April 18 – Happy Birthday, Monteiro Lobato

Posted April 18, 2014

Just as the English-language world enjoys the tales of Christopher Robbin's stuffed bear and other toys, those who speak and read Portuguese have been able to enjoy the tales of the Yellow Woodpecker Farm.

The characters in these stories include Lucia (called Little Nose) and Little Pete, their grandmother and the family cook, and also all kinds of imaginative characters like a talking rag doll and corncob puppet, a talking pig and rhinoceros, and characters of common folktales such as Saci Perere and Cuca.

The author of the Yellow Woodpecker Farm books, Monteiro Lobato, was born on this date in 1882. He lived in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and he wrote fiction for adults as well as for kids. He wrote nonfiction for newspapers and magazines, he was an art critic, and he founded publishing houses.

 I found it interesting to learn that Lobato's Yellow Woodpecker Farm books wove together three different universes: the everyday life of the kids on their Brazilian farm, the imaginary universe invented by the kids in their play, and the universe of traditional myths told by the grandmother, Mrs. Benta. 

Like many other kids' stories, this combination of realistic and fantastic universes is sometimes created with magic. For example, I read that the kids used magic powder to visit places like Neverland, mythological Ancient Greece, Fable World, and Grammar World.

Lobato's stories have been the basis of some very popular TV shows. Five different TV series arose out of the Yellow Woodpecker Farm shows alone! Check out this You Tube teaser. There are many episodes of the show, but unfortunately I could only find one with English subtitles.

The Yellow Woodpecker Farm stories are very important in Brazilian culture. I found one website that has some interesting quotes from the rag doll character:

The secret, my friend, is only one:  freedom.  Here we have no leashes. The greatest misfortune of all is to be in a leash.  And how these leashes have spread throughout the world!”

They say I don’t have a heart, but that’s not true.  I do have a heart and it’s beautiful.  Except that it’s not made of bananas.  It is not impressed by petty little things;  but it hurts every time it sees an injustice being done.  It hurts so much that I’m sure the ‘evilest’ thing in the world is injustice.” 

And I found another that had a bunch of photos of Yellow Woodpecker Farm products.

Also on this date:

Birthday of lawyer Clarence Darrow (famous because of the “Monkey Trial” about teaching evolution)

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April 17 – Anniversary of the End of One of the World's Longest Wars!

Posted April 17, 2014

This is an odd story!

Peace at last, peace at last!” one might sing as 335 years of war were finally ended on this date in 1986.

Except not a single shot was fired during this “war”! Some say that the war lasted this long because there was never a peace treaty (until 1986) – but others ask if there ever really was a declaration of war, in the first place

I'm all for bloodless wars, but I got to wondering what this was all about, especially when I heard that the war was between the Netherlands and the Isles of Scilly. And I knew that the Isles of Scilly were part of the United Kingdom.

The Isles of Scilly,
looking much more tropical
than they really are!
So...the Dutch and the English waged a bloodless war for 355 years? Weirder and weirder.

It turns out that this “war” was declared as the result of a REAL war—a bloody one—the Second English Civil War. In England, the Royalists (supporters of the king) and the Parliamentarians (also called the “Roundheads,” with the military led by Oliver Cromwell) were fighting for power and control of the nation. The Dutch wanted to keep their alliance with England so decided to back the side that they thought would win: the Parliamentarians.

And the Dutch were right; the Parliamentarians did win.

In 1648, the Royalists had lost the mainland and had retreated to the Isles of Scilly. These islands are located in the English Channel, off the coast of Cornwall.

I love Dutch names.
This is Admiral Maarten
Harpertszoon Tromp.
The Dutch navy had suffered heavy losses from the Royalist navy, so in 1651 Admiral Maarten Harpertszoon Tromp went to Scilly, where the Royalist navy was now headquartered, and he demanded reparation (money repaid for the Dutch ships and goods destroyed or taken).

Apparently Tromp was told “no,” because he declared war on the Isles of Scilly.

And the letter announcing that Tromp had declared war on behalf of the Netherlands was signed on this date (April 17) in 1651.

Remember, even though the isles belonged to England, the Dutch were allies of the group that at that point ruled England, and the isles were under the rule of the defeated English forces.

Soon after Tromp declared war, the Parliamentarians forced the Royal fleet to surrender. The Isles of Scilly were then ruled by the Brits that were the allies (friends) of the Dutch, so Tromp and the rest of the Dutch ships left without firing a shot.

The problem is, they ALSO never bothered to declare peace or sign a peace treaty.

The unofficial flag of
the Isles of Scilly
The flag of the Netherlands
I wonder why the flags
are so similar!?!

Apparently, for the past few centuries, stories told have been told and retold, stories that claimed that the Isles of Scilla were still at war with the Netherlands. These stories began to be looked on as myths, and in 1985 a historian from the Isles of Scilly wrote to the Dutch Embassy in London to try to prove that the “war” didn't, in fact, exist. However, when the Embassy looked into the facts, the Dutch decided that the “myth” was true. So the British historian invited the Dutch ambassador to come to the islands and sign a peace treaty. They decided to sign it on April 17 so that the “war” was exactly 335 years long.

