That Shakespeare Kid by Michael LoMonico – Review by Glenda Funk

“There is much matter to be heard and learn’d” in Michael LoMonico’s new YA novel That Shakespeare Kid, a project he funded through a successful Kickstarter campaign. “The lines are very quaintly writ” in this clever tale of two friends whose adventure echoes Romeo and Juliet with a twist.

The story begins when Peter and Emma jumpstart their study of Shakespeare’s “star-crossed lovers” by attempting to access the story in the Riverside Shakespeare. The massive tome pelts Peter in the head, and he awakens to a new reality: He can only speak in lines from Shakespeare’s plays!

Of course, Peter ponders: “Is there no way to cure this? No new device to beat this from my brains?” as he must learn to navigate the treacherous territory of middle school drama. That’s where his friend Emma steps “once more into the breach” and assists Peter as his interpreter. Peter has not lost his ability to think in late Modern English, so he texts Emma who shares the messages with Peter’s parents, teachers, friends, and others.

Peter’s and Emma’s adventures into Early Modern English, the language of Shakespeare, elevates their social status in numerous ways, turning nerds into adolescents who, to quote John Green, “Don’t forget to be awesome!”

LoMonico’s unique infusion of Shakespearian language into a YA novel has been “A hit! A hit! A very palpable hit” among my students and their parents, too in my classroom. From freshmen to seniors, they “love this book.”

Even my sports fans appreciate the Bard’s relevance to baseball. The scene in which Peter attends a Mets game and exuberantly spews forth Shakespeare as he routes for the home team at CitiField illustrates an important truth: Kids love Shakespeare as much as Elizabethan scholars when we make him accessible to them. LoMonico makes all of Shakespeare’s plays relevant and accessible to students by incorporating lines from all the plays into the novel. He offers a handy appendix at the end in which he references the origin of each line.

Teaching teachers and students to love the Bard has been LoMonico’s mission for more than three decades, first as a high school teacher, next as an education professor at Stonybrook University, and most recently as the senior education consultant for the Folger Shakespeare Library. Those who use the Folger’s Shakespeare Set Free series may recognize LoMonico as the co-author of the Romeo and Juliet unit in volume 1 of the series.

A subplot of That Shakespeare Kid borrows from the Folger pedagogical philosophy that Shakespeare wrote his plays for performance and that teachers should introduce students to the Bard via performance techniques. Thus, Peter’s and Emma’s English teacher, Ms. Hastings, is the real hero of the novel. Ultimately, she acknowledges that her traditional teaching methods don’t really have much, if anything, to do with Shakespeare’s language when Peter, via his interpreter Emma, asks a poignant question about why Ms. Hastings insists the class learn about Shakespeare’s birthplace and the Globe Theater.

Indeed, That Shakespeare Kid is more than an entertaining YA novel; it’s also an argument for self-examination among English teachers. “The book in man’s eyes doth share the glory” by showing us the way to bridge the YA literature that appeals to ourselves and our students with Shakespeare’s words and world: “The play’s the thing”!

Lines in this post from Shakespeare’s plays that also appear in That Shakespeare Kid:

1.“There is much matter to be heard and learn’d” (As You Like It 5.4)

2. “The lines are very quaintly writ” (The Two Gentlemen of Verona 2.1)

3. “Is there no way to cure this? No new device to beat this from my brains?” (Henry VIII 3.2)

4. “Once more into the breach” (Henry V 3.1)

5. “A hit! A hit! A very palpable hit” (Hamlet 2.2)

6. “The book in man’s eyes doth share the glory” (Romeo and Juliet 1.3)

7. “The play’s the thing” (Hamlet 2.2)

Michael LoMonico is the Senior Education Consultant at the Folger Shakespeare Library and author of several books about the Bard. He can be found on Facebook and on Twitter @mikelomo and via his blog http://www.lomonico.com

Glenda Funk is a National Board Certified teacher who loves seeing students perform Shakespeare, especially when boys want to put on a dress and play Lady Macbeth. Her students’ current favorite line from Shakespeare is, “Asses are made to bear, and so are you,” from The Taming of the Shrew. She can be found on Twitter @gmfunk and on Facebook. She blogs at http://www.evolvingenglishteacher.blogspot.com and is a Folger TSI alum (class of 2008).