Homeschool Moms, Are You Excited About Your English Program?

Lunch with Mrs. Pahlow

A lunchtime photo bomb with these awesome kids taking Pahlow’s English at One Day Academy’s College Station campus.  All Pahlow’s English courses are now available for use in your own private classroom this fall.  Prepare for a grand adventure.

Looking for a homeschool PreK-12 English curriculum that inspires enthusiasm and fervor? The Pahlow’s English program features advanced instruction in spelling, vocabulary, grammar, and composition delivered with passion and reverence. Homeschool Resource Packs include a 300+-page student workbook and comprehensive teacher’s guide and PowerPoint lectures on flash drive. Visit the English at Home page at www.pahlowsenglish.com. We welcome your questions, and we look forward to coming alongside in your homeschool journey.

Texans are Overcomers

Whenever someone says something clever, I am quick to say, “Ooh, that should be on a T-shirt.”  Never have I gone so far as to actually design said T-shirt myself.  But this time, it’s different.

pic - high_water

The amount of rain which fell on Texas this spring could cover the entire state with eight inches of water. That is 268,820 square miles, friends.

This T-shirt idea was first born from a time of personal tragedy and triumph.  In a previous blog post I mentioned that our home was destroyed in the Bastrop County Complex Fire in 2011.  So now after 37.3 trillion gallons of water descended on our drought-ravaged state this past spring, I am reminded of not only how much a natural disaster may take but also how much hope, strength, and resilience it leaves in the hearts of those affected by it.

Texans are special breed, both those blessed enough to be born here and those who got here as fast as they could.  Here we wave with all five fingers.  Our boys help ladies with their groceries, and our men know that jeans are worn at the waistline.  And when a neighbor is in trouble, everyone shows up with a truckload of tools and casseroles.

Besides the house burning down, those first two weeks after the fire were some of the most satisfying of my life.  Of particular note were the churches which opened their doors wide, set up cots, and dished out hot meals to refugees like me and my family for over a month.  They responded exactly as Christ intended them to, and it was a sweet sight indeed.  Such overwhelming good will poured over Bastrop from cities all over Texas.  Whether people believed in God or not, during a time of such devastation they could not help but bear His glorious image a little more brightly.

Clean-up from these recent floods will continue long after the media has forgotten them.  I know that from experience. Fortunately Texans are not short in memory or compassion.

We are overcomers.  We are from Texas.  Y’all.

You Might be at a Homeschool Wedding if…

alex & josh pic

Tomorrow best friends Alexandra Garcia and Joshua Germenis, two former English 5 students, exchange their vows. Bless you both for your commitment to the LORD and His plan for marriage. To your peers, you are an example; to us moms, you are our hope.

The only thing better than a homeschool graduation is a homeschool wedding. For those just starting their homeschool journey, these should be attended as often as possible. For us moms already in the trenches, these are nothing less than a kiss on the cheek from Jesus Himself.

For the uninitiated, however, these events are bound to be odd. It would certainly be helpful to know what you are getting into ahead of time, so you can mentally prepare. Without any further ado, you might be at a homeschool wedding if:

  • The decorations, while elegant and thoughtful, are always homemade. Envision an assembly line of moms and students counting this as their daily Home Ec lesson. Common items used include candy, photos, books, Bible verses, and something purposefully quirky. One time there was a full-sized Tardis.
  • The setting is a venue either directly in nature or with a beautiful view of it close by. While many of you may have, I have yet to go to a homeschool wedding that actually took place in a church.
  • The bride and groom’s families have known each other for years through co-op, classes, sports, or other social outlets.
  • Over 75% of the attendees are also parents and children from said social outlets.
  • Someone in the wedding party is either barefoot or wearing Converse. Check the bride first.
  • The couple’s first kiss is at the altar. At this moment, rows of weeping moms grasp each other’s arms and whisper silent prayers for their own children.
  • The ceremony is quick, but the reception lasts forever. And there will be swing dancing.

After all, these kids have spent their whole lives living outside the norm. Why should today be any different?

As a teacher in the homeschool community, I enjoy a unique privilege. My journey with a student does not end with the school year. In the sixth grade, I teach a girl the difference between a noun and a verb. Six years and several courses later, I teach her how to write a senior thesis. When she takes the stage to deliver that speech—her final assignment in our journey together—my heart is undone.

wedding pic

Wedding Day. All Heaven was smiling.

But attending that same girl’s wedding is a joy of a different kind. Teachers may command respect but not love. To be considered a sister and a friend instead of a forgotten face in a yearbook… That is an honor I do not expect, but I treasure it more than words.

Alex, I pray for the LORD’s richest blessings on your new journey. Josh is blessed to have you by his side. Hannah, Rebecca, Olivia, Rachel, Kelley, Erin, Rebekah, Deborah, and all of my sweet students-turned-sisters, you continue to inspire and humble me.

Oh, just wait until the babies come. There’s a whole new joy—I become a grandteacher.

A “Raven”-ous Love Affair

TO.MOVIECAL18P2

“I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity,” quoth the poet Edgar Allan Poe. His death remains a mystery, but it is fairly certain it was alcohol-related.

The mind of Edgar Allan Poe… A place to visit, but one is well advised not to live there.

This is the caveat provided to my students in English 2 and English 4 when we approach “the original emo.” Certainly the man knew both how to turn a phrase and stun the sensibilities in record time, manifest in short, sharp shocks of fiction like “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Cask of Amontillado.” Clearly his early history elicits both sympathy and shudder, as the orphaned son of vaudevillian actors and husband to his thirteen-year-old cousin. However, his lying dead in a Baltimore gutter at the age of 40 after years of philandering, chugging absinthe, and suffering from chronic depression should give even the most devout Poe fans cause to reconsider their loyalties.

Yet I must confess. Despite all his faults and failures, Edgar penned one piece that this teacher exalts in performing each year with as much enthusiasm and fervor as she can muster.

Let me preface by saying that good narrative poems are hard to come by these days. This is because they have to be 100% poem and 100% story—an actual plot nestled in poetic form, rife with imagery and metaphor, complemented with rhythm and rhyme. So few and far between are they that I turned toward the classics to compile my own Top Three favorites:raven pic

  • THIRD – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “Paul Revere’s Ride”
  • SECOND – Alfred Noyes’s “The Highwayman”
  • FIRST – Wait for it… Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven”

The popularity of “The Raven” was the 1840s equivalent of going viral. Local newspapers and periodicals printed and re-printed it, selling enormous numbers of copies each time. For a while, Edgar Allan Poe became a household name. The rest, as they say, is history.

Between teaching narrative poems in English 2 and Transcendental Pessimism in English 4 on four campuses, I enjoy the distinct pleasure of reciting “The Raven” eight times a year. Do this every year for over ten years, and some of it starts to sink in. When I look up from the book and recite a stanza or two from memory, I feel just like Robin Williams’s Mr. Keating from “Dead Poets Society.”

With all due respect to the venerable James Earl Jones, my favorite spoken rendition of this classic comes from Christopher Walken. His voice lends the perfect nervous pitch. Click on this link, and see if you agree: “The Raven,” recited by Christopher Walken

Since my husband had not heard it in its entirety before, one night I read the poem aloud to him (because that is what English teachers do for fun). After I finished, he paused a second and casually remarked, “You know where he is, don’t you?”

The question seemed simple enough. “I assume he is in the house he once shared with Lenore.”

“Okay, but here’s another way of thinking about it,” he continued. “He is in a room surrounded by memories of a woman he can never forget, trapped with some demon bird whose sole job is to constantly remind him of how she will never be his again. Perhaps Lenore is not the one who is dead.”

Whoa. That was heavy. I’m not saying he is right, but like all good poetry, it gives you something to chew on.

If nothing else, at least now you know why Baltimore’s football team is called the Ravens.

The Blessed Normal

Bastrop-fire pic

A two-mile-high wall of smoke and flame engulfs the skyline during the historic Bastrop County Complex Fire.  This image still chills me.

“Normal is overrated.”

Off-handed comments like this rarely attract nor deserve my attention. However, this was no ordinary class. It was Bastrop campus’s first day back to school after Labor Day weekend in 2011. And this was no ordinary time. The world was on fire.

At that moment, the worst wildfire in Texas history was still only 75% contained. Flames reaching over 2,000 degrees ripped through 34,000 acres of where we called home. The remains of over 1,600 homes lay in heaps of crumpled metal and smoldering ash. Some of those homes belonged to students sitting within earshot, many of whom glanced my way. One of those homes, they well knew, belonged to their teacher.

