Summer Books: The Beowulf Notebooks, Day One

Summer Books The beowulf notebooks day one

An illustration from Gareth Hinds' Beowulf from

An illustration from Gareth Hinds’ Beowulf from

This going to be a lit-heavy Summer of Funner…And by that, I mean, we are going to read some of the “classics” and relate to them by taking notes, drawing, memorizing bits, writing about them, re-writing them, or writing original work inspired by them. And the theme of this summer? Well, that would be “dystopias.” Why “dystopias”? Well, the kids are so excited about “problem” books or “dystopias” such as the Hunger Games series and Divergent that I thought it might be a good idea to have a look at the more powerful and inspiring models these “enjoyable throwaways” draw from …We’ll spend the whole summer reading dystopias of various sorts and examining the “heroes” in each. And, in August, the kids will slowly and steadily write and illustrate the story of a hero in a dystopia of their own creation.

Screen Shot 2013-07-04 at 6.32.10 AMFirst up, Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf. Why?  For one, the kids are already familiar with the story.  They have Gareth Hinds’ 2007 graphic version of Beowulf. And, of course, the song of Beowulf fits well into our “hero in a dystopia” theme. The poem surveys the life of a hero in a ravaged landscape. Beowulf’s initial heroism, however, is challenged when the mother of the dark, grim figure Grendel seeks vengeance for the death of her “son.” Later on in life, Beowulf meets the challenge of killing a fearsome dragon, but not without finally losing his own life. Even at the end of the epic poem, one has a sense of discord and the turmoil to come.

So, how are we approaching Beowulf this week? Since Beowulf was a poem meant to be memorized and recited or sung out loud, I am reading the kids the poem in three parts from Wednesday to Friday.  It takes about 75-90 minutes to read 1/3 of the piece, even when stopping for bathroom breaks, stretching, and to explain what’s going on. [It could easily be read in five shorter sections over the course of a week instead of our three.] Meanwhile, in their Yesterday Books, the kids are taking notes on “plot” and “characters” and their “favourite phrases.” [I’m not correcting their spelling..] And they’re drawing whatever images come to mind. Wednesday’s reading took place on the back porch.

Here are some photos of the Beowulf Notebooks, Day One:
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