Monday, February 29, 2016

Go Tell It On The Mountain by James Baldwin

Source of book: Borrowed from the library

It is, once more, Black History Month - okay, the last day, but still - and for the sixth year in a row, I read at least one book by an African American author. Here are my previous selections:

Other notable books by African American or African authors:

Books on Black History by other authors:


Photo by Allan Warren
Used pursuant to the Creative Commons License

Go Tell It On The Mountain is James Baldwin’s most autobiographical book, with the characters drawn largely from his own family. I chose this book because it was considered an important one, but without really knowing what it was about. I can say without hesitation that this is an excellent book, and one that spoke to me in unexpected ways.

First, a bit on the structure. I should issue a spoiler warning for those who haven’t read it, although the “plot” is hardly the most important thing in the book. Also, it was published in 1953, the year my father was born, so it is hardly a secret at this point.

The book is told largely from the point of view of John Grimes, a 14 year old young man growing up in Harlem in the 1930s. He is intelligent and sensitive, and fits the mold of a person who sincerely, desperately, wants to be good and to be loved. He was easy for me to identify with, as he has a lot in common with my own personality. John is also the character based on Baldwin himself.

The book is divided into three sections. The first, entitled “The Seventh Day,” sets the stage, introducing the characters, and taking place during the greater part of a typical Saturday in John’s life - but a day that would lead to a great change in him. The central struggle for John is his competing desires. On the one hand, he wishes to break free from his fundamentalist - and fanatical - stepfather; on the other, he is drawn toward his stepfather’s religion and toward the ideal of salvation. Along the way, we are introduced to the stepfather, Gabriel, who is both extremely religious and also violent against his family; the mother, Elizabeth, who has had a hard life, and wishes the best for her children, but is blamed by Gabriel for their faults; John’s half-brother Roy, as stubborn and rebellious as his father was; and Florence, Gabriel’s sister, strong and hard.

The middle section is subdivided into three parts. It is entitled “The Prayers of the Saints,” and each subsection tells the backstory of a character largely from that character’s point of view. So we hear of Florence, who eventually escaped from her life in the South, caring for her invalid mother and putting up with the drunken debauchery of her brother Gabriel. Her life in the North isn’t much better, as she suffers through an abusive marriage and poverty. We next hear of Gabriel, who battles his demons through his religious convictions, but has a humiliating failure that haunts him and that he hopes is not discovered. Finally, we hear from Elizabeth, who experiences a tragic love (which results in the conception of John), and who must balance her own guilt and regret with her duties to her children and husband.

One of the things that I truly loved about this book was Baldwin’s amazing ability to empathize with his characters. His own stepfather was as violent and unloving as Gabriel, and yet, Baldwin portrays him as a complex and startlingly sympathetic character. As far as that goes, he dedicates the book to his mother and father - and I believe he means his stepfather. (He refers to Gabriel as John’s father throughout the book, in recognition of the fact that Gabriel raises John.) To take a person who was abusive, haunted by his own demons, and who was fatally conflicted between his guilt on behalf of his own wayward biological son, and his jealousy of the docile nature of his stepson, and make him into a character that can be understood and pitied takes a level of grace and charity that is rare. (I am reminded to a degree of Anthony Trollope, who likewise understood that utter villains are rare.)

The final section is entitled “The Threshing Floor,” and tells of John’s conversion experience and his own epiphany in his life’s journey.

Baldwin portrays the complex relationship that the African American community has had with religion. On the one hand, it was and remains a source of community, solidarity, and inspiration. Martin Luther King Jr.’s most inspiring ideals sprang in significant part from his faith, and that faith was in so many ways a binding factor in the Civil Rights Movement. On the other hand, though, religion has also served as an agent of repression and an enabler of hypocrisy. Gabriel is able to “rule” his family with a violent hand in large part because of his beliefs. He is convinced that he must beat the wickedness out of his son Roy lest he meet the violent and tragic fate of his illegitimate son - the first Royal. Likewise, Gabriel believes (wrongly) that it is Elizabeth’s softness that has led Roy to rebel, and thus he beats her while blaming her for Roy’s choices. Gabriel cannot see that Roy cannot respect his father, because he realizes that Gabriel is a total hypocrite, unable to control his own passions or be loving to his family.

