Shakespeare’s words reach a new—very young—audience in this gorgeously illustrated board book offering a new story by debut adapter Parekh and veteran illustrator Amini (Chicken in the Kitchen, 2015, etc.) of fairies and animals to accompany lines from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Beginning with familiar visuals for young lap readers, the book opens with a roaring lion and a howling wolf. The animals, along with some fairy friends, free a tired donkey from his yoke while a ploughman sleeps. Joined by a mouse, a screech owl, and a growing population of fairies, the group hikes to the ruins of an old church, finding the three-faced Hecate, whose cloak contains the night. With the fervor of Maurice Sendak’s Wild Things on their rumpus, the characters frolic before they hush, assuring listeners if this has seemed too strange, it is “but a dream.” Soon, all the animals and their fairy friends drowse off as well, making for a lulling bedtime tale. Shakespeare’s lines are sure to challenge young independent readers, but for the youngest listeners, whose minds hear sounds and rhythms as much as the words they’re still learning to decode, the patterns here are as lovely on the ear as they are when spoken by Puck at the end of the famous play. Amini’s textured illustrations of the fearsome wolf and lion might intimidate youngsters if not for the playful fairies on every page, smiling, with wings blurred so that they actually appear to be moving out of the corner of a viewer’s eye. Hecate’s black-and-white, almost transparent form contrasts with the luxuriously rendered creatures, such as the brightly pigmented snake and fairies, some of whom have a three-dimensional appearance in their dress, like petals or scales. Parents who love Shakespeare will find this a perfect introduction to the works of the Bard—it’s at once sophisticated and approachable, with a whimsy that youngsters will enjoy.
Originally funded by a Kickstarter, this reinvention of Shakespeare’s verse into a new format is sure to be a hit with parents and their littlest listeners, too.