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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Theater Geeks!

If your chil­dren (or you) are cap­ti­vat­ed by tal­ent shows on TVor dreams of act­ing on the stage, or the next the­ater pro­duc­tion at school, there are a cho­rus line of books just wait­ing to audi­tion for your next favorite. Here’s a mix­ture of clas­sic and new sto­ries, rang­ing in inter­est from grades 3 through 7.

All the World's a Stage  

All the World’s a Stage
writ­ten by Gretchen Woelfle, illus by Thomas Cox
Hol­i­day House, 2011

Twelve-year-old Kit Buck­les has come to Lon­don to make his for­tune. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, he’s caught up in crime to stay alive. Imme­di­ate­ly caught in his first pick­pock­et­ing assign­ment, Kit is enthralled by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men to do odd jobs for their The­ater Play­house. When the act­ing troupe is evict­ed, Kit is caught up in the plot to steal the the­ater! William Shake­speare is a char­ac­ter is this sto­ry and the well-researched his­to­ry that defines this nov­el is excit­ing. High­ly rec­om­mend­ed.

 

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

 

The Best Christ­mas Pageant Ever
writ­ten by Bar­bara Robin­son
Harper­Collins, 1971

It can be argued that this is one of the fun­ni­est books ever pub­lished for chil­dren. When the Herd­man chil­dren learn that there are free snacks at the church in their neigh­bor­hood, they attend Sun­day School even though they haven’t heard of Jesus and the Christ­mas sto­ry before. When they’re cast in the Christ­mas pageant, the sto­ry of Jesus’ birth takes unusual—and eye-opening—turns. It’s a laugh-out-loud book with a heart-tug­ging end­ing. Many fam­i­lies read this out loud each year as part of their hol­i­day cel­e­bra­tions but it’s a well-writ­ten book that works well any time of year.

Better Nate Than Never  

Bet­ter Nate Than Ever
writ­ten by Tim Fed­er­le
Simon & Schus­ter, 2013

Thir­teen-year-old Nate Fos­ter has been grow­ing up in small-town Penn­syl­va­nia in a school and town that doesn’t appre­ci­ate his show­man­ship. His dream is to be on Broad­way, a life plan he and his best friend Lib­by have been rehears­ing for for­ev­er. When an open cast­ing call is adver­tised for E.T. The Musi­cal, Nate is deter­mined to be there. By turns fun­ny and heart-rend­ing, Nate’s sto­ry will strike a chord with every kid who wants to be a per­former on the spotlit stage.

Sequel: Five, Six, Sev­en, Nate!, Tim Fed­er­le, S&S, 2014

Drama  

Dra­ma
writ­ten by Raina Tel­ge­meier
Gold­en Books, 1947

In this book for ear­ly teens, Cal­lie gives up her ambi­tion to be in her school’s musi­cal when an audi­tion fails to impress the cast­ing com­mit­tee. She isn’t a singer. Instead, Cal­lie becomes a part of the back­stage crew, a cir­cum­stance many dis­ap­point­ed kids can relate with. But Cal­lie dis­cov­ers that she likes work­ing on the set. She doesn’t know what she’s doing but she’s enthu­si­as­tic. And there’s as much dra­ma back­stage as there is onstage. Cal­lie goes from one crush to anoth­er, main­tain­ing sus­pense with humor. This graph­ic nov­el is a big hit with read­ers.

Forget-Me-Not Summer  

For­get-Me-Not Sum­mer
writ­ten by Leila How­land
Harper­Collins, 2015

Marigold, Zin­nie, and Lily Sil­ver have their LA sum­mer all planned out—until their dad and mom, both work­ing for the film indus­try, get jobs out of town. The girls are sent to a small, coastal, Mass­a­chu­setts town to live with their aunt. They’re not hap­py because Marigold, twelve, had plans to audi­tion for a movie being made of her favorite book. And life in Pruet, MA, is unplugged. No cell phone recep­tion. Then Marigold dis­cov­ers the movie’s pro­duc­er has a sum­mer home near­by. Zin­nie writes a play to fea­ture Marigold’s tal­ents and the girls cre­ate a tal­ent show in a com­mu­ni­ty that is accept­ing and friend­ly. A heart-warm­ing book.

