Seymour Hamilton on The Laughing Princess as Audio and Teaching Tool

As a teacher myself, and in conversation with other teachers, I have often complained that either my students do not do the assigned reading ahead of class, or if they do, it is by flash-reading as they might scan the splash page of a web site.  In the first case, they are not able to enter into a discussion of content, in the second, they have little awareness of the style, tone and language in which the piece was written.  Their study and comprehension of the imaginative literature presented in English classes is reduced to memorizing a stew-pot of messages.

Parents rarely take the time, and seldom have the skill, to read effectively out loud, with the result that most young people read silently.  Teachers face the same constraints of time and ability. Consequently, many students read only for content, never realizing the beauty of words that have been taken from the page and offered as a performance. It is not that they do not know the magic of words: they encounter it daily in the music they listen to, but all too often they cannot unlock that music from the printed page.

The Laughing Princess was written to be read out loud.

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Accordingly, I recorded it so that it can be listened to and downloaded, free, from Podiobooks.com.

A teacher can therefore play the recording in class, or hand out a “thumb drive” containing the downloaded audio files, so that students can listen on their MP3 players or smartphones — an audio experience that takes place in the theatre between their ears.  Alternately, a teacher can provide the students with the URL for Podiobooks, where they can download the stories themselves. If they wish, they can then read background material and through which they can interact with me, the author on the story website at TheLaughingPrincess.com.

The title might make you think this is a book that should have a pink dust jacket; however, the Princess in the first story is very much a tomboy, who learns to “be, and dare, and risk” as a result of meeting with a sea-dragon. The other eleven stories all involve dragons. They are sometimes gentle and understanding, like the Angular Dragon, who counsels a poet; sometimes soulless and tyrannical, like the Mountain Dragon with whom a blind man matches wits; some dispense drastic justice, like the fire dragon who deals with a wife-beating innkeeper.

The dragons grant wishes that can be exceedingly dangerous to the human beings within the stories.  The protagonists include a retired wizard, a poet who has lost his gift of words, a pretty girl who believes she is entitled to more of everything, a warrior who hires out as a formidable bodyguard, a musician who must choose between his love and his music, and the princess who as queen must face a heartless sea rover.

The stories are held together by a narrator, The Littlest Dragon, who tells his tales to two children who “have reached that special age at which they had discovered that their parents did not always understand them.”  Like the characters in the stories, they must choose their wishes carefully.

The stories follow in the great tradition that was started by the Brothers Grimm.  They deal in ambiguous wishes, lucky numbers, changes of fortune, crucial decisions that change lives.

The language is “family friendly,” and is accessible by readers from 12 or 14 up.  The social and moral implications of the stories can be tackled at different levels, depending on the age and sophistication of the readers.

The Laughing Princess is available in paperback and electronic versions everywhere, and as downloadable audio files from Podiobooks, read by the author.  The web site TheLaughingPrincess.com offers background material, author’s bio, etc, as well as links to the audio files.  Discussion and study suggestions for teachers are available from me, through the web site.

Editor’s note: If all goes well, The Laughing Princess will be available in Spanish in early 2013! Perfect for teaching Spanish through interesting stories!

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