‘Teach Your Children Well …’ Books to help kids fall in love with nature

Covers Just Like Me Climbing a Tree and The Olive Tree and Welcome to the NeighborwoodKIDS love our world—and expect those of us who are adults to take care of the planet until they are old enough to fully enjoy the Earth. One poll after another confirms that truth—and that’s a huge responsibility as Earth Day 2015 rolls around.

As adults who love kids, the first challenge is convincing children to open the door and explore our natural world. A nationwide study of kids by The Nature Conservancy concluded: “There is a growing disparity between the time kids spend indoors wired to technology and the time they spend outside enjoying nature. The vast majority of today’s kids use a computer, watch TV, or play video games on a daily basis, but only about 10 percent say they are spending time outdoors every day. Why? Lack of access to natural areas and discomfort with the outdoors are two primary factors.”

HOW WE’RE HELPING

‘JUST LIKE ME, CLIMBING A TREE’

OUR 1st OF 5 RECOMMENDATIONS—Kids have been climbing trees for thousands of years—so the appeal of Durga Yael Bernhard’s book will be almost universal among the kids you love. It’s also true that trees are endangered ecological engines that continually clean the air we breath, retain soil from erosion and provide all kinds of useful products: fruits, nuts, syrups, oils, wood for building shelters and fibers for a wide array of other materials that make our world a better place to live. But that’s not the primary story this artist and author tells us, as her readers. Oh, you’ll learn a whole lot about the huge range of trees around the world! I have a life-long love for Gingko trees and, in my own lifetime, I have planted a few gingkos in various towns. And, mid-way through this book, I smiled when I met a little Chinese girl high in a majestic Gingko with its fan-shaped leaves. I love olive trees, as well, and we meet a girl high in an olive tree in Israel. The author also tells us more about each kind of tree in the back pages of this large-format picture book—so there is real educational value here. But, as I say, that’s not the main storyline here. This book’s appeal is as simple as our timeless desire to look up into the trees around us—and dream of climbing high into those branches. That’s why Robert Frost’s Birches became an American classic. Before you close this book, you’ll see girls and boys in a dozen countries around the world scrambling into these leafy limbs. This could become a family favorite on your bookshelf. And, Just Like Me, Climbing a Tree: Exploring Trees Around the World is now available from Amazon.

‘THE OLIVE TREE’

THERE is a no more potent tree on Earth than the noble olive. In dozens of languages around the world, an “olive branch” means peace. Olives and olive trees are a part of the scriptures in millions of homes and communities, whether families are reading from the Hebrew scriptures, the Christian Bible or the Quran. And, the ownership and treatment of olive trees are matters of deep international concern. Author Elsa Marston understands all of that. She has a life-long fascination with the ancient world as well as the modern Middle East. She knows her history and, in 2013, she released another book that I heartily recommend, The Compassionate Warrior—Abd el-Kader of Algeria, also published by Wisdom Books. Her latest book, a collaboration with illustrator Claire Ewart, is a wonderfully engaging picture book about The Olive Tree. The tree in question has been growing, and producing olives, for more than a century on the property line between two families’ homes in Lebanon. Throughout that long and turbulent history, the families have separated and now they are trying to restore their neighborhood. The trouble is—that olive tree. And, the hope for their future? Yes, it lies in that tree, as well. The Olive Tree is available from Amazon.

‘WELCOME TO THE NEIGHBORWOOD’

Honeybee pop up from Shawn Sheehy Welcome to the NeighborwoodYOU won’t believe the wonders inside this picture book! That is, you won’t believe it—unless you’re already an avid collector of contemporary Pop Up books by the likes of master book builder Robert Sabuda. In our family, we’ve been collecting Pop Up books since relatives returned to the U.S. from Japan in the late 1940s and brought back a miraculous Pop Up book that showed the colorful daily life of a typical family in scenes that literally sprang from each opening page. We’ve been hooked on the genre for 60 years, raising kids on the surprises within this picture-book genre. Perhaps you’ve never heard of Shawn Sheehy, but he is following in Sabuda’s path. Sheehy is turning his own his brilliant talents as a paper-and-publishing artist toward the natural world in his various projects. At the moment, his crowning accomplishment is this book. After this, I’m sure there are many wonders yet to come from Sheehy’s studio. I know I’ll be watching for more. No question, if you love Pop Up books and the natural world—grab a copy of this book now. It’s sure to be a classic! And, Welcome to the Neighborwood is available from Amazon.

