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A GOOD READ: Never too young to read Shakespeare

By Lori Nick Shakespeare and his times are mentioned in the popular children's series 39 Clues and Septimus Heap. A reader of both series, my daughter was intrigued by Early Modern English speech.

By Lori Nick

Shakespeare and his times are mentioned in the popular children's series 39 Clues and Septimus Heap. A reader of both series, my daughter was intrigued by Early Modern English speech. I am a fan of Shakespeare, so I thought it would be fun to read one of his plays with my daughter. I confess I haven't read much Shakespeare since I attended university. I knew I had to choose a play that provided intrigue, magic, excitement, humour and a little romance. I chose one of my favourite Shakespeare plays: The Tempest. Whose interest could not be captured by the shipwreck scene on the very first page?

I knew I had to find a way to make the text easily accessible to a 10-year-old. I was also concerned that I wouldn't fully understand the original text. I found a series of plays in Barron's Education Series entitled Shakespeare Made Easy. The original text is printed side-by-side with the modern version. I found reading The Tempest in this way to be very enjoyable. If my daughter and I needed help to understand a character's lines, we would just switch to reading the modern version on the right-hand side of the book. We would always go back and re-read the original text. We both agreed that nothing can match Shakespeare's magical language (my daughter has learned some very creative insults that I hope she will keep to herself.)

While we read the original and modern versions of The Tempest, we also read two picture book re-tellings. One is a short, very simple adaptation by Ann Keay Beneduce. It is beautifully illustrated in pencil and watercolour by Gennady Spirin. There is another version abridged for children by Leon Garfield, and illustrated by Elena Livanova. Reading both books helped us to summarize the play's characters, settings and plot. Questions about setting prompted us to find Milan and Naples in a World Atlas.

We also had discussions about what it was like to live in Elizabethan England. To find answers to our questions, we read a simple biography about Shakespeare from A&E's Biography Series by Carol Dommermuth-Costa. Kirstin Olsen has written All Things Shakespeare, An Encyclopedia of Shakespeare's World. This is an invaluable resource to discover what Shakespeare's physical surroundings were like. A great variety of topics are covered, including clothing, maps of Shakespeare's settings, food and drink, symbolism of animals and birds, etc.

Shakespeare wrote his plays for a live audience, and I think they are best enjoyed at live performances. If you can't attend a play at a theatre, Shakespeare's plays can be found on DVD at your local library. My daughter and I watched a performance of The Tempest that was filmed at Ontario's Stratford Festival.

The Best of Shakespeare by British children's author E. Nesbit is a good place to get a short overview of 10 of Shakespeare's plays. She retells his plays in language that is accessible to young readers. Spark Publishing has printed 20 of Shakespeare plays in books called No Fear Shakespeare. Like editions, these books have the original text and plain English side-by-side. The publisher promotes the translation as "the kind of English people actually speak today." The text is very easy to understand. I think we will try a No Fear Shakespeare edition for our next play - A Midsummer Night's Dream. These books can be found at your local library, as well as a variety of other titles that will help you to discover more about Shakespeare's incredible volume of work.

Please try to read one of Shakespeare's plays. Even though they were written 400 years ago, they have a timeless appeal. His beautiful language and intriguing characters should be shared with children and adults alike. Shakespeare's plays have become accessible to all age levels with the variety of adaptations that are available today.

Lori Nick is with the Terry Fox Library.