What We're Reading

19 Apr

My Favorite Newbery Winners

Category: What We're Reading
By: Amy L. Graeser
Published: 04/19/04

Patricia Owen, a guest on Volume 73 of the MARS HILL AUDIO Journal, offers a list of her top ten favorite Newbery Medal winners.

List courtesy of Patricia Owen.

1928—The Trumpeter of Krakow: A Tale of the Fifteenth Century, Eric P. Kelly

In 1461 the 15 year-old Joseph and his family make their way to the Polish city of Krakow after their farm is burned by bandits. Inspired by a 200 year old legend, he and his father take on the job of playing the trumpet every hour from the tower of the Church of Our Lady Mary. Alchemists, Tartar bandits, a lovely orphan and a beautiful musical piece, the Heynal, all come together to make this a riveting story full of courage and loyalty. Avid readers 9+

Illustrations by Janina Domanska

1932—Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze, Elizabeth Foreman Lewis

Set in pre-revolutionary China of the 1920's, this is an absorbing tale of a boy who moves with his mother to the big city of Chungking and is apprenticed to Tang the coppersmith. Young Fu's vitality and humor shine out as he encounters all kinds of characters and undergoes all kinds of experiences in the process of coming of age and learning what really counts in life. Avid readers 9+

Introduction by Pearl S. Buck. Excellent glossary and historical notes.

1935—Caddie Woodlawn, Carol Ryrie Brink

This author writes the stories her grandmother recounted of her own pioneer childhood running wild with two brothers on the Wisconsin frontier of the 1860's. Full of fun and excitement for both boys and girls, with an interesting twist at the end. Great read-aloud, ages 6+

1973 edition with illustrations by Trina Schart Hyman

1946—Adam of the Road, Elizabeth Jane Gray

Adam, an 11 year-old boy walks the roads of England in 1294, in search of his cocker spaniel and his minstrel father. Adventurous and historically invigorating, with a timeless and universally interesting plot. A road's a kind of holy thing, said Roger the minstrel to his son, Adam. That's why it's a good work to keep a road in repair, like giving alms to the poor or tending the sick. It brings all kinds of people and all parts of England together. And it's home to a minstrel, even though he may happen to be sleeping in a castle. Ages 10 - Young adult

Illustrations by Robert Lawson

1949—The Door in the Wall, Marguerite D'Angeli

Set in medieval England, this story chronicles the development of character in Robin, a young nobleman's son who falls ill and loses the use of his legs. Beautifully told, the story weaves its way through frustration and pain to encouragement, resourcefulness and heroism as Robin follows Brother Luke's advice: Thou hast only to follow the wall long enough and there will be a door in it. Ages 9+

Beautiful illustrations by the author

1954—The Wheel on the School, Meindert DeJong

The little seaside village of Shora, in Holland, has no storks. Lina, and the five boys in her little schoolhouse wonder why and then put their heads together to remedy the situation. Humor, mischief, and a lovely intergenerational sympathy knit together an engrossing story of youthful resourcefulness. Great read-aloud. Ages 6+

1989—Number the Stars, Lois Lowry

When the Nazis occupy Denmark in 1943 and begin to round up the Jews, 10 year-old Annemarie's family takes in her best friend, Ellen Rosen, and pretends she is part of the family. Both girls have to learn new courage and resourcefulness as they live out this deception in a fear-filled society. The truths of the brutal regime are not spared, but they are dealt with in a way that is appropriate for thoughtful children and young adults. 12+

1993—The Giver, Lois Lowry

In a futuristic dystopic community where pain and sadness have been eliminated but also music and books and history, 12 year-old Jonas is picked to be the next Receiver of Memory; in daily visits with the Giver, the oral history of life and experience is transferred to him, enabling the community to remain ignorant, happy and productive. What happens when Jonas begins to think for himself for the first time makes for intriguing, thought-provoking twists of plot and growth in his character. A clear statement against both abortion and euthanasia, and one which raises a wide variety of moral and spiritual questions, this book is definitely for older readers and should be read by parents, grandparents, etc. as well as children. Ages 14+

