American Wolf by Nate Blakeslee

unknownAmerican Wolf

by Nate Blakeslee

I love a good non-fiction, especially one that reads like a novel, and this one fits the bill.  I chose it for my book club on the recommendation of PBS Newshour-NY Times Book Club, and it ended up being one of those somewhat rare books that touched me deeply and has stayed with me in the weeks since I finished it.

American Wolf chronicles the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone Park after virtually all wolves were eliminated from the park and the United States through hunting and trapping, sanctioned by state and federal initiatives.  Realizing over time, however, how the absence of wolves from Yellowstone negatively impacted the park’s ecosystem, a handful of wolves were brought to the park from Canada to repopulate the park, and the lower 48.  While the book follows several Yellowstone wolf packs, its focus is on a female wolf named O-Six (for the year of her birth, 2006).

I somehow missed all the news stories when O-Six and the wolves of Yellowstone were the subject of not only news stories, but of litigation concerning the battle between hunters and conservationists, but this book gave me a great education on those topics.  It also forced me to examine my own thoughts and feelings about hunting and conservation.  What I can say after reading American Wolf is that I find myself deeply conflicted.  Intellectually, I see humans as predators, no different than wolves themselves; we are hunters, and we have a biological place in the food chain.  However, I would prefer to believe that my meat grows on trees; the thought of actually killing animals is deeply disturbing to me.  The book talks quite a bit about “fair chase,” a tenet that hunters hold, which I assume implies some sort of equality in the positions of animals being hunted and humans doing the hunting, and I find this notion ludicrously disingenuous.  How can any chase be fair when the hunter is using weapons designed and created with technology that no animal has a chance against?  In any case, I do find trophy hunting absolutely immoral – and wolves are largely the target of trophy hunters.

O-Six’s story, and the story of the Yellowstone wolves as told by Blakeslee, is majestic and heartbreaking.  It is an education on wolves, Yellowstone Park, and the people who love them.  I really loved this book.

Women v. Religion by Karen L. Garst, Ph.D.

UnknownWomen v. Religion: The Case Against Faith – and For Freedom

edited by Karen L. Garst, Ph.D.

I recently had a conversation with an acquaintance that left me astounded, angry and disturbed.  I knew this acquaintance is a pretty serious Christian, and she knew that I am atheist – but even so, the conversation was not something I saw coming.  It began with, “Did you hear about so-and-so who has worked at the high school being arrested for having a sexual relationship with a student?” and led to her expressing her belief that the existence of porn is to blame because it perverts people, which led to her sharing various other strongly held beliefs, such as the fact that men are genetically designed to be the providers (“So there’s a provider gene, then?” I asked), that the pay gap between men and women is a myth cooked up by liberals, that homosexuality and transgenderism are mental illnesses that we should be helping to cure instead of encouraging and enabling, that women do not belong in combat (she herself was in the Navy), nor do they belong in high-level positions in the workforce because they’re just going to go have babies anyway (as God intended), that without God there is no morality (“But look at me!  I don’t have god and I’m extremely moral and ethical!” I said), and the list went on.  I asked her what the basis is for all of this “knowledge” she claims.  She cited some ancient text of stories passed down orally by illiterate shepherds a few thousand years ago.  You know, the Bible.

What pissed me off about what she expressed to me – besides the utter ignorant prejudice – was how her views, which are undoubtedly held by many, many people, hurt women and girls.  It’s not a simple matter of different people hold different beliefs and to each her own – these are the beliefs that drive the public policies that continue to harm and oppress women.  These are the people whose willfully ignorant, self-righteous views will continue to harm my daughters – and their own daughters.

This stands out as a perfect example of how bad religion is for women.


Karen Garst’s Women v. Religion: The Case Against Faith – and For Freedom is an excellent follow-up to her Women Beyond Belief.  Like Women Beyond Belief, Women v. Religion is a collection of essays by women from various religious backgrounds, from all walks of life, but it goes beyond just sharing personal experiences of leaving religion and delves deeply into the whys and hows of the harm religion and religious faith do to women and girls, mainly by perpetuating the notion that males are preordained by God to be dominant over females.  I read Women v. Religion with highlighter in hand, and when I was done, half the book was pink.  I certainly didn’t need convincing, though.  The fact is, religious faith and real feminism cannot peacefully coexist.

Garst’s books should be required reading for anyone who cares about women, and certainly for anyone raising daughters.

Supporting Positive Behavior in Children and Teens with Down Syndrome by David Stein, Psy.D.

51tfcynwrslSupporting Positive Behavior in Children and Teens with Down Syndrome

by David Stein, Psy.D.

I came across this book purely by chance when I saw a friend post a photo of it on Instagram. The title struck me, and I immediately ordered a copy from Amazon.

I’ll start by saying that we have dealt with behavior issues with Finn, our 8-year old son with Ds, for a long time.

Read my review in its entirety here.

