Ira's Shakespeare Dream

illus. by Floyd Cooper. 40p. notes. photos. websites. Lee & Low. Jun. 2015. Tr $18.95. ISBN 9781620141557. LC 2014018056.
RedReviewStarGr 3–6—Though his acting earned him fame and a knighthood in Europe, Ira Aldridge is hardly a household name in his homeland, but this attractive picture book biography may change that. Born in New York City in 1807, Aldridge fell in love with acting as he sat in the balcony of the whites-only Park Theatre, watching the performances from afar. His dream grew wings at the African Grove, a new all-black venue, where he could sit wherever he liked. However, Aldridge's father insisted that his son follow in his footsteps and become a minister. Frustrated and seeking adventure, Aldridge left home to serve as cabin boy on a ship headed South. When a man offered to buy him from the captain for $500 and Aldridge witnessed other, less fortunate blacks on the auction block, he became angry and afraid. At 17, he decided to sail to England, where he would be free of his country's inhumanity and his father's expectations. Working his way up from errand boy to understudy, he eventually became "one of the most celebrated Shakespearean actors in Europe." Aldridge was also a vocal abolitionist, addressing audiences and raising money for the cause. The third-person narration invites readers into Ira's world and thoughts, incorporating Shakespearean verse where appropriate. Cooper's signature oil wash illustrations, created with kneaded eraser, beautifully capture the period and subjects' emotions. The palette of somber browns spring to life, complemented by the vivid colors of the stage and costumes.
VERDICT Use this handsome, inspiring offering to enrich units on Shakespeare, theater, or black history.

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