When I first saw “How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare” on the relatively new Blogging for Books web site, I knew I had to request a free copy from them for review. Both my wife and I are “theater people” with her pursuing a theater degree for a long time before ending up in education and myself graduating with a degree in theater. While I have never used that degree in any direct way, I have always credited my theater experience with whatever success I have achieved in my life. The confidence, poise, vocal control and commitment it taught me has been used in every aspect of my life and career at some time.
As you might imagine then, we introduced our son to theater at an early age and he has eagerly embraced it as he has moved through his own elementary and high school education, garnering role after role in a varied collection of shows. This led to him being cast as Lysander in his high school production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” I have never had the chance to perform Shakespeare, but we attend it regularly and watch it nearly whenever it appears on television and film. We would take our son to Shakespeare productions long before you could understand the stories, but we thought it greatly important that he hear the language, the poetry, the rhythm and rhyme early in his life so it was commonplace by the time he was ready to embrace it fully.
I wish there had been a book like How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare earlier in his childhood. My wife often bemoaned the fact that we didn’t read more Shakespeare aloud at home and teach sections to our son as he was growing. This book provides and excellent method and structure for helping children embrace and understand Shakespeare from a very early age. It starts small and simple with “I know a bank where the wild thyme blows…” and eventually moves on to Hamlet, Macbeth and more difficult plays. I am a firm believer that there is a special force in the spoken word, whether prose, poetry or theater and Shakespeare combines all three in his works, along with great stories, hilarious comedy and deep, dark drama. I think that anyone who seeks to understand life needs an early introduction to Shakespeare, as he shows humankind at it highest, its lowest, its best and its worst. He use poetry to hood up a mirror to society and show us, teach us, how we can become better people and how and why to avoid some of more dangerous aspects of life like hubris, greed, lust and hatred.
While How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare is designed for children, I found myself learning and memorizing more Shakespeare than I have ever done before. It is refreshing and fun to use your mind in ways that often aren’t called for in today’s society. The ability to quote Shakespeare well — and understand — might not be called for in your next board meeting — but maybe it will help you communicate your own ideas in a clearer, better fashion. One piece of knowledge often effects other parts of your life, even unconsciously, and I think that learning a bit of Shakespeare could one of the greatest examples of that.
I think that this is one of the few books that work well as a textbook (as boring as that sounds) both inside and outside the classroom, on the bus or in the living room, on the nightstand or in the school desk. It can be worked through like a traditional textbook or dipped into when time permits. There is no need to rush through the lessons and even giving a few minutes or an hour to your study will help you learn and grow in so many ways. I plan on revisiting the book on regular occasions, learning more lines, understanding it better, growing along with it, even though I am far beyond my childhood days. I only wish I had been exposed to a book like this earlier, so I might have gained even more benefit from it.
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