Whatever is Lovely: Poetry, Shakespeare and Charles Dickens


This post in the Home library builders series continues the theme Whatever is Lovely, looking at Poetry, Shakespeare and Charles Dickens.

I enjoy reading poetry with my children! It is one of those things that I haven’t been able to work into our normal daily schedule, so we try to take time once or twice a year to do it as a mini-unit. Sometimes we choose a particular poet, like Robert Frost, and read some of his works. Other times, we just flip through one of our anthologies and read whatever strikes us.

Poetry for Young Children

For my young children, poetry is mainly about listening and learning to enjoy. They are not required to write poems yet. I’d like to investigate Andrew Pudewa’s Developing Linguistic Patterns through Poetry Memorization for possible future use in our homeschool. I just heard about it and it looks wonderful! If anyone has used this, send me a comment about how you liked it.

All of my children have loved A.A. Milne’s poems. His books Now We Are Six and When We Were Very Young belong on every child’s bookshelf. We have them on tape, as well, read by Charles Kurault. The children have memorized many of these delightful poems just by listening in the car or at bedtime. As an added bonus, these are poems adults will also love. I never mind reading or listening to them. It is worth searching for the version recorded by Charles Kurault.

Creating a Family Vocabulary

By the way, when you hear the same poems over and over again, especially as a family, the wording becomes a part of your vocabulary. We often find ourselves quoting from some of these A.A. Milne poems, and everyone knows exactly what is meant. If my oldest son wants something and he knows it is costing me a bit of time or trouble, he sheepishly smiles and quotes from The King’s Breakfast, “Nobody, my darling, could call me a fussy man, but I do like a little bit of butter to my bread!” He is instantly understood.

Another of our favorite poets is Carl Sandburg. From Daybreak to Goodnight has folk art drawings and some humorous poems for children. As an aside, we also like Sandburg’s prose. He is most famous for his Rootabaga stories, but our favorite is The Wedding Procession of the Rag Doll and the Broom Handle, and Who Was In It is still available here for $6. Poetry for Young People is also a good series. It is inexpensive and has many titles, each dedicated to a different poet.

Poetry for Older Children

Last year our oldest son used Matt Whittling’s book The Grammar of Poetry in this endeavor. The idea behind the book is to learn about different rhyme schemes and meter, alliteration and personification and then to write your own poem using what you’ve learned. There are also examples of famous poems included in the book.

He enjoyed doing a unit on poetry, but I think this book would be better for a slightly older child. I plan to revisit it again in eighth grade, as there is a lot of great content in the book. Last year, though, I felt that in some cases he “lost the forest for the trees”. He was so focused on getting the right number of weak and strong stresses into his poem, rather than just listening to the musical rhythm and letting it flow. So this year I am keeping it simple.

This year we are taking a break from marking stress symbols, and figuring out how many feet there are in a line of poetry. Instead, we take about five minutes before his writing time and go over one element of poetry. It has been helpful to solidify what he learned last year in the Grammar of Poetry book, without devoting time to go over all of it again in detail.

We talk about the components of a limerick or a haiku or how to do an ABAB CDCD rhyme scheme. I try to pull an example or two from the internet or from our Top 500 Poems anthology, which was so generously sent to me by a CC School blog reader after she saw my Wish List post! Then he applies what he learned by brainstorming and writing his own poem, often on a history topic that we are studying. Today, for example, he wrote a limerick about Alexander the Great. Last week he wrote an excellent poem about the Battle of Thermopylae.

Poetry and Struggling Readers

Today I had my eight year old sit with me while I casually flipped through the 500 Poems anthology. My goal was not poetry reading at all, truth be told. I wanted to see how his tracking was, as he sometimes skips lines while reading. A friend told me to have him read aloud the first and last letters in each line of a poem, and see if he skipped any lines. We did this as kind of a game, and I read the selected poems aloud before he told me the letters.

I was stunned when this reluctant reader insisted on trying to read each of the chosen poems to himself. This child never picks up a book unless directed to do so, and there he was, nose buried in one of the thickest books in the house! I can only speculate that the short lines, wide margins and rhyme patterns made the reading seem easier to him. I plan to investigate this in the days to come. I’ll let you know if I find poetry helps this emerging reader gain confidence and desire to read alone!

