What do you do when the thing you want doesn’t exist?
You can find a compromise or you can CREATE it yourself! At Dundas Central Public School, a group of students chose to do the latter!
What did they do?
Meet Rob Bell, and a few of his students who co-authored This is Shakespeare!. Mr. Bell and his 4th and 5th Grade class could not find a comprehensive book about the life and writings of Shakespeare for kids. His class set of an out-of-print biography had started falling apart, and rather than settling for any book, his class decided to write the book they wished they could find.
The students began the book in the fall and were able to complete the book by the end of the school year. When they came back from the summer break, the students held their book launch at Indigo in Ancaster, which carries the book. This is Shakespeare! is also available on Amazon.
Meet some of the authors!
MCYU was able to sit down with a few of the authors to capture their experiences writing the book, their expectations going into it, and their opinions looking back once everything had been completed.
When Mr. Bell decided to introduce this project to his students, there was a sense of disbelief when it came to meeting the deadline.
“At first, I thought that it was impossible to create a book within 10 months, and I didn’t think we were going to do it. But we did, so… Yay!”, expressed Seih, a 5th grade student.
In the end, the students agreed that it was a hard project. “A lot of people had different ideas of the book,” so it was difficult to come to a consensus sometimes. Nevertheless, when asked if they would do it again, most said they would, but with a smaller group. The students all agreed that they gained very valuable experiences about how to work collaboratively in a large group.
Why should we read the book?
This is Shakespeare! is a biography about the struggles that Shakespeare faced and how those obstacles led him to become an incredible playwright. It portrays his impact on the English language. Some of the phrases that we use today were actually invented by him! The book has so many fascinating facts about his family and friends, the Globe theatre, his plays, the plague and more! A discovery that made the whole project very engaging for Mr. Bell’s class.
Having children of the same demographic write it, makes it “easier to understand, than if adults wrote it.”
It’s a book written for kids by kids!
Thanks to the help of teachers, McMaster professors, and the public library, students were able to find answers to their questions and access credible information.
Mr. Bell signed up for a class library card at the local branch of the Hamilton Public Library, and, starting in October, the students began taking regular trips to the library, where they did much of their research for the project. They gathered important facts and learned how to cite their sources along the way. Each classmate wrote down the book titles, authors, and page numbers they used so they could account for their ideas and information. You can find the works cited at the back of the book!
In the spring, the class took a trip to McMaster University to meet Dr. Melinda Gough, a Shakespearean scholar, and Myron Groover, an archives and rare books librarian at Mills Library. Dr. Gough spoke to the class about Shakespeare’s life and writing, and Mr. Groover showed the class books from the university’s 17th-century collection connected to Shakespeare’s work.
Fun Fact: Thanks to Mr. Groover, the class got to see The First Folio all the way from the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC. The First Folio is the first published collection of Shakespeare’s plays. Without it, some of Shakespeare’s greatest plays, such as Macbeth, might have never survived.
Once all the research was gathered, it was time to piece it all together! The students grouped the different categories they researched into topics, which later defined each chapter of the book. The hardest part was making sure that the content flowed when going from one fact to the next. Students felt they learned more about Shakespeare this way than when they read about him from a book, because “it’s always better to write stuff down.”
The process of writing was “rough, but very fun. I loved knowing that I was working and I loved writing. I hope to do more things like this in the future!”, wrote Sophie, a 4th grade student who aspires to be an author.
3.) Feedback - More Questions
Students separated into smaller sections to edit. Their part would then be shared with the whole class and any additional corrections were made collectively. They found that receiving peer feedback was constructive and “not too mean”. With such a large group of collaborators, it’s not always easy to have aligning viewpoints. When everyone doesn’t agree, decisions were made through a vote.
“It’s one thing to hand something to a teacher or adult, but if people are spending their money for it, make sure what you hand them is worth it,” said Mr. Bell when it came to the importance of quality.
4.) Book Cover
Knowing that a good cover would help sell their book, they wanted something that stood out. Students would look at book covers in the library to see which ones popped out to them. When they had a good idea of which colours and styles they wanted, they emailed their book designer to help them create it.
With two different covers to choose from by the end, they went to another class to see which cover the younger peers liked more. To their surprise, the younger students chose the cover that the Grade 4 and 5 students didn’t choose! As a result, that became their final cover.
Fun Fact: The Globe Theatre drawn on the front cover was drawn by Seih, one of the students! After realizing there would be an additional cost to buy the rights to the image, the class had an art competition where the winning piece would be featured on the cover instead.
Dundas Central Elementary School published the book and Amazon agreed to be the distributor. “The Amazon platform really makes it possible, showing kids you can do something very adult,” Mr. Bell shared. The multinational platform gave the students the ability to sell their book in different continents such as Europe!
“[We were] excited because we put so much work into it and to see that work paid off, and sell it,” expressed Dylan.
They sent their book to different Shakespeare festivals around the world, even getting an email back from the Stratford festival which agreed to sell the students’ book!
The Indigo Book Launch
On Education Day, Mr. Bell and his class held a book launch at Indigo, Ancaster. The staff informed them that on average, authors are able to sell 2 to 10 books in four hours. The students surpassed expectations by selling 50 books in two hours!
“Most of my classmates, a whole whack of parents and relatives, Mr. Bell, Mr. Varady, staff that worked at Indigo, along with a hundred other customers [were] in the building.” described Seih.
The students interacted with customers as they entered the store, inviting them to check out the book. Some people ignored them, but they just got back up and tried again. “Not everyone is going to think you’re amazing, and talking to strangers is tough,” said Mr. Bell, who was impressed at how his students interacted and handled new situations. Some of the customers even asked the students to sign their book!
“It was cool to say that we could actually sign a book that we wrote!” said Dylan.
Some of the best moments for the students throughout this process was seeing the book finished in contrast to their initial concerns. They were able to discover their potential and the opportunities that came with it. Another highlight for them was learning about selling their book. The class was proud that they could actually make a book, start to finish. Sometimes, you don’t need to be a grownup to start making a contribution or an impact. Many parents saw this as “an excellent learning opportunity and confidence builder,” for their kids.
“A special thanks to Mr. Bell for helping to keep kids excited about learning,” wrote a parent.
This is an amazing example of how youth can Question – Discover – Create to make a lasting impact on their community.