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:


Mary’s Song by Luci Shaw

Mary’s Song

Blue homespun and the bend of my breast

keep warm this small hot naked star

fallen to my arms. (Rest . . .

you who have had so far to come.)

Now nearness satisfies

the body of God sweetly. Quiet he lies

whose vigor hurled a universe. He sleeps

whose eyelids have not closed before.


His breath (so slight it seems

no breath at all) once ruffled the dark deeps

to sprout a world. Charmed by doves’ voices,

the whisper of straw, he dreams,

hearing no music from his other spheres.

Breath, mouth, ears, eyes,

he is curtailed who overflowed all skies,

all years. Older than eternity, now he

is new. Now native to earth as I am, nailed

to my poor planet, caught

that I might be free, blind in my womb

to know my darkness ended,

brought to this birth for me to be new-born.

and for him to see me mended,

I must see him torn.                      Luci Shaw

The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak

St. Petersburg, October, 17, 1756 Three people who never leave her room, and who do not know about one another, inform me of what is going on, and will not fail to acquaint me when the crucial moment arrives.–From the letter of Grand Duchess of All the Russias (later Catherine the Great) to Sir Hanbury-Williams, British ambassador to the court of Empress Elizabeth.

So begins The Winter Palace, an historical novel about Catherine II of Russia, also known as Catherine the Great. Catherine was born as Sophia in Prussia and brought to Russia to marry the nephew of the Empress Elizabeth. This story takes place during the years of 1743-1764 and told through the eyes of a girl who becomes a friend and ‘tongue’ of Catherine. Barbara, or Varvara, is also a  ‘tongue’  (or what we would call a spy) for the Empress Elizabeth.

Stachniak, born in Poland and author of several other historical novels, has written an intriguing and fascinating account of Catherine’s young life. Rich, historical detail give us a picture of the court life of Russia during this time and the constant danger of trusting anyone. Catherine did not become popular overnight and was at the mercy of the Empress Elizabeth. Catherine’s husband, the future Emperor Peter III, was much like a child and as much a pawn for the Empress as was Catherine and the children she bore.  Catherine shows hints of her future greatness as she keeps her wits, makes friends where she needs to, and prepares to take the throne when the time is ripe.    

                                                                                                       The Winter Palace is due to be released in January of next year.

I received this book for free though Goodreads First Reads.

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:




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:


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!

Folger Shakespeare Library

Folger’s Shakespeare Library is a major center for scholarly research. It describes itself as ‘lively venue for performances, readings, and exhibitions’ and is located in Washington, D.C. Unless you can actually manage a field trip there, the best way this library can be helpful to us as homeschoolers is to check out their website,, and subscribe to their emails. They have links to helpful sites, lesson plans for teachers, and news about anything Shakespeare. One of their recent emails had these links: www.shakespeareinamericanlifekids/index.cfm &

Also available at that website is a fun slideshow, showing different ways Shakespeare has been used in America from advertising to crafts. Go

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