Best children’s books: Starting with Shakespeare

“How I wish we’d had books like this when we were kids!” Ever heard that? Ever said it yourself?

Well, Baby Boomers now are in charge of writing, illustrating, designing and publishing books for young readers and “we” are creating the stuff of “our” dreams to share with the next generation. There’s never been a better era to go shopping for children’s books.

All this week at ReadTheSpirit, we’re giving readers a boost on holiday shopping by featuring some way-cool books for young readers. Buy ‘em now! (And, pssst, this gives you a couple of months to enjoy the books yourself before you give them away at the holidays! The truth is that the best “children’s books” are really great fun for adults and encourage family reading.)

Today, we’re starting with Shakespeare!

Anyone who cares about writing appreciates the vast wealth we have received from “The Bard.” We know you share ths appreciation. One of the most popular stories ever published by ReadTheSpirit was a 2007 quiz called, “Is It the Bible or the Bard?”

(Oh, and here’s one more tip on the side—on a Shakespeare book written for adults by Bill Bryson: During our 40-day American Journey reporting project, my son Benjamin and I listened to lots of audio books by American-British author Bill Bryson. Because Bryson loves traveling himself, he has written a whole series of very funny and insightful travel books. During 20 years he lived, wrote and taught in England, Bryson also wrote one of the best introductory books available on the life, works and enduring legacy of Shakespeare. You can order the illustrated edition of Bill Bryson’s terrific book on “Shakespeare” from Amazon now.)

Review of “William Shakespeare His Life and Times” by Templar / Candlewick

You can purchase “William Shakespeare: His Life and Times”—the beautiful new book for young readers we are reviewing here—from Amazon now.

Our photographs today show you just a few of the interactive goodies inside this large-format 30-page book with a hardback cover that “unlocks” via that skeleton keyhole you see in the middle of the front cover, shown above. Quite frankly, this is a terrific gift even for teenagers and adults who are trying to summon the energy to begin exploring Shakespeare’s works.

The entire book, including dozens of flaps, pockets, envelopes and other fold-out “extras” seems to have been designed by a graphic artist with a taste for the realms of Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings—that kind of historical fantasy. Throughout the book, tiny rose-and-beige-colored “booklets” open from the bigger pages, summarizing the Bard’s many plays—always with an eye to entice young readers.

Here’s a Potter-ish summary of Hamlet in one of these little booklets-within-a-book: “In one of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedies, Hamlet, prince of Denmark, is visited by the ghost of his dead father. The ghost begs Hamlet to avenge his murder by Hamlet’s wicked uncle Claudius, who is now the new king and married to Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude. Hamlet pretends to be mad to disguise his plot of revenge and stages a play that will make the king reveal his guilt. But Hamlet’s beloved, Ophelia, really does go mad after …” There are a few more sentences in the actual booklet, but you get the point, right? Templar Books, a division of the award-winning Candlewick publishing house, knows how to entice young readers these days: Suspense! Ghosts! (Or are the ghosts real?) Murder! Madness! (Or is the madness real?) And wicked adults who must be stopped by the young people in the play!

Of course, we must add: That’s what Shakespeare understood in his own era and why his works were so successful in the first place.

And, if you’re giving this book to a youthful or adult reader for the holidays, why not add a DVD of Kenneth Brannagh’s production of “William Shakespeare’s Hamlet (Two-Disc Special Edition)” Better yet, Brannagh’s epic production, which produces the entire uncut play, is now available in Blu-ray as well to really knock your eyes out as the drama explodes on the screen. Here’s a link to Brannagh’s Hamlet in Blu-ray.

As a life-long lover of picture books, pop-up books and children’s literature in general, I’d be thrilled to find this book (and maybe a Brannagh DVD under my Christmas tree). I can only imagine the additional pleasure of introducing a teen to Shakespeare through such an immersive experience.

Come back tomorrow for more in this series on “Best Children’s Books” and take care of your holiday shopping early this year, hmmm? While you’re at it, you’re performing a good deed: Encourage young readers to celebrate our collective literary legacy.

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