This morning was a bit cooler again so I wandered around the yard taking more pictures of insects (to be posted later this week). Then I went inside and told younger son to get himself some lemonade because we were going to do some homeschooling (he had been going to play with friends but they were unavailable). He sighed and got his lemonade. I told him to get the book called The Secret Country off of the shelf, and he looked at me like I was crazy. "Don't I need to get my workbooks? You said we were homeschooling!"
I explained, yet again, that HOMESCHOOLING ISN'T JUST WORKBOOKS. Movies can be homeschooling, as can music, and reading out loud, and crafts, and science experiments, and visiting museums, and visiting historical sites, and all sorts of other things that AREN'T WORKBOOKS.
Okay, you can probably tell that I'm getting tired of being told that he doesn't like homeschooling just because he doesn't like the little bit of time we spend on workbooks - especially since I put a lot of effort into the other things!
Anyway, to stop venting... Pamela Dean is one of my (many) favorite fantasy authors, and The Secret Country is one of my favorite read-alouds. Five cousins have played a pretend game every summer for years. They've come up with a complicated fantasy world which they end up a part of - except that, of course, things don't go as they expect. New characters are added, details are changed, and the story is no longer under their control. The whole aspect of how their invention relates to this very real world makes the story more than a usual children-visit-fantasy-world one.
I first read The Secret Country and its sequel, The Hidden Land, back in the mid-80's before older son was born. I read them out loud many years ago, but didn't know that there was a third book out, The Whim of the Dragon. I now have the third one, but I want to read back through the first two before going to to read it - and that will take a while! Her website says that she's working on a fourth book, Going North.
Younger son and I sat on a bench in the back yard (view, right), and I read the Prologue and first chapter to him. He wanted to stop at the end of the first chapter because it was a cliff hanger. We'll pick it up again tomorrow.
TDS: You create amazing new worlds in your works and illuminate the real world with magical language. In The Dubious Hills and in your Secret Country series, the worlds your characters inhabit are almost characters themselves. How do you go about building these other places?
PD: Well, in the case of the Secret Country books specifically, I didn't do anything. The characters did it. This was a device to sneak past my feelings of inadequacy as a new writer. I knew I could manage good characterization, but world-building was very daunting to me. It didn't daunt the characters at all.
And I have to add this quote too (though you should read the whole thing):
I was also horrified beyond belief when my cherished and adored Ray Bradbury had three stories included in a reader for 8th graders, and was subject to the same (to my mind, at the time) reductive and idiotic questions as the more boring other stories in the book. I felt right up until I took A.P. English in 12th grade that my school reading and my real reading were completely disjunct [sic], and I resented mightily any encroachment of the one upon the other.
What converted me to the belief that it was possible to read meaningfully in an academic context was a particular teacher, the A.P. English teacher, and not any specific works.
I think children, and anybody, ought to have the chance to read widely and indiscriminately and without a lot of prissy reductive adult yammering about their choices, and to have easy access to someone who is able to put the reading in context and to answer questions. I really can't go further than that.
(That last paragraph sounds kind of like our homeschooling...)
Oh, one more:
The nice thing about reading, really, is that one can be present without worrying about whether one's social skills are really up to the task. And furthermore, one can truly enjoy people who would be terribly annoying if they had one at their mercy, or if one felt the obligation to speak up about their nonsense.