Posts tagged " Alexander McCall Smith "

Cyrus, the Unsinkable Sea Serpent

August 27th, 2018 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting, Reading Recommendations No Comment yet

I read Cyrus the Unsinkable Sea Serpent by Bill Peet half a dozen times over the past week. It is a favorite of a seven-year-old granddaughter and she recommended it to her similarly aged cousin. To my surprise, his two-and-a-half-year-old sister enjoys listening to it as well though I wouldn’t have chosen it just for her.   

Cyrus is one of the many books still on our shelves from our children’s early years. It is what I think of as a transition book; it is more complicated and wordy than early readers like The Cat in the Hat, but still short enough to be read aloud in one sitting. It appeals to children who can read and ideally after listening to it and understanding the tale, they soon want to pick it up and read it themselves.

As I read it over and over, I started asking myself why I like it. The book has danger, threats and violence. I don’t normally gravitate to those features. My seven-year-olds are enraptured by it.

My husband I do have a soft spot for any books that take place on boats. We think that words like bow and stern, mizzen, mast and galley should be early vocabulary acquisitions. One of my educational aha moments took place when our four-year-old was looking at a page that asked her to circle the sound that a pictured word began with. Under a picture of a rowboat appeared three choices; an M, R and T. Despite knowing all her letters, she was perplexed. Eventually, she told me that none of the choices were right as there wasn’t a D for dinghy. While homeschooling had yet to enter my consciousness, I realized then that had this been a kindergarten worksheet, a teacher would naturally assume that she needed help with the alphabet rather than that her vocabulary had a nautical bent.

So, I have to admit that if I heard my grandchildren threatening to slit each other’s gullets or calling each other landlubbers, language found in the book I read to them,  I would laugh. The fact is that they aren’t going to do so other than in play. Cyrus is so removed from their daily lives that they can enjoy the peril of being blasted by pirates’ cannons or being stuck in the doldrums in safety and security. The bottom line message of the book is a positive one, illustrating how important it is to help other people and how much more satisfying it is to be nice rather than to be mean.

Each of us has our own soft spots for certain types of books. While I wouldn’t pick up Cyrus as entertainment for myself, I often do just that with books for older children. I was rather obsessive about staying on top of what my own children read and I am still on the lookout for good books for my grandchildren.  I suggest that every parent, when they are alone in a bookstore or library, takes time to browse the shelves. Not only is there poor literature in terms of grammar and vocabulary, but there are extremely damaging books being marketed to children, pre-teens, young teens and teens.  I don’t for a minute agree with the idea that, “I don’t care what they read just as long as they’re reading.” I try to protect them when they’re very young and help them develop moral compasses as they grow older so that they will choose wisely when I am no longer the gatekeeper for what they read.

In light of all the above, I was recently delighted to find that Alexander McCall Smith, author of a number of series for adults that I love, started writing a delightful series for children that takes place on a ship. There are two books so far, School Ship Tobermory and The Sands of Shark Island. They feature both boy and girl protagonists making it attractive to both sexes. My eight-year-old and up children enjoyed them as did I and I’m please to have a venue where I can suggest that you take a look at them and see if they appeal to you.

(If you do like what you see and purchase using the links in this post, we will receive a small commission on the purchase.)

My Country is Greater than Your Country

March 7th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 16 comments

When I wrote a Musing about comfort reading, I received a number of gifts from readers in the form of book suggestions. One of these was from my friend, Judy (who happens to be the author of the highly recommended book, The Skeptic and the Rabbi). She suggested the 44 Scotland Street series by Alexander McCall Smith. While I haven’t started that series yet, her suggestion prodded me to read the first book in the writer’s  The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series. 

I am hooked. Along with enjoying these charmingly written, evocative and delightful books—I am currently reading the eleventh in the series—I am intrigued by something I have noticed. The protagonist of the books is Mma Precious Ramotswe, founder and owner of the only detective agency in Botswana. I admit to knowing little of Botswana before starting these books, but Mr. McCall Smith is clearly in love with the country in which he lived for many years.

Mma Ramotswe is warm and wise. She is also highly patriotic and convinced of the superiority of her country as well as proud that she is a Motswana (member of the Tswana tribe). On occasion, she compares her country to others on the continent of Africa and her tribe to other tribes. There is no cultural equivalency here; her heritage is clearly superior. At the same time, she is a loving foster mother to two children of Bushman background and helps people from all countries and tribes, often at no charge.

I began to wonder what the response might be if a similar series was written extolling, shall we say, the United States among other North American countries. Or perhaps, claiming that Oklahoma was more praiseworthy than New York? Is it all right to compare one’s ethnic heritage with someone else’s to the detriment of the second? Mma Ramotswe’s pride is endearing. Why don’t I find it xenophobic and racist?


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