Saturday, January 16, 2016

King of Shadows by Susan Cooper

He spent hours at a time sitting in an upstairs room, 
scratching away with a quill pen... 
The pen must have driven him crazy; 
he had to trim it often with a special little sharp knife, 
and a bristling bunch of big new feathers sat on his desk waiting for the moment when he threw the old quill irritably on the floor and reached to sharpen a new one.  
I longed to be able to hand him a ballpoint pen.

  • Where is this happening?
  • Who is writing with this quill?
  • Why can't the person describing this scene pass the writer a pen?

This is London.  The year is 1599.  The writer is Will Shakespeare and the observer is a boy called Nat who has been mysteriously transported from our modern world to act in a play at the original Globe theatre.

The play is A Midsummer Night's dream and Nat will take the part of Puck.

This is a gripping story made all the better by the authentic descriptions of London in 1599.  Here are a few :

" ... London swept over me, caught me up, in a nightmare mix of sight and sound and smell. Even before six in the morning the street was filled with people, bustling about, carrying huge bundles, slung from their necks; dodging to avoid men or horses. Carts clattered over the cobbles, creaking, rocking, slashing up muck ... The whole street smelled bad."

"More than anything from the that first day, I remember the noise.  You'd think that we have more noise today in the everyday world, what with traffic ... but the London of that time was full of church clocks striking the quarter hours, and church bells ringing for services; of watchmen ringing handbells in the street."

"The streets around the theatre were crammed with people, and here and there tumblers and musicians working their hearts our for an odd coin."

I have been reading books which reference Shakespeare because later this year our Grade Five students will view a production by the Bell Shakespeare Company.  This year their play is based on A Midsummer Night's dream and is called Bottoms Dream.

Below I have included a range of book covers for King of Shadows first published in 1999.  Ours is the largest one - which one do you like?

This book could be used as an extension reading resource for our more able students.  There are some harsh scenes in this book including decapitated heads on poles which Nat sees near London bridge and his experience of bear baiting which is quite graphic.

This book is so famous it even has its own entry in Wikipedia.

You can listen to a ten minute audio sample here which begins in the modern world with the group of boys who are getting ready to travel to London to perform at the new Globe theatre.  Here is the Kirkus review.  There are some good links and teaching ideas here.

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