Women Beyond Belief by Karen Garst

41tlozs0el-_sx331_bo1204203200_Women Beyond Belief

Edited by Karen Garst

I am so happy that this book has come on the literary scene – particularly the religious and feminist literary scenes.  There are a plethora of books written on the subject of religion, the vast majority of which have been authored by men (which is just another symptom of the patriarchal society we continue to live in).

A collection of essays written by an array of women from different walks of life, these pages tell the deeply personal stories of how religion has impacted the lives of these people, both as individuals and specifically as women.  Since the time that men put pen to parchment claiming that Eve was created for Adam and that she was the source of original sin, religion has been used to repress and subjugate women and girls.  Actually, since even before that time; most religions that existed before Christianity also viewed and treated females as wicked, as the property of men, as less than men.  And because religion is so deeply ingrained in humankind, perceptions, and treatment of women and girls continue to be based on ancient and deeply disturbing beliefs stemming from superstition and a quest for power and control.

These stories also tell how rejecting religion and superstitious beliefs has impacted the lives of these women: in some ways painful, but ultimately liberating.

I related to every story in this book in some way, and a few moved me more than others.  This isn’t a book meant to persuade anyone; rather, it offers empathy to those of us who have walked the path of rejecting religion and supernatural belief, and a sense of perspective to anyone who cares how religion – both practicing and rejecting – impacts women, and why so many people (women in particular) end up denouncing religious belief.  That said, there are definitely some very well-articulated essays based on obvious exhaustive study contained in this book that should give any believer pause.

I am grateful that there are more and more female atheist voices telling their stories and sharing their views.  I highly recommend this book to non-believers and believers alike.

Rad Women A-Z by Kate Schatz

Rad American Women A-Z: Rebels, Trailblazers, and Visionaries who Shaped Our History . . . and Our Future!livewhale_0edf491e146e0bbc9b4f57eb9020f28a

by Kate Schatz

This was the first book I chose to read with my daughters (ages 9, 11, and 11) for our literature unit for homeschooling this school year.  It highlights 26 noteworthy American women, one for each letter of the alphabet.  The title pretty much says it all.

My girls and I really enjoyed this book.  I’m embarrassed to admit that there are several women in it whom I was not familiar.  Each page includes a cool painting of the women highlighted, and a good deal of interesting facts.  The women portrayed are very diverse, in historical placement, ethnicity, and contributions.

It’s a perfect feminist non-fiction for the ‘tween and younger teen set.

Grace Without God by Katherine Ozment

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by Katherine Ozment

I was asked to read and review this book by TLC Book Tours.tlc-logo-resized

The book’s genesis, apparently, was a particular night some years ago during which the author and her young son witnessed a religious procession through their neighborhood. Her son asked her what the people walking up the street holding candles were doing, and she explained to him that it was a religious ritual.

Read more here.

A Young People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn

51IF0AJcUYL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_A Young People’s History of the United States

by Howard Zinn

adapted by Rebecca Stefoff

As last summer wound down, I was gathering materials to use to homeschool my then almost nine-year old daughter and almost eleven-year old twin daughters.  I wanted to approach U.S. History with them in a different way than it had been presented to them in conventional public school up to that point.  Specifically, I wanted to break away from the white-washed version of history which portrays every American historical figure (most of them white) as a hero, and America as “the land of the free and the home of the brave” without examining underlying complexities and uncomfortable truths about the country which we call home.  In a nutshell, I don’t want my children fed a diet of zealous patriotism and nationalism.

On several recommendations, I bought A Young People’s History of the United States and used it as our history “curriculum” this school year.  It was a great choice.  Adapted for younger readers (Amazon doesn’t specify an age range, but I would say ages 10 through teens) from Zinn’s original A People’s History of the United States (which I have, but haven’t read.  I hope to at some point), A Young People’s History covers the time from Columbus mistakenly arriving in America to the “War on Terror” and the George W. Bush presidency.  Told from “the people’s” point of view rather than from the point of view of those in power, this wonderful book discusses the many social and political issues that have shaped, and continue to shape the United States – slavery, segregation, labor unions, poverty, women’s rights, the political issues that have driven the wars in which the United States has been involved, and more.

My daughters and I really enjoyed our time studying U.S. History using this book as our guide this school year.  We would sit down together two or three times a week and take turns reading aloud from A Young People’s History, and our readings always led to interesting discussions, and often to further studies elsewhere.

Highly recommend.

The Importance of Being Little by Erika Christakis

41tG-7btZ+L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ The Importance of Being Little: What Preschoolers Really Need from Grownups

by Erika Christakis

Maybe you’ve already seen this hardcover book, released earlier this month, at Barnes & Noble.  I saw it there, both on the “New Releases” table at the front of the store, and in the Parenting/Childcare section.  I’ll take this as an indication that the book is enjoying some decent publicity, and that the publisher hopes to make this a staple in the literary niche pertaining to child rearing and education.  Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from a publicist at Viking/Penguin asking me to read and review it, which I agreed to do.  I am not being compensated for this review; these are my genuine thoughts.

