Inspired by Shakespeare: Books for Kids that Channel the Bard

Many kids struggle with the language of Shakespeare's plays, yet the rich world of the Bard is made accessible through many young adult novels that are inspired by Shakespeare's life and works. This list includes ten novels that provide an easy entry point to appreciating Shakespeare.

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#1 The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt

The Wednesday Wars is a 2007 historical novel set during the Vietnam War. The book, which received a Newbery Honor medal, follows Holling Hoodhood, the lone Presbyterian 7th grader amidst his Catholic and Jewish classmates. Instead of receiving religious education, Holling is assigned Shakespeare's plays. While they seem like torture at first, he grows to appreciate them for both their lively insults and timeless wisdom.

#2 The Magicians of Caprona by Diana Wynne Jones

This story of rival houses in an Italian city populated by spell-makers has many echoes of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. The Montana and Petrocchi families are bitterly feuding while their city faces invasion by outside armies. However, the two youngest members of the feuding families unite with hopes of ending the fighting and saving the city.

#3 Ophelia by Lisa Klein

Ophelia is a retelling of Shakespeare's Hamlet, narrated by the young woman who was a minor character in the original play, though a significant one in Hamlet's life. In this book, Ophelia's story is explored in depth, beginning with her early years as she tags along with Laertes, her brother. She and Hamlet eventually fall in love and are secretly married. Yet Hamlet's consuming passion for revenge ultimately comes between them, just like in Shakespeare's play.

#4 Enter Three Witches by Caroline B. Cooney

This is a novelized version of Shakespeare's Macbeth, a dark tragedy told here from the point of view of Lord and Lady Macbeth's young ward, Lady Mary. The violence and power-grabbing that sweeps through the court envelops Mary and thrusts her into a world of danger. Enter Three Witches mostly follows the major events of the play and even includes some dialogue from Shakespeare himself.

#5 King of Shadows by Susan Cooper

King of Shadows begins with young Nathan Field rehearsing for the part of Puck in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Following a sudden illness, he finds himself waking up in 1599, playing Puck at London's Globe Theatre. Not only is he in a wildly different time and place, his new director is the Bard, whom he calls 'Will.'

shakespeare william the bard

#6 Saving Juliet by Suzanne Selfors

Mimi Wallingford is a 17-year-old girl starring in her family's Broadway production of Romeo and Juliet. Yet acting isn't her passion and she desperately wishes for an escape. In a miraculous turn of events, she and her costar, Troy Summer, are transported to Shakespeare's Verona. Once there, Mimi decides that she must save Juliet from her tragic fate.

#7 The Shakespeare Stealer by Gary Blackwood

Set in 1601, this story focuses on young Widge, an orphan with a knack for shorthand. He gets hired by a mysterious traveler to attend productions of Hamlet and transcribe them for a rival theater company. The plans go awry, however, and Widge finds himself employed by the Globe Theatre and playing Ophelia in front of Queen Elizabeth.

#8 The Fool's Girl by Celia Rees

The Fool's Girl is a continuation of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night that weaves in many historical figures, including the Bard. In the story, Violetta, the teenage daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Illyria, travels to London to find a stolen relic. As the plot thickens, she must work alongside Shakespeare to thwart an attempt to assassinate Queen Elizabeth.

#9 Loving Will Shakespeare by Carolyn Meyer

In this story, teenage Agnes Hathaway loses her mother and is left to a wicked stepmother. Agnes maintains a friendship with Shakespeare from childhood, and as they reach adulthood a romance blossoms. Loving Will Shakespeare is drawn from the scant details that are known about this actual historical figure who is believed to have played a role in Shakespeare's life.

#10 The Juliet Club by Suzanne Harper

A group of American and Italian teenagers spend a summer participating in a Shakespeare Scholar program in Verona, where they analyze and perform scenes from Romeo and Juliet. Romance between the teenagers quickly develops, with the novel drawing from the plot of Romeo and Juliet. It's also influenced by lighter Shakespearean fare, such as Much Ado About Nothing.

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