Friday, September 13, 2013

Myths to Explain Our World

Have you noticed how the days are getting shorter? How it's sometimes dark when you wake up now, and the sun sets earlier? In The Time Fetch, Amy Herrick creates a captivating mythology to explain why this is so.

Eighth-grader Edward has disturbed a Fetch in the middle of December, "a dangerous time." The Fetch collects the stray minutes, the moments you won't miss -- and disperses them where they're needed. But Edward's interference puts the Fetch's job in jeopardy. The boy needs a rock for Mr. Ross's science class, and grabs the nearest one from his kooky Aunt Kit's backyard. Aunt Kit has raised Edward and, with a sense of foreboding, tells him to come straight home and offers him some cryptic words of advice, "It's the short end of the year," when "the curtain between here and there grows thin." As odd as her phrases seem, they begin to make sense to Edward--and to readers--as bizarre occurrences whirl around the Fetch. 

Amy Herrick
Photo credit: Breukellen Riesgo
The Fetch may be Herrick's invention, but she uses the idea of time's perceived elasticity to explore age-old ideas. Edward's Aunt Kit is the first to broach the subject ("Without time everything would happen at once," says she), then Mr. Ross introduces the topic of time as the fourth dimension (along with length, width and height). This may lead neatly into a discussion with young readers of how man has always sought explanations for things he cannot understand, from the oral tradition of the Aztecs to the controversial heliocentric ideas of Copernicus. Over the centuries, poets and scientists have always worked toward and continue to strive for a deeper understanding of how the universe works and where human beings fit within it.

The Time Fetch makes a natural complement to books such as A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle and Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me, to further explore the nature of time and humankind's fascination with it over the centuries. And for adults and older children with a desire to explore these ideas, Einstein's Dreams by Alan Lightman (an MIT professor of physics and writing) is a beautiful piece of bookmaking--a series of meditations on the nature of time, to be enjoyed in short bursts, to allow time for Lightman's ideas to sink in before reading the next chapter. (This was one of the early paperbacks to use French flaps--maybe even the first.) 

Amy Herrick, whose inspiration for The Time Fetch began with a conversation with a friend about how time seemed in shorter supply now than when they were small, provides a wonderful gateway into a larger examination of how the world works.

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