Literature Archives - Page 2 of 9 - Eva Varga

April 6, 201522

I  have always enjoyed classic literature – especially historical fiction. However, as a child I didn’t have the opportunity to study Shakespeare. The school counselors – in their infinite wisdom – hadn’t set me on the college tract. I thereby listened in envy to my peers talk about the Shakespeare play they were learning about in Honors English.

When I began homeschooling, I knew that I wanted to make Shakespeare accessible to my children. I wanted them to be familiar with his works – regardless of what they chose to do in later life.

As I began to sprinkle Shakespeare into our studies, was a little apprehensive. I had to admit I didn’t know much about this man of many words, but for their sake I was determined to figure it out. We have tried a number of activities and strategies over the years. Essentially, building a middle school Shakespeare unit takes just five steps.

Admin Note: This photo is from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s “Much Ado About Nothing”. We will be seeing this play next month. 

Much Ado About Shakespeare @EvaVarga.net1. Introduce the Play

First, take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with the plot and story line. You can then freely enjoy the details without having to keep track of who is who. One of our newest additions to our library is The Shakespeare Book (Big Ideas Simply Explained).  {Many thanks to DK Publishing for providing the book to us for review. Please see my full Disclosure Policy for more details.}

What a valuable resource! This easy to use but very comprehensive book offers background on the characters, a timeline of events throughout the performance, themes, and plot summary, along with an overview of the legacy of each show.

There is also a nice biography of Shakespeare’s life in the beginning of the book and a timeline of each play written during the various phases of his career: when he was a freelance writer, as a shareholder in Lord’s Chamberlain’s theater company, and when his company was given a royal patent by by King James. Throughout the book, you really get to know Shakespeare as well as his plays. I know we will be referencing this book for many years to come.

Enter the giveaway below for a chance to win a copy of this book for yourself. 


If you haven’t studied Shakespeare in the past, it is a good idea to begin with a biography. There are many to choose from – for all levels of readers.

A few that we have enjoyed in the past are:

Biographies by Diane Stanley are sooo wonderful they transport you; Bard of Avon: The Story of William Shakespeare is no exception. The information is concise and clear yet is not watered down. This is someone that really understands writing books for children that adults can enjoy using as teachers or parents.  The text provides a great picture of who Shakespeare was and how the political and popular culture of his day reacted to his plays.

The “Who Was” series of books are wonderful. They are very informative and include a few illustrations which make learning about historical characters, scientists, writers, etc. fun for kids. Who Was William Shakespeare? even includes a great vocabulary list, which I appreciated for our homeschool lessons.  Mannis creates many interesting asides in this short book, including words and phrases that were coined by the Bard, an explanation of blank verse, what school was like, the politics of the time, big city London, and how the Globe Theatre came about.

Picture Books

To introduce the basics of the plot, I begin by reading aloud from Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb or Shakespeare’s Stories for Young Readers by Edith Nesbit.

Other favorites include:

2. Learn Some Lines

Copywork is the practice of copying someone else’s writing in your own hand. We keep a notebook specifically for copying noteworthy poems, prose, and quotes. When we are studying Shakespeare, we select lines of personal interest. I also utilize these same excerpts for dictation.

Shakespeare Monologues is the perfect site to find longer selections for memory work. Actors use this site to find selections for auditions. You can search for women’s or men’s monologues and then by play title.

Another great site for Shakespeare quotes is Absolute Shakespeare.

3. Watch the Play

We know that Shakespeare wrote drama to be performed in a theater not “literature” to be analyzed during language arts lessons. So reading his plays doesn’t achieve the same effect as watching a performance.

Enjoy a Movie

Many of the bard’s plays have also been adapted for film. This is a great way to prepare children for a live production – allowing them to see the full story as it unfolds on the television screen.

TIP :: Violence, profanity, and even nudity are all issues in many Shakespeare plays. Be sure to preview the movies yourself to decide if it is appropriate – and enjoyable – for your family.

