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“All the world’s a stage,” proclaims Jaques in Shakespeare’s As You Like It. Judging by the numerous sources available for would-be thespians, he knows of what he speaks! With the popularity of Glee and the many versions of High School Musical, it seems clear that, no matter the odds, there will always be a modern-day Mickey Rooney or Judy Garland hustling to put on a show.
What makes the world of theater so enticing? Maybe it’s the glamour of the lights and costumes. Possibly it’s the thrill of the applause. Or perhaps it’s that anyone—no matter how shy or awkward—is sure to find a home on or behind some stage somewhere. Whether it’s the dreamy Leonardo in Sharon Creech’s Replay or the in-your-face protagonist of Tomie dePaola’s Stagestruck, the theater is one place where a person’s quirky qualities are considered to be more “creative” than “strange.”
The books and websites cited in this article do much to unlock the world of the stage for young theater aficionados.
Broadway A to Z introduces a theatrical vocabulary that comes alive in Curtain Up, a fictionalized but realistic glimpse at the experiences of a professional child-actress. Megan McDonald’s Rule of Three and Madeline L’Engle’s posthumously published The Joys of Love reveal important life lessons learned by young actors, while others, like Babymouse and The Great American Mousical, are delightful spoofs. Acting for Young Actors and The Ultimate Improv Book teach performance techniques, and how-to titles, such as Cool Special Effects and Stage Makeup, offer tips to achieve technical prowess.
Each work will expand young people’s theatrical horizons, giving them an appreciation for this ancient yet ever-contemporary art form and encouraging them to get out there and “Break a leg!”
ALIKI. A Play’s the Thing. illus. by author. HarperCollins. 2005. PLB $18.89. ISBN 978-0-06-074356-7.
Gr 1-3—“Miss Brilliant is full of ideas,” so suggesting that her class write its own play excites everyone, except defiant, antisocial José. After cooperating to present a sparkling performance, everyone, even José, is proud. Extra dialogue in the humorous comic-strip illustrations reveal nuances about the multi-ethnic characters, allowing the book to function on several levels.
CABOT, Meg. Stage Fright. Bk. 4. (Allie Finkle’s Rules for Girls Series). Scholastic. 2009. Tr $15.99. ISBN 978-0-545-04045-7; pap. $5.99. ISBN 978-0-545-04046-4.
Gr 2-4—Unhappily cast as the Evil Queen in her class play but determined to make her character memorable, vivacious fourth-grader Allie discovers that she has talent that goes beyond creating endless rules to govern her life. Befriending her rival, Sophie, she affirms, “when you know the right thing to do, you have to do it.” Audio version available from Scholastic Audio.
DEPAOLA, Tomie. Stagestruck. illus. by author. Putnam. 2005. RTE $16.99. ISBN 978-0-399-24338-7; pap. $6.99. ISBN 978-0-1424-0899-5.
PreS-Gr 2—When Tommy’s inattentiveness costs him the lead in Peter Rabbit, he upstages everyone with his over-the-top rendition of Mopsy. Despite the audience’s bravos, his parents explain that stealing the limelight is not praiseworthy. Tommy apologizes, but his thirst for applause, underscored by dePaola’s entertaining trademark watercolors, indicates just how truly stagestruck he is.
EDWARDS, Julie Andrews & Emma Walton Hamilton. The Great American Mousical. illus. by Tony Walton. HarperCollins. 2006. Tr $15.99. ISBN 978-0-06-057918-0. OP.
Gr 3-5—The resilient mice living beneath the Sovereign Theater are determined that their “show must go on” even though Adelaide, the star, has disappeared. The performance is a smash, Addie resurfaces, and their historic theater is saved from demolition. A delicious spoof, enhanced by expressive pen-and-ink drawings, that pays tribute to the Broadway musical. Audio version available from Harper Children’s Audio.
GILMAN, Grace. Dixie. illus. by Sarah McConnell. (I Can Read Series). HarperCollins. 2011. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-06-171914-1; pap. $3.99. ISBN 978-0-06-171913-4.
Gr 1-2—While Emma practices her role of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, her puppy, Dixie, takes second place. Lively watercolors portray Dixie’s hiding both herself and a “ruby slipper” as Emma panics. When the curtain rises, however, “Emma was Dorothy, and Dixie was Toto. Everything was perfect.” Audio version available from Audible.
