Book reviews - plays

These are some of the new editions of plays recently published, as well as books explaining the backgrounds to plays and playwrights. Reading and acting in plays is fun for everyone and helps engender an appreciation of beautiful language.

Shakespeare Tales: Twelfth Night by Terry Deary

It's Richmond Palace in the year 1601 and Jane and John have uncovered a wicked plot to steal the throne from Queen Elizabeth I of England while she watches a play. Can they stop it in time? Meanwhile, on stage, Olivia loves the boy Caesario, who is in fact not a boy but a girl, Viola. Viola loves Orsino but Orsino loves Olivia. What a tangle, what a jumble... what a great way to introduce Shakespeare to children! Terry Deary takes us back to Queen Elizabeth s court, a world of intrigue where it's hard to know who to trust. With plentiful illustrations, this is an engaging read, cleverly interweaving the story with the play.

Shakespeare Tales: Romeo and Juliet by Terry Deary

Terry Deary is such a good writer for children - his use of language and his action-packed tales are ideal to capture the interest of even reluctant readers. Plague is rife in London - going to the theatre could be dangerous! Sam is about to star in Shakespeare's new play, Romeo and Juliet - will the plague shut down the theatre? Meanwhile, on stage, Romeo and Juliet are in love but their families can t stand each other. With plots and poison, the lovers must find a way to be together. The two stories are neatly interwoven to give children an insight into both Shakespeare's play and the London of the period.

The National Archives: Shakespeare Unclassified (National Archives Unclassified) by Nick Hunter

This is an excellent series which makes good use of the marvellous resource which is The National Archives. As well as showcasing the superb resource, the series also fulfils the requirement of the National Curriculum to use source material. It's an approach which really puts children in touch with history, showing them exactly what life was like and how people lived. See what influenced Shakespeare's work, whether he really did write the famous plays that we associate with his name, and be prepared to be taken on a journey behind the scenes. Amazing artifacts and original documents provided by the National Archives accompanied by plentiful illustrations give pupils a really good look at Shakespeare and his life.

Shakespeare Tales: A Midsummer Night's Dream by Terry Dearybook

Terry Deary's Shakespeare Tales make the plays accessible for children and by so doing, will encourage them to enjoy the originals as they grow older. Molly loves travelling with Shakespeare's players but the jester, Armin, keeps picking on her and faithful donkey, Dolly. Can she keep Armin away from Dolly and stay with the theatre company? Meanwhile, on stage, Helena wants revenge on Hermia, Lysander wants revenge on Demetrius and the fairy queen Titania has fallen in love with a donkey! A Midsummer Night's Dream is ideal for children, with its cast of lively characters

Shakespeare Sticker Book by Rob Lloyd Jones

Commemorate 400 years since the death of William Shakespeare with this lively colourful sticker book. There are over 500 stickers to decorate seven scenes from Shakespeare's life and times, and six scenes from some of his most popular plays. The final, chaotic scene is the disastrous fire at The Globe. The colourful scenes will help children learn about Elizabethan London and plays such as Macbeth and The Tempest and popular characters such as Romeo and Juliet, Titania and Bottom, young Shakespeare and more all depicted in the stickers. The scenes are bright and colourful, and look super when completed with the stickers. Snippets of historical information make this a great introduction to Shakespeare's life and plays. It's a brilliant way to encourage an interest in our greatest playwright.

Tales from Shakespeare by Marcia Williams

Marcia Williams has to be one of the best, if not the best, retellers of classics around and I always look forward to a new book from her. Giving children an excellent flavour of the variety of Shakespeare's plays, fourteen of Shakespeare's most famous plays are retold here in lively and accessible language, from the heartbreaking tragedy of Romeo and Juliet to Puck's hilarious escapades in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Marcia brings Shakespeare's stories vividly to life. The retellings are superbly set off by plenty of Marcia Williams' detailed and engaging pictures. A beautiful book which is perfect to encourage children to appreciate Shakespeare and his plays.

