Shakespeare’s birthday is remembered on 23rd April and this is a good time to introduce primary school children to the Bard. There are several websites providing resources to enable teachers to produce lessons about some of his greatest plays and I have linked to a couple at the end of this post. However there is also a great selection of books available for children to read themselves that provide a taste of both the man and his work. Here are just three that I think will kindle an interest that can be built on later.
Mr William Shakespeare’s Plays by Marcia Williams
Marcia Williams has written and illustrated numerous books for children and many of these have been re-tellings of classic stories, illustrated in her distinctive cartoon-strip style. In this book she presents seven of Shakespeare’s classic plays, including Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer’s Night Dream, Macbeth and Julius Caesar, in this accessible format. The dialogue boxes include quotes from the plays making this an excellent introduction to the language. The wonderful illustrations and humour add to the appeal. This engaging book is the perfect place to start an interest in Shakespeare.
What’s so Special About Shakespeare? by Michael Rosen
The style and format of this biography of Shakespeare by former Children’s Laureate, Michael Rosen, has great child appeal. Presented in clear sections and answering questions such as ‘What was it like to live in Shakespeare’s time?’ plus a helpful timeline, this book encourages children to browse and discover. Sarah Naylor’s illustrations add to the appeal and readers will learn both about Shakespeare’s life and have an introduction to some of his plays including King Lear and The Tempest. This is a book that has been a hit in the school library.
Last but not least this lively and enjoyable story published by Barrington Stoke combines fact and fiction wonderfully.
Set in early seventeenth century London where young orphan Toby Cuffe is living on the streets. In order to survive, the resourceful Toby joins the gang of boys who work for Moll Cut-Purse as thieves. Moll sends Toby to the Globe Theatre to do some pick-pocketing where Toby becomes so engrossed in the play being performed that he forgets about his own safety. Caught by the theatre’s owners Toby meets the writer of the play he has just seen performed, the famous playwright William Shakespeare. Then our young hero is given an opportunity that he had not expected and he rekindles the Bard’s enthusiasm so that together they team up to save the threatened theatre.
There is enough historical detail to give a sense of time and place and yet this exciting story never has the feel of a history lesson. By depicting Shakespeare as a world weary man with writer’s block and a wish to go home to see his family Tony Bradman cleverly brings him to life in a way that children will probably enjoy. The wonderful illustrations by Tom-Morgan-Jones, slightly cartoonish in style, work well with the text too.
This book has the added attraction of funne activities for boys and girls at the end of the story. These include double page spreads of both London and The Globe with items for readers to spot, some Shakespearian insults to try out on your friends and guidance on making your own puppets
All of the books above should be available at good bookshops or your local library.
There are also many websites with resources to help teachers engage children with Shakespeare and his plays. One of the best for the primary age group is Shakespeare Week. Click on the image to visit their website.
James Clements, an educational writer and researcher, has created an extensive website providing units of work for several Shakespeare plays and many downloadable resources. It can be accessed here.