Shakespeare Study

Many families following a Charlotte Mason approach study Shakespeare every year. We use the Classical Method, and have only studied Shakespeare once every four years. My children do enjoy listening to Nesbit’s Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare on mp3 from time to time. We also have a print copy of Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare, as this is another recommended version for children.

I have read that the Lamb’s Tales is easier for children to follow than Beautiful Stories for Children from Shakespeare by Edith Nesbit, but the Nesbit version is still my favorite. There are many editions of Nesbit’s classic. This version (published by Barnes and Noble), is my favorite! Every page has a beautiful detailed border, with classic period illustrations throughout.  My favorite illustrated version is out of print, however.  Even though we only study Shakespeare once every 4 years, we still listen to Nesbit’s book of Shakespeare stories about once a year, just for fun.

True Confessions

I confess, I love this book so much that when I found out it was discontinued, I bought every copy I could scrounge on clearance (going from store to store in my quest) so that they could be distributed to worthy friends who would recognize what a treasure they held! So take a minute:  head over to My Audio School and bookmark Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare for Children.  You and your kids will really enjoy it.

Learning About Shakespeare’s Life

Of course, it is important to learn about Shakespeare, as well. My young children like this book
William Shakespeare and the Globe Theater
by Aliki.

My oldest son foundThe Shakespeare Stealer Series by Gary Blackwood to be exciting reading. This historical fiction book follows an orphan-turned-actor in his adventures as part of Will Shakespeare’s acting troupe, navigating intrigue and betrayal in Elizabethan London.

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens is, of course, another author which deserves his place in every home library. His books pit good against evil in sharp contrast, and his phrasing is masterful. We read A Christmas Carol every year at Christmas, and attend a theatrical performance, as well. We also enjoy the Focus on the Family Radio Theater version, available here for free.

My oldest son read Oliver Twist, and I look forward to introducing him to more Charles Dickens as he gets older. Netflix has several Dickens movies, including some that can be streamed online. Preview, if you have young children. Many of Dickens’ novels deal with young children being harshly treated, and some scenes would be unsettling for young viewers. For young children, I recommend the picture-book biography about Dickens,
Charles Dickens: The Man Who Had Great Expectations
by Diane Stanley and Peter Vennema.

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians 4:8


  1. Poetry is something that I completely neglect. When I have more time, I am going to revisit this post and look at the linked items.
    Shared on LPP at hs meeting tonight. I could tell several were very interested.

  2. poet pooh shake dick

    I am hoping to acquire a larger compilation of poetry. That is on my mental wish list. This year we read Dover’s Favorite Poems of Childhood, and each child had their own favorite.

    We like Pooh too; I have read those to the children. The children will be introduced to Shakespeare next year. He is an old friend.

    As for Mr. Dickens, he is on my present reading list as I gear up for Masterpiece Theatre Classic’s season of Dickens, which will start soon. Right now I am reading “Little Dorrit” and recently finished “The Old Curiosity Shop”.

  3. Hi Molly,

    We’re using Andrew Pudewa’s Poetry Memorization program for the second year now, and I absolutely love it! I just wish I had been able to start it sooner, but even with my boys’ ages (15 and 16) they are benefiting SO MUCH from our daily poetry memorization. The current poem we’re working on is “The Childrens Hour” by Longfellow – read it, and you’ll see why I think it’s absolutely wonderful for these future fathers to have this poem embedded in their minds!


  4. What a lovely post ! Thanks for sharing it in the CM Blog Carnival.

    Grace & Peace,

  5. We love Milne, and have been known to quote a line or two around here as well. We’re loving what we’ve done with Shakespeare so far, too.

  6. I really enjoyed reading your post for the carnival. I think the effort we put into sharing these worthwhile authors with our children is so worth it.

    Thanks for sharing your resources.
    Barb-Harmony Art Mom

  7. Thanks for the lovely post, MOlly. I will have to check out the 100 Poetry book. We really enjoy poetry around here….and we are loving the catechism cd’s that you recommended a while back. The little ones especially, come running when they start to hear the first song!

  8. Lovely post I enjoyed reading!
    Thanks for sharing!

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