Hamlet: Retold in Modern-Day English (Tales from Shakespeare) by Timothy Knapman

We all know that there is nothing quite like reading Shakespeare in his original language and I would hate to think of children reading an adaptation and then saying they have 'read' Hamlet. The other side of the argument is that it's good to make Shakespeare approachable and accessible to children and generate a love for his work that will last them through life. And that is exactly what good quality retellings will do. These versions are retold in modern English but - and I really like this - they include key quotations from the original, in highlighted boxes. The retellings, despite being in modern English, manage to capture the feel of Shakespeare's language and they read aloud excellently; the attractive drawings give readers a feel for the plays and their characters. Hamlet is miserable after the death of his father, but when the ghost of his father appears and reveals that he was murdered, Hamlet decides to seek his revenge...Will he succeed? Also available in this excellent series, now in paperback) is Tales from Shakespeare: Twelfth Night .Twins, Viola and Sebastian, become separated after a shipwreck in Illyria and soon confusion and mischief unfolds!

Oxford Illustrated Shakespeare Dictionary by David Crystal

The word 'dictionary' can give the feel of a dull list of words - this superb book is far, far more. All the words and meanings students of Shakespeare need to know are here but what makes the book fascinating is that each word has a sample sentence selected from the twelve most studied plays, making this an excellent reference source for students, as well as enlightening for anyone watching or reading the plays. As well, there are usage and theatre notes which show how the plays were originally performed. There are language panels on select topics like the humours, swearing, and stage directions, and full-colour illustrated thematic spreads on special feature topics from clothes and armour to music and recreation. Clearly laid out and excellently illustrated, this is a fascinating book which repays close study - you will find something fresh on every look. Perfect for home and school use and guaranteed to enhance enjoyment and understanding of Shakespeare's work.

Tales from Shakespeare: Henry V by Timothy Knapman

These modern re-tellings use contemporary language to make the text enjoyable and accessible for children; it's a good way to encourage them to enjoy Shakespeare but to get the full beauty of his plays, they do need to be encouraged to read the originals. Henry, newly crowned King of England, has decided he deserves to be king of France too... so war against France begins. Follow Henry’s difficult journey in this dramatic tale of battle, triumph and loss. Lively illustrations decorate each page and help readers visualise the action for themselves; scrolls feature direct quotes from Shakespeare so children learn to appreciate the beauty of the words. Also available is Julius Caesar: Retold in Modern-Day English (Tales from Shakespeare). Julius Caesar, a powerful and respected Roman, is warned by a fortune-teller that danger is ahead. Caesar's enemies are conspiring against him! This exciting play is a perfect choice to introduce KS2 pupils to Shakespeare. The attractive bindings make these excellent books to collect.

Hamlet: Retold in Modern-Day English (Tales from Shakespeare) by Timothy Knapman

We all know that there is nothing quite like reading Shakespeare in his original language and I would hate to think of children reading an adaptation and then saying they have 'read' Hamlet. The other side of the argument is that it's good to make Shakespeare approachable and accessible to children and generate a love for his work that will last them through life. And that is exactly what good quality retellings will do. These versions are retold in modern English but - and I really like this - they include key quotations from the original, in highlighted boxes. The retellings, despite being in modern English, manage to capture the feel of Shakespeare's language and they read aloud excellently; the attractive drawings give readers a feel for the plays and their characters. Hamlet is miserable after the death of his father, but when the ghost of his father appears and reveals that he was murdered, Hamlet decides to seek his revenge...Will he succeed? Also available in this excellent series is Twelfth Night: Retold in Modern-Day English (Tales from Shakespeare).Twins, Viola and Sebastian, become separated after a shipwreck in Illyria and soon confusion and mischief unfolds!

Tales from Shakespeare by Marcia Williams

Marcia Williams has to be one of the best, if not the best, retellers of classics around and I always look forward to a new book from her. Giving children an excellent flavour of the variety of Shakespeare's plays, fourteen of Shakespeare's most famous plays are here, from the heartbreaking tragedy of Romeo and Juliet to Puck's hilarious escapades in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Marcia brings Shakespeare's stories vividly to life. The lively and accessible retellings are superbly set off by plenty of Marcia Williams' detailed and engaging pictures. A beautiful hardback book which will make a perfect gift.

The Orchard Book Of Classic Shakespeare Stories retold by Andrew Matthews

If you are looking for a gift book that a child will treasure, this could well be the answer. The collection includes eight well-known plays and gives a good cross-section - it includes Twelfth Night, Macbeth, King Henry the Fifth and The Tempest. The language is just right for children - easy to read and vivid enough to be good for reading aloud. The length is just right to give a flavour of the play and to encourage children to move on to read the original. Angela Barrett's illustrations match the plays well - they are subtle yet dramatic. A superb introduction to Shakespeare.

