Book Review: Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery, Scott Kelly

Book Review: Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery, Scott Kelly

 

Nonfiction Memoir: Many people were surprised to read that 7% of astronaut Scott Kelly’s DNA had changed during his year in space. Among the surprised was Scott Kelly himself, who tweeted, “What? My DNA changed by 7%! Who knew? I just learned about it in this article. This could be good news! I no longer have to call @ShuttleCDRKelly my identical twin brother anymore.”

 

Fortunately (or not), Scott and Mark Kelly are still identical twins. The original headlines were misleading, a misunderstanding of early reports from yet unpublished studies comparing the twins during and after Scott Kelly’s year in space. Though his year in space may not have shuffled his DNA, it did provide a compelling backdrop to his memoir. Endurance: A Year in Space, a Lifetime of DIscovery, tells the story of that year. More, it tells the story of a man who challenged the odds and lived out his dreams.

 

Scott Kelly would not have been anyone’s pick to be a success in high school. An indifferent student and occasional troublemaker, he was turned down by most colleges. He credits the change in his life and direction to a book: The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe. Reading about the first astronauts gave him a life goal: become an astronaut. He transferred to a university where he could participate in Naval ROTC and devoted himself to becoming a student and a Navy pilot.

 

Very often, successful people are portrayed as having been destined for success. Less often do we consider the obstacles and failures that come between us and our dreams. Scott Kelly’s memoir is honest, sometimes painfully so. He barely graduated from high school. His first year of college was so poor that he had to start again as a freshman when he transferred. He occasionally sabotaged his own opportunities by making poor choices, and more than once survived his own foolishness through luck or a timely intervention by a friend or family member rather than through his own efforts. That is not to say he did not deserve the success he achieved. But his story easily could have been one that ended badly, a life of missed opportunities and wasted potential. Most of us would not choose to read that story–but many of us have lived part of it ourselves.

 

After becoming a Navy pilot, Kelly’s career advanced and he was eventually chosen to become a space shuttle pilot. Once the space shuttle program ended, he went on to become part of the International Space Station mission, and in this role participated in a year-long mission along with cosmonaut Mikhail “Misha” Kornienko. The goal of this mission was to study the long-term effects of space on the human body.

 

Eventually, humans are likely to explore the solar system through manned missions. Even a mission to our closest planetary neighbor, Mars, would take more than a year in space before arriving. Given the changes human bodies experience during shorter times in space, it is still an unanswered question how well people would be able to function upon arriving at Mars. Kelly and Kornienko have proven that humans could survive a journey that long and could re-acclimate to gravity at the end of the trip. What remains uncertain still are the long-term effects of the journey. Hopefully the ongoing studies of these two men and others will prepare us for the next stage in human exploration.

Other Works Mentioned in Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery

The Right Stuff

Tom Wolfe

Nonfiction

Covers the early period of the US space program, Project Mercury, the first operational manned space flight program based on interviews with astronauts, their wives, test pilots, and other key personnel.

In 1983, a PG movie adaptation was made that won 4 Oscars. For more on the movie adaptation see the review on https://www.commonsensemedia.org/movie-reviews/the-right-stuff

Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage

Alfred Lansing

Nonfiction

The story of leadership and teamwork necessary to survive the crossing of Antarctica in 1915 by explorer Ernest Shackleton and his 27 men. Lancing used survivor interviews and personal diaries to create this account. Scott Kelly took a his copy of Endurance to the space station.

Gravity

A  2003 science fiction thriller rated PG-13 which won 7 Oscars and another 232 other awards or accolades. A dramatic story of two astronauts stranded in space. For more on this movie see the review on https://www.commonsensemedia.org/movie-reviews/gravity

The Martian

Andy Weir

Science Fiction

Assumed dead and abandoned, Mark Watney must find a way to let Earth know that he is still alive and find a way to survive until rescue. For more information on the book see the review on https://www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews/the-martian

For more on the 2015 PG-13 movie adaptation which won Golden Globe awards for best picture and best actor, see the review on https://www.commonsensemedia.org/movie-reviews/the-martian

If you are going to have an astronaut movie marathon, it won’t be complete without the classic  Apollo 13 which won 2 Oscars and numerous other awards. Based on the true true story of NASA’s persistence and determination,  “Failure is not an option” to bring three astronauts back to earth after an accidental oxygen tank explosion on the way to the moon. For more on this movie see the review on https://www.commonsensemedia.org/movie-reviews/apollo-13

