Why Read Robin Hood?

by Lisa Ripperton
April 11, 2019

​At about the age of eight most children are beginning to move out of the imaginative realm of fairy tales and into the world of heroic action. The heroic period, typically lasting from ages eight to twelve, is an ideal time to read stories that sow seeds that ​will bear fruit in years to come. Thrilled by manifestations of physical bravery, a child in the heroic age craves action, physical action, and is riveted by "literature every page of which is colored by feats of prowess."

​Katherine Dunlap Cather makes the case for Robin Hood

There is no finer adventure tale in any literature than that of Robin Hood, none more satisfying to children in the early heroic period. This statement often brings a cry of remonstrance, and the objection is made that there is danger in portraying an outlaw as a hero, or in picturing the allurement of a brigandish career. But Robin Hood an outlaw? He lived in an age of injustice when might made right. The man of the people was but the chattel of a king, with no rights his lord was bound to respect.

Bold Robin, in the depths of Sherwood Forest, devoted his life to redressing wrongs. He took from the oppressor and gave to the oppressed. He strove to stamp out injustice and tyranny, and his spirit is the foundation of the democracy that underlies every just government today. He was an outlaw, not because he was a criminal, but because he rebelled against the monstrous injustice of his age and strove to ameliorate the condition of the poor and downtrodden. In the time of Henry the Second he was hunted like a deer, but in the twentieth century he would be honored as a great reformer.

Robin's sense of justice appeals to boys and girls, and his fearlessness and kindliness awaken their admiration. They respond sympathetically to the story from the opening chapter, when he enters the forest and Little John joins his band, through the closing one where the hero of the greenwood goes to his final rest. If the tale is told with emphasis upon the true spirit of Robin Hood instead of with a half apology, it will prove wholesome food for the children and will help to make them juster, kinder, and more democratic men and women.

​─ An excerpt from Educating by Story-​Telling
by Katherine Dunlap Cather

​Start with a ballad of Robin Hood

​There are dozens of ballads about Robin Hood. Here are the opening lines of one, as printed in Eva March Tappan's The World's Story: England, to pique your children's interest. Incidentally, stanzas of this very ballad are included in the second chapter of Stories of Robin Hood Told to the Children, recommended below.


When Robin Hood was about twenty years old,
        With a hey down down and a down,
He happend to meet Little John,
​A jolly brisk blade, right fit for the trade,
        For he was a lusty young man.

Tho he was calld Little, his limbs they were large,
        And his stature was seven foot high;
Wherever he came, they quak'd at his name,
        For soon he would make them to fly.

How they came acquainted, I'll tell you in brief,
        If you will but listen a while;
For this very jest, amongst all the rest,
        I think it may cause you to smile.

Bold Robin Hood said to his jolly bowmen,
        Pray tarry you here in this grove;
And see that you all observe well my call,
        While thorough the forest I rove.

We have had no spat for these fourteen long days,
        Therefore now abroad will I go;
Now should I be beat, and cannot retreat,
        My horn I will presently blow.

​Recommended editions

​Among the dozens of retellings of the Robin Hood story, two stand out: Stories of Robin Hood Told to the Children by H. E. Marshall and The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle.

Stories of Robin Hood Told to the Children, as one of the ​titles in the Told to the Children series published by T.C. & E.C. Jack of Edinburgh in the early 1900s, works equally well as a read aloud for younger children and as independent reading ​for students at a fourth grade reading level. In her typical engaging prose, H. E. Marshall sets the Robin Hood stories in their historical context and relates key incidents in the chronicle of Robin Hood and his band of merry men.

In The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood Howard Pyle combines his considerable skills as illustrator and writer to produce a narrative that at the same time captivates and delights. He employs an "old English" idiom using archaic words such as "An" (for "If") and "Sith" (for "Since") in a style reminiscent of the ballads. While this make it a more challenging read (it is one of the "stiffer" books assigned in Year 2 of the Ambleside Online curriculum), it builds capacity for comprehending increasingly complex language, such as students will encounter in Shakespeare and others. ​Most families will want to read this book aloud, as it is suitable for independent reading only by children reading at a high level.

​What may happen

​Reading any of the books about Robin Hood may inspire dramatic play centering around the figures inhabiting Sherwood Forest long ago. Watch for home-made swords or bows and arrows to appear, along with feathered caps and cloaks of forest green!

Or your child may become so fascinated by Robin Hood that he begins a collection of retellings of Robin Hood, and makes well-illustrated editions​ a priority.

Share your experience

​Do you have a favorite retelling of Robin Hood to share? Or a story about how your child was influenced by hearing of Robin Hood and his band of merry men? Please tell us about it in the comments below!

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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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