Between the Bookends Dec 2015: Ms. Marvel, Teen Angst & The Science of Parenthood

This month the GeekMoms have been preparing for the holiday season, but we have still found time to do some serious reading. Selections this month include bad teenage poetry, a Hobbit-style adventure in post-war England,  advice for hosting a steampunk tea party, and a bad-ass female superhero trying to manage her own life as well. Read on for our December recommendations.

Ms Marvel Vol. 4 Cover © Marvel
Ms Marvel Vol. 4 Cover © Marvel

GeekMom Jill Keppeler has been reading Ms. Marvel Vol. 4: Last Days. A longtime Marvel fan (and one-time X-Men devotee), she hadn’t really followed any Marvel titles in years… at least, not until she decided to pick up the first G. Willow Wilson Ms. Marvel graphic novel a few months ago. (And got hooked.) Volume 4 just continues the trend. While she’s not sure what’s going on with the whole Secret Wars thing, any book that gives you goosebumps and tears in your eyes has got to be a good thing – and this one does. Wilson has a gift for bringing the sometimes out-there world of Marvel and its superheroes right back down to Earth. Kamala Khan worries about her family. She deals with her first broken heart. Perhaps the world is ending (is it?), but she’s is just trying to take care of her corner of Jersey City … and maybe meet her hero along the way. (Jill went “Gahh!” when the team-up happened. She admits it.) It’s a good one, and she can’t wait to see where it goes from here.

Harry Potter & The Goblet of Fire Cover © Scholastic
Harry Potter & The Goblet of Fire Cover © Scholastic

Jill is also in the process of reading (OK, rereading for her) Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling with her 7-year-old son. She’d forgotten how some of the themes in this one are getting more and more mature, and they’re taking some discussion. This is a good thing. How do you feel when a friend doesn’t believe you? Why does Hagrid have to deal with discrimination after the secret of his heritage gets out? Why do we sometimes procrastinate when we have a task we’re worried about? These are good discussions. And if the kid looked bemused throughout the whole of the Yule Ball chapters, well, he’ll get it when he gets older. (She’s also realizing that, as a former newspaper journalist, she’s conceived an immense and total hatred for Rita Skeeter, so much so that she’s still irritated an hour after reading the whole recent excerpt. Odious woman.)

From Skedaddle to Selfie Cover © Oxford University Press
From Skedaddle to Selfie Cover © Oxford University Press

GeekMom Sophie recently picked up From Skedaddle to Selfie: Words of The Generations by Allan Metcalf, a look at how words have been coined or repurposed through history by the youngsters of the day.  The book introduces the different generations that have existed in the U.S. beginning with the Republican Generation (born 1742 – 1766), through the Progressives (1843 – 1859), Silents (1925 – 1942), and on to the current generations who are still making waves: the Baby Boomers (1943 – 1960), Generation X (1961 – 1981), and the Millennials (1982 – 2004). It uses the words most associated with them to give each group a sort of profile – a shared attitude – toward life and there are a lot of interesting snippets about language and social history to be found in its pages. Did you know that the word “nerd” probably derives its origins from a 1950 Dr. Seuss story, or why we take home a “doggie bag”? Tracing the evolution of  the words “gay” and “like” was also interesting, but Sophie frequently wished that the book would go into more detail – in much the way that Bill Bryson’s epic Made in America did – as the resulting brief forays into each word often left her hanging.

The Weirdstone of Brisingamen Cover © HarperCollins Children's Books
The Weirdstone of Brisingamen Cover © HarperCollins Children’s Books

Sophie also read The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner. The first of a trilogy (naturally), this book was written in the late 1950s and is best described as The Hobbit set in post-war England. Sophie wanted to re-read the book because it is set in the countryside villages surrounding her own hometown. The story mixes Welsh, Nordic, and English mythologies with a classic quest narrative involving wizards, elves, and dwarfs, and adds in some mild horror elements as well. Young Colin and Susan come to stay with friends of their parents and soon find themselves at the center of events related to the real world Legend of Alderly Edge which says that beneath the hill sleep 140 knights and white horses who lie in wait “to fight the last battle of the world”. When evil forces conspire to awaken the knights early and leave the world (or England – there seems to be some disagreement) unprotected when the battle comes, the children set out to restore safety to the knights by returning the titular Weirdstone of Brisingamen to their guardian.

