Michael Rosen's Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet may be a picture book, but it will give high school students across the country a reason to rejoice. Here, in a lively, attractive format, is an excellent retelling of the classic play, a book that's sure to be a popular jumping-off point for students before they tackle the Bard's original text. The book begins with an illustrated introduction to the major characters in the play, followed by information about William Shakespeare and London in the 1590s. From there, Rosen, who is also the author of Shakespeare: His Work and His World, goes right into his retelling. To provide a context for the play, he uses a simple, conversational approach, mixing his material with key passages from Shakespeare's text. Short definitions of difficult words are included in the borders of each page. The book proceeds scene by scene, summarizing the action, while presenting the most familiar passages from the play. Rosen handles the transitions seamlessly, as in this excerpt from the balcony scene, in which the original text is set off in bold type: "Juliet had no idea that Romeo was down there in the orchard. O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo? she said aloud. She could not forget the horrible fact that Romeo was a Montague and she a Capulet, and she wished that one of them could give up their family:Deny thy father and refuse thy name.
Or if thou wilt not, be but sworn my loveAnd I'll no longer be a Capulet."The retelling concludes with some thoughts about what the reaction of audiences in Shakespeare's time might have been. Rosen then advises his readers, "One more thing: when you get the chance, go and see the play. That's why plays are written."Jane Ray's exquisite watercolor illustrations, as well as an elegant, clear design, support this wonderful retelling. With its clear presentation of Shakespeare's words and helpful contextual information, Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet would be a welcome addition to any library and a wonderful gift for a young person (or adult!) about to see the play for the first time.