The thing is, this isn’t just a description of a particular African American experience. I myself recognized the dynamic here. In some ways, there is the experience that I had in my brief days in the Bill Gothard cult - religious fanaticism and hypocrisy are much the same everywhere. In others, I see the lives of friends, acquaintances, and clients who survived abusive family situations that were caused or exacerbated by religious fundamentalism. More than anything, I recognize the guilt. The feeling that the mistakes of the parents justify the most extreme measures against the children, to “save” them from making the same mistakes. And when I read of Roy, several faces come to mind immediately.

Even more than that, though, there is John. John is me. But he is also many others. For all of us who have always had the strong desire to be good, who have always wanted desperately to have love and approval. For those of us who felt in some sense that we could never live up to our own ideals, but also could never truly gain the approval of our parents without losing some crucial part of ourselves.

The story becomes even more interesting, though, when one follows the progression past the end of the book.

At the end, John has his salvation experience. He becomes “saved” both from an outside perspective and from his own. He feels he has met God.

Likewise, James Baldwin had a similar experience at age 14. He would go on to become a pentecostal preacher like his stepfather.

But after that, things changed.

In his late teens, Baldwin became disillusioned with religion. As he later explained to Elijah Mohammed (one of the early leaders of the Nation of Islam), “being in the pulpit was like working in the theatre; I was behind the scenes and knew how the illusion was worked.”

It is easy to see this in Go Tell It On The Mountain. On the one hand, John’s experience is treated as being fully genuine. On the other, as Baldwin narrates the story, it is clear that he realizes that much of what is venerated as “true” religion is just smoke and mirrors. It is a craft much like music - or magic. The skilled practitioner can see behind the curtain and explain the emotional manipulation.

I am very much in Baldwin’s camp on this issue. There are indeed many genuine believers, who live out their religion in quiet, largely unnoticed ways. But for the most part, those who garner the attention are all sizzle, and no steak. It is an illusion played to gather money and attention from the masses, with nothing of substance behind it. It is just selling a false promise that everything will be better with a formula of some sort.

One more factor in all of this that struck a chord: Baldwin was gay, as he came to realize. You can see the genesis of this in his obvious attraction to his cousin Elijah, which John sublimates into a religious adoration. Later, Baldwin would write more controversial works about sexuality, which led to him being marginalized in the Civil Rights movement. (At the time, homosexuality was associated with communism and generally treated as suspect, so his existence was inconvenient for the movement.)

The reason, though, that this struck me was this: starting in my early teens, I have known friends who have come out. Of the young men in particular, I can say this: they are like John. They have generally been the sensitive, kind, young men. The ones most drawn to the things of God. Contrary to the stereotype - and the vile slander heaped on them by the James Dobsons and Bryan Fischers and Duggars of the world - they are not a bunch of godless predators. And they have generally been eaten for lunch by the church.

For Baldwin, one can see how he would notice the illusion. As long as the facade of goodness is maintained, one can hide evil and violence behind the curtain of fanaticism. But for the one who makes that fatal misstep, there is nothing but condemnation and marginalization awaiting.  

There are some lines I think are worth quoting. First is Roy’s response to his mother who tries to convince him that he is lucky to have a father who works to support him.

“Yeah, we don’t know how lucky we is  to have a father what don’t want you to go to movies, and don’t want you to play in the streets, and don’t want you to have no friends, and he don’t want this and he don’t want that, and he don’t want you to do nothing. We so lucky to have a father who just wants us to go to church and read the Bible and beller like a fool in front of the altar and stay home all nice and quite, like a little mouse. Boy, we sure is lucky, all right. Don’t know what I done to be so lucky.”

Surprise, surprise! Cultural Fundamentalism is the same everywhere, isn’t it?

A little later, after Roy gets into a fight, Florence takes her brother to task:

“Don’t you worry about my language, brother,” she said with spirit, “you better start worrying about your life. What these children hear ain’t going to do them near as much harm as what they see.”

“What they see,” his father muttered, “is a poor man trying to serve the Lord. That’s my life.”

“Then I guarantee you,” she said, “that they going to do their best to keep it from being their life. You mark my words.”

Total truth. I can see this reflected in the many parents I know that feel their children have somehow strayed. In actual fact, they are doing their best to make sure that are not doing what their parents did that damaged them.

This is one of the things it is so hard to do as a parent. We want so much to see them behave that we forget to focus on creating a loving environment.  

