Saturday, September 25, 2010

Three Musketeers Week 3: Alexandre Dumas vs. Victor Hugo CAGEFIGHT!

Welcome! This blog post is related to my Three Musketeers class at our homeschool co-op, Homeschool Out of the Box. We have an academic section, reading Richard Pevear's translation of the book, and an enrichment section, reading the Usborne Young Readers' abridgement of the story. For all lesson plans related to this class, click the Three Musketeers tag at the bottom of this post.

HOMEWORK: We began class today by reviewing the vocabulary words they looked up, the musketeer terms they researched and going over the reading comprehension questions.
Important comprehension points:
1. Understanding the difference between the King's Musketeers and the Cardinal's Guard and getting how there were different armies and regiments and whatnot.
2. Understanding why M. Treville pretended to like the Cardinal and praised him. This was a very very tricky one but I did have a few spectacular little readers tell me it was because it was a test for D'Artagnan, to see if he was a spy. We discussed spying and how that works, and how that would have been a foreign concept for naive D'Artagnan.
3. D'Artagnan is insanely impetuous, and for the second time loses an important letter of introduction because he's following his temper into a fight. What would we have done? Finished up with M. Treville and secured our futures and careers. What did D'Artagnan do? Go charging off into the street to die. D'Artagnan! Such a temper! We focused a lot on this in the enrichment track class too.
DISCUSSION: Today we learned about Victor Hugo and compared his biography to that of Alexandre Dumas. Hugo was writing at the same time, but he was a very serious writer, much more intellectual and dark than Dumas. He was less interested in swordfighting and romance and more interested in despair and hopelessness. We talked about how Hugo's life in some ways paralleled Dumas' story -- political involvement, exile, and major shifts in opinions and beliefs. Dumas, however, was more fun. Hugo was such a nut that he ended up making his own furniture by chewing up wood. Seriously. We talked about how great genius sometimes comes with eccentricities (say it with me: eccentricity) and that what we love about Hugo is also what made him a total nutburger. Dumas wrote cookbooks and got fat. Hugo turned out to be some kind of mad beaver.
We also had a great discussion about how reading Hugo might be more interesting in terms of really delving into 19th century French literature, but that it wouldn't be appropriate for their age group. This led to a comparison between the "real" translation of Three Musketeers and the Usborne abridged version. Many kids in the older class have younger siblings reading the "junior" version and have noticed differences. For example, in the junior version, Constance is the landlord's sister, not wife. We talked about how in the 9-12 year old class we can discuss how different marriage was back then, how adultery was much more common and expected, and how marriage in the 17th century was not so much based on love. We talked (patronizingly) about how our little brothers and sisters cannot be expected to make this kind of ethical distinction, and therefore the book they read makes it easy for them by changing some details. Very excellent discussion -- I was so proud of the kids.
POETRY: Instead of reading a Victor Hugo novel, we're going to read and learn some Victor Hugo poetry. The one we're going to memorize in French is "Demain, des l'aube" which is definitely Hugo's most popular work, and perhaps the most famous poem written in French. It is, as you would expect from Hugo, very dark and gloomy. For next week, we're tackling just the first line:
Demain, des l'aube a l'heure au blanchit la campagne
Next week we'll do the second line, and so on. It seems daunting when you look at the whole thing, but I know they can do it. They will amaze themselves and you. Here's a funny video someone made, animating a famous portrait of Victor Hugo as if he is reciting his own poem:
SWORDPLAY: Today the kids learned two new moves -- the cleave and the high block. These are two handed moves. Cleaving looks like you're coming straight down on your opponent's head, the high block is how you would stop someone from cleaving your skull in half. Super fun!
SKITS: Today we acted out two scenes: D'Artagnan comes to Meung and gets in a fight with the scarfaced man, and D'Artagnan chases the scarfaced man through the streets of Paris, enraging the three musketeers in the process. This was great fun, and the children were wonderful at acting! I think it's particularly important in the enrichment class that we bring the story to life in this way, and it was highly entertaining for the children. They did great! This is something we can't do at home with our own books and our own kids, so I want to do this as much as possible as we go forward through the book, whenever we get to interesting scenes that lend themselves well to drama.
VOCABULARY: Here are the vocab words for next week. Please highlight and define.