Want to see for yourself? Click to watch the pages open in this video:

‘EVERYONE PRAYS’

Covers Everyone Prays by Alexis Lumbard and Night Sky Dragons by Mal Peet and Elspeth GrahamAS a journalist for U.S. newspapers for 40 years, I specialized in covering issues of global diversity. That’s why, I fell in love with Alexis York Lumbard’s book Everyone Prays the moment I saw it. This book belongs in every home where parents value religious freedom, diversity and the hope that world peace is possible if we focus on what unites us. There are very few words in this gorgeous book—but the words and the colorful scenes chosen by illustrator Alizera Sadeghian convey an entire library of truth about the world’s great faith traditions. I guarantee this: Even the adults who read this book with the kids they love will learn a thing or two about the nature of prayer before they close this picture book. Everyone Prays: Celebrating Faith Around the World is available from Amazon.

‘NIGHT SKY DRAGONS’

OUR final choice among these five books that will inspire the children you love to open new doors into our world is Night Sky Dragons by Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham. This is both a “picture book” and a “story book” that adults will want to read to kids, at first. Eventually, you’ll find, this will become a family favorite and the kids will read it back to you. The story is set centuries ago in the heart of the Silk Road that connected East and West for trade in some of the world’s most valuable commodities. The main characters are a family charged with defending a safe town along that famous route. When a deadly gang of bandits besieges the town, the adults are paralyzed and desperate. That’s when a little boy named Yazul has a brilliant idea to use the kites that he loves to build with his grandfather to peacefully scare away this terrifying force encamped outside the town’s gates. Anyone who has traveled across Asia knows the timeless ritual of greeting the spring with kites. In Western culture, you might fondly recall “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” from Mary Poppins. What this husband-and-wife writing team has achieved in this book, though, transcends those spring rituals and gives our love of kites in the blue spring sky a whole new meaning. There is a much deeper tale here—a message that our love of the seasons and the natural world, coupled with timeless wisdom like the ancient talent of building sophisticated kites—holds the promise of saving our troubled world. And, Night Sky Dragons is available from Amazon, too.

(Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an online magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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Categories: Children and FamiliesNatural WorldPeacemakingUncategorized

The Greg Garrett Interview on our love of angels and demons

Entertaining Judgment by Greg Garrett

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

We love our angels and demons!

Pew’s massive study of American religious life shows nearly 7 in 10 Americans believe that angels and demons are active in our world. We’re also certain about cosmic realms from which these creatures emerge. More than 7 in 10 Americans believe in Heaven with our collective belief in Hell lagging a bit behind that.

Now, an intrepid explorer of the connections between popular culture and the spiritual realms invites us to travel with him as Dante did with his guide Virgil 700 years ago into Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso—a classic tale that we know as The Divine Comedy. Our new guide already is familiar to thousands of readers nationwide: Greg Garrett, a noted scholar at Baylor University and author of 20 previous books. He calls his book, Entertaining Judgment: The Afterlife in Popular Imagination.

Greg is well equipped to serve as our guide after decades of exploring religious themes in comic books, movies, music and American literature. As we set off with him on this great cosmic journey, he says: “This book really is the culmination of years of research. I hope readers will have fun with it.”

Note that this book is published by Oxford University Press so the standard of research is high and Greg lays out an extensive series of notes at the end of his book if readers dare to dive deeper into some of the strange corners they will discover in this adventure.

We can highly recommend the book both for individual reading, for any teachers or preachers who like to touch upon these issues and especially for small-group discussion in religious or secular settings. You’ll have lots of fun in your small group, bringing in video and audio clips to touch off discussion on the chapters in Greg’s book.

ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm interviewed the author. Here are …

HIGHLIGHTS OF OUR INTERVIEW
WITH GREG GARRETT ON
‘ENTERTAINING JUDGMENT’

DAVID: Wow! Talk about a whirlwind tour! The entire cosmos from Heaven to Hell—including visits with angels and demons, comic book super heroes, TV stars, great authors and even strange characters in video games—all in 200 pages!

Greg Garrett author of Entertaining Judgment

Greg Garrett, the 2013 Centennial Professor at Baylor University.

GREG: Well, for many years as a journalist, you’ve been covering the same kinds of connections I’ve been covering—and this book really does bring a lot of things together in one place.

DAVID: How did you cast the net for this book? Every page drops another intriguing character into the mix. How did you amass this cast of characters?

GREG: I had all of my own research over the years, then I asked people to recommend stories about the afterlife—stories of the undead, angels and demons—and I got a ton of recommendations! A lot of my clergy friends had powerful stories they had used in their preaching. My literary and cultural friends told me about a lot of things they were researching. And I also crowdsourced this. I asked people questions like: What’s your favorite angel story? Then, I’ve consumed so much popular culture throughout my lifetime that I had tons of things to draw on—perhaps with the exception of video games but I even played my way through Diablo for this book.

DAVID: Many of our readers love to make these kinds of connections. Our online magazine hosts Ken Chitwood’s FaithGoesPop series and, every week, we’re exploring similar links between faith and popular culture.

In fact, I’m going to do a shout-out to our readers: What’s your favorite angel story? Go into Facebook or Twitter and tell us. Add the hashtag #FaithGoesPop so that we spot it easily.

