The Shakespeare Challenge comes to a close at the end of June and I'm way behind. What better time to add in a picture book?
Most people know Don Freeman from the classic Corduroy. Before Corduroy was branded and lower quality books "based on the Don Freeman creation" flooded the market, Freeman was acknowledged as a great children's author and illustrator. His Fly High, Fly Low was even a Caldecott Honor Book.
Will's Quill (or How A Goose Saved Shakespeare) was given to my kids as a Christmas gift and I'll admit being a bit skeptical at first. The illustrations, while detailed and well-done, weren't overly vibrant. And the story of a goose saving Shakespeare by offering up his feathers as quills didn't seem overly exciting. Yet my kids were drawn to it.
Really, I shouldn't have been surprised. I loved Corduroy and A Pocket For Corduroy when I was a child and though we like to focus on "how the world has changed" kids today don't need stories that go 110 km/hr with puns in every other sentence, nor do their books need to resort to cheap sentimentality in order to be "nice." Freeman excelled with gentle books.
There are laughs in Will's Quill. At one point the goose Willoughby Waddle gets doused with dirty water and vegetable scrapings thrown down from a window. But perhaps the most uproarious moment comes when Willoughby misunderstands that a play is being performed and attempts to rescue Shakespeare from a duelling scene by biting his opponent on the seat of his breeches.
Willoughby Waddle has come from the country to make himself useful in the city. He soon finds out that life in Londontown is rougher and more hectic than he'd anticipated but, just as the indignities start to pile up, a kind stranger by the name of William Shakespeare offers him a hand. Determined to pay back his kindness, Willoughby searches over the city for him and finally discovers a way. On the back of the book Shakespeare is quoted as saying, "How far that little candle throws his beam/ So shines a good deed in a naughty world." A fine message that could have become the Pay It Forward of children's books, but Freeman prevents it from being overly saccharine with just the right balance of humor and plot.
And of course as an added bonus, children are introduced to Shakespeare as a historical figure. They won't walk away experts on the bard but they'll learn that he lived in Londontown and wrote well-respected plays that were performed at the Globe. This introduction is a brief one, but wrapped in a tale that kids seem to enjoy, might be remembered a little better than a book that sets out to teach his biography to kids.
(Cross-posted at The Book Mine Set)