HOLM, Jennifer L. & Matthew Holm. Babymouse: The Musical. Bk. 10. illus. by authors. Random. 2009. PLB $12.99. ISBN 978-0-375-93791-0; pap. $6.99. ISBN 978-0-375-84388-4.
Gr 2 Up—Bicolor cartoons add visual humor to numerous inside jokes in this clever graphic novel. Auditioning for her school musical, celebrity-wannabe Babymouse envisions herself as the star of various Broadway blockbusters. Whether tripping her fellow dancers in A Chorus Line or singing a mathematical lament as Sandy in Grease, this mouse with moxie is her own kind of diva.
MCLEAN, Dirk. Curtain Up!: A Book for Young Performers. illus. by France Brassard. Tundra. 2010. Tr $17.95. ISBN 978-0-88776-899-6.
Gr 1-3—Realistic watercolor illustrations portray child actress Amaya’s hectic backstage life, from auditions to opening night when her training and hard work come to fruition. Using the structure of a play, this excellent introduction to professional theater explains the artistic and technical aspects of a musical, focusing on the directors, choreographers, and designers responsible for its creation.
OSBORNE, Mary Pope. Stage Fright on a Summer Night. illus. by Sal Murdocca. (Magic Tree House Series). Random. 2002. PLB $12.99. ISBN 978-0-375-90611-4; pap. $4.99. ISBN 978-0-375-80611-7; ebook $4.99. ISBN 978-0-375-89482-4.
Gr 2-4—Time travelers Jack and Annie soar to Elizabethan England, meet Will Shakespeare, and perform in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Meanwhile, as the Bard helps them rescue a tame bear from the cruelty of London’s Bear Garden, the siblings encounter the people, places, and customs of his era. Audio version available from Listening Library.
BUZZEO, Toni. Read! Perform! Learn!: 10 Reader’s Theater Programs for Literary Enhancement. Upstart Books. 2006. pap. $17.95. ISBN 978-1-932-14659-2.
Gr 3-5—Following an introduction to the genre, Buzzeo offers ten short scripts for from three to twelve-plus characters, all based on books with broad kid appeal. Titles include Matt Tavares’s Mudball, Lisa Wheeler’s Old Cricket, and Angela Johnson’s Violet’s Music. Author interviews, bibliographies, and extensive standards-based activities add a teachers’ component to this first-rate resource.
KENNEY, Karen Latchana. Cool Special Effects: How to Stage Your Very Own Show. illus. by author. (Cool Performances Series). ABDO/Checkerboard Library. 2009. PLB $17.95. ISBN 978-1-60453-719-2.
Gr 3-5—With this easy-to-read guide, young techies can create lighting, sound, and special effects for their own productions. Clearly explained terms, specified materials, and step-by-step instructions accompany how-to photos, resulting in handily made effects, such as “Glowing Gobos” and “Black Light.” Part of a six-book series of which Cool Costumes and Cool Makeup (2009) are also particularly useful.
ZIEFERT, Harriet & Brian Stokes Mitchell. Lights on Broadway: A Theatrical Tour from A to Z. illus. by Elliot Kreloff. w/CD. Blue Apple. 2009. Tr $19.99. ISBN 978-1-934706-68-8.
Gr 2 Up—Tony winner Stokes-Mitchell introduces this eye-catching alphabet with full-page acrylics that explain theatrical terms, ranging from the obvious (“Audition,” “Lights”) to the specialized (“Fourth Wall,” “Kickline”). Relevant quotes from theater professionals flesh out this concise yet complete view of what gives theater its “Zing.” The accompanying CD features Stokes-Mitchell singing “I Was Here” from The Glorious Ones.
BONK, John J. Dustin Grubbs: One Man Show. Little, Brown. 2005. Tr $15.99. ISBN 978-0-316-156363; pap. $4.99. ISBN 978-0316154086.
Gr 5-8—Dustin knows his mom will go ballistic about his lead in the school play because she blames the family’s breakup on his dad’s stand-up comedy career. Aware that “not many people get applause,” Dustin takes his well-deserved bows after outwitting a Hollywood hotshot who threatens to steal the show. The young actor’s adventures continue in Dustin Grubbs: Take Two (Little Brown, 2006). Note: Both titles are OP but available in Kindle editions.
CREECH, Sharon. Replay. HarperCollins. 2005. PLB $16.89. ISBN 978-0-06-054020-3; pap. $5.99. ISBN 978-0-06-054021-0; ebook $5.99. ISBN 978-0-06-197249-2.
