This was a fun day–with colleagues and friends and flowers and fairy dust. And a waffle truck! Here’s the talk I presented at The King’s English Bookshop on April 2, 2016, for my book launch.
As with all Shakespeare plays, the more times I see A Midsummer’s Night Dream, the more I like it. Bottom is always wonderful, of course. But one of the funniest versions I’ve seen was at the Utah Shakespeare Festival a few years back when they were performing the play within the play. It was hysterical. For those who need a refresher on the story, I thought I’d read to you from Y Is for Yorick: A Slightly Irreverent Shakespearean ABC Book for Grown-ups. This is a literary nonfiction book for adults, and one of the books I’ve written that I’m most proud of.
There are now 22 BabyLit titles. Each time I write one, it gets more and more difficult, because I don’t want to repeat myself. I want the primers to reflect the original novels or plays they are representing, but I also want to do something fresh and creative. You don’t want 22 color primers, for example. Sometimes it’s an easy fit—like anatomy for Frankenstein or flowers for The Secret Garden. But sometimes I have to work for a long time to find something that fits well, but feels effortless, like Spanish language for Don Quixote and emotions for Emma. I was very excited when I thought of the idea for fairies for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and so pleased when I found the play had enough fairies in it to fill my primer. But I wanted to do something more complicated and elegant than just list the fairies: Titania, Puck, Peaseblossom, and so on.
Lately I’ve been interested in the idea of blackout poems and I started thinking about them in terms of this text. Blackout poems take a famous poem or quotation or piece of text, and then black out most of the words in such a way that the words they leave form their own new poem. My husband has a friend in the space world who does some really beautiful poetry like this.
So I thought what if I treated the Midsummer’s Night Dream text in this way—blocking out almost all of the play, but just keeping lines and phrases I wanted and then weaving them together into their own new poem. I liked this idea and started to work pulling lines and phrases that were directly related to the fairies in the play—either lines about them, or lines they said. It turned out that it worked wonderfully. The four little helper fairies—Moth Mustardseed, Cobweb, and Peaseblossom—have lovely lines when they are singing their queen, Titania, to sleep. Shakespeare says, “Come now a roundel and a fairy song” and the imagery of singing occurs and reoccurs in the play. Another pattern soon emerged as I played with the text: I could make my own little blackout poem into a lullaby. This is perfect for the age group BabyLit is intended for! I start and end the book with Shakespeare’s image of fairies tripping through the house, protecting its occupants throughout the night until the new break of day. And then within the story the fairies sing and weave their lullaby song.
Another thing I loved so much about writing this book was actually being able to use Shakespeare’s language. The words, the imagery, the rhymes and rhythm are all something I’m very pleased to be able to introduce to the youngest reader. I’m also excited that for one of the first times with a BabyLit title, there is actually enough text that I can share it with you here! So I’ll read the book now, and then we can open it up for any questions. Before I start, there are a couple of definitions I want to share with you for words that you will hear in the poem.
Hobgoblin: A term used in folktales to describe a mischievous spirit.
Roundel: a short poem consisting of three stanzas of three lines each, rhyming alternately, with the opening words repeated as a refrain after the first and third stanzas.
Philomel: in Greek mythology, Philomela was the daughter of Pandion; she was transformed into a nightingale. Her name means “lover of song,” from philos meaning “loving” and melos meaning “tune, song, or melody.”