Film adaptations we have enjoyed include:

Find a Live Production

The play we study in our homeschool is based on what will be performed locally – this year, we will see Much Ado About Nothing as well as Antony & Cleopatra – both are family productions (reduced price) at Oregon Shakespeare Festival. High schools, local theaters, and area acting companies are all likely places to find the occasional Shakespeare play. Ask around and see if there are groups you don’t know about yet.

If you attend plays regularly, you might be interested in Shakespeare Passport, a virtual ticket that gives you access to events and museums all over the world. It’s easy to use your mobile device as a virtual ticket or discount coupon. The website lists numerous venues all over the world where Shakespeare’s plays are staged.

Here are few highly esteemed venues in California and Oregon:

TIP :: You might inquire about volunteering as ushers in exchange for tickets. This is a great way to attend theater if the ticket price is not in your budget.

Scripts allow actors the opportunity to interpret their characters and reflect on different facets of humanity as they do so. Shakespeare’s plays and themes are complex, as life and people are. I absolutely love to watch multiple versions of a play and see how differences of inflection, of setting, and of context put completely different spins on the lines. This is the beauty of Shakespeare.

One of my favorite productions was Romeo & Juliet performed at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival several years ago.  During the preface, the director stated that because Romeo & Juliet was a play of contrasts, he chose to highlight the contrasts.  The most evident way he accomplished this was in his choice of costuming.  The  older generation – the parents and their employed – wore Elizabethan costumes whereas the young generation – the young lovers and their friends – wore modern day apparel including school team uniforms.  He further emphasized the contrasts with their speech – taking liberty with the prose originally penned by Shakespeare for the youth.

A few years later we enjoyed another OSF production of Romeo & Juliet. This time, it was set in Northern California in the mid-17th century – a vibrant and conflicted time in our history.  Romeo and Juliet – the son and daughter of two landed families (one Mexican & the other Spanish) locked in an old feud. Spanish was woven into the tapestry of the Victorian English much to my delight!

4. Read the Script

Though Shakespeare wrote to be performed, there is still great value in reading his plays with their beautiful use of English. However, there’s more than one way to read a text.

A great way to read Shakespeare is to give each student a copy and play an audiobook version while you all follow along. Hearing someone who knows how the lines flow read them aloud helps immensely with comprehension.

5. Perform the Play (optional)

You can actually bring the theater home by acting out Shakespearean plays in your living room. Dress up and be actors, or use puppets instead.

Although it would be valuable, you don’t have to have costuming and rehearsals in order to give your children the chance to act out Shakespeare. Here are some other low-key, low-commitment ways to add performance to your homeschool:

  • Create a LEGO iStop motion of your favorite scene complete with your own voices
  • Illustrate a graphic novel or comic book of selected scenes
  • Memorize a monologues and deliver it as though you are auditioning
  • Take a Shakespeare theater class – many of the venues I listed above have camps and workshops for children of all ages

Much Ado About Nothing

Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing is a fun comedy about two couples—one in a “merry war” of words. It is one of two plays we will be seeing performed live this year. Below you will find a variety of free resources to help you put together a unit study on this delightful comedy.

Much Ado Quotes ~ With this worksheet, your teen will translate Shakespeare’s words into modern language, match up characters with their descriptions, and assign quotes from the play to who said them.

Call me Shakespeare ~ Review the hijinks of one of Shakespeare’s most famous comedies with song (accompanying worksheet on characterization is included).

Jimmie Lanley has a great collection of Hands-on Shakespeare activities on HubPages.

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March 9, 20151

I recently sat down with my daughter to discover what subjects she wanted to study. Greek and Norse Mythology were at the top of her list. I was not surprised. For the past few months, my middle school aged daughter has been fascinated with thePercy Jackson series. I thereby was not surprised that she used the Barnes & Noble gift card she received for Christmas to purchase the boxed set.

mythslegendsTeaching mythology in middle school and high school is a great way to get students interested in reading, writing, and researching ancient history. With the recent popularity of Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan as well as Harry Potter and The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings, it has never been easier to capture their attention.

