Friday, May 27, 2011

Rosie Backstage: neglected Shakespeare gem?

Some things are just hard to figure out.

Kids Can Press is a very popular Canadian children's publisher.  Non-fiction books they've published have become standard resources in many classrooms.  Their craft books are particularly well done.

Tim Wynne-Jones and Amanda Lewis are decent writers.  Bill Slavin has illustrated over sixty children's books. (Although I think he could have made Rosie look a bit more appealing.)

And, especially in southern Ontario, you would think that a book designed to open up Shakespeare and the Stratford festival would be an instant classic, especially with classroom teachers and homeschoolers.  (Think field trips.)  Lois Burdett's "Shakespeare Can Be Fun" series is one example of something that has been very popular for the past decade. So why is it that Rosie Backstage came out in 1994 and immediately went out of print?  Wouldn't any resource that makes Shakespeare more accessible be enthusiastically snapped up?  It seems like the sort of book that teachers would have designed unit studies and stuff around.  Maybe they did, but online searches for the title+unit study and +lesson plan didn't uncover anything.

Rosie is set up much like the Barbara Greenwood Pioneer Story books (in the U.S., the first book is A Pioneer Sampler).  A story chapter, some facts, another story chapter, and so on.  The book is packed with information about all aspects of theater production:  a page on what a costumer does, a props person, a stage manager, a lighting person, and so on; there's also basic information about Shakespeare's life and the Globe Theater.  The Rosie story itself is okay--not thrilling, but it works as a vehicle for the rest.  Stuck backstage while her mother works on props for the Stratford Festival, Rosie meets a "mysterious man" who--wow, who'd have thought--turns out to be Shakespeare.  This particular Shakespeare seems to be at the theater in order to cause mischief (more like Puck or Ariel?), but in the end it all turns out okay.  (Some parents may not like the section about theater superstitions, particularly regarding The Scottish Play.)

So--a well-designed book with some useful information about the theater, in a format designed to attract kids' attention, seemingly lost in book oblivion.  Like the missing jewels on the duke's costume--it's a mystery.

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