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The Making of Tales from Shakespeare

  • Grades: 6–8

Publisher and Senior Vice President of Scholastic, Inc. Jean Feiwel describes how Scholastic came to work with the critically acclaimed, award-winning theater company Shakespeare & Company to create the book Tales from Shakespeare, a beautifully illustrated retelling of Shakespeare's most famous works as exciting, accessible stories.

Tina Packer founded Shakespeare & Company, one of the largest Shakespeare festivals in the country, in 1978. The company is home to one of the largest theatre-in-education programs in the northeast. The education program reaches more than 40,000 students annually with innovative performances, workshops, and residencies. It is recognized as an innovative leader in the field of arts in education.

How did Scholastic come to work with Tina Packer, one of the country's foremost experts on Shakespeare and theatre arts?
My family and I started going to the Shakespeare Festival in Lenox, Massachusetts. We first went to a childrens production of The Comedy Of Errors and then to a full production of A Midsummer Nights Dream. My daughter was about 8 or 9 years old, and it became a thing we did every summer. The physical humor, drama, and sword fighting was all so engaging that the language didn't feel intimidating.

I wrote Tina Packer a letter to tell her how much I admired her and that if she were ever interested in doing a collection of Shakespeare stories for children, I would love for her to work with us at Scholastic. She wrote back immediately. It was thrilling to hear back as you don't often hear back from that sort of letter. But she is always prospecting for possibilities for her and her company. She wants to get the word of Shakespeare out in the world.

Where did the concept for the book as a compilation of retellings originate?
Tina and I met and talked about her work [with the festival] and her work in the schools. She works very closely with all sorts of schools. There are about 10 to 15 schools that her people direct and produce plays with. She's really a part of the community; she's indigenous there. So we had a long conversation about education and students and conveying Shakespeare.

Tales from Shakespeare was really a multi-group, multi-person project. Scholastic Press editor Sheila Keenan was brought in to work with Tina on the editing of the book. The idea to have different artists for the tales was really based on the success we have had with other collections we have published, such as poetry. It really gives variety to the book to have different artists involved.

How did you determine the visual concept for the book and select an illustrator for each play?
Every artist that we approached immediately took to it. Many of them are fans of Shakespeare. We could really pick the cream of the Scholastic crop. I had an idea of who I wanted to do what. We approached each artist and said we have you in mind for this particular play. They were all very enthusiastic about the idea.

Each artist stretched beyond what he or she is known for and I think that's what is really interesting about the collection. Tina had to approve every piece, and there were changes she would make which was interesting, as these artists aren't used to someone standing over their shoulder and saying, "I like this," or "I want this to be different." Tina clearly has a vision, and as a director she has a visual opinion of what something should look like. So it wasn't just about the words; it was clearly also the picture and how we were conveying emotions and details about the story.

What uses for this book do you envision?
We see this as an introduction to Shakespeare, for both children and adults. The reading level is about ages 9 to 12, [considering] the combination of language and content. My daughter had to read Romeo and Juliet in school this year, so I had her read the story to help her to navigate it better. And for adults also, you may be familiar with the story of Romeo and Juliet but do you know The Tempest or the story of A Midsummer Nights Dream, which is one of the hardest stories to follow. So really, it's an overall introduction to Shakespeare.

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