Monday, April 25, 2016

Echo Echo: Reverso Poems about Greek Myths.

Echo Echo: Reverso Poems About Greek Myths
Written by Marilyn Singer and Illustrated by Josee Masse
Published by Dial in 2016 
ISBN 978-0-8037-3992-5
Grades 3-8

Book Review

Turning her attention to Greek mythology, Marilyn Singer, a recent recipient of the NCTE award for Excellence in Children’s Poetry, offer readers a third title in her intriguing Reverso series. You’ve never heard of a Reverso? It is a poetic form of Singer’s own invention – a poem that can be read forwards, then backwards with an accompanying shift in perspective (and some in punctuation). While her first two titles in the series explore favorite fairy tales, Greek gods and goddesses are the focus of this collection: “Ancient Greece:/ An age of marvelous myths,/ gone, but not forgotten./ Heroes that rise and fall.”  Now read in reverse: “Heroes that rise and fall,/ gone, but not forgotten./An age of marvelous myths: Ancient Greece.” The characters and plotlines are familiar, including, for example, Perseus and Medusa and Theseus and Ariadne, but the voices are novel, offering young readers the opportunity to juxtapose the diverse experiences of the characters. Each Reverso is accompanied by Josee Masse’s visual exploration of the duality, rendered in acrylic, and each poem is further contextualized by a concise annotation of the original myth. Singer uses the back matter to describe the form of the Reverso, to reflect on the significance of these classic myths, and to offer readers sources for more narrative retellings. A no-brainer pick for units on Greek Mythology, this collection and the other titles in the series also support cerebral and creative explorations of perspective, voice, poetic form, and storytelling.

Teaching Invitations: Ideas for Your Classroom

Duet Model Reading: The Myth and the Reverso. Locate retellings of the Greek myths featured in Marilyn Singer's poems.  Divide your students into small working groups and assign a myth to each group or let students group themselves by choosing a favorite myth. Students should read the retelling of the myth first followed by Singer's Reverso version. Ask students to make connections between the two different texts – matching concepts, events and/or quotes from the narrative retelling with lines from the poem. The goal of this close reading is to deconstruct Marilyn Singer's representation of this story in the much more concise form of poetry. Groups should share their findings with the whole class. See the Further Explorations section below for additional sources for these myths.

Dramatization. The poems in Echo Echo are ideally suited for performance by the students in your classroom. Pair students and assign each pair a poem to enact. Students should consider how they will use verbal and facial expression to emphasize the perspectives offered in their paired poems. Consider whether students might use simple costumes or props to enhance their performances. As an extension, you might ask students to write a monologue in which the character that they play elaborates on the perspective captured within the poem. Students can perform the poems along with the monologues they have crafted.

Author Study. Marilyn Singer was the 2015 recipient of the NCTE Award for Excellence in Children's Poetry. She has written more than one hundred books for children – her poetry collections are varied and engaging. Invite students to learn more about her body of work by exploring her books, her website, online videos and interview transcripts (see the Further Explorations section below for suggested resources). What patterns in theme, language, and topics do your students note across Singer's works? What can they learn about writing from this accomplished poet? 

Writing a Reverso. Use the poems in Follow Follow, Mirror Mirror, and Echo Echo as mentor texts as students compose their own Reverso poems. Suggest to students that they compose their poems on sentence strips so that they can easily reverse line order as they draft and revise their poems. You will want to try writing this form yourself to get a sense of the complexity of this task. Share your writing process with your students. Then, work as a class to compose a short Reverso poem together. With this practice, students will be ready to compose their own.

Poetic Forms. Echo Echo can be used in the study of poetic forms, both classic and contemporary. You might want to begin this study with Paul Janeczko's edited collections A Kick in the Head: An Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms and  The Death of the Hat: A Brief History of Poetry in 50 Objects. Work with your students to develop a list of poetic forms and then divide your class up into pairs, assigning partners a particular poetic form for which they should become experts. Each partner should research the history of the form, compile examples of poems in the form, and write poetry in the form. As an extension, consider having your students survey the teachers and students in your school. Which poetic forms do teachers teach? Which forms are students familiar with and which are their favorite forms?

