Shakespeare: Scenes from the Life of the World's Greatest Writer

Longlisted for the Information Category of the North Somerset Teachers' Book Award

The life of William Shakespeare, from birth to grave, is a brilliantly told in words and pictures.

Simon Callow’s quote on the cover says it all; this is ‘a perfect introduction to the real Shakespeare.’ Packed with information about Elizabethan life as well as the man himself, Mick Manning and Brita Granström manage to inform and entertain the reader in equal measure. Quotes from Shakespeare’s writing introduce each section and the use of the present tense in the main body of the text which tells Will’s story is very effective. Other sections of text using the past tense add details or further explore some of the hazier periods, making it very clear when information about Shakespeare’s life is sparse or confusing. The section on the ‘Lost Years’ is very well handled, covering lots of the theories, but leaving it to the reader to decide.

The book also summarises some of Shakespeare’s plays, keeping true to their story whilst making them accessible and (easier!) to follow. It also briefly touches on the sonnets with part of Sonnet 18 being read by Shakespeare himself!

There is so much that can be achieved in class by using this as a text to focus on. The interest level and the easy to access format mean that all children are engaged with the book from the start. The writing opportunities it opens up are wide and varied. We made Elizabethan style gloves and wrote instructions for how this could be done (this caused much amusement when the children tested out each others' instructions and ended up with all manner of bizarre creations!); imagination was used when writing an adventure story about William's 'lost years'; we debated the issue of women not being allowed to act on stage; models of the Globe theatre were created, labelled and used to put on puppet plays; children wrote letters in role, describing Tudor London (chamber pots being emptied from windows featured heavily, as did bear baiting- another writing opportunity, where we wrote persuasive leaflets to have such a cruel sport banned). Having read the relevant pages in the book, we watched film clips about life in a Tudor school room (including the 100 celebrations one about 'William's' school room being opened) and enjoyed drama activities leading from this. And these are just some of the writing opportunities we used!

Many cross curricular links can also be made. History is the obvious one, giving a real focus for learning about life in late Tudor/ early Stuart England. The fact that, although hugely famous now, there is much that is not known about Shakespeare's life led to interesting conversations about historical evidence and how historians piece together the past. We were able to look at examples of evidence- Shakespeare's will for example- and see what we could learn from it. Costuming - and indeed, clothing, from this period also fascinated them. They found the idea of using so many pins unbelievable! 

The book offers a 'real purpose' for DT; as mentioned about, we researched Tudor glove making (yes, there are websites on this subject!). The children were fascinated by the stylised shape of the gloves with their long fingers and were startled to discover that the whole process would have been done by hand. The process involved in tanning leather caused much disgusted glee! Models of the Globe are something else that could be developed as a DT project; we just made ours for a bit of fun to show that they understood and could talk about all the parts of a Tudor theatre and then enjoy using them, but this could be developed into a more 'serious' DT project. 

We also used the author and illustrator's guide to drawing Shakespeare and the children were amazed by the excellent results they produced. For many, it inspired them to have the confidence in other art work as they had seen what they could achieve. 

Anyone who says Shakespeare is 'boring' or shouldn't be tackled in primary schools really needs to think again about their approach- and use this book! My class loved the work we did on Romeo and Juliet, really understanding the main theme of the play and using it to innovate their own stories. Andrew Matthews' 'Shakespeare Stories', Marcia Williams' 'Bravo, Mr William Shakespeare' and 'Mr William Shakespeare's Plays' became much sought after library books as the children were so keen to read his other stories. I had to buy copies for the classroom to ease tensions!

A must for school libraries (primary and secondary), this is an invaluable resource for teachers - and an excellent read!

William Shakespeare: Scenes from the Life of the World's Greatest Writer

by Mick Manning, illustrated by Brita Granstrom

Frances Lincoln Children's Books       ISBN: 978-1847803450