I also asked the kids to consider the abandoned monastery as a scene -- what might it look like, feel like, what characteristics would make it a great place to duel? Here's a link to the fight scene from the 1993 Disney movie, "The Three Musketeers" that shows how this particular director imagined it.
ASSIGNMENT: Please read chapters 5 and 6. Not all of chapter 6 needs to be read word for word by the kids themselves. There is a lot of dialogue and some of it drags. Honestly these conversations are not that critical to the plot. This is a place in the text where you can summarize for your kids if they're overwhelmed by the material! :) Here are the comprehension questions:

1. What does this mean: “Suffer nothing from anyone except the King, the Cardinal, and M. de Treville”?
2. Why did Athos decide to fight D’Artagnan left-handed?
3. What happened to interrupt the duel D’Artagnan and Athos had started?
4. How did M. de Treville misrepresent the fight to the King?
5. What were the Musketeers doing when D’Artagnan got into a fight with Bernajoux?
6. What was wrong with the King when D’Artagnan and M. de Treville went to visit him?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Three Musketeers Week 2: A Bridge, a Ferret, and a Little Prince

Welcome! This blog post is related to my Three Musketeers class at our homeschool co-op, Homeschool Out of the Box. We have an academic section, reading Richard Pevear's translation of the book, and an enrichment section, reading the Usborne Young Readers' abridgement of the story. For all lesson plans related to this class, click the Three Musketeers tag at the bottom of this post.

HOMEWORK: We began class today by reviewing the vocabulary words they looked up, the musketeer terms they researched and going over the reading comprehension questions.

The most important thing to remember from chapter 1 is the way D'Artagnan responds to offense, throwing himself immediately into life-threatening conflict over what seems to us to be a small irritation. D'Artagnan's behavior at the beginning of the novel is "provincial" and unsophisticated. He doesn't understand the way the world works, he's not into trickery and subterfuge -- he is aggressive and uncomplicated, and of course this gets him into trouble. This is D'Artagnan "before."

The most important thing I want them to remember from chapter 2 is the contrast between the way D'Artagnan was raised (to respect the King and Cardinal) and the way the Parisians behave, making fun of both. We talked about how Paris is a whole new world for D'Artagnan, and how he respects and loves the musketeers as if they are superheroes. Meeting Porthos, Aramis and Athos would be kind of like a kid today walking into a room with Superman, Spiderman, and Batman. He also believes at this point that the King and Cardinal are both noble figures worthy of reverence and obedience. Again, this is D'Artagnan "before."

FRENCH: Here are our French words for today:

Merci Thank you
Du rien. You’re welcome.
Tres bien Very good.
S’il vous plait Please

We talked about the many uses for the phrase "tres bien" and practiced saying it with correct slang pronunciation, which does not at all sound like it is written.

DISCUSSION: We read about Alexandre Dumas and learned some biographical information. Three important points here: First, Dumas was multiracial, and that was a big deal in 19th century France. His African ethnicity possibly made people take him less seriously, maybe affected the way he was received in literary/academic circles. Second, The Three Musketeers was written as a serial novel, which means there were lots of cliffhangers, and Dumas profited by getting his characters into hairy situations and then getting them out. Dumas was an adventure writer -- his books were meant to be exciting and entertaining. He was a pioneer in this genre, combining action, romance, and drama. Third, Dumas lived large -- he traveled a lot, loved to swordfight, cook, eat, and was a major womanizer. He was a big character, physically and figuratively -- a very alive and exciting kind of guy.
DANCE: We practiced our three dances: Il Court le Furet, Le Petit Prince, and Sur le Pont d'Avignon. Silliness ensued. We're getting our movements down, and picking up some of the French. No stress on learning this; we have all semester to absorb it.

SWORDPLAY: Today in the academic track class I introduced the idea of choreography and how in movies and plays, swordfights are not just free-for-alls that the actors can play out however they want. We talked about staging fights with a partner and I gave the kids time to get together with a partner and stage some moves. As of now, they know how to slash supinate and pronate, and how to block those slashes with the opposite slash in a figure 8. They also know how to thrust and block the thrust, and how to salute. And yet, all the choreographed demonstrations that resulted from our efforts ended in a bad death.

VOCABULARY: Here are their vocabulary words for next week. They should find them and highlight them in the book, and look them up or ask for definitions when necessary. Note: There is a swear in here, not necessary to translate it directly, just translate as "Zoinks!" or whatever. I include these swears because they appear in the book. It's Dumas' fault. Blame him.

ASSIGNMENT: The children are to read chapters 3 and 4 in the Pevear, or chapter 2 in the Usborne, and the academic track should be able to answer the following questions:

1. What made M. Treville angry at Athos, Porthos, and Aramis?
2. Why did Treville tell D’Artagnan that he was devoted to the Cardinal?
3. What did D’Artagnan leave in Treville’s office when he ran after the unknown man?
4. With what three people did D’Artagnan arrange to duel?
5. How did he get on each one’s bad side?

