Sayers (Mystery)

7.  The Initiate Brother – Sean Russell (Fantasy)

8.  Going Postal – Terry Pratchett (Fantasy)

9.  A College of Magics – Caroline Stevermer (Fantasy)

10.  The Blue Sword – Robin McKinley (Fantasy)

The runner-up list had even more fantasy on it!

Does #2 have a list?

[No, but if she did it wouldn't include Dune, or Mercedes Lackey.  I'll have to check out Sean Russell-- hadn't heard of him.]  I can make an off-the-top-of-my-head list that isn’t well thought out.  Rereads are heavily populated by classics and children’s fiction.

1.  Frederica by Georgette Heyer

2.  Jane Eyre

3.  Pride and Prejudice, though honestly I haven’t been able to read it again since I took a class on Austen in college.  I think I have it memorized.

4.  Captain Blood by Raphael Sabatini (Free on kindle!  Also the movie is wonderful.)

5.  Anne of Windy Poplars (also Anne of Green Gables)

6.  A College of Magics – Caroline Stevermer, though it bugs me that my copy is still at my parents’

7.  Witch Week and The Lives of Christopher Chant (and many others, but especially the entire Chrestomanci series) by Diana Wynne Jones

8.  The Thread that Binds the Bones by Nina Kiriki Hoffman (though A Fistful of Sky is close)

9.  Another Fine Myth by Robert Asprin

10.  Spindle’s End edges out Hero and the Crown or Blue Sword for the Robin McKinley spot.  Because I’m older now.

What are your rereads?  What books should we know you by?

Ponderings on feminisms in children’s (and young adult) literature

Everyone loves the Paperbag Princess… except we kind of didn’t.  We know we’re probably alone in that.

#2 did have a recording of the author reading it that she listed to a lot as a child and liked.  #1 didn’t read it until she was older and felt too deeply about it.  Like, why is she even giving this jerk the time of day?  Poor dragon, stuff like that.  #1 thinks perhaps she wasn’t getting the messages it was trying to give, but the ones it wasn’t trying to give.  Like, women are supposed to be subordinate to men.  That thought would not have crossed my mind, and yet, it is presented as the default option in the Paperbag Princess.  Sort of like educational television that makes kids behave worse because seeing the bad behavior that gets resolved at the end is more striking than the eventual resolution.

We like the books that don’t present it as a conflict, but instead present the ideal as status quo.  And we really only know one book like that.

Boy meets boy

We LOVED Boy Meets Boy.  It takes place at a school where there’s no question about whether it’s ok to be gay.  It’s like 2/3 of the book in where the author addresses how weird that it’s not like that in other towns. Boy Meets Boy is a splendid book and people should read it!

Of course, we also know that ignoring -isms doesn’t make them go away.  They do need to be brought to light and discussed.  But maybe subtlety isn’t the best way in children’s books.

Should literature present the ideal or present the reality, and when?

What are we reading with pleasure and happiness?

Patty in the city: had to interlibrary loan this one. A fun confection.

Discount Armageddon :  Excellent.  My favorites are the mice.

Also excellent is the sequel, Midnight Blue Light Special. Again, mice! (read it.)

Finally got my hands on Gunnerkrigg Court Vol 2.  Well worth it!  And it’s awesome to read through again knowing what I know now… adds new depth and meaning to some of the scenes.  These are such handsome books.  It seems like the first printing had some flaws and wasn’t as nice quality as Vol 1 or Vol 3, but the current batch is lovely (and seems only to be available from amazon).  Aaaannnnd Volume 4, just out now! The art keeps being great.



Reread Daddy Long Legs, caught some of the political commentary hidden in there this time around.

Reread Dear Enemy, picked up all the eugenics I’d missed the first time around… (must not have looked very hard, or have been very young…)

Tempest Rising.  It was ok. (#2 really likes this series)

Nice Girls Don’t [do stuff] vampire books — Enjoyable popcorn!


All Spell Breaks Loose, by Lisa Shearin– finally a conclusion to the series!  As a whole, I think the series should have had a book or two fewer, but the end book went a bit quickly.  A satisfying read.

Gave Candice Hern a second chance (with $2.99 kindle books).  She’s no Georgette Heyer, but I enjoyed  A Proper Companion and A Change of Heart.

#2′s been reading up a storm lately.  Particularly recommended:

The Rook, by Daniel O’Malley. If you like Stross’s Laundry Files books, you’ll like this, and vice versa.

The Killing Moon, by N. K. Jemisin.  Really, really good.  Can’t wait to read the next one. (Update: It was good too!)

ZOMG N. K. Jemisin is such an amazing writer. Read her!

I am Not a Serial Killer by (Dan Wells)

The Battle of Blood and Ink

What have you been reading lately?

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 178 other followers