CM . . .
. Volume IX Number 1 . . . . September 6, 2002
The author of the "Shakespeare Can Be Fun" series has received much acclaim, and has won a number of awards for her efforts in introducing the works of Shakespeare to children as young as age seven. Much Ado About Nothing For Kids is the eighth book in this series. Shakespeare's original play is retold and presented in a form designed to appeal to children in elementary years. The plot, characters, and setting of the original story are maintained, including the numerous twists and complex relationships which lead to comedic events. The web is untangled in the final scenes, with satisfying resolution of the romantic entanglements.
In this version, the story is related in rhyming couplets which skillfully incorporate a strong sense of rhythm, thoughtful word choice, and effective literary devices. These qualities strongly encourage a read-aloud approach to support the development of an appreciation of the English language. The selection of rhyming words, such as taunted - undaunted, word - deterred, and smirk - work, is often unexpected and creative. The vocabulary (for example, wafted, arbour, scam, protocol, and befuddled) is challenging for most early years students, although each word alone is within reach of their understanding and subsequent application. However, the high frequency of new vocabulary and the complex or unfamiliar grammatical structures related to the poetic form and a reflection of Shakespearean style may frustrate some students by over-extending their level of reading fluency and comprehension. Furthermore, some students may be confused by the twists and turns of the plot and by the numerous characters. Therefore, the guidance of a teacher or parent, including peer discussion, would be necessary to facilitate comprehension and appreciation of the text.
Young students' interpretations of the events and characters, written as letters or short reflections, are a valuable and entertaining component of the book. This outstanding and humorous writing captures interest, increases comprehension, and brings the story to a level of sophistication suited to young readers. The figurative devices and structure in these commentaries, written by students in Grades 2 and 3, is an intriguing mix of Shakespearean style and modern lingo:
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Similarly, the colourful illustrations on each page, created by students aged seven to eleven using coloured markers and pencils, add visual interest and usefully support the plot, characters, and setting.
Attracted by the visual appeal and peer contributions, some children may pick up this book on their own. However, in most cases, completion and appreciation would require the expertise and enthusiasm of a knowledgeable teacher or parent who is willing to commit considerable time to re-reading, discussion, associated writing, and/or dramatization. To encourage such learning, the author lists some suggested activities for home or school use. Much Ado About Nothing For Kids has great potential for teaching language arts in early and middle years, but its utility and attraction to students remains an open question, to be answered by individual teachers familiar with the strengths and needs of their particular learners.
Sheila Alexander is a recent Middle Years B.Ed. graduate of the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba.
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