The Ambassador joked that it must have been so terrible to live in Scilla during those three centuries, knowing “we could have attacked at any moment.” 

(By the way, some historians argue that Tromp did not have a commission from his government to declare war on the Isles of Scilly, and despite the fact that he SAID he declared war, he hadn't really because he couldn't.)

Also on this date:

Bat Appreciation Day 

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April 16 – Kuomboka in Zambia

Posted on April 16, 2014

Thousands of people flock to Zambia in the middle of April for this festival...to hear the royal Maoma drumming, to watch the boatmen, and to enjoy the singing.

Several different sources say that this is the biggest and best-known traditional ceremony in the country. And it all has to do with water...

You see, every year the Zambezi River floods the farmlands, making the plains into a giant but shallow lake. Naturally, the people have to move to higher ground – and this even includes the Lozi king. The king, his family, and his entourage travel on a huge black-and-white-striped barge to the rainy-season palace.

The festival name, Kuomboka, is very literal, since it means “to move out of the water.”

I found it interesting that the Lozi have a legend that is similar to the Jewish people's Noah's Ark story. The story is set a long time ago, during the first chief's reign; there came a huge flood that killed all the animals and swept away every farm. Some people were in their canoes but were frightened of paddling such small craft in such a big flood, so the high god Nyambe ordered a man named Nakambela to build a great canoe so that all the people could escape the flood.

By the way, I found it interesting that the Lozi king starts the ceremony dressed in traditional dress, but during the journey he changes into the full uniform of a British admiral. The first of these British uniforms was presented to the Lozi king by King Edward VII in 1902 in recognition of the treaties between the Lozi and Queen Victoria.

Learn more about Zambia at Our Africa. 

Also on this date:

Cane and Derby Day 

British Museum founder Hans Sloane's birthday

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April 15 – Happy Birthday, Leonhard Euler

Posted on April 15, 2014

He's considered one of the greatest mathematicians of all times!

He's considered by most to be THE greatest mathematician of the 18th Century (the 1700s)!

In his own time, Euler was so famous among scientists and mathematicians that one of the greatest, Pierre-Simon Laplace, told students, “Read Euler, read Euler; he is the master of us all.” 

Euler is also considered a physicist. Here are fields Euler made contributions to:
  • infinitesimal calculus
  • graph theory
  • mathematical analysis
  • mathematical terms notation
  • mechanics
  • fluid dynamics
  • optics
  • astronomy
  • music theory

Born on this date in Switzerland, Euler showed his talent for math early. He entered a university at age 13, received his Master of Philosophy at age 16, and completed his doctoral dissertation at age 19. He was not able to get a job at his alma mater, in Switzerland, so he ended up moving to the Russian Empire to work as a physics professor. Eventually he moved to Berlin, in what was then Prussia but is now Germany, to continue as a professor of mathematics and physics.

Check out Eulerian Diagrams!

I have always called the sorts of illustrations seen here (above and right) Venn Diagrams, but John Venn himself called his diagrams Eulerian Circles. Euler had diagrammed subsets and disjoints with circles and other enclosed curves long before Venn was even born. However, Venn pointed out some problems with Euler's diagrams: apparently they are open to multiple interpretations rather than just one logical interpretation.

So Venn created a more restricted version of Eulerian diagrams, one in which all logically possible sets are represented. That means that, in a Venn Diagram, there will often be subsets that are empty. In the example below, which zone (or subset) of the Venn Diagram will be empty?
(There are no animals that
are both birds and mammals.)

Create your own Euler Diagram. Maybe you could make one that compares and contrasts insects and spiders, or that illustrates how various types of polygons, foods, or mammals are the same and different.

Not all of Euler's diagrams were circles.
Here are Euler Diagrams of triangles and

Also on this date:

New Year Celebrations in Cambodia and Laos

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April 14 – National Library Week in the U.S.

Posted on April 14, 2014

Celebrate libraries in general and your local library in particular this week.

The theme this year is Lives Change @ Your Library. You can find stories about exactly how libraries have changed lives and Library Week info here. There are some links to downloadable materials at the American Library Association website

One thing that is happening today is that this year's Top Ten List of Frequently Challenged Books is released. “Challenged” books are those that have motivated people to write letters of complaint. Well, they don't just complain about the book – they ask that the book be removed from the library or restricted to only certain ages.

Basically, a lot of people who don't want to read a particular book, or don't want their kids to read a book, aren't satisfied with simply skipping that book – they don't want anyone ELSE to read the book, either. We are talking about people attempting to ban books, to censor reading materials.

Why do people want to ban certain books? The top reasons for challenges are for sexual material, “offensive” language, violence, homosexuality, and occult or “Satanic” themes. Many people complain that certain books are unsuited for kids or anti-family.

Really popular books are often the ones that lots of people want to ban. For example, in 2012 the most challenges were about the Captain Underpants series, and in 2011 The Hunger Games trilogy was high on the challenge list. A decade ago the Harry Potter books continually found themselves topping the challenge lists.

By the way, even though librarians receive lots of challenge letters, they very rarely actually ban books. And that's as it should be! After all, each person has the choice NOT to read a book that IS there – but if a book ISN'T there, nobody has a choice.

Also on this date:

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