Bluster and Clemency
Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter; Snowflake Bentley; Highlights Book of Things To Do
***Friends, I know many of you are in areas that are experiencing severe impacts from this protracted rain situation, whether it’s leaks or flooding in your home, mudslides in your area, power outages, etc. I hope you are safe. If you are tired of hearing about the rain, please skip this issue. Sending love.***
Hello, fellow travelers through January. Where we live, it’s been raining A LOT, and I’ve been thinking about that aphorism, the future having already arrived if not evenly distributed yet. I feel thankful that amidst the on-going atmospheric river that is dumping so much precipitation over the west coast, our home has incurred only minor leaks and we’ve enjoyed continuous electricity. We rode out the cyclone-bomb’s epic gale from our cozy beds while the house rattled and shook. We periodically clear the storm drains up and down the street, and bail out the potted plants in our backyard, and feel grateful that these are our immediate impacts, and try to hope that much of this water will make it into aquifers. A few days ago, I was convinced that all gardens should have cisterns. Now I’m thinking about how long it might take to dry out, and whether we should finally hang that mosquito net for our kiddo who is allergic. My awareness of the scarcity of water is something that’s been inside me since my childhood in Southern California, but it feels like it’s turning into something else now, a distinct and rational anxiety, maybe a fear, of water unpredictability. And that’s where the aphorism comes in. The future is not only technology – the future is people in places that are increasingly dry AND flooded, inundated and depleted. You know this, of course – extreme weather is here and now, and moreso all the time. And even if I’m privileged enough not to feel massive impacts, not to be forced to move, I really shouldn’t take that for granted. This is where the wide view gets me feeling overwhelmed, so I try to remember that the small view can be helpful and productive and maybe… preventative? Here is a small collection of books about weather, precipitation, and things we can do when it’s very cold or stormy outside. I’m not sure that any of this is really helpful or even appropriate in this moment, but it’s what I’m working with. I wish you and the littles around you comfort and curiosity during whatever weather you’re having now.
The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter is a fictional story about a young girl who lives on a very small island off the coast of Maine. The island hosts a lighthouse and a small cottage where Miranda and her parents live, and that’s about all there is acreage for. Miranda’s father has taught her how to run the lighthouse, and it’s a good thing because after he takes the family’s small dinghy back to the mainland to resupply, winter storms prevent his return for several weeks, so Miranda must operate the light. She does this through ferocious winds and rain, while the island is pretty much submerged by waves that wash water up into their cottage. It’s a real nail-biter, based on a real girl, Abbie Burgess, who operated a lighthouse in the mid 1850s on Matinicus Rock. I like this book because it gives us an opportunity to talk about seasonal weather patterns and severe storms. We can also talk about how we haven’t seen much rain in the western US during recent winters, and how that is part of a broader shift in global climate patterns. And it gives us a chance to talk about the different kinds of jobs and needs that come up during weather emergencies.
The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter. 1987 (reprinted 2022), Arielle North Olson, Elaine Wentworth. Target age: Gr3-5 [libraries, bookstores]
Snowflake Bently is a picture book biography about a farm kid, Wilson Bently, who is fascinated by snowflakes. And, lucky for him, his family is super supportive, so even though he is growing up before the era of widespread electrification, in rural Vermont, only a couple decades after Abbie Burgess was keeping that lighthouse, with limited access to many resources, his passion is nurtured and becomes a lifelong pursuit. From a young age, he keeps his own weather records, performs experiments with rain drops, and examines snowflakes under an old microscope his mother manages to buy. Eventually, his family spends their savings to buy a bellows camera which Bentley attaches to a microscope, and he essentially pioneers photomicrography so that he can share his beloved ice crystals with the world. In fact, you can buy the book of his snowflake photographs he publishes shortly before his death, with the help of a physicist from the US Weather Bureau. It’s a WONDERFUL story. Everyone should be so lucky to have their passion nurtured as lovingly as “Snowflake” Bentley.
Snowflake Bentley. 1998, Jacqueline Briggs Martin, Mary Azarian. Target age: PreK-Gr3 [libraries, bookstores, short video and additional resources at The Smithsonian]
I picked up the Highlights Book of Things to Do last week to help entertain the kids while it’s pouring buckets outside. This oversize, 350+ page book is full of simple projects we can mostly do with stuff we already have at home. The book has a decent index and useful sectioning so it seems like it will be easy enough to find specific types of projects, as well as being excellent for browsing. Chapters include Things to Do Inside, Things to Do Outside, “” in the Kitchen, “” Draw, “” Write, “” With Your Brain, “” With Color, “” With Paper, “” Build, “” With Recycled Materials, Science Experiments, Do Great Things. At the bookshop, I had a very tough time deciding between this one and Unbored, which contains a wealth of detailed information behind its many projects, and often with info written by guest experts (eg: Jessamyn West teaching kids stuff about information on the internet – so cool!!!). To be honest, I went with the Highlights book because it seemed a bit more self-directed, which feels crummy to admit but there it is. I’ll probably end up going back for Unbored, unless I catch a whiff of an updated version (this one is now a decade old).
The Highlights Book of Things To Do. 2020, Highlights for Children, Inc. Target age: K-Gr4 [libraries, bookstores, official promo video]
And I’ve got a bonus fiction item to share. On a Magical Do-Nothing Day is a picture-book ode to the benefits of boredom, compounded by rain. I got this book hoping it would work like a spell for the kids, inspiring them to embrace the adventure of being outside when it’s rainy and dank. They like it well enough, I think, but I realized it’s not the kids who need the spell – it’s me. I often feel overwhelmed at the prospect of getting the family out when it’s dreary. All the suiting up, and figuring out what we need to bring, and what if we’re too cold, and then processing all the wet clothes and muddy boots, and where to put the four umbrellas to dry out. You can see how I’m doing this wrong, right? This book is a good reminder that it’s enough to just get out into the soggy world and have a look around and before you know it, you’re on an adventure. And it doesn’t have to be a long one! Truth be told, though, I’ll be staying inside for the time-being. For now I’m enjoying this book as a safe proxy for a milder rainy-day experience.
On A Magical Do Nothing Day. 2019, Béatrice Alemagna, Jill Davis. Target age: PreK-Gr2 [libraries, bookstores, read aloud, recent author interview discussing her process]
Beautiful thoughts and wonderful resources, as always. Thank you for this.