Minor victories with Harry Potter and Uncle Scrooge

Expanded from the 2-9-2003 Daily Sparks, Nev., Tribune

Last Friday, I enjoyed a minor victory. As a matter of fact, it involved about 40 minors. I read stories to fifth grade classes at Florence Drake Elementary School in Sparks.

I was asked to the task by librarian Carol Sneddon (spouse of Reno Gazette-Journal sports impresario Steve Sneddon, the greatest boxing writer in the world). She thought I could help the students with proper pronunciation and invited me to pronunciate.

Fortunately, my grand-daughters long ago prepped me for a fifth grade audience. I walked in having read all four Harry Potter novels. My research immediately paid off. Teachers Jenelle Sumrall and Chelsea Keen arrived in strangely familiar black robes. Turned out I had shown up on costume day. I asked Mrs. Sumrall if she was playing Prof. McGonagle. Indeed. Then I was asked to identify Mrs. Keen. I guessed that she was portraying sour Prof. Snape. Right again, but I noted that she smiled too much to do justice to actor Alan Rickman's scowling movie character. I thought I might have won a few converts among the kids by going two-for-two from Hogwarts.

Then, the moment of truth. The Peter Pan-engreened Mrs. Sneddon introduced me as a writer from the Trib, adding that she had listened to me in my talk radio days, complimenting my "memorable" voice. (At least she didn't say irritating.)

I asked the class if any of them had ever wanted to become rich and famous writing or singing rock or country songs. Many raised their hands. I told them they were equipped with all the gear necessary to do so. Just play with words. Learn how to creatively break the rules of grammar after you've learned them. The music will come from the words, all courtesy of the world's greatest computer, the one each of us has between the ears.

I started off with a poem by e.e. cummings, the guy from whom Dr. Seuss probably got his rhythm. I told them not to try to figure out the meaning, but listen to the music of cummings' words in "what if a much of a which of a wind."

After that, I learned that the City of Sparks and the country are safe in the hands of these kids, as long as we don't screw it up too badly before they take charge.

I had brought a comic book with me, one which I first read back in the 1950s: Walt Disney's "Uncle Scrooge and the Fabulous Philosopher's Stone." Disney let his writers and cartoonists let off their creative and political steam in the Scrooge series. They rewrote every classic myth and took some subtle but hilarious political potshots at the same time.

I asked the children if any knew the original title of the first Harry Potter book. Several did, "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone." It had been changed to "the sorcerer's stone" for U.S. audiences. Apparently, Time-Warner considered American audiences too dumb to react to the word "philosopher."

One bright young man in the back had even read the Greek myth and mentioned the fearsome minotaur, the giant with the head of bull guarding the stone in the labyrinth.

Wow. Amazing kids.

I was well paid for my labor. Mrs. Sneddon presented me with a bag of goodies which included a teddy bear necktie and a poem from a student named Brianna. (I plan to wear the tie on Sam Shad's Nevada Newsmakers this week, especially on Tuesday when Washoe County District Attorney Dick Gammick will appear. He's big on Mickey Mouse ties and now I can be competitive in the critter department.)

Sparks City Councilman John Mayer was scheduled to read to kindergarten students Friday afternoon, but I couldn't stick around. I hope I get invited back.

Here's the poem Mrs. Sneddon gave me from Brianna.


     I love to read, but mostly about bears.
Bears breathe air. So do I.
     Bears can scare people and animals.
I can, too.
     Sometimes, bears can fall downstairs.
One day, I might run into a bear
     and when I do, all I'll do is stare.
It will probably scare me.
     And that is why I only like to read
about bears.

BEARABLE AND AIRABLE. Nevada Newsmakers airs at 12:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday on KRNV TV-4 and at 9:30 p.m. on Charter cable channel 12 in Reno-Sparks-Carson, channel 19 in Douglas County.

A WORD FROM THE LAST GOVERNOR NEVADA'S EVER HAD. A special Internet edition of the Barbwire last week brought a nice phone call from former Gov. Mike O'Callaghan (D, 1971-79), now executive editor of the Las Vegas Sun. He reacted to my mention of the unfairness of the Nevada sales tax on prosthetics and hearing aids (an issue brought to the fore by the late Ralph Heller, who for many years occupied the south 40 of this page).

O'Callaghan lost a lower leg during the Korean War and is thus very sensitive to such issues, especially as they may affect veterans. I told him I'd research it further. In the web version of this column, you will find a link to the Nevada Administrative Code section featuring a ghoulish crazy-quilt of taxable and non-taxable prosthetic devices.

CAPPING THE DAY. The venerable Shelly's True-Value Hardware is just up the road a piece from Florence Drake Elementary in the Greenbrae Shopping Center. I stopped in to see my old friend Bob Taylor, who has managed to survive and prosper in the age of the big box stores. I was happily able to buy an American-made product thereat. Do the same soon. Tell Bob to...

Be well. Raise hell. | U-News | C.O.P. | Sen. Joe Neal
Guinn Watch | Deciding Factors


Copyright © 2003 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a 34-year Nevadan, a member Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and editor of and He hosts Deciding Factors on several Nevada television stations. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks (Nev.)Tribune since 1988.

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