Shakespeare for the Younger Crowd: Part II

Note: Sorry to be so long in putting this up. Life has been a tad extra crazy lately! We're on spring break this week, though, and after a fabulous trip to the Smokies, I've been catching up on a multitude of things.

I’m sure there are zillions of ways to introduce Shakespeare to elementary children, but here is what we do. I was not English major, and I’ve just been feeling my way along, but we have had a terrific time.

First, we read through a children’s retelling of the play in story format. I especially like the Shakespeare Can Be Fun series and Leon Garfield’s two volumes. One of the tricky things with Shakespeare is keeping track of all the different characters. So, while I read aloud, the children make a list on a jumbo (24”x 32”) flip chart. They write down the name of each character and a simple description. We didn’t begin to do this until midway through last year, but found it really helped with the mixed up identities and plays-within-a-play that are so common. The children use markers and might draw arrows to show connections or make other small illustrations. Sometimes when time elapses between our readings, our flip chart pages have been essential in reminding us of who is who. For some plays this is all we have done: read a narrative form of the play and make notes of the characters on the flip- chart. But if it is a play we like we take it a step or two further.

After reading through a re-telling, we might try a reader’s theater ourselves using an abridged text. Happily I’ve been able to find multiple copies of Diane Davidson’s versions of several of the plays. We assign parts and then sit around the living room, keeping the acting fairly minimal. Sometimes the kids will bring in costumes and props, but mostly we just read dramatically. One summer the children also put on a version of Midsummer Night’s Dream in our woods, complete with woodland crowns and wings for the fairies. Very cute.

And then, from time to time, we have been able to take in a live performances of a play. In Bloomington, as is not uncommon in other towns, there is a group that puts on a couple of free Shakespeare plays each summer. I especially enjoyed Twelfth Night performed with a Laurel and Hardy twist. (Yep, but it worked somehow.)

For discussions you might want to take a look at Brightest Heaven of Invention. Though written for senior high (or possibly very strong junior high) students, this book is also a great help to moms like me who don’t have a strong Shakespeare background. A year long class using this book to work through the six dramas it focuses on with a group of students would be awesome. Maybe someday when my tightly age-clustered kids are in high school.

One caveat - many of Shakespeare's plays are somewhat bawdy, so you need to pre-read the texts you will be reading with your children, and think through what you want to discuss. Last week after reading our children's version of Antony and Cleopatra, Amanda used the new word she had learned from Hosea. "She's a harlot!" Well, it led to a rousing talk about the lengths people will go to as they seek power and the results of sin. And those kinds of discussions are just the ones I want to have with my children as they grow up.

Resources:

* Shakespeare Can Be Fun! Series by Lois Burdett (Teacher in Stratford, Ontario, elementary school) Ages 7 and up Illustrated by kids drawings – great fun!

* Shakespeare Stories – Leon Garfield – Wonderful retellings, illustrations. Much more enjoyable than Lambs retellings. For an older audience than the Burdett books. Two volumes.

* Tales from Shakespeare and More Tales from Shakespeare– Marcia Williams – intricate cartoon re-tellings, often humourous. Many of my children have absolutely loved these two books. Just for fun.

* Shakespeare for Young People – Diane Davidson – abridged plays with much original language intact. Narrators added to fill in the gaps. Out-of-print, but can sometimes find sets on ABEbooks.com

* Brightest Heaven of Invention: A Christian Guide to Six Shakespeare Plays (Peter Leithart) Henry V, Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Macbeth, The Taming of the Shrew, Much Ado about Nothing
Excellent! Shows how literature uses biblical “model stories” of the fall and redemption.

* Shakespeare Tools
I have not seen this resource, but I have read some things this author has written which cause me to have high expectations for this product. Includes instructions and scripts for putting on a Shakespeare Camp.
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