Near the end of the book, when Florence confronts Gabriel with the way he treated his baby-momma years ago, he tries to wiggle out of it by claiming he is past all of that and just following the Lord.

“And if you have been but a stumbling stone here below?” she said. “If you done caused souls right and left to stumble and fall, and lose their happiness, and lose their souls? What then, prophet? What the, the Lord’s anointed? Ain’t no reckoning going to be called of you? What you going to say when the wagon comes?”

He lifted up his head, and she saw the tears mingled with his sweat. “The Lord,” he said, “He sees the heart--He sees the heart.”

“Yes,” she said, “but I done read the Bible, too, and it tells me you going to know the tree by its fruit. What fruit I seen from you if it ain’t been just sin and sorrow and shame?”

And this is indeed a question for all of us to ponder. If all we have left behind us is a trail of destruction and shame, what matters it if we have keep some sort of theological orthodoxy?

One final one. This comes from the story of the young Gabriel, in his first days as a preacher, when he is naive, and also a bit full of himself. He has not yet taken his first real fall, but he can recognize the hypocrisy in some fellow preachers.

They seemed to him so lax, so nearly worldly; they were not like those holy prophets of old who grew thin and naked in the service of the Lord. These, God’s ministers, had indeed grown fat, and their dress was rich and various. They had been in the field so long that they did not tremble before God anymore. They took God’s power as their due, as something that made the more exciting their own assured, special atmosphere. They each had, it seemed, a bagful of sermons often preached; and they knew, in the careless lifting of an eye, which sermon to bring to which congregation.

The young Gabriel never wants to “hold the gift of God so lightly.” And yet he too, cannot really grasp the point, as he himself cannot learn to show love. It’s either showmanship or hellfire and legalism for Gabriel. He finds he has neither the talent to be a successful showman nor the ability to live up to his own standards, so he compensates by loading rules and pressure on his family.

Again, I highly recommend reading this book. Baldwin’s writing is perceptive and his understanding of family and church dynamics is spot on.

Friday, February 26, 2016

What the Endorsement of Donald Trump by Phyllis Schlafly says about the state of Evangelicalism

I really don’t like to delve into politics unless I have to. It feels dirty to write this post in some ways, and I really find this particular election cycle depressing. However, there are times when politics intersect with faith in a way that warrants a closer look, and this is one of the occasions.

Late in December, Donald Trump gained an interesting endorsement. Phyllis Schlafly, long of Concerned Women for America and the Eagle Forum, came out in favor of Trump. It isn’t just the endorsement itself, but the “why” of the endorsement that I find troubling.

First, some background on Trump. I grew up in the 1980s, when Trump first came to the attention of the world as an obnoxious trust fund baby with the morals and values of a Gordon Gekko. His serial marriages to a string of Eastern European beauties younger than himself was legendary - as was his bragging about his adultery and disdain for his ex-wives.

As far as that goes, nothing much has changed, from his insulting statements about his ex-wives to his creepy “I’d sleep with her if she wasn’t my daughter” quip.

And that’s before you get to his creative use of bankruptcies to enrich himself at the expense of his creditors; his slander of African Americans, Hispanics, women, and people with disabilities; and his disconnect from actual facts about pretty much everything. And it’s not like he stands for some conservative principle. More like raw arrogance, power, and violence. Disagree with him, well, he’d like to punch you in the face

And then there is the narcissism. Good lord! He’s transparently self absorbed and arrogant, even for a politician.

Honestly, I doubted that I would see another serious presidential candidate exceed the sleeze factor of Bill Clinton. (I’m sorry, hitting on 20-year-old interns is sleazy.) That this candidate would become a front runner among Evangelicals is astounding. I mean, the GOP tried to impeach Clinton on the basis of his affairs and the lies he told about them, and now someone even slimier may well be their nominee? What gives? 

Furthermore, there is nothing remotely Christian about him or his worldview - something Evangelicals have claimed for decades was an important factor in choosing a leader. 

I had a pretty good idea before the Schlafly endorsement as to what was going on here, but I didn’t think it warranted a post. After all, most of us have that 5% of friends, family, and acquaintances who are just a little off. Uncle Fred, who makes racist comments at Thanksgiving. Aunt Edna, who waxes nostalgic about the good old days before the wetbacks arrived. You know the sort.

But for a major player in the Religious Right to go over to someone so personally opposed to the morals and values the Religious Right has claimed to stand for all these years is a big deal.

