December 11 – Kaleidoscope Day

Posted on December 11, 2017

Today is the birthday of the man who invented the kaleidoscope, Sir David Brewster. This Scottish scientist / inventor was born on this date in 1781.

Someone, somewhere, decided that December 11 would be a great day to celebrate this fun optical toy.

Do you own a kaleidoscope? Have you ever made one? 

Here's what the view through a kaleidoscope can look like:

And here's how a kaleidoscope works:

The wonderful images are created by the reflections of reflections of reflections - of the three mirrors:

And here's a step-by-step in making one type of kaleidoscope.

Also on this date:

December 10 – Huckleberry Finn Day

Posted on December 10, 2017

It's always been "trouble"; it's always been great!

This is a sample of
the original
Although the book The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was written by an American author (Mark Twain), and although it is set in America (on and near the Mississippi River), and although it discusses some really important-to-America themes (like slavery) - it wasn't published first in the United States of America.

Instead, on this date in 1884, the book was published in Canada and the United Kingdom.

It wasn't until 1885 that Huck Finn was published in the U.S.

Instantly, it was a book full of controversy. But it was also popular with readers.

Still, it's a book full of controversy - but it's still a favorite of many.

Here's a teeny-tiny sample of why this book is so controversial:

1. It has "coarse" or "vulgar" language. But I read that "itched" and "scratched" were considered I am not sure how bad the language would seem today.


2. It includes the offensive word "injun" for "Indian" or "Native American," and even worse, it includes the N-word for black people or People of Color. When Mark Twain was writing and publishing the book, those words were not particularly frowned upon; now they are considered really bad.

3. People just can't seem to agree on whether the book is racist or anti-racist.

One of the main characters, Jim, is a black enslaved person who has run away from the white woman who "owned him." Since we grow to like Jim, and since we see him as a complex character and person, and since the book as a whole largely sides with freedom for enslaved people, I think it is fair to say that the book was anti-racist at the time it was written.

That said, most books published back in the 1800s and the early 1900s - even the anti-slavery ones - seem pretty darned racist to us now, in the 2000s.

We know that Mark Twain (whose non-author name was Samuel Clemens) was very, very, very much against slavery.

4. Some people assumed that the book must be for kids, or at least teens, because the character Huckleberry Finn is 13 to 14 years old. But then they worried about the coarse language and controversial themes (like the slavery thing).

And that is still happening today. People worry about kids reading the N-word, and sometimes other words are subbed in (but that can be confusing, honestly).

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn still makes the news today, because one or another school or library staff will decide to remove the book from its shelves, but it also makes the news whenever the school or library staff decide to put it back on the shelf after a period of censorship! The same year that the book was published, people were censoring it; and it still ranks in top 20 of most censored books!

By the way, Mark Twain once wrote that he meant the book just for adults, not kids. But he went on to say, apparently with a lot of sarcasm, that the Bible is also upsetting to kids. So...I assume he may have meant his book for teens despite his words?

I did not read that Huckleberry Finn was controversial
because it portrays a teenager smoking...

But I doubt that any publisher these days would
emphasize the smoking by using this book cover.

Did you know...?

One TV-movie version of the book, in 1955, tried to get rid of the controversy by eliminating the character Jim  entirely!

Wh-wh-what? The book is mostly about two main characters, fellow-travelers on the Mississippi River, both of them running away from mistreatment and (different kinds of) enslavement.  

Much of the personal growth we see in Huck comes from his developing relationship with Jim and his evolving ideas about slavery.

How on earth would anyone be able to tell the adventures of Huck Finn without Jim?

Also on this date:

Settlers' Day in Namibia

Worldwide Candle Lighting

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December 9 - Happy Birthday, Esther Peterson

Posted on December 9, 2017

A consumer advocate.

That means someone who looks out for people who buy things - someone who makes sure that products are safe and that they match their labels and advertisements.

A woman's advocate.

Someone who takes action on behalf of women's rights.

A labor organizer and union lobbyist.

Someone who tries to get companies and lawmakers to treat workers well. Fair wages, safe working conditions, reasonable hours.

Today's famous birthday, Esther Peterson, was all of these things and more. She worked for several different unions and in the government, under three different U.S. presidents. She worked for Giant Food Corporation and was president of the National Consumers' League. 

Here is a little video about being ad-savvy in today's consumer-oriented world. 

And here is a brief history of labor unions. 

Check out some of Esther Peterson's wisdom:


Also on this date:

Weary Willie Day

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