Gr 6-8—When Leo (aka fog boy) finds his father’s teenage autobiography, he discovers that his dad, too, once had dreams of being a performer. Encouraged, Leo plays Old Crone in Rompopo’s Porch, garnering a “Bravo!” from Papa and forging a new bond between them. Journal entries, “screenplay” dialogues, and the script of Rompopo’s Porch add variety to the text. Audio version available from Harper Children’s Audio.
MCDONALD, Megan. The Sisters Club: Rule of Three. illus by Pamela A. Consolazio. Candlewick. 2009. Tr $15.99. ISBN 978-0-7636-4153-5; pap. ISBN 978-0-7636-4830-5.
Gr 4-6—Through Alex’s scripts, Stevie’s “quizzes,” and Joey’s doodle-filled lists, the trio shares the good and bad of being sisters. However, when Alex and Stevie both audition to be Princess Winnifred in Once Upon a Mattress, their sibling rivalry peaks. When Alex’s shame undermines her performance, Stevie’s forgiveness propels her sister toward her “Standing O.” Audio version available from Recorded Books.
SNYDER, Zilpha Keatley. William’s Midsummer Dreams. S & S/Atheneum. 2011. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-1-4424-1997-1; pap. $6.99. ISBN 978-1-4424-1997-1; ebook $5.99. ISBN 978-1-4424-1999-5.
Gr 5-8—Recently adopted by his aunt, William discovers both his passion and talent for live theater when he is cast as Puck in a professional summer Shakespearean production. His fears about being returned to his abusive biological family subside, and even problems with a jealous coactor can’t squelch his dreams in this fast-paced, intriguing adventure. Sequel to William S. and the Great Escape (S & S, 2009).
STREATFEILD, Noel. Theater Shoes. Random. 1994. reprint of 1945 ed. pap. $6.99. ISBN 978-0-679-85434-0.
Gr 5-8—With their mother dead and their father missing in World War II, Sorrel, Holly, and Mark go to live with their grandmother, a famous London actress, who sends them to drama school. Unhappy, they plan to run away but instead discover their hidden theatrical talents and accept the legacy of their distinguished theatrical family. Audio version available from Listening Library.
TOLAN, Stephanie S. Surviving the Applewhites. HarperCollins. 2002. pap. $5.99. ISBN 978-0-06-441044-1; ebook $4.99. ISBN 978-0-06-221336-5.
Gr 5-8—When “almost-thirteen-year-old” E.D. Applewhite reminds Jake that “there aren’t any more foster families…who’ll take you,” he knows that her family’s Creative Academy is his last chance before Juvenile Hall. Forming an uneasy alliance, the two misfits discover their true talents when the chaotic and hilariously quarrelsome family collaborates on a production of The Sound of Music. Audio version available from Audible and Playaway.
CHANDA, Justin, ed. Acting Out: Six One-Act Plays! Six Newbery Stars! S & S/Atheneum. 2008. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-1-4169-3848-4; pap. $5.99. ISBN 978-1-4169-3849-1.
Gr 6-8—Six well-known authors—Avi, Susan Cooper, Sharon Creech, Patricia MacLachlan, Katherine Paterson, and Richard Peck—weave the words “panhandle,” “raven,” “dollop,” “hoodwink,” “Justin,” and “knuckleball” into six plays. Multiple gender-blind parts (from gnomes to billionaires) inhabit these contemporary scripts suitable for reading or performing.
KATZ, Leon. The Greek Myths: Puppet Plays for Children from Ovid’s Metamorphoses . Applause Theatre and Cinema. 2004. pap. $12.95. ISBN 978-1-557-83502-4.
Gr 6 Up—Thirteen classic myths are presented as scripts usable for reader’s, puppet, or story theater. Well-written, comprehensible translations showcasing the humanness of the gods, these tales include humor, pathos, and just enough sexual innuendo to broaden their appeal. The “Voice” allows for flexible casting of one or a chorus of performers.
MCCULLOUGH, L.E. 111 One-Minute Monologues: The Ultimate Monologue Book for Middle School Actors. Vol. 3. Smith & Kraus. 2005. pap. $12.95. ISBN 978-1-575-25419-7.
