Monday, January 31, 2011

Stuffies and Other Friends

Mr. B sometimes reminds me that V should clean all the stuffies off her bed before bedtime. But I remember doing JUST this when I was her age. Don't you?

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Comparative Literature: Harry Potter & The Secret of Platform 13

Moving on with our studies, E is burning her way through the books. It doesn't take much to get this girl to read - just a quiet space and some free time. I think she likes travel time nowadays because car time means PLENTY of time to read with little interruption. (And with two readers in the backseat, it means a bit of boredom for the driver who sits largely in silence so the music won't distract the readers from their realms.)

This weekend, E read The Secret of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson. I haven't had a chance to get to this one yet, but E said it was remarkably similar to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. She was so excited to move on in her Harry Potter reading that she voluntarily wrote her comparison and summary today, Sunday.
Harry Potter and The Secret of Platform 13 seem very different, but the more you think about them, the more they seem alike. The Secret of Platform 13 is most like the first Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone than any of the others in the Harry Potter series.

Raymond in The Secret of Platform 13 is a lot like Dudley Dursley, a fat pig of a boy. Ben is a lot like Harry: nice and hard working. Other than that no one comes to mind.

The places that those stories take place are completely different, except that they both involve England. Harry Potter is set in a wizards' school, and The Secret of Platform 13 is set on a secret island. Neither story focuses on one place, though.

The story lines have some similarities which you don't even notice unless you really look for them. They are both good-versus-evil themed. They both also have a fairly common story line: good is treated badly by bad; bad prospers; good rises and wins.

Basically, they have differences and similarities. I liked Harry Potter better. Harry Potter is for older readers, and The Secret of Platform 13 is for younger readers.   

Comparative Literature: Harry Potter & The Book of Three

Ask a well-read 10 year old to start thinking about her free reading choices and interesting things develop. First of all, she's DRIVEN to read the assigned reading (which she helped select) because she wants to get to that free reading. Secondly, she's paying a lot more attention to details. She's also finding similarities between these books and titles she's read in the past, but were not assigned nor required in the discussion. Case in point: The Book of Three (The Chronicles of Prydain Book 1) (Lloyd Alexander)

While the title was cited as analogous to Harry Potter, we found it MUCH more similar to Tolkien's favorite series (J.R.R. Tolkien Boxed Set (The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings). E read Tolkien's "Rings" series last year and returns to them now and again like returning to old friends. She selects her favorite chapters and reads them without the frills of the rest of the book. Or she may just hunt down a few passages. Still, this project wasn't about Tolkien; or was it?

Turns out both Tolkien and Alexander had a thing for Northern Mythology, particularly Welsh Mythology. (You can read more about Tolkien and his literary studies and influences here.)  And the similarities on the two author's stories, styles and characters are discussed here. Alexander, who published The Book of Three in 1964, was said to have been inspired by Tolkien, whose books were penned from 1937-1949 with the series' publication complete in 1954.

I've also read that JK Rowling was interested in and inspired by various mythologies. Clearly, she is well read and knowledgeable about a variety of mythological beasts and tales. Still, E found little of Alexander in Harry Potter. Here's her take:

Harry Potter and The Book of Three are very different. The Book of Three is more like  The Lord of the Rings than anything.

Gurgi in The Book of Threeis a lot like Dobby, the house elf in Harry Potter. Eilonwy is like Hermione. Fflewddur Fflam is a lot like Lockheart because both tend to exaggerate.

These books are different partially because of the settings. The Book of Three is set in an imaginary land, and the characters travel around a lot. Harry Potter is set in England at a wizards' school, and, for the most part, stays put.

The story lines are very different. They are both good-and-evil themed. In Harry Potter the main character is a wizard. In The Book of Three  the main character has no magic.

Basically, I like Harry Potter better. (I like Harry Potter better than almost any book.) But both of these books were very good. They were very different, but also alike in some ways. They are both for older readers, maybe about nine and older.

Winter Ride at Las Flores Ranch

We're having a great time with our new ride. Mattie works well with all the riders in our family, and while we've recently had some trailer issues (she doesn't like to load for me), once we're on location, she's dandy!

Winter lasted two weeks in our neck of the woods. For the past few weeks, it's been summer here, so the grass is green and the wildflowers are coming out. Here are some shots from our family hike n' ride last weekend. (Today, thankfully, California "winter" has returned - light drizzle between bouts of sun.)

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! Yeah...I know. It's a little bit delayed. But I wanted to wait 'til we had the photos, and, frankly, I'm tired of technology. Oh, I LOVE technology when it works, but it seems like lately for every 5 minutes I spend on something high tech, I'm spending one minute uploading, waiting for a glitch, or trying to hash out a solution to a problem. Sometimes, it's 20 minutes just to get the danged computer ON, spun up and ready to go. (sigh)

At any rate - finally got some more recent photos onto a hard drive...somewhere. Here's what New Year's Eve looked like at our house:

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Comparative Literature in Elementary Grades? You bet!