A Midsummer Night's Dream (Tales from Shakespeare) ed by Caroline Plaisted

QED's adaptations of favourite Shakespeare plays are presented in clear contemporary language so children can become familiar with the plays before moving on to read and study the full versions. A Midsummer Night's Dream tells of the events surrounding the marriage of Theseus, Duke of Athens, and Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons. Four young Athenian lovers and six amateur actors (manipulated by the fairies who inhabit the forest in which most of the play is set) form part of the play. The play is one of Shakespeare's most popular works for the stage and is often one of the first of Shakespeare's plays children read. The black and green ink drawings are full of lively expressions and will appeal to children.

Romeo and Juliet (Tales from Shakespeare) ed by Caroline Plaisted

Shakespeare's tragedy about the two young star-crossed lovers whose deaths ultimately unite their feuding families is brought to a young audience in a story form.  Included in the modern text are original quotes from the plays, pleasingly presented in scrolls. All the characters are illustrated on the title page - this is an excellent way to introduce them to children. The embossed covers and artwork make these books really attractive to children and a great way to start a Shakespeare library - but do encourage children to progress to reading the full versions of the plays.

Romeo and Juliet (Shakespeare Graphics) retold by Martin Powell

The play needs no introduction! Some of the cast are introduced and illustrated at the start, enabling the reader to follow the action more easily. The retelling is simple and straightforward for easy understanding - a good precursor to reading the complete play. Discussion questions, teaching resources and writing prompts make this a good classroom book. Also available - Macbeth (Shakespeare Graphics), A Midsummer Night's Dream (Shakespeare Graphics) and
Julius Caesar (Shakespeare Graphics)

Twelfth Night (Usborne Young Reading) by William Shakespeare

Viola, shipwrecked on the coast of Illyria, disguises herself as a boy for safety and goes to work for Orsino...but she falls in love with him... and he loves Olivia. How will the tangle be resolved? This simple retelling is ideal for children just starting to read alone and the story is retold in a way that will encourage an early interest in Shakespeare. The characters are all illustrated at the start of the book, to help children follow them through the generously illustrated story. There are 6 in the series, including A Midsummer Night's Dream (Usborne Young Reading) and The Tempest (Young Reading, Series 2).

 

An Inspector Calls (The Graphic Novel Full Text Version) by J B Priestley

The characters are brought to life as the course of one evening turns their life upside down. From the first page, the reader is drawn into the action and made to feel a part of the story. The atmosphere of the period is vividly evoked and the room sets give an excellent portrayal of a prosperous home of the time. Expressive faces convey the shock felt as the plot gradually unfolds - could these respectable people really have anything to do with a murder? As all the original text is included, nothing of the original flavour of the play is lost. A popular title for schools, it’s excellent to see it given the Classical Comics treatment, ensuring a whole new level of interest. 

An Inspector Calls (The Graphic Novel Quick Text Version) by J B Priestley 

This version is a simplified edition, aimed at a reading age of 10+ but will appeal to all ages, if you want a quick read which loses none of the flavour of the original. The page numbering is the same for both versions, making them ideal for differentiated use in the classroom. You really do need to get a copy of one of Classical Comics' books into your hands to appreciate the fantastic quality - both the quality of the production of the books themselves, and the attention to detail and the high quality of the artwork, which really brings the characters alive. Each book also has background information on the text and on how the artwork is created.  I highly recommend these books, so please do take a look.

Shakespeare

More from Classical Comics

A Midsummer Night's Dream - original text

Shakespeare's best-loved play is enduringly popular, especially for outdoor performances, so it is familiar to many. This version is the full text. There are plenty of graphic novels/plays being produced now, but these editions by Classical Comics stand head and shoulders above the others. There are two main reasons for this. Each of the Shakespeare plays in the series is produced in three versions - original text; plain text and quick text. These make the plays accessible to all. The second reason is the superlative quality of the production - the books are produced on thick glossy paper and the quality of the illustrations is fantastic. I found it interesting to read about how the superb illustrations by Jason Cardy and Kat Nicholson were produced. 

