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Celebrating Shakespeare (with a free download!)

I love Shakespeare.  I have crushed on his words and poetic devices since I was very small and my parents would take my siblings and I to witness the overwhelmingly gorgeous productions of his plays in Louisville’s Shakespeare in Central Park every summer.  Though free to the public, these productions were never skimpy.  I remember the stage being covered in candlelight when necessary, sumptuous costumes, soldiers marching from the stage between the rows of the audience…  all very exciting to a small child who half-believed the characters were real.

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I think those early days in that lovely park, the darkness closing about us like a thin blanket to shut out the disturbances of a city night, are what made it easy for me when I reached high school and had to read Shakespeare for lit class.  I had been hearing the language for so long it made perfect sense to me.  I want my littles to have that same lack of struggle when reading Shakespeare, though we live too far away from Louisville now to make the Park a regular childhood thing.

Just look at the set for Twelfth Night. Can you believe this stuff is free?!

Just look at the set for Twelfth Night. Can you believe this stuff is free?!

This year, April 23rd marks the 400th year of Shakespeare’s death as well as being the day we celebrate his birth.  Historians are not 100% sure the 23rd is his actual birthday, but they know he was baptized on April 26.  Since the usual day of baptism occurred at 3 days old back then, it is assumed that he was born on April 23.  Close enough.  Gives us a chance to celebrate the Bard and his works on a specific day (though we hardly need one).  It also gives us the curious fact that Shakespeare may have died on his birthday.  He was a unique man, no doubt.

To give my Littles an early introduction to Shakespeare, I have done everything from taking them to local high school productions to watching films with them.  They love West Side Story, so I made it into a lesson on how it’s based on Romeo and Juliet.  I have several prose versions of Shakespeare’s works that are written specifically for kids, and we read them from time to time just to keep our hand in.  I think they’re old enough now to really read one of the plays, so I am going to be introducing them to Macbeth over the summer.  It is my all-time favorite.  I know, people always think I’m weird for that–What about Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet? Well, I crush on every single play, and every time I read or see one of them, I discover something new to love.  But Macbeth was the very first play I read for myself, and I was so drawn into the intrigue and the resulting guilt and all the consequences that I could not get enough.  I’ve mentioned before that I’m not big on love stories for the sake of love stories, so the romance plays have a slightly less draw for me than the political ones.  Though I have to admit, my favorite Shakespeare line is in Romeo and Juliet: “I’ll prove more true than those that have more cunning to be strange.”

I love that Juliet is saying, “Listen, dude, I know I’m throwing it all out there for you, but you’ll find me more honest and loyal than the girls that play games.”

Yeah yeah.  Nobody likes a player.

If you want to celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday with your littles, there are lots of ways to introduce the Bard without confusing the heck out of them.

Watch West Side Story, Ten Things I Hate About You, or Shakespeare in Love.

10 things i hate about you

Joseph Fiennes as Shakespeare?  My dear, I will take it.  On any given day.  Give me a lovely image to go with that way with words… Oh, I’m there.

But this isn’t about Your Pleasure, Mama, it’s about your littles getting a glimpse into Shakespeare’s time, his rivalry with Christopher Marlowe, and what he went through to get his plays produced.  You will have to fast-forward through some of the more loving parts, but the movie (while not being entirely accurate) is beautiful.

Ten Things I Hate About You is based on The Taming of the Shrew, and if you can’t get the Elizabeth Taylor film of the play (or even if you can), this teen flick might be easier for your littles to follow so they can understand the plot.  Plus, Kat’s poem at the end of the movie is a great example of a Shakespeare-type sonnet.  Also, Heath Ledger.

I think West Side Story is one of the most faithful, if not The Most, musical adaptations of a Shakespearean work.  That could be bias as I was raised to be a Jet.

Find book adaptations for children.

If you search Shakespeare in Children’s Books on Amazon, you’ll get over 2000 hits.  There has to be something in there that will tickle your fancy.  I particularly like Shakespeare’s Stories for Young Readers by E. Nesbit.  It has 12 of the Bard’s plays done in prose while retaining much of the language that people often find tricky.  It is a really good introduction to Shakespeare’s work by an author we already adore.  If only Macbeth were included in the lineup, it would be perfect.  Perhaps Nesbit thought it too bloody for littles?  Out, out, damn spot.

Go to my subscriber freebies and download this great Shakespeare Quote worksheet, which introduces your littles to the language in short bites and gives them an opportunity to interpret quotes for themselves.

shakespeare quotes

Check out these great websites for more ways to celebrate:

This Sweet Life Books, unit studies, and other resources

Hub Pages Paper puppets, anyone?  Bring the plays to life for your littles with some very cool crafts.

31 Cups has a cool pic with a listing of a lot of the things we say today that we don’t even realize come from Shakespeare.

Ed Snapshots Throw a Shakespeare party?  Yes, please.

BBC Shakespeare’s plays animated.  Because when has the BBC ever let us down?

Shakespeare can be fun and inspiring even for the littlest of littles.  It’s even more fun when they realize they’ve been influenced by his work in myriad ways all their lives.  So plan something cool for the 23rd.  And fall in love with Shakespeare all over again.