When our daughter was 9, she read the Harry Potter series repeatedly. She's always been one for a long, involved story, particularly one with colorful characters. The adventure, mythology and magic J.K. Rowling provided in her books were equally compelling to E. But in January 2010, we had her put the series aside. There are other books to be read, we told her, and there were other issues that created a need for changes in reading and activities here at home.

Fast forward to January 2011. E asked if she could pick up the series again. We made a deal: for each Potter book, she needed to read one book from which the Potter stories have purportedly been derived, or which Rowling has claimed in public interviews have provided inspiration for her writing in general. I didn't even think about what I was doing, that this was the beginning of something pretty big for a little kid: a comparative literature course for the Harry Potter set.

I researched some articles and interviews online to which I felt E could safely refer. (We still don't allow free access, even to Google search, because of the weird and random stuff that pops up. I've seen things, thanks to the Internet, that no one should ever have seen.) We began with these:

We'll also be reading:

E chose to begin with Shakespeare, but in short order discovered that the Bard was some awfully heavy reading, particularly for a modern American. She moved on to a more child-friendly list and the hunt for books in our local library began.

We talked about reading The Legend of Rah and the Muggles and Larry Potter and His Best Friend Lilly,  the author of which filed suit against Rowling when the Potter books were published. Indeed, the titles lead to some questions. However, after viewing the website I started to have reservations. There are LOTS of fantastic books in this world, and only so much time. If the writing in the books were at like the writings online, certainly these titles wouldn't rank. Still, it was up to E. She checked out the site, too. She couldn't wade through the complete introduction the author has made available there. "This is really bad, Mom." And she read the reviews. "I think we can skip these."

She's already lead the Narnia series, and the Tolkien series, and many of the others to which our research pointed. So we settled on these titles for the project reading list. I don't know if she'll read them all, but she'll certainly read six of them. They are, after all, her gateway to the "next book" in the coveted HP series:
Matilda (Dahl)
James & The Giant Peach (Dahl)
Book of Three (Alexander)
Groosham Grange (Horowitz)
Wizard of Earthsea (LeGuin)
Worst Witch (Murphy)
Charmed Life (W. Jones)
Wizard's Hall (Yolen)
Secret of Platform 13 (Ibbotson)
Tom Brown's School Days (Hughes)

E whipped through Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (aka book 1) in a day. She was trying to draw it out, but she's just a fast reader and hardly put it down. Then she selected from the list. She tried to read James and the Giant Peach, but said she didn't like it. "It's not very interesting," she explained. There's no depth to the characters, and for her, that's typically the death knell for any title. She set Dahl aside and picked up Wizard's Hall. Here's her take:

Harry Potter and Wizard's Hall are very similar, but I like Harry Potter better. Harry Potter is a little more advanced than Wizard's Hall. Here are some comparisons. 

The main character in Wizard's Hall has no talent for magic, unlike Harry Potter. Tansy is a lot like Hermione: smart and kind of bossy, but nice. Will is a lot like Ronald Weasly, down to the looks, even.

The schools themselves are a lot alike with doors that are one style Sunday, and by Monday, they're different. Also, Wizard's Hall seems to be a lot smaller than Hogwarts.

The storylines are a lot different. Wizard's Hall is a lot simpler, and Thornmallow wins completely, without losing anyone he so much as likes. In Harry Potter, Harry wins, but loses lots of friends.

Basically, I like Harry Potter better, but they're both very good. They are both very alike and very different. I would recommend Wizard's Hall to younger kids, and Harry Potter to older ones.

On to explore the Chamber of Secrets...

Winter Update - LOTS of activity

I know, I KNOW! It's been awhile. But we've been busy around here, and my New Year's Resolution involved spending a lot less time on the computer despite a predicted increase in freelance work and the summer release of the second edition of Best Family Adventures: San Luis Obispo County. (I hope this old computer can handle THAT workload!)  With little feedback on this blog lately, I decided this was the place to start with cutbacks. If you've missed us, I'm sorry. (We've missed you, too!) Remember: the phone rings both ways, as do e-mails and blog entries. So many ways to keep in touch these days!

I've been having some compatibility issues with this "old" computer and the giant external hard drive which decided this past year that it no longer liked our old-fashioned Windows XP. At least we THINK that's what the problem is. The pair cruise along for weeks with no problems, then there's a catastrophic crash and images are scrambled beyond repair. I don't know at this point how many photos have been lost forever - I shudder to think! So, I'm leery of it, and with the recent horsey outburst of spending, a new computer's not in the cards. Plus, doesn't it just suck that we have to purchase new, expensive hardware so often to keep up with these insane changes in software?

