SHAKESPEARE STORIES, text by Leon Garfield; illustrated by Michael Foreman (Schocken: $14.95; age 5 and up). When I was 9, a precocious friend, also 9, hefted over her parents' volume of Shakespeare and quoted from her favorite poem, "The Rape of Lucrece." Later, I paraphrased the racy parts to my little brother, forming a happy friendship with literature and a curiosity about Mr. Shakespeare, whoever he was. Had we had Leon Garfield's fine collection of plays, 12 of them rewritten here in narrative form, we may have closed our Hardy Boys books for good.
Garfield saves enough of the original thithers, thys and thees to capture the language as well as quotes remembered from high school English. He gracefully interrupts the characters with picturesque narrative and has avoided distracting the reader with footnotes.
Othello is still called "thicklips," "Macfuff was from his mother's womb untimely ripped!," and the Capulets and Montagues "were at it again!" It's doubtful that 5-to-9-year-olds will absorb the 17th-Century argot, but they should well understand its drama and vitality and quite possibly be incited to try the original stuff when they're able to read independently.
Author and artist, distinguished prize winners both, have created a beautiful balance with lyrical prose, 16 color plates and many black-and-white etchings. Children as well as adults will be attracted to this jewel even if there is, alas, no mention of Lucrece.