2001—A Single Shard, Linda Sue Park

A spare but beautifully crafted story about a young orphan who has been nurtured and reared by a homeless cripple living under a bridge in 12th century Korea. The boy, Tree-Ear, longs to become an apprentice to a famous potter and in a long and difficult journey to deliver wares to the royal court, he learns much about courage, persistence, patience, and real love. One of the most subtle and deeply moving descriptions of mutual caring and sensitivity in all of children's literature. A must read for boys and girls 12+

2003—The Tale of Despereaux; Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread, Kate di Camillo

A fun, meta-fairytale in which Despereaux the mouse reads instead of chewing the book of chivalric tales in the palace and is then thrown into a series of adventures in the course of which he is challenged, disappointed, and then enabled by the very stories he has read. In spite of the rollicking, jocular tone, themes of forgiveness, true courage, and self-sacrifice emerge in the course of his quest which lend themselves to thoughtful discussion. Ages 10+ [Posted April 2005, ALG]

15 Apr

Monitoring Stem Cell Research

Category: What We're Reading
By: Amy L. Graeser
Published: 04/15/04

Since its inception in 2001, the President's Council on Bioethics has occupied itself with—among other tasks—monitoring the developments of human stem cell research. It has presented its findings thus far to the President and the public in Monitoring Stem Cell Research: A Report of the President's Council on Bioethics. The introduction to the Report states that, "[t]his report is very much an 'update.' It summarizes some of the more interesting and significant recent developments, both in the basic science and medical applications of stem cell research and in the related ethical, legal, and policy discussions." The Report is organized into four chapters—comprising the introduction, an overview of current Federal law and policy regarding stem cell research, a record of developments in ethical and policy debate on the research, and a record of developments in stem cell research and therapy—with a glossary of terms and several appendices of papers that the Council commissioned about various aspects of the research.

To read what others are writing about the report, see "No Decision on Stem Cells" by Eugene Russo, and "Reason as Our Guide" by Elizabeth Blackburn and Janet Rowley. Rowley, a member of the President's Council on Bioethics, is a professor at the University of Chicago and Blackburn, who was recently dismissed from her position on the Council, is a professor at the University of California, San Francisco. Russo is a contributing editor for the magazine The Scientist. [Posted April 2004, ALG]

14 Apr

Being Human: Readings from the President's Council on Bioethics

Category: What We're Reading
By: Amy L. Graeser
Published: 04/14/04

Ovid, St. Augustine, Francis Bacon, W. H. Auden, Thomas Mann, and Vladimir Nabokov are some of the authors whose works grace the pages of a new anthology edited and published by the President's Council on Bioethics. Being Human: Readings from the President's Council on Bioethics speaks—through its stories, poems, memoirs, and the introductions that accompany them—to the matters and dilemmas facing humanity in an age of biotechnology. In a letter introducing Being Human the executive director of the Council writes, "The Council offers this volume in the hope that it will help advance the goals with which the Council was established, namely, 'to undertake fundamental inquiry into the human and moral significance of developments in biomedical and behavioral science and technology . . . To provide a forum for a national discussion of bioethical issues' and to 'strive to develop a deep and comprehensive understanding of the issues [the Council] considers.'" The anthology is divided into ten chapters: "The Search for Perfection"; "Scientific Aspirations"; "To Heal Sometimes, To Comfort Always"; "Are We Our Bodies?"; "Many Stages, One Life"; "Among the Generations"; "Why Not Immortality?"; "Vulnerability and Suffering"; "Living Immediately"; and "Human Dignity". [Posted April 2004, ALG]

In October the President's Council on Bioethics submitted to the President a report titled Beyond Therapy: Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Happiness. In Beyond Therapy Council members address two concerns linked to biotechnology: the inclination of many to seek the fulfillment of the deepest human desires through biotechnology, and the threat to the soul that accompanies such fulfillment. The writers of the report have structured their study "around the desires and goals of human beings, rather than around the technologies they employ" (taken from the letter—by the Council's Chairman Dr. Leon Kass—that accompanied the report to the President). To establish a rich picture of life in the age of biotechnology the report insists on understanding human beings in psychic, moral, and spiritual terms rather than in material, mechanistic, or medical (i.e. therapeutic) ones.