Goblin Secrets  

Gob­lin Secrets
writ­ten by William Alexan­der
Atheneum, Simon & Schus­ter, 2012

Rownie’s old­er broth­er, Rowan, his only liv­ing rel­a­tive, has dis­ap­peared. Rowan is an actor in a city that has out­lawed act­ing. To find Rowan, Rown­ie joins a Gob­lin the­ater troupe that per­forms in Zom­bay, man­ag­ing to get around the law. They’re up to more than is appar­ent and soon Rown­ie is caught up in the dra­ma of life. There are touch­es of steam­punk in this fan­ta­sy world. Rown­ie is tak­en in by Gra­ba, a woman with mech­a­nized chick­en legs. Yes, the books is that inven­tive! Nation­al Book Award for this debut nov­el.

Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!  

Good Mas­ters! Sweet Ladies!
Voic­es from a Medieval Vil­lage
writ­ten by Lau­ra Amy Schlitz, illus­trat­ed by Robert Byrd
Can­dlewick Press, 2007

Set in 1255, this engag­ing set of mono­logues cre­ate medieval vignettes that trans­port the read­er, or per­former, to a well-researched, involv­ing era. From the singing shep­herdess to the town’s “half-wit,” to the peasant’s daugh­ter, we learn the sto­ries of 22 peo­ple in this com­mu­ni­ty. This book isn’t about the­ater, it is the­ater, offer­ing a dra­mat­ic oppor­tu­ni­ty for under­stand­ing of a time long past. Win­ner of the New­bery Medal.

King of Shadows  

King of Shad­ows
writ­ten by Susan Coop­er
Mar­garet McElder­ry Books, Simon & Schus­ter, 1999

One of the best time-trav­el nov­els ever writ­ten, this is the sto­ry of Nat Field, a mem­ber of the Amer­i­can Com­pa­ny of Boys, an act­ing troupe. An orphan, this oppor­tu­ni­ty pro­vides a home for Nat, who trav­els with them to Lon­don to star at the new Globe The­ater as Puck in A Mid­sum­mer Night’s Dream. When he goes to sleep, he dis­cov­ers he has been whisked back to 1599 where he becomes the pro­tégé of William Shake­speare with a time-traveler’s abil­i­ty to save the Bard’s life. Replete with his­tor­i­cal detail, an excit­ing plot, and mem­o­rable char­ac­ters, this is a book to beck­on read­ers toward mod­ern-day excite­ment about Shakespeare’s plays. 

The Life Fantastic  

The Life Fan­tas­tic
writ­ten by Liza Ketchum
Simon Pulse, 2017

Fif­teen-year-old Tere­sa is drawn to the vaude­ville stage. She feels the need to sing, to per­form. Her par­ents were vaude­vil­lians, but they chose a con­ven­tion­al life of 9-to-5 jobs and stay­ing in one town to take care of their two chil­dren. Tere­sa wants to try her own career on the stage but her father is vehe­ment­ly against it. She sneaks away from home to New York City where she even­tu­al­ly ends up with a nation­al vaude­ville troupe. There are fas­ci­nat­ing, well-researched details of vaude­ville, racism in the the­ater and 1910 Amer­i­ca, and life as a dar­ing girl before women had any rights. A very good sto­ry for mid­dle grade and old­er, includ­ing adults.

Okay for Now  

Okay for Now
writ­ten by Gary D. Schmidt
Clar­i­on Books, 2011

For­mer­ly cast as the bul­ly in The Wednes­day Wars, Doug Swi­eteck is start­ing over in a new town. His father is abu­sive, his moth­er doesn’t stand up against his father, and his old­er, unkind broth­er is off fight­ing in Viet­nam. Doug real­izes he has an oppor­tu­ni­ty to make him­self over into some­one with a dif­fer­ent rep­u­ta­tion. He makes friends with Lil Spicer, becomes spell­bound by a library book with plates of Audubon’s birds, and sets off on a grand adven­ture with Lil to appear on a Broad­way stage. Fun­ny, heart-wrench­ing, and absorb­ing, this book is not be missed.

Replay  

Replay
writ­ten by Sharon Creech
Harper­Collins, 2005

Leonar­do is the mid­dle child in a loud, chaot­ic Ital­ian fam­i­ly. He’s a dream­er, a thinker, and per­haps an actor. He is cast in the dis­ap­point­ing role of the Old Crone in Rompopo’s Porch, a play his teacher wrote. At home, he dis­cov­ers the jour­nal his father wrote when he was thir­teen years old, the same age Leo is now. These two dis­parate occur­rences will give him more con­fi­dence, solve a fam­i­ly mys­tery, and change his life. The full text of the play is includ­ed in the book so cre­ative thes­pi­ans can put on their own show.

