Cool Shakes 

Kids can conquer Shakespeare

6/18-6/22

Every year, as students across the country struggle through A Midsummer Night's Dream, legions of children are given bad marks for droning lines they don't understand. And every year, as other, perhaps older, kids deliver Hamlet's soliloquy, suicide comes to seem like a viable option. "To be or not to be" a complete ass in front of all your friends? Whether it's better in the mind of a twelve-year-old "to suffer the slings and arrows" of an attacking army than to be humiliated before the girl you have a crush on? These are the kinds of real questions that arise from an encounter with Will. But anyone who experienced the Bard in college knows that to have at least a cursory knowledge of the plays and sonnets is to become familiar with the major plot lines of most of the Western world's literature. More fundamental still, to meet Shakespeare's poetry is to meet idiom upon idiom that we rely on daily. From "dead as a doornail" and "all that glitters is not gold" to "haven't slept a wink" and "devil incarnate," we have Mr. Shakespeare to thank for enriching English these last four hundred years. But how to repair the breach between kids and the Bard? Bay Area Shakespeare Camp sets out to make Elizabethan English not only intelligible but delectable for seven-to-thirteen-year-olds. The formula of the camps, which begin June 16, is first to take Shakespeare out of the classroom and into parks whenever possible -- John Hinkel Park in Berkeley and Lake Temescal Park in Oakland. Next, it divides the kids by age and gives each group age-appropriate goals. All campers happily learn to hurl Shakespearean insults at one another, and a favorite of the camp is "Dead Ends," in which kids learn famous death scenes from the plays. Stagecraft and design are taught, and every child gets a chance to act, not just haul scenery. On the last day, campers appear in a performance open to family and friends, proving once again that "the play's the thing." There are five two-week sessions June 16-August 22. Call 510-981-5150 for scholarship details. To register or for more information, call 415-422-2222 or 800-978-PLAY, or visit sfshakes.org/camp/ -- Ann Murphy

SAT 6/7

Diver Down

Reading water

As if the air conditioning alone weren't enough to get you into the Oakland Public Library during the summer, staffers have planned a shelf-load of reading incentives and activities to get kids through the hot months. Dive into Books is this year's title, but participants are encouraged to look beyond the undersea theme when they get to the stacks. Those who log in just eight hours of reading -- using a special game board -- between now and August 16 can qualify for prizes like passes to Children's Fairyland and Chabot Science and Space Center, pizza from Round Table, new books, temporary tattoos, fingernail decals, a ferryboat ride, even a ticket to an A's game. Check out www.oaklandlibrary.org or call 510-238-6706 for more information. -- Stefanie Kalem

SAT 6/7

Make Adults Do Stupid Things

Comedians are made, not born. Kids with a sense of humor, wisecracking kids, smart-mouth kids, kids that talk out of turn, kids that just can't shut up, and, yes, the perpetually hyperactive, here's a fun way for you to spend a quick afternoon -- Zamfoo! It's the junior division of Jayne Entwistle's Oakland Playhouse Improv Troupe, which means that devilish young minds in the audience are encouraged to blurt out absurd suggestions to the players, and the adults act on them. Imagine the comic scenes and songs they'll come up with. The fun begins at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Black Box, 1928 Telegraph Ave., Oakland, 510-451-1932. www.theoaklandplayhouse.com -- Kelly Vance

THU 6/5

Lit Support

Eastern Alameda County parents with infants and toddlers now have their own support, er ... that is, reading group. Family Read Nights are designed for newborn kids through age four, and are presented by Child Care Links through an Every Child Counts Grant from Alameda County Children and Families Commission. They take place at locations in Pleasanton and Livermore from 6 to 7 p.m. every Thursday in June. English story sessions happen June 5 and 19 at Hill N Dale Preschool (4150 Dorman Rd., Pleasanton) and June 12 and 26 at Livermore Playschool (5261 East Ave.); Spanish sessions are June 5 at the CAPE Site at 800 Marilyn Ave., Livermore and June 19 at the CAPE Site at 560 Jackson Ave, Livermore. -- Stefanie Kalem

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