Fools have always been a big part of my life. [Polite pause for a series of rude and knowing remarks.] I did my BA thesis on fools,
and I’ve worked fools into a couple of novels (To Play the Fool introduces inspector Kate Martinelli to a Holy Fool among the homeless population of San Francisco,
and in Dreaming Spies we meet an acrobat who speaks truth to princes) but I’ve never gone so far as Alan Gordon. I adore his series of historical novels where fools are not only spies (as entertainers, fools and minstrels are in a position to overhear words from the powerful) but the force behind international relations. Fabulous novels, beautifully researched, filled with wit, adventure, and characters you’d want to invite for dinner. The first, Thirteenth Night, takes characters from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and runs with them–long and hard.
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!)
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:
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.
And another generation falls into love with Mary Russell!
Last year on the centenary of the Great War’s beginnings,I 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,
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.
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!
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.