Even more shocking is that her reason for endorsing him matches what every single person who I know who has endorsed Trump has given as the reason.

Any guesses?

“The rich guys are putting the money in. They want to bring in the low-wage people. That’s the way they think they’ll make money,” she said. “But that’s not the way America will prosper. America was built because we had a great growing and prosperous middle class. We need to rebuild that again. I’m willing to give a new try to somebody else.”

That’s right. It’s the low-income brown skinned people who are ruining America! If we could just be white and middle class again…

Even worse, she has said Trump is the “last hope for America.” So, if we can’t keep America white, it is the end for us? I’m pretty darn sure that is what she means.

In fact, the central theme of the Trump campaign is one of White Nationalism. Many have pointed out (correctly) that Trump is running the most explicitly racist campaign since George Wallace in 1968. (His inauguration speech as governor included the infamous words, “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever.”)

That’s why it is of interest to me who the Trump supporters of my acquaintance are. Things they have in common: all consider themselves Christian, all are white, and all support Trump because he will deport the Mexicans.

Statistically, too, the supporters who drove the Trump bandwagon before others jumped on were overwhelmingly white, and 85% over the age of 45.

Just an aside, most of the GOP candidates are to some degree opposed to immigration, but Trump took it to a new level. His supporters, from what I can tell, want all undocumented immigrants deported immediately, even if they came to the US as infants. And also that we shut the border, allowing zero immigration from Mexico, legal or otherwise. Oh, and force Mexico to pay for it.

Here’s a fairly representative quote, from Michelle Goldberg’s piece on Trump.

I sat next to John Jensen, a 70-year-old farmer. He’s an ultraconservative, but when I asked whether he was bothered by Trump’s record on abortion and gay marriage, he said, “That’s Mickey Mouse stuff compared to what’s really going on in this country. We’re $20 trillion in debt. We got aliens all over the place. I harvest wheat out west, and all the little towns are full of aliens.” 

See, just like Schlafly, he believes the biggest problem facing America right now is that there are just too damn many brown skinned people here, and they are the reason we are in debt. The reason for all our problems. Those people are. 

Fear. Fear of losing economic and social privilege. We no longer have the power and wealth we used to. It must be the fault of someone else. Someone who looks different from us. It is those people who need to go.

(Does this sound a bit too familiar to students of history? Hmm.) 

The reason I think this has something to say about Evangelicalism is this: it’s not just that Trump has strong support from a significant percentage of Evangelicals.. True, he is, and continues to be, the most popular candidate, and his approval rating among Evangelicals remains disturbingly high.

However, many Evangelicals also loathe Trump, so this isn’t a clear-cut issue. 

The fact that Ted Cruz and his longstanding connection to the Lunatic Right (such as Kevin Swanson and Glenn Beck), a faux-historian, David Barton, who tells outright lies, and the Christian Reconstructionist movement is the other popular Evangelical candidate is something I find equally disturbing - if less surprising.

What is more telling, in my opinion, is that a nakedly racist appeal - one that seems to me and others like me - to be completely contrary to the teachings of Christ - can be embraced by a luminary within Evangelicalism, and there isn’t really any horror.

I have seen plenty of posts warning that Trump doesn’t really meet the ultimate Religious Right litmus test (abortion), but pretty much zero horrified about his White Nationalism.

Well, maybe this is understandable, since calling for the deportation of Mexicans appears to have become its own purity test within the GOP these days. (Good grief, how much the GOP has moved to the right since I was a kid...)

Not just that, but I have gotten embroiled in several heated conversations about the issue of immigration and refugees, and it has been so disappointing at how many “Christians” are passionately opposed to any immigration. Legal or illegal, but particularly no more Muslims or Mexicans.

And I still can’t get an answer as to how that position fulfills “love your neighbor as yourself.” Instead, I have been told how tired they are of people questioning their religious beliefs. Oh really? Can’t take the heat? Or is Stephen Colbert (a devout Catholic) right about this?

There are arguments on both sides of the question as to whether immigration is a net benefit to the United States or not. I believe one can come to a logical conclusion either way and maintain intellectual honesty.

But what isn’t really disputable is whether immigration benefits the immigrant. Particularly in the easy case of the person brought here as an infant. That person would clearly suffer if deported. So how is that being loving? The answer is that it isn’t. Sorry. You can’t just wiggle out of that one.

