Shakespeare-Inspired Books for Readers of All Ages

Audrey Niffenegger calls this Romeo and Juliet retelling “A strange and unexpected treat…elegantly written, touching, and fun.” R is not your average zombie. Yes, he eats the occasional human, but he also enjoys simple pleasures, like Frank Sinatra’s music and collecting apocalyptic tchotchkes. When he meets Julie, all of the love-at-first-sight cliches come true. He feels warm, human again, but their star-crossed romance causes unexpected implications for humanity at large.
Buy from Amazon Kindle
Buy from Amazon
Buy from Audible.com
Buy from IndieBound
This is Star Wars, Shakespeare-style, and it is genius. We stumbled upon this at our local indie bookstore and snatched it up. My rising 7th grader is learning all about iambic pentameter, how to read a script, stage directions, and a whole bunch of tricky vocabulary, because Star Wars. Fun for its own sake, but an easy introduction to the Bard for young students: my kids haven't encountered actual, factual Shakespeare in school yet, but now they'll be better prepared when they do.
Buy from Amazon Kindle
Buy from Amazon
Buy from Audible.com
Buy from IndieBound
This graphic novel Romeo and Juliet adaptation comes highly recommended by Brenna, producer of What Should I Read Next. Written in iambic pentameter, this hip-hop retelling is set in a “Blade Runner-esque” version of Brooklyn. Elizabethan theater meets samurai action movie as Tybalt and his Capulet crew battle it out with the Montagues. Tybalt gets top billing rather than the doomed couple, creating a fresh perspective on a tale as old as time.
Buy from Amazon Kindle
Buy from Amazon
Buy from IndieBound
“Thou art a flame that burns within my breast, the singular desire within my heart...” You may not recognize these famous lines from The Backstreet Boys. Along with other chart-topping songs, “I Want It That Way” receives the Shakespeare treatment in this hilarious collection of pop song sonnets. This poetry collection includes exclusive song rewrites from the creators of the Pop Sonnets blog. Their clever wording makes me chuckle, and this little book will surely delight the English teacher, musical theater fan, or aspiring poet in your life.
Buy from Amazon Kindle
Buy from Amazon
Buy from IndieBound
Scholars estimate that Shakespeare invented around 1700 commonly used words in the English language, plus countless phrases and colloquialisms. Movies, television, and popular culture frequently borrow from his plays and archetypes. According to Ken Ludwig, studying Shakespeare gives kids a head start on language and cultural references they’ll use for years. Adults will also gain appreciation and learn much from this kid-centered guide. Ludwig's fun and, at times, unconventional methods connect Shakespeare's timely themes to modern life. I read this when it first came out. Interesting and inspiring, if a little bonkers at times.
Buy from Amazon Kindle
Buy from Amazon
Buy from IndieBound
An atmospheric Midwestern version of Hamlet makes perfect fall reading. Edgar Sawtelle lives with his parents on a farm in northern Wisconsin. Born mute, he communicates via sign language and helps his family raise and train “Sawtelle dogs,” a fictional breed. Edgar’s peaceful world is disrupted when his uncle Claude returns to the farm. When his father dies unexpectedly, and Claude romances Edgar’s mother, Edgar tries to prove his uncle played a role in his father’s death, but flees to the wilderness when his plan fails. After coming of age in the north woods, Edgar turns toward home.
Buy from Amazon Kindle
Buy from Amazon
Buy from Audible.com
Buy from Libro.fm
Buy from IndieBound
Shakespeare's comedy The Taming of the Shrew has been adapted for everything from film to opera to ballet to musical theater. Both Kiss Me, Kate and the 90s high school movie 10 Things I Hate About You (LOVE it) are based on the play. Pulitzer Prize winner Anne Tyler brings a witty contemporary retelling for the Hogarth Shakespeare series. This one's on my TBR largely because of NPR, who calls this a "screwball of manners, more sweet than acidic, that actually channels Jane Austen more than Shakespeare." 242 pages.
