Curriculum Vital

Don't put it off until tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow 
Terry Deary's Best Ever Shakespeare Tales

Terry Deary is well known for his Horrible Histories series. While Shakespeare's world was certainly full of plagues and thieves and (if you believed James I) witches, the theme of Deary's latest book isn't horror but FUN! As he reminds us throughout his Best Ever Shakespeare Tales, Shakespeare's plays were meant to entertain — the Bard of Avon would be horrified to watch students fall asleep while learning how to answer an exam question on Macbeth or sullenly studying another soliloquy from Hamlet. "Oh that this too too solid text would melt," he might say.

Deary's Best Ever Shakespeare Tales retells the 10 most popular Shakespeare plays using a variety of writing forms. The Taming of the Shrew is captured in a theatre review written by an angry feminist. Brutus' diary tells the story of Julius Caesar. A befuddled policeman has to write a report after being called to a convoluted bloodbath in Denmark, all the while hoping he won't have to fill out the dreaded murder form, '2B'...

So, does Deary manage to simultaneously inform and entertain? A thousand times yes! The book is full of wit and insight which give delight and hurt not. Hip, hip, Horatio! With his usual erudition and profusion of puns, jokes and pithy drawings, Deary brings out the ingredients that made Shakespeare so popular and successful. He also weaves in plenty of Shakespeare's original lines to give children a taste of the real thing.

Complementing the ten stories are ten fact files. These give a biography of Shakespeare (which, as Deary points out, is not as short as you may think), describe the historical context in which the Bard worked and even provoke consideration of important topics. The facts that take the form of fun quizzes mean the book would work well in group or whole-class exercises. This is a classroom classic not of an age, but for all time!

By Ross (rgrainger@educationumbrella.com)

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