Rebecca Ripperton

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How To Introduce Your Children to Shakespeare

by Rebecca Ripperton
April 8, 2019

Shakespeare is a topic near and dear to our family’s heart. We all love reading Shakespeare, seeing plays performed lived, staging or even acting in plays, and talking to each other about Shakespeare. This sustained passion is in large part due to the way that our parents introduced the topic to us. So today we wanted to revisit just how our family began to introduce Shakespeare in hopes of helping other families have similarly positive experiences. This post is part one of two; the second post will follow in two weeks, on April 22, 2019.

Introduce the stories before the plays

It's always a good idea to introduce children to the stories well before they read or even watch the plays. There are a number of ways of doing this. The first is by reading literary adaptations, such as Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare or Tales from Shakespeare. (We read both books years ago as a family, and recommend them highly!) One advantage of following this method is that these stories all have literary merit in their own right and make excellent family read alouds, even if you aren't preparing to see them performed.

Another good way to introduce Shakespeare’s stories is to have a parent or older sibling tell the story aloud, perhaps in the car on the way to see a play for the first time. The storyteller doesn’t necessarily need to recount the entire plot (maybe you want to leave the ending as a surprise), but it is definitely worth providing some context for the story and a sense of familiarity with the primary characters ahead of time. Children are likely to be much more engaged if they have a good foothold into what’s happening at the very beginning.

Begin with the comedies

On a related note – we suggest beginning with the comedies! Much Ado About Nothing, Twelfth Night, Merry Wives of Windsor, The Comedy of Errors, As You Like It, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and the Taming of the Shrew all make great introductory plays. I would recommend postponing introducing the romances (Pericles, The Winter’s Tale, Cymbeline, and The Two Noble Kinsmen) until after a child has seen at least a comedy or two first. The Tempest, however, is one exception to that rule and would be an excellent first play. Lastly, although Measure for Measure and All’s Well That Ends Well are technically comedies, they do deal with more mature content and are best reserved for older audiences.

Shakespeare live

Next, take your children to see as many Shakespeare productions as you can. Nothing beats seeing Shakespeare's plays performed live!

Here I would encourage you to take advantage of the resources in your community such as free Shakespeare in the Park events or other low-cost community theatre. Venues that specifically welcome and even cater to children are great, because these performances tend to be a bit higher energy. Your children will be freer to engage with the play and you won’t have to worry as much about keeping them quiet or still throughout the performance. Sometimes, too, community theatre productions can be creative in unexpected ways due to limited resources, and this can be a lot of fun to see. Besides, having a more minimal set or costumes can often give your child’s imagination room to play more freely.

Another excellent thing to do is to take your children to plays where they know at least one cast member. It’s so exciting as a child to see your older sibling, a family friend, or even a teacher in a play!

Returning to the same plays over and over again

Lastly, we've found tremendous value in returning to Shakespeare’s plays over and over again. Seeing and reading the same plays many different times affords a richer understanding of the play as a whole, as well as a more nuanced understanding of the characters and their language. These plays are so bountiful that the more time we spend with them, the more they yield to us (not unlike Cleopatra!)

"Other women cloy
The appetites they feed: but she makes hungry
Where most she satisfies."

— Antony and Cleopatra, Act II scene 2

All audiences, but children in particular, will discover new elements of a play each time they're exposed to it, which can be both exciting and rewarding. It's also a great lesson in the value of re-reading texts.

More on this same topic in 2 weeks! But in the meantime ...

Share your experience!

Do you remember your first exposure to Shakespeare or the first time you took your own children to a Shakespeare performance? What went well? What — if anything — do you wish you had done differently?  Please let us know in a comment below!

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Ralph Moody Becomes “Man of the Family”

by Rebecca Ripperton
April 1, 2019

You can’t read the ending of Little Britches: Father and I Were Ranchers without also feeling compelled to read Man of the Family. But if you’ve only ever read Little Britches, we highly recommend reading Man of the Family, as well. There are so many unresolved questions at the end of the first book that the reader longs to know what becomes of the Moody family. Fortunately, Ralph wrote an entire series to answer all of those questions!