Love wins,

KT

25 Days of Lit in Your Homeschool: Day 1 Donkeys

 

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Adding Literature to your daily lessons is super easy to do.  A good story can be such a marvelous addition to anything you’re teaching your littles about.  It doesn’t matter if you have primary, middle, or high school level littles, studies have shown that the brain doesn’t make too much differentiation between reading about an experience and Actually Experiencing it.  Which means that an interesting tale can help subject matter stick with your littles for the long haul.  Yet another excellent reason to encourage reading in your homeschool.

I’m starting out this series with donkeys for a variety of reasons, none of them having anything to do with how important donkeys are. 🙂  Mostly just because one of my all-time favorite picture books features a donkey, but also because in the freebies section of this site there’s a free Animal Study worksheet that will go well with these book suggestions.  So without further ado, here are some great books for your littles to read while they’re studying donkeys.

 

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig

I’ve mentioned William Steig before–he wrote one of my favorite chapter books for littles, Abel’s Island.  Sylvester’s story is very sweet and a good lesson about being careful what you wish for.  The drawings are simple and colorful and the writing is exemplary.  I have many fond memories of pulling this book off the shelf as a child and getting lost in its pages.  Perhaps it doesn’t really teach anything about donkeys.  Who cares?  It is a beautiful tale your littles will thoroughly enjoy, and it will remind them to be grateful for what they have.

 

  The Wonky Donkey by Craig Smith

This is a great read-aloud for littles, with lots of wordplay and hilarity.  The watercolor pictures are soft and lovely, but the depictions of the donkey and the various things that make him wonky are hilarious.  The book comes with a free downloadable song of the story, so that’s something great to get stuck in your head. 🙂  It also provides a lesson on diversity and how being different is a quality we all have and that is not a bad thing.

Donkey-donkey by Roger Duvoisin

This is the story of a donkey who is embarrassed by his ears.  All the other farm animals have beautiful ears; why do his have to be so long?  He sets about following the advice of his animal friends in order to solve his problem (reminiscent of Leo the Lop by Stephen Cosgrove, another all-time fave of mine.  In fact, I have a lop-eared rabbit named Leo).  But when a little girl comes to the farm and admires the donkey’s long ears, he is given a new-found confidence.  The simple pen-and-ink drawings are entertaining and the lesson about loving yourself for who you are is priceless.

The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne

No way can we talk about donkeys here without mentioning Eeyore, the all-time best donkey ever.  Any of Milne’s collections will have him in them, but my favorite Eeyore story is in this one.  If you have littles that love the Disney version, go ahead and find a Disney picture book about Eeyore.  But if you really want to them to know this loveable guy, go for the original.  Lots of lessons here about learning to recognize when people love you and dropping the soul-sucking pessimism.  Plus, he’s just plain Funny!
Teeny Tiny Ernest by Laura T. Barnes

Here’s another tale about loving yourself for who you are (why are donkeys so good for that?!).  In this one, Ernest gets up to all kinds of hijinks while trying to impress his friends with his height.  Of course, he is not tall, so he doesn’t fool anybody.  Soon he realizes that he’s the only one who notices his size–all his friends like him for who he is, not what he looks like.  Another wonderful lesson, told in a fun, engaging way.  Ernest has a whole series of books, too, if your little falls in love with him like we have.
The Last Battle (Book 7 of The Chronicles of Narnia) by C.S. Lewis

This final chapter in the Narnia books stars Puzzle the donkey as one of the antagonists.  Puzzle is a bit dense but has a good heart.  He is the faithful sidekick of Shift, an ape who has it out for the Narnians.  Shift manipulates Puzzle into carrying out his orders, including risking his life to steal the skin of a lion from the Caldron Pool, then wearing it to imitate Aslan.  In the end, Puzzle does what is right and, after a short conversation with Aslan, is admitted into Aslan’s country.  As in all the Narnia books, there are lots of lessons here about how to be a good person, but particularly in Puzzle’s case, how to think for oneself and not allow peer pressure to influence decisions.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare

This is one of Shakespeare’s funniest plays and Bottom, whose head gets transformed into that of a donkey’s by Puck, is the funniest character.  He is silly and foolish, and nothing about his antics ever really redeems him.  It makes this a great play with which to introduce your littles to Shakespeare.  Plus, I’m pretty sure you can get it for free on Kindle or you can read it online for free here.

Animal Farm by George Orwell

You can’t have a group of political farm animals without including a stubborn donkey.  In fact, Benjamin the Donkey is so stubborn he absolutely refuses to get excited about the rebellion.  He is the oldest animal on the farm and kind of an Eeyore with a brain.  Very cynical.  Because he is longer-lived than the other animals, he sees the rebellion and the new regime as passing fads.  He’s pretty sure he’s going to live to see what comes next, so he just can’t drum up any enthusiasm for all the plots and machinations.  He’s one of my favorite characters simply for his detached amusement about all the goings-on.

Pick one or more of these books to add to a class about donkeys and you’re sure to perk up your littles’ interest.  Even just reading excerpts from the chapter books or the play can give your child a little insight into what we humans think of the donkey’s character.  Silly, foolish, stubborn, fiercely loyal… Yeah, that describes our donkey, too. 🙂

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Love wins,

KT