Fifty Dangerous Things and Gourds: Resources by Becky Rupp
Fifty Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do)
Gever Tulley’s Fifty Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do) (Tinkering Unlimited, 2009) is a lot less terrifying than it sounds. (In fact, a lot of it, compared to some of the dangerous things my kids decided to do, is positively mild.) In just over 100 pages, Tulley describes fifty temptingly risky and arguably educational projects for kids, among them lick a 9-volt battery, burn things with a magnifying glass, squash pennies on a railroad track, look at the sun, dam up a creek, drive a car, construct your own flying machine, and learn dramatic sword fighting. Each dangerous thing comes with a numbered list of instructional how-tos, safety cautions, supplementary data and background information, a quickie indication of duration and difficulty, and a page for your own “field notes.”
Tulley’s point is that not only is this stuff fascinating, but it’s inevitable. Risk is part of the natural process of discovery involved in growing up, and – since our kids are going to take risks anyway – it’s best to teach them to practice commonsense and to use their experiences to develop skill and confidence. Frankly, it sounds wonderful.
To see Fifty Dangerous Things in action, check out http://fiftydangerousthings.wordpress.com/, which documents the adventures of two kids – Jack and Sam – as they work their way through all fifty of the projects in the books.
Growing Gourds (and the Big Dipper)
Growing gourds – inedible hard-shelled cousins of the pumpkin and squash – is a wonderful gardening project for kids. Gourds are easy to grow, simple to prepare (you pick them and let them sit), and just one hill or two will supply you with lots. And you can do all kinds of things with them.
For beginning gourd growers, Ohio State University Extension has a helpful fact sheet, with an accompanying list of seed suppliers.
“The Wild and Wonderful World of Gourds” from the Wayne’s Word online natural history textbook is a fascinating and detailed illustrated history of the gourd family, with reference list, growing instructions, and seed sources. (Warning: among the cool gourd trivia is included is a discussion of the “penis sheath gourds” of New Guinea.)
The Gourd Reserve has an illustrated Gourd ID Chart, a history of purple martins and birdhouse gourds, a list of native American gourd uses, instructions for harvesting, cleaning, and drying gourds, and galleries of gourd art.
The Gourd Dollhouse Tutorial from Bitter Betty’s craft blog has simple illustrated step-by-step instructions for making dollhouses from birdhouse or bottle gourds. Younger kids will need some help – the project calls for a Dremel tool and sandpaper – but the end result is irresistible.
Making Gourd Musical Instruments by Ginger Summit and Jim Widess (Sterling, 2007) has instructions for making and playing over sixty different string, wind, and percussion instruments – all made from gourds and straight out of the garden – along with a lot of interesting historical background information and some gorgeous gourd photographs. Try making your own fipple flute, water drum, kalimba (thumb piano), or temple gong. For all ages.
Hopeful gourd musicians should also check out the Richmond Indigenous Gourd Orchestra for photos of gourd instruments and musical clips of gourd performances.
See http://www.crafts4kids.com/projects/900/909_3.htm for instructions for making a flower-patterned Jamaican gourd basket. Requires a drill and a wood-burning tool.
Additional resources while waiting for your gourds to grow:
F.N. Monjo’s The Drinking Gourd (HarperCollins, 1993) is the story of a family fleeing north to escape slavery, using the Big Dipper (the “Drinking Gourd”) as a directional guide. They shelter at Deacon Fuller’s house, which is a station on the Underground Railroad, where young Tommy Fuller discovers them – and has a soul-searching discussion with his father about breaking the law. For ages 5-8.
Also see Jeanette Winters’s Follow the Drinking Gourd (Dragonfly Books, 1992).
“Follow the Drinking Gourd: A Cultural History” is a history of the “Follow the Drinking Gourd” folk song, with an explanation of what the lyrics mean, audio clips of performances, a children’s book list, and a teacher’s guide.
Franklyn M. Branley’s The Big Dipper (HarperCollins, 1991), one of the Let’s-Read-and-Find-Out science series, is an introduction to the Dipper/Gourd for ages 4-8. Included is a diagram showing the changing position of the Dipper in the night sky through the seasons of the year, and the names of all the Dipper’s stars.
E.C. Krupp’s The Big Dipper and You (HarperTrophy, 1999) is sadly out of print, but worth tracking down through libraries and used-book sources. In this 48-page overview of the northern hemisphere’s best-known asterism (that is, a part of a constellation), readers learn why the Dipper handle hangs down (like an icicle) in winter) and points up (like a dipper full of cold lemonade) in summer, and discover that the ancient Persians used the second (double) star in the Dipper’s handle as a test of eyesight. For ages 6-10.
The Magic Gourd by Baba Wague Diakite (Scholastic, 2003) is a retelling of an African folktale in which Rabbit saves a chameleon from a thorn bush, and is given in reward a magic gourd that fills with anything its owner wishes for. When the gourd is stolen by a greedy king, Chameleon and Rabbit join forces to teach him a valuable lesson. For ages 6-10.
In James Rumford’s Calabash Cat and His Amazing Journey (Houghton Mifflin, 2003), a curious cat sets out from Africa to see where the world ends. He travels across desert, grassland, jungle, and ocean, helped by many animals along the way, all drawn in a stylized fashion that imitates the gourd art of the Kotoko people of Chad. For ages 4-8.