Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A myriad of anachronisms mar this predictable tale of a Yorkshire orphan. Widge, the 14-year-old narrator, is sent by a rival theater manager to steal the as-yet-unpublished Hamlet in 1601 London and ends up an apprenticing actor instead. Blackwood (Wild Timothy), a playwright and amateur actor himself, clearly knows Shakespeare, but is a bit cloudy on some details of the Elizabethan era. Widge mentions square city blocks, describes his dinner kept warm on the back of the stove and notes that a man wounded in a duel had recovered in a hospitalthis in an age of unplanned cities, meals cooked over open fires and hospitals that were for terminally ill paupers. Blackwood excels, however, in the lively depictions of Elizabethan stagecraft and street life. Lonely outcast Widge is a sympathetic character, but his frequent shifts in voice from Yorkshire dialect to 20th-century American slang may be disconcerting to readers, and the villainy of Widge's nemesis seems all too familiar. Ages 9-12. (May)
Children's Literature - Kathleen Karr
The orphan Widge has the fate of being apprenticed to strange masters. His first is a pseudo-doctor and minister obsessed by inventing a system of shorthand. Shorthand skills get Widge sold to the director of a provincial theatrical troupe determined to steal Shakespeare's latest unpublished plays from the Globe. But when Widge almost gets caught performing this nefarious deed, he finds himself adopted into the theatre family. Torn between stage fright, stage love, and an ever-lurking villain, the boy must learn about morality and true friendship for the first time in his life. Blackwood knows his theatre history and recreates Elizabethan London lovingly and well.
VOYA - Beth Karpas
Widge is an orphan living in Elizabethan England. At the age of eight he was adopted by a minister who taught Widge a complicated system of shorthand and then used the boy to steal sermons from surrounding congregations. One day the frightening Falconer, working for his own master, comes to Widge and purchases his services. Falconer's master explains that Widge is to accompany Falconer to London to see The Tragedy of Hamlet and copy down the play. Once in London, Widge gets caught up in the magic of the play itself and through a number of mishaps joins Shakespeare's troupe, eventually revealing the attempted theft. Widge and the other players in Shakespeare's troupe quickly draw the reader into the streets of sixteenth-century London. All the characters are well developed and behave logically. A side story about an actor who is actually an actress is a bit of a surprise because the clues were well hidden earlier in the book, but they are there. From a modern perspective, the blatant anti-Semitism shown by and toward the character of Falconer is a problem. While it is perfectly plausible for the time period, and even a clue to the book's conclusion, the sentiment is still somewhat troubling in its lack of balance. To view this sentiment in its historical context, and to understand the quotes from Shakespeare's plays sprinkled throughout the text, the book is best read in conjunction with a unit on Shakespeare and the times in which he lived. VOYA Codes: 4Q 3P M J (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses, Will appeal with pushing, Middle School-defined as grades 6 to 8 and Junior High-defined as grades 7 to 9).