Greek Mythology: A Multimodal Multigenre Text Set Exploration. Work with your grade level team and/or your school or public librarian to develop a Solar System Model Text Set (see our Teaching with TextSets entry) for several of the myths found in Echo Echo. Be sure to include a variety of text types, including artifacts, such as ancient Greek urns that depict the myths. When working with the different text sets, students should consider variations and similarities in the narratives, the effects of different modalities, character development, and contemporary vs. classic interpretation. See the Further explorations section below for resources that will support your development of these text sets. You might also consider assembling text sets that allow group of students to consider how one particular god or goddess is portrayed across myths, again using these poems, narrative retellings of the myths, and artifacts.

Human Characteristics Across Time: A Multimodal Multigenre Text Set Exploration. In the back matter of Echo Echo, Marilyn Singer describes a function of mythology: " Greek mythology also portrayed the strengths and weaknesses of human beings, such as courage, pride, vanity, curiosity, and endurance." Singer's Reverso poems could be included in texts sets that focus on these enduring human qualities.  Work with your grade level team and/or your school or public librarian to create multmodal multigenre text sets comprised of stories, songs, and videos that focus on different human characteristics and qualities. Katie Egan Cunningham’s book Story: Still the Heart of Literacy Learning emphasizes this theme-based approach to text sets.

It's All About Perspective. To support students with the critical skill of perspective-taking, read a series of books that offer varying perspectives on the events and experiences reflects in the text. Be sure to include picture books such as,  Same, Same But Different by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw, Mirror by Jeannie Baker, Voices in the Park by Anthony Browne, Anna Kang's You Are (Not) Small, The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt, and novels, such as Wonder by R.J. Palacio , Rebecca Stead's Goodbye Stranger, and Rob Buyea's Because of Mr. Terupt. After students have the opportunity to experience these texts, invite them to write a piece that represents multiple points of view.

Seeing Symmetry. The visual images in Echo Echo are equally as fascinating as the text. Beginning with the cover of the book, engage your students in a close reading of the illustrations.  How has Josee Maase used symmetry to capture the different perspectives embedded in these myths? Collaborate with the art specialist in your school to offer students the opportunity to experiment with this technique. How can they create a symmetrical image and then modify it to emphasize similarities and differences? To extend this visual exploration, examine the illustrations in Mirror by Jeannie Baker and Same, Same But Different by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw. What techniques have these illustrators used?

Further Explorations

Online Resources

Author's Website

Chicago Public Library: Author of the Month: Marilyn Singer

Poetry Friday: Two Sides to Every Story: Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast

The MET: Ancient Greece

The British Museum: Ancient Greece

The Getty Villa

The Olympians: Graphic Novel Series by George O’Connor
Rick Riordan: Percy Jackson Series

Baker, J. (2010). Mirror. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.
See our Classroom Bookshelf entry here.

Buyea, R. (2010). Because of Mr. Terupt. New York: Delacourte.

D’Aulaire, I. (1980). D’Aulaire’s book of Greek Myths. New York: Random House.

Daywalt, D. (2013). The day the crayons quit. Ill. O. Jeffers. New York: Philomel.
See our Classroom Bookshelf entry here.

Janeczko, J.B. (2015). The death of the hat: A brief history of poetry in 50 objects. Ill. by C. Raschka. Somerville, MA Candlewick Press.
See our Classroom Bookshelf entry here.

Janeczko, P.B. (2005). A kick in the head: An everyday guide to poetic forms. Ill. by C. Raschka. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press.

Kang, A. (2015). You are (not) small. Ill. By C. Weyant. Two Lions.
See our Classroom Bookshelf entry here.

Kostecki-Shaw, J.S. (2011). Same, same but different. New York: Henry Holt.
See our Classroom Bookshelf entry here.

Lunge-Larson, L. (2011). Gifts from the gods: Ancient words & wisdom from Greek & Roman mythology. Ill. G. Hinds. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Napoli, D.J. (2011). Treasury of Greek mythology: Classic stories of gods, goddesses, heroes & monsters. Ill. by C. Balit. National Geographic.

Osborne, M.P. (1989) Favorite Greek Myths. New York: Scholastic.

Palacio, R.J. (2012). Wonder. New York: Knopf.

Singer, M. (2010). Mirror mirror: A book of reversible verse. New York: Dutton.