So what have we been doing with our time? We enjoyed some fantastic winter storms in December complete with LOTS of water and flooding in some areas here on the Central Coast. It was such a pleasant change from the everyday sun with which we're spoiled here. We visited family, enjoyed our horse, took our first family hike/ride (boy, those pioneers with just ONE animal to share among the group were far more fortunate than those without!), and enjoyed Santa Maria's first skating rink. E has also gotten more involved in 4H. She's volunteered for a variety of committees (ice cream social, toy drive, pizza party, senior movie night, etc.) and continues to enjoy her project work (sewing, cooking, beginning 4H, porcelain dolls).

Here's a photographic peek into our world in December:

We also enjoyed an all-too-brief gathering in Riverdale with cousins galore:

When I get up the nerve, I'll upload the January images to the external drive, and hope for the best. Then I'll send a more recent photo update. Meanwhile, what's new with you?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

What We Did On Our Winter Vacation (or, Donner Party Revisited)

Every year for as long as the girls can remember, we've spent a goodly portion of a week skiing together. It was tough at first, with two girls who couldn't stand, let alone slide, on skis and only one experienced adult skier. Mr. B is a quick learner, very athletic and strong, but it's one thing to learn to control your own body as you careen down the slopes, and quite another to do so while also supporting a flopping preschooler. Those first two years wreaked havoc on our thighs, knees and lower backs, but that effort paid off.

Two years ago, we had our first complete family run with all four of us coming down the slope together, each under our own power. (OK, it was gravity that brought us down, but we each held our bodies at least somewhat upright most of the way to the bottom.) Last year, we expanded our skills with multiple family runs, continued snowman-construction breaks along the trail, icicle treats and foozball mastery in the lodge.

I'd hoped to head to a different hill this year. I don't much care for the lodge where we stay, and would LOVE to take the girls to a hill that has a beginner run that runs from the top of the chair to the bottom of the hill rather than requiring they hike back to the lodge from the bottom of the run. But when Christmas brought some very generous gift certificates to this place, we knew we'd be heading back to make great use of them. (Thanks, Dad!)

Our trip this year was a bit shorter than previous years thanks in no small part to the big changes (and related expenses) December brought. We'd have three days to enjoy the slopes this year. So, here's how it ran.

Day One: Beautiful, sunny day with crap snow left over from previous snowfall weeks earlier and groomed into submission. Everyone enjoyed the groomed runs, and the girls picked up right where they left off in 2010.

Day Two: We woke to more than a foot of new snow, very cold temperatures and howling winds. But by the time we finished breakfast, the wind had subsided. The mountain was open, so we decided to head up the chair. As we rode up the mountain, the wind became stronger, and by the time we reached the mid-mountain unload point, we were in trouble. It was bitterly cold, we had to ski down the exposed ridge face-into the wind, and none of us was wearing face protection. The girls were suffering, so within 15 feet of the chair we stopped, and Mr. B and I dug out the backup supplies from our pockets, including face protection which we freely handed over to the girls.

Then we headed down the mountain, me in the lead. It was a very good thing that we'd run this route at least two dozen times the previous day. The blowing snow bunged up all of our goggles and glasses which also fogged to add to the difficulty. As the snow blew UP the mountain, it completely blocked the view of the wide run, and the trees on either side of it.

I felt like complaining, whining, expressing my disgust at the situation (to say the least), but what good would it have done? The girls were already suffering, and Mr. B, bringing up the tail end, was no doubt freezing his light-weight butt off. So, I opted to laugh. It was fantastic! Whenever I had the urge to, er, utter a complaint (ahem!), I'd instead let out a maniacal laugh and say something like, "Isn't this FUN?!" with all the joy I could muster. And each time I did it, I felt better, probably because I imagined how the girls might recall the story one day ("We were freezing to death, lost on the mountain and Crazy Mom was having a blast!"). At one point, I hollered back, "I feel like the Donner Party." Mr. B's response: "I sure hope it turns out better this time."

When we got to the bottom of the mountain, we locked up our gear and headed for the lodge where we learned the lifts and all runs had been closed because the powers that be thought perhaps it wasn't particularly safe.

Good call.

Unfortunately for guests staying at the lodge, they also closed all services on the mountain except our rooms. The lodges were closed, restaurants closed, bar closed, the only shop was closed. If you didn't bring entertainment with you (or find something on weekday television that worked for you), you were stuck. We found a movie to watch (ala satellite TV) then headed back into the snow for a great afternoon of sledding.

Day Three: We were told the storm was supposed to continue, so we weren't sure we were going to ski, but we woke to beautiful blue skies, no wind and the BEST snow I've ever experienced in California - cold, and light, and fluffy. We headed straight for the hill where we all tried our skills in the soft stuff. BEAUTIFUL day. It was a shame we had to head home.

I'm not sure where the other photos ended up (those taken on our other camera). We've been having some issues with our external hard drive. Mr. B originally attributed the issues to a conflict between my old XP system and the external drive, but now it's acting up on his Vista (blech!) system, as well. So, for now, here are the photos from our first day - sunny and crud snow, but lots of smiles.

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