Romeo and Juliet Together (and Alive) At Last  

Romeo and Juli­et Togeth­er (and Alive) At Last
writ­ten by Avi
Scholas­tic, 1987

A light­heart­ed ren­di­tion of Romeo and Juli­et is writ­ten and pro­duced by a class of eighth-graders whose true goal is to get shy Peter Saltz and shy Anabell Stack­pole to real­ize they’re just right for each oth­er. The match­mak­ing attempts, the earnest but laugh-out-loud fun­ny pro­duc­tion of Shakespeare’s clas­sic play (often taught in eighth grade), and the ring­ing-true think­ing, plan­ning, and mis­steps of this group of kids make this one of my favorite of Avi’s books.

The Shakespeare Stealer  

The Shake­speare Steal­er
writ­ten by Gary Black­wood
Harper­Collins, 2005

Ordered by his nefar­i­ous “own­er,” and Shakespeare’s com­peti­tor, to steal the unpub­lished “Ham­let” from the Bard him­self, the orphaned Widge is bound to obey. The only prob­lem is that once he’s clev­er­ly insert­ed him­self into the troupe at the Globe The­ater, he finds real friends for the first time in his life. How will he avoid the reper­cus­sions of dis­obey­ing his own­er? How can Widge find a way not to dis­ap­point his new friends? The plot twists, turns, and ulti­mate­ly pro­vides a riv­et­ing read­ing expe­ri­ence.

Snow White  

Snow White
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Matt Phe­lan
Can­dlewick Press, 2016

You may be think­ing Snow White and the the­ater? What’s the con­nec­tion? In Matt Phelan’s com­pelling re-imag­in­ing of the fairy tale, Saman­tha White (called Snow by her dying moth­er) is the daugh­ter of the King of Wall Street. It’s the late 1920s and life is gid­dy. Her father mar­ries the Queen of the Fol­lies (as in Zieg­field, our minds sup­ply), who turns out to have very evil inten­tions. She sends Saman­tha off to board­ing school and some­how Samantha’s hale and hearty father dies. Sev­en street urchins and Detec­tive Prince round out the cast in this high­ly read­able and dis­cus­sion-wor­thy graph­ic nov­el. 

The Cruisers A Star is Born  

A Star is Born, The Cruis­ers series
writ­ten by Wal­ter Dean Myers
Scholas­tic Press, 2012

Eighth graders Zan­der, LaShon­da, Kam­bui, and Bob­bi run an alter­na­tive news­pa­per, The Cruis­er, at their high school for gift­ed and tal­ent­ed stu­dents in Harlem, New York. In this third book in the series, LaShon­da earns a schol­ar­ship to the Vir­ginia Woolf Soci­ety Pro­gram for Young Ladies, hon­or­ing the cos­tumes she designed for a play the Cruis­ers pro­duced. Once she’s com­plet­ed the pro­gram, she’ll be eli­gi­ble for finan­cial assis­tance for col­lege. But there’s a wrin­kle. LaShon­da will have to move to be a part of the pro­gram and she’s hes­i­tant to leave her autis­tic broth­er behind. The friends work to solve this conun­drum in a real­is­tic way. A great friend­ship sto­ry told with Wal­ter Dean Myers’ deft and sure touch, using inter­ject­ed poems, essays, and arti­cles that are pub­lished in The Cruis­er.

Starstruck  

Starstruck
writ­ten by Rachel Shuk­ert
Dela­corte Press, 2013

For read­ers most­ly aged 16 and old­er, this 1930s Hol­ly­wood nov­el tells the tale of Mar­garet Fro­bish­er, who is lit­er­al­ly dis­cov­ered in a drug­store. Because she looks like a movie star who’s gone miss­ing, she is swept into the stu­dio sys­tem, renamed Mar­go Ster­ling, and is sud­den­ly star­ring in a movie. It’s a lot for a young woman to han­dle and it turns out that Hol­ly­wood isn’t all glam­our and bright lights. Evil and dark­ness are a part of this new world and so are heartache and stark real­i­ty. The details are good, the char­ac­ters are well-drawn … it’s a good book to read if you’re hun­gry for Hol­ly­wood as it was in its Gold­en Age.  

Summerlost  

Sum­mer­lost
writ­ten by Ally Condie
Dut­ton Books, 2016

Cedar could be for­giv­en for mop­ing around in her new sum­mer home. Her father and younger broth­er Ben were just killed in an acci­dent. And yet she’s intrigued when she sees a boy in a cos­tume rid­ing past her house on a bicy­cle. She fol­lows him and dis­cov­ers the Sum­mer­lost the­ater fes­ti­val. Soon Cedar is work­ing con­ces­sions at the fes­ti­val and she’s caught up in the mys­tery of a ghost and mys­te­ri­ous gifts that show up in sur­pris­ing ways. Edgar Award nom­i­nee. It’s a good mid­dle grade nov­el that reads with great warmth and under­stand­ing of loss.