Gr 6-8—Not too young, not too old, but just right, these short pieces provide fresh audition material for thespian “tweens.” Ranging from the comic “First Kiss” to the poignant “Half-and-Half,” they cover topics recounting middle school exuberance and angst. Categorized by gender and tone, their realistic language underscores their contemporary relevance.
SCHLITZ, Laura Amy. Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!: Voices from a Medieval Village. illus. by Robert Byrd. Candlewick. 2007. RTE $19.99. ISBN 978-0-7636-1578-9; pap. 6.99. ISBN 978-0-7636-5094-0.
Gr 5-8—Twenty-two monologues/dialogues reveal the intertwined lives of varlets, vermin, simpletons, and saints who “heal with comfrey,” sharpen swords “on the Saracen’s throat,” or battle “fleas in the pottage bowl” on a daily basis. In prose, free verse, or rhyme, these adolescent characters are framed in historical context, accompanied by manuscript-inspired illustrations and an extensive bibliography.
BJORKMAN, Lauren. My Invented Life. Holt. 2009. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-8050-8950-9; ebook $9.99. ISBN 978-1-4299-6096-0.
Gr 9 Up—Roz Peterson, drama geek extraordinaire, often confuses fantasy and reality. Although heterosexual, she reinvents herself as a lesbian, giving the Drama Club plenty of fodder for spouting online Shakespearean insults and playing practical jokes. A lighthearted treatment of typical teenage confusion about sexuality delivered with a dramatic flair.
COLLINS, Yvonne & Sandy Rideout. Now Starring Vivien Leigh Reid: Diva in Training. St. Martin’s. 2006. pap. $10.99. ISBN 978-0-3123-3839-8.
Gr 7-10—Summering with her flashy actress mother in Hollywood, Leigh attends a prestigious acting class and lands a role on a daytime soap. Humorous text messages and imagined screenplays illustrate her misuse of Method Acting techniques that transform her into the diva she plays on set, costing her both boyfriend and job. The teen also appears in Introducing Vivien Leigh Reid: Daughter of the Diva (2005) and The New and Improved Vivien Leigh Reid: Diva in Control (2007).
KEYES, Pamela. The Jumbee. Penguin/Dial. 2010. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-8037-3313-8; ebook $14.99. ISBN 978-1-101-46459-5.
Gr 8 Up—Alan’s seductive voice guides Esti’s Romeo and Juliet audition, and taken in, she performs under the tutelage of this mysterious man whom her West Indian compatriots presume to be a ghost. When the play’s set is plagued by “accidents,” suspicions fall on Alan in this exotic retelling of the classic Phantom of the Opera.
L’ENGLE, Madeleine. The Joys of Love. Farrar. 2008. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-374-33870-1; pap. $9.99. ISBN 978-1-250-00482-6; ebook $9.99. ISBN 978-1-429-96512-5.
Gr 8-10—In this old-fashioned coming-of-age story, 20-year-old Elizabeth, an acting apprentice in a 1946 New York summer stock company, falls for lecherous director Kurt. Realizing her folly just in time, she emerges sadder but wiser. L’Engle’s rich descriptive writing, replete with theatrical references and production details, evokes a bygone era of innocence. Audio version available from Macmillan Young Listeners.
O’CONNOR, Joseph. Ghost Light. Farrar. 2010. Tr $25. ISBN 978-0-374-16187-3; pap. $15. ISBN 978-1-250-00231-0; ebook $9.99. ISBN 978-1-429-99228-2.
Gr 10 Up—Constant as the “ghost light” on a darkened stage is Molly Allgood’s memory of her ill-fated romance with playwright John Synge at the Abbey Theatre in Edwardian Dublin. Now an aging alcoholic actress desperate for work in 1950’s London, she relives her misspent youth in this fictionalized poetic narrative of the real-life duo’s affair. Audio version available from AudioGo.
STAHLER, David, Jr. Spinning Out. Chronicle. 2011. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-8118-7780-0; ebook $16.99. ISBN 978-1-4521-0864-3.
Gr 9 Up—When two high school senior goof-offs audition for the spring musical, their obvious talent shocks everyone. Theatrical prowess, however, masks neither Frenchy’s depression nor Stewart’s schizophrenia, and both must finally face their private demons. Raw but non-gratuitous language and details of the rehearsal process contribute to the reality of this fast-paced chronicle in a five-act frame.
BELLI, Mary Lou & Dinah Lenney. Acting for Young Actors: The Ultimate Teen Guide. Back Stage Books. 2006. pap. $16.95. ISBN 978-0-823-04947-9.
