03 March 2010

+JMJ+

Three-legged Lists

Who knew that a list's character depended so greatly on the number of items in it?

The reason I like five-item lists so much is that they always leave room for one "wildcard" entry. Never mind sticking out like a sore thumb: the thumb itself, being the opposing digit, already sticks out by design. And what would the human hand be without the thumb?

It is not so with three-item lists, which, though I liken them to three-legged stools, are just not as balanced as their five-item counterparts. A Top 5 List is like a candy sampler, with a little bit of everything worth tasting; a 3-Legged List is more like a random handful of candy--like what you get casually tossed into your pillowcase at Halloween. It has its own charm.

Let me now casually toss my first random handful in your tolerant direction . . .

3 BOOKS
I've Read with My Students



Treasure Island
by Robert Louis Stevenson

This is the novel Fire Storm's homeschool programme requires ninth graders to read during the first two quarters of the school year. He has never been happy about that.

As for me . . . I had greatly hoped to like this novel. Heck, I had greatly hoped to like Robert Louis Stevenson. I suppose that someone who writes swashbuckling, sea-swept stories for boys had my theoretical admiration from the outset . . . which is why it is so dreadful to admit that he never actually grabbed my heart.

When Stevenson's step-son asked him to write this story, he specifically requested that there be no girls in it. (As G.K. Chesterton later pointed out, in appraisal of the novel, girls do tend to get in the way of adventures.) Now, I'm not one to want a girl in an adventure story for the sake of meeting some unwritten PC quota--BUT having grown up with girls in adventure stories and unwritten PC quotas, I find myself missing that very dynamic when I don't run into it.

Anyway, when I learned that the next book on the syllabus was Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, I told Fire Storm that I wouldn't kill him if he just watched the movie.

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

Why someone would assign this novel to the fifth grade class of an all-boys school, I do not know. I imagine that Stevenson's step-son would have hurled his copy across the room in disgust. And if Doctor Decimator's demeanor when we read this together at XYZ Tutorial Centre is anything to go by, then he secretly fantasises about doing the same.

This novel was one of the first books I ever bought for myself, and I've reread it several times in the last fifteen-or-so years I've owned it. Yet I don't think I properly appreciated it until I had to read again this year. Its theme is something I don't think we'd ever find in Stevenson, for Lowry has a less adventurous, if more demanding idea of courage--and she insists that a quiet night at home, after a hearty family dinner, in a time of peace, is worth more than all the treasure in the world.

They're very different authors, of course, and I'm not saying that one should be more like the other. It's just sad that they've both become required reads. For at the moment, to Doctor Decimator, this sweet story is just another assignment.

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

Back to Fire Storm, who is currently my favourite student. (Ask any teacher. Favourites are always on rotation.)

Last weekend, out of curiosity, he bought the first three books in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. By the time I saw him yesterday, he was in the middle of the third installment and bursting with questions about Greek mythology. Deo gratias! I had been starting to worry that nothing would snap him out of his academic apathy.

This development is exciting to me for another reason. Greek mythology happens to be one of my favourite things to teach--and now I can't wait to tweak Reading class a little, just for Fire Storm! (We'll start by drawing up a family tree . . . and a Twelve Olympians chart!)

And he really should get his own copy of Edith Hamilton's Mythology. (I think every serious World Lit library should have one.) I just worry that the original stories will be a let-down after Riordan's postmodern twists.

Image Sources: a) Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, b) Number the Stars by Lois Lowry, c) The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

8 comments:

Jillian said...

your award on my blog :)

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Thanks, Jillian! =D

melissa @ 1lbr said...

I love your writing! Very engaging and fun. Made me want to reread those (or read Treasure Island for the first time).

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Welcome to Shredded Cheddar, Melissa! Thanks for taking the time to read these quasi-reviews and leave a comment. =)

Maureen said...

Well, I always thought Hamilton was kinda boring (I scored an ex-library copy of an old good edition of Larousse's Mythology in 2nd grade, so Hamilton was a letdown), but the stories certainly aren't boring. Also, Hamilton is pretty judicious about the levels of information for the kiddies that she includes, which my beloved Larousse wasn't.

OTOH, I could have lived a lifetime without reading Attis' story (which not even Robert Graves wanted in Larousse, in anything but the sketchiest outline). Another thing to thank the Internet for....

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

I don't think either Fire Storm or I will ever be able to score a Larousse. Right now, I have in my possession a very old copy of Greek Gods and Heroes by Robert Graves, but it belongs to someone else and I can't just lend it to Fire Storm!

iolanthe95 said...

What did you think of Lightning Thief itself? I liked it for the most part, but the theology of the thing seemed a bit odd to me.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

I thought it was a great story and want to read the rest of the series now. (It helped that I imagined Percy Jackson with Doctor Nemesis' face. They both have ADHD, disciplinary issues, and multiple schools under their belts.)

As for the role of the gods, I found their general benign neglect and occasional lapses into mischief consistent with the stories that have been told about them for five thousand years. That the Titans are again planning to seize power could turn this into another meaningless "Jedi vs. Sith" thing (which I was never crazy about); but the acknowledgment that the gods stand for Western Civilisation (love it or hate it) means that I'd like to be on their side in the final battle.