Are you longing to get your children as excited about Shakespeare as you are? There's a lot of books out there to introduce kids to the Bard. Here, Natasha, a 10-year old living in Oxfordshire, recommends some of her favourite retellings of Shakespeare stories.
They’re exciting and weird. Sometimes they’re dramatic, sometimes not, they’re all quite different from each other and they don’t carry on from one story to the next. You don’t really know what to expect. I like how all these books tell Shakespeare’s stories, including the pictures which tell you what’s happening.
So if you were recommending Shakespeare to a friend, which book would you tell them to read first?
I would probably tell them to read the Usborne Illustrated Stories from Shakespeare. It is quite straightforward and not confusing and probably the easiest book to get your head round on my list. The pictures are very vivid and it is very easy to tell what is going on. What I really like is how it’s written in normal English but then also has the lines that Shakespeare wrote, in older English, with a line leading to a picture of the person who is saying it.
For example, Viola in Twelfth Night says, “Oh, you must untangle this, not I, It is too hard a knot for me to untie” above a picture of her dressed as a boy.
As well as Twelfth Night, the other stories in the book are Romeo and Juliet, The Tempest, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Macbeth and Hamlet. There’s also a section about “The Life and Times of William Shakespeare”, though I haven’t read that (I’m only interested in the stories).
Let’s talk about the series, The Shakespeare Stories, next. Why are these enjoyable to read?
I like this series because even though they always have the same stories as in the other books, and the dilemma and the ending is always the same, they’re told a little bit differently. There’s lots and lots of books in this series—Antony and Cleopatra, Julius Caesar and King Lear and 13 other plays—so it can last you a really long time. I never even knew that Shakespeare had written about Antony and Cleopatra so finding even more stories by him was an unexpected surprise.
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I really enjoy the books in this series and the way they’re structured. The illustrations are by Tony Ross, who also illustrates David Walliams’s books and they are quite funny (depending on the play, of course). They help you understand exactly what the play is about.
Next up is To Wee or Not to Wee by Pamela Butchart, which I think is one of your favourite books, is that right?
Yes, this is a comedy version of not one Shakespeare play, but around four. First she sets the scene by going, ‘Izzy and her friends are playing a game. One of them can’t decide what to do, and then Izzy tells her friend he’s being like Hamlet. And he says he isn’t, and she says, ‘I bet you don’t even know what Hamlet is”—and that’s how the story starts.
I’ve read this book many, many times and I keep on rereading it. You can choose which of the plays you want to read about, and it’s quite nice to pick which one, depending on how you’re feeling.
I also love the pictures they draw in this book, they’re so funny.
Next you’ve chosen Usborne’s version of Macbeth. This is included in the collection you mentioned at the beginning, but you wanted to recommend it specifically because you love this play. When you were younger you thought it was called MacDeath, which seems about right. Why do you like the story?
I like the story because it’s bloody, strange, different and exciting! I find Macbeth’s wife quite power-hungry. I felt that if Lady MacBeth hadn’t been married to him, I don’t think he would have killed the king and had all those creepy nightmares. I like his friend Banquo, because he seems nice and I get sad when he gets killed because he was probably a good person, though I don’t know for sure. I really like the witches and they have a big influence on the story because, again, if they hadn’t given him the idea to kill the king I don’t think he would have.
Lastly, the Usborne version of Twelfth Night, which again is in the collection but you wanted to single out because this is, in fact, your favourite Shakespeare book.
It’s amazing. I like how confusing and weird it is. It reminds me a bit of Midsummer Night’s Dream because everyone is in a bit of a muddle, but I like it more because it has a shipwreck in it, and Viola and Sebastian are brother and sister. In Twelfth Night you care more about all the characters because you get to know them. I like the way three people play jokes on Malvolio to trick him into believing Olivia loves him, because he’s mean.
I really recommend everyone reads Shakespeare because he is a lot of fun!
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