Gr 7 Up—Recognizing that “good acting is not age exclusive,” this manual covers vocabulary, skill-sharpening exercises, and “Tips from the Pros” to inform teens about the craft and business of acting. Practical, concise, and serious, it reinforces the importance of education, parental support, and hard work. Recommendations of useful theatrical and film resources are included.
CORSON, Richard. Stage Makeup. 10th ed. Allyn & Bacon. 2009. Tr $161.20. ISBN 978-0-205-64454-4.
Gr 10 Up—Classic and still unsurpassed, this copiously illustrated comprehensive guide covers all aspects of theatrical and cinematic makeup, from physiognomy to applied design. Special topics (prosthetic pieces and wigs/facial hair) are included, while extensive appendixes document makeup fashion history and address health/safety concerns. A must for any theater collection.
JENNINGS, Coleman, ed. Theatre for Young Audiences: 20 Great Plays for Children. St. Martin’s. 1998. pap. $22.99. ISBN 978-0-312-33714-8.
Gr 7 Up—Scripts, both classic (Charlotte’s Web and Selkie) and contemporary (Jungalbook and Bocón!), that “represent the best of modern playwriting for children” make up this invaluable anthology. Featuring plays that showcase cultural diversity and varied performance styles together with playwrights’ bios, it is a “bible” for community and educational theaters using adult and/or child performers.
KEHRET, Peg. Tell It Like It Is: Fifty Monologs for Talented Teens. Meriwether. 2007. pap. $15.95. ISBN 978-1-56608-144-3.
Gr 7 Up—Ranging from typical laments about cell phones and homework to the poignant reflections of “Ryan’s Gun” and “Heavenly Dimes,” these provocative monologues present ordinary modern-day issues alongside eyewitness reflections that elucidate both proud and pitiful moments in American history. The subjects and contemporary language will have broad appeal.
NEVRAUMONT, Edward J. & Nicholas P. Hanson. The Ultimate Improv Book: A Complete Guide to Comedy Improvisation. Meriwether. 2001. pap. $17.95. ISBN 978-1-56608-075-0.
Gr 9 Up—Accepting the premise that “anyone can learn how to be a good improviser,” this step-by-step manual guides students and teachers in developing the techniques of spontaneous theater. Emphasis is on terminology and structures useful for creating an improv team, but the appendix’s games and scenarios also serve as ideal rehearsal tools.
Children’s Creative Theater.
library.thinkquest.org/5291. Oracle Educational Foundation. (Accessed 6/25/12).
Gr 5-8—Part of the ThinkQuest Library online learning platform, this site includes theater history, terms, games, a skit, and techniques for classroom use in a colorful, accessible format written in “kidspeak.”
Folger Shakespeare Library. www.folger.edu. Folger Shakespeare Library. Washington, DC. (Accessed 6/25/12).
Gr 4 Up—Games and mazes, lesson plans, character charts, and an electronic field trip are just a few of the amazing resources available to connect students and teachers to the Bard’s oeuvre. Extensive videos and photos reveal a plethora of treasures in this inventive, highly interactive site.
International Thespian Society. schooltheatre.org/society. Educational Theatre Association. Cincinnati, OH. (Accessed 6/25/12).
Gr 6 Up—Drama aficionados will find articles, activities, and video coverage on subjects ranging from vocal training to stage combat. Students can access valuable information on college theater programs and service projects, while lesson plans and a guide to forming thespian troupes will aid teachers.
Story Arts Online. storyarts.org. Heather Forest. Huntington, NY. (Accessed 6/25/12).
Gr 4 Up—An award-winning storyteller introduces the joy of oral theater to adults in an ultra-accessible, colorful site with links to fables/folktales and audio clips that will appeal to students as well. Lesson plans and storytelling resources show how to incorporate this dramatic art into the curriculum.
USA Plays for Kids. usaplays4kids.drury.edu. Drury University School of Education and Child Development. Springfield, MO. (Accessed 6/25/12).
Gr 4-8—A small but useful site for kids interested in playwriting links them to living dramatists who can help them develop new scripts. Playwrights and their bios are accessed by state, and links connect kids to organizations that welcome original writing.
Nancy Menaldi-Scanlan is a Teacher/Director for The Naples Players Kidzact Drama Program, Naples, FL.