Buy from Amazon Kindle
Buy from Amazon
Buy from Audible.com
Buy from IndieBound
Take King Lear, a sweeping epic about father-daughter relationships, cutthroat competition, and politics. Set it in modern day Iowa farmland. Win the 1992 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Jane Smiley’s stark yet beautiful retelling begins with aging farmer Larry Cook bequeathing the family farm to this three daughters. When Caroline appears less-than-thrilled, her unsentimental father cuts her out of the will, exposing long-buried truths and repressed emotions. As Larry’s health declines, his daughters are tasked with running the farm in a harsh patriarchal world. Stunningly written, this complicated family drama is great on the page or via audiobook.
Buy from Amazon Kindle
Buy from Amazon
Buy from Audible.com
Buy from IndieBound
If you love a good literary mystery (and I do) this is for you. Robin Sloan says, "With The Bookman's Tale, Charlie Lovett tells us a terrific story—there's mystery and suspense, murder and seduction—but more important, he shows us how it's all connected, all of this: the reading and the keeping and the sharing of books. It forms a chain long and strange enough to tie a heartbroken young scholar from North Carolina back to the Bard himself, who might or might not have been William Shakespeare."
Buy from Amazon Kindle
Buy from Amazon
Buy from Audible.com
Buy from IndieBound
"There is no problem a library card can't solve," a core belief for the three Andreas sisters who have returned to their childhood home, faced with their parents' frailty, their own disappointments, and reuniting the eccentric family. People magazine calls this "delightful." From the publisher: "Here, books are a passion and TV is something other people watch. Their father-a professor of Shakespeare who speaks almost exclusively in verse-named them after the Bard's heroines. It's a lot to live up to. The sisters have a hard time communicating with their parents and their lovers, but especially with one another. What can the shy homebody eldest sister, the fast-living middle child, and the bohemian youngest sibling have in common? Only that none has found life to be what was expected; and now, not even a book can solve what ails them."
Buy from Amazon Kindle
Buy from Amazon
Buy from Audible.com
The perfect lullaby for a magical midsummer night, and a beautiful way to introduce your little one to the Bard. Jennifer Adams’ adaptation of Shakespeare’s original lines and Alison Oliver’s whimsical illustrations bring the world of fairies to life and will enchant little ones for years.
Buy from Amazon
Buy from IndieBound
This middle grade adventure story resembles a kid-friendly version of the 1998 film Shakespeare in Love. Widge’s master tasks him with stealing and copying Shakespeare’s newest play. When he enters the Globe Theater in order to find Hamlet, Widge gets swept up in the world of performers and stagehands. Full of sword fights, Shakespearean twists, and rich historical detail, this fast-paced middle grade novel makes a great family read-aloud or road-trip audiobook.
Buy from Amazon Kindle
Buy from Amazon
Buy from Audible.com
Buy from IndieBound
Ophelia takes center stage in this dark, romantic Hamlet retelling. Smart, ambitious, and beautiful, Ophelia grows up at Elsinore Castle and eventually catches Prince Hamlet’s eye. When murder and mayhem erupts in Denmark, Ophelia must choose between her secret love or saving her own life. She plans a dangerous escape and becomes the hero of her own story. Klein’s plot points and even some of the dialogue come directly from the play itself, but her retelling takes a refreshing look at an oft-overlooked character.
Buy from Amazon Kindle
Buy from Amazon
Buy from Audible.com
Buy from IndieBound
Fans of Dreamland Burning will enjoy this Hamlet retelling. Hanalee Denney faces hatred and discrimination as a mixed-race young woman in 1920s Oregon. Her father, Hank, died in a drunk-driving accident last year, and now his killer is out of jail, claiming that Hank was actually poisoned by the town doctor--the doctor who happened to swoop in and marry Hanalee’s mother. Hanalee wants answers, and in order to get them she consults a wandering “haint,” her father’s ghost.
Buy from Amazon Kindle
Buy from Amazon
Buy from IndieBound