Cover of book showing William Shakespeare writing with a quill pen.If you were transported back 400 years to Elizabethan England, it’s possible you’d have a tough time tuning your ear to the accent spoken around you. But if you slipped into the Globe Theatre to catch a play by that popular Shakespeare fellow, you’d feel amazement at how many words and phrases you still use. Like the word “amazement” itself.

InĀ Will’s Words: How William Shakespeare Changed the Way You Talk, Jane Sutcliffe tells a double story. She explains theatre conventions of the seventeenth century–male actors, few props, audience etiquette (or lack thereof). In the process of describing Elizabethan theatre, she highlights common words and phrases that Shakespeare coined: excitement, all of a sudden, fashionable, hurrying, and many more.

Every spread has text about Shakespeare’s theatre that includes bold-faced words and phrases invented by Shakespeare that are now in common usage. Each spread also has a sidebar that defines those words or phrases and tells where they come from in Shakespeare’s ouevre. I wished that the sidebar had included the actual Shakespearean quote and some comment about what his innovation was. For example, Shakespeare often added prefixes or suffixes that allowed him to use old words in new ways.

But I loved–and was amazed!–at seeing how much of my everyday language is actually Shakespearean. The book wasn’t intended to be browsed, but I thought it read well when I focused on the highlighted words and phrases while enjoying the illustrations.

Those illustrations are a treat: ink and watercolor pictures with loving and lavish detail.

This clever focus on common everyday words is a great introduction for young readers to Shakespeare and why they should care about what he wrote 400 years ago.

Will’s Words: How William Shakespeare Changed the Way You Talk by Jane Sutcliffe, illustrated by John Shelley. Charlesbridge: 2016.

Children around a globe.


I participate in the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge, hosted by Allyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzy.