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U.S.A. Popcorn Adventure #10
May 30, 2007

Busy Bees

Akeelah and the Bee + 80th Annual Scripps National Spelling Bee

Akeelah and the Bee is a film of immense pulchritude. Pulchrutude, derived from Latin, is defined by Webster's as "extreme beauty." Akeelah Anderson, an eleven year-old girl, tries to hide her smarts at a tough Los Angeles school because she is labeled a "freak" and a "brainiac." What she can't hide from herself is that she can spell up a storm and secretly dreams of competing in the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Akeelah has to compete with much more than other bee contestants to get to the nationals; she has to persuade her over-worked mom, convince a reluctant coach to take her on, and search deep inside herself to see if she has what it takes to win. Akeelah is a great kid, and our kids cheered her on as she competed, not just because she's a fighter but also for being a brave and ethical child, the kind they would want as a friend. The very definition of pulchritude. Which, by the way, turns out to be Akeelah's winning word.

Thursday evenings usually involve quizzing our elementary schoolers for their Friday spelling tests. We've made it through words like psychologist and recommendation, and extra credit words like sarcophagus. Tuning into the Scripps National Spelling Bee takes spelling to a whole different stratosphere. In 2006, Kerry Close of Asbury Park, New Jersey, won with the word ursprache. Our daughter predicted it was a type of cold soup; our son guessed it was a geological formation and we, well, weren't ready to admit a total and complete blank as to both its definition and its spelling. (As it turns out, ursprache is a noun and defined as a language that is the hypothetical ancestor of another language). Our family had a grand time guessing at meanings and attempting their spellings along with the young contestants. This year, we're setting our TIVO for the early rounds on ESPN, but are planning on some cozy couch time for the final rounds on ABC this Thursday night. With some prospicience (act of looking forward, 2002), your family will enjoy a fun night matching wits with expert spellers -- we promise, your kids will have no logorrhea (endless chatter, 1999), or pococurante (apathetic, 2003) attitudes.

 
Film Title: Akeelah and the Bee
Directed By: Doug Atchison
2006, Rated PG, 112 minutes


Our Buttery Bits of Wisdom about this film:

  • Why This Film Is Worth It: It's hard to imagine a more perfect family film. Dr. Larabee (Laurence Fishburne), the English professor who tutors Akeelah (Keke Palmer), tells her that "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeus, talented and fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be?" That affirming message -- a message to which every parent will respond-- runs throughout the film.
  • Red Flags: The movie is set in a tough Los Angeles school, and the language follows suit. In addition, sorrow is not sugar-coated: Akeelah's father was killed in a shooting and her spelling coach, English professor Dr. Larabee, is mourning the death of his daughter.
  • Starbucks, Anyone: This was the first DVD offerred for sale by Starbucks, who partnered with Lions Gate Films and 2929 Entertainment. To give this film a latte of promotion, Starbucks featured vocabulary words on its cup sleeves and sent its baristas to free screenings.
  • Spelling-Mania: Our kids also loved the docu-drama Spellbound (2002) that followed eight children from their hometown bees up through the Scripps Bee. They quickly became immersed in Spellbound, but fell head over heels for Akeelah.

Our tips for talking with your kids about this film:

  • Cinema Savvy:  Talent is a tricky business. Although some kids have unmistakable gifts, most have more normal talents -- that is, an area at which they are especially able. Ask your kids about their talents.  How might they take what they are good at to the next level?  Akeelah did, but it's great to discuss how much effort and determination it took her to succeed.


 

The 80th Annual Scripps National Spelling Bee

FINALS: Thursday, May 31, 8 - 10 pm EST LIVE on ABC
PRELIMINARY ROUNDS: Thursday, May 31, 10 am - 1 pm EST on ESPN

Check your local listings for schedules: Remember that the times above are for the East Coast! When we looked up the Bee in our city, we discovered the Final Rounds at both 8 pm, as well as earlier on a local ABC affiliate.

Age Recommendation: seven and up



Our Buttery Bits of Wisdom about this Popcorn Adventure:

  • What Worked For Us: This adventure is, ironically speaking, a no-brainer. Kids tune in without any prompting at all because they try to spell the proffered words along with the contestants. We also had a little fun by first pulling up the Bee's winning words for the last 80 years: (Click here for the list from 1926 onward). The kids thought it was SO funny that even Mom and Dad couldn't spell every word correctly. Ha, Ha! (Try spelling esquamulose (1962) or staphylococci (1987)).
  • Scripps Website for more information: http://www.spellingbee.com/
  • Test Yourself! Click here for an elementary school aged spelling game; click here for a harder one.
  • Scripps National Spelling Bee Background: Held every year in Washington D.C., this year includes 268 contestants, ages 9 - 15, from all around the world. Spellers qualify for the national championship by first winning bees in their home communities. The first bee, held in 1925, had nine contestants.

Our tips for how to extend this adventure around the USA:

  • Anywhere: We logged on to yahoo.com, chose TV, then clicked on the TV Listings tab to determine what time to tune in for the Scripps Spelling Bee's Final Rounds airing at 8 pm EDT.  We discovered that we could watch the 8 pm show live at 5 pm in our city on an ABC local affiliate station, or wait until the kids finished their homework to tune in at 8 pm.
  • Chicago:  The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, a  Tony-award winning show, is playing at Drury Lane Theatre Water Tower Place through Labor Day. Our kids, who saw it in New York, LOVED the show but -- be warned - there is one song that many parents find slightly offensive. (Not recommended for kids under eight). The show is interactive -- audience members are chosen to participate as spelling bee contestants on stage, so every show is a bit different. For tickets, call:  312-642-2000 or 312-902-1400.  To hear some songs from the production (including one that may be inappropriate for little kids) and to play a fun spelling bee game on the production's website, click here.
  • Houston:  The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee will be playing at the Hobby Center For Performing Arts from March 25 - April 6, 2008. Here's a link to a story about Houston's contestant in this year's Scripps Bee.

 
Want more? Here are KOTC's picks of films, books, music, and websites that connect your family to more culture.



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