April 23rd is William Shakespeare Day, the day on which he died in 1616. It’s a good day to introduce your child to his works. Don’t worry if you aren’t a Shakespearean scholar. And don’t worry if you can’t understand the language of Shakespeare. You can learn about Shakespeare’s work and language right along with your child with some of these books.
Do you want – or feel you should – teach your child Shakespeare? To understand Shakespeare, it’s important to appreciate his art and use of language. This book provides a way for you to teach your child Shakespeare and gain an appreciation for his art and language, even if you don’t understand Shakespeare yourself. It allows you to teach your child principles of both poetry and prose by focusing on brief passages from 25 of the best speeches in Shakespeare’s plays.
Here’s an example from A Midsummer’s Night Dream:
I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite overcanopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet muskroses, and with eglantine.
Believe it or not, kids as young as six can manage to understand that passage. How is that possible, you ask. It works in stages. First, readers are asked to read the passage over and over, until it is memorized. Many gifted children don’t like to memorize. If your child resists memorization, remind her that memorizing lines is what actors must do as part of their job.
Readers aren’t just memorizing incomprehensible passages either. The author begins by discussing the difficult words in a passage so that the reader knows what the passage means. Once the passage has been read over and memorized, the author introduces prinicples of poetry and prose, such as imagery and rhythm, and discusses them in terms of the passage. Being so familiar with the passage makes it easier to follow and understand that discussion.
For ages 6 and up
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Introduce your child to Shakespeare’s most well-known plays in a kid-friendly way. The plays included are Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, King Lear, As You Like It, Twelfth Night, The Merchant of Venice, The Tempest, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Cymbeline, The Taming of the Shrew, Pericles, and The Winter’s Tale. However, instead of presenting the stories as plays, the book presents them as short stories. The stories are told in modern English, but kids (and their parents) can get a taste of Elizabethan English because the dialogue in the stories are from the plays themselves. Once kids (and their parents) understand what the stories are about, it becomes much easier to read the plays later. The language won’t seem so difficult either since this book introduces kids to some of Shakespeare’s actual wording.
For ages 4 to 8
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3. Tales from Shakespeare
This book also approaches Shakespeare’s plays in a kid-friendly way, and it’s both unique and clever. The stories are presented in a cartoon format. The cartoon panels illustrate actions from the plays and include direct quotations from them. Beneath each panel readers will find the author’s commentary. What’s really clever, though, is that the stage cartoon panels is surrounded on three sides by an audience. That arrangment mimics the Globe Theater in Shakespeare’s day.
What makes it even more clever – and educational – is that the audience isn’t sitting quietly as modern audiences do when they attend a play. Instead, the audience wanders around and makes comments, just as sellers do who are at the play to sell their wares. This arrangement allows readers not only to be introduced to Shakespeare in a non-intimidating way, it also helps them see what the theater was like in Shakespeare’s day. Plays presented in the book are these well-known plays: “Hamlet,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “Macbeth,” “The Winter’s Tale,” “Julius Caesar,” “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and “The Tempest.” Another of these books, More Tales from Shakespeare, presents “As You Like It,” “King Lear,” “Much Ado About Nothing,” “Antony and Cleopatra,” “Twelfth Night,” “The Merchant of Venice,” and “Richard II.”
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Shakespeare wrote poetry as well as plays. While this book has some well-known passages from his plays, such as Hamlet’s soliloquy “To Be or Not to Be”, it also includes some of his sonnets, among them “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” The editor of the book makes the task of comprehending these works fairly easy by prefacing each poem or passage with an explanation and following it with a brief glossary. The book allows you to introduce your child to Shakespeare’s language and the themes of power, loyalty, and greed, and more found in his works. It’s a great introduction to Shakespeare’s perceptions of and insights to human nature.
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