Singer, M. (2013). Follow follow: A book of Reverso poems. New York: Dial.

Singer, M. (2011). A full moon is rising. Ill. by J. Cairns. New York: Lee & Low.
See our Classroom Bookshelf entry here.

Stead, R. (2015). Goodbye stranger. New York: Wendy Lamb Books.

See our Classroom Bookshelf entry here.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Raymie Nightingale

Raymie Nightingale
Written by Kate DiCamillo

Published by Candlewick Press, 2016
ISBN 978-0-7636-8117-3

Grades 4-8

Book Review 
"The world went on. People left and people died and people went to memorial services and put orange blocks of cheese into their purses. People confessed to you that they were hungry all the time. And then you got up in the morning and pretended that none of it had happened." Over the course of one week during the summer of 1975, Raymie Clarke, the ten-year-old protagonist of the almost eponymous novel, bereft over her father's absence, ponders big ideas and big questions. In a novel about comings and goings, familial bonds and new friendships, loss and identity, DiCamillo takes readers all at once on a deep journey of the soul and a frenzied laugh-out loud romp. Raymie, Beverly, and Louisiana start out as strangers taking baton twirling lessons and end up the "Three Rancheros." Two of the girls are intent on winning the Little Miss Florida Tire contest, while the other is determined to sabotage it. Each has experienced great loss: Raymie's father has just left her mother, running off with a dental hygienist; Beverly's father left long ago; Louisiana and her grandmother are determined to outrun social services and stay out of the county home. Intertexuality abounds. Light and dark imagery serves as a metaphor, allowing the reader to consider along with Raymie the impact of one moment, one person, one authentic good deed. Objects large and small - a jar of candy corn, particle of dust, stuffed moose head, empty bird cage -  take on new meanings. Ripe for exploration of the soul, courage and bravery, and the bonds of friendship, literary devices and themes, and intertextuality, Raymie Nightingale is sure to foster deep thinking as a read aloud or whole class read, book club book, or independent selection. Readers will intuitively understand the big questions the Three Rancheros ask."Have you ever in your life come to realize that everything, absolutely everything, depends on you?"

Teaching Ideas and Invitations 

Reading Strategies: Questioning & Inference. Careful readers of this novel will realize that much is happening that the reader must infer. Support your students to probe deeply and "read between the lines" as events unfold. Have students keep track of their questions using sticky notes. If you are reading this book aloud, have students pose questions at the end of each chapter. Use the students' questions to facilitate inference. Questions might include: Why is Beverly's eye black and blue? Why was Ida Ness sleeping with her baton? Why do Louisiana and her grandmother "live" in a house with no furniture and keep the can opener in the car? Why does Raymie question if Louisiana's parents were really the Flying Elefantes? You may be tempted to ask these questions to your students. Ideally, they will surface in your discussion. By exploring student-generated questions and carefully examining the clues in the text, students can begin to infer the deeper troubles that each character faces.

Leaving and Returning. Throughout the novel, characters are leaving. Some leave because they choose to, while others die. Even pets are lost. Who is trapped in this book? Who is yearning to be free? Who is searching for a place to stay? As you and your students make your way through the novel, keep track of the comings and goings of characters, human and animal. You might want to have the students keep track in the reading journals by drawing portraits of the various characters as they are introduced. Or you could have students create portraits in small groups on poster paper, and have them keep track of the characters leaving/returning via sticky notes.

Local Myths and Legends. Throughout the novel, we hear the tale of Clara Wingtip, who drowned in what is now known as Lake Clara during the Civil War. Ask your students if they know the origins of various places in your neighborhood, town, or city. Have students research place names by working closely with the reference librarian and your local library as well as local historians, amateur or professional. Have students take photographs of these places. In small groups, have students write the "back story" of the place name and publish a class book to keep in the local history section of your school or public library.

Motif of Light. In DiCamillo's Newbery Award-winning The Tale of Desperaeux, light and dark play an important role with regard to mood, characterization, and theme. Light is a motif throughout Raymie Nightingale as well, within scenes that take place during the day as well as night, inside as well as out. Have your students read Desperauex and Raymie Nightingale in a Duet model. You can have all students read both books via read aloud or whole class read, or you can divide the students into book clubs and explore the books concurrently. This use of light may not be readily apparent to your readers. But by sharing your own response to a single scene in each novel in which light serves as a metaphor, you can open up the  pathways for your students to seek out these moments and consider their meaning in each book as a whole.