 

Share your favorite book or movie about astronauts or space here 

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Book Review: Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations, Amy Chua

Book Review Nonfiction: Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations, Amy Chua

 

 

Tribalism is a form of macro-group identification that runs much deeper in the human psyche than we may realize. Humans are hard-wired to belong. Group identification starts in infancy with family bonding, but quickly we start learning who is “us” and who is “them.” Even babies react differently to photos of strangers depending on the ethnicity of the subjects; photos of people that “look” like the ethnic group the baby is from are generally received more positively by the baby. As we grow, other tribal identifiers become important: language, dress, religion, accent. Although we Americans live in a multiethnic society, these innate needs to belong to a group are no less important to us. Ignoring their existence can lead us to misinterpret the world we live in, and can create tensions and conflicts that could be avoided with a little more awareness.

 

Americans tend to ignore the power of tribalism. We do this at our peril, and to our disadvantage in both national and international politics. Amy Chua diagnoses this often wilful ignorance in her book Political Tribes, and shows numerous specific examples of how the failure to account for tribal behavior has hurt us.

 

We seldom think about tribalism within America, and indeed, Chua describes America as being unique in creating a tribe of its own, one that supersedes typical tribal delineators of ethnicity, religion, economics, language, etc. Within this super tribe, though, are also harbingers of new tribes forming. The 2016 election was possibly a foretaste of tribal fracturing; coastal elites were surprised by the collective electoral power wielded by less affluent whites from the midwest and south. The growing multiethnicity of America may also harden those tribal differences, as the increasing population of Asian and Hispanic residents diminishes the relative power of poor and middle class whites.

 

Many of Chua’s examples come from recent foreign policy mistakes. America learned some of the wrong lessons from her successes rebuilding Germany and Japan after World War II. Both of those countries were largely homogeneous, essentially comprised of one tribe of people. Japan had long been that way. Though there are minorities in Japan, they are very small in number compared to the predominate Japanese people and do not factor largely in political or economic decision making. Germany’s single tribe was created through violence and ethnic cleansing: the Holocaust and purging of ethnic minorities under the Nazi regime. The end result for both countries was an internal unity that, even in defeat, created an environment amenable to democratic reforms. Thus the rapid democratization and economic growth seen after World War II was in no small measure a result of the already unified and largely homogenous populations of those countries.

 

Vietnam may have been America’s first and greatest military defeat, but before the military defeat was a failure to understand the tribal dynamics of the country. Vietnam was far from the unified population found in Japan or Germany. Not only were there numerous people groups native to the peninsula, but there were centuries of interaction with China along with a significant minority of ethnic Chinese within the country. This minority held disproportionate power, especially economically. This power imbalance led to resentment and mistrust, and when first the French and later the US took the side of the hated elites, popular resistance and opposition was assured. Chua’s analysis is that the Cold War backdrop that featured so prominently in American planning and understanding of the war and the entire context in Vietnam masked the real situation: the Vietnamese people were tribally motivated to assert their independence from their Chinese minority, and far from being interested in the Communist/Capitalist battle for the world they were completely focused on asserting their own will within their own borders.

 

More recently, both Iraq and Afghanistan have occupied American attention and have been occupied by American troops for almost two decades. Both have eluded resolution through military and political measures, through Republican and Democratic administrations. And both countries are highly tribal. Shia and Sunni and Kurd tribes in Iraq have been rivals for centuries, separated by both religious differences and competing economic interests. Multiple tribes inhabit the land of Afghanistan, but the ethnic Pashtuns have dominated both government and economic spheres for generations. This has led to resentment and conflict between the differing tribes, often resulting in bloodshed. Into this morass of tribal rivalries and ethnic hostility within the countries America sent troops, usually without knowledge of the history or traditions that ran deeper than any political structures. Without that key local knowledge, that understanding of tribal passions and historical animus, Americans often deepened rifts and created or exacerbated hostilities that perhaps could have been avoided with a deeper understanding of the tribal divisions that predated their arrival.

 

Chua warns that no tribe easily or willingly lets go of power, influence, or wealth. If we continue to ignore the power of tribalism, we may find ourselves consumed by its power within our own borders.

