Shakespeare for Children: The Story of Romeo and Juliet
By: Cass Foster
Illustrated by: Lisa Molyneux
Publisher: Five Star Publications
Publication Date: 2007 (fourth edition)
Reviewed by: Pamela Victor
Review Date: December 2009
Cass Foster wrote Shakespeare for Children: The Story of Romeo and Juliet for two specific audiences: for adults to read to a child and for children to read independently. To that end, Foster cleverly has simplified the story of Romeo and Juliet as a picture book to be presented to little ones. And indeed Shakespeare for Children successfully provides a gateway for children to enter the realm of William Shakespeare. As they get older, they may choose to move on to Foster’s series, Sixty-Minute Shakespeare. And from there Foster encourages readers to seek out the unabridged text to enjoy Bard’s words in their original form. In considering Foster’s other work on Shakespeare, To Teach or Not to Teach: Teaching Shakespeare Made Fun!, the author achieves his goal of establishing and nourishing an early love of Shakespeare in children in a failsafe environment full of pleasure and praise. He advices adult readers, “The most important consideration is that reading (or being read to) should be an enjoyable experience. I certainly hope you and the child enjoy what lies ahead.”
In Shakespeare for Children, Foster artfully mixes Shakespeare’s original language with clear, succinct narration in order to tell the story in a compelling way while preserving the beauty of Shakspeare’s pen. On nearly every page, Foster provides definitions for words used uncommonly today. The text is spaced amply with relatively few lines on each page in a way that won’t overwhelm a young child. There are frequent, large illustrations in the style of a coloring book that some children won’t be able to resist coloring in (and shouldn’t!). Foster devotes additional pages to the more dramatic and story-driven acts of the play, while other of the acts are summed up in one or two lines from the play supplemented by brief narration. In this way, Foster successfully hones down the story to the barest bones in order to keep the attention of young children without overly compromising the art of Shakespeare’s work.
At the end of the book, twenty open-ended discussion questions promote readers to delve deeper into topics brought up by the story. Rather than typical comprehension questions that simply ask children to recall details from the book, Foster’s questions spur readers to formulate opinions and apply lessons learned from the book to their own lives. For example, one questions asks, “What sort of things wouldn’t you do, even if your friends wanted you to?” In the Author’s Note, Foster advices, “These questions are excellent opportunities to praise [children] for their cleverness, insight, imagination, expanded vocabulary, improved reading skills and ability to express themselves.”
Without a doubt, Foster has an impressive ability to open up the world of Shakespeare to children. One hopes that Shakespeare for Children will become to young readers what Sixty-Minute Shakespeare is to the older set. However, if I could ask Foster one question, it would be why he chose “Romeo and Juliet” as an ambassador of Shakespearian work for young ones. Although it is romantic, this story is a terrible tragedy that brings up heavy topics, the least of which being the main characters’ senseless suicides. As a parent myself, I preferred to introduce my children to Shakespeare’s work through his entertaining comedies which contain physical humor appealing to their developmental stage. Should the author turn this book into a series, which I sincerely hope he does, I wish he would chose some plays more emotionally appropriate for early readers. “A glooming peace this morning with it brings. The sun for sorrow will not show his head. Go hence to have more talk of these sad things. Some shall be pardoned, and some punished, for never was a story of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo.”
Quill says: Shakespeare for Children successfully opens the door to the world of William Shakespeare to young readers!