GREG: If they want to add another hashtag that I’m starting to use for the book, they can mark their ideas #EntertainingJudgment and I’ll take a look, too.

IS ‘LOST’ REALLY PURGATORY?

LOST tv seriesDAVID: Let’s use this interview to showcase some of the very intriguing connections you make in this book. There are far too many to list them all in our conversation, but we can hit some highlights. So, let’s start with that mysterious middle-realm: Purgatory. You point out in the book that the word “Purgatory” never appears in the Bible and the vast majority of American Protestants think of Purgatory as a Catholic belief.

However, Greg, you argue that—in effect—millions of Americans are attracted to the idea of Purgatory through books, songs, movies and TV shows like Lost.

GREG: That’s a good place to start because Purgatory really was the starting point for this book. For a number of years, I had been talking about doing a book with my editor at Oxford, Cynthia Read, and then one day she asked me: “Why is it that most American Protestants think that Purgatory is ridiculous theologically but they believe that people do undergo hardship and transform their lives?”

And I told her: “You’re right. We have an operational belief in Purgatory even if Protestants think it doesn’t make sense theologically.”

That question opened up the whole book for me. One of the most primal stories we share is that people can go through Hell and emerge with a transformed life at the end of it.

DAVID: When I was reading that section of your book, I immediately thought of Dr. Wayne Baker’s research in United America. When you talk about this “operational belief in Purgatory” that rings the bells of several core American values that Dr. Baker has documented.

GREG: A perfect example of this is 12 Years a Slave—it’s a story of Purgatory, which in this case essentially means going through Hell with an expiration date when our hero emerges with a transformed life. In fact, it’s hard to watch some of the things you see in the film, unless you can keep reminding yourself: Hey, it’s only 12 years. He will emerge from this.

Or for a Purgatory comedy, think about Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. Over and over again, he is tried and tested with the hope of emerging as a new and improved being.

Purgatory was built into the DNA of Lost. From the very first season, there was this whole debate among fans about whether the island itself was Purgatory. And the creators of Lost said no it wasn’t. But this led to the idea of creating, later in the series, a “sideways” world—a world in which the Lostees never crash landed on the island and are presented with challenges they failed in their first time around. Even Dr. Linus, the show’s biggest villain, gets an opportunity to redo an awful choice he made and get it right.

BATMAN, BURNE-JONES AND STAINED GLASS

DAVID: There are dozens of other movie and TV references in this book from It’s a Wonderful Life to the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings movies. But let’s jump to very different forms of media: comic books, paintings and stained glass. You connect all those dots, too!

Batman the dark nightAnd that starts with Batman, who makes appearances throughout your book. The story of the “dark knight” is back on prime-time TV in the hit series Gotham. This new series takes us back to Batman’s boyhood as Bruce Wayne, which starts with this little boy’s absolutely terrifying experience of witnessing the cold-blooded murders of his parents. From that kind of trauma, other characters in Gotham become blood-thirsty criminals, but Bruce Wayne emerges as a heroic figure who wants to use his powers to do good.

While Superman may be America’s oldest super hero, Batman has far more fans keeping his legend alive and his fans continually morph Batman into new forms of this angel-demon figure. I think he’ll be a connection point in your book for lots of readers and, of course, there are a lot lessons that can be drawn from comics. ReadTheSpirit has even established our own comic section called Bullying Is No Laughing Matter. So, I was very pleased to find Batman, in particular, showing up as a recurring character in your new book.

GREG: Batman is one of our most pervasive cultural stories. When I wrote about Batman and Superman back in my book Holy Superheroes, I did not realize that those two archetypal stories would continue to follow me around.

In the story of Batman, we think of Gotham as this Hell on Earth and we can think of Batman as a demon—a fierce creature of the night who, instead of using his powers for evil, chooses to use them for good. So, we’re tracing a character who was born in Hell and chose to rise above it. He casts aside everything he ought to be after those early experiences—and instead chooses to devote his life to doing good or others.

That’s the central element of the Batman story: A person can rise above a tragic setting and prove to be a hero for the ages. The question about Batman is: Demon or angel? And we could say he’s both—a devil who chooses to be an angel.

DAVID: Well, I was also pleasantly surprised to find in your book a lot about Edward Burne-Jones, the famous Pre-Raphaelite painter and designer whose images are still splashed across Christmas cards, church windows and lots of other decorative arts. You point out that Burne-Jones was influential in rescuing the idea of an “angel” from the Italian artists who wanted to turn them into cute little babies with wings. Burne-Jones gave us angels with real super-hero size and shape.

Dark knight in Edward Burne-Jones The Briar WoodIn fact, I was just comparing some of the popular images of Batman—the dark knight overlooking a sleeping city—to Burne Jones’s famous painting The Briar Wood, part of a cycle of paintings that he did in collaboration with his friend William Morris. Basically, a dark enchantment has made nearly everyone fall down in a deep sleep. And in The Briar Wood, which was painted in 1890, we see a very Batman-like dark knight overlooking this sleeping town.

