Monday, March 20, 2017

MMGM: King of Shadows

Today's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday pick

King of Shadows, by Susan Cooper
Time travel to Elizabethan England
King of Shadows
Written by Susan Cooper

Penguin Random House, 1999
Grades 4-8, 1010L
192 pages, 48000 words

Time Travel, Shakespeare

       Tag. The little kids' game, plain ordinary old tag. That's what he had us playing. Even though none of us was younger than eleven, and the older ones were big as men. Gil Warmun even had a triangle of beard on his chin. Warmun was "it" for now, the tagger, chasing us; suddenly he swung around at me before I could dodge, and hit me on the shoulder.
       "Nat's it!"
       "Go, go, go!"
       Run around the big echoing space, sneakers squealing on the shiny floor; try to catch someone, anyone, any of the bodies twisting and diving out of my way. I paused in the middle, all of them dancing around me ready to dodge, breathless, laughing.
       "Go, Nat! Keep it moving, don't let it drop! Tag, tag!"
       That huge voice was ringing out from the end of the room, Arby's voice, deep as the sound of a big gong. You did whatever that voice said, now; you moved quick as lightning. For the Company of Boys, Arby was director, actor, teacher, boss man. I dashed across the room toward a swirling group of them, saw the carroty red head of little Eric Sawyer from Maine, chased him in and out and finally tagged him when he cannoned into a slower boy.
       "Go, Eric, go—keep the energy up —"
       The voice again, as Eric's scrawny legs scurried desperately through the noisy crowd; then suddenly a change, abrupt, commanding.
       "O-kay! Stop! That's it! Now we're going to turn that energy inside, inside us —get in groups of five, all of you, anywhere in the room."

One summer Nat joins the Company of Boys, an American drama team headed to London to perform Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream at a reproduction of the Globe Theater. Nat hopes to escape the pain in his life, but instead he contracts a mysterious illness which transports him to Elizabethan England, back to the real Globe Theater, where he is part of  Shakespeare's own company. Nat must adapt, survive, and ultimately choose between escaping his past or facing it, between the broken relationships at home, or the new one he is building with the Bard himself.

This book is skillfully written, as are all of Cooper's books. Her attention to detail and unromanticised depiction of  sixteenth century England catapult the reader into the story. Nat's character is authentic, and I think many pre-teens will relate to his emotional dilemmas. There's plenty of history to be learned here, but the text is never dry. Plus the plot twists and turns, full of intrigue and tension. There was an unexpected expletive, but the rest is riveting. Notice the breathless pace of the opening paragraphs and the author's use of phrases and punctuation to show the action, rather than try to tell it.

 1. If you enjoyed King of Shadows, try some of Susan Cooper's other books. The Dark is Rising is my all-time favorite, part of The Dark is Rising series.

The Dark IS Rising, books 1-5
Is this Julie Dillon's art?

2. Fellow MMGMer, Karen, recommends Ira Shakespeare's Dream, a fabulous picture book biography of Ira Aldridge, the African-American actor who was barred from performing in
Shakespeare's plays.

Both Jenni and Joanne have reviewed The Shakespeare Stealer, by Gary Blackwood. And Gary has written a sequel, Shakespeare's Scribe, reviewed by Kirkus.

Greg has written a thorough review of Inquire & Investigate Shakespeare, by Andi Diehn

Ira Shakespeare's Dream,
By Glenda Armand
Illustrated by Floyd Cooper
The Shakespeare Stealer,
Cover by Greg Call
Shakespeare, part of the
Inquire and Investigate series

3. It's Shakespeare Week. Here are a few links to the activities available, classroom suggestions, and more Elizabethan fun.

Mission Shakespeare,
an online kids' challenge

Shakespeare Week official site

Celebrations from
the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

Plan a Visit via Shakespeare's England

4. A few weeks back I reviewed Will's Words, a fun and fascinating picture book about how William Shakespeare's work affects the English language. This Friday, I'll be featuring a few more picture books in honor of the Bard, both funny and factual. Plus you'll always find my suggestions for crafts, snacks, and links for further exploration as part of the regular Perfect Picture Book Friday feature.

Have you reviewed a Marvelous Middle Grade Book along this theme? Please leave the link in the comments below. Thanks!

Check out all the Marvelous Middle Grade Monday recommendations for March 20, 2017.

MMGM started way back in 2010 by Shannon Messenger, author of Keeper of Lost Cities. Each week, participating bloggers review our favorite books for ages 8-12. Why not join us?


  1. Sounds like an intriguing read! Cool that it's Shakespeare week. I didn't know there was such a thing, but now I think I'll have to find a way to celebrate. ;)

    1. If you've never read any of Susan's books, you're in for a treat! Thanks.

  2. Didn't realize that it's Shakespeare week. What an action-packed series. I loved the opening you shared, but didn't expect the twist that it was an acting group. I would love to visit England during Shakespeare's time.

    1. Sorry I didn't make it clear.: This is a standalone novel. The Dark is Rising is a series. Think so? Wait til you read Friday's Perfect Picture Book review. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Happy Shakespears week! I myself have actually read this series, and am not so fond of it. :/ Glad to hear you enjoyed it though!

    1. Thanks for your thoughts. If you like Cooper's writing style but didn't like the epic nature of The Dark is Rising, you might want to try King of Shadows or The Boggart. Both have contemporary characters, the latter, contemporary a setting.


Thank-you for taking time to share your thoughts!

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.