Ira's Shakespeare Dream

(Author) (Illustrator)

Product Details

Lee & Low Books
Publish Date
8.8 X 11.0 X 0.5 inches | 0.85 pounds

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About the Author

GLENDA ARMAND worked for many years as a teacher and school librarian in Los Angeles, California. She won Lee & Low's New