The calm with which I interjected myself into the conversation surprised me. “With all due respect,” I said with a half-smile, “you have absolutely no idea what you are talking about.

“Those clothes you are wearing… were they the same ones in your closet yesterday? The bed you slept in last night… was it the same one you snuggled up in last week? The dishes you ate breakfast on this morning… were they the same ones you were served as a child? Oh no, my darling. Normal may be ridiculously taken for granted, but as I and many in this room can attest… it is far from overrated.”

He apologized for being cavalier, bless his heart. He did not know that I came to school thirty minutes early that morning, just so I could sit still and steep in my Normal. No answering of frantic phone calls or concerned emails. No people to whom I needed to recount the details of the last three days. No wondering where we would all be sleeping tonight. Standing in the doorway of my empty classroom, I finally let myself cry. Here today for a beautiful eight hours, I thought, my world will be all it always was.

I was somewhere beyond thankful. I wonder how many of my students felt the same.

Last week my beloved webmaster Howard had a heart attack at the age of 43. He and his wife Holly are easily our best friends. We have done everything together, from homeschooling our little ones to sifting through the charred remains of each other’s houses. But losing a husband is a much more terrifying threat to one’s Normal than a fire could ever be. That was just stuff. This is her love, her life. Five kids without a daddy plus one mommy with a broken heart equals a New Normal no woman wants to entertain.

For a moment, the world was on fire again.

Four stents later, Howard returned home this past Wednesday with a new diet (we too feel the loss of your Dr. Pepper, my friend) and a new perspective. It was not a coincidence that the same day Howard came home, my own husband finally decided to visit the doctor about some issues that were long bothering him. On Thursday afternoon both of them traveled all the way to Bryan and waited for hours in the freezing cold, just to see their sons compete in their first track meet.

Just like after the fire, loss—even the possibility of it—reminded us all to treasure the Blessed Normal.

Every Teacher Needs an Eggspert

Eggspert pic

Maybe it’s because we Americans were raised on game shows. Stand too close to an Eggspert, and you’ll experience this inexplicable urge to push the buzzer.

If you teach in a public classroom or at the kitchen table…

If you teach wiggly pre-schoolers or willful teenagers…

If you teach math, science, English, or underwater basket-weaving…

Then you, my friend, need an Eggspert.

Of all the teaching tools I use, this one enjoys a lasting reputation of fun and excitement from elementary through high school. It instantly turns even the most boring, routine review into a major game-show event.

So you can best visualize its potential for your classroom, here it how it works. Each of the six colorful, half-egg shapes atop the central device is wirelessly connected to a separate buzzer of the same color. Buzzers are then distributed to the students. Once a question is asked, the first student to press his or her buzzer causes the corresponding colored egg to ding and light up. The device then ticks away five to twenty seconds to allow the student ample time to answer. In classic quiz-show fashion, the machine emits a sharp, obnoxious noise to indicate when time is up.

Using the teacher remote, I can click off that player’s egg if the answer is correct and move onto the next question. If the answer is wrong, I can click off that player’s egg and allow another student to buzz in.

In a separate mode, I can also reverse the process and choose a student at random to answer the question. Another button on the teacher remote makes the device spin quickly through all of the eggs, until it gradually arrives at one color and lights up. With all eyes and ears trained on the slowing rotation, the anticipation for both teacher and student is juicy.

Can you see your students racing to complete a multiplication fact? To spell that week’s vocabulary word? To name how many legs an arachnid has? The possibilities are limited only by our imaginations.

To appeal to my older set, I have also incorporated the use of small wipe-off boards for written answers and pre-made Jeopardy-style PowerPoint games. Several times a year, this allows me the glorious opportunity to get in touch with my inner Alex Trebek.

Abigail-Audra pic

If you want to see a video of the Eggspert in action, you are invited to click on the above page entitled “Grammar Slam.” Students in Elementary English 4/5 enjoy a one-round Grammar Slam every five to six weeks throughout the year; English 1 students, a two-round Grand Grammar Slam to review the year’s material. Watch for the Eggspert to come out again in May for English Roots Jeopardy in English 2 and English 3… More on that exciting event as it approaches.

By far, the best testimony is the shock and sadness of my English 4 students—mostly sixteen to seventeen years old—when they hear they will not get a chance to play with the Eggspert this year.

C’mon, guys. I love you dearly, but what kind of teacher would I be if I let you go off to college thinking it was going to be all fun and games? You’ll thank me later.

