Sunday, April 28, 2013

Books For Jake

I've been restrained in what I have said about the new school so far. And to be fair, the primary school is treating Genghis and the Mau-Mau pretty well, on the whole. But I think I've had about enough of the senior school. In fact, I'm starting to  get a little tetchy.

In context: we rather hoped that, since Jake has turned up there with the 'gifted' label on his rap sheet, the school would be able to try to extend him a little in English. And no: we certainly didn't expect them to do it all by themselves. I've started a programme with the boy, and I've let his English teacher know. Jake is reading a series of interesting, challenging texts, and I'm setting him different ways to respond to them.

An example: he has now read Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, and he loved it. He went to his school camp in the second week of term, and when he came back, he was asked to write an account of it. I suggested he should ask to do it in the 'Gonzo' style after Hunter Thompson -- thus both responding to the text I set him, and fulfilling the school's requirements. He duly asked, and was given permission.

The kid is twelve. He wrote five thousand words in a weekend. It wasn't genius, but it certainly showed that he'd read Thompson, and understood how to do the Gonzo thing. (And in passing, he learned how to put together that kind of narrative. It was a good exercise.) The teachers responded very well to it. There was much approval.

And maybe three days later, he got a genuine English assigment. He and his class were told to demonstrate their comprehension of their favourite scene from Tim Winton's Blueback by means of building a shoebox diorama.

A fucking shoebox diorama.

Yep. That's how you test and extend a kid with advanced skills in English. A fucking shoebox diorama.

Enough on that topic. I don't want to say anything more. I'm cranky enough already. In the meantime, I'm going on with the home-reading programme. Jake just finished reading Pynchon's Crying Of Lot 49. In response, he had to write a 1000-word interview with the main character, and he had to do it in the style of Empire Magazine. (He likes Empire. He's a subscriber.) The idea is that there's a film to be made of the book, and he has been assigned to interview the woman who was the central character in real life.

I have to say: he did a really good job. He portrayed a character that was recognisably that of Pynchon's Oedipa Maas, and he did an excellent job of mimicking the Empire Magazine approach, and he nailed the word-count. I've sent the thing off to Empire with a request for editorial feedback. They may well ignore us, but on the offchance that somebody is prepared to take the time, I figure the cost of a self-addressed and stamped envelope is worth the risk.

Next we'll look at Waiting For Godot, and then Macbeth. The Master And Margharita is on the list, and so is Dracula, and probably Moby Dick. I don't know about Heart of Darkness; it's a maybe. HP Lovecraft. Gene Wolfe. Ursula Le Guin. Sam Delany -- Stars In My Pocket. Fitzgerald. Russ  - the Female Man.  Catch - 22. Phillip K Dick. Out Of The Silence -- I'm taking notes on the fly here, interrogating a bunch of writers and critics. The Floating Opera - John Barth. Vonnegut - Cat's Cradle. Woman On The Edge Of Time - Marge Piercy. Barry Hugheart - Bridge of Birds. Alison Goodman - Ion and Iona. Zelazny - Lord of Light, Amber; short stories. Charles Harness - Paradox Men. Virginia Woolf - Orlando,

I'm open to suggestions, folks. The books need to be interesting, and they should be challenging. But don't forget interesting, okay? The kid is twelve. He can handle heavy reading, sure, but it will work better if he is actively engaged by the books. They shouldn't become a chore.

Okay. Give it your best shot.