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I have a very low tolerance for whining, especially the nonsensical kind.
When my kids say, “I have to eat all this zucchini?? It’s so much!!” I hear, “I scorn the hour you spent on Instagram looking for the perfect recipe for zucchini sauté.” When they say, “I’m not tiiiiiired!” I hear, “I have no desire to have a fully functioning brain.” When they say, “I won’t!” I hear, “I’m not even slightly reasonable.”
So when a child-who-shall-not-be-named started complaining about school (before it even began, mind you), I did not respond with empathy. I forgot all the good advice in How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk. I didn’t “reflect feelings.” I said (probably with a sigh), “Learning is what you do for fun. Remember when we used to do all those science experiments and projects, how we would study a ‘person of the week?’ Remember when you were obsessed with learning about Leonardo da Vinci? Can’t you channel some of that excitement for the learning available to you today?”
My son responded, “Doth not the appetite alter?”
Yep. That kid just quoted Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing. Mom’s mood? Immediately improved.
If you are wondering how my ten-year-old became familiar enough with a Shakespearean play to quote it appropriately in conversation, check out the resources below.
Happy reading and play on!
Look at that silly cover. Look at those ridiculous rats! The Wednesday Wars sat in our house for ages because I very literally judged the book by its cover. In the end, I only read it because it won the Newbery, and I was astounded. There are so many layers to this book – school-aged silliness, yes, but it tackles the Vietnam War, family dysfunction, love in its various forms, and oh-so-much Shakespeare. It’s the reason my son says, “The quality of mercy is not strained,” when I’m coming down hard on him, and it’s why our favorite family curse right now is, “Toads, beetles, bats!”
After we read The Wednesday Wars, I tried to decide if my kids were old enough to watch any of Kenneth Branagh’s film adaptations. We opted for Much Ado About Nothing, and I just fast-forwarded the sexy bits. They loved it, and watched it over and over. I bribed my daughter to do something by “letting” her watch it again (It felt like when I let them play NitroType, a learn-to-type game, as a “reward”). Don’t forget to turn on subtitles! It really helps with comprehension. My kids even memorized what they call “the burn scene,” between Benedick and Beatrice: “I wonder that you will still be talking, Signor Benedick. Nobody marks you.”
I think the key to making sure kids love Shakespeare, is to 1. Start with a comedy, and 2. Make sure they understand the basic story-line before they begin. If the kids feel confused, you’ll lose them fast. E. Nesbit has written lovely summaries, this one with fewer illustrations, this one with more.
For even younger readers, Bruce Coville has written many lovely picture books based on Shakespearean plays, such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Macbeth, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, The Tempest, Twelfth Night, and The Winter’s Tale. They are even available as an audiobook collection called Shakespeare’s Greatest Hits, which we’ve listened to in the car. You know, back before quarantine when we went places.
The talented Marianna Mayer offers another great picture book retelling (a little longer than Coville’s versions), in her adaptation of The Tempest.
For the most skeptical families out there (“My kids will never be into Shakespeare!”), try The Stratford Zoo. These graphic novels are silly and fun, and could be a great introduction for the reluctant thespian.
I must include the absolutely wonderful film Shakespeare in Love, though its “R” rating will put it on the back-burner for many families. My kids haven’t seen it yet.
It’s really nice to have a volume of the complete works. I have the Norton version from college, but there are many options out there.
Actually, thanks to Project Gutenberg, you can have the complete works for free digitally right here.