American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures in North America

Colin Woodard

Nonfiction

For a different perspective on internal cultural differences within the United States, Colin Woodard’s book American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures in North America is IMO (in my opinion) a more hopeful look at both what separates us as a country and what binds us together. Woodard identifies ethnic and cultural heritages that continue to echo and shape us, both making us one nation and making us distinct peoples within that nation. Woodard observes that many of these regional differences carry influence even upon newcomers and immigrants: in many ways Vietnamese immigrants to Houston will, within a generation, be more similar to other Texans than they will be to people who may share their lineage but settled in California instead. Although there are concerns about what divides these nations, there is also great encouragement that the power of American ideals and ideas continues to unite people who choose to settle here.

Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations

 

If you are interested in political policy also see

Book Review Nonfiction: Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness, Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein

What tribe or tribes do you belong to? If you belong to multiple tribes, which tribe do you associate with the most? How does a macro-groupthink dynamic influence your everyday choices? Share your thoughts here 

Booklist: Spring Books for Shared Reading with Children

Booklist: Spring Books for Shared Reading with Children

 

The onset of seasonal allergies aside, spring is the favorite season of many. With the renewed energy from blooming flowers, hatching eggs, and bouncing bunnies, there is also the welcome of shared reading about spring on a warm and sunny day outside or crisp yet cozy spring night. Share the joy and exuberance of spring with the children in your life.

 

Before Shared Reading

Many spring books mark the transition between winter and spring by giving picture clues in the beginning and end pages of the book (the first/last spread between the covers the the rest of the book). Check and see if your book does and provide that hint to your child before reading.

Spring books tend to have pastel colors. Point to and label these colors, let your child know that these are lighter shades of the typical primary colors they usually see. For older children, you can expand their vocabulary by bringing in science color words such as, hue, saturation, and gradation.

 

During Shared Reading

Point out and label objects in the pictures. Remember that your child might be young enough to have only vague or fuzzy memories of the previous year, so the material might be new to them.

Note, time is a difficult concept for young children, so reiterate that waiting, anticipation, and patience might be needed to see spring. It might help to break time down into recognizable units related to their daily schedule, such as “after naptime we can go for our walk” or “it will take at least 10 night time sleeps for the seeds to sprout; we can mark each night on the calendar.”

 

After Shared Reading

Go on a spring walk with your child and look for anything that might have been mentioned in the the books you were reading – flowers, plants, eggs, birds, and animals. Talk about the similarities and differences between the story representations and the real objects.

For a long term project, start some seedlings indoors for transplant  to an outdoor container in the spring. Plants which are easy to grow from seed for children include marigolds and nasturtiums both edible flowers. Some plants such as celery, carrots with partial tops, onions, and garlic can be started from kitchen leftovers in water, then moved to a pot for planting.

If you used the color discussion prompt before reading, follow-up on that with some color exploration with washable paints.

Booklist: Spring Books for Shared Reading with Children

Spring is Here

Words and Pictures by Will Hillenbrand

Picture Book Ages 3 – 6

Mole is awake and spring is here! Oh, but he needs his friend bear to share spring with — time to wake up bear. Also see Finding Spring by Carin Berger.

When Spring Comes

Words by Kevin Henkes

Pictures by Laura Dronzek

Picture Book 3 – 8

Watch as the world transforms from winter to spring with each turn of the page. A lovely collaboration between this award winning husband and wife team. Also see by the same author, Egg, a nearly wordless book which has a delightful plot twist.

Make Way for Ducklings

Words and Pictures by Robert McCloskey

Picture Book Ages 4 – 8

Caldecott Medal

The classic story of a duck family stopping Boston traffic to get from their nest to the park’s pond.  If you’re ever in Boston see the duck statues in the park.

Miss Rumphius

Words and Pictures by Barbara Cooney

Picture Book Ages 5 – 8

American Book Award Winner

Based on a true person, this story shares how Alice Rumphius scattered lupin seeds during her walks in Maine, leaving a living legacy of flowers.

And Then It’s Spring

Words by Julie Fogliano

Pictures by Erin E Stead

Picture Book Ages 4 – 8

Watch and wait with a boy and his dog for the arrival of spring in their garden.

