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Did you know that April 23 is Shakespeare’s birthday? (Well, we think it might be. No records exist to nail down the exact date!)
It’s when we celebrate it, anyway. And I did a lot of Bard-related reading this month! I started by exploring the idea of a Shakespeare unit for my homeschool, but then I got sucked in and started reading more for my own enjoyment. (Don’t fear Shakespeare, my friends! He’s nice!)
I also wrapped up a few books that I started in honor of Middle Grade March.
Come on in and see what’s new! (Or, cruise the oldies on my Master List of Book Reviews.)
By Ken Ludwig
Learn how to memorize Shakespeare from a Tony-winning playwright
You’ll love it if you want one simple strategy to instill a love of Shakespeare in your kids
Well, I did NOT expect to read through this whole book! I figured I’d skim it for the teaching tips and shelve it for future reference. NOPE. This was just TOO MUCH FUN. I read it cover to cover. I loved taking a close look at each passage—my inner English major was so happy—and why it’s worthy to commit to memory.
If you DO want to teach your children Shakespeare, then it’s important you know this book does NOT contain “curriculum.” No, no, no. Fie on that. It contains only one basic strategy for “teaching” Shakespeare: Memorize It. Ludwig walks you through 25 passages that he taught his kids to memorize. He explains how he did it so that we can do it too. Simple as that!
The real fun here IS Shakespeare. It’s reading his words, figuring out what they mean, and then just taking a bath in them because they are so delicious.
There’s also a pretty dope bibliography in the back.
Content warnings: None
A wonderfully illustrated bio of Shakespeare, as well as a history of the original and reconstructed Globe theaters
You’ll love it if you enjoy blurby fact books
The first three-quarters of the book tells the story of Shakespeare’s life. The final quarter discusses the Globe Theater and the replica that was built in the ’90s.
This one’s low on text and high on illustrations.
Content warnings: None.
By Diane Stanely and Peter Vennema
The life and times of Shakespeare told in traditional picture book style
You’ll love it if you want to give your kids a robust intro to the Bard
This picture book focuses solely on Shakespeare and his work. You learn the little we know for sure about his life, but there’s also a lot of fun detail about stagecraft, theatergoing, costumes, scenery, and politics.
It’s dense with info but not too long, making it a great choice for a simple intro to the “man for all time.”
Content warnings: None
By Michael Rosen and Robert Ingpen
A meatier, reference-style children’s biography of Shakespeare and his times
You’ll love it if you want a longer look at this great poet
Here, you’ve got a much longer picture-book-style bio of William Shakespeare. The illustrations are more lifelike than the other two children’s biographies here, and there’s a lot more information that’s framed around questions that a young person might want to know, such as, “Why is Shakespeare so important? Why do we still read his works?”
One section of the book is devoted to summaries of his plays.
Content warnings: None
By William Shakespeare
Two pairs of lovers and a group of everyday workmen enter a magical forest filled with fairies and fall in and out of their spells (and love).
You’ll love it if you want to read Shakespeare’s most accessible comedy
What a blast from the past. I played Helena in my high school production of this play, and it was such fun. This play is straight-up brilliant fun. The Arkangel audio version is A+.
This time around, I appreciate Bottom a lot more. (In high school, I thought he was just B-plot comic relief) He really is awesome actually. He’s at the bottom of the social ladder, yet when he becomes the paramour of the Queen of Faeries, he essentially remains who he is, wanting (not riches or power) but only oats and a back scratch. Yet, he longs for the glories of the stage and wants to play all the parts in the play because he’s confident that he can do them justice.
I’d also forgotten how the Pyramus and Thisbe play-within-the-play is an echo of Romeo and Juliet, and it reminds us of what happens when the “blocked love” of young people goes terribly tragic rather than comedic. Including it here, even in fun-making, reminds us of how easily things could’ve gone the other direction and (somehow) makes us happier at the end…happy that it was a good dream and not a nightmare.
Content Warnings: None, really, in the straight text, but you’re going to get some sexual innuendo in any type of production, film or theater.
By J. R. R. Tolkien
The epic saga takes its time wrapping up.
You’ll love it if you love battle scenes, love scenes, and bittersweet endings
Battles. Lots of battles. The first part of this book details how the good guys defeat the bad guys. Then, Tolkien spent a long time explaining what happened to everybody, and it took forever for everyone to travel back home.