Amazon carries both the wired version for under $40 and the wireless version for $85.  Even though the delay between releasing the buzzer and lighting the egg is just a split second longer with the wireless version, not having to deal with the endless tangle of black wire is well worth this inconvenience.

I’m not the Eggspert creator. Not even getting a kickback. Just a fangirl sharing the joy.

How to Grow Old with Enthusiasm

Red backgroundToday I am 44. For those who know me, this should come as no shock: I am growing old with enthusiasm and fervor.

I made this decision ten years ago, about the age when women are expected to take part in the sad, destructive ritual of bemoaning the loss of their youth. After that, we are easy prey for any daytime television show and magazine headline promoting the “war on aging.”

Talk about a fool’s errand. What do we think we are actually going to do… win?

So here is my simple four-step plan for turning the tables.

Step 1: Inflate the age. Women are plagued by this ridiculous reputation for claiming to be 29 forever. Clearly, that ship has sailed. However, if any man were so blind or gullible as to believe it, in the next breath he would be thinking, Man, time has not been her friend.

So instead, every time I am asked how old I am on my birthday, I smile wide and proclaim, “Fifty-six.”

Replying to what he can only fathom as unabashed honesty, he says, “Really? You look awesome!”

‘Nuff said.

Step 2: Embrace the grey. All fifty shades of it. Loreál will not make one more dime off of me.

Instead, I seek to show it off. I have pointed out the little wisps of white on my temples and hairline to my friends, students, even my mother. She is in denial, by the way.

I have sported a short hairstyle for most of my life, which takes very little time and effort to maintain. However, I have made this promise to myself: when the grey takes over, I am finally letting it grow long. In fact, I envision this thick braid cascading down the center of my back. Or maybe wear it up in a bun, like Caroline Ingalls. Remember her? That woman could look good cleaning out a pig sty.

Step 3: Dress the part. Three words… Hats. Glasses. Shoes.

My hat collection is small right now but definitely shows promise: a floppy one for the beach, a straw one for the backyard, a military one for the football field, and a beautiful red one that only comes out once a year for English 2’s Poetry Slam. That blog is coming up soon, so I won’t spoil the fun.

When the page must be more than a foot away from your face, it is time for a set of reading glasses. But not just one. Try three, and allow the style to match the occasion. For example, my purple antique pair lives in the office, the brown horn-rimmed pair is on the bedside table, and the zebra-striped pair is reserved for the classroom. Many would testify that I have honed my Teacher Intimidation Look to razor-sharp perfection using those babies.

Converse picFor shoes, think comfortable. Think funky. Think Converse. I am going to wear these little beauties on the last day of school.

Step 4: Speak the Truth. I am firm believer in the sovereignty of God, meaning that no power exists outside of Him and nothing happens outside of His control. I am also a firm believer in the goodness of God, meaning that His multi-dimensional plan does not have to be contained or explained in order to be glorious and true.

To remind me of this, I need only compare the photos of the smoldering remains of my house three years ago to that with which I have now been blessed. Pain is no measure of His faithfulness.

Therefore, when He brings someone into my path that needs to hear any part of my testimony, I do it. Even if it is embarrassing, even if it is inconvenient. I know if I shine at all, it is only as a reflection.

While I hope for the pleasure of growing old this way, I know my days are not promised to me. To which I reply, “All the more reason to practice a little now.”

See you at the Wal-Mart. I should be easy to spot.

Learning to Fear the Cold

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

–Theodore Roosevelt, April 23,1910

Success pic 2

As a teacher, part of my job is to play the critic. Some are too enamored with this role, bombarding a student with dissatisfaction as if words had no power. Some are too intimidated, grading in pink ink because red is now rumored to “damage self-esteem.”

First, let’s allow simple science to dispel this Red Ink Controversy once and for all. Red is proven to be the most salient color, which means our eyes naturally notice and pay closer attention to things represented with red. Stoplights and stop signs were not designed haphazardly; neither were the logos of all the most popular fast food chains. Incidentally, yellow is the second most salient color… Every time you pass under the Golden Arches, remember not to underestimate those clever ad execs.

Just as a gun is only dangerous in the hands of one untrained or unhinged, red ink is merely a medium. The true danger arises when a teacher misunderstands her objective as a proper, effective critic. Certainly I would not be doing my students any service if I were either too lackadaisical to have a standard or too cowardly to enforce it. Moreover, performers who are not made aware of the truth of their shortcomings feel they have no need to improve, thus encouraging complacency or apathy.