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Three Musketeers: Week 1: In Which We Learn to Swear in French

Welcome! This blog post is related to my Three Musketeers class at our homeschool co-op, Homeschool Out of the Box. We have an academic section, reading Richard Pevear's translation of the book, and an enrichment section, reading the Usborne Young Readers' abridgement of the story. For all lesson plans related to this class, click the Three Musketeers tag at the bottom of this post.
OPENING: We began our class by throwing our books on the floor and seeing what a satisfyingly loud and intimidating sound they made. I explained to the kids that this is a very hard book, very challenging for them to read, and that they wouldn't normally be expected to read it until they're in high school or even later, but I expect them to read it now, and I know they can! Then we learned a swear in French. One of the great things about the Pevear translation, for teaching purposes, is that he leaves some of the exclamations in French. Today we learned to exclaim "Sangdieu!" just like the musketeers do, and I comforted (or disappointed) the children by telling them that this is a mild swear, along the lines of "crap" or even "yikes." One translator suggested "Gadzooks!" So having thrown our books on the floor and hollered "Sangdieu!" we began class.
FRENCH: Our French words for today:
bonjour (hello)
salut (hi)
au revoir (goodbye)
a bientot (see you later)
We'll be adding more French every week! But no more swears. Well, maybe two or three more. But then no more.
BOOK DISCUSSION: Each class will include some discussion of the chapters of the book we read for the day. I want to spend some time each week going over what might be confusing or interesting about what they read, and also giving them a preview of what they're going to read next. The key to getting them through this book will be to give them plot signposts to recognize and ancillary historical information to make the book seem familiar as they go through it.
Historical stuff: Today, since we hadn't read any book yet, we looked at the map of France, talked about how Gascony was a relatively wild and untamed area in 1630, one of the last areas of France to be conquered and subdued by the French nation. Dumas himself was from Gascony, and so it is with love and respect that he characterizes the Gascon as a feisty and unruly type of guy. We talked about how our hero, D'Artagnan, was always cruising for a fight, and fancied himself a tough and dangerous guy. We also talked about how there were different regiments and armies within France, some connected to important nobles, some connected to cities or regions, and then the two main rivals: the Cardinal's guard and the King's musketeers.
Plot stuff: We talked for a while about what it might be like to leave home to seek your fortune, in 1630. There wouldn't be cell phones or internet or even telephones. There wouldn't be a post office with mailboxes on the corner so you could write home to Mom. There wouldn't be newspapers so you could keep track of what was going on back in your home town. It would be a very different prospect than you might face today, and I asked the kids to think about what they might take with them if they were going on such a journey. We also talked about the dangers and benefits of going somewhere new, where no one knows you -- this might be an exciting chance to reshape your identity, but it also might be scary to know there's no door you can knock on for aid if you get in trouble.
We learned three songs and dances today:
Le Empereur et le Petit Prince
Il Court le Furet
Sur le Pont D'Avignon
To learn them, we're using the versions by Petit Ours Brun. If your child is burning to hear them again, you can download MP3 versions from here. I'm sure they're on iTunes too. We'll be mixing it up a little later on, doing our own version with guitar, but for now I need my hands free so I can dance with them and show them the (awesome) moves.
Today we talked about having a motto, and the kids came up with great definitions. On their worksheets there are five examples of mottoes in Latin for them to look up and translate:

Semper Fidelis (The Marine Corps)
Citius, Altius, Fortius (The Olympics)
Per Mare, Per Terrum (Royal Marines)
Semper Paratus (US Coast Guard)
Carpe Diem
If they've got through all those, here is a page with more Latin mottoes from the time. I gave the kids the assignment of coming up with their own personal motto. Maybe they will get some ideas from that page, or invent their own! It doesn't have to be in Latin.
We learned two big words today: pronate and supinate. Pronate means a position of the sword hand with the knuckles up, and supinate means a position of the sword hand with knuckles down. When you slash, the direction follows the little finger, if that makes sense. So a pronate slash goes from your left to right, and a supinate slash goes from your right to left. We learned how to salute, how to do slashes both ways, and how to do a thrust, where your hand goes from supinate to pronate. This is all we'll be working on this week and next week -- just in different combinations. Then we will add decapitation and we'll be done! Just kidding. We will not be adding decapitation.
Disclaimer: I do not know fencing! I do not know medieval swordplay! What I do know is how to give the children vocabulary to use to describe the moves I want them to safely make so that we can choreograph an awesome battle and have lots of fun! I will try not to directly violate any kind of fencing rules, and if I do, I am open to correction.
Here are their vocabulary words for next week. They are to highlight them in their books and look up or ask for definitions as necessary.

I also gave them some musketeer words to look up and draw. We'll have vocabulary words every week for them to "treasure hunt" in the assigned chapters.
The children are to read chapters 1 and 2 in the Pevear, or chapter 1 in the Usborne. Here are their reading comprehension questions (these are also in their notebooks):

1. What three gifts did D’Artagnan’s father give to him before he set off for Paris?
2. Why did D’Artagnan get angry at the unknown man in Meung?
3. How did D’Artagnan misrepresent himself to the strangers in Meung?
4. What was Monsieur Treville’s father’s motto?
5. What surprised D’Artagnan about the men hanging out in Monsieur Treville’s antechamber?
It's not at all necessary for them to write down the answers for these. I won't be collecting anything. Just some questions we'll be discussing in class, and again something for them to seek out in the book to make the text more manageable and accessible.