Getting Started with Myths & Legends

Using the book Myths & Legends from DK Publishing as a spine for this unit, I began to gather materials and projects to engage her in a self-guided unit study.  {Many thanks to DK Publishing for providing the book to us for review. Please see my full Disclosure Policy for more details.}

This book retells the stories central to every culture that have been passed down from generation to generation. Well known tales from the Ancient Greeks, as well as lesser-known, but richly colorful, myths of the Americas and the East are included.

What was most appealing about this book was how universal themes such as creation, heroic trials, tricksters’ tales, and death and the afterlife are compared across different cultures. The cultures featured are:

  • Classical Europe (Roman & Greek)
  • Northern, Western, and Eastern Europe
  • Asia
  • Africa
  • The Americas and Oceania

Myths & Legends Philatelic Exhibit

The past few months, my daughter has been utilizing her knowledge of myths & legends to put together a philatelic exhibit entitled, Mythology of the World. She has gathered a variety of philatelic material (postage stamps, first day covers, cancellation marks, as well as postcards and maximum cards) to create a visual story of of how myths & legends continue to captivate us today.

She has entered her project in both local and regional exhibitions and placed well considering how quickly she put it together. She is excited to use the Myths & Legends book from DK Publishing to expand her projects. Her vision is to improve on this one as well as create additional exhibits – one each for British, Greek, and Norse mythology. {A single frame exhibit, as shown below, typically has 16 pages (8 1/2 x 11″).}

A philatelic exhibition is an exhibition of stamps and postal history where stamp collectors (philatelists) compete for medals. The displays are shown in glass frames, and the exhibition is normally accompanied by stamp dealer bourses and post office stands where stamps and other philatelic items may be purchased.

National Mythology Exam

During our research, we also learned of the National Mythology Exam (NME), the most prominent undertaking of Excellence Through Classics, a committee of the American Classical League dedicated to promoting and supporting the study of classics. This seemed like the perfect challenge for her and she was equally intrigued. She plans to take the exam in 2016.

For students in grades 6-9, the examination process consists of a basic 30-item exam, 10 questions on the theme (Theseus), and at least one 10-item literary sub-test of the student’s choice of the following:

  • Iliad
  • Odyssey
  • Aeneid
  • Native American tales
  • African tales
  • Norse Mythology

Homeschooled students are welcome to take the NME. Parents are expected to serve as proctors of the exam, following the same procedures lined out for regular classroom teachers.

The National Mythology Exam website also provides suggestions for texts and resources.

Myths & Legends Unit Resources

In preparation for the NME, I will continue to gather materials and resources for her. We’ve begun to discuss additional projects and activities to help her in her quest.

Some teachers use mythology as a stand-alone unit; other teachers have entire, year-long courses dedicated to the study of myths and legends from around the world. No matter how you choose to teach myths and legends, you’re bound to find some helpful resources here.

  • Greek Mythology – This website contains copies of the Greek stories as well as a wide variety of notes, worksheets, and activities
  • Ticia shares a fun scavenger hunt activity in her post, Greek Mythology Lesson
  • The Scholastic book Greek Mythology Activities includes a mock interview with a god or goddess, a reproducible board game, mapping activities, a read-aloud play, and lots more
  • Classical Mythology – This website provides an extensive list of activities and lessons for the study of mythology with middle school students

October 10, 20142

Teddy Roosevelt once said that he was educated by traveling the world with trunks full of books that they brought on the ship as the crossed the Atlantic.  Sounds like a dream come true – to be have the means to travel and to be surrounded by books.

Though not everyone has the means to travel, through books you can luxuriate in the possibilities, swimming around in a place’s past, present, and future. How better to enrich the experience of travel than to immerse oneself in a the culture and history of your destination than through quality literature?

