SHAKESPEARE’S SEASONS is an illustrated children’s book created by me and my collaborator (and friend), Shannon Whitt. It was inspired by reading to my two-year-old son, Abel. Discovering the rhymes and poetry of Mother Goose and Dr. Seuss and the sound and silliness of the words was a joyful experience for him. He was intrigued by the idea that specific words describe specific things: Nape–it’s not just a neck, it’s the back of a neck.Because things were going so well with the poetry and because I’m a theatre director and a literary manager at Vineyard Theatre in New York City, I thought it would be fun to share Shakespeare’s rhymes and verse with Abel. But secretly, I’m a Shakespeare wimp. Everyone knows Shakespeare is a great writer! (But I can’t understand him.) Maybe reading Shakespeare to my boy would school me too.
Reading Abel Romeo and Juliet or King John didn’t make sense–neither one of us would appreciate it. I’d seen books that paired great works of art with gentle rhyming verses. So we set out to find the same idea for great works of literature. We headed to the bookstore. Then the library, independent bookstores, online. Nothing. Though the idea seemed too obvious to not exist, most agents and publishers didn’t believe that parents and young children would want such a book. One agent even said he didn’t think exposing young kids to Shakespeare was “in anyway necessary”.
That’s when I started to realize how necessary it really is. Like learning any language, early exposure to Shakespeare makes you more fluent. Like Shakespeare, we push our language to mold and fit us regardless of the times we live in or our respective ages. There is something spectacular about teaching a child a word that so deliciously fits a specific set of circumstances. After knowing it, everything else falls short: Bareness to describe trees in the winter or foison plenty to describe the farmers’ markets bursting with the year’s harvest. Shakespeare or not, kids get it.
The delightful surprise of the book is that adults get it too. This is full-on, unadulatered Shakespearian text. It’s an authentic experience of his verse in small doses. Abel is five now and he’s starting to discover what makes Shakespeare’s words so endurable and timeless. So am I.