(By the way, arguing with these people is much like arguing with Doug Wilson supporters. Even though everyone outside the bubble can see that he is a White Supremacist who defends slavery, they won’t actually admit he is racist.)

Returning to what this says about the state of Evangelicalism, here is the question:

Why is there no outcry about the endorsement of Trump? There surely would be if Schlafly had endorsed someone who was pro-gay-marriage. There probably would be if she had endorsed someone who was “moderate” by GOP standards. But naked racism is okay? 

She has just endorsed the same candidate as KKK leader David Duke - for the very same reasons. And the silence is deafening.  

Shouldn’t the continued popularity of Trump cause some soul-searching as to the spiritual state of Evangelicalism? 

One common statement many have made about why they support Trump is “He says what everyone is thinking, but are too afraid to say.”

That’s a scary thought, because apparently what a great many people are thinking is unvarnished racism and White Nationalism, anger, fear, and hate.

I can only conclude that this is the result of decades of spiritual malpractice. For too long, “Christian Morality” has been defined as sexual rules, gender roles, white middle class culture, and - of course - abortion. As long as you get those right, you can be as greedy, selfish, materialistic, and power-worshiping as you like, and nobody will make you uncomfortable. Put a rainbow on your profile picture, and all hell breaks loose. Suggest that the last hope for Christendom lies in the material prosperity of the white middle class - and call for the removal of low income brown skinned people - as if there was anything remotely Christlike about that...and...crickets.


Just a couple of observations:

  1. Schlafly illustrates the fact that for a significant portion of the Religious Right, “Christianity” looks like 1950s Middle-class white culture. A time when [white] men could support a family on one income, and the wife was at home with the kids, cooking and cleaning in heels and pearls. That’s why the “greatest threat” to America turns out to be brown skinned people who (allegedly) lowered wages for white males, so that they couldn’t support a family on a single income. (Leaving aside other issues, like the decline of private-sector unions, and the mechanization of manufacturing, which Schlafly doesn’t appear to believe are potential causes of declining wages. Nope, just the brown people.)
It never even occurs to Schlafly that the people she wants to keep out are seeking to be able to have a decent life for themselves. Their goals and welfare don’t matter, just the “real” Americans.

2.     I wish more people were aware of the origins of the Religious Right as a political force. The primary sources for Paul Weyrich’s account of the rise of the Right as we know it are readily available online. This article from Politico gives a decent summary.
If you actually look at history, the original political goal was the protection of the tax-exempt status of Bob Jones University and others who wished to remain segregated after the Civil Rights Act. So yes, it was in fact Segregation which united the Religious Right. And now it has come full circle, it appears, with many of the original players (Schlafly, Liberty University, the younger Jerry Falwell, and so on) going for a White Nationalist candidate.

3.     We can no longer plausibly deny that white Evangelicalism is plagued with deep-rooted racism. As it is, the lack of outrage that there will be no justice for 12 year old Tamar Rice is telling, and many of us found the white Evangelical response to Ferguson to be appalling for its lack of compassion and outright racism. But the embrace of Trump has really brushed away any remaining pretence. When push comes to shove, racism wins over any moral considerations. Not to discount the existence of racism in younger people, because it exists there too, but statistically, the White Nationalist push is coming from Evangelical Baby Boomers. There are a number of reasons why young people are fleeing the church. But this is one reason.

4.     My prediction: If (when?) Trump becomes the GOP nominee, you will see the vast majority of Evangelicals vote for and support him. In part because he will have an (R) next to his name. But also because the vast majority of Evangelicals have become single issue voters. Because the candidate with the (D) will not be calling for the outlawing of abortion, they will “hold their noses and vote for Trump.” And an increasing number of the next generation will be wondering exactly why they should take Evangelicalism seriously when it comes to morality.  

5.     Maybe one reason we Evangelicals have embraced a narcissist peddling a message of hate and greed is that we have all too often embraced narcisistic celebrity religious leaders who preach the same message. And not just the Prosperity Gospel sorts either. Mark Driscoll, C. J. Mahaney, Doug Wilson, Doug Phillips, Bill Gothard...


I linked this above, but I think it is well worth reading. (Hat tip to a relative for sending this my way.) 

