Thursday, March 01, 2012

Library Day

Last week, Harry brought home the best library book he's chosen all year.

Actually, he brought home 2 library books because his class has recently been given a responsibility upgrade at the library.  By the time they are in 3rd grade, they'll get to check out 5 books a week, which seems like way too many books to me, especially after I saw a friend struggling under the weight of her 3rd grader's backpack.   Harry is ready for the responsibility of an extra book-- he is so gentle with these books, so careful.  He always puts them back in the back pack cabinet by the front door, so he never has to look for them, on library day, and he has never forgotten to return one on time.

We, however, are way better at handling one book.  His super cool book that I am going to tell you about in a minute?  We had to check it out twice because we just didn't get around the reading the whole thing last week.  In our defense, it is a long book.  Oh!  And yesterday morning, I read a chapter to all 3 kids valiantly trying to keep Cooper from eating the pages, and when I was done, I absent mindedly turned down the corner of the first page of chapter 5.  When Ben and Harry started reading chapter 5 after bath, Harry went white when he saw the dog-eared page.  "Okay," he told Ben calmly.  "I will just tell the librarian what happened.  I'll tell her right away, so I don't get in trouble."  I have met his lovely librarian, by the way.  She's not like Mrs. Gorf from Sideways Stories or anything-- she's very, very nice. I also know that lots of kids in Harry's class have forgotten their books or damaged them-- Harry is just super, super cautious with his library books and takes his borrowing privileges so sweetly seriously.  I wrote  note on a Post-it and confessed to the page folding, and he felt much better,

Anyway, the book.  Jack has been studying dinosaurs at preschool, so Harry is also way into dinosaurs, and for the last 6 weeks, he has been expanding our knowledge of them with his library books-- hence our trip to Rockford a month ago to see their tiny T. Rex.  Lat week, he brought home A Dinosaur Named Sue: The Story of a Colossal Fossil: The World's Most Complete T. Rex.   I am linking the title so you can read it yourself-- it's that good.  It;s about the discovery and assembly of the ginormous T. Rex at the Field Museum in Chicago (I smell another field trip in our future), but what Ben and I love so much about it is the way it problematizes everything we think we know about dinosaurs:  what they look like, how they moved, what they used their limbs for, how they might have died, what they ate, how they experienced the world, etc.  Sue, the book argues, might have had cancer.  Dinosaurs, it tells us, could have been covered with feathers, not lizard skin.  T. Rexes, it says, might not be the predators we have built them up to be-- how could they kill live prey with short, muscular arms that couldn't reach their mouths.  How could they defend themselves against attack? We'll never know anything about dinosaur sex categories, the book reminds us, or about how T. Rexes reproduced.  Scientists think eggs?  But they've never found one.

Dinosaurs and everything we know about them are rhetorical, culturally influenced stories we tell based on their bones.  We fit their skeletons into our own worldviews, but we know very little about the circumstances of their actual lives.  65 million years?  What does a number like that even mean?  How can we imagine it outside the bounds of modern America and our culturally dependent narratives?  We can't.  We have no idea.

Harry and Jack, by the way, did not react well to these kinds of questions, did not like standing on the fuzzy precipice of what might be, could not make the leap from the black and white information they've gleaned from PBS kids and their teachers.  "This book is stupid," Harry told us.  Jack offered a more mild view.  "One dinosaur had feathers," he said.  "I saw it on Dinosaur Train."

How can we compete with that?  What they know is absolute.  Maybe they will be historians, studying how things were, or scientists, studying how things are, instead of rhetoricians, studying how things come to be, how things might not be things at all.


  1. This is SUCH a great post! Love it.

    Come to the Field Museum -- we have passes and will join you and then host all our crazy kids for pizza dinner afterward.

  2. Loved this post! In fact, I just glanced at that book on Tuesday at the library. We'll have to check it out next time. You must visit Sue. And can I invite myself and my brood to meet up with you and SnarkyMommy at the Field? That would be stellar!

  3. This is such a great post! And such an interesting commentary on how kids learn things--all I learned from watching cartoons as a kid was to stay away from wooden crates marked ACME, because they were going to explode. Thanks, Wile E Coyote!