Roosevelt was not intimating that the critic is not necessary. She is just not as important.

When students offer up their best work, they are the men in the arena. They do the striving and the erring, devoting themselves to my assignment and believing it to be a worthy cause. They risk everything. I risk nothing. In the grand scheme of things, even the simplest effort dared bravely is worth more than any words I might choose to critique it.

If the standard is reached or exceeded, it is then the critic’s objective to make sure they feel that triumph of high achievement. By all means, reward them. Make a certificate online, place it in a WalMart frame, and present it in class. Cheer for them. Let those young people know that excellence is not only alive and well, but also very much encouraged and appreciated.

If the standard is missed, it is then the critic’s objective to make sure they feel that victory for having dared. By all means, correct them. Give them the 64 they deserve, but couch it with detailed comments on what was accomplished and what progress lays ahead. Give them hope. Let those young people know that you believe not only the best in them, but also the best from them in the future.

The objective for students—and pretty much the rest of us, too—is to learn to fear that permanent coldness of soul more than the temporary sting of defeat.

Consider the Source

Sorry, Ben. This is the real truth about who God helps.

Sorry, Ben. This is the real truth about who God helps.

God helps those who help themselves. Most people are not only familiar with this concept, but also accept it as truth. Many even believe it is Holy Scripture. Usually they place it somewhere between Second Opinions and the book of Hesitations.

Actually, it is not the Apostle Paul but Benjamin Franklin who must take the credit—or rather, the blame. Going off the rails from his Puritan upbringing early, Ben quickly deduced that all those things his folks originally taught him to do for the glory of God would also help him get ahead, make money, and broaden his influence.

Indeed, Ben may have looked and acted like a Christian (although he obviously considered the Seventh Commandment more of a suggestion than a rule), but his intentions were quite worldly and self-serving. Like many a wise Southern grandmother has said, “Just because the cat gives birth in a bread pan, it don’t make ‘em biscuits.”

These were just a few of the insights explored by English 4 students this past month as we contrasted the worldviews of Christianity and Deism. While Franklin attempted to “enlighten” the Deism of Europe by injecting a little Christian-based morality from his youth, his contemporary Thomas Paine was a bit brasher in his beliefs.

PaineThomas1

Comparably speaking, Thomas Paine’s pamphlet “Common Sense” was read by more people than today watch the Super Bowl. Published on January 10, 1776, it called for the colonies’ immediate declaration of independence from England, which became a reality six months later.

According to Paine, a Deist may be defined as someone who:

  • Believes in the existence of a creator God, as evidenced by the intricacy and harmony of creation. However, this God is distant and uninvolved: akin to someone’s creating a complex piece of machinery, setting it in motion, and then walking away.
  • Believes that the only knowledge that people might need to have about this Creator and His ways may be learned by studying nature and employing their reason, which Deists claim was the choicest gift granted before the Divine Departure.
  • Believes that the Bible or “the books of pretended revelation, which shock our reason and injure our humanity” are at best, useless and unnecessary; at worst, fallacious and detrimental.

In fact, French philosopher Denis Diderot noted that a Deist is merely someone who has not lived long enough to be an Atheist. Quite a logical deduction, since it seems a small leap from “God does not care” to “God does not exist.”

True Deism like Paine’s is proof positive that copping to the existence of Intelligent Design does not necessarily indicate any breakthrough in spiritual understanding. In fact, we discussed some very unfortunate conundrums that arise in Paine’s assessment:

  • Are our human reason and observations as consistent, infallible, and enlightening as Paine would lead us to believe? We could wax philosophic on this one for days, so instead let us simplify. If this were indeed true, our marriages would be continual bliss. Our classrooms would produce geniuses by the thousands. Congress would not know the meaning of the word “deadlock.” But as it is now, our most learned scientists cannot even agree from year to year on whether coffee and chocolate are good for us or bad for us.
  • What if we really did pattern our moral behavior after what we observe from nature? This then begs the question, “From what slice of nature do we draw our conclusions?” We readily want to extrapolate from the beauty of a sunrise, the rhythm of the seasons, the symbiosis between species. But what about the parasites? Should it be acceptable for one person or group of people to suffer so another can gain? Should it be permissible to prey on the old, sick, and weak, like most species do? Or worse yet, should we approve their practice of abandoning our own old, sick, and weak to die alone and unprotected? Think of it… More dictatorships and able-bodied people sponging off the government and less hospitals, nursing homes, and neo-natal care units. Sounds less moral by the minute.
  • Is it possible to exercise and encourage morality without an absolute, transcendent truth as its foundation? After grappling with this very question throughout his dissertation Unspeakable Ethics, Unnatural Law in the 1979 Duke Law Journal, humanist professor Arthur A. Leff arrived at this unsettling conclusion:

All I can say is this: it looks as if we are all we have. Given what we know about ourselves and each other, this is an extraordinarily unappetizing prospect; looking around at the world, it appears that if all men are brothers, then the ruling model is Cain and Abel. Neither reason, nor love, nor even terror seems to have worked to make us “good,” and worse than that, there is no reason why anything should… As things stand now, everything is up for grabs. Nevertheless:

Napalming babies is bad.

Starving the poor is wicked.

Buying and selling each other is depraved.

Those who stood up to and died resisting Hitler, Stalin, Amin, Pol Pot—and General Custer, too—have earned salvation.

Those who acquiesced deserve to be damned.

There is in the world such a thing as evil.

[All together now] Sez who?

God help us.

ben_franklin

“I imagine it great vanity in me to suppose that the Supremely Perfect does in the least regard such an inconsiderable nothing as man.” –Benjamin Franklin

In the end, a Deist is left with no moral alternative other than to borrow from Christianity to prop up his weakened worldview. We may look no further than the debacle of the French Revolution—the second revolt on which Thomas Paine collaborated—to see evidence of what happens when he doesn’t.

Incidentally, I still hold great hope that I will see Mr. Franklin sitting across the table at the Wedding Supper of the Lamb. While delivering his address on prayer to the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Ben clearly and systematically negated each of his former Deistic notions. It is amazing what a little revolutionary war can do for an 81-year-old’s perspective on the sovereignty of God.

Let’s hope history need not repeat itself.

Never Too Old to be a Fangirl

After months of anticipation, avid sports fans like my three boys celebrated their Super Bowl last week. Like any supportive mom, I participated willingly, even enthusiastically: buying the obligatory snacks, cheering for their select team, feigning shock and outrage at the outcome. Tough break, Seattle—but you have to admit that was an amazing catch.

Now I sincerely love watching my own boys play football. I have three well-used cowbells to prove that. However, it should come as no surprise that football itself does not move me. I am an English teacher, after all. We don’t get an arena in which to see our favorite teams go head to head. However, I will confess to having waking visions of Fahrenheit 451 and Lord of the Flies beating the literary tar out of The Hunger Games.

So imagine my surprise and delight to hear the announcement of an event that will be every English teacher’s Super Bowl, World Cup, and Fourth of July all rolled into one.

On July 14, 2015, Harper Lee will debut her second book, Go Set a Watchman. This will be the sequel to her Pulitzer prize-winning To Kill a Mockingbird, first published in 1960.

Harper Lee sits in the upper gallery of the courtroom on the set of 1962 film based on her award-winning book.

Harper Lee sits in the upper gallery of the courtroom on the set of the 1962 film based on her award-winning book.

I gasped. Wait… it gets better.

Twenty years later after living in New York, Scout—now Jean Louise—returns home to Maycomb, Alabama, during the height of the Civil Rights Movement to visit her father Atticus Finch, the retired lawyer made infamous for defending a black man against a white man’s charges in a small Southern town.

I swooned. How many times I had postulated what became of my Atticus in the years after. Now I would definitively know. Oh, but you haven’t heard the very best part yet.

Harper Lee actually wrote the manuscript for Go Set a Watchman first. It was her publisher who thought the audience needed more explanation of the characters’ history in order for the work to make sense. To Kill a Mockingbird became that back-story, leaving Go Set a Watchman forgotten in the midst of the unexpected and unparalleled success of this young, first-time writer.

I felt faint. What could possibly outdo this? Wait for it.

A longtime fan of the printed word, Harper Lee just recently gave permission for her first novel to be published in electronic form.

A longtime fan of the printed word, Harper Lee just recently gave permission for her first novel to be published in electronic form.

The now 88-year-old author said she is publishing Go Set a Watchman in its original form. She is not going to alter its content in any way.

