Saturday, November 9, 2013

"That Shakespeare Kid" by Michael LoMonico [Review & Teaching Ideas]

When teachers prepare to teach Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar, Hamlet or any other Shakespeare play, they often do what Ms. Hastings does in That Shakespeare Kid by Michael LoMonico: They begin with a lecture about the Globe Theater, Shakespeare's life, and Elizabethan England. After all, don't kids need to know about the three biggies before cracking open the play?

Readers will find the answer later in this post. *wink*

That Shakespeare Kid tells the story of Peter, an eighth grader who, in his eagerness to read Romeo and Juliet, suffers a tragic accident when his mom's Riverside Shakespeare crashes down on his head and gives him a concussion that results in Peter speaking lines from Shakespeare's plays whenever he attempts to talk. He still thinks in "normal" English, and he can text his best friend Emma who becomes his "spokesperson" on a journey that takes him from social outcast to the center of adolescent and adult attention.

The organizing trope--using lines from Shakespeare as a plot device in a YA novel--is both clever and original. The novel does more than re-imagine a classic, it literally juxtaposes Early Modern English with Late Modern English. This alternating English functions thematically to say that Shakespeare remains as relevant to 21st Century audiences as it was to Elizabethan ones.

LoMonico funded and published That Shakespeare Kid through a successful Kickstarter campaign, which he describes:

But the real hero of That Shakespeare Kid isn't Peter or his friend Emma. Their English teacher Ms. Hasings embarks on a much more important journey than the one Peter and Emma take together. She literally rethinks her pedagogical approach to teaching Romeo and Juliet when Peter texts Emma a question for Ms. Hastings about her methodology that she can't answer: "Will this stuff about Shakespeare's life and the Globe Theater actually help us understand Romeo and Juliet?"

Although a relatively minor character, LoMonico uses Ms. Hastings to show readers the Folger Shakespeare Library pedagogical approach to teaching Shakespeare, and he does it without mentioning the Folger and without maligning other teaching methods.

Those familiar with Folger performance methodology will recognize the insult activity, "Three Dimensional Shakespeare" by Michael Tolaydo (see Shakespeare Set Free), and other performance tasks that culminate in a student production. There's even a nod to The 30 Minute Shakespeare editions edited by Nick Newlin. In That Shakespeare Kid, LoMonico gently says, "Here's how to get students excited about studying Shakespeare; here's how to get students out of their seats and onto their feet in performance activities; and here's how to turn students into life-long lovers of Shakespeare rather than one-time readers of Shakespeare." Although I have been using performance pedagogy yearly since 2007 and periodically throughout my career, I learned some new tricks and will refine some old ones after reading That Shakespeare Kid.

Teachers looking for ways to get students hooked on Shakespeare should consider using That Shakespeare Kid as either a read-aloud, a book club selection, or a whole-class read. There are many options for adding this charming novel into our curriculum, including using the addendum, which includes all the Shakespeare lines in the book in an easily referenced compilation, as a source for line-tossing and paired skits, as Ms. Hasings does with her class.

NCTE 2013: Are you attending? If so, stop by the Folger booth #825 and/or attend a Folger session and learn more about performance pedagogy from the Folger Shakespeare Library, meet Michael LoMonico, and consider obtaining a copy of That Shakespeare Kid.

I hope to see you in Boston and invite you to attend my session. I'll have a drawing for a free copy of That Shakespeare Kid.

 "Lend Me Your [H]ear: Envisioning Listening in 21st Century Classrooms" 
Session K:08 
Sheraton, Sheraton/Beacon G Room, 3rd Floor 
Saturday, November 23, 2013, 4:15-5:30 p.m.

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