Who was William Shakespeare?
By Celeste Davidson Mannis
Illustrated by John O’Brien
Many students know the titles Romeo and Juliet and even some know Macbeth and Hamlet, however, not many know about the life of the man who created these classics. Who was Williams Shakespeare? is a 105-page nonfiction historical text about playwrite and poet William Shakespeare. Scholastic Book Wizard put this book at a 3rd to 5th grade reading level. Scholastic Book Wizard is a database of over 500,000 children books with corresponding grade level equivalents. I would strongly suggest this book to all readers, including adults. After reading this book, I learned new fun and important facts about Shakespeare. The author’s purpose of informing the reader was accomplished. I enjoyed the informative and fun tone of the author. The illustrations were also very good.
Who was William Shakespeare? includes historical context inserts, illustrations, and a bibliography. Written in the third person point of view, this book is set in a historical time and place. The setting is described in great detail in order to give young readers an accurate depiction of Shakespeare’s life. Shakespeare is depicted as a round character and is developed through his own actions, relationships with others, and through sense of self. The physical book is a thin chapter book with medium sized text. All illustrations are drawn in black and white.
The tone of the book is informative and fun, and the author often refers to Shakespeare as “Will.” Throughout the text the author poses questions for readers to think about. These questions can serve conversation points for classes or small group instruction. I found the historical context inserts to be relevant to the understanding William Shakespeare’s life. The inserts do not disturb the text and have perfect placement in the book. The author also references the modern day influences that Shakespeare has had on American culture. In order to access prior knowledge, the author starts the book with words and phrases that readers may know from their everyday life.
Mannis’ word choice is very concrete. Concrete language may enable students to access the historical content without getting lost in academic language. The print of the book is medium sized and all of the pictures are in black and white. There are no variations in the time and sequence of the story and there are two timelines in the back of the book. A timeline of Shakespeare’s life and a timeline of the world, this is great for readers that learn and comprehend in a linear fashion.
As a teacher and reader, I would recommend this book for students that are interested in a deeper look into Shakespeare’s life. I would also recommend this book for the reader interested in drama, history and poetry. Adults may find this book can serve as a quick refresher on Shakespeare. I wouldn’t suggest this book as bed time story, however, the information in the book can be used as talking points. This text provides historical context and accompanying pictures to help make the content accessible to all learners. Each chapter is approximately 20 pages, which may be lengthy for younger students without reading stigma. I would suggest jig sawing the book in order to differentiate for all learners. Teachers may also use the inserts of this book as supplements to Shakespeare’s plays or poems in order to give students a better idea of life in the time of Shakespeare and how history influenced his work.
Students will enjoy this book because it doesn’t feel like a traditional non-fiction narrative. While the text outlines important details about Shakespeare’s life, the historical inserts break up the reading and make it less monotonous. Students will enjoy the carefree tone and small jokes by the author. The pictures will also make this book appealing to all readers.
The entire book is set in London and focuses primarily on English people. The author addresses diversity through the discussion of Shakespeare’s diverse characters. There is a brief explanation of the play Othello. One of Shakespeare’s most famous plays, Othello, explores race in Venice. The diverse and multi-dimensional characters created by Shakespeare were revolutionary on the stage and gave the audience things to think about. “[It] made people think about the terrible nature of prejudice and jealousy” (Mannis, 2006). Other plays by Shakespeare explore the themes of gender, class, and power, including Macbeth and Hamlet. While Who Was William Shakespeare does not explore these themes in depth and there is only a brief mention of the works, teaching young readers the history of artists as activists is a strong multiculturalism teaching point.
I would strongly suggest this book to all readers. Who was William Shakespeare? is entertaining and gives an accurate depiction of William Shakespeare’s life. Whether read in its entirety or in sections, readers will get important background and historical information from this text without being bored to tears.
Mannis, C. D. (2006). Who was William Shakespeare? Penguin.