GREG: Burne-Jones is really interesting because he did help to restore some gravity to these narratives about angels. As angel imagery had evolved, it looked as though the basic story was going to run off the rails into sentimentality. Throughout scriptures—whether we’re talking about the Hebrew or Christian testaments or the Muslim holy scriptures—angels are described as imposing, frightening, powerful. But, by the time of Burne-Jones, artists had turned angels into these cutesy little babies with wings. In paintings and stained glass and in other images, Burne-Jones restored the powerful nature of angels.

DAVID: And this is not just a matter of aesthetics or interior design. This transformation of angels into super heroes speaks to the terrible nature of the global challenges we faced in the 20th century and face again today. If our spiritual imagination is going to keep up with the world’s terrors, then we need super heroes, right?

GREG: Flying babies don’t do the job for us when we need a really serious pipeline to the Divine. I think that whenever our culture threatens to turn angels into cute little domesticated figures, then we’ve lost the main story about angels.

DAVID: We could go on and on—but I want to urge readers to actually order your book to continue the adventure. Let me close by asking you to sum up how you hope readers will respond to your book.

GREG: There were two things at the heart of my desire to write this book.

First, I wanted to spotlight how important stories of the afterlife continue to be in our lives. A vast majority of Americans continue to believe in Heaven and Hell and in manifestations of angels and demons. And that’s more than just a casual belief. My colleagues in research at Baylor report that a majority of Americans believe they’ve been helped by a guardian angel. So, the first thing I wanted to say is: These are very important beliefs in our lives today.

Then, second, I wanted readers to think about this: We’re consuming so many of these stories very uncritically. I want to invite people into a thoughtful consideration about this. What do we believe about the afterlife? What do we believe about the way the afterlife shapes our everyday life in pursuing faith and justice?

CARE TO READ MORE GREG GARRETT?

(Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an online magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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Categories: Author InterviewsGreat With GroupsMovies and TV

Let PBS’s ‘Edison’ ignite your creative spark!

By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit online magazine

Edison American ExperienceTHERE is no more iconic American pioneer than Thomas Alva Edison—although his bright light may have been eclipsed in recent decades by other celebrated American innovators: Steve Jobs, Bill Gates or perhaps in the realm of spiritual innovation Americans might name Oprah or Rob Bell or Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai.

In Edison’s prime, one poll of schoolkids found that Edison surpassed everyone else in America as the person they hoped to be like someday. Certainly, Edison was popular for his heroic rise to fame, his long series of startling inventions, not to mention the fortune he amassed. But the reason ReadTheSpirit magazine is highly recommending this two-hour PBS American Experience documentary about Edison is also the key to his worldwide celebrity as “the Wizard of Menlo Mark.”

Thomas Edison transformed our world.

Read the previous sentence again, because that kind of claim seems commonplace today, doesn’t it? Every day, headlines trumpet yet another “transformation” by Apple or the latest App developer with some new service that might range from finding a taxi to monitoring of our body’s vital signs.

What this PBS documentary shows us is that, by comparison with Edison’s milestones, most of these current “transformations” are trivial. And therein lies the deep spiritual and cultural questions raised by this fascinating video version of Edison’s life.

As an aside to our readers, in this review I want to properly credit writer and director Michelle Ferrari, who certainly has emerged as one of the most thought-provoking documentary filmmakers in America today. She also worked on two other documentaries that ReadTheSpirit highly recommended: The Poisoner’s Handbook and War of the Worlds. Bravo Michelle Ferrari for this intriguing body of work!

What Ferrari tries to convey to us in her story of Edison’s life is the earthquake-like changes he ushered into American life. Consider …

When he introduced the first device to permanently record sound—Edison took something that had been ephemeral throughout human history and, in one stroke, began the accumulation of audio in our worldwide cultural storehouse. Before Edison, music vanished as it was performed, great orations disappeared as soon as the speaker stepped away from the podium, and a host of historic events remain silent in our collective memories.

Think of the way our daily lives are surrounded by recorded sound in myriad forms! Before Edison, life’s soundtrack was limited to what happened within earshot.

When Edison introduced his light-bulb, Americans had been trying to claim useful hours after sunset through candles, oil lamps, gas jets and a handful of cities had tried using powerful outdoor arc lights. Edison safely tamed a permanent source of night-time illumination for our homes—and began the massive project of electrifying America—one city block at a time. Just imagine life before electrical outlets in every building!

Edison’s introduction of his first effective motion-picture camera was a turning point in global culture. Just as his audio recorder had suddenly allowed us to capture and preserve sounds—his camera let the world preserve motion! Before Edison, the world’s great dancers vanished with their last performance. Motion was ephemeral for thousands of years; now millions of movies surround every aspect of our lives.

