Sometimes a book or a comic book, sometimes a "tell-story". For the latter, I turn the lights off and lie on the ground beside the bunk bed.
Last night was the story of the Phoenix lander. You remember the Phoenix lander, right? Parachuted down to the north pole of Mars a few months ago, did some soil testing, discovered ice, saw snow falling. Then gradually ran out of power. Martian winter -> long nights -> less energy from solar panels, plus cold forcing it to run internal heaters longer, plus dust storms; the Martian high arctic is not so friendly.
Well, a few weeks ago some bright person at NASA gave the probe a Twitter feed. "Phoenix" was brave and spunky, fearless in the face of certain death, and prone to saying things like "Still hoping to get a bit of strength back
& maybe do more science" and |In case we don't get this chance again,
thank you all so much for the questions, comments & good wishes
over the mission. It's been awesome." This may sound idiotic, but it turned into one of those internet things , with tens of thousands of people logged on to get "Phoenix's" messages on their cell phones or whatever, and an outpouring of grief when the probe finally succumbed to the cold and "died".
So what the hell: last night I lay on the floor for fifteen or twenty minutes and told the boys about the Phoenix lander. How it went to the north pole of Mars because nobody had ever gone there; how it looked (one arm, two eyes, four legs, no wheels); how it found water, but not life (see, we still don't know); how it needed an electric heater to keep its brain from freezing; how the days got shorter and shorter, and its batteries started to run low (remember when you forgot to charge your Nintendo, and it ran out of power); how it tried different tricks to save power, shutting down its arm, using its radio less and less; the red rocks, the dust storms, the cold... Okay, basically it was "To Build A Fire" in space.
They loved it. Totally loved it. I was worried it might be too sad, and they did get a little bit upset -- why couldn't we send another spaceship to rescue Phoenix? Couldn't it sleep through the winter and wake up again? -- but not too much so. And at the end --
"Was that story bad, or okay, or good?"
Alan: "It was perfect."
The next morning at breakfast, David mentioned that he was "sad that Phoenix died". "So you didn't like me telling the Phoenix story?" "Oh, no, that was a good story. Because Phoenix lived a long time."
Anyway. Tonight I asked if they wanted another science story, and they said no. What then? Transformers! Power Rangers! -- No, I don't do stories for those usually, because you can see them on TV and cartoons and comic books. How about... a Norse gods story? Yeah!
So tonight was about Loki, who was sometimes good and sometimes bad (though he got worse over time). And about how the dwarves made wondrous gifts for the gods, especially the hammer Mjolnir; and how Loki bet against the dwarves, and tried to stop the forging of Mjolnir, but couldn't; how he forfeited his head, but saved it by pointing out that the dwarves could not touch his neck; and how the outraged dwarf-smith sewed his lips together with a leather thong, which kept him silent for a long time (because nobody would help him untie the knots) until he finally ripped it loose. Then a followup story about Loki's monstrous brood (our text tonight was D'Aulaire's book, and if you don't have it go get it right now) -- the Midgard Serpent, and Hela, and worst of all the wolf Fenris, and how the gods bound him by trickery though it cost brave Tyr his hand.
Another hit. Though I'm a bit worried that David wants to hear tomorrow about how Loki "got meaner" and what happens when the monsters break loose and end the world.