Poetry Friday

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Tales from Shakespeare

Bravo, Mr. William Shakespeare!

I’m a bit undecided on the idea of abridged or easier versions of the classics. In general, I prefer not to have my kids read them as I’d rather them wait until they can appreciate the real thing. So often, the watered down versions are so poorly done that they make the classic seem dull rather than serve as something to whet the appetite for the real thing.

However, there have been exceptions to this general feeling. Last year, John and I had a great time reading Rosemary’s Sutcliff’s wonderful retelling of  the Iliad, Black Ships Before Troy, as well as her versions of the Odyssey and the Aenid. My 6 yr old obviously wasn’t going to get much out of the original Iliad if he could have even sat still for any of it. However, he ate up Black Ships and couldn’t get enough of the Greek heroes. Sutcliff’s books introduced the characters and stories to him and I believe will only serve to one day make the originals that much richer when he revisits them as old friends.

Marcia Williams accomplishes something similar in these two books of retellings of fourteen of Shakespeare’s plays. The cartoon format might scare some people away but these are beautifully detailed cartoons (and funny ones too). Each play gets about four pages and the main plot points are summarized in clear language. I love the way Williams also incorporates actual lines from the plays in the cartoons.

All the World's a Stage

This book by Rebecca Platt Davidson is a fun companion to a study of Shakespeare. The text is told in a “This is the house that Jack built” format with characters from about eight different plays highlighted. Each page layout features one play with text on one side and a detailed painting on the other side of many different characters in the play. John was unfamiliar with most of the plays so he didn’t get the text, but it created an easy way to introduce them to him. The endpiece has a legend that shows the characters depicted in each of the paintings.

You may ask why study Shakespeare with a 7 yr old at all. One reason is that we happen to have arrived at the chapters on Elizabethan England and Shakespeare in our history studies. The other more exciting reason is that our homeschool co-op has an excellent drama program that has the high school students perform a Shakespeare play each year. Tonight I am taking the boys to see them perform The Taming of the Shrew.

But the best reason is that as I am so often reminded, kids love a good story. After we finished reading a few of the Marcia Williams stories at teatime, John asked if he could keep reading. Who was I to say no? The cartoon format attracted him, but the story was what had him come back for more.

8 thoughts on “Poetry Friday

  1. Although I’m inclined to agree with you about not reading abridged versions – no, actually, I totally agree with you! – I find that I am swayed when it comes to visual representations and we are huge fans of all Marcia Williams’ books in our household – and fortunately it hasn’t stopped enjoyment of the originals, though we have yet to take on Chaucer in the original! We have recently discovered Manga Shakespeare, which is also proving to be a hit and has the bonus of using original Shakespeare, though again it is abridged… http://www.mangashakespeare.com/

    All the World’s a Stage looks delightful – thanks for pointing it out.

    • Alice

      Thanks for reading Marjorie!

      I haven’t read any other Marcia Williams but in writing this post I realized she has a bunch of others. I can see us definitely checking those out.

  2. YJ

    This is perfect. My daughter’s school, Ambleside in Herndon, puts on a Shakespeare Festival every year (Friday, June 10th at Capital Church in Vienna). The 7th and 8th graders are performing “Hamlet” and the 5th and 6th graders are performing “As You Like It.” My daughter’s kindergarten class is reciting and acting out Sonnet 143. I was surprised that she was able to tell me the complex summary of “As You Like It” the other day.

    Thanks for all of the book references!

    • Alice

      I know that school! We have friends there and one friend who use to teach there. The Shakespeare Festival sounds amazing.

    • Alice

      You know, I never really considered reading The Odyssey aloud but I bet you are right that my son would love it.

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