If these Edison milestones intrigue you, then don’t miss Edison on PBS—or consider ordering a DVD of Edison from Amazon.

Care to see more from PBS?

This PBS American Experience website provides more background on Edison and includes a convenient option to find local broadcast times in your region.

(Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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Categories: Movies and TV

Miller Elementary School builds a ‘Fence of Friends’

Teacher Krista Jewett and Principal Aimee Bell at Miller school lead an anti-bullying assembly

USING VISUAL AIDS TO PREVENT BULLYING: At a Miller Elementary School assembly, teacher Krista Jewett (left in gray sweater) and principal Aimee Bell (at right) work with groups of children to discuss the best responses when bullying arises.

Hundreds of children agree:
Bullying Is No Laughing Matter

By DAVID CRUMM, Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

“I was lonely, when I first came to Miller as a teacher. I didn’t know anyone! I was new here. I didn’t have any friends,” music teacher Mary Manier told hundreds of children in two assemblies at Miller Elementary School in Canton, Michigan. Behind her was a huge screen displaying the simple outline of a picket fence. Inside that outline were sketches of smiling people holding hands.

Miller teacher Mary Manier shows how to form a Fence of Friends

‘FENCE OF FRIENDS’ BEFORE & AFTER: In this photo, Miller Elementary music teacher Mary Manier talks about arriving at the school and meeting her first new friend. In the photo below, Mary Manier’s story ends with a long ‘Fence of Friends.’ (Photographs by Becky Hile for www.ReadTheSpirit.com)

“But do you know what happened on my first day? Someone greeted me and that made me feel a lot better,” Mary Manier said, inviting that first friendly teacher to walk to the front of the assembly, stand beside her and link arms to show their friendship. Then, Manier recalled a series of simple, kind actions by other teachers—and invited them to stand side by side. Soon, teachers had formed a long “Fence of Friends.”

Then, Manier turned to the hundreds of children sitting in rows on the gymnasium floor. “You all have people who care about you, too. You all have friends. Who is in your Fence of Friends?”

The school is racially, ethnically and religiously diverse, posing an ongoing cross-cultural challenge to the school staff. This year, the entire school—children, teachers, office staff and even janitors—are helping the children to understand how to build safe relationships at Miller. A school-wide survey of students alerted the staff that some children were anxious about the possibility of bullying. No major incidents have surfaced, but Principal Aimee Bell and her colleagues want to be proactive.

In early October, Bell, Manier and 4th grade teacher Krista Jewett invited me, as the head of ReadTheSpirit Books, to brainstorm ideas for engaging children in the effort. ReadTheSpirit publishes two helpful books: Michigan State University’s The New Bullying (for parents and teachers) and also Bullying Is No Laughing Matter (for adults to use with kids).

Miller teacher Mary Manier completes her Fence of FriendsThe Miller team especially liked the “Fence of Friends” activity, based on the Dennis the Menace comic strip. That activity guide is one of many that we provide in the Bullying Is No Laughing Matter website.

Last week, Miller held two assemblies, separating the students by age. The assembly for older students was longer and involved more talks by teachers, student skits produced by Krista Jewett’s students and brief videos on the big screen. The assembly for younger kids was geared for a shorter attention span. The high point for both groups was Mary Manier—with help from the school’s faculty—demonstrating the Fence of Friends.

“In the next week or so, you’re all going to get a chance to draw your own Fence of Friends,” Aimee Bell told the students.

The staff has duplicated hundreds of fence outlines on 8-by-11 paper, awaiting these student drawings. Teachers know that some students immediately will fill their fences with sketches of friends. Other children will sit quietly with a nearly empty fence. That’s when teachers will encourage students to look at the drawings that are emerging around the classroom—and students will be invited to “draw themselves in” to those fences that are still quite empty. In doing so, children commit themselves to being good friends for others throughout the school year.

During the assembly, Aimee Bell and Krista Jewett often turned the microphone to the children to get their responses. They asked: “Why is this so important?”

A boy named James said, “If somebody wants to bully you—you have someone to guard you.”

A girl named Julia said, “You know someone will stand by your side—they’re part of your fence.”

Through their short talks, student skits and short videos, the Miller staff stressed the nationally accepted definition of bullying (that definition is included in the Bullying Is No Laughing Matter book), then they demonstrated several strategies kids can use for quickly responding, and also they emphasized the need to alert adults if bullying persists.

Aimee Bell closed the assemblies by encouraging the students: “We’re going to talk a lot about how to respond to bullying this year. Now, we all know what bullying is—and we all know what to do when we see it.”

As children make their own Fence of Friends drawings in coming weeks, Miller teachers plan to post those drawings side-by-side to form a very long Fence of Friends around the walls of the school.

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Categories: Children and FamiliesGreat With Groups

Review: ‘The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden’

Cover Zeitgeist DVD The Galapagos Affair Satan Came to Eden

Click the cover to visit the DVD’s Amazon page. (The documentary also is available via Netflix.)