Beyond Therapy considers four ends for which biotechnologies are used: better children, superior performance in the activities of life, ageless bodies, and happy souls. In its early chapters the report asks whether or not using technologies to achieve these ends redefines them. The final chapter considers what kind of society might result from employing technologies not for healing, but for human "enhancement." In setting these boundaries for the discussion of life in the age of biotechnology, Kass writes that Council members are "hopeful that, by informing and moderating our desires, and by grasping the limits of our new powers, we can keep in mind the true meaning of our founding ideals—and thus find the means to savor the fruits of the age of biotechnology, without succumbing to its most dangerous temptations."

In their research for the report members of the Council drew on sources as varied as scientific publications, weekly periodicals and daily newspapers, and classic works of literature and philosophy. The concerns of Beyond Therapy are summarized in the following paragraphs from the report:

"Summing up these 'essential sources of concern,' we might succinctly formulate them as follows:

"In wanting to become more than we are, and in sometimes acting as if we were already superhuman or divine, we risk despising what we are and neglecting what we have.

"In wanting to improve our bodies and our minds using new tools to enhance their performance, we risk making our bodies and minds little different from our tools, in the process also compromising the distinctly human character of our agency and activity.

"In seeking by these means to be better than we are or to like ourselves better that we do, we risk 'turning into someone else,' confounding the identity we have acquired through natural gift cultivated by genuinely lived experiences, alone and with others.

"In seeking brighter outlooks, reliable contentment, and dependable feelings of self-esteem in ways that by-pass their usual natural sources, we risk flattening our souls, lowering our aspirations, and weakening our loves and attachments.

"By lowering our sights and accepting the sorts of satisfactions that biotechnology may be readily able to produce for us, we risk turning a blind eye to the objects of our natural loves and longings, the pursuit of which might be the truer road to a more genuine happiness."

Members of the President's Council on Bioethics include Francis Fukuyama, Robert P. George, Paul McHugh, Gilbert Meilaender, and Michael Sandel. [Posted March 2004, ALG]

3 Oct

Intelligent Design

Category: What We're Reading
By: Amy L. Graeser
Published: 10/03/03

Readings from the liner notes.

William A. Dembski's The Design Inference (Cambridge, 1998) is a highly technical study aimed at philosophers interested in epistemology, logic, probability, and complexity theory. The book asks how we can identify events that happened by reason of intelligent causes and distinguish them from events due to undirected natural causes. His more recent book, Intelligent Design: The Bridge between Science and Theology (InterVarsity Press, 1999) is a more popular and wide-ranging volume. Dembski also edited the anthology Mere Creation: Science, Faith and Intelligent Design (InterVarsity Press, 1998); contributors to this volume include Michael Behe, Steven C. Meyer, Walter L. Bradley, Paul A. Nelson, and Hugh Ross. The July/August 1999 issue of Touchstone contains a number of essays by the same contributors (call 815.398.8569 for copies). Another recent title of similar interest is Michael J. Denton, Nature's Destiny: How the Laws of Biology Reveal Purpose in the Universe (Free Press, 1998). Denton is the Senior Research Fellow in Human Molecular Genetics at the University of Otago in New Zealand. His 1984 book, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis (Adler & Adler), is recommended by Dembski. Denton says that the new book's purpose is "first, to present scientific evidence for believing that the cosmos is uniquely fit for life as it exists on earth and for organisms of design and biology very similar to our own species, Homo sapiens, and second, to argue that this 'unique fitness' of the laws of nature for life is entirely consistent with the older teleological religious concept of the cosmos as a specially designed whole, with life and mankind as its primary goal and purpose." [Posted October 2001, ALG]

William Dembski has further contributed to the debate on intelligent design with his book The Design Revolution: Answering the Toughest Questions about Intelligent Design (InterVarsity Press, 2004). Stephen M. Barr, a guest on Volume 62 of the Journal, writes this about the work: "The Design Revolution is about questions of fundamental importance: Can one formulate objective criteria for recognizing design? What do such criteria tell us about design in the biological realm? Sad to say, even to raise such questions is dangerous; but fortunately Dembski is not deterred. In this courageous book he takes aim at the intellectual complacency that too often smothers serious and unprejudiced discussion of these questions." [Posted March 2004, ALG]