This fast-paced story revolves around the Globe Theatre in the year 1587. Orphaned at a young age, fourteen-year-old Widge is bought by Dr. Bright. Bright has developed a new unique coded shorthand and needs Widge to learn the technique to be his assistant. One day while Widge is working, a sinister man called Falconer shows up to buy Widge for his master Simon Bass, a theatrical manager. Now instead of transcribing for Dr. Bright, Widge is sent to London so that he can copy down and steal the new play, The Tragedy of Hamlet, which will enable Simon Bass to perform it without paying royalties. Once at the Globe Theatre, Widge makes friends with some of the actors and, for the first time in his life, experiences a sense of family. Widge now has a new problem: How can he fulfill his task of stealing the play for his master and not betray his friends? Word play, humorous dialogue and lots of near misses make this a good choice for all schools and libraries. KLIATT Codes: JRecommended for junior high school students. 1998, Penguin/Puffin, 216p, 20cm, 97-42987, $5.99. Ages 13 to 15. Reviewer: Jamie Lyn Weaver; YA Libn., Geneva P.L., Geneva, IL, November 2000 (Vol. 34 No. 6)
School Library Journal
Gr 4-7Young Widge is an Elizabethan Oliver Twist with a talent for shorthand. Raised in an orphanage, he is apprenticed to an unprincipled clergyman who trains Widge to use a cryptic writing system that he's invented to pirate sermons from other rectors. Hired by a mysterious traveler, the boy is hauled off to London to attend performances of Hamlet in order to transcribe the script for another theater company. Naturally, all does not go smoothly, and in the course of trying to recover his stolen notebook, Widge goes to work at the Globe, eventually donning a dress and wig to play Ophelia before the queen. The true identity of the mysterious traveler provides a neat twist at the end. As in Wild Timothy (Atheneum, 1987; o.p.) and several of his other books, Blackwood puts a young boy in a sink-or-swim predicament in alien territory where he discovers his own strength. It's a formula with endless appeal. Not only must Widge survive physically, but he must also find his own ethical path having had no role models. When he is befriended by members of the acting company, he blossoms as he struggles with moral dilemmas that would never have dawned on him before. Tentative readers might be put off by Widge's Yorkshire dialect, but the words are explained in context. Wisely, much of the theater lingo is not explained and becomes just one more part of the vivid background through which the action moves. This is a fast-moving historical novel that introduces an important era with casual familiarity.Sally Margolis, Barton Public Library, VT
Horn Book Magazine
No matter that few of its young readers will be Shakespeare buffs; this fast-paced story showcasing life behind the scenes at the Globe Theatre in its heyday artfully sets the stage for future reading and play-going. Widge's master, owner of a rival theater company, sends him to see Hamlet to steal Shakespeare's new play by transcribing it in a kind of shorthand. Caught hiding in a balcony, Widge pretends he's simply stagestruck; his act convinces the company of players, who agree to take him in. He goes along, thinking to steal their copy of the play, but soon finds himself trapped between betraying his new friends and risking his master's wrath. Like Hamlet, Blackwood's story focuses on its pro-tagonist's doubt and deliberation about his interrupted quest. As in Shakespeare, the narrative includes wordplay, humorous dialects that individualize cast members, incidents of mistaken identity, and even some fencing matches-both real and fake. Wry humor, cliffhanger chapter endings, and a plucky protagonist make this a fitting intro-duction to Shakespeare's world. Lacking is an explanation of what's history and what's not, and a note on the plot's inspiration: the stenographic theory once posited to explain the many contemporaneous versions of Shakespeare's plays.
This latest from Blackwood (Beyond the Door, 1991) is a delightful and heartwarming romp through Elizabethan England. Narrator Widge, 14, resigned to leading the unremarkable life of an orphan, is bought by the self-serving Dr. Bright to learn his new "charactery" (shorthand), and become his secretary. Although Widge applies himself, Dr. Bright is nevertheless willing to sell the boy, for a mere ten pounds, to Simon Bass, a theatrical manager. He sends Widge to London, so that he can copy down the new play, The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, and enable Bass to perform it without paying royalties. Once within the confines of the Globe Theater, however, Widge discovers a brave new world of friendship, fun, and backstage intrigue. Welcomed into the company as an aspiring apprentice, Widge is soon learning lines, practicing sword-fighting, and avoiding Bass's henchman. The Bard himself makes a cameo appearance, as do other famous members of the company. To his credit, Blackwood limns just how Widge, who has no theatrical aspirations, proves a talented and hard-working member of the troupe. Readers will find much to like in Widge, and plenty to enjoy in this gleeful romp through olde England. (Fiction. 9-12)
From the Publisher
"Excels in the lively depictions of Elizabethan stagecraft and street life,"Publisher's Weekly
"A fast-moving historical novel that introduces an important era with casual familiarity." —School Library Journal, starred review
"Readers will find much to like in Widge, and plenty to enjoy in this gleeful romp through olde England"Kirkus Reviews