This is especially for any of you planning on teaching Shakespeare in the coming year.
Category Archives: teaching literature
John Claude Bemis
John Claude Bemis is a writer from North Carolina who writes for children and middle grade readers. Growing up, Bemis enjoyed reading fantasy and stories that contained American folklore. As an adult, he taught third grade and noticed most of the fantasy books available for children (and even adults) were based on myths and legends from Europe, but couldn’t find any that contained American legends. So, he wrote his first book, The Nine Pound Hammer, taking several legends from American history, including that of John Henry. The book is a mix of fantasy and steampunk and is the first in a trilogy.
I was recently able to hear Bemis speak a couple of months ago at a meeting for the Charlotte Writers’ Club. He read a bit from The Nine Pound Hammer. (I wanted to put my hands over my ears and scream, ‘spoiler alert’ as I had just checked the book of the library to read, but I refrained). He also introduced his newest book, Out of Abaton, The Wooden Prince. In this book, Bemis takes a well-known fairy tale, Pinocchio, and creates a new world, a fantastical Venice. (Pinocchio is known to many of us through a Disney movie, though the character is originally from an Italian book written in the 1800’s). In this tale, an automa named Pinocchio finds himself locked in a trunk and sent to a wanted criminal and alchemist by the name of Geppetto. Soon, Pinocchio begins having feelings and thoughts of his own; not the behavior of an automa. Before he and Geppetto can unravel what is happening to him, Pinocchio is kidnapped. He faces many dangers, meets new friends, and has several adventures before he can find Geppetto again.
If you’re looking for some fun, adventurous stories for children and want to learn more about Bemis–his books and the workshops he offers–visit his website at: http://www.johnclaudebemis.com/
A Wrinkle in Time–50th Anniversary
A Wrinkle in Time celebrates its 50th year in print this year. A Wrinkle in Time was published in 1962 and won the Newberry Medal in 1963.
A Wrinkle in Time was my first introduction to science fiction. I was probably in the 3rd grade when our class listened to WiT being read. It made such an impression on me that when I ran across it in high school, I had to read it again; then I gave it to my sister to read. I’m sure I didn’t understand too much about the math & science involved, but the characters of Meg Murray and her brother, Charles Wallace, are characters that have stayed with me. Reading it again made me realize that the book is full of interesting characters & reminded me of what I loved about the book. From the grand entrance of Mrs. Whatsit to Mrs. Murray–a mother who knows how to encourage & love her children–the characters all have personalities anyone can relate to and just appreciate.
A Wrinkle in Time begins with the famous, or infamous, first line: “It was a dark & stormy night.” Really. This line is originally from the novel Paul Clifford by Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, first published in 1830. It has been considered the worst first line in literature & is frequently parodied, most famously by Snoopy of the comic strip, “Peanuts” by Charles Schulz. There is even a contest to write a bad opening paragraph for the worst novels ever written, held every year by the English Department of San Jose State University. The contest is called the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest.
Meg is a frustrated young girl who feels out of place at school believing she isn’t as smart and ‘normal’ as others. Her brother, Charles Wallace, is a precocious 5-yr old; though others find him odd, believing he doesn’t even know how to talk. Their worst problem, however, is that their scientist father has been missing for quite some time, and the rest of the town believes he has abandoned his family.
Meg, Charles Wallace, and their new friend, Calvin meet three very different ladies: Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which. These ladies take the children on a journey to find Mr. Murray. This journey will take them to another world where they will have to fight an evil by learning more about themselves and their strengths.
Anna Quindlen writes an appreciation of the book for this latest issue. “On its surface this is a book about three children who fight an evil force threatening their planet. But it is really about a more primal battle all human beings face, to respect, defend, and love themselves. When Meg pulls the ultimate weapon from her emotional arsenal to fight, for her little brother & for good, it is a great moment, not just for her, but for every reader who has ever felt overlooked, confused, alone.”
From Progeny Press: “Although A Wrinkle in Time can be classified as science fiction, it also contains elements of fantasy, philosophy, Biblical truth, and a glimpse of the cosmic battle between the forces of good and evil waged in a distant galaxy.”
L’Engle often incorporated her faith in her books. In her book, Walking on Water, she said, “I often seek theological insights in reading science fiction, because this is a genre eminently suited to exploration of the nature of the Creator and the creation . . . to think about worlds in another galaxy is a theological enterprise.”
Happy Birthday, Luci Shaw!
Today is the poet, Luci Shaw’s 83rd birthday. Ms.Shaw was born in London on 12/29/1928. She is the author of ten volumes of poetry and a charter member of the Chrysostom Society of Writers. Ms. Shaw became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1995. She graduated with high honors from Wheaton College in 1953. She has been the Writer in Residence at Regent College in Vancouver, Canada since 1988.
I posted one of Shaw’s poems a few days ago: “Mary’s Song”. This poem is included in the book Accompanied by Angels. For over 50 yrs, Ms. Shaw wrote and included a poem with her Christmas cards. These poems of the Incarnation were gathered together and published in this book.