In Like a Lion, Out Like a Lamb

Words by Marion Dane Bauer

Pictures by Emily Arnold McCully

This rhyming story illustrates the traditional spring phrase about March coming in like a lion, in this case a muddy mess, and leaving like a lamb.

The Tiny Seed

Words and Pictures by Eric Carle

The classic picture book showing the life-cycle of a flower from seed to blossom. Also see The Seasons of Arnold’s Apple Tree by Gail Gibbons for a complete overview of the seasons.

Everything Spring

By Jill Esbaum

Part of the National Geographic Kids series Picture the Seasons, this books has beautiful photos of spring.  Celebrate and discover the joys of spring with this gorgeous book. If your family enjoys photos, then see the photo-story, Lost in the Woods by Carl R. Sams II and Jean Stoick.

Fletcher and the Springtime Blossoms

Words by Julia Rawlinson

‎Pictures by Tiphanie Beeke

Fletcher the fox sees tree blossoms and mistakes them for snow in springtime leading his friends into a forest wide panic, oops!

999 Frogs Wake Up

Words and Pictures by Ken Kimora

A sequel to 999 Tadpoles, in this quirky story the frogs wake up find everyone else is still asleep, so they go around waking everyone up — big frog, old turtle! Uh-oh, what about snake?

Rabbit’s Spring Adventure

Words by Anita Loughrey

Pictures by Daniel Howarth

A beautiful spring day is so distracting, that rabbit gets lost in the woods. Who will help him find his way home?

 

If you like this book like see for other similar reads:

Booklist Bunnys: If You Like Peter Rabbit…

Booklist Worms: Worms on the Sidewalk, Books for Shared Reading

Share your favorite spring books here

 

Booklist: LOL Books to Laugh Out Loud with Your Children

Booklist: LOL Books to Laugh Out Loud with Your Children

The day before I went to see the grandgirls, I was in the bookstore and saw a picture book with a funny cover that was on sale. Of course, I just had to buy it!

It was one of the best things I have ever bought in my life.  I was on the second or third re-read of Mother Bruce with granddaughter #1 , who is currently age 2, when my son sat down near us.  He chuckled along, then laughed out loud when we got to the page “He liked to support local business, you see.” My daughter in-law came into the room when we got to the section “Bruce was very stern and said things like ‘Go away!’ And ‘I am not your mother!’ And also ‘I liked you better when you were eggs’” and she blurted out “What are you reading?” with the most incredulous look on her face that my son and I broke out in chuckles; context is everything. Granddaugher #1, of course, was not impressed that there was an interruption to her story time.  That weekend we read Mother Bruce at least a half dozen more times. Since then, my husband has taken the book into work to show his colleague who also has grandchildren, who also loved it. Spread the joy, spread the laughter!

Laughing out loud with your kids is a good thing. Research shows that laughter and humor connects with cognitive and language development as well as positive social/emotional growth.  

In order to get a joke or see something as humorous, a person has to have an understanding of cause and effect. More complicated forms of humor require abstract thinking with an ability to use symbols or substitutions of one thing for another or knowing when one thing does not belong within a set (as the old Sesame Street song goes “one of these things is not like the other…). Laughter is a solid way of knowing that your child has a growing awareness of situations around them and can perform simple analysis by categorizing a scenario as funny. So, reading and laughing with your child is time to be enjoyed and encouraged.

Before Shared Reading

When you introduce the book, note the title, author, illustrator, and say that this should be a fun story or funny book. Comment on any cover art that gives clues on story plot or what your child might find funny.

During Shared Reading

Point out plot points, phrases, or illustrations that provide humor clues by noting that something is silly or funny. Note expressions on characters’ faces that show how they feel and ask your child to describe those feelings.

After Shared Reading

Ask your child what they thought was the funniest parts of the story or pictures and what makes those pieces funny. During re-reads build vocabulary by labeling those funny parts as silly, ridiculous, quirky, witty, amusing or droll as alternative words for funny. For older children try some symbolic substitution, would they still think the scene was funny if it happened to them.

 

Booklist: LOL Laugh Out Loud Books for Infants and Toddlers

Blue Hat, Green Hat

Words and Pictures by Sandra Boynton

Board Book Ages Infants & Toddlers

Turkey makes this introduction to colors and getting dressed an adventure with his silly antics. Also, purple socks!