By DAVID CRUMM

This film might have been titled: The Perils of Pursuing Paradise.

Ever since the late 1800s when Jules Verne began publishing his international best-sellers, the world has been fascinated by the idea of dramatically escaping from civilization. Flash forward to 2014 and a dozen popular TV series are fueled by that same desire. In late September, the National Geographic Channel will debut another one: Live Free or Die, a series that looks at Americans trying to survive in remote woods and swamps.

Now, Zeitgeist Films brings us one of the strangest true stories of escaping adventurers. This mixed bag of misfits converged on a remote island in the Galapagos chain between the two World Wars. Their tale is so wild that a writer for the Smithsonian Institution, reporting on the Smithsonian’s extensive archives about this strange adventure, described the story as “a screwball farce peopled by eccentrics” that “abruptly turned to tragedy.”

During the heyday of this Galapagos experiment, lurid magazines around the world published fanciful dispatches from this little colony with headlines that included: “The Nudist Empress of the Galapagos” and “Mad Empress in the Garden of Eden” and “The Insatiable Baroness who Created Her Own Paradise.”

As it turns out, the real pioneer in this “paradise” was a German doctor with a grandiose vision of his role as a philosopher and naturalist. He apparently was a very effective wilderness pioneer, building many hand-made devices to make his island home a pleasurable place to live. But he also was motivated by a selfishness that amounted to loathing other people. When an odd-ball mix of other adventurers showed up on this doctor’s remote island, trouble was all but certain.

The adventurer who was chiefly responsible for the island’s global acclaim was a woman with even more grandiose visions than the doctor. She called herself a baroness (even though she wasn’t) and very publicly set up a household with a rotating series of male lovers. She even began production on a silent film with herself starring as a savage, scantily clad pirate! Some footage of this bizarre movie is included in the documentary.

No wonder the Smithsonian columnist wound up publishing a long, four-part summary of this strange tale as the saga is “told” through the Washington D.C. archives. (Here are the four parts: One, Two, Three and Four.)

Much more dramatic than this Smithsonian Internet series is the two-hour documentary by Dayna Goldfine and Dan Geller, the folks who brought us the acclaimed documentary, Ballet Russes, which also dipped back into this pre-World War II era to give us a vivid portrait of the world-famous Russian troupe.

Why is ReadTheSpirit magazine reviewing this film? Because dreams of finding a remote paradise run throughout the long and tangled history of the world’s great religious movements, from some of the founding communities in what is now the United States (Remember the Pilgrims, the Puritans and the Shakers?) to tragic cults like Jim Jones’ Jonestown in Guyana where more than 900 people died in 1978.

Perhaps most fascinating about this cautionary tale from the Galapagos is that the German doctor’s master work of philosophy was ultimately of no interest to publishers in the civilized world and, instead, in 1935 his lover Dore Strauch published her own version of the island experiment, Satan Came to Eden: A Survivor’s Account of the Galapagos Affair.

This definitely is a mesmerizing two hours! It’s also a good choice for sparking conversation in any small group that enjoys discussing either new films or global issues.

(Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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Categories: Great With GroupsMovies and TV

The Kurt Kolka interview on ‘Bullying Is No Laughing Matter’

This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series Bullying Is No Laughing Matter
Cover of Bullying Is No Laughing Matter comic book

Click the cover to learn more about buying the book.

Millions of American children are heading back to school—and many of them are dreading that first day, wondering: Will I be bullied?

Do you know one of these kids?

Be honest: Were you once one of these kids? In the weeks we have been preparing for the historic launch of this anti-bullying “Team Up” with 36 popular comics—our staff has been surprised by the responses of adults who got an early glimpse of the book. Wherever our staff traveled, carrying pre-launch copies of this book—into schools, churches, coffee shops and, in one case, even into a car dealership where the staff was eager to see the book—this experience is repeated …

Adult men and women eagerly look at the cover and flip the colorful pages. They smile. Then, many of them shake their heads knowingly and tell a personal story. About a friend who was bullied. A son or daughter. A brother or sister. Often, they tell a story of bullying they suffered themselves. Sometimes, people admit to having been bullies—and tell us the experiences that turned their lives around. That’s the power of this book.

BUT WAIT! You may be rolling your eyes and saying, “Isn’t all this anti-bullying stuff just a fad?” You may be saying, “Isn’t bullying just a way of life in America?”

THIS NEW BOOK says: Yes, bullying sure is a way of life in America! It’s been going on for generations but there are simple lessons we all can learn to make it stop. Even better: This process of learning about bullying—and forming supportive friendships to end the practice—can be downright fun! Just look at the two truly super videos Kurt Kolka produced to accompany this historic new comic book. One video explains the new nationwide definition of “bullying;” the second video shows scores of enthusiastic supporters of this movement nationwide.

