this summer i was talking with some homeschooling friends about studying Shakespeare. one of them asked for recommendations: how to start introducing the Bard to her children when she didn’t have a background in Shakespeare. we all agreed to start with movies. the Leon Garfield Shakespeare Tales on YouTube and then maybe some other, more traditional productions for the adults in the family. i think that’s fine advice. it does underscore that these are plays–something to be watched on the stage, not just read on the page. but i don’t think it’s really where i would start.
for us, for our children, the way into Shakespeare has been through story. it’s the stories that grab them first. and the best way to approach a good story is through reading aloud. there are numerous storybook versions of individual plays. they aren’t all created equal; you might have to dig a bit before you find what you really like. but here are my two absolute favorites.
first up is All the World’s a Stage illustrated by Anita Lobel. this book has such wonderfully rich illustrations. you can get to know the characters and get clues as to the major action of quite a few plays just by a little careful looking. this might be a good way to decide which play to continue to study.
then move on to The Random House Book of Shakespeare Stories. this book is well written and has engaging illustrations. the stories are long enough that you can stretch them out over a couple of readings. this gives you all time to conjecture about the story, to review who’s who, to color or draw a picture of a favorite character, to play dress up and rehearse the action thus far. all of these simple, fun practices will bring the story to life and create rich background knowledge that will make further study of Shakespeare more enjoyable.
i’ve written lots about our work with Shakespeare. there are plenty recommendations for things to read and watch. get to a play if you can, but in the mean time, get to the library and start reading together.