reviews 8–10 Junior/Middle
Macbeth 978 1 906230 47 0
Romeo and Juliet 978 1 906230 45 6
The Tempest 978 1 906230 46 3
A Midsummer Night’s Dream 978 1 906230 44 9
William Shakespeare, retold by Helen Street, ill. Charly Cheung, Real Reads, 64pp, £4.99 each pbk
‘Pick up these great little versions of the world’s greatest books, and you’ll discover that Real Reads are a Real Treat.’ Real Reads have already, it seems, had a bash at the likes of Great Expectations, Sense and Sensibility, The Ramayana and The New Testament. Now it’s WS’s turn.
The publishers are disarmingly honest. Losing many of the original words, they tell their young readers, ‘is a sad but necessary part of the shor tening process’. Sub-plots and details, ‘some important, some less so, but all interesting’, have had to go. Events are combined, words given to different characters, but ‘nothing can beat the original’. There’s a potted plot, a note about Shakespeare’s times and stage, books, websites and films to check out, and a ‘Food for Thought’ section with questions such as ‘Can you find examples of poetic imagery?’ or an invitation to create an iambic pentameter or an oxymoron (duly explained) which makes you wonder just what age group they have in mind. The accompanying blurb suggests 8+. Colour illustrations decorate rather than extend the text.
Why bother? Perhaps Real Reads believe that just the taste of the stor ylines is somehow transform- ational. But there is a wealth of literature for children which needs no tinkering mediation to make it ‘more accessible’; and in drama for this age group, for a host of reasons, this is a time for improvisation, for invention, for full involvement of all your class. A Shakespeare text inevitably divides into major and minor roles; or, for some of your 30 children, no role at all. And with Shakespeare, it’s about the way he tells ’em through language and space, at least as much as his borrowed plots.
Consider one speech. ‘She should have died hereafter’ becomes ‘If she had died some other time but now.’ We lose ‘Tomorrow and tomorrow…’ altogether, though we keep ‘Out, out, brief candle…’ – and you’ll have to stop to tease that one out with 8-year- olds. We retain ‘Life’s but a walking shadow…’ but lose ‘It is a tale told by an idiot…’ These skeletons of the four plays are exactly that – no matter how skilled the effort to preserve the sense and the rhythm of the lines.
What is the point of using these diminished versions at 8+ in the classroom or even, as the publishers suggest, for ‘school plays and young people’s drama societies’? Ripeness is all. Leave Shakespeare until they’re ready for him, whether on page or stage. For me, the project is misconceived.
such as squirrels-on-a-skewer, ditch- water broth and chunky hedgehog pie.
Despite this however, Muncle’s world will be very familiar to young readers. He is regularly picked on by his big brother, occasionally bullied by his school mates, and often bored by his teachers! When he learns that his new found talent for riding a dragon doesn’t count towards the giant equivalent of SATs, his heartfelt cry is one that will have resounded round every house with children in the land, ‘It’s not FAIR!’
In fact this is a very traditional story, with a plot that is the staple of lots of the best children’s adventures: a small person who, mocked by those around him, discovers that he is not only as good as everyone else, but actually smarter and braver than they are, and then gets to prove it.
pond. Samantha finds the creature appealing and wants to care for it. But Lady Clandorris is determined to be rid of it – and of her niece, too.
Mutiny on the School Ship Bounty
Jon Blake, ill. David Roberts, Pont, 116pp, 978 1 84851 038 8, £5.99 pbk
When Owen Glyn Primary school falls down a hole, an alternative venue is found on board the SS Bounty. Captain Blight rules his ship with a rod of iron and the feisty pupils have to rely on their considerable ability to cause trouble and confusion to win the day. Narrated by a very clever cat, this is a quick read with some humour and good one-liners that leave the way open for a continuing series about Ayana, Petal and their friends.
DF Bogwoppit HHHH
Ursula Moray Williams, ill. Shirley Hughes, Jane Nissen Books, 160pp, 978 1 903252 36 9, £7.99 pbk
Orphan Samantha is sent to live with her aunt, Lady Clandorris, who lives in a thoroughly dilapidated mansion mirroring her own unloved and gloomy life. Samantha is proud to be living in what she considers her ancestral home. Yet she’s reckoned without Lady Clandorris’ hostility towards her and humankind in general. Their relationship gets off to a shaky start, made all the more precarious by the unexpected appearance in the kitchen of a curious wide-eyed creature with a long furry tale, feathered wings and two webbed feet. It is, she discovers, a bogwoppit, an animal assumed extinct, and one of many that come up through the drains from the outside
Muncle Trogg HHHH
Janet Foxley, ill. Steve Wells, Chicken House, 208pp, 978 1 906427 03 0, £5.99 pbk
Muncle Trogg is a giant, albeit a very small one. He lives with his mother, father, brother, baby sister and fellow giants in Mount Grumble, safely hidden away from humans, or Smallings as the giants call them. Life in Mount Grumble is delightfully grubby: the giants are proud of their warts, boils and bristles; they snack on delicacies
This novel is as enjoyable now as when it was published more than 30 years ago. Weaving humour, fantasy and suspense into a highly inventive story, its eco theme and larger-than-life characters ensure its popularity with today’s young readers. With a new foreword and the original drawings by Shirley Hughes, it’s a great pleasure to see this title by a gifted storyteller back in print.
Janet Foxley won the Times Children’s Fiction Competition with Muncle Trog against stiff opposition and also secured one of the coveted slots on the new Richard and Judy children’s book club. It is easy to see why. The novel is enormously satisfying, a hugely enjoyable romp, with some great characters ( including a wonder fully badly behaved young dragon called Snarg) and lots that will have children laughing out loud. The book’s design, all smudged pages and knowingly annotated sketches, adds even more to its appeal.
The story ends with Muncle cleverly averting a Smalling invasion of the giants’ kingdom, but it would appear that there are further adventures in store for him: Mount Grumble just might be a live volcano! Muncle’s fans can look forward to an explosive return!
Tom Trueheart and the Land of Myths and Legends HHHH
Ian Beck, Oxford, 384pp, 978 0 19 275564 3, £8.99 hbk
Rarely has a hero been named as appropriately as Tom Trueheart – and all in spite of his many disclaimers to the title. ‘You see,’ he says at one point, ‘I am not a hero, I am just a simple boy adventurer doing his best to find his lost father.’ Well, this ‘simple boy adventurer’, hero or not, certainly does his doughty best in pursuit of his aim and in the process, accompanied by Jollity, the talking crow, finds himself travelling among some of the best known creatures and personages from the world’s myth- ologies. His enemy is the dastardly Ormestone, whose evil intentions are focused on accumulating as much gold as possible and on controlling stories or, as Jack expresses it, ‘bending them all to his twisted vision.’ Additionally, he has Tom’s father, the original Jack the Giant Killer, in his clutches: the need for rescue is urgent. With every encounter, every triumph of good over evil, the young boy’s heroic standing is
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