Top critical review
I didn't love this, but I think Shakespeare aficionados will enjoy the book
Reviewed in the United States on October 14, 2018
Ok, so I should start by admitting that I'm a very lazy and impatient reader. My job requires me to spend my days puzzling out and correcting very confusing writing, so when it comes to my pleasure reading, I don't tend to seek out challenging material for the sake of the challenge; I want to be entertained with minimal effort on my part. As such, reading the antiquated language used by Shakespeare is not something I tend to think of as enjoyable. I did not like it when I was forced to read a few of his plays in high school, and I have carefully avoided any other of the Bard's work in its original form ever since.
But when I saw the gorgeous cover of A Stage Full of Shakespeare and read the blurb that touts "...this beautiful anthology of stories from Shakespeare, rewritten to be accessible to children aged 5+," I thought I might have found a relatively painless way to up my Shakespeare game. I like picture books, and if this is accessible for a first-grader, then this should be easy-peasy for me, right? Well, as it turns out, maybe not. Although I liked some aspects of this book, for the most part this was an uneven miss for me.
As the book began, I was actually kind of disappointed with the illustrations. They weren't the rich and detailed images I was expecting based on the cover. Instead, I thought some of the pages were almost cartoonish, and many looked like crude drawings instead of the collages they were. It wasn't until I was well into the book that I could see the collage aspect more clearly and appreciated some of the illustrations more.
This anthology includes 12 of Shakespeare's best known works, and each begins with a page highlighting the important characters in that work with a brief description of who they are in relation to each other. I quite liked those pages and found myself wishing there were more helpful hints like that on the other pages.
For the most part the language is fairly straightforward, but since these are simplified versions of the stories, there are some details missing. As I'm not familiar with much Shakespeare at all, I was left scratching my head about what was going on some of the time, and I would have loved some extra explanations for certain aspects. Some sidebar features like "important history facts" or "vocabulary helper" or "phrases that originated with Shakespeare" would have helped me a great deal. I suspect these stories will work well for someone who is already familiar with the plays, but if you don't know the details, some of the ideas are pretty confusing.
I think this book will be welcomed by existing fans of Shakespeare and by young readers who do not ask too many questions about every aspect of a story. Although I question whether many 5 to 7-year-olds would be willing to listen to this book without demanding more details, those who are willing to just absorb what they're hearing and allow inference to fill in the blanks will probably think it's pretty good.
Thank you to NetGalley and Frances Lincoln Children's Books for providing me with a DRC of this book.