What's the best way to get your kids into Shakespeare?
Marcia Williams' quirky, energetic comic-strips for kids are a perfect first step. Snips of Shakespeare's language from the plays give a gentle introduction to a writer whose work can seem daunting, if not impossible. Get book reviews and activities for slightly older kids here. Book reviews for GCSE are here.
These books include the plays most studied at KS3 (age 11-14) and GCSE (age 14-16), so it's a great investment. The earlier you start, the better.
Bravo, Mr William Shakespeare: The Merchant of Venice, Antony and Cleopatra, As You Like It, Twelfth Night, Much Ado About Nothing, King Lear* and Richard III.
Mr William Shakespeare's Plays: Julius Caesar, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Winter's Tale, Hamlet*, The Tempest.
*more usually studied at A-Level; the most frequently studied plays (in the UK) are marked in bold type.
Younger children can enjoy the pictures - with the Where's Wally style page border of theatregoers - but it's those who are reading confidently who will get the most out of the detailed illustrations and text which captures the spirit of the plays perfectly.
The stories have been 'cleaned up' for children, but not washed out. The darkness of the Tragedies remains. The notoriously gory play, Macbeth is featured in Bravo, Richard III in Mr William. Choose which stories you think are appropriate for your child. Older boys tend to like the gruesome stuff.
How to use the book
Make them want to read it
Don't give it to them, but read it yourself in front of them. They'll want to know what's making you laugh and what's so interesting. My two eldest are too old for picture books but they came and stole them from me when I went to make a cup of tea.
As you can see, the language inside the strip is Shakespearean. Below this is a modern summary which has a fairly stiff reading age. I found it easier to follow when I read the summary after looking at the picture.
How to begin 'literary analysis' - age 6 up
With younger ones, ask them how they think the people are feeling. You can ask what's happening in a frame. More advanced is when you ask them 'why'. Get them to point to something on the page to back up their opinion. If it's picture evidence, great. If it's a snip of text, even better! This is a basic version of 'Point, Evidence, Explain - Analyse' which kids are taught in secondary English from age 11.