This post may contain affiliate links. 


Reading aloud is widely recognized as the single most important activity leading to literacy acquisition.  Reading aloud not only builds vocabulary and literacy, but can also develops a child’s awareness and appreciation for global cultures.

If you enjoy reading aloud to your children as much as I do, why not choose books that might inspire them to go see the world? Here are some fun titles to consider that I selected in anticipation for our upcoming trip to the Galápagos Islands.

Island: A Story of the Galápagos by Jason Chin

Island is above all a wonder-filled story of epic proportions. Jason Chin thrills the reader with the geological and biological processes that led to the Galápagos Islands we know today. He writes:

“…in order to create an engaging story, I have included events and details that are necessarily speculative. . . [but the] island formation, species colonization, and evolution described in this book are real. This story is based on science, but brought to life through my imagination…”

An Old Shell: Poems of the Galapagos by Tony Johnston

Johnston’s collection of poems records her observations during a trip to the Galápagos, which she characterizes as a place “wild and vast and stark, looking out over the endless and shining sea.” All the poems are short and the black and white illustrations are perfect. She uses a variety of poetry style – rhyming couplets, blank verse, and haiku – to recount her experiences in the islands.  What I like best about this book is that it provides children with the encouragement to think about and write about their natural world.

Galapagos George by Jean Craighead George

Jean Craighead George is one of my most beloved children’s authors and is best known for the My Side of the Mountain trilogy and Julie of the Wolves.  Galápagos George introduces children to the wonders of the natural world in this incredible evolution story set in the Galápagos Islands. Like many of her non-fiction works, it also features key terms, a timeline, and further resources for research.

This is the story of the famous Lonesome George, a giant tortoise who was the last of his species, lived to be one hundred years old, and became known as the rarest creature in the world. His story gives us a glimpse of the amazing creatures inhabiting the ever-fascinating Galápagos Islands.

What Darwin Saw: The Journey That Changed the World by Rosalyn Schanzer

I was impressed by this non-ficton picture book. Not only are the illustrations beautiful, it is filled with scientific details, snippets from Darwin’s journals and letters, and notes of explanation. Information is presented in an engaging format. I found it easy to incorporate into our unit study and the illustrations inspired us to try to emulate.

Galapagos at the Crossroads by Carol Ann Bassett

For many, the Galápagos Islands represent nature at its most unspoiled, famed for its rare flora and fauna. Today, the islands face many perils including a growing human population, invasive species, floods of tourists, and unresolved conflicts between Ecuadorian laws and local concerns. Galápagos at the Crossroads by Carol Ann Bassett provides an alarming portrait of today’s Galápagos Islands.

I really enjoyed this book and it opened my eyes to the peril the islands are facing. The anecdotes Bassett shared also helped to make global connections between the harvesting of sea cucumbers in the islands to the demand for these in China (which we observed during our travels a year ago). Though this book is written with adults in mind, reading aloud select chapters would provide middle school students with an understanding of these endangered islands.

July 23, 2014

Finishing Strong ~ Homeschooling the Middle & High School Years #21

Happy Wednesday!

Can you believe we’re already looking at the end of July? Sure, we’re still in the thick of summer, but we’re willing to bet that you’ve already started preparing your lesson plans for the new year.

To help you out, we have decided to take a few weeks to highlight a few favorite posts that have been linked up with us recently, relating to specific subjects.

Today we’re starting with language arts.

Literature Studies: Chaucer – A Retelling of a Knight’s Tale from Angelicscalliwags

Writing Enrichment: Make a Book from Karen Trina Childress

How to Approach Language Arts in High School from Sweetness & Light

High School Skills: Analyzing Text from Blog She Wrote

Fun With Writing for Teens: Online Product Reviews from Education Possible

American Icon: Ernest Hemingway – A High School Literature Study from Eva Varga

Join us next week as we take a look at our favorite posts for teaching history in your home school.