Money quotes: 

When religion enters politics, politics can more easily adopt the mask of religion. Deep theological and moral traditions of reflection can be usurped by a shallow civil religion that carries not a touch of the prophetic power or ethical formation that Christianity or Islam or Judaism holds. American civil religion is the religion of Americanism, commandeering the rhetoric of piety for the sake of simplistic nationalism and selfish indulgence.

The problem with civil religion is that it has no moral core, and when put under the pressure of a polarized culture it can become very uncivil. Trump lashes out against migrants and American Muslims, not because they are a real threat, but because they are culturally weak; they are convenient minorities, relatively powerless targets of American incivility and rage.


I should have included this earlier, but better late than never. While I applaud Max Lucado for acknowledging that Trump lacks common decency, his article has several glaring omissions. 

Decency for President

First of all, note that he mentions that Trump has insulted women and people with disabilities. 

Note what he did NOT mention: That Trump has also insulted African Americans, Hispanics, and Muslims. 

Why didn't you mention that, Max? 

Also, why didn't you mention at all that Trump's biggest problem is that his campaign is based on racism? Can you not say "racist" and still keep your audience? 


Before commenting, please read my comment policy.

In particular, I will not tolerate racist comments. If you cannot explain how your policy regarding people different from you actually benefits them, I’m deleting your comment. The majority voice within Evangelicalism right now is already that of white supremacism and xenophobia. I’m not giving you a platform.

Likewise, I will delete any comments which endorse any candidate.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Mudshark by Gary Paulsen

Source of book: Audiobook from the library

Not too long ago, I thought of Gary Paulsen as the realistic and unflinching author of the Hatchet books. (Reviewed here and here.) But it turns out that he has been a prolific writer over the last 25 years, and his range is much greater than I had supposed. Apparently, he wasn’t a one-hit wonder. Likewise, serious writing was not his only strength. He has a delightful sense of humor of just the right type to appeal to kids not easily grossed out. Like, say, my kids.

Over our Christmas trip, we enjoyed Masters of Disaster, so we decided to try Mudshark for our recent camping trip. 

Like Masters of Disaster, Mudshark is a relatively short book, clocking in at about two hours on audiobook. It was also a hit with the kids.

The basic premise is this: Lyle Williams, aka “Mudshark,” is a middle-schooler who got his nickname after a game of “Death Ball,” a local game which sounds quite a bit like the way soccer was once played. The author describes it as a cross between soccer, rugby, football, and a mud fight. The entire town takes it quite seriously, despite - or perhaps because of - the fact that the school has outlawed it. With lightning reflexes honed keeping his toddler triplet sisters out of harm’s way, he saves a goal faster than human vision can follow. Mudshark isn’t just athletic, though. He lives by his quick wits and his excellent memory. Can’t find something? Mudshark probably knows where it is. Need help solving a problem? Call Mudshark. In an interesting spin on real-life playground politics, it turns out the nerdy kid who doesn’t care about popularity ends up being cool.

Things start to go sideways, however, when the librarian gets a talking parrot, whose powers of observation prove to be serious competition for Mudshark. And then the erasers in every classroom start to go missing. This ends up being Mudshark’s toughest case yet.

A number of things brought snickers from my kids, from the little girls to the logarithmic multiplication of crawfish in the school’s ill-fated “animals in the classroom” experiment. And the escaped gerbil who seems intent on terrorizing the 8th Grade English teacher.

But the most popular, by unanimous vote (yes, I took a poll), was the introductions to each chapter. They all start the same way, with an announcement over the school’s PA system.

“Will the custodian please report to the faculty restroom with…”

And then follows an ever-escalating list of needed implements. Starting with “a plunger and a mop,” then “a plank” and eventually “a Geiger counter and a hazmat suit.” One is left to wonder exactly what was going on there, and how a bunch of teachers ended up getting the Department of Homeland Security and various environmental agencies called out to deal with a toilet emergency.  

Of course, this joke does work better if one has kids that actually know what one would do with a Geiger counter. In fact, though, one thing I do like about Paulsen’s writing is that he balances the need to write at the level of his intended readers with an ability to do so without dumbing stuff down. He assumes kids are intelligent and educated even as he stretches their scientific knowledge.

Mudshark isn’t intended to be deep literature or anything, but it is an entertaining tale, and one that subtly pushes Paulsen’s view that there is nothing shameful or uncool about learning and reading and paying attention. I’d say Paulsen writes about boys really well, and it is true, but girls too will find his humorous books enjoyable as well.