WHY DO WE SAY ‘HISTORIC’? Kurt Kolka is a nationally known comics expert and he collaborates with his wife, educator Diane Schunk Kolka, in this project with our publishing team. In our long careers, we’ve never heard of such a diverse “Team Up” of comic artists in producing a single book with a single message like this. This effort is, indeed, “historic” and we’re honored to report that one of the very first copies of this book is being placed in the collection of the prestigious Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum at Ohio State University. The publication of this book is big news!

GET INVOLVED YOURSELF!

There’s so much you can do today …

HIGHLIGHTS OF OUR INTERVIEW
WITH KURT KOLKA ON
‘BULLYING IS NO LAUGHING MATTER’

DAVID: Comic books are super popular! They’re in movie theaters and on TV. “Comic Cons,” big comic conventions, are held in major cities. This new anti-bullying comic book is buzzing around the comic world. Tell us about the support you’re already receiving as we officially launch this book.

Kurt Kolka

Kurt Kolka

KURT: We started organizing this project more than a year ago. When I began taking this message of “Bullying Is No Laughing Matter” to Comic Cons with me, the response was very surprising! A lot of people began coming up to me, telling me they’d heard about this project and they wanted to know more. Over and over again, I heard stories of people who had experienced bullying themselves—appreciating the fact that someone was organizing a project like this.

I began asking people if they wanted to take a photo, often with an anti-bullying sign, to show their support and lots of people did that. We even had celebrities stop by and pose with a sign to show their support. Then, as we began inviting comic artists to participate in the book, we found many of them were eager to share their work to help this project.

DAVID: People may think of comics as stories packed with violence. Back in the 1950s, many parents thought comics were bad for children. Of course, today comics are celebrated everywhere you turn. You can’t buy a children’s meal in many fast-food restaurants and not find a comic character in the wrappings.

In this book, you and your dozens of comic friends are showing Americans that comic creators are not only popular—they’re also compassionate folks.

KURT: I’ve been drawing and writing The Cardinal for many years and I’ve gotten to know lots of other cartoonists and comic artists and writers. As a group, I’m proud to say that we combine compassion with our creativity. Especially the newspaper comic strip artists and writers: They’re very caring individuals. In working with the contributors to this book, I discovered that many of them were bullied themselves when they were young, or someone close to them was bullied. Some of those short stories are in this new book.

Tom Batiuk wrote one of the opening pieces for the book. He does the Funky Winkerbean and Crankshaft comic strips. Tom has been honored over the years for issues he’s dealt with in his comic strips, things like how cancer affects people’s lives. When I was talking with Lynn Johnston about her For Better or For Worse contribution to this book, she told me that some of the earlier comic strips she had done on the effects of bullying had been welcomed in schools. She agreed this is an important issue. She’s already seen her own comics used in school groups—and now she’s also part of this larger team in this new book.

A BOOK (AND A MOVEMENT)
WHERE EVERYONE CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE

DAVID: When people open this book and start talking about bullying, one of the surprises may be: This is a book that’s good for bullies as well as for people who’ve been bullied. At several points in your book, there’s a clear message that bullying also is a problem for the bullies themselves. Everyone suffers when this problem continues. I don’t want to spoil your Cardinal adventure in this book by revealing too much, but the guy we think is a horrible enemy in your story—well, we learn that he was both bullied and he became a bully himself.

KURT: That’s a very important point. We all need to understand this problem. Of course, we want to encourage kids who are facing this dilemma. Every week, we see tragic news headlines about kids who don’t survive bullying. It’s very serious. But it’s a complex problem and we want everyone to get involved in discussing the solutions.

th Bullying Is No Laughing Matter website

Click this icon to see a sample of Mort Walker’s Beetle Bailey that’s part of the ‘Bullying Is No Laughing Matter’ project.

One of my heroes, as a comic artist myself, is Mort Walker. I remember how excited I was the day I got a personal note from Mort and I learned that he would be part of this. It was on a Sunday morning just before my family and I went to church and I felt so great all that day.

Then, it was so interesting as I learned more from Mort about his life. I learned that at one point in his earlier life, he was a bully. He would push people around and he got praise from some of the adults around him—Mort mentioned a coach who praised him as a model of a tough guy. Then, he learned that was not the way to live his life. He decided he had to change. We’ve all got important stories to share so that we can help the young people facing these dilemmas right now. I’m so pleased that great comic artists like Mort Walker wanted to be part of this.

THE CARDINAL:
MEET A COURAGEOUS YOUNG SUPER HERO

DAVID: In addition to the 35 short stories and cartoon panels from other comic artists—you created the most extensive adventure in the book, making it 36 comics in all. This big new book is published as a “Flip Book,” which means it has two covers. Readers can start from the “gallery” side of the book  (the red cover shown with this interview); or they can flip the book over and start reading a more in-depth Cardinal adventure, which is almost as long as a “graphic novel” that you’ve created about the problem of bullying. So tell us about your super hero.