But nothing beats the segment where Sam and Frodo limp their way to Mount Doom with Gollum on their heels—and what happens after. That alone is worth the price of this book.
Then, there’s the crazy chapter that I wasn’t expecting: “The Scouring of the Shire.” Head over to Goodreads to get my full take on this because it’s too long for this roundup.
Content warnings: Battles, but it’s all blood and glory. Andy Serkis yells his guts out in the audio narration, which is just as perfect as the other two were.
By Elizabeth Von Arnim
Four women high-tail it to Italy for a month in spring
You’ll love it if you enjoy introspective, meandering stories wrapped in Italian beauty
The first segment of this book is charming and relatable. Two women, Lotty and Rose, are toying with the idea of renting an Italian castle for a month in spring. They’ve had a long, dreary winter in London, and they’re both trapped in loveless marriages, and they need to get away, but…the GUILT. It was exquisite to watch them grapple with this and finally decide to take the plunge.
Once they get to the castle, there are two other ladies (a gorgeous heiress and a malcontent spinster) who share the castle with them, and then the book got slow for me. The plot kind of stalled and sputtered a bit for me…but what came through loud and clear is the transformative power of beauty to reawaken us to life. It makes us beautiful, so we act beautiful, and others treat us like we’re beautiful, and it’s a beautiful cycle that repeats to our benefit.
Content warnings: None. I was afraid that the women were going to have naughty affairs when they arrived in Italy, but they behaved like civilized humans.
By Cressida Cowell
Unlikely heroes perform hilarious, ill-advised acts, and we are kind of scared for them
You’ll love it if you like fairy-tale-esque books that break all the rules
In honor of Middle Grade March, I decided to give this magical tale a try. It was cute and funny, but it didn’t really capture me until the very end. Then, I sat up and said, “Hm! Interesting.” No spoilers, but I was glad that I stuck it out. This is the first book in a series, and it really can’t be read as a standalone with perfect satisfaction.
The two main characters, Xar and Wish, are very distinctive and loveable, with giant flaws that make them interesting. I wonder how this book connects to The Tempest and the Dream because the sprites and magical creatures have names that STRONGLY hail from those two Shakespeare plays.
The book is obviously crafted with a lot of thought. I love the idea that “stories always mean something, even if we’re not sure what.” That’s likely what the author was genuinely thinking as she felt her way through the writing process.
The major downside for me was the writing! For some reason, it was a little difficult to fully immerse myself in the short, choppy sentences. I felt that the story could’ve been better with a higher level of craft. Having said that, the low-ish reading level, the humor, and the illustrations are EXACTLY why I handed this to my teenage nephew.
Content Warnings: Best for ages 8+, due to the wickedness of the witches and some intense scenes.
By Kate DiCamillo
A tiny mouse performs big deeds
You’ll love it if you enjoy emotional animal adventures in medieval times
I have a soft spot for Kate DiCamillo. I love the way she writes, and apparently, my boys do, too. This was a can-you-read-more-pleeeeeeease? kinda book.
The story is simple, but the telling makes it feel grand. An especially tiny mouse falls in love with a princess and vows to honor her. When dark forces put the princess in danger, the mouse steps up to save her. That’s just ONE of the plots. There are three nonlinear plots that weave together in the final section of the book.
There are symbols and allusions galore. Beautiful words like chiaroscuro, perfidy, and empathy. There’s a Narrator with a capital N, who addresses the reader directly, asks questions, defines the vocab, and mulls over the big themes.
Ultimately, this book is about the mix of light and darkness that we all have inside us, and it’s one of those classics that will appeal to kids over a wide span of years.
Content warnings: None, although there are some things that could affect the especially tenderhearted. Ex: Miggory Sow gets hit on the ear every day. Princess Pea’s mother dies.
By S. D. Smith
The backstory of Old Natalia
You’ll love it if you’re reading these rabbity tales with your kids.
Before moving on to the third “big” Green Ember book, we’re going to fill in the blanks with these short novellas that provide backstory to the old tales and legends referenced by Picket and Heather and the rest in the main storyline.
It gives some of the origin story behind the royal crown and the actual Green Ember stone itself. It also explains where the famous phrase comes from, “My place beside you. My blood for yours. Till the Green Ember rises, or the end of the world!”
Adding to Your TBR?
Check out this handy digital TBR spreadsheet that you can pull up on your phone whenever you’re at the bookstore or library.