The Shakespeare Stealer is not the type of book I would usually pick up, but I'm very happy I did. It tells the story of Widge, an orphan growing up in Elizabethan England. One of his masters is a clergyman who teaches him an original form of shorthand that allows him to take notes that are indistinguishable to others. Once his skill is known, Widge is purchased and forced to try to steal William Shakespeare's newly-written Hamlet. Of course, nothing works out as easily as planned.
I was most impressed by author Gary Blackwood's knowledge of the time period. The details about the era are accurate and the language feels particularly authentic. This is even more of a feat considering the reading level for which it was written (my 6th grade students could easily manage this text) and that it never feels didactic or condescending.
The Shakespeare Stealer would be a great introduction to a unit on the Bard. Blackwood’s story gives readers an idea of how a Shakespearean company functioned, as well as a description of the Globe Theatre, its patrons, and where they live. Blackwood achieves a balance between suspense, action, and humor (let’s just say nobody wants to fall into a ditch in London in 1601). I’m happy to learn that this novel is the first in a trilogy, because I know that my students will get hooked and want to know more about what happens to the unlikely hero, Widge.