William Shakespeare's plays and poetry were written for an audience so removed from us in language and culture that they have become extremely difficult for us to appreciate. Fortunately, there is a wealth of materials available to introduce our children to Shakepeare's work.
For this article, I selected books, audio books, videos and online resources around the drama of Macbeth because this spooky play has always been our children's favorite.
I chose materials with a homeschool unit study in mind. Arranged by age level, the materials will also be easily accessible to school teachers.
If you prefer a different Shakespeare play to Macbeth, it will be easy to substitute. Most books are from series that include other plays.
Let's start with sowing the seeds of Shakespeare appreciation in young children with retellings of Shakespeare's stories:
Beautiful Stories From Shakespeare For Children, masterfully retold by Edith Nesbit, the British author best known for the Five Children and It series, is a collection of 20 Shakespeare stories including Macbeth with beautiful illustrations by Arthur Rackham. The stories are short but interesting enough for young teens. Ages 8-14, grades 3-8.
Arthur Rackham also illustrated Tales from Shakespeare , a classic collection of 20 retellings by brother and sister Charles and Mary Lamb.
These beautifully written stories include Macbeth. The book was first published in 1807.
Ages 8-14, grades 3-8.
This book is in the public domain and the original version including the beautiful color illustrations is available for free viewing, downloading and printing at the Hathi Trust website.
Bruce Coville is another great storyteller who teams up with illustrator Gary Kelly in William Shakespeare's Macbeth. Colville weaves some of the most famous quotes from the play into the text and supplies background information in his preface. This book is one in a series of Shakespeare plays. Ages 5 and up, grades preschool to 4.
Bruce Colville's retellings of Macbeth and four other Shakespeare stories are available as audio versions in volume 1 of Shakespeare's Greatest Hits produced by Full Cast Audio. This is a real audio drama production with a full cast of actors. Listening to a Shakespeare audio drama is a lot more like the real experience the plays were written for than reading a book. These audio dramas are a great way to get your struggling or reluctant readers to enjoy Shakepeare. Great for taking along on road trips.
Shakespeare's Greatest Hits is also available as a PlayAway preloaded digital audio player.
Grades preschool to 4.
Tales From Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb is also available as a free audio download from LibriVox.
Once your family or class is ready to stage a performance, Shakespeare with Children: Six Scripts For Young Players by Elizabeth Weinstein with illustrations by Anna Dallam will be a great resource. Weinstein has created wonderful 40-minute adaptations in which narrative passages lead up to scenes with original Shakespearean lines. The Macbeth adaptation is particularly well done retaining the spirit of the original. The book also contains lots of tips for your production including costumes, props and music, as well as historical background information. Grades 4-6.
Shakespeare For Kids is a self-published series of single-play script adaptations by drama teacher C.C. Beechum similar in scope and quality to the Weinstein plays above. Beechum also uses original Shakespeare lines while simplifying the plot for a children's production. Reviewers have remarked on the low price of the book which makes it possible to purchase a "script" for each player.
Middle school level.
To conclude our selection of Shakespeare books for young children, let us look at some background information about the Bard, as Shakespeare is often called.
William Shakespeare and the Globe by author/illustrator Aliki looks at Shakespeare, his life, his time, his Queen, Elizabeth I, his city, London, and his theater, the Globe. The lovingly illustrated story is framed by the dream of the American boy Sam Wanamaker who grew up to become an actor and director and who reconstructed the Globe Theater in London in 1997. The book also contains a list of now common expressions in the English language coined by Shakespeare.
4 to 8 years. Kindergarten to 5th grade.
Enjoy Shakespeare and check in soon for Macbeth for Teens