Surviving the Applewhites  

Sur­viv­ing the Apple­whites
writ­ten by Stephanie S. Tolan
Harper­Collins, 2002

Thir­teen-year-old Jake Sem­ple is a tough nut. He’s been kicked out of schools until there are no options left. That is until a home­school­ing fam­i­ly, the Apple­whites, offer to let him attend their Cre­ative Acad­e­my. Every­one in the fam­i­ly has an artis­tic tal­ent. Dad’s pro­duc­ing The Sound of Music at their local the­ater. Mom is a mys­tery writer who’s tak­ing a break to write the Great Amer­i­can Nov­el. Uncle is a wood­carv­er and Aunt is a poet. Even Cordelia and Des­tiny have their unique tal­ents. All except for E.D., who is quite pos­si­bly the only Apple­white who is orga­nized enough to keep the fam­i­ly run­ning. The book is told from Jake’s and E.D.‘s alter­nate view­points. And it turns out that Jake might not be as impen­e­tra­bly tough as he believes.

Swish of the Curtain  

Swish of the Cur­tain
writ­ten by Pamela Brown
Long­wa­ter Books (reprint­ed edi­tion), orig. 1941

Most Sev­en chil­dren from three fam­i­lies orga­nize The Blue Door The­ater Com­pa­ny, ren­o­vat­ing an old chapel and pro­duc­ing their own plays. They write, direct, stage, sew cos­tumes, design scenery, and rehearse on their own. Their goal is to com­pete in the dra­ma con­test at the end of the sum­mer, the prize for which is a schol­ar­ship to attend dra­ma school. The group has the goal to be in the pro­fes­sion­al the­ater. Pamela Brown began writ­ing this book when she was 14, but it wasn’t pub­lished until she was 17! She was a UK author, and her series of books about this dra­ma troupe was immense­ly pop­u­lar, being trans­lat­ed to radio, tele­vi­sion, and movies. A true clas­sic. 

Theater Shoes  

The­ater Shoes
writ­ten by Noël Streat­field
Year­ling, orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in 1946

The three Forbes sib­lings are orphaned. Their grand­moth­er, a famous actress, forces them to go to a the­ater school. They can’t afford the tuition but the Fos­sil Sis­ters (yes, the sis­ters from Bal­let Shoes) spon­sor them with a schol­ar­ship. They don’t believe they have any tal­ents but they’re deter­mined to live up to their spon­sors’ expec­ta­tions so they make their best effort. And they dis­cov­er that they are tal­ent­ed indeed. The “Shoes” books were favorites for read­ers who grew up in the ‘50s and ‘60s. They still read well today. Many chil­dren of those years pur­sued careers in the arts because of Noël Streatfield’s sto­ries!

The Wednesday Wars  

Wednes­day Wars
writ­ten by Gary D. Schmidt
Clar­i­on Books, 2007

Holling Hood­hood, sev­enth-grad­er, has a lot of chal­lenges. He’s the only Pres­by­ter­ian in his Catholic and Jew­ish school. He’s being forced to read Shake­speare by his teacher, Mrs. Bak­er. His father is demand­ing that Holling and his sis­ter are always on their best behav­ior so his busi­ness can suc­ceed. There’s a bul­ly that won’t leave Holling alone. And Holling’s base­ball heroes are com­ing to town to sign auto­graphs on the same day he has to put on yel­low tights and appear in a play. If that weren’t enough, the anx­i­ety of the Viet­nam War sur­rounds Holling’s life. A book that’s thor­ough­ly enjoy­able to read and unfor­get­table. It received a New­bery Hon­or.

Will Sparrow's Road  

Will Sparrow’s Road
writ­ten by Karen Cush­man
Clar­i­on Books, 2012

Will Sparrow’s father sells him to an innkeep­er in exchange for a dai­ly sup­ply of ale. The innkeep­er is cru­el so 13-year-old Will runs away … to a world that is not kind. Steal­ing food to eat, lying, Will thinks of him­self as a bad per­son. When he meets Grace and her trav­el­ing the­ater troupe of “odd­i­ties,” he dis­cov­ers an assem­bled fam­i­ly that cares for one anoth­er. Wills learns the per­form­ing skills nec­es­sary and he real­izes that he is some­body with worth in his Eliz­a­bethan Eng­land world. Filled with Karen’s Cushman’s ele­gant and fun­ny lan­guage, the era comes alive because of her care­ful research.

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