Don’t forget to check out all of the co-hostsAspired Living, Blog She Wrote, Education Possible, EvaVarga, Milk and Cookies, Starts at Eight, and Tina’s Dynamic Homeschool Plus.

Bloggers, by linking up, you may be featured on our co-hosts’ social media pages or our Pinterest board. We may even select you to be featured in a future post!

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July 13, 20149

When discussing American literature, the name that comes to mind most prominently is Ernest Hemingway. His writing style has greatly influenced 20th-century literature as much as his life of adventure has inspired later generations.

In anticipation for our holiday in Florida earlier this year, the kids and I enjoyed listening to The Old Man and the Sea on audio. We had planned a fishing excursion in the Gulf of Mexico and I knew his short story would captivate our imaginations.  To my surprise, it provided us with so much more.


While listening to the book, my mom had reminded me that it was possible to visit his home in Key West. We couldn’t pass up the opportunity. Though I think the kids were most excited to meet the polydactyl cats that Hemingway was so fond of and whom my mother had shared stories.

We arrived just as they opened and joined in on the first tour. Our docent was very knowledgeable and sprinkled quotes and references from his books throughout the tour. As we learned more about his life and many adventures, the kids were increasingly interested in knowing more.  “He went on a safari in Africa?”  “He was at the Normandy landings?”

While browsing titles in the book store, I came across  Write Like Hemingway: Writing Lessons You Can Learn from the Master. I showed it to my daughter and her immediate reaction was, “Can I study Hemingway like we study Shakespeare?”

“Yes. Certainly. We can do a full year of American Literature,” I responded. Thus, my planning and preparation have begun.


ErnestHemingwayBorn and raised in a suburb of Chicago, Ernest Miller Hemingway (July 21, 1899 – July 2, 1961) was an American author and journalist.  His family owned a summer home in Michigan where he learned to hunt, fish, and camp in the woods and along the lake shore. His early experiences in nature instilled a passion for outdoor adventure and living in remote or isolated areas.

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”

During World War I, Hemingway volunteered to serve with the American Red Cross and signed on to become an ambulance driver in Italy. It was July 8, 1918, when young Hemingway experienced his most significant life-changing moment. While on his late-night rounds for a military canteen, delivering cigarettes and chocolates to Italian soldiers near the Piave River, a trench mortar shell exploded, killing one infantryman and throwing metal fragments and shards into Hemingway’s body.

“The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.”

Hemingway produced most of his work between the mid-1920s and the mid-1950s, and won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954. Many of his works are considered classics of American literature.

His recovery, in a hospital in Milan, helped to forge the passion and the imagination that led to numerous works, including several short stories; his first great novel, The Sun Also Rises; and his landmark war (or anti-war) novel, A Farewell to Arms.

Shortly after the publication of The Old Man and the Sea (1952), while on safari in Africa, he was almost killed in two successive plane crashes that left him in pain or ill health for much of his remaining lifetime. Hemingway maintained permanent residences in Key West, Florida (1930s) and Cuba (1940s and 1950s), and in 1959, he bought a house in Ketchum, Idaho, where he took his own life.

HemingwayHomeBring it Home

I am excited that my kids have enjoyed learning about him and have asked to learn more. I have only begun to scratch the surface on the possibilities for activities and lessons with which we can explore Hemingway’s literary works. Here are a few ideas to help you get started as well:

  • Join or start a book club and read one or more of Ernest Hemingway’s novels.
  • Listen to the audio version of The Old Man and the Sea read by Donald Sutherland.
  • Research the historical setting of one of his novels and learn more about the time period. How did the current events at the time of his writing influence his work?
  • Write a literary analysis of a collection of his short stories.
  • Explore his writing style using Write Like Hemingway: Writing Lessons You Can Learn from the Master as a guide.
  • Take a virtual tour of his home in Key West, Florida.
  • Read a biography of Hemingway and prepare a living history presentation.
  • Compare / contrast Hemingway’s work with one of his contemporaries: John Steinbeck, F. Scott Fitzgerald, amongst others.