One of Ms. Shaw’s books, The Crime of Living Cautiously, is introduced in this video made when Shaw was 68. For any of you who think you may be too old to try new adventures, you need to watch this: www.youtube.com/watch?v=eL2PExlczrU
To learn more about Ms. Shaw and her writings visit her website at: lucishaw.com
Because we are all
silver, and eating
body and blood, and asking
(guilty) is it I, and hearing
him say yes,
it would be simple for us all
to rush out
and hang ourselves.
But if we find grace
to cry and wait
after the voice of morning
has crowed in our ears
to break our hearts,
he will be there
to ask us each, again,
do you love me?
Shakespearean Teaching Aids II
The Shakespeare Stealer by Gary Blackwood is an enjoyable way for upper elementary and middle school students to learn about the historical background of Shakespeare’s time. In this book, a young boy, Widge, is taught to write in a special cipher by his master. He is bought by another man, who instructs him to sit in on a play (Shakespeare’s Hamlet) and to take down every word in this cipher.
Widge tries to do as he instructed, having little choice, but gets in various amounts of trouble and ends up being part of the players themselves. To his surprise, he discovers he actually has some acting talents. More importantly, he learns about friendship, loyalty, and how to make some hard decisions.
The Shakespeare Stealer is geared toward middle schoolers, but I don’t believe it is too young for those in high school. I enjoyed reading it myself and found it a good way to learn more about that time period, and seeing it from a young person’s point of view.
The Shakespeare Stealer won the ALA Notable Children’s Book Award, and Blackwood followed this book with two other books: Shakespeare’s Scribe and Shakespeare’s Spy.
There are several study guides available. There is one online that was created by some students at Salisbury State University in Maryland intended for middle and high school teachers. It includes various activities, websites, an author study, and other links pertaining to Shakespearean study. You can access this site at: www.faculty.salisbury.edu/~elbond/stealer.htm
Regina Jeffers at Union West Library
Tuesday night (12/13) at 6:30, local author, Regina Jeffers will be dressed in Regency attaire and will discuss the works of Jane Austen at the Union West Library in Indian Trail, NC. She will discuss why her books continue to be popular and will also discuss Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series and its ties to the Austen novels.
Jeffers is the author of several books in the historical romance genre including Darcy’s Temptation a sequel to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Find out more about Jeffers and her books at her website: rjeffers.com
Shakespeare and the KJV
Because of the time period, some people associate Shakespeare with the KJV. However, the KJV was published in 1611. Shakespeare did most of his work between 1589-1613 and he died in 1616. The Bible with which Shakespeare would have been most familiar was the Geneva Bible.
For those of you interested in learning more about this topic and more about the KJV and its history, the Manifold Greatness Blog is a good source. Read more about Shakespeare and the Bible on one of their latest posts: manifoldgreatness.wordpress.com/2011/11/30/shakespeare-and-the-king-james-bible-ships-passing-in-the-night/
Out of the Silent Planet–C.S. Lewis
Today is the birthday of C.S. Lewis. I wrote a little about Lewis last week and today want to talk about the first book in his space trilogy, Out of the Silent Planet.
I used this book while teaching literature to some high school students. There are themes running throughout the book such as the value of life, social Darwinism, and the spiritual battle of good & evil which make for very good discussion with this age.
In this trilogy, the main character, Ransom, seems to be a lot like Lewis himself. He is a professor, an expert in languages and medieval literature, single, and was wounded in WWI, but Lewis always maintained that he fashioned Ransom after his good friend, J.R.R. Tolkien.
In Out of the Silent Planet, Ransom is kidnapped by some scientists who take him to another planet, Malacandra, believing they need him as a sacrifice. Ransom manages to escape after they land & begins to meet the inhabitants of this planet. Though he is afraid of them at first, he soon learns that they have more intelligence, and certainly are more moral, than the scientists who have kidnapped him. He also discovers that Earth has been exiled from the rest of the solar system due to its fallen nature.
Ransom settles into a routine with these beings and has his ideas about life–mainly, religion and humanity–challenged and questioned. Before he can get too comfortable, though, he is summoned to meet the ruler of Malacandra. Here, he is challenged still greater about his previous beliefs in God and his own planet, Earth.
Though Lewis was a genius at explaining God & theology in his non-fiction writings, his analogies and allegories are also amazing and thought-provoking throughout his fictional writings.
I used the literature guide from Progeny Press when I taught this book. I highly recommend all of their guides. They divide the book into readable sections with vocabulary and discussion questions. They have several others for books by C.S. Lewis including some of the Narnian Chronicles and The Screwtape Letters and are a Christian-based curriculum.
Happy Birthday, Professor Lewis!
Today marks the day one of Christianity’s greatest writers died in 1963. Lewis’s writings continue to inspire, entertain, & educate over 40 yrs after his death. Lewis is known mainly for his Christian apologetics–an Oxford professor who became a Christian much against his will. His book, Surprised by Joy, tells of his conversion to Christianity. His book, Mere Christianity, is a Christian classic.
Lewis also wrote books that, though for a younger audience, are continuing to entertain all ages. I read his Narnian Chronicles in a literature class in college and used that first book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in a literature class with a homeschooling co-op.
On Lewis’s birthday, 11/29, I will post about another series I used while teaching literature to high school students.