Don’t Let Pigeon Drive the Bus

Words and Pictures by Mo Willems

Picture Book, First in a Series Ages 2 – 6

Caldecott Honor Book

Pigeon tries to beg and whine his way with the reader, but the bus driver said, “Don’t let Pigeon Drive the Bus!” Son #3 adored Pigeon (perhaps because they were so alike?) Will be a family favorite! Also see Mo Willems’ Knuffle Bunny trilogy.

For more LOL Books for infants and toddlers see Author Spotlight: Sandra Boynton

Booklist: LOL Laugh Out Loud Picture Books for Shared Reading with Children

Mother Bruce

Words and Pictures by Ryan T. Higgins

Picture Book Ages 4 – 8

E. B. White Read Aloud Winner and Ezra Jack Keats Book Award, New Illustration Honor

Bruce, a solitary and grumpy bear, is faced with hard work and challenging choices when a case of mistaken identity turns his fancy breakfast into gosling fosterlings. What’s a bear to do when his geese won’t migrate?

Bob, Not Bob “To Be Read as Though You Have the Worst Cold Ever”

Words by Liz Garton Scanlon and Audrey Vernick

Pictures by Matt Cordell

Picture Book Ages 4 – 8

We’ve all been there, when you have a cold you sound like a muppet. This books plays on  the frustration of trying to pronounce your words correctly with a stuffy nose, but it’s all ok when you have a Bob (pet dog) and a not Bob (mom) to help you when you feel sick. Remember as the cover states this book is “to be read as though you have the worst cold ever.”

I am Not a Chair

Words and Pictures by Ross Burach

Picture Book, Ages 4 – 8

A twist on the typical first day of school story, here is Giraffe’s first day in the jungle.  Why does everyone think he’s a chair? How is Giraffe going to clear up this confusion?

Muddle and Mo

Words and Pictures by Nikki Slade Robinson

Picture Book Ages 4 – 8

Muddle the duck and Mo the goat are both friends.  Mo helps Muddle figure out their differences when Muddle doesn’t understand that Mo is not a duck too.

Guess Again

Words by Mac Barnett, Pictures by Adam Rex

Picture Book Ages 4 – 8

Expect the unexpected, this is not your typical guessing game. Each rhyming riddle sets the reader to guess the answer, but the illustrations provide a misleading clue to a totally random and clever reveal.

Is Everyone Ready for Fun

Words and Pictures by Jan Thomas

Picture Book Ages 3 – 8

Three cows invade chicken’s sofa with jumping, dancing and wiggling.  Kids will want to join the cows in their fun and pretend to be cows too,  while the grown-up reader came sympathize and give voice to the exasperated chicken.; an easy book to dramatize while reading.

That’s Not a Hippopotamus

Words by Juliette MacIver

Pictures by Sarah Davis

Picture Books Ages 4 – 8

A class field trips gets turned upside down, when the hippopotamus goes missing.

Booklist: LOL Laugh and Read Aloud Chapter Books for Elementary and Middle Schoolers

Fortunately the Milk

Neil Gaiman

Similar to the escalating hilarity found in Dr Seuss’ And to Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street, this story builds as a dad explains to his kids in great zany detail, why it took him so long to fetch some milk for the breakfast cereal. The ultimate book to showcase “Dad Humor” with this dad’s improbable adventures.

8 Class Pets + 1 Squirrel + 1 Dog = Chaos

Vivian Vande Velde

Twitch the squirrel get chased into the school by Cuddles the principal’s dog, now the school pets are on a rescue mission to save Twitch.

I, Funny: A Middle School Story

James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein

Part 1 of a Series

Jamie Grimm is on a quest to become a comedian and entering The Planet’s Funniest Kid Comic is a step towards his goal; but his journey is filled with both comedy and drama, because hey, this is a middle school story.

Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch

Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

The world is suppose to end on Saturday, but where is the Antichrist? A bookish angel and a demon with car issues team up to save the planet.

The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure

William Goldman

The title says it all and the 1987 PG movie adaptation is a rare gem since it is just as good maybe even better than the book, both are classics.

Mort

Terry Pratchett

Mort, slightly inept but with a good heart, becomes the apprentice to Death, yes, that Death, the one with the horse and scythe. A great introduction to the madcap and marvelous Discworld series.

 

Recommend your favorite LOL funny books here