The 5 Best Books to Introduce Shakespeare

Summer is for Shakespeare around here. Our studies follow whatever play the local companies are producing, and this year it’s Romeo and Juliet! We spend time talking about the plot, reading storybook versions, and playing or drawing the play. And then we see the play come to life. This inevitably invites more conversation, more reading, more play. We talk about how characters were portrayed, how casting influenced our reactions, and whether or not we agree with the director’s choices. Here are the books that we use before we see a performance!

All the World’s a Stage by Rebecca Piatt Davidson, ill. by Anita Lobel

The illustrations are the star of the show in this book of rhyming verse. Anita Lobel has created a full page illustration for eight of the major plays. At a glance you can see the main characters and even get a sense of the plot. When you’re wondering if Twelfth Night features the shippwrecked twins or the Forest of Arden, you can see at a glance which it is!

Classical Comics–Original Text

This series is available for a number of Shakespeare plays and other classics. The big advantage here is that you get original text in a comic book format. This is perfect for throwing light on confusing passages or for giving young readers a way to approach specific scenes and other bits of action for themselves. There are many more illustrations than a picture book re-telling and all the goodness of the original text.

The Best-Loved Plays of Shakespeare by Jennifer Mulherin and Abigail Frost

This collection of plays contains illustrations and extensive plot summaries along with the most famous lines from the play. If you are looking for passages to memorize, this book will make it easy to find a good fit. It’s also a great primer for a live production because kids (and adults!) can focus on key speeches and be listening for them in the production.

The Random House Book of Shakespeare Studies retold by Andrew Matthews

This is far and away my favorite book of re-tellings. As opposed to the Leon Garfield versions, it reads aloud well. The emphasis is on telling a good story instead of preserving language. We get original language in other resources. When we are reading aloud, we want the story to sing! Lovely illustrations by Angela Barrett as well with one of the strangest renderings of Caliban! “What have we here? A man or a fish? Dead or alive? A fish. He smells like a fish, a very ancient and fish-like smell.”

Will’s Words by Jane Sutcliffe

This is the newest addition to our stack. I love that the authors have created a fabulous history of London, the Globe, and Shakespeare’s plays while highlighting a few of the new words he created. It’s a great book to read over a range of ages. The younger kids get a feel for the history of the time period, and older kids can pour over the vocabulary on their own.