Saturday, June 21, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #171: The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents Macbeth by Lender & Giallongo

Of all of the Shakespeare plays that you could retell for younger readers, Macbeth is one of the more unlikely. Oh, sure, King Lear is definitely even worse -- yucky old people, boring do-my-kids-respect-me plot motivation -- and I don't expect to see a picture-book Coriolanus anytime soon. But, still, Macbeth is about ambition and madness and hubris, not usually core concerns for fourth-graders. Though it does have about 200% less hesitation than Hamlet, so it has that going for it.

Ian Lender and Zack Giallongo -- writer and artist, respectively -- clearly don't worry about that, because they're launching a series of graphic novel adaptations of Shakespeare plays with The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents Macbeth. (Romeo and Juliet is already promised as a follow-up.)

The conceit is amusing and appropriate: the animals of the Stratford-on-Avon zoo, presumably being steeped in all things Shakespearean, perform plays for their peers late at night, after the zoo is closed an all of the humans are gone. The first show we see of theirs is this Macbeth, but this is clearly not their first show. We're mostly watching the show on stage, but attention wanders -- we see the audience commenting, complaining, and murmuring to each other throughout, including a family of unnamed small furry mammals (lemurs? monkeys? some small apes?) who almost become our viewpoint characters.

It's all kid-appropriate: the dialogue has some Shakespearean lines and phrases, but those are rephrased and the action reframed to suit the older elementary-school crowd. So Macbeth is a lion who eats the owl king, and the stain on his wife's hand is because she's washing the ketchup stains out of Macbeth's clothes after his murders-cum-feasts. It's not far away from the original, but just far enough: identifiable to adults, but still clear to kids. Stratford Zoo has some violent moments -- this Macbeth does eat several people, just barely off-panel -- but he eats them like the Wolf in the most kid-appropriate versions of Red Riding Hood, if you know what I mean.

Some of the changes to make this kid-friendly are silly -- Macduff's army dresses in foliage from Burnham Wood because they forgot their armor -- and some seem just a hair off what they could have been -- Macduff is a bird, so the "not born from a mother" could easily have been "hatched from an egg," but Lender goes with the stork explanation instead.

But it's funny and age-appropriate and hews pretty closely to Shakespeare the whole time. I expect to see this in a lot of classrooms over the next few years -- and I think the kid will like reading it, too, which is even more important.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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