Nursery Rhymes, Fairy Tales and Literary Allusions. Throughout the novel, the characters refer to nursery rhymes and fairy tales. From the very beginning, on page 3, Raymie reveals that she says the line, "Hey diddle diddle, the dish ran away with the spoon" each time she thinks of her father running away with the dental hygienist. Mrs. Sylvester reminds her of a character from a fairy tale, Martha at the Golden Glen looks like a fairy godmother, Ida Nee sleeps like a princess, and more. The motif of three recurs throughout the story: three girls, three baton (failed) baton lessons. Other literary works are referred or alluded to as well, such as "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." As you read the novel, have your students in small groups exploring picture book representations of fairy tales. What do they have in common? How are they different from one another? How do these stories connect with the themes of Raymie Nightingale? Why did Kate DiCamillo include these references? Students can present their findings to one another. Have them include a visual mapping out of the connections that they see. To find out about new and canonical picture book variants of fairy tales, use the Sur La Lune website as a resource.

Powerful Friendships. Friendship is one of the powerful themes within Raymie Nightingale. What do your students notice about the relationship between the three Rancheros? How does it develop? In what ways are the girls similar, despite their differences? What is likable about each character? How do they balance one another? What other literary friendships do they remind you of? Students might think initially of Harry, Ron, and Hermione in the Harry Potter series. Who else? Have your students read novels that focus on powerful friendships, such as Doll BonesThe View from SaturdayWonder, Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, and The Year of the Dog. Invite them to reflect on their friendships in their own lives and consider having them respond in writing. Response options include: a memoir piece that features a special moment with a friend, a 'how to' manual for being a steady friend, or poems that celebrate friendship.

Exploring Hunger and Homelessness. Readers in your class may infer that Louisiana and her grandmother are hungry and homeless at different points in the novel. Louisiana admits that they steal cans of tuna, and Raymie sees them stealing food from Mrs. Borkowski's memorial service. Have students explore Raymie Nightingale in a Duet model with Crenshaw, by Katherine Applegate. The novels are set forty-years apart from one another. What about hunger and homelessness is the same? What is different? There are other comparisons and contrasts to be made. In each book, the protagonist makes his/her reading preferences clear. In Crenshaw, Jackson prefers nonfiction because it is true and real, whereas Raymie prefers "stories." For specific teaching ideas to further investigate hunger and homelessness with your students using these two books, please explore our Classroom Bookshelf entry on Crenshaw.

Dust. On page 151, Raymie thinks, "What if every piece of dust was a planet, and what if every planet was full of people, and what if all the people on all the planets had souls and were just like Raymie -- trying to flex their toes and make sense out of things and not really succeeding very much?" What is dust? Do your students know what it is made of? Mull over this quote with your students. Next, read April Pulley Sayre's Stars Beneath your Bed: The Surprising Story of Dust. As they learn fascinating facts about dust, have them write their own poetry or quotes about what dust makes them think about. What life lessons or questions can they consider using dust as their starting point?

Grades 6 - 8 

Talent Shows, Contents, and Beauty Pageants? Is the Little Miss Central Florida Tire contest a talent contest, a beauty pageant, or a combination of both? The book reveals very little, other than the fact that the contestants must perform a talent and do a good deed. What do your students think of the competition? What about pageants and competitions today? Are they thinly veiled beauty pageants? Are they popular where you live? Are they positive or negative? Are they more of less popular than in the past? Do boys and men have such competitions locally? Nationally? How do they compare to other competitions, like dance, scouting, or sports events that your students may participate in more regularly? Have your students explore the topic further and write persuasive pieces on why they think competitions are positive or negative experiences for young people. Older students might want to examine beauty pageants more specifically with an exploration of gender identity in today's culture.

