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Thursday, March 26, 2020

Williams

We are truly living through, as it is officially referred to in Switzerland, an extraordinary situation. As the world grapples with the COVid-19 virus, many parents are grappling with how this is impacting their children, which means more than just trying to figure out continuity for education during this crisis. It also means addressing any concerns or anxieties that their children might be having right now.

I remember the first time I realized, as a young teen, that "normal" life could be completely upended by events with a world-wide impact. I felt very unsettled as I learned about World War 1 and World War 2, and realized that adults didn't really have things figured out to the degree I assumed they had.

For the first time, I felt fear on an existential level.

My life-long interest in history is, in my opinion, directly rooted in the desire of young-me to deal with that existential fear by assuring myself, through learning about history, that the world had always encountered crises - the Black Death, world wars, and yes, even pandemics - and somehow humanity had managed each time to find a way through, and forward.

I think the most important thing we as adults can give to children and young people right now is that knowledge. To help them understand that humanity and society has periodically faced challenges on a global level, and has managed to survive, and find ways to thrive again, after they pass. It's important for young people to believe that there will be a "normal" again after this crisis passes, however long it takes for that new normal to arrive.

Books can help with this, so I'd like to recommend a book for middle grade readers, the wonderful Palace Beautiful by Sarah DeFord Williams. In this book, a contemporary young teenage girl, Sadie, finds an old diary when her family moves into a new home. The diary was written by a girl about her age during the flu pandemic of 1917-1918. The book tells two stories, the contemporary story of sisters Sadie and ZuZu, and their friend Bella, and that of Helen, who wrote the diary during the pandemic.

I've always loved this book, for a variety of reasons, but one of them is particularly relevant in this moment: it lets young readers know that even though sometimes big, scary things like pandemics happen, they also pass. As Sadie, ZuZu and Bella discover what happened to Helen after the last diary entry, young readers learn that there is life to look forward to after significant events, like pandemics, end. That there is, indeed, a new normal.

Wishing everyone safe, and well.

cover of the middle grade book Palace Beautiful by Sarah DeFord Williams

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Currently...

(re)Reading...


Pride & Prejudice, by Jane Austen.

Listening to...


the audiobook of Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery. 

Researching...


Circuses in the U.S. circa 1910. 

Waiting to Read...


A Seat at the Circus, by Antony Hippisley Coxe.

I'll be cracking this open as soon as it arrives in the post.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Robinson

It's almost February, which means it's the time of Fasnacht here in Switzerland - our version of Fasching (Germany), Mardi Gras or Carnivale. Clubs work for months preparing floats (often around a parade theme), while brass bands practice their Guggemusigg (parade song sets).

I had experienced Mardi Gras before, and knew about Carnivale, but until I moved here, I had no idea that similar celebrations took place in some of the Swiss cantons (only the Catholic ones - although one or two of the Reformed cantons are having parades these days). Since Fasnacht is not widely known outside of Switzerland (and perhaps, Germany), I was surprised to encounter it recently while listening to an audio book. Kim Stanley Robinson mentions it, as well as other aspects of Swiss culture, in the book "Red Mars." Apparently KSR lived in the French-speaking part of Switzerland for a time, and I'm assuming that's how Swiss people, and some Swiss customs, made their way into his book.

While I don't think he nails everything in his representations of the Swiss and their customs, his descriptions of Fasnacht rang true for me, and it was a delightful surprise to encounter Swiss characters and some aspects of Swiss culture in science fiction.

When I think of Fasnacht, in addition to Guggemusigg and parades, and the light crispy Fasnachtschueche, the other thing that comes instantly to mind is confetti. It's sold in large bags to be thrown by the spectators as the bands of musicians and parade floats pass by.

One of my favorite sayings is "Spread kindness like confetti." I love that thought. Confetti is thrown out randomly, without aim. It flutters in the air, mixing with the confetti thrown by other parade-goers, before landing on the pavement. Although the streets are always swept after the parades, some of the confetti clings stubbornly to the pavement for days and even weeks. And like its indoor cousin, glitter, confetti's superpower is getting everywhere.

For weeks after watching a parade, after you're sure you've found and thrown out every last circle of colored paper, you'll reach a hand in your pocket, or dig around in the bottom of a backpack or purse that you swear was practically hermetically sealed, only to find it: a lone piece of confetti.

I like the idea of spreading kindness like confetti. Of sending it out into the world with enthusiastic abandon, letting it mix with the kindnesses of others, and landing where it will. The world would be a better place if more of us spread kindness that generously.