I read a great book this week (prereading to see if it were suitable for the lads, but not yet unfortunately.) Susan Cooper's "King of Shadows" (Margaret McElderry Books, 1999, 186 pp, no illustrations) is the story of a gifted child actor named Nat Field, who has been selected for a prestigious summer theatre programme, in which he'll be playing Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream. He and the rest of the company have gone to London to put on the play at the New Globe; Nat becomes ill, and finds himself transported back to 1599, where he is suddenly playing Puck in the original Globe, costarring with Richard Burbage and Shakespeare himself.

My kids are keen Shakespeareans, and one of them is very enthusiastic about acting, so I had high hopes for this one, and indeed, in a couple years, this is definitely a book I'll look to again. It's too dark for my particular kids right now (Nat has had a difficult childhood, which encompasses the early death of his mother and the suicide of his father, compounded by his having been the person to discover his father's body); the level of detail about Elizabethan England is fascinating, but some of that would be a bit much for my guys too (the bear-baiting for instance). The story is very well-told, though, and there's lots of lovely Shakespeare throughout (especially Dream, of course, but quite a lot of Henry V, too, and some sonnets); another nice feature from our perspective is the extent to which the young people in the story are treated as professionals, always taken seriously and never patronized.

The book says 10 and up, which seems about right to me.