The second book offers a revealing glimpse into the life of a family that has lost a loved one and must pull together to survive. We see all of them grow – not just Ralph.  We also see the family’s relationships with one another strengthen in the face of their tragedy.

If you haven't read any of Ralph Moody's books, but have younger children who did enjoy Farm Stories, Ox-Cart Man, or any other stories about horses and homesteading, you may want to look into reading both Little Britches and Man of the Family at some point in the future. 

A more somber story

Man of the Family has a markedly different tone than Little Britches since it addresses how the family moves forward after the death of their father. In many ways it is a much more somber story. Although Ralph was only 11 years old when his father died, his mother comes to him in confidence after the funeral, and tells Ralph that he is now the man of the family. Ralph begins to behave in accordance with this responsibility, despite his young age and despite the challenge of providing for his many siblings and mother.

Finding inventive ways to make a living

One of the most interesting aspects of this second book is to see how enterprising the entire Moody clan is. Ralph sets up a number of business ventures both independently and with the help of his siblings. These businesses include recruiting his schoolmates to help him herd cattle, building stilts for himself and his younger siblings so that they are all tall enough to pick fruit from cherry trees, selling Christmas trees, breeding rabbits, hauling railroad ties, selling fresh milk and their mother’s New England cookery, and even riding in cow horse races!

When Ralph first learns that his mother needs him to live at home (meaning he can no longer work during the summers at the Y-B ranch with his cowboy friends), he feels disappointment, but he is extremely inventive in seeking out other ways to make a living for his family. The family even goes into a lucrative curtain laundering business for a Denver hotel together!

Ralph and his sister Grace, who is ​two years older, undertake many of these projects together without involving their mother, in hopes of quietly helping her out. Of course Little Britches still finds time to enjoy himself, but the focus of his life has shifted away from riding horses for pleasure to supporting his family. He grows up in this book, and becomes, as the title suggests, the man of the family.

As his siblings also grow up, we see more of them than we did in the first book and see Ralph act as a kind of father figure to them, passing on the very skills his father taught him.

The Moody’s place in their community

We also see in this book just how beloved the Moody family is by their community. After Mr. Moody dies, all of their neighbors go out of their way to help them out, whether that be loaning them a purebred milk cow, or the shopkeeper throwing in some of his finest cuts of meat with the rest of their groceries as “a gift for the dog.”

Living by principle

Ralph takes to heart the lessons his father taught him before he died, and begins to live and work in accordance with those principles. This means that he gives each man he works for his money’s worth, always stands “above board,” and tells the truth.

One of the things Ralph Moody does particularly well is to address moral dilemmas in a way that doesn’t feel heavy-handed. Like most of us, Ralph is far from perfect. In the first book, we saw him lie to his father and witnessed the conversation that ensued between them afterward about our house of character. In the second book, he becomes frustrated and raises his voice at his mother. She lets him finish, then gently reminds him that his father never raised his voice at her. Ralph is quick to take note, vows never to do this again and keeps his word.

Later in this book, Ralph encounters a dilemma about whether or not to stretch out a job for several more hours, because he believes the job is worth the extra wages. But in the end he remembers what his father taught him and makes the right decision.

Although Ralph frequently feels pulled in different directions and even tempted, he has been given the tools to make the right and moral choice. Best of all, he exposes us to his thought processes as he struggles. I think that showing children examples of how people work through moral dilemmas (of whatever magnitude) is important, and this book does just that in a warm and good-humored sort of way.

Living by faith

Their family is also one of a deep faith. From the very opening of the first book, we see them place their trust in God whenever they encounter difficulties. No matter how dire their situation seems, they always find that God provides for them in unexpected ways. The morality that is so integral to their family’s ethos is rooted in their religious beliefs and experiences, which they refer to frequently throughout the series.

Share your experience

Do you have a favorite example of a literary character who strives to live by principle and/or live by faith? Please let us know in a comment below!

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