KURT: Like Superman is Clark Kent, the Cardinal is Rich Benton. He is a young man who comes from a family of scholars who are well-known archaeologists. So that means Rich had lots of unique opportunities early in life to travel around the world with his parents. Instead of going to Disney World, his family would fly off to a remote archaeological dig.

He’s a young man from a church-going family and he lives in a college town, where he decides to help out the poor and needy through volunteering at a local mission. He begins to discover that, beyond the immediate needs of many poor people in his community, there are some corrupt powerful people who have a personal interest in keeping people poor. He decides that he has to stand up to the larger injustices he sees. Eventually, he teams up with a police detective, an older man who is a bit jaded after too many years of dealing with crime and injustice.

So, the Cardinal is really a college student who wants to help his community. His heart is in the right place, but he’s young and sometimes he doesn’t always find the best way to solve problems the first time he tries to help. He doesn’t want to use his fists in battling the bad guys. In fact, he opposes using weapons in general. He does carry a boomerang, but he uses that to disarm any criminals he encounters if they do have weapons.

DAVID: He sounds to me like a lot of the best comic book super heroes I remember reading over the years. His heart is in the right place, but sometimes he makes mistakes. He’s vulnerable, yet he’s courageous enough to keep pursuing justice.

KURT: When I created the Cardinal years ago, I deliberately gave him only one super power: the ability to fly. I did that purposely so that the Cardinal had to use his brains. Flying gives him some real advantages as a hero, but he’s not Superman strong and he’s not invulnerable like Superman.

DAVID: He reminds me a little bit of Batman, who is an athletically trained human. He’s not an alien from another world, like Superman who came to earth as a baby.

KURT: I wanted the Cardinal to be human like the rest of us and to struggle with the problems we all face. He’s really got some super advantages, because of all of his physical training. And, he can fly and he uses his boomerang very adeptly. He’s a super hero. But I wanted readers to see themselves in the struggles he is facing.

EXCITING STORIES FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY

DAVID: A year or so ago, we published another popular book about ways to end bullying, researched and written by a team from the Michigan State University School of Journalism: The New BullyingThat book has been highly praised for its research and clear writing on how forms of bullying have changed in recent years. It’s a great book for parents and teachers and other adults who care about kids to learn about how tough it is to escape bullying today, especially with 24/7 social media surrounding kids these days.

But a lot of readers said: This is great for adults. But how do we get the discussion going with kids themselves? That was one of the main motives in our working with you on this project. This comic book is packed with comic strips that act as “discussion starters.” People read the short comics and we’ve seen it over and over again even before we’ve officially launched the book: People want to start talking!

What’s your hope as we launch the book?

KURT: My wife is a teacher and she worked with me on this project. We’ve encountered so many people who have been bullied and who are eager talk, if there is a positive way to get the conversation going. This book is that invitation.

The biggest problem in dealing with bullying is getting people to sit down and start talking honestly. There is a whole lot of shame that surrounds the problem of bullying. People are afraid to talk about it. In this book, you’ll find dozens of comics with encouraging messages that many people face bullying, we all need to face this dilemma together. If you’ve been bullied, you’re not alone. If you’re a bully, you’re not alone. And we all need to talk honestly about ways to help each other.

Want to help reduce bullying? The first step is communication. Whatever your age is—this book gets the conversation started.

(Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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Categories: Author InterviewsChildren and FamiliesGreat With GroupsPeacemaking

Kurt Kolka’s ‘Bullying Is No Laughing Matter’ videos

This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series Bullying Is No Laughing Matter

Comic artist Kurt Kolka—the organizer of a historic “team up” of 36 American comics to help kids overcome bullying—also has produced these two short videos you can share with friends. You can bookmark this page and show friends that way. Or, please, use the convenient blue-“f” Facebook icons or the envelope-shaped email icons to share these videos.

WHAT IS BULLYING

Kurt convinced some of his movie-making friends to present the official definition of “Bullying” (based on federal guidelines widely used in schools and other institutions nationwide) in a creative way. Enjoy! This short video is … well, SUPER!

WHO CARES? ‘WE CARE!’

The message behind “Bullying Is No Laughing Matter” is spreading nationwide. To end bullying, we need to rely on friends who will support each other and create healthier and happier communities. Kurt and his friends produced this video showing enthusiastic support from dozens of ordinary people (and you’ll also spot some TV and movie stars in this video). Many of the supportive images you’ll see in this video come from Comic Cons as well as everyday locations around typical American towns. You can be part of this by snapping a selfie of yourself with a No-Bullying sign. Please, visit our “Bullying Is No Laughing Matter” Facebook page and share your support. Or, go get a copy of our free “Bullying Is No Laughing Matter” web badge. That “badge” is a colorful, free icon for this movement that is easy to share and post.

(Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

 

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Categories: Author InterviewsChildren and FamiliesGreat With Groups