A Midsummer Night's Dream - plain text

This version has all the rhyme and rhythm of the original, but in modern English, making it a more accessible read without losing the beauty of the original. The text flows smoothly across the pages, taking the eye perfectly through the wonderful illustrations. These really bring the play to life in a stunning way and capture the attention. Each character is illustrated at the beginning, so you can easily follow them through the play. The illustrations are the same in each version, so it is easy to use versions side-by-side to enhance understanding. Added value is given with the section at the end, with information about Shakespeare, the Globe Theatre and the background to the play. Do take a look at these books - I am sure you will be impressed!

 

A Midsummer Night's Dream - quick text

This is the perfect introduction to the play for younger readers  -or perhaps for those for whom English is not the first language. The thought of reading Shakespeare can sometimes be daunting, but readers introduced through this simple version will be enthused to  go on to the full version. It is easy to follow the story and the speech bubbles make the text flow. This is a wonderful way to bring Shakespeare to a whole new audience and I recommend that school libraries should have the three versions side by side. Great for last-minute revision too! The quality of these books is quite outstanding and I can't recommend them highly enough.

Romeo and Juliet - original text 

The fair city of Verona is troubled by two feuding families: the Montagues and the Capulets. Their hatred for each other runs deep and they regularly disturb the streets with their fighting; so when Romeo Montague meets and falls instantly in love with Juliet Capulet, it can only lead to a desperately tragic end.
Shakespeare's wonderful play is as relevant today as it was when it was written, over 400 years ago. It is arguably his best-known work, containing some of his most famous lines.
Now, for the first time, it appears in its entirety as a full-colour graphic novel, capturing all of the beauty, emotion and tragedy of this timeless tale. 

 

Romeo and Juliet - plain text

 The three versions of the play, with their differentiated text, are perfect for classroom use and it is fascinating to read the versions alongside each other. No longer need anyone say 'Shakespeare is boring.'! The illustrations are right up to the minute and guaranteed to appeal to today's students. The quality of production is superb and these books are a real delight to use. This version takes the original script and "translates" it into modern English, verse-for-verse, whilst retaining the full essence of the play. If you've ever wanted to fully appreciate the works of Shakespeare but find the original language rather cryptic then this is the version for you!

Romeo and Juliet - quick text

The Quick Text version is ideal for KS2 pupils, to introduce Shakespeare in an appealing manner. The wonderful illustrations capture the story in an enticing manner. I like the way all the characters are illustrated at the front, so the reader can readily identify who is speaking. It is good to introduce younger readers to Shakespeare through such an appealing format and will lead to a love of Shakespeare. This takes the dialogue and reduces it to as few words as possible; but because it still features the same artwork, this version retains all of the characters, plots and motives from the play. Ideal for younger readers, reluctant readers, or for people who want to get a quick but full understanding of the play. 
 

 Illustrated stories from Shakespeare

This is another super book in the Usborne Illustrated Stories series. The books are illustrated in full colour throughout and the pictures really draw the reader into the stories. This collection is no exception and is a marvellous introduction to Shakespeare. Each play is introduced with a summary (and pictures) of the characters, so they can be followed throughout the story. Twelfth Night, Macbeth, The Tempest, Hamlet, Midsummer Night's Dream and Romeo and Juliet are included. The use of extracts from the original work gives children a feel for Shakespeare's language without being daunting. A great book for every child's collection.

 Macbeth - original text

Macbeth brought to life with brilliant illustrations which make the play really accessible to modern readers without losing any of the feel of the original play.Look out for more in the series, both Shakespeare and many other classics. I especially like the way young readers can be introduced to the Quick Text and then move on to the full text version - great for last minute revision too! These books are a great resource for school libraries and I highly recommend the use of Classical Comics to entice students into the world of our great classical authors. This is the full, unabridged original script - just as the bard intended. This version is ideal for purists, students and for readers who want to experience the unaltered text.

The Tempest - plain text 

For readers reluctant to tackle the original prose of older books, which aren't always the easiest to modern eyes - these adaptations can introduce them to some of the great works of literature. This version takes the original script and "translates" it into modern English, verse-for-verse, whilst retaining the full essence of the play. If you've ever wanted to fully appreciate the works of Shakespeare but find the original language rather cryptic then this is the version for you!

 Henry V - quick text

This is ideal for younger students, or for those studying the play in KS3/4 to get a quick overview of the play, before going on to the full version. A brilliant resource.
"We take the dialogue and reduce it to as few words as possible; but because it still features the same artwork, this version retains all of the characters, plots and motives from the play. Ideal for younger readers, reluctant readers, or for people who want to get a quick but full understanding of the play. "

 

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