I had to write all of this while my one month old was occupied, so proofreading is sorely lacking…apologies 🙂
Since I just had a baby and most people in my life know that I’m a giant Shakespeare nerd, I find myself with a decent collection of Shakespeare books for children. Shockingly, I do not have Charles and Mary Lamb’s book which is, frankly, a crime that I plan to remedy soon. With such a plethora of books available in my own home, it only seemed right to take some time to review the options that are out there for kids.
To my surprise, my collection was large and varied enough to justify a two part blog! Part one (which you are reading now) is a review of the books that focus on the plays. Part two will look at the books that cover Shakespeare the person.
For the sake of simplicity, I focused on how each book or series adapted a single play. A Midsummer Night’s Dream seemed to be the obvious choice because it was the only play that could be represented by all the books I had. That was my whole reasoning. Sometimes you just have to keep it simple.
This book holds a special place in my heart because my parents got it for me when they went to Stratford during their trip to England last year. Plus, it’s just delightful. The illustrations are amazingly hilarious (shout out to cat Othello preparing to smother Desdemona).
Now, if you are looking to cover the plot of the plays, this is not the book for you. However, if you want a genuinely entertaining introduction to the language, this is a great option. Each illustration is accompanied with a short excerpt from the play with a few sentences of context. Shakespeare Cats is a fun, creative way to introduce Shakespeare before diving into the full story.
Little Master Shakespeare
This little board book labels itself as “A Fairies Primer” and that is exactly what it does. You will not find the plot, the mechanicals, or even the Athenian lovers covered in this text. However, you will find a great introduction to the language of the play. Each spread focuses on a single fairy and includes an illustration and an excerpt from the play which describes that specific fairy.
Much like Shakespeare Cats, Little Master Shakespeare is an excellent introduction to the language and the fairies before a deeper dive into the play.
Poetry for Young People: William Shakespeare
Unique and beautiful illustrations accompany a long excerpt from each of Shakespeare’s plays. At the top of each page, there’s a short paragraph that explains the very basics of the plot. Then, a longer excerpt of the poetry follows on the rest of the page. What makes this book a particularly good introduction to the language, is the tiny gloassary at the bottom. It’s the perfect way to address those tricky words!
Who doesn’t love a good search and find book?! What makes this book extra unique is that before each search and find spread, there are a couple pages covering the basics of the play. It hits all of the major characters and plot points, which you can then try to find on the next page!
This book would make an excellent introduction to the play or an excellent follow-up. It would make a good introduction because it covers the plot and character basics. You could also have a lot of fun trying to guess what is happening in the different vignettes. Then, after reading the play, it would be fun to go back and see how many references you can identify in each search and find spread. What makes this book uniquely helpful is that it is interactive and if the kids can more actively engage in the text, it will resonate on a deeper level.
Shakespeare Can Be Fun!
I love, love, LOVE this series because it was developed by a teacher and features the work her students have done for the plays. The story is conveyed through simplified poetry. While not in perfect iambic pentameter, it gets students used to the rhythm and rhyme of poetry without having to stumble over the complicated language.
What makes this series particularly fun, is that all of the illustrations are done by students and creative writing samples from the students are featured throughout. Young readers can have confidence knowing that if other kids their age can grasp the works, so can they.
Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare
This volume contains more complete adaptations of the plays, meaning that the complete plot is conveyed through prose. The language is kept very simple which is what makes this a great adaptation for kids. The beautiful story is presented in a very straightforward way while still maintaining the figurative language of the dialogue. The plots are not as heavily intertwined as they are in the original text. Additionally, Theseus and the players are nearly omitted entirely. However, using this as an introduction to the original text would make for an easy transition to the original text.
Leon Garfield’s Shakespeare Stories
Garfield provides the most complete adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, at least of the books I have in my collection. He pretty much follows the story exactly as it was written. This makes his adaptations a bit of a longer read, but give a complete picture. He does his best to incorporate descriptive and figurative language. However, at times the sentences are clumsy because of how jammed packed each sentence is with figurative language. One of the major advantages this adaptation has it that it maintains much of the original dialogue. Garfield’s adaptations would likely make for the easiest transition from adaptation to the original play.