Historical Fiction and the 1970s. Because it is set in the past, Raymie Nighingale is technically historical fiction. But because the plot does not center on political or social events exclusive to that time period, it may be hard for readers to pick up on this. As you read the book, ask your students to keep track of what they noticed "felt different" about the setting of the book and their world today. During your reading, or after, allow your students to explore Jim Corrigan's The 1970s in Photos: Protest and Change, along with digital resources listed below. What do your students notice about the 1970s? How may these events and ideas influenced Raymie's world, as created by Kate DiCamillo? As a follow-up, explore some other historical novels set in the 1970s in book club groups, such as: To Come and Go Like MagicKyle's Island, Inside Out and Back Again, The Wild Girls and the historical fantasy When You Reach Me. What else do they learn about this decade?  Should your students really get fascinated, you could have them read books published in the 1970s, such as works by Judy Blume, Lois Lowry, Walter Dean Myers, E.L. Konigsburg, and Beverly Cleary. What is different about their writing style and voice? What details about every day life are different in the historical novels versus the books written in the 1970s? Students may conclude by writing their own fiction set in the 1970s.

Further Explorations

Online Resources

Kate DiCamillo's Official Website

Raymie Nightingale Trailer

Kate DiCamillo on NPR, April 18, 2016

Kate DiCamillo, Library of Congress Ambassador of Children's Literature Emeritus

Reading Rockets Interview with DiCamillo

Kate DiCamillo on PBS News Hour

Kate DiCamillo on Mr. Schu Reads Blog

Top News Stories from 1975

Facts About 1975 from Microsoft

Teaching US History: 1970s Discussion and Culture

Sur La Lune Fairy Tale Website

Florence Nightingale Museum, London

Florence Nightingale, UK National Archives


For Kate DiCamillo's Books, please see her website above.

Classroom Bookshelf Entry on Flora & Ulysses

Applegate, K. (2015). Crenshaw. New York: Feiwal and Friends.

Black, H. (2013). Doll bones. New York: Margaret McElderry Books.

Derby, S. (2014). Kyle's island. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge.

Faucett, K.P. (2010). To come and go like magic. New York: Knopf.

Konigsburg, E.L. (1996). The view from Saturday. New York: Atheneum.

Lai, T. (2011). Inside out and back again. New York: Harper.

Lin, G. (2007). The year of the dog. New York: Little, Brown.

Murphy, P. (2007). The wild girls. New York: Viking.

Palacio, R. (2012). Wonder. New York: Knopf.

Sayre, A.P. (2005). Stars beneath your bed: The surprising story of dust. Ill. by A. Jonas. New York: Greenwillow.

Schmidt, G. (2004). Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster boy. New York: Clarion.

Stead, R. (2009). When you reach me. New York: Wendy Lamb Books.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Happy Poetry Month!

We enjoy poetry in the classroom all year long, but April is a special month to recognize the power that poetry has to move us, to entertain us, and to help us see the world in new ways. In today's entry, we highlight some poetry books recently featured on The Classroom Bookshelf and offer a collection of links to help you explore the potential of poetry with your students.

Click on the titles of the books below to link to our Classroom Bookshelf entries - in these entries, you'll find a review, teaching invitations, and text set resources to complement the title.

Poetry Entries

Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems
Selected by Paul B. Janeczko; Illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Published by Candlewick Press, 2014
ISBN #978-0763648428

Hi, Koo!: A Year of Seasons
Written and illustrated by Jon J. Muth
Published by Scholastic Press, 2014
ISBN #978-0545166683

Forgive Me, I Meant to Do It 
Written by Gail Carson Levine, Illustrated by Matthew Cordell
Published by HarperCollins, 2012
ISBN #978-0061787256
Grades 2 and up

Collected by Paul Janeczko and Illustrated by Chris Raschka
Published by Candlewick in 2015
All Ages

Written by Joyce Sidman and Illustrated by Beth Krommes
Published in 2011 by Houghton Mifflin
ISBN 978-0-547-31583-6
Grades PreK – 8

Written by Joyce Sidman and Illustrated by Rick Allen
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2014
All Ages

2015 Newbery Medal Winner
2015 Coretta Scott King Honor Award Winner
Written by Kwame Alexander
Published in 2014 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
ISBN: 0544107713
Grades 4-10

Written and Illustrated by Doug Florian
Harcourt Children’s Books
Boston  2012
ISBN: 978-0-547-68838-1