“There is no rule on how to write. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly; sometimes it’s like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges.”

How about you?

What is your favorite Hemingway title? Did you study Hemingway when you were in school?  What do you remember most? How have you explored his work with your students?

June 16, 20146

The Mysteries in Our National Parks series tells the heart-pounding adventures of brother-and-sisters, 12-year old Jack and 11-year-old Ashley Landon. Traveling with their mother, Olivia, a wildlife biologist, and their father, Steven, a nature photographer, the kids visit many of the country’s magnificent National Parks where they always seem to stumble upon a puzzle that only they can solve.

From confronting environmental challenges like the effect of snowmobiles in Alaska’s Denali park, speedboaters injuring manatees in Florida’s Everglades, or wild white mustangs in Utah’s Zion, the Landon’s adventures will keep kids on the edge of their seats while they learn about our country’s natural heritage and the role we all have in understanding and protecting it for the future.

mysteries national parks

In anticipation of our trip to Florida this past spring, we enjoyed reading Deadly Waters: A Mystery in Everglades National Park. Like all of the books in the series, it addresses environmental issues relevant to the location as well as provides a great description of the Everglades. Each chapter ends with a “cliff hanger” assuring the kids will want to keep turning pages.  Don’t just take my word for it, my daughter wrote her own review of the book on her blog.

Another book we have enjoyed in the series is Wolf Stalker: A Mystery in Yellowstone National Park. It gets off to a fast-paced start when someone shoots and wounds one of the wolves recently reintroduced into the park. Jack and Ashley accompany their parents to Yellowstone Park when Mrs. Landon is called in to investigate the incident.

Another theme that is woven into each story is that the Landons are a foster family. Each story introduces us to a child who is living with the Landons temporarily. The exact circumstances vary yet as the Landons integrate this young person into their family, their presence becomes crucial to the outcome of the mystery.

The series has pulled us in and we look forward to reading more as they become available. These exciting books emphasize the natural beauty and dangers of the wild while also incorporating a few survival tips.

Lessons and Activities

Skurzynski’s books work well for kids’ book club with each student reading a different title and sharing a brief synopsis. There are many activities that lend themselves well to mini-lessons. I share a few ideas here:

  • Learn more about the environmental issue addressed in the book – write an expository report
  • Research an animal (wolf, manatee, etc.) and design an informative poster
  • For older students, focus on one literary element (character, plot, setting, etc.) and together orally analyze that element
  • Find out more about the National Park Service. How long has it been in existence? What is its main purpose? What do you think it would be like to be a park ranger?
  • Research the history and physical layout of a National Park. Draw a map of the park and label the geographical features, park headquarters, or make an illustrated time line of the park’s history.
  • Visit the website of a National Park and explore some of the distance learning activities and lesson ideas.
  • Write a letter to a park ranger at a National Park to learn more.
  • Become a Junior Ranger at a National Park near you or become a Web Ranger.

Author Study

“May you live in interesting times.”  That ambiguous wish was not meant to be kind, because interesting times can be difficult. You and I certainly live in interesting times – dangerous, challenging, and fascinating. ~ Gloria Skurzynski 

Gloria Skurzynski is the author of more than fifty books for children and young adults, including Virtual War, a popular science fiction thriller series.  The Mysteries in Our National Parks series is a collaboration with her daughter, Elaine Ferguson. It is published by the National Geographic Society who wanted to reach out to young readers who might not be attracted to a straight, nonfiction presentation. Packaging facts into a fast-paced adventure has turned out to be a recipe for success. 


For more fun literature connections, visit the iHomeschool Network linkup, A Book and Big Idea: SummerBookBigIdeaSummer