Shakespeare: He's not just for adults anymore

ALL THE WORLD'S A STAGE By Michael Bender Chronicle Books Unpaged, $14.95 Ages 8 and up

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE & THE GLOBE By Aliki HarperCollins 48 pp., $15.95 All ages

SHAKESPEARE'S THEATRE By Andrew Langley Illustrated by June Everett Oxford University Press 48 pp., $17.95 Ages 8 and up

SHAKESPEARE FOR KIDS: HIS LIFE AND TIMES By Colleen Aagesen and Margie Blumberg Chicago Review Press 149 pp., $16.95 Ages 9 and up

How would you acknowledge a 400th anniversary? If you were a publisher and the celebration concerned Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, you'd release a new book. And that's what many children's book publishers did last year. Although the original Globe burned to the ground centuries ago, a replica was built earlier this decade. Consequently, many of the new books have three subjects: the playwright, his theater, and the rebuilding of his "wooden O."

All The World's A Stage, by Michael Bender, is pop-up a biography. Sounds silly, doesn't it? But this three-dimensional view of Shakespeare's life and work is quite serious and engaging. Each two-page spread covers a particular aspect of the Bard's world, and is illustrated with an appropriate 3-D scene. In fewer than 20 pages, Bender gives a great deal of interesting information about Shakespeare, while providing a larger context for his life by describing the towns, times, and theatrical performances of the period. A chronology of Shakespeare's life and a glossary of terms round out this compact little volume.

William Shakespeare & the Globe, by Aliki, won an honor placing in the Horn Book Awards. Following a text that is much like a play, readers go through the acts and scenes of the Bard's life, as well as American Sam Wannamaker's efforts to rebuild the Globe in the 20th century. (The theater was made of wood and almost round, thus the "wooden O.") Aliki layers the text with facts - biographical, historical, literary, architectural, and archaeological. There are somewhat grim descriptions of the plague and other hardships endured by the Elizabethans. But Aliki makes it easy to understand why so many of them were avid playgoers during Shakespeare's time. Colorful illustrations and quotations from Shakespeare grace the pages of this thoroughly researched book, which ends with a list of some of the thousands of words and phrases he invented.

Shakespeare's Theatre, by Andrew Langley, focuses primarily on the Globe theaters, intertwining the old and the new. The text describes Elizabethan London and Shakespeare's role in building and founding the original, 16th-century Globe. Illustrations and captions tell the tale of its subsequent rebuilding. June Everett's watercolor illustrations are a particularly important aspect of this volume. Sam Wannamaker, the driving force behind the rebuilding project, appointed her artist of the record at the Globe. For 17 years, she painted from an insider's vantage point, capturing craftspeople hand-carving balusters, decorating carved pillars, and thatching the roof. These renderings are attractively augmented with illustrations, photographs, and historic artwork.

Shakespeare for Kids: His Life and Times, by Colleen Aagesen and Margie Blumberg, is a multifaceted project - part textbook, part info-packed almanac, and part activity guide. Readers are encouraged to make a quill pen, design theatrical costumes, create props, compile a folio, and try their hand at writing sonnets. They also learn about Shakespeare's childhood years, schooling, family, work, and retirement - as well as the historical, political, and social forces at work in Elizabethan England and how they affected the great actor-poet-playwright.

However, in an attempt to be interesting - and this is an interesting book! - some liberties are taken with the amount of information really known about Shakespeare. In a few cases, the authors ascribe emotions and motives to him and others that simply cannot be known. One further caveat for parents: This text contains a fairly gruesome description of the plague and the way it spread.

Despite its flaws - there's also no index - this is a useful book. And it contains one of the most valuable reference pages of any of these titles: a list of almost a dozen Web sites where readers can find still more information about Shakespeare and his times.

*Karen Carden reviews children's books regularly for the Monitor.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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