History of Inventions – The Walls of Jericho Edition

I tried to entice my son into studying history. I tried and I failed. And then I tried again some time later and he still wasn’t interested. I blame English grammar. You see, my son really dislikes English grammar. He loves logic and believes rules are there to be followed (ok, at least when it comes to phonics). So English reading is hard for him. Every time we learn a new reading/spelling rule, he finds an exception. And then he asks why it is so. And I give him a short answer “because of the long and rich history of English language.” And now he says “History is bad because it makes things complicated.” Go argue with that!

But he loves stories. And he loves inventions. And he LOVES-LOVES-LOVES stories about inventors and inventions. So in one of my brighter moments I realized that instead of learning history, we can just learn history of inventions. And guess what? He LOVED the idea!

I’m going to  skip our first few “lessons” on Stone Age. Mostly because I don’t have any pictures of our awesome timeline. But now, after a short summer break, we’re getting back to the Bronze Age.

So here’s what we did for our first Bronze Age lesson:

  1. Read the “Early Nomads Become Farmers” in the Story of the World Volume 1
  2. Searched for the Fertile Crescent on the world map. Looked at what countries are there now.
  3. Checked out a ton of pictures of Euphrates and Tigris online
  4. Read the entry on Agriculture in Isaac Asimov’s most excellent Chronology of Science & Discovery
  5. Talked about in what ways it was better to stay in place and raise crops and animals and in what ways it was worse (than a nomadic life)
  6. Looked at pictures of archaeological digs at Jericho
  7. Later that day in the “myths and stories that aren’t historical facts” part of our school (aka just another storytime) we read the Walls of Jericho story from a Children’s Bible.
  8. Trying to take the kid’s mind off of the horrific part where it says that everyone in Jericho, including women and children, was killed.
  9. Listened to the Radiolab podcast about the physics behind breaking solid objects with sound. And watched a YouTube video on how to do it with a glass.

So, as you can see, lots of theoretical knowledge (not to mention learning big words such as agriculture, irrigation, domestication, sedentary life, all in two languages – English and Russian). But not to worry, the hands-on part is coming up next.

Amur Fairy Tales – Амурские Сказки

Амурские сказки Amur Fairy Tales

I confess, sometimes when I say “I’m buying this book for my son”, I’m actually buying it for myself. Happens a lot more often than I care to do admit, actually. And that’s exactly how I got Амурские Сказки Дмитрия Нагишкина (Amur Fairytales by Dmitry Nagishkin).

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You see, my kid is not into fairy tales. Never has been. When he was 2-3 years old, I tried reading him all the traditional Russian ones, from The Giant Turnip to the Ivan the Tzar’s Son and the Gray Wolf. He listened halfheartedly and soon enough would refuse to listen to them altogether.

So I kinda knew (and by “kinda” I mean I was 100% certain) that he would ignore this book just as he ignored the rest of them. So yeah, I bought Amur Fairytales for myself.

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Except then something awesome happened. My fairy tales-disliking child liked the book. He loved the illustrations and he asked me to read him one story. Then – another one. And another. And soon I had to put a limit on our reading time before I lost my voice. But even after the reading ends, we spend some time just looking through the book.

Needless to say, the illustrations, by Геннадий Павлишин (Gennadiy Pavlishin), are nothing but amazing. The illustrator studied intricate ornaments decorating traditional crafts of the Nanai people.

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This book turned out to be one of the most amazing additions to our library. Everything about it is top quality. Even the paper it is printed on is this thick, glossy paper that is pleasant to touch. The littlest details are lovely, down to uniquely decorated page numbers.

The fairy tales themselves are lovely in a earthy way. Unlike in many Russian fairy tales, the heroes of these stories are no fools. Magical objects do not just happen to fall in their hands. No palaces get built. No damsels in distress get rescued and become princesses. And most animals do not talk to humans.

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What’s left though is somehow no less magical since these stories are set “long time ago when a man, looking at a rock, thought it to be a rock sprite; looking at a bear, thought it a taiga sprite; looking at a fish, thought it a water sprite; looking at a tree – a tree sprite.” So all kinds of magical things could happen then that no longer happen.

But apart from the text, the illustrations and the high print quality, there are other reasons I am absolutely in love with this book.

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For example, raising a bilingual child, parents are concerned that the non-dominant language would be moved to the status of the “kitchen language”. Yes, it’s something that the child speaks, but within a limited range of topics, usually having to do with daily tasks. Amur Fairy Tales’s vocabulary is amazingly rich. While the sentences are short and easy to read, there are so many words – сопка, юрта, унты, тетива, шаман, нарты and many more – that occur often and enrich child’s vocabulary. There are also quite a few regional words, words directly from the local dialects, that even some adults might not know. For these there are explanations. Many of the objects described by these words can be found in the illustrations. So once you’re done reading, you can play an “I Spy” game with your child!

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Here’s another reason why this book is so awesome. All the stories are very regional. They don’t just take place on the Amur. Many are very specific in their geographical references. So we always keep our globe handy when reading. It is so awesome to find the rivers, mountain ranges and islands mentioned directly or alluded to in the book. For example, in one story the hero walked westward from his village and after many days came to a huge wall as long as the eye could see. My son guessed that it was the Great Wall of China.

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Finally, the book is amazingly mathematical (as many fairy tales are). There are patterns of multiplication hidden in many stories and an attentive listener (or reader) will notice them. Like, in one story a hero climbs up one mountain and there are three owls on the top of it. Then there are six owls on the top of the next mountain. How many, do you think, will be sitting on the top of the third mountain? How about the fourth mountain?

There are also visual patterns in the illustrations, rich symmetries and gorgeous tiling of shapes. So even if you don’t read Russian, but you just come across this book, you can still enjoy the artwork (and the math).

And as a bonus, here are a couple of YouTube cartoons to watch (in Russian, but with English subtitles). They tell fairy tales very similar to the ones in the book.

If you now feel you MUST own this book, the best way to order it (for those who live in the US) is through the Ozonru.com site.