February 7, 2010

1812 – Earthshaking news in England and the U.S.!

England – Charles Dickens is born!

Happy Birthday to Charles Dickens, author of A Ch
ristmas Carol, David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, Oliver Twist...(and more).

Dickens was one of the most popular authors of the Victorian
era and remains one of the most popular of all time, whose novels and short stories have never gone out of print. From high school literature classes to popular movies, from animated television shows to Dickens fairs and festivals all over the world, Dickens's work has appeared over and over again.

Did you know...?

Some historians credit Dickens with inventing Christmas. What they mean, of course, is that Dickens and his works reinvented Christmas, and he, along with a few other trendsetters, helped solidify a certain look and feel that still resonates with many modern people.

Before Dickens, Christmas in English-speaking countries was nothing like the holiday it is today. For many, it was a large family feast and not much more, and
some Protestants were suspicious of any Christmas celebration at all.

During the Victorian era, however, Prince Albert and Queen Victoria brought the German tradition of decorated Christmas trees to England; soon small presents hanging on the tree became larger presents under the tree.

Dickens wrote about Christmas in several works, most notably A Christmas Carol, and his take-away message was that Christmas is a time of generosity. Gift-giving to loved ones, charity to the less fortunate in the community, and a cheerful spendthrift spirit—we can put all of that down to the anti-bah-humbug spirit Dickens promoted. Furtherm
ore, Christmas as a time of a well-stoked fire, a parlor crowded with merry family members, being cozy while snow falls outside—all of these, too, are laid at Dickens's door by some.

The U.S. – Earthquake
s cause a river to flow “upstream”!

On the same day as Dickens's birth, a severe earthquake rocked New Madrid, Missouri, in the U.S. The quake set off what is known as a fluvial tsunami, which caused the Mississippi River to “run backward,” away from the Gulf of Mexico, northward toward Iowa, for several hours.

A tsunami is a very large ocean wave caused by an earthquake or a volcan
ic eruption. The word fluvial means “relating to a river,” so of course a fluvial tsunami refers to a large river wave caused by an earthquake.

The earthquake that reversed the flow of the mighty Mississippi (for a few hours) is estimated to be one of the most powerful in human history, with a Richter scale reading, scientists believe, of approximately 8.8. (Actually, that area of Missouri had been shaken up by many huge earthquakes, one after another—starting with an 8.6 quake on December 16, 1811, continuing with an 8.4 earthquake in January, 1812, and continuing on with aftershocks for a few years!)

Luckily, the area was sparsely populated, and most buildings were only one story high. In all the earthquakes, about 1,000 people died—which is very sad, but in another time or place, the death toll could have been much higher, as we sadly know from Haiti's much less powerful 7.0 quake last month.

Read Dickens

The works of Charles Dickens are online, free for the reading. Here is the short story “The Child's Story,” and here is David Copperfield.

Celebrate Dickens!

The Bleak House has an animation about Charles Dickens's life; it's well done and interesting. Warning: this animation makes mention of a few adult problems (such as that Dickens may have drank too much) and includes his death.

David Perdue has a full-service Charles Dickens website with lots of stuff to explore, including many more links.

Learn more about Earthquakes

There is an enormous amount of information, plus quizzes and puzzles, at this U.S. government website.

Help for Earthquake Victims

The Red Cross cannot ship donated items such as blankets and canned goods to Haiti. Instead, they have been asking people for cash donations. Adult participation in blood drives is always welcome, too.

One way to raise money for donations is to have an information fair. For example, you could hold an earthquake preparedness and awareness fair, charging a small amount for participation, with all proceeds going to Haitian relief. Ask local businesses to donate drinks and snacks to be sold for fifty cents or a dollar per item. Have some teachers and nurses donate their time to speak or run an activity. Hold an earthquake jeopardy trivia game.

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