Teaching My Baby To Read

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Shakespeare for all ages

Do you think Shakespeare is too hard for kids?  Think again!

With the right type of scaffolding, almost any age can enjoy the “Bard of Avon”.  Here are some ideas to get you started:

For Kids 2.5 Years Old and Up

Shakepeare’s Storybook with CD by Patrick Ryan doesn’t exactly tell the stories of Shakespeare.  Instead, it includes the stories that inspired Shakespeare.  So instead of “Hamlet”, you hear the story of “Ashboy”.  “A Bargain is a Bargain” tells the story of “The Merchant of Venice.”

There are two CDs with this book, as well as lots of pictures.  None of the stories were too scary for my daughter, who started listening to them as young as two and a half.

For Kids 4 and Up

Can I just say how much I love Jim Weiss?  Basically anything you purchase from Greathall Productions is going to be golden.  Shakespeare for Children is no exception.  This is an audio CD that tells the stories of “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” and “The Taming of the Shrew”.  Both versions are awesome!

Tales from Shakespeare by Tina Packer is another great choice for kids.  My son and I have read this book at bedtime over and over again.  The plays are told in narrative form but include original lines whenever possible.  The illustrations are beautiful; my only complaint is that there aren’t more of them.

For Kids 6 and Up

Chapter 39 of Susan Wise Bauer’s Story of the World Volume 2 includes historical information about Shakespeare, as well as a brief retelling of “Macbeth”.  If you have Jim Weiss reading the audio version of SOTW2, this appears on Disc 9.  I love the entire SOTW series to begin with, so getting a bit of Shakespeare thrown in is a nice bonus.

The Shakespeare Stealer is a historical novel for middle grade audiences by Gary Blackwood.  It tells the fictional story of Widge, an orphan boy who knows how to do a cryptic shorthand that allows him to transcribe plays when he should just be watching them.  The language is pretty advanced (not inappropriate, just challenging).  You really feel like you are getting a history lesson when you read this, as well as being entertained.

For Kids 10 and Up

Imagine if Monty Python, the Globe Theatre, and the evening news were mixed together.  You might end up with “This is Macbeth” and “This is Hamlet”.   These are two really wonderful introductions to Shakespeare for older students, created by Greg Watkins and Jeremy Sabol from Stanford’s Structured Liberal Education program.  (More about my own interest in SLE here.)

There are key scenes from the plays performed, faux interviews of the characters, musical interludes, and pretend medieval commercials.

My son Bruce is only seven, so he doesn’t quite have the attention span to make it through an entire DVD.  But he loves the medieval commercials so much, we have watched those on repeat.  It’s going to be really difficult to walk past the replica sword store, the next time I take Bruce to the mall…


7 Comments

  1. Tori says:

    May I offer a few more suggestions? Bruce Coville has written a wonderfully illustrated series of picture books of several of Shakespeare’s plays. He writes in a way that is understandable by kids, but still retains the poetic feeling of the original language. There are also numerous graphic novels available of Shakespeare plays. Our favorites are a series called Classical Comics. You can choose either the original language version or the American English version of the play (or both, as we do, to compare). There is an excellent series called No Fear Shakespeare in which the original language appears on the left pages of the book and a line-for-line translation into American English appears on the right pages. No Fear also has a series of graphic novels, but I haven’t seen them yet. We have used all of these titles with our 7- and 10-year-old kids and the books have really helped all of us understand what ol’ Will was trying to say.

  2. Tori says:

    One more thought about Shakespeare, since I appear to be on a roll. I also have to recommend an outstanding, inspirational documentary called “The Hobart Shakespeareans” (an episode of the PBS series POV). It’s about a teacher in inner city Los Angeles who, among many other things, guides his at-risk fifth graders in staging a Shakespeare play each year. But keep your box of Kleenex handy! It’s really, really wonderful.

  3. Tori says:

    Darn it — my third time trying to submit this comment, so it may not be as articulate as the first time. May I suggest a few more Shakespearean things? Bruce Coville has written a series of wonderfully illustrated picture books of Shakespeare’s plays. He writes them to be understandable to young kids, yet he retains the poetic feeling of the original. There are also numerous graphic novels available. Our favorites are a series called Classical Comics. You can purchase either the original language version or the American English version (or both, as we do, to compare). There is also an excellent series called No Fear Shakespeare which has the original language on the left page and a line-for-line translation to American English on the right page. No Fear apparently has graphic novels available as well, but I haven’t seen them yet. We read Shakespeare with our 10- and 7-year-old kids, and these books have been invaluable in helping all of us understand what ol’ Will was trying to say.

    • jenbrdsly says:

      I might just add some of those to our Christmas list! The Classical Comics especially look like they would be right up my son’s alley. Thank you for the recommendations.

  4. Jo Wheeler says:

    Great article Jennifer,
    We produce graphic novels of Shakespeare’s plays – mainly for use in education (http://www.classicalcomics.com/titles.html). As Tori mentioned we create multiple versions of each play: Original (the original and unabridged Shakespeare play), Plain (a modern English translation) and also a Quick (a reduced dialogue version for younger or reluctant readers). Each graphic novel uses the same full colour artwork – only the text is different between versions. And we have also published a few titles as motion comics too where you can watch the animated play like a movie and easily switch between versions. You can see an online demo here: http://www.classicalcomics.com/motioncomics
    Shakespeare isn’t boring and we hope our approach encourages more younger readers to enjoy his plays.
    jo@classicalcomics.com

    • jenbrdsly says:

      That’s good information. Yesterday I ordered Classical Comics Macbeth and Midsummer Night’s Dream off of Amazon. I think it must be the Original text. Maybe the Plain version would have been better… I guess I’ll find out!

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