Written by Nicola Davies and Illustrated by Mark Hearld
Published by Candlewick Press in 2012, 
ISBN 978-0-7636-5549-5
Grades PreK – 6

Written by George Ella Lyon and Illustrated by Katherine Tillotson
Published by Atheneum in 2011
ISBN # 978-1416971306
All grades

Written and Illustrated by Julie Paschkis
Published in 2015 by Henry Holt
ISBN 978-1-62779-103-8
Grades PreK – 8

Brown Girl Dreaming
Written by Jacqueline Woodson
Published in 2014 by Nancy Paulsen Books
ISBN: 978-0-399-25251-8
Grades 4 and up

And there are so many more poetry titles in the blog!! 

To see the full listing, type the word 'poetry' in the search bar and scroll through the pages...... enjoy!!

Online Resources:

Poetry Foundation - Children's poetry

Academy of American Poets

The Poetry Archive

The Children's Poetry Archive

Haiku Society:

Writing with Writers – Poetry

NCTE Award for Excellence in Children's Poetry

Reading Rockets: National Poetry Month

Booklist: Talking with Jacqueline Woodson About Poetry

Monday, April 4, 2016

Will’s Words: How William Shakespeare Changed the Way You Talk
Written by Jane Sutcliffe; Illustrated by John Shelley
Published by Charlesbridge, 2016
ISBN # 978-1-58089-638-2

Grades 3 and up

Book Review

“The more people said all those words, the more they forgot that they were William Shakespeare’s words.” Indeed, it is Shakespeare’s ubiquitous contribution to the English language that grounds Will’s Words: How William Shakespeare Changed the Way You Talk, distinguishing it from other picturebook biographies about the Bard. Author Jane Sutcliffe begins the text with a disclaimer: that she actually did mean to write another biography about the famous playwright and the Globe Theatre, but that Shakespeare’s words kept infiltrating her own as she tried. And so, Sutcliffe gives in, accentuating in bold font the language that Shakespeare coined as she continues with her story. To emphasize how pervasive Shakespeare’s words are, she highlights the single, now mundane terms (e.g., excitement, well behaved, and all of a sudden) alongside the delectable and brilliant phrases of the poet (e.g., laughed themselves into stitches, with bated breath, and into thin air). Moreover, each term is further spotlighted in a side text box that explains what it means and in which of Shakespeare’s works it appears. Illustrator John Shelley provides watercolor, pen, and ink double-page spreads that meticulously detail scenes in Shakespeare’s life and plays, offering readers intricate layers of additional information. An author’s postscript, timeline, and bibliography are included, prompting readers toward more inquiry and resources about Shakespeare’s work and life. For its focus on these rich additions to the English language, as well as the illustrious person who furnished them, Will’s Words is a welcome addition to any ELA class.