That’s it. I’m undone. Scrape me off the floor.

Upon telling my husband this news, he replied with his usual careful discernment. This is too convenient, too contrived, he said. A lost manuscript by the original author, rediscovered fifty years later? Sounds too good to be actually true.

Hear me now. I… don’t… care.

I have taught To Kill a Mockingbird for years, even designed a whole month’s worth of curriculum around it. My classes have reveled in the story of how Harper Lee pitched a mound of typewritten pages out of her apartment window, so frustrated with how the story did not seem like it was coming together. I am eternally grateful to the LORD for providing the wise editor who told Lee she better get her galoshes on and pick up every last page. Not to mention for a rare, windless evening in New York City.

So this past Thursday, I announced this monumental event to my English 3 class at the Kyle campus. After I finished, one of my beloved students noted aloud, “Gee, Mrs. Pahlow, it sounded like you just had a fangirl moment.”

Whoa, I thought. He’s right.

For a split second, I was a tad embarrassed by my all-too-apparent show of enthusiasm. In the next second, I was delighted that anyone would refer to me as any kind of “girl,” with my 44th birthday only two weeks away. Then I settled comfortably into the truth: when the right thing happens, you are never too old to be a fangirl.

Like any good fangirl, so I was told, I should now be concerned with how they will convert my soon-to-be beloved book into the inevitable movie. Oh, I shudder to think of it. I might be able to stomach their attempt to cast Go Set a Watchman, providing they choose a venerable actor to play the older Atticus. But Hollywood, if you have any shred of decency or integrity left, please do not embarrass yourself by trying to remake To Kill a Mockingbird. The result will be awful; the reviews, brutal. Just remember what you did to Gatsby, and let it go.

Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch.  Correction... Gregory Peck IS Atticus Finch.

Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch. Correction… Gregory Peck IS Atticus Finch.

Just in case Hollywood is listening, here is a bit of advice from fellow fangirl Lauren Filippo, one of my English 3 students in Kyle. In response to the assignment to write a true satire, one which would make fun of a situation or behavior but not an individual person, she created this gem:

How NOT to Make a Movie Out of a Book

When producing a movie based on a book, actually reading the book should never be done. Instead, read a summary online. Better yet, ask someone else to give you the thirty-second version. After all, you’re making a movie. You don’t have time to read.

Be sure to adjust the characters to your liking, both in personality and appearance. Main characters should be altered as needed. Naturally, minor characters should be replaced or erased from the story completely. The odds that fans of the book will care or even notice are slim.

Add as much objectionable material to the movie as you can. Push the meaning of PG with as much language, inappropriate content, and gore as possible. By including these elements, you will attract an older crowd. Most fans certainly won’t mind hearing their favorite characters swear every five minutes.

Change the dialogue beyond recognition. You should make the new script as cheesy and cliché as possible. Never should you make a conversation relevant to the original scene or—heaven forbid—actually quote the book.

Without a doubt, your top priority should be to keep the movie short and simple.  Cram in as much fighting as possible. Change or even discard entire scenes for the sake of brevity, no matter how important they are to the book’s plotline. If a scene can’t be described in a single sentence, it’s too complicated.

Whenever possible, add romance between characters. Although it may not be in the book, fans will surely appreciate it. Honestly, it’s not like the thousands of fangirls read the book because they actually liked the story.

Never so much as consider ending the movie with a cliffhanger, especially if that’s how the book ends. Doing so would only make more people want to read the book to see what happens. You want to attract attention to your movie, not the book. Let the author do his own advertising.

Always avoid tragedy, unless it’s of your own invention. For example, if a character dies in the book, be sure to keep him alive in the movie, no matter how illogical his survival may seem. However, if you decide a character is no longer essential, discard him despite what may have happened in the book.

While filming and editing the scenes themselves, put more effort into interesting music and dramatic special effects than the dialogue or acting quality. An explosion can easily make up for a poorly communicated plot detail, however vital that detail may be.

Never under any circumstances should you consistently follow the book’s plotline. Twist or even completely rewrite the story to make it more action-packed. While the book might include an interesting plot twist or battle strategy, your movie should be as straightforward and obvious as possible. The audience can then know what the movie is about without having to pay attention.

Remember, your goal is to make the movie the same as the book in title only. Minor details such as storyline are irrelevant.

Lauren would like to know if anyone has Peter Jackson’s email address. She has a few bones to pick.