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Shakespeare: Investigate the Bard's Influence on Today's World Andi Diehn Review by Kathy Gelzer

Andi Diehn
Nomad Press
2456 Christian St.
White River Junction, VT 05001

I have seen lots of educational Shakespeare books and they usually focus on activities or craft projects. This one is different. It concentrates on several well-known plays and enhances the student’s knowledge and appreciation for Shakespeare by showing his current relevance. It also includes some very creative assignments surrounding those plays.

Four significant plays are showcased in this book: Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Twelfth Night, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Two chapters are dedicated to each of these plays. The first chapter provides contextual information along with the main story and themes, and the second chapter highlights modern interpretations of the play.

These modern renditions are contemporary books, songs, and movies. Some of these may be questionable for some families, so parental discretion is advised. Here is a list of the contemporary culture comparative material: Warm Bodies, Gnomeo and Juliet, Street Love by Walter Dean Myers, Love Story (Taylor Swift song), Dire Straits (by Dire Straits), The Lion King, Ophelia by Lisa Klein, She’s the Man, Motocross, The Fool’s Girl by Celia Rees, William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (movie, 1999), and King of Shadows by Susan Cooper. My daughter thought fewer modern comparative works would be simpler than the number included.

While unfamiliarity with some of these works may not make a significant difference, if one is ignorant of or unwilling to explore some of the materials, that could nullify the usefulness of this book. I did find that the book contained enough of a description of these modern movies, books, and songs for me to “take part in the discussion,” even though I had not seen, read, or heard most of them.

Accompanying the chapter text are plenty of visually eye-catching extras: side bar notes, QR codes, comic strips, and Vocab Labs with interesting trivia, humor, and vocabulary exercises. My 16-year-old daughter deemed the cartoons “cool” and found the notes and trivia fascinating. The busy pages may distract some students.

The reader will find a timeline of Shakespeare’s life at the front of the book. The introductory chapter supplies a biography of Shakespeare and his career as well as suggestions for understanding his plays.

Key Questions at the end of each chapter require critical thinking and processing of the material rather than regurgitation. The Inquire and Investigate pages provide activities for getting into the plays. The Romeo and Juliet chapters contain medical treatment trivia and writing a rap song; the Hamlet section analyzes the famous “To be or not to be” soliloquy and also challenges students to write a story within a story; creating a game and exploring phone-texting as a writing method are presented in the Twelfth Night section; and comparing plays as well as acting out a scene are suggestions for A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Chapter text is rich with questions for the student. These questions break up the text, make you stop and wonder, and help you internalize the material. My daughter especially appreciated these opportunities.

Back of the book resources include a glossary, index, and resources for further study. These resources include books, websites, and QR code website translations.

This book says it is written for ages 12 to 15. Ironically, with all the busy and colorful sidebar material it looks like a resource for much younger students. However, I think it could be successfully used with older teens as well.

The book is written to the student, with no “teacher guide” material included, and it costs $17.95. Vocabulary exercises and chapter assignments are more conducive to a classroom situation but can be done individually or within a family context. Homeschool parents could let their responsible, independent teens run with the book, after reviewing and okaying the material covered. This would make a good supplement to a Shakespeare class; the student should read or view the four plays addressed in the book to get the most out of it.

I think this book does an excellent job of making Shakespeare come alive for young people and successfully conveys the timelessness of Shakespeare’s plays. It could very well be the first in a series and, and I would like to see future books covering additional Shakespeare plays in a similar format.

-Product review by Kathy Gelzer, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, March, 2017