from The Serpentine Muse, volume 19:1, Winter 2002.
Come Through the Magic Door with Me . ..*
by Myrtle Robinson
Sometimes we embark upon a path whose outcome we may never know. I have always been interested in encouraging young people to read and hope they will include the Canon in that reading. The project described in this article was my brain-child and succeeded as I had hoped it would. For the eighth graders involved, the seeds of interest have been sown. Who knows how many fledgling Sherlockians we have created?
In April 2002, the Hansom Wheels scion of the Baker Street Irregulars hosted a weekend of activities in Columbia, SC. Included in the program was an outreach effort to interest young people in Sherlock Holmes. We hope other groups will follow our example. The following notice appeared in our brochure for The Intergalactic Sherlockian Weekend:
FOR THE YOUNGER GENERATION—In a competition sponsored by the Hansom Wheels, eighth grade language arts students from two South Carolina schools are reading The Hound of the Baskervilles and will prepare projects to compete for prizes for themselves and their schools. Prizes will be awarded at the Saturday luncheon at which winners and their parents will be guests.
Among our members is a high school mathematics teacher, Dr. Twyla Tuten, who lives and works in North Augusta, SC, approximately 100 miles from Columbia. She was enthusiastic about my idea to have middle school students read HOUN as a project and enter a Sherlockian competition. She contacted schools around the state and two eighth grade advanced placement class teachers in North Augusta were interested. Our October approach was late because teachers usually have their year’s plans in place in early summer. However, the schools had canceled a traditional trip to Washington because of September 11, and the teachers welcomed a project to fill the gap. They used HOUN in a study of Victorian life in general.
Since each student must have a copy of the book if it is required reading, we ordered 92 copies of HOUN. Seventy-two came in and were distributed in early January with the other twenty arriving a week or so later. I’m told twenty youngsters were “champing at the bit” by the time they received their copies. At the teachers’ request, Twyla visited each school to give an introduction to the Canon, HOUN in particular, and some information about Doyle. In mid-March the project ended, and the teachers graded the entries and selected 60 “products” deemed suitable for the competition.
By March 31, Twyla had the entries. Jo Bradford, another Hansom Wheels member, and I participated in the judging. We found entries all about Twyla’s kitchen and dining room, posters leaning against walls, and her computer prepared for viewing the PowerPoint entries. There were numerous posters, two 221B dioramas—one with Dr. Mortimer standing outside the door, models of Baskerville Hall, a plaster of Paris plaque, a collage of Sherlockian items, a board game, a model of the yew alley, and many more. Four entries were chosen, two from each class.
All entries were brought to Columbia with the three dimensional items displayed on tables in the meeting auditorium and the posters in the hall gallery immediately outside. The PowerPoint entries were shown to the attendees. Since our Saturday programs were open to the public, the exhibits attracted a great deal of attention. The winning students and their families were our lunch guests, and our BSI speakers, David Hammer, Paul Herbert, and Don Izban, presented the awards and spoke to the group. The winners received a Sherlockian book other than HOUN, autographed by the speakers and two other BSI—Herb Tinning and my husband Bob Robinson, an award certificate, and a cartoon suitable for framing, especially commissioned for the weekend by a well-known Southeastern cartoonist and artist, Jak Smyrl. In addition, a complete Sherlock Holmes was presented to each school’s library with the accompanying note:
The Hansom Wheels, Scion of the Baker Street Irregulars, of Columbia, South Carolina is pleased to present to your school library a copy of The Complete Sherlock Holmes. This is part of the prize earned by the North Augusta students who participated in the project sponsored by the Hansom Wheels to mark the centennial of The Hound of the Baskervilles. It also marks the exciting Intergalactic Sherlockian Weekend in Columbia, April 26-28, 2002.
We hope that all of you will take a look at the Sherlock Holmes stories, and we know that you will enjoy Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson when you read their exciting adventures. Happy reading!
Pictures of the presentations were later sent to the students.
Our project was definitely a success. One student’s hometown newspaper did a feature article on her and her project, and the two teachers involved want to do the program again in 2003. We have promised copies of HOUN and possible participation of members of the Hansom Wheels in the introductory talks. Twyla will give an introduction in Victorian costume and there will be an awards event in spring 2003. At least one other school in the state is interested in a Sherlockian project. We want to keep the momentum going, and we encourage all scions to consider what they might do.
Sponsoring an activity for approximately 90 students requires at least $500 for purchase of the books with an education discount, prizes for students and schools, and luncheon expenses. We used an Aladdin Classic edition, published by Simon and Schuster, with a foreword by Newberry author Bruce Brooks. You’ll also need a contact with local schools, such as a teacher or administrator, and you should approach teachers in the spring prior to the school year. I will be delighted to share information with other scions contemplating a similar event. I can be reached at MTR@Lindau.net.
*Arthur Conan Doyle, Through the Magic Door (Pleasantville, NY: The Akadine Press, 1999), p.5.
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