Sutcliffe, Jane. Will’s Words: How William Shakespeare Changed the Way You Talk. illus. by John Shelley. 40p. bibliog. chron. Charlesbridge. Mar. 2016. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781580896382.
Gr 3-6 –Focusing on the now commonplace words that Shakespeare introduced into the English language, Sutcliffe describes the inner workings of the Globe Theatre and the Bard’s genius. The verso of each spread presents historical facts about Elizabethan London and the theatrical tradition it spawned, with Shakespeare’s words interspersed amid Sutcliffe’s lively prose, while the recto highlights the words, explains their meanings (both original and contemporary), and cites their usage in the poet’s plays. Shelley’s meticulously detailed painted pen-and-ink drawings brim with life and convey a clear sense of 1606 London, “a bustling, jostling, clinging, singing, stinking, head-chopping, pickpocketing wonder of a city,” while still managing to individualize the personages both onstage and off. They are perfectly married to Sutcliff’s concise, humorous, fact-filled prose. While the author references the few known truths of Shakespeare’s life, the emphasis is on his once-inventive but now familiar words, thus setting this title apart from most standard biographies. Readers will discover the origins of basic terms and expressions, such as hurry, fashionable, and cold-blooded. The book opens and concludes with a letter from Sutcliffe laying out her intentions in penning this work and discussing what we know of Shakespeare’s life. Pair this gem with Diane Stanley and Peter Vennema’s Bard of Avon: The Story of William Shakespeare (Morrow, 1992) for a full portrait of Shakespeare’s genius. VERDICT A beautifully presented, original approach to the playwright’s lasting contributions to the English language.
This review was published in the School Library Journal March 2016 issue.