School Daze for Miss Russell

Sorry kids, but here in the northern hemisphere, we’re getting close to the new school year. (Was that a chorus of parents saying Yay! I just heard?) So I thought I’d make another mention of the study program that two great Middle School teachers put together based on The Beekeeper’s Apprentice.


As Jake and Katye say:

This unit breaks A Beekeeper’s Apprentice into six sections, and was originally taught over the course of seven and a half weeks.  Each week, students were expected to complete a vocabulary unit, read a nonfiction piece from the time period, write an essay or piece of fiction given the nonfiction piece, and complete a comprehension packet.

These two (and their students!) did a really impressive piece of work, a fabulous resource for anyone wanting a richly textured way to use The Beekeeper’s Apprentice as a foundation for a teaching curriculum. They’ve built vocabulary lists, comprehension quizzes, and exams, and other sections of the project open doors to student research on early 20th century history, women’s studies, and an assortment of other themes. There’s even a teachers’ packet, which is as free as the student packet is (although for Teacher Packet, you’ll need to email Jake and Katye, since it gives all the quiz answers!)Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 8.42.45 PM

44 states in the US have adopted the Common Core standards as a guideline for teaching students from elementary to high school levels. As the Common Core page says, the standards are:

  • Research and evidence based
  • Clear, understandable, and consistent
  • Aligned with college and career expectations
  • Based on rigorous content and the application of knowledge through higher-order thinking skills

In other words, they’re an attempt to challenge students, not just drill them preparing for exams. And since teachers are free to approach it any way they want, these community efforts are essential.

The Beekeeper’s Common Core is an ongoing project, so let us know what you think of it. If you use it (either in a class or in some other way) please tell us how things went, and what suggestions you’d have for changing or adding to the program.

One of those areas under construction is the nonfiction supplemental section of the curriculum, aimed at giving students primary source material on which to base study units. Included in this version of the study packet are such diverse essays as Manners and Rules of Good Society: Or, Solecisms to be Avoided; Trenches at Vimy Ridge; To The Members of The Women’s Land Army; Gypsy Lore; Syria and the Holy Land; and Chess-Humanics. We’re in the process of adding to those, so, if you’ve found any early videos, letters, journals, photographic collections, and the like that teachers of Middle School students might find helpful to illustrate and explore areas touched on by Beekeeper, send them to me, and I’ll add them to the list.

Read about Jake and Katye’s project here, and you can download the Common Core study unit itself here.

And another generation falls into love with Mary Russell!

Russell’s War

Last year on the centenary of the Great War’s beginnings,Chronicle_Polaris_front_page_full_webI began posting young Mary Russell’s War Journal. Her weekly reflections about the War, her drive to do something more than just be a fourteen year-old girl,Kitchener-leete-poster_1half copy

(her mother is raising money for the British air force)pilot_dropping_bomb_from_plane_2thirds copy

and her suspicions about German spies weave in and out of her family history, the Russells’ building War troubles, and the personal trauma that ultimately drives her to Sussex, and to her momentous meeting with Sherlock Holmes.

The 101st anniversary of the Great War’s beginnings is next Tuesday. To mark it, I’m putting a revised version of Mary Russell’s Journal, with a lot of contemporary illustrations, up for sale as an ebook.Mary Russell's War cover4

The blog posts remain up on this blog, under the tag “Mary Russell’s War,” but if you enjoyed reading young Mary’s journal, and you’d like an updated and cleaned up version (with pictures!) it’s be available on Kindle for pre-sale now, here, and will be on the other formats here.

I hope you enjoy it!

Mr Holmes

Today I did another of those bits of difficult research I force myself to pursue: I went to see Ian McKellan in Mr Holmes.

Oh my, what an actor, slipping effortlessly between a vital 60 year old and a decrepit and confused man in his nineties. And the Sussex scenery is suitably gorgeous, the houses made me want to move in (and I could! The Sussex cottage he lives in is a B&B!)

Holmes’ musings on becoming fictional are great, and his dislike for deerstalker hats and larger pipes are a nice touch. There are even in-jokes: when Holmes goes to watch a Sherlock Holmes film, the man playing the lead is Nicholas Rowe, who played in “Young Sherlock Holmes.” And the inspector who comes to talk to Holmes? Well, remember the taxi driver in the BBC’s “Study in Pink”? Here’s Phillip Davis again, with a twinkle in his eye.

But the cherry on the top was when I came home and my sister handed me the movie’s review (by Lisa Jensen, with whom I have a Mutual Admiration Society) that appeared in the weekly Good Times. The review ends with the line:

I hope the next time the movies want to do something really original with Sherlock Holmes, they discover the novels of Laurie King.

In the meantime, enjoy Mr Holmes.

Ooh: Maps!

I love maps. I’m always thrilled to have the excuse of a story that just NEEDS a map at the front (because honest, nobody knows what India looks like, or England, so we have to put one in there, right?)

Anyway, when I was in London in May, I was headed to the Victoria & Albert to look at Victorian underwear (well, outerwear too) and because sometimes it’s easier to take one line on the Underground than hassle with changing lines in the stations, I was walking a fairly meandering route through the streets when I passed a store with…

Maps. And more than maps: the most gorgeously delectable and intricately decorated map these eyes have ever set upon.

The Map House, in collaboration with the V&A, handed over an 1816 map of London to an Icelandic artist, who did this:

Here’s a detail:IMG_1055

Isn’t it just mouth-watering? Her name is  Kristjana S. Williams, and if I had endless boodle, I’d cover my walls in her wallpaperd7058a_9344ced094c547dab45ff95240010007.png_srb_p_400_400_75_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_png_srb

And my sofa with her pillows.d7058a_2541224b138b41d59fee23cfec6394b8.png_srb_p_400_400_75_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_png_srb

Though in the meantime, at least I have her map.

(Hmm. You think people would pay a couple dollars extra for a novel with a color print map in the front…?)

We have a look!

The Art department just gave me the cover!  So, what do you think? Yummy, huh?



Pre-ordering a copy lets Random House know you’re excited:

Signed from Bookshop Santa Cruz or Poisoned Pen Books

Unsigned or ebook at B&N/Nook or Amazon/Kindle.