Adding to the growing body of research and literature that decries the current state of public/conventional education in the U.S., The Importance of Being Little homes in on preschool and kindergarten.  Drawing on anecdotes from various sources, her own personal experiences as a preschool teacher (and parent), as well as plenty of research, Christakis, who is backed by impressive credentials in the field of child development, methodically explains how modern preschools and kindergarten programs and classrooms are largely counterproductive to how young children actually learn and thrive.  We focus far too much on academics in younger and younger children, overwhelm them with far too much external stimuli, “adultify” them, and fail to trust that children are not only wired, but eager to learn – it need not be directed and forced at such tender ages (I am witnessing this in my own three-year old right now).  What little kids need most in order to cultivate a love of learning is warm, responsive relationships with the adults in their lives (the author is specifically referring to their caregivers and teachers), freedom to be curious and explore, and, really, for grown-ups to get out of the way of their natural inclination to learn joyfully.

This book reminds me very much of Vicki Abeles’s Beyond Measure in its deconstruction of current methods and mindsets, and ideas about innovations and changes that could and should be made to contemporary educational models in order to nurture children’s minds, bodies, and hearts, except that The Importance of Being Little focuses on preschool and kindergarten, while Beyond Measure focuses on older elementary, middle, and high school.  The fact is, though, that there needs to be a major shift in how we do all school.  If an educational revolution doesn’t happen across all grades, we will continue to fail our children.  We can, and should, do better.

This is an excellent book.  Whether enough people will read it, and others like it, and begin to take our educational crisis seriously – and I don’t mean low academic rankings, I mean the education system’s place in the development of the whole child – remains to be seen.


Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

10BOOK-blog427-v2 Between the World and Me

by Ta-Nehisi Coates

It’s hard to summarize this book and do it any measure of justice.  Written by the author, a journalist who has written such raw, articulate articles as The Good, Racist People and The Case for Reparations, as a long letter to his teenaged son, this is one man’s account of what it means to be black in America.  To be black in America means carrying the scars and weight of history, to carry a fear and the knowledge that being black means being expected to try twice as hard, be twice as good, and settle for half as much.  It means navigating the world of white privilege among white people (or as Coates says, “people who believe themselves to be white”) who seem oblivious to their own privilege and the fact that it – and, indeed, America itself – was built on black bodies – disposable then, disposable now.

Toni Morrison said it right: this is required reading.

Beyond Measure by Vicki Abeles

51xuPFNA3-L._AC_UL320_SR212,320_ Beyond Measure: Rescuing an Overscheduled, Overtested, Underestimated Generation

by Vicki Abeles

If you’ve never seen the documentary Race to Nowhere and you are either a parent with kids in public school currently or kids who will be in public school in the future, or an educator, you need to see it.  Race to Nowhere came out a couple of years ago and it’s a well-researched expose on the state of modern education in America, and what it’s doing to our kids.

Beyond Measure is a follow-up book (there is also a film, which is not yet available for general viewing), written by the creator of Race to Nowhere.  Beyond Measure, too, is a further expose of today’s educational climate – with the extreme focus on testing and ranking and achievement and competition and resume-building – chock full of statistics, data, and anecdotes.  It’s very much a wake up call: something’s got to give, because we are making our kids sick; we are cultivating a generation of stressed out, depressed, disengaged kids who are terrified of failure or risk, and who don’t know what they’re truly interested in or passionate about because their whole lives have been so structured, guided, and micromanaged.

I can vouch for the reality of this gloom and doom prophesy, as I watched my own brilliant kid crash in high school.  There is not much that can compare with watching your child suffer such mental and emotional anguish.

Beyond the grim data, however, Beyond Measure offers hope.  Abeles has tirelessly traveled the country visiting schools and interviewing educators and administrators who DO see the damage being done to our youth, and who DO want to effect real change.  There are numerous schools across the U.S. that are implementing positive changes, big and small, in an effort to turn things around before it’s too late.

It would be wonderful if every parent and educator read this book and took it to heart.  I keep thinking that I should buy a couple of extra copies and give them to our elementary school principal (who is all about the numbers and not very much about the actual children) and our Superintendent.  I keep thinking that if they only read this, they would see the light and start making changes.  But the truth is, I’m not that hopeful.  I feel like our particular school district is too far gone – too entrenched in everything that is wrong with public education today, from academic expectations that are developmentally inappropriate, to unreasonable homework expectations, to withholding recess as a punishment, to supporting and defending Common Core and all the attending standardized testing.

Change, if it is to happen on a large scale, nationwide, will happen so slowly and incrementally that it will be years and years before this mess is turned around.  I can’t wait that long, which is why I’ve turned to homeschooling.

In any case, Beyond Measure is an excellent read, and really is a must read for all parents and educators.