February is a hard month for me. It is the middle of winter: the snow is no longer a novelty, and the cold and gray gets to be too much for my spirit at times. I try to lighten up the days literally with candles and sunny yellow tulips from the local supermarket. I’ve grown fond of eating tart lemon curd pudding. I’ve grown too fond in fact!
This past Thursday, February 25th would have been my mother’s 99th birthday. She died almost eight years ago at the age of 91. She had a nice long life, but not long enough for me. I miss her every day. I miss her smile, her shining eyes, her chats about books and kids and recipes. She was my first teacher, and she was also many children’s teacher for over twenty years. She loved her 2nd graders and would regale our family with story upon story of their triumphs and tribulations. Later, I would regale her with stories of my own students.
It was one February day when my dad called to say that my mom had had a heart attack. She was seventy-one at the time. I remember rushing to the hospital where she had to undergo a quadruple bypass operation. I was terrified but tried to hide it. She looked at me, grabbed my hands, and looked me in the eye, “Don’t worry. I am no ready to go. I am going to make it through. I’m not going anywhere.” And I believed her. And she was right. She had an incredibly long and difficult recovery, but in May that year on Mother’s Day, she was finally released from the hospital and began a slow and steady healing process.
February brings with it a bunch of conflicting emotions for me. Time to celebrate my mom’s birth, time to remember and honor her, but also time to miss her and long for her soothing voice and calm reassurance. She would tell me everything was going to be okay, and I would believe her. This February, her 99th year, I wanted to find a way to celebrate her life.
Good morrow, Benedick. Why, what’s the matter
That you have such a February face,
So full of frost, of storm and cloudiness
When I read those words and suddenly a sad, icy facial image came to mind. I smiled to myself. I immediately knew what I was going to do to honor my mom and her love of books and children. I would have my 4th grade students draw and write about February Faces. During class, I explained that I was reading Julie’s blog and came across Shakespeare’s quote. I wanted students to understand that inspiration for writing can come in many different ways and to always be on the lookout for writing ideas. I read the quote and asked the children what they thought a February face might look like. A multitude of adjectives came flying towards me: sad, grumpy, depressed, icicle hair, hard beady eyes, pale blue skin, happy, wrapped in wool, loving February 14th. I loved that I received both positive and negative images of February. After I read the quote, the students said that they wanted to read it aloud. It wasn’t something I planned for but something they all added to the lesson. It was an important way for them to connect to Shakespeare’s words. Many students volunteered, some donning English accents and projecting their dramatic best. This naturally added to their engagement. Before I set them out to write their own poems, I modeled what I thought a February face looked like, drawing a simple sketch on the board. Then I asked the children to help build a poem together. These are two examples of the group poems we created.
After we created the group poems, the girls set to work drawing their February faces and composing their poems. They worked diligently and I cannot wait to see what they finally create. One student called me over to her desk and asked if the February face had to human and gave me a mischievous smile. When I looked at her paper, she was in the process of drawing an Ice Dragon. “Brilliant idea,” I whispered. “Keep working. I want to see what you create!”
More than concentrating purely on the product, I think it is essential for kids to experience the process of generating and idea, brainstorming possibilities, and thinking outside the box to create one’s own images, whether they are visual or written. At first, when I said my writing idea this week was from Shakespeare, they all squirmed in their seats a bit. They thought Shakespeare was going to be too hard for them. But in the end, they realized that they could understand Shakespeare and respond to his words with unique and well-thought out ideas.
This week, I will give them plenty of time to share and respond to each other’s work. I hope Shakespeare will be a source of inspiration for them for years to come.
Shakespeare for Children
- A Stage Full of Shakespeare Stories by Angela McAllister
- Hamlet for Kids by Lois Burdett (Shakespeare Can be Fun! Series)
- Illustrated Stories from Shakespeare by Shakespeare
- Shakespeare 16 Books Children’s Story Collection Set by Tony Ross
- Shakespeare for Kids: 5 Classic Works Adapted for Kids: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Macbeth, Much Ado About Nothing, All’s Well that Ends Well, and The Tempest by Familius
- Tales from Shakespeare by Marcia Williams
- The Shakespeare Book: Big Ideas Simply Explained by DK Media Company