Science of Parenthood Cover © She Writes Press
Science of Parenthood Cover © She Writes Press

Finally, Sophie read The Science of Parenthood: Thoroughly Unscientific Explanations for Utterly Baffling Parenting Situations by Norine Dworkin-McDaniel, and Jessica Ziegler. The book humorously portrays parenting and children’s behavior as seen through the eyes of science, and is filled with graphs and charts that parents will be able to relate to such as the “Will You Shower Today?” flow chart and the “Beverage-to-TV Index” which tracks the “minimum beverage consumption” required to sit through a programme with your sanity intact. Calliou tops the list – shocking no-one. The book also gives faux scientific names and terms to situations and people all parents have come across. The Collective Pregnancy Unconscious is defined as “the Jungian state of mind that connects every pregnant woman on the planet, allowing her super-unique baby name to become the most popular name of the year”, while Lego Traumatic Distress Syndrome is a condition found in parents helping their child complete a Lego model, who discover that “a piece won’t fit on Step 587 because of a mistake they made back on Step 28”. There are also species guides for types of moms including the Tiger Mom, Team Mom (a “migratory family which travels in minivan formation”), and Hands-On Mom, and a guide to Mendeleev’s Table of Parental Elements. Although the book is written as humor, and not intended as a traditional parenting guide, it is full of good advice and common sense for those difficult early years.

The Signature of All Things Cover © Riverhead Books
The Signature of All Things Cover © Riverhead Books

GeekMom Cait is continuing her historical fiction mini-binge and is currently knee-deep in The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert. She realizes that she’s late to this party, as everyone else seems to have devoured this book last year or the year prior, but she is thoroughly enjoying Gilbert’s tale of Alma Whittaker, born in 1800 and daughter of a wealthy botanist and trader. Cait is enjoying the storyline immensely, from the traveling to the history to the botany.

Handbook of Nature Study © Comstock Publishing
Handbook of Nature Study © Comstock Publishing

The latter bit will tie in nicely with a book Cait plans to use as a supplement to a new nature curriculum they are trying at home: Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock. Originally published in 1939, this book is jam-packed with information and has become an instant treasure in Cait’s home, which says a lot since it just arrived this week! If you’d like to rid the world of Nature Deficit Disorder, and especially if you are a homeschooler, this is a must-read right up there with any book by Richard Louv

One Zentagle a Day Cover © Quarry Books
One Zentagle a Day Cover © Quarry Books

Finally, Cait is on a quest to combat the kids’ untethered holiday energy by using art books and Doodle Diaries. So far, the family’s favorite book has been One Zentangle a Day: A 6-Week Course in Creative Drawing for Relaxation, Inspiration, and Fun by Beckah Krahula. This little gem not only consistently relaxes and calms Cait’s kids, but it has been amazing for fighting Cait’s holiday stress as well!

Math Curse © Viking Books for Young Readers
Math Curse © Viking Books for Young Readers

Speaking of those little people, Cait and her kids have just wrapped up a month of thankful books and have moved on to a math-filled month of storybooks, starting with The Math Curse by Jon Scieszka. Scieszka’s books are fun for children and adults alike. These are the books you don’t mind reading and re-reading because they are truly entertaining and fun to read aloud! In The Math Curse, the main character is afflicted with – you guessed it- a “math curse” which makes her view all events in her life as math problems. A perfect response to children asking, “But when am I ever going to use this?!” The Math Curse is a funny and a super-fun way to sneak in some math!

The Wind Boy © Raven Rocks Pr
The Wind Boy © Raven Rocks Pr

GeekMom Rebecca Angel is enjoying several books with different family members this month. First is a read-aloud with her two young nieces. The Wind Boy By Ethel Cook Eliot. A soft adventure about two refugee children in the 19th century who are introduced to a mystical world called Clear Land. They have to help the Wind Boy find the Masker who is scaring the local village children. The story is about friendship and the thin line between art and magic.

Teen Angst © St. Martin's Griffin
Teen Angst © St. Martin’s Griffin

Teen Angst: A Celebration of Really Bad Poetry Edited by Sara Bynoe. Rebecca’s teen daughter selected this one, and it is hilariously awful. Yet, the sentiments are real! Argh, Rebecca wrote really bad poetry at that age, which no one will ever read. Did you? Some titles from the book: Broken Love Misery, Unicorn Pain 2, You Also Suck. And the poems are just as awesome…

What If © Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
What If © Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

What If?: Seriously Scientific Answers To Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe (creator of xkcd) Rebecca’s son received this as a birthday present and has been reading her random chapters that he finds the most amusing or crazy.Who doesn’t want to know the answer to: “What place on Earth would allow you to free-fall the longest by jumping off it? What about using a squirrel suit?” It is a funny book, and with science!

Steampunk Tea Party © David & Charles Publishers
Steampunk Tea Party © David & Charles Publishers

Rebecca has been checking out the recipes and ideas from Steampunk Tea Party: 30 Neo-Victorian Steampunk Recipes From Far-flung Galaxies, Underwater Worlds and Airborne Excursions by Jema Emilly Ladybird Hewitt. Photos of steampunk-attired cool people accompany tasty looking recipes for any tea party: Lavender Creams, Mechanical Box Cake, Tipsy Turvy Tea Bread, Lunar Regimental Chutney, Nautilus Ship Biscuits, Time Traveler’s Tart, and more. The directions are easy to follow and there are tips and fun facts on every page.

Copies of some books included in these recommendations have been provided for review purposes.

Top image: Between the Bookends © Sophie Brown