Monday, August 24, 2009


Married at nineteen years of age to Anne Hathaway, William Shakespeare lived in Stratford-Upon-Avon, where the couple had three children: Susanna and their twins, Hamnet and Judith.

As a child, William enjoyed the roving groups of players that came to his town to perform. These experiences must have stuck with him and sown the seeds of ambition that would send him away from his family to launch a career in the bustling, disease-filled, theatre-busy metropolis of London.

The children in The Shakespeare Club explore the stories of Shakespeare's life and then journal about what they've learned. Of particular and graphic interest is the plague spread by the fleas that bit the rats that ate the poop dumped from the windows. They love this stuff.

They identify with Shakespeare's characters, who are driven by revenge, power and love. The kids write about their own experiences with those desires.

Except Luis. For the three years that Luis has been in The Shakespeare Club, I've opened his journal to find blank pages. Occasionally, there'll be one line or a picture, but usually the start of a sentence and then nothing.

Luis can read Shakespeare aloud but he struggles with spelling. I think when he sees letters they jumble into a hornet's nest for him and well...I'm guessing Luis sees letters like I see fractions.

This year I asked his teacher, Mr. Byron, if I could spend an hour a week alone with Luis to work on his writing. He encouraged me to go for it.

"Okay, Luis, Mr. Byron says your class has an assignment to write an essay about home."


Luis spills his response with the exhaustion of a man at the end of a day of hard labor.

"You seem pretty tired, Luis."

"Yeah." He yawns and lays his head down on his hands.

"What time do you go to bed?"

"When I want...kinda late, I guess. Then I tell my mom I need water and I go to the bathroom and hang around in there....I can't sleep."

"Hmmm, you're probably a night owl, but you're also an actor in training and you need sleep because the one thing Sir Andrew Aguecheek is not is tired. That guy's got energy to burn."

"Yeah. I didn't have lunch today either."

"Here." I give Luis a bag of roasted almonds and dried cranberries.

"Thanks, Ms. Ryane. What are these things?"


"They're good."

"After we do some work, I'm going to teach you an exercise to help you sleep."

"Hmmm." He nods but can't say much because he's crunching nuts and berries.

"Luis, open your journal to a fresh page."

He does, picks up his pencil and continues munching.

"Ms. Ryane?"


"I don't understand the economy....Did they make the economy bad on purpose...or what happened to it....Like, I don't want you to spend all your economy on me with these snacks."

Here's a word that has popped up a lot with the kids in The Shakespeare Club. The economy.

Why can't we do...? Why can't we go...? Why can't we have...?

The economy.

"Luis, I don't think anyone made the economy bad on purpose...but it does affect all of us....We're in it together and things are going to get better...can't give you a date...but they'll improve. In the meantime, enjoy the nuts and berries....My economy can handle it."

I asked Luis to make what I call a writer's "shopping list." Things he thinks about when he thinks of a home. For almost every word he asks for spelling help and I give it to him.

He writes:

    safe street
    ice cream

Luis wrote an essay about a house he used to live in with his parents and older sister on a street where he could play outside. He wrote of how his sister would take him to the pet store, how she liked to look at colorful fish and how he liked the lizards. They would go to the ice cream shop, where she chose strawberry and he chose chocolate and they'd walk home licking their dripping cones. Then his sister moved out, got married and had a baby boy. Luis and his parents moved into an apartment on a busy street.

The sad thing is I miss my sister, he wrote. My dad bought me a lizard because I was lonely.

"Luis, go to the top of those steps and lie down."

He climbs up the storytime risers, lies down and folds his hands over his tummy. I sit in a chair at the bottom.

"Close your eyes, take a deep breath and exhale. Imagine that your feet are little pats of butter melting on a hot stack of pancakes....Now your ankles are melting down the pancakes...and your knees...and your chest...and your ears...."

I let Luis melt away for ten minutes.

He woke up, stretched his skinny arms overhead and said, "Wow, that was weird. I really disappeared or something."

"Luis, tonight try that when you go to bed. And by the way, congratulations on your essay....Someday it might be a good idea to share that story with your sister. I'm pretty sure she would like it a lot."


Dear Anne Hathaway,

I really miss you & I hope you miss me to. I hope it's going really good where ever you are. Wife I really want to go home but I have too much things to do. Don't worry darling I will come home some day. Take really good care of our kids & tell them that I miss them a lot.

Your Husband
—Meara, 5th grade


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