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Book Review: The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue presents Macbeth

Screen Shot 2015-01-02 at 5.29.19 PMThe Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue presents Macbeth
by Ian Lendler, Illustrated by Zack Giallongo
First Second
September 2014

The Zoo has closed for the evening, and the visitors head home to visions of animals in their dreams, the animals are gathering, for the Play is the thing.  The Midnight revue has gathered to perform a grand production of Macbeth, for all to see.  Macbeth the regal lion, brave warrior and hero of the realm is well loved by all.  But his wife, Lady Macbeth dost wish for more and encourages him to eat the king, so that he may rule! Down this path madness does lie, but he does as she wishes for he loves her so.  As more animals disappear to cover his crime and as Queen Macbeth descends into madness, new heroes arise and the tragic tale comes to an end.

One of the things that I struggled the most with in school was reading plays.  Any play, but Shakespearean plays were always the worst.  I had trouble figuring out which character was speaking, how scenes fit together, and words always got jumbled in my head.  It was only when I discovered graphic novel adaptations of the plays did things really start to click for me, and after reading this adaptation I really wish I had, had this version to read!  It captures the classic story well, but adds some additional humor and asides to the audiences that make the play even more fun.  Ian has done a great job of adapting Macbeth so its enjoyable for all ages and making the characters into animals.  Macduff is a noir detective stork.  Lady Macduff is a cheetah, who can’t quite get the spots out.  The witches try to help their colleague perfect her evil cackle (she tries everything else first…including a nice Santa laugh.)  While Ian does tone down some of the darker aspects of the play, given that the book is for younger readers, he captures its essence and message perfectly.

I’ve been a huge fan of Zach Giallongo’s art since his previous First Second book, Broxo, and his illustrations in this book made me fall even more in love with his art.  While Ian crafts the perfect words for his characters, Zach brings them to life, capturing their expressions and movements perfectly.  Macbeth, a regal looking lion, moves with ease, but as he eats more and more animals, he begins to waddle and his belly extends and Zach captures it with ease.  My favorite character though has to be Macduff the stork.  Depicted in a trench coat and a fedora (I really wonder whose idea that was?) captures the essence of Macduff as a detective so well that I’m going to have a hard time imagining Macduff as anything else from now on.  Zach should also be commended, along with Ian, for making the more violent acts of the play into something a bit more cartoony with squirting ketchup substituting for blood and well placed animals blocking the view when needed.

If you’re looking for a literary analysis or think that Shakespeare has no humor, please look elsewhere.  On the other hand if you’re looking for something fun to introduce Shakespeare to younger readers, 5th grade and up, forge ahead!  Older readers will enjoy the humor and new look at Macbeth as well.  In fact, I think this book would work perfectly in a high school setting, helping students understand that Shakespeare does have humor to it, and that it can be fun and enjoyable to read.  I give the book four out of five stars.

PS:  I hear that a second volume is in the works, this time based upon Romeo and Juliet.  I can’t wait!

Review copy provided by Gina at First Second

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