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Archive for the ‘Shakespeare Lit’ Category

Novels can help engage students not only with Shakespeare’s language (as we discussed in Tuesday’s blog post about That Shakespeare Kid) but also with his characters and stories.

With spring break coming up, maybe your students will be interested in a little light reading that also keeps them thinking about the Bard.

Reading the Folger Shakespeare edition of Hamlet. Photo by Chris Hartlove.

Drawing on some suggestions that first appeared in Folger Magazine, here are a few of the books out there:

The Dream of Perpetual Motion

By Dexter Palmer

“Prospero, Miranda, and other characters from Shakespeare’s The Tempest resurface in this darkly imaginative novel set in a steampunk universe. The Dream of Perpetual Motion is the story of islands—both paradises and prisons—and the hero’s dream of redemption through impossible love.”

Shakespeare Makes the Playoffs

By Ron Koertge

“In this charming and clever sequel to Shakespeare Bats Cleanup, fourteen-year-old protagonist Kevin Boland explores baseball and poetry with equal enthusiasm. A novel in verse form, the book reads like the journal entries of a sharp and observant teen—funny, self-reflective, and disarmingly honest.”

The Fool’s Girl

By Celia Rees

“Forced to flee Illyria in disguise with only her fool for company, young Violetta embarks on a dangerous mission to regain her kingdom. This historical tale weaves together plot twists from Twelfth Night with vivid scenes from Shakespeare’s London into an engaging tale of a gutsy heroine’s quest for justice.”

Here are two blog posts from our archives with even more book suggestions:

Extra Credit: Romeo & Juliet

Extra Credit: Hamlet

Tell us: What books do you recommend to your students? What are some of your favorite Shakespeare-inspired novels for teens?

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That Shakespeare KidWe have teachers ask us all the time how to introduce Shakespeare’s language in a way that’s engaging to students.

One possible approach: young adult novels that weave the Bard’s words along with the kind of dialogue familiar to students.

“That Shakespeare Kid,” by Folger Education’s senior consultant Michael LoMonico, presents just this combination.

Fourteen-year-old Emma narrates the story of her friend Peter, who, after a bump to the head, finds himself able to speak only by using the words of Shakespeare.

What a pickle!

This excerpt picks up the story the day after the accident, when Emma sees Peter at the bus stop and finds his conversation much altered: (more…)

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After spending so much time in the original texts of Romeo and Juliet this month to compare them to the Fellowes’s adaptation (billed in ads as “Shakespeare’s,” hence the frustration), I went home to my very large shelf of Shakespearean adaptations to remind myself of some great examples of how that text has been explored in different ways. As I did with Macbeth and Hamlet in the past, I’ll reserve a separate upcoming post for movies based on the star-cross’d lovers, and reserve this post for books.

Shakespeare himself was an adapter, re-writing the timeless legend of the doomed lovers from several sources. In Shakespeare’s Storybook, Patrick Ryan shares many possible inspirations that Shakespeare may have used, including Romeus and Juliet translated from the French by Arthur Brooke and Il Novellino by Salernitano Masuccio, among others. He didn’t claim the story, he re-told it in a way his audience would appreciate in his own words and put his own name on his work. What about Shakespeare’s work makes it so ripe for adaptation, but still somehow overshadows the adapters themselves?

romeo's exIt’s wonderful to read a familiar story from someone else’s point of view. One of my favorite novels about this play is Romeo’s Ex by Lisa Fielder. Creatively, Fielder explores the life of the character who sets much of the action in motion and yet is never seen onstage in Shakespeare’s play. Rosaline, a Capulet herself, is not interested in the love-struck Romeo, and is even less interested in her family’s dangerous quarrels with the Montagues. If your students could write the story from another character’s point of view, who would they pick?

warm bodiesWhen You Were Mine by Rebecca Serle is a young adult novel set in the present day which asks if Romeo and Juliet were really right for each other at all, or if they were always going to lead to their own destruction. What does it mean to be “star-cross’d?” Then there’s the futuristic Warm Bodies which gives the love story a new twist with one side of the warring factions being zombies. What is it about human (or zombie) nature that makes us so prone to hating the “others?”

AfterlivesSeveral other novels like Robin Maxwell’s O, Juliet and Juliet by Ann Fortier take on more contextual Italian history and explore what could have doomed the pair in their own time. Still others, like Saving Juliet by Suzanne Selfors and The Juliet Club by Suzanne Harper approach both Shakespeare’s play and the Juliet legend from the perspectives of teens and consider our desire to change the tragic course of events. There is also a chapter devoted to Romeo and Juliet in the non-fiction  Shakespearean Afterlives by John O’Connor that explores the ongoing cultural perception of the couple, and our immediate instinct to compare any romantic boy or tragic girl to this particular pair.

This is, of course, just a small sampler of the many many books that take on Romeo and Juliet as inspiration. I enjoyed reading them all (some more than others) since each new perspective gave me something new to think about in Shakespeare’s play. Do you have any favorite book adaptations of Romeo and Juliet, or have you read one of these books? Please tell us about it!

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We’ve told you plenty about our new favorite books: How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare and A Horse with Wings, both of which were featured presentations by the authors during our Conference on Teaching Shakespeare in the Elementary Classroom this week. Now that you’re in “summer-mode,” though, maybe you’d prefer a little something more to explore your favorite Shakespearean characters or history? Something just for YOU. I’ve got you covered.

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion shocked me with its insight and emotional impact. Post-Zombie Apocalypse, the world is pretty much divided between the struggling surviving humans and the remaining zombies. One zombie, R, (he can’t remember his whole name), experiences moments from the life of one of his victims after eating his brain, and finds himself changing in ways no one expected. He protects a human teenager, Julie, and together they find a way to adapt to the new world in which they live. The danger from both sides is still very weighty, but these future star-cross’d partners have hope on their side. The bonus to this book is that there has already been a good-looking movie adaptation to compare!

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Very rarely do I see novel adaptations of Shakespeare’s comedies. Lisa Klein’s Love Disguised isn’t necessarily an adaptation of one comedy, rather it is an imagined set of circumstances in Shakespeare’s young life which exposes him to all of the elements and characters he can use and re-use later when writing the comedies. Spunky female heroines, cross-dressing, twins, wrecks, inn-yards, mechanicals, bad luck, and even the legal system play a part in inspiring the future bard. The author knows her stuff, and has such fun with this premise that reading the book flies!

ImageSpeaking of potential inspiration in Shakespeare’s lifetime, Kathryn Johnson’s The Gentleman Poet uses the historical account of the shipwrecked Sea Venture, which had been en route to America in 1607 and went down in the Bermudas. Miraculously, most of the passengers and crew survived and were able to rebuild well enough to hobble to Jamestown about a year later. The news captivated Shakespeare’s England, and may have inspired The Tempest. While this is a fictional account, the details of island life are unbelievably true.

ImageFor a stretch, I also recommend the insightful, and maybe disturbing, account of a family falling apart from the perspective of the family dog in Matt Haig’s The Labrador Pact. With shades of Shakespeare’s Henriad, Prince the dog tries to resist temptation and remain the true, devoted family member he believes he was destined to be by birth and training.

I also highly recommend a couple of audiobooks (also available in print) which provided me with hours of entertainment and wonderful education:

Macbeth by A.J. Hartley, David Hewson narrated by Alan Cumming – the subject matter is very dark, but if you’re experiencing a heat wave, this chilling account of the Scot’s events will cool you right off. (By the way, has anyone gotten to see Cumming’s turn on Broadway in the almost-one-man conceptual staging of Macbeth? How was it?!)

Agincourt by Bernard Cornwell narrated by Charles Keating – Henry V’s great war is the subject of this novel, and the author does not shy from the horrors of war in the 15th century. However, like The Gentleman Poet, this book builds on the history of the era to create an inspirational human experience worthy of Shakespeare’s pen.

Enjoy your summer, and let us know what you’re reading!

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AHorseWithWingsPhotoA Horse With Wings is a new children’s book that introduces children to Shakespeare by having characters from his plays sing songs. The journey from  the idea to create the book and its completion is an interesting one.   A few years ago, Daeshin Kim and his wife, Sohyun An,  moved their family from Los Angeles to Paris.  A big adventure, to be sure.  The Kims wanted their children to learn French through immersion in French culture, and they were looking for a change of scene.  What they found in Paris was the challenge their children faced adjusting to their new surroundings. What they also discovered was the power of music to help them get used to their new life in a new country.  The family listened to all kinds of music: English, Korean, and French songs, and they sang along to the sounds and danced to the rhythms present in the music.

Daeshin Kim says that, “the way that music helped our daughter to acclimatise to life in a new country really opened our eyes (and ears!) to the power of music, and our ideas to create children’s songs (with the added bonus of having each song sung from the point of view of a character from Shakespeare) is well documented.”  He even wrote about it on the Royal Shakespeare Company’s myShakespeareblog.  Inspired, the Kims recorded some sample songs, sung by their daughter.

Their journey took them to Kickstarter, a website where people can pitch ideas to raise funds and help to make their project a reality. Daeshin Kim listed his plan for the book, posted a video about it and, according to him, the fundraising effort resulted in the largest amount of money raised for a children’s book on the site, ever.  And somewhere along the way, Folger Education became aware of this work and began to follow its development all the way to the actual production of the book, A Horse With Wings, which was released last December.

A Horse With Wings contains 16 songs, composed and performed by the Kims, including their then five-year-old daughter.  The vibrant illustrations were done by Sohyun An.  Each page has lyrics expressing the point of view of the character from a Shakespeare play on a variety of topics and issues most children will be able to connect with, as well as a line directly from the text of the play. For example, in one of the songs Hamlet sings about Yorick, the court jester, who entertained him in his youth.  In another, Juliet wonders what’s in a name.

There is a free parents’ and teachers’ guide available as a PDF file.  An iPad app is scheduled to be released this spring.  To be sure, these are exciting times for the Kims, and it can be a great opportunity to introduce youngsters to Shakespeare, too.

Full disclosure here: I was asked to write the foreword to the book, which I was happy to do.  The book is getting a lot of positive response.  Daeshin and his daughter were recently interviewed on CBS in Los Angeles, and he’s expected to be part of Folger Education’s conference on teaching Shakespeare in the elementary school in June.  For more information about A Horse With Wings, visit our Shop.  Happy Reading — and listening!

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On more than one occasion, students in my Shakespeare class have told me that studying Shakespeare has made them better writers. That thought pleases and intrigues me, and it also inspired me to offer my students a writing challenge. I asked each one to write in a genre of his/her own choosing and to allow Shakespeare—somehow—to be a part of the piece. And then I went looking for Shakespeare, both inside and outside of their lines.

One of my students, a promising young writer, quickly picked up the challenge and shared the following poem. I think the results are stunning, and I wanted to introduce both the poem and the poet, Emily Shue, to you.

You are the downfall to my stage romance.
Prince charming gone bad—
curly locks shorn with the same blade you held to my wrist,
blue eyes burned out and dull,
illustrious color faded into a smoky abyss.
You are a maiden’s handkerchief, fluttering in the wind of my ragged breath—
Othello as he sat atop his golden haired bride
and pushed air from her lungs with a feather pillow,
blood pounding in his head.
Or Romeo, parrying and thrusting silver throated song through the thick summer night
as his blade sliced Mercutio’s stomach,
spilling from his gaping wound scorpions that scuttled up along black letters
and stung the reader’s tear ducts.
You are both houses sitting silent and somber on the hilltop as mourning comes—
the kind with a “u.”
You are cardboard boxes peeling apart in the pouring rain—
Claudio at his own wedding,
ripping spiderlegs of lace from his bride’s dress and beating hate into her heart.
Lady Macbeth in the cold dungeon of her mind
where is the candle out out candle blood blood candle blood
while waxen figures and crimson kings sashayed and kicked
and wiggled their fingers,
dancing along her throat until she tied up a rope and went sailing in the rafters.

Several years ago, I attended a lecture by Stephen Greenblatt at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania. At the conclusion of his lecture, one of the students asked Dr. Greenblatt if he thought that Shakespeare expected people to continue to read his plays and sonnets hundreds of years later. Greenblatt immediately replied, “Yes, but not in the way you might think.” According to Greenblatt, Shakespeare probably expected people to borrow from his works just as Shakespeare had borrowed from other sources. I believe that Emily has honored that expectation in her poem, but now I am left with something new to ponder. Did Shakespeare expect people to consider him their writing teacher as well?

Sue Biondo-Hench is a teacher at Carlisle High School in Pennsylvania. She helped establish the Central Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival, and founded the Carlisle Shakespeare Troupe. Sue edited the Romeo and Juliet unit of Shakespeare Set Free: Volume 1.   Her lesson plans have been used by secondary school English teachers around the world. She is one of Folger’s Master Teachers, leading curriculum sessions at the Teaching Shakespeare Institute, and presenting performance-based Shakespeare teaching workshops at many National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) conventions and English Speaking Union of the United States offices across the country.

Emily Shue was awarded both a Silver and a Gold Key from the Scholastic Writing Awards for her poetry submissions.

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I loved summer reading lists. Not that I loved being assigned homework over the summer, but it was a list of books I was now considered “ready” to read! The Hobbit after 5th grade, Shabanu into 8th, Jane Eyre into 9th… I was introduced (or re-introduced) to some excellent literature, which I could take with me to dance camp or the pool and enjoy. I don’t recall ever being assigned any Shakespeare, but it definitely couldn’t have hurt!

I still like to make my own summer reading lists, just of books I think I’ve put off for too long – I’ve already finished one, and look forward to spending time with the rest! It can’t hurt, even now, to try something new, or re-visit an old favorite. My list is below – what’s yours?

Do any of your classroom summer reading lists include a play by or a novel based on Shakespeare’s life or works? Let us know!


Prospero Lost,
by L Jagi Lamplighter – 400 years after the events on Prospero’s Island, his first daughter, Miranda, struggles to maintain the family business of ensuring the magical forces of the world remain in check. She discovers that he has gone missing and that she and her remaining younger siblings are in great danger and must venture out with Mab, the embodied spirit of the north wind, to warn and protect them – and the world.

Something Wicked, A Horatio Wilkes Mystery by Alan M Gratz – (YA) having put the previous summer’s events in Denmark, TN behind him, Horatio spends time with his childhood friend Mac at the Scottish Highland Festival on Birnham mountain. But Mac’s new girlfriend, Beth, is trying just a little too hard to motivate him into competing in the Highland Games when his grandfather, Duncan, is murdered in his tent. Horatio must solve the crime and keep his friends safe – if those two goals can be compatible at all.

Shakespearean Afterlives, by John O’Connor – (Non-Fiction) Inspired by the life Shakespeare’s characters have taken on in modern consciousness, O’Connor traces the histories of 10 characters from their first performance to the way they’re mentioned colloquially today. A stunningly intricate read, and real proof that there is relevance in all of Shakespeare’s work today.

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