Teaching Ideas and Invitations

Grades 3 and up
  • Will’s Words and Phrases in Everyday Life. Prepare a list of the bolded words and phrases, and share the list with students before they read the book. Have them work in pairs or small groups to identify which ones they have heard before, which ones hear on a regular basis, and which ones they already know the meaning of. For those that they don’t know, provide examples of their use in everyday speech and have students use context clues to figure out their meanings. It could also be engaging and fun for students to role-play scenarios in which the phrases are used. You might want to browse some of the websites listed below in Further Explorations or search the Internet on your own for more terms to add to the list. Finally, have students take the online quiz, “Which Words are Will’s Words?”, for individual or small group challenges.
  • Informative Illustrations. The incredible details in John Shelley’s illustrations provide numerous opportunities to learn more about London in the 1600s, the Globe Theatre, and Shakespeare’s plays. Have students look at some selected double-page spreads—such as the two opening aerial views of London, the scenes of people entering the Globe, the backstage and cross-section scenes of the cast and crew, and the audience’s reactions to the performances. Have them do close reading of the illustrations, paying attention to details such as facial expressions, perspective, building architecture, and clothing. Then, based on their observations, have students construct a list of conclusions and questions to pursue related to Shakespeare’s plays and time.
  • Shakespeare Text Sets. As with the works attributed to Shakespeare, the number of picture books and informational texts for children and young adult about Shakespeare and his plays abound. Gather several of these texts purposefully into a text set (see our Classroom Bookshelf entry on text sets for different text set models and their purposes). You might want to create a text set introducing students (yes, even as young as elementary school!) to his plays, using Marcia Williams’ graphic picturebooks or Gareth Hinds’ graphic novels. Or perhaps you want to create a duet text set of informational picture books about Shakespeare. You might even want to juxtapose the plays with informational texts to flesh out context and background information related to the plays. Have students compare and contrast the books in the text set you create, noting how the information provided depends on author’s purpose and perspective.
Grades 6 and up
  • Investigating Literary Word Origins. Many words and phrases in the English language, such as catch-22 (Heller’s Catch-22), tween (Tolkien’s The Hobbit), and even nerd (Seuss’s If I Ran the Zoo) have come from famous literary works. Have students brainstorm a list of everyday terms they are curious to learn more about, and challenge them to research and discover which of them have literary origins.
  • First Folio Tour. This year, the Folger Shakespeare Library is bringing Shakespeare’s First Folio (published in 1623, containing 36 of Shakespeare’s plays, including some never-before-published) to all 50 states in the U.S., Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico. Search the website for a location near you, and arrange for your students to see this monumental contribution to world literature. As a challenge, when they view the folio, see if they can identify any of the terms highlighted in Will's Words.
  • The Wonder of Will Live: Sharing Shakespeare Stories. On Saturday, April 23, 2016, have your students join the Folger Library in commemorating the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death. The international live streaming event will include a diverse array of actors, scholars, and artists sharing their stories about Shakespeare. Anyone is also welcome to contribute a Shakespeare story. Go to The Wonder of Will website for more information.
Critical Literacy
  • Word Choice, Author’s Purpose, and Perspective. In the postscript, Sutcliffe describes Shakespeare as “a guy with the most famous name in the world.” That statement is clearly ripe for argument. Have students search for other descriptors in the text of Will’s Words that support this claim. What effect (singularly and collectively) do these kinds of statements and descriptions have on a reader’s understanding of Shakespeare? After students explore this question, invite them to debate the postscript statement, arguing whether or not anyone else has a more famous name across the world than William Shakespeare.
  • But Did He Really? Recent Shakespearean scholarship has taken on the question whether indeed Shakespeare invented all of these terms. Along those lines, some scholars make the point that we’ve come to believe he did because more of his works are well known than other writers of his time, or that Shakespeare has grown into such a juggernaut of Western literature over time that we’ve simply attributed those terms to him. Read the Boston Globe article or listen to the Public Radio International podcast about this question with your students as a springboard for furthering the broader debate about Shakespeare’s genius or authorship of all those works.

Further Explorations

Online Resources

Jane Sutcliffe’s website

John Shelley’s website

Folger Shakespeare Library

Shakespeare in the Classroom – PBS

Shakespeare Uncovered – PBS LearningMedia

Shakespeare’s Globe

Shakespeare & Company

Teaching Shakespeare

Royal Shakespeare Company

The Shakespeare Society

Shakespeare in American Communities – National Endowment for the Arts

First Folio Tour – Folger Library

Websites about words and phrases coined by Shakespeare


Aagesen, C., & Blumberg, M. (1999). Shakespeare for kids: His life and times, 21 activities (For Kids series) Chicago Review Press.

Aliki. (1990). William Shakespeare and the Globe. New York: HarperCollins.

Armand, G. (2015). Ira Shakespeare's dream. Ill. by F. Cooper. New York: Lee and Low Books. See our Classroom Bookshelf entry here.

Burdett, L., & Coburn, C. (1994-2000). Shakespeare can be fun! series. Firefly Books.

Hinds, G. (2008). The merchant of Venice. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press. (graphic novel)

-- (2009). King Lear. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press. (graphic novel)

-- (2013). Romeo and Juliet. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press. (graphic novel)

-- (2015). Macbeth. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press. (graphic novel)

Mannis, C. (2006). Who was William Shakespeare? New York: Grosset & Dunlap.

Nesbit, E. (2000 reissue). The children’s Shakespeare. Chicago Review Press.

Rosen, M. (2006). Shakespeare: His world and his work. Ill. by R. Ingpen. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.

Stanley, D., & Vennema, P. (1992). Bard of Avon: The story of William Shakespeare. New York: HarperCollins.

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