For the Love of the Bard

For the Love of the Bardshake

I have had a love affair with Shakespeare as long as I can remember, but every time I hear someone say they hate Shakespeare or they don’t understand Shakespeare or why do we need to study Shakespeare, I wonder how I ended up so different. Even some English teachers I know avoid Shakespeare (to my mind a travesty but there ya go). I can’t think of anything better than a week in Stratford and I’ve lost count of the number of Shakespeare plays I’ve seen live. I roamed the streets of Stratford England in awe and saw Judi Dench in The Merry Wives of Windsor. I revel in his words and delight in his intricate plots.

Now I don’t come from a family of Shakespeare lovers. My parents didn’t read sonnets to me in the womb and there were certainly no performances to attend in tmy small Northern Ontario city. So where did my passion come from? Well I trace It all back to a single book; Cue For Treason by Geoffrey Trease. The story is set in Elizabethan England and is the tale of 15-year-old Peter who escapes prosecution for a minor offence and heads to London where he eventually ends up as Shakespeare’s apprentice. There is murder and intrigue and a plot to assassinate the queen and I was riveted from start to finish.

It was the set novel in my grade 9 English class and we spent a long time with it, tracing the historical elements, labeling maps and learning about Shakespeare’s plays.

I don’t remember how many times I read it but I went over and over my favourite scenes and answered every study question in the back. It was a fascinating study of the times and the political and social climate, not to mention how theatres operated.

elizabeth_11  I then sought everything I could find about Shakespeare, theatre, Elizabethan England and the Tudors. Strangely enough I didn’t study Shakespeare in high school until my final year and I wonder if that might not have cemented my love of the Bard. Honestly I don’t think I could have been turned off, but I can’t help wondering if a bad first experience with Shakespeare is where all the haters come from. Students who are presented with the Bard too early, before they can appreciate the genius of the language and the bawdiness of the comedy. Or a teacher who is indifferent to Shakespeare but forced to teach it, resulting in everyone being unhappy.

I was lucky. I had two very passionate English teachers in high school that I credit with nurturing my newfound love, leading me to eventually study and teach dramatic literature.cue new cover

There is no doubt that the impact of a single book can be very powerful in its influence on a child. Saying that Cue for Treason is the reason I am where I am today is pretty simplistic, but it certainly started me down the path. I feel an overwhelming desire to read it again but I’m a little afraid that as an adult reader I won’t feel the same magic.

Will let you know how it goes…

The Great Girl Detective

nancy drewThere was a secret place under the basement stairs at my aunt’s house. In this “secret” place were boxes and boxes of books, all sizes and colours.  Huddled under those stairs, I got lost in the adventures of Joe and Frank, Freddy and Flossie, Nan and Bert, Trixie Belden and, my very favourite, Nancy Drew. Nancy was a teenager who had great friends, a fantastic car, unlimited funds and Ned. Each book immersed me in her world of adventure and with Nancy I began my love affair with mystery books. I loved trying to figure out “who done it”.

pine hillI wanted to be just like Carolyn Keene when I grew up.  Yes, I thought she was a real person.  You see, when I was young, you couldn’t just Google a name and find out all about them. And there was no reason for me to believe she wasn’t a real person. I was an adult before I found she was just a name for a stable of authors who wrote from a publisher’s outline. I was a bit let down I have to say. It seems it wasn’t an unheard of phenomena either. Franklin W. Dixon (Hardy Boys) and Laura Lee Hope (Bobbsey Twins) where also pseudonyms, crushing my hopes of every meeting them some day. I wonder if there are any more I should know about. Does James Patterson really write a book a month (she said sarcastically)?
I decided to see what else I didn’t know about Nancy (which is quite easy now we have Google) and was interested to learn that she has quite a transformation over the years).  It appears the original 1930’s Nancy was quite a tomboy with a sassy mouth. (I need to see if I can get my hands on some of those originals). The Nancy I knew (1950’s Nancy) was more respectful of male authority and went to church as often as she could.  That was the post-war Pollyanna image of women that the media was using to promote home and family.

drew18a I had all of these 1960’s/60’s Nancy Drews; the real ones with the list of books on the back. Until recently, I didn’t realize that most of them came from that original collection I had discovered under my aunt’s basement stairs. Even more importantly I didn’t realize this treasure
trove under the stairs belonged to my cousin before my aunt found them a new home (with me).  I continued to add to that original collection and each time a new one came out I bought it and read it within a day. My favourite was Phantom of Pine Hill and I’m a little ashamed to say it was because it was the one that featured Nancy’s “romance” with Ned.

I stopped reading Nancy in my teens although do remember trying one or two of the Nancy Drew Files. I don’t remember much about them but I do find it interesting to look at the difference in these covers and those of the original series. On the original books, Nancy was presented with a magnifying glass, or a clue or in some kind of setting. On the new series it was with a boy. I guess the mystery wasn’t enough in the 80’s. There needed to be more romance.

old clocknancy drew files

My last post was a result of my brother’s rhapsody about The Great Brain, and dedicated to him. This post is dedicated to my cousin, whose pain at losing her Nancy Drew collection to me was matched only by my own when my mother gave them all to a garage sale. My cousin has always been my kindred spirit, loving books and writing as I do (she also shares my feelings about cooking and cleaning but I digress). I have to wonder how much of an impact Nancy had on her.  After all she did grow up to write her own mysteries!  Head over to Amazon to get her novel A Bother of Bodies.  Murder never was so much fun!

Resources and Links   

Kismaric, Carole; Marvin Heiferman (2007). The Mysterious Case of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. Fireside. ISBN 1-4165-4945-5. (via Wikipedia)



The Great Brain Strikes Again

great brainI’m embracing the irony this week. In response to my post about my new blog, my brother declared “to add interest, it should be mostly about your brother”. I chuckled, we all chuckled, yet here I am, writing about my brother.

I honestly believe that children become lovers of reading after modeling what they see around them. If reading is important to the adults in their lives then it becomes important in their own lives. It’s one thing to read to your children, encourage them to read, buy them books and search out appropriate material for them, but the most powerful encouragement is modeling. Readers produce readers.

My parents read constantly. My great aunt and uncle (the grandparent figures in my life) read constantly. My cousins read constantly. My aunt would take me to the library to get books and she would go home with as many books as I did. She’s 90 years old now and up until they closed her local library, she was going every week.

“Funny” my four-year-old self mused, “this must be how one spends one’s days” (Yes, I know. Fancy talk for a four-year-old but go with it).   Everyone around me was reading all the time. I learned that reading happened every day and for good stretches of time but up until this past week I didn’t realize my brother learned this behaviour also. Now I knew about the Noddy books and I knew he was devouring books in his late teens but I had no idea that the in-between years were also book years. My brother, the sports nut and social butterfly of the family was also a child reader. For many kids a conflict of interest but for my brother it was just something we did, just like it was something my parents did, and my aunt and uncle did, and my cousins did.

great brain coverMy first post prompted some wonderful responses as people commented with their own childhood book loves. I’ve added many to my list and am looking forward to exploring some of them soon. My brother piped in with his particular “awesome” book in the form of “it had these great black and white illustrations every few pages”. It seems he used to copy them and that’s how he learned to draw well. I was intrigued and asked for details. I got “set in Utah; 1800’s; three brothers told from the POV of the middle brother”. I headed over to Google Books and voila. Up popped The Great Brain.

Hmmm… The Great Brain.  I had never heard of this series. Where was I? Was it after my time? Maybe it was considered a “boy book” in the days when those distinctions mattered. A little research and I found many pages devoted to the series and shrines to the artwork.

mercer mayer                                  great brain1

According to what I’ve read, the 7-book series is set in Utah in the early 1900’s and is loosely based on the childhood of author, John Fitzgerald.  The Great Brain is John’s older brother, Tom, who appears to model himself after Twain’s Tom Sawyer being both mischievous and ingenious.  The search to get my hands on copies of the books however was less than fruitful.  Some of the books are out of print and none of my local bookstores stock it.  So, Ebay to the rescue and I have the first book on order.  I’m looking forward to reading the books that captured the imagination of my sports nut brother.

Stay tuned for further thoughts after the read.