With a background in theater, you bet I wanted to introduce Shakespeare to my kids! As soon as I could, I started taking them to plays, yet I recognize that this approach may not be for everyone, especially for parents who haven't read and seen his plays multiple times over their careers.
Not to worry, sharing the Bard's rich language with your kids, no matter their age, is not as difficult as you might think! These Shakespeare books for kids will help you get started, but don't forget to book your theater tickets, asap!
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Table of contents
Be sure to grab the printable, which includes the Shakespeare book list as well as great Shakespeare quotes for kids to learn.
How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare by Ken Ludwig
I have never encountered a better source for parents and educators for advice on how to introduce Shakespeare to kids. His method is extremely easy and incredibly fun, even if the grown-ups are a Shakespeare novices, themselves. I can't recommend it highly enough.
What is the Best Shakespeare Version for Kids?
This question pops up a lot but I don't have an easy answer for you. When you are looking for a copy of the original play I suggest you head to the bookstore or the library and look through the versions available.
Ask yourself, do you want a heavily annotated version? Do you want the collected works or individual books, which will be easier to hold and read? Do you want additional critical essays?
If you don't know what you want, I recommend you get started with Ken Ludwig's book, How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare.
The Wild Waves Whist, and Behowl the Moon, words by Shakespeare, story by Erin Nelsen Parekh, illustrations by Mehrdokht Amini
If you do want to recite Shakespeare's rich and imaginative language to your babes, these are the books for you I am not into gimmicky "classics" for babies books, but I love these! Instead of attempting to summarize the plot of the plays, the author and illustrator have lifted text from the plays and created a story through the illustrations. The Wild Waves Whist is from The Tempest, and Behowl the Moon's text is from A Midsummer Night's Dream. All ages.
William Shakespeare's The Tempest, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Georghia Ellinas, illustrated by Jane Ray
Finally! Some wonderful prose retellings of Shakespeare's plays in picture book form. The books were created in conjunction with Shakespeare's Globe. The illustrations are lush and the language is accessible but not dumbed-down. These are excellent picture books to read before you take your children to the plays, or just for fun. I just hope that Ellinas and Ray are collaborating on more works! Ages 5 and up.
The Boy, the Bear, the Baron and the Bard by Gregory Rogers
Find it: Your Library | Amazon
I do not understand why this book is out of print! Check your library because you don't want to miss it! It's a wordless, energetic adventure. A boy chases a runaway soccer ball backstage only to find himself transported to the world of Shakespeare and onstage at The Globe. The playwright himself begins to chase the boy off the stage and they embark on a chaotic journey around Elizabethan London, picking up a bear, an imprisoned baron, and leaping onto a barge inhabited by Queen Elizabeth! Ages 4 and up.
Flibbertigibbety Words: Young Shakespeare Chases Inspiration by Donna Guthrie, illustrated by Åsa Gilland
This is an imaginative take on how William Shakespeare created his plays and found his words. One morning the words fly into his window and young William starts chasing them. The words start to form quotes from his plays and William pursues them all over the landscape until finally he figures out just the right way to tame them. A delightful way to familiarize children with Shakespeare's poetic language. Ages 4 and up.
Pop-up Shakespeare: Every Play and Poem in Pop-up 3-D by Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor, pop-ups & illustrations by Jennie Maizels
Authored by collaborators in The Reduced Shakespeare Company (whose work you should definitely see!), this pop-up book is so much fun. How do they fit Shakespeare's complete works in only five double page spreads, do you ask? With many lift-the flap features,"long story short" side shows, and a hefty dose of humor. In addition, the book delivers historical background about the famous poet's life in the theater. Ages 5 and up.
MORE: Middle grade novels about the theater (including ones featuring Shakespeare, himself!)
Yorick and Bones by Jeremy Tankard and Hermione Tankard
I absolutely adored William Shakespeare's "lost graphic novel" and so will your kids! Yorick the skeleton wakes up and starts looking to make some friends. He enlists the help of Bones, a nearby dog. This clever, clever tale is written in iambic pentameter but the language is completely accessible and all kinds of fun. Ages 7 and up.
The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue series by Ian Lendler, illustrated by Zack Giallongo
This duo of playful and amusing graphic novels will appeal to children who think they have no interest in The Bard. At midnight the animals in Stratford Zoo gather together to put on a show. They play fast and loose with the dialogue but it's all in fun. Readers will enjoy the funny asides from the animals in the audience and back matter gives kids a bit of information on Shakespeare and the plays in question. Ages 6 and up.
Manga Shakespeare Classics, adapted by Crystal S. Chan
The Manga Classics series includes more than just Shakespeare, but that is all I'm able to recommend here, having not looked at the others. The Shakespeare adaptations are pretty useful, actually. Each one includes the full, original text and while of course nothing is a substitute for seeing a live performance, these books offer young readers an accessible alternative to reading the scripts. Note: be sure to look for the full original text versions and not the "modern English" manga versions. Ages 10 and up.
Middle Grade Shakespeare Adaptations
At this age, kids can start delving into the original plays and I don't think retellings are necessary. Nevertheless, I do not dispute that some readers will benefit from becoming familiar with plots, characters and themes of the plays through more modern versions.
You're really only going to need one book and my suggestion is Garfield's book, which I also recommend as a read aloud.
Shakespeare Stories by Leon Garfield, illustrated by Michael Foreman
Garfield's renditions are extremely adept at incorporating Shakespeare's marvelous language into the narrative. He uses rich, descriptive language to set the stage and present the characters. Verona is "where men were as bright as wasps and carried quick swords for their stings." Sir Toby Belch is a "fat bag of wind." The characters speak Shakespeare's lines. The New York Review of Books has republished this classic in a handsome edition with 21 plays. Ages 10 and up.
Nonfiction Shakespeare Books
Nonfiction books about Shakespeare, the Elizabethan theater, and Renaissance England are in no short supply. Here are two unique choice that will actually be fun to read.
What's So Special about Shakespeare? by Michael Rosen
A fast paced and suspenseful informational book about Shakespeare? You probably thought that wasn't possible. Here is the proof that it is. Rosen presents the historical backdrop of Shakespeare's England, describes life in Renaissance England, looks closely as several of the most famous plays, and discusses Shakespeare's legacy. Excellent. Ages 8 and up.
You Wouldn't Want to Be a Shakespearean actor! by Jacqueline Morley, illustrated by David Antram
Find it: Your Library | Amazon
I think this installment in the popular, "You Wouldn't Want to.." series is out of print, but you library surely has a copy. In my experience, everyone loves an approach to history that imparts quirky facts left out of school textbooks. This book is extremely fun to read while still being highly informative. A glossary rounds out the book. Ages 8 and up.
Fun Shakespeare Quotes for Kids!
Kids will be amazed to learn just how much Shakespeare's influence abounds in modern day speech. Memorizing a few famous passages should be easy as they've probably heard them a few times already.
As mentioned above, you should definitely start with Ken Ludwig's book, How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare.
I've put together a printable some fun-to-learn and very short quotes (Lord, what fools these mortals be!), as well as a selection of hilarious insults that kids will enjoy (You scullion! You rampallian! You fustilarian! I’ll tickle your catastrophe!).