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I'm a published author of short fiction for kids and adults. I have an MFA in Creative Writing from Spalding University. I'm a former content writer for Spirit and Truth publishing on their Living the Word series. I've also worked as a paid book reviewer and as a student editor for The Louisville Review literary magazine. I'm a wife and mom to two great kids, three dogs, and a cat. I love books, movies, gardening, kids, and animals.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

From Shakespeare, to Austin, to Lamb

My daughter is currently learning about a period in European history that spans ancient civilizations to the European Renaissance. Since she has to do a book review on a book or novel that takes place within this time frame I thought this would be an ideal time to introduce her to Shakespeare.

This idea was met with scorn. "I don't want to read that," she told me. "I wouldn't understand it. It's written in ye olde weird English speak."

To me her statement sounded like some form or weird English.  But I said, "Okay.What do you think you'd like to read." I knew she was too young for Dante or Chaucer. She's only in seventh grade. Plus if she thinks Shakespeare is written in a form of English that is hard to understand neither of the other authors would appeal to her.

"I know what I want to read and review," she told me with complete confidence. "I want to read Jane Austin's Pride and Prejudice."

I really wanted to laugh at this proclamation. I'm sure Jane Austin would have taken exception to the fact a young girl thought she had been around as long as Shakespeare. But I didn't laugh.

"Sorry," I said. "Jane Austin is from a different period in history."

So my daughter got on the computer to do research on what books she should read. I'm not sure how she went about this. But she didn't have any luck.

I went to the library with her the next day and we found two books that she could choose to read that would fit within the right time span of history, The Shakespeare Stealer, by Gary Blackwood and Crispin by Avi. While we were there I looked around for a book that might have some of Shakespeare's plays in a format that she might be able to understand. I had read some abridged versions of his plays when I was around her age and loved it. It made understanding what was happening in his plays so much easier when I was in high school. I found a similar book at our library here and decided to read it myself. It's called Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb.

Little did I know when I listed it on my Goodreads page that this book is considered a classic in children's literature and was probably the same book I'd read as a middle grader. I was also surprised to see that it is the source of quite a lot of controversy among teachers and lovers of Shakespeare.

I'm not a scholar of the bard by any means. I've seen a few of his plays performed and studied Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet in high school. After re-reading it, I can see what some of the concerns would be for this book. First the plays are all abridged versions that are introduced more as short stories than the full plays. The second concern I read about was the language is lost in the translated version. However, that being said this book was originally written and published in 1807. So the prose while easier to understand, for me at least, might not seem that much better to my daughter. After all it was written during Jane Austin's period. Imagine my surprise to have the discussion between me and my daughter come full circle in this way, around Shakespeare. I haven't told her that the book I got for myself was written during the Regency period of history yet. I'm not sure at this point if would really matter to her. But if you are interested in introducing your younger children to Shakespeare in a way that would be easier for them to understand, I don't think having them read Tales from Shakespeare will hurt. Maybe it will get them interested in classic literature and make them want to read something like, oh, I don't know, Sense and Sensibility... ;P

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