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U.S.A. Popcorn Adventure #72
November 19, 2008

Dig We Must

Holes + Dig for Ancient Artifacts

What could smelly sneakers, forbidden romance and an old lipstick have in common? You'll have to watch Holes -- a smart movie based on a best-selling book by Louis Sachar -- to find out. Sachar, an author who kids adore, unleashes two plots in Holes: The first is about mild-mannered adolescent Stanley Yelnats, who is sent to juvenile detention camp after he's wrongly accused of stealing a valuable pair of sneakers. The second plot, set in the Old West, revolves around a gun-toting outlaw named Kissing Kate, who leaves her brazen signature, a scarlet kiss, at every hold-up. At first, the two plots operate on different planes. It seems a sure bet that Stanley will get eaten alive by all the rougher, tougher kids at Juvie, but when he teams up with Zero, a quiet-but-savvy partner, the two boys set a generations-old saga, involving Kissin' Kate, into motion. Our kids were transfixed by a plot where the past and present collide in an unusual film that looks and feels adult, but is aimed right at the hearts and minds of pre-teens.

It's easy to overlook clues to the past in your own backyard, so when we heard that a local museum had a replicated pit where kids dig for ancient artifacts we had to check it out. Young participants get a grip, literally, on history,  when they get their hands dirty digging up replicated artifacts from the Middle East. Searching for household artifacts in the sand stimulated our daughter, and pulling shards out of the dirt made her positively gleeful. The link between past and present became very real for our young one, who unearthed a pottery fragment that she tentatively identified, with help, as a kitchen tool, possibly from an olive oil press. She enjoyed this experience so much that she asked to do it a second time, the best "two thumbs-up" possible from a kid. Israelites, Hittites, and even cuneiform writing all made their way to our dinner table chat, all from a young lady bursting with pride in her own knowledge.

Film Title: Holes
Directed By: Andrew Davis
2003, Rated PG, 117 minutes

Our Buttery Bits of Wisdom about this Film:

  • Why It's Worth It: An intriguing plot line and great characters from a popular book makes for a weighty movie experience that both delights in the adolescent boy department and the mystery/thriller genre. As most critics agree, this film expects intelligence of the audience, something that is rare in 'family' movies.
  • Red Flags: This is a PG rated film - there is bad language and some violence; the film deals with racism, the boys are poorly treated at camp and one character commits suicide. Even if your child loved the novel, we should caution parents to think carefully about whether their child is ready to have scenes they loved in the book, come alive on screen. Best over ten.

Our Tips for Talking with your Kids about this Film:

  • Literature Savvy:  Louis Sacher has a devoted following of young readers because he hits the perfect tone --  wry, magical, and suspenseful, but never patronizing. We recommend they also read Holes -- like Harry Potter, it is one of those titles that seduces young (male) readers into a love of books.  Louis Sachar has also published Small Steps -- the story of Armpit, another young citizen from Camp Green Lake.  Our kids can not get enough of this author; our young man in a hurry to grow up was glad that "Small Steps" is about a teenager with girl problems, money problems and friend problems.
  • Feminism Savvy: A notable virtue of this film is its portrayal of good girls gone bad, and bad girls that are kinda lovable.   Sigourney Weaver is a villain you love to hate, with venom-tipped nails, and Western wear to die for.  Patricia Arquette is luscious as a school-marm turned stagecoach bandit, and Eartha Kitt beams as a sage gypsy with a unique method of enforcing promises.   These are the kind of dimensional, enchanting female roles that we all wish came along more often. 
  • Where's La Beouf?  The answer is, everywhere, but his performance in "Holes" will make you understand why this guy's star is rising.  A truly capable actor, whose talent transcends the Big Action Movie genre.


Archeology Adventure 

Time Allotment: a morning or afternoon

Age Requirement: everyone

Our Buttery Bits of Wisdom about this Adventure:

  • What We Learned: Hands-on education is a great way for kids to connect to history.  Our kids came away with a real fascination for ancient culture, and this activity was a great jumping off point for discussing how we learn about other civilizations from non-written clues.  Our kids were quick to connect that finding an oil vessel meant that the people who lived above the pit must have used oil in their cooking, and probably grew olives.  We asked our kids what they thought future discovers might learn about our family if they discovered our house in 5000 years!
  • Before You Go: Wear Old Clothes because your kids will come home dirty so be sure they're dressed appropriately.
  • Great Books:  We love some of the DK books for extending this experience.  Our son loves Egyptology, but that's just one among many interactive books exploring ancient cultures.

Our City Editors' tips for enjoying this Popcorn Adventure around the USA:

  • Anywhere: Google your city + archaeology, museum, dig, hands-on.  Search museum websites, also try your local park and recreation programs.
  • New York: Head over to the Archaeology Zone: Discovering Treasures from Playgrounds to Palaces at The Jewish Museum and your family can discover the world of archaeology and learn how artifacts unearthed can teach us so much about art and cultures throughout the ages.  Children will have an opportunity to examine replicas, interpret symbols and create works of art inspired by objects from the Museum's collection.  As part of this exhibition, families are invited on the Second Sunday of each month to Drop-In Dig, a simulated archaeological dig from 12:00-3:00 pm through June 15, 2009. This gallery is only open Sunday-Thursday. Children under 12 are free.
  • San Francisco: In San Francisco, school-aged kids can get their hands dirty with the Presidio's Garbology Program, which offers children a chance to become an archeologist for a day, by excavating, sorting in the Presidio's archeology lab, and then by trekking to the nearby Crissy Field Center, where they can investigate what happens in miniature landfills, and then consider the impact of garbage and waste on their own environment. The National Parks platform is part of the Presidio's Archeology Program, which studies El Presidio de San Francisco, a 232-year-old Spanish military fort established in Golden Gate.
  • Washington, D.C.: In Alexandria, Virginia's Old Town you can dig up some history at the Alexandria Archaeology Museum. They offer Archaeology Lessons for groups - great for scouts, and b-day parties.  They also offer Family Dig days for $5.00 per person at historic sites around Alexandria, so keep an eye on their calendar for dates.

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