I wanted to read some Shakespeare with my kids this summer. When I mentioned my idea to a few other parents, one loaned me a version of The Tempest that she and her 10 year-old daughter had loved. It was an adaption written by Lois Burdett, an elementary school teacher from Ontario, Canada. She evidently teaches Shakespeare to 8 and 9 year-olds by changing the plays into long rhyming poems.
Here is her beginning to The Tempest:
I convey you to Europe, off Italy’s coast,
A sorcerer, Prospero, will soon be your host.
As we wait his arrival, cast down your eyes,
The ship below us is near its demise.
It tosses and heaves in the frenzied sea,
The storm boils with anger, wild as can be.
A few pages into Burdett’s Tempest, I began to adore it. I couldn’t wait to read it aloud to my 10 and 12 year-old sons. Yes there was challenging vocabulary, but she also included the well-known passages, such as:
Full fathom five, thy father lies:
Those are pearls that were his eyes,
Sea nymphs hourly ring his knell,
Hark! Now I hear them, ding-dong, bell.
The boys sat patiently at first as I translated the difficult words and summarized tricky sections. They seemed to be following the plot fairly well. A half hour later we quit for bedtime. As we sat down to read the next day, however, each began to balk.
“Why do we have to read this again? I don’t like this.”
I pushed on, hoping they’d settle into it.
But when I corralled Stephen and Daniel for our third session, they mutinied. I couldn’t believe it! Burdett teaches Shakespeare to children younger than mine. I guess I just assumed my kids could do it.
I was so disappointed and frustrated. As I thought about it later, maybe my disappointment was because I myself had enjoyed the reading so much. Finding reading material that is engaging for parents to read aloud is nearly as essential as picking books the child is drawn to. This parent is partial to rhyming books which use interesting vocabulary. Burdett’s Shakespeare was ideal for me.
My first response was to get angry and warn the boys that they weren’t going to pass the summer reading comics. But after I’d cooled down I remembered the words of Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish in How To Talk So Teens Will Listen and Listen So Teens Will Talk. (Stephen is turning 13 in mid July and I want to be ready.)
“Invite your child to give his or her point of view then ask them to brainstorm ways to solve the problem.” (This is so obvious it hardly merits writing down, but evidently I needed to hear it for the who-knows-how-many-ith time.)
When I asked the boys why they didn’t want to finish The Tempest, Daniel, my 10 year-old, responded that the poetry format was too hard for him to follow, even with my explanations. Stephen reminded me that he’d read Macbeth at school this past year. He said he’d rather read Shakespeare’s actual words on his own, not aloud.
I thought to myself, “Some people spend years of graduate school deciphering Shakespeare, and you’re going to just comprehend it on your own?” But, I didn’t say anything.
Since none of us is at our best right now while living with construction in our basement, I handed this struggle over to Todd. I think he was happy to take a break from fitting glass block into a wall to distribute more light.
Within the next half day Todd had managed to have a constructive discussion with all three kids about some of the academic tasks we’d like them to work on this summer. If you don’t count Shakespeare, mostly it’s math and Spanish, and not a lot mind you. Maybe an extra 1-2 hours each day broken into two sittings. Nothing compared to school.
Possible morals to this story:
- Don’t read Shakespeare when your home is under construction.
- Canadian children have a greater natural love for Shakespeare than American kids?
- Let Todd run any family meeting addressing academic goals.
- Females enjoy Shakespeare in a rhyming poetry format more than males. Accept it and move on.
- Have your kids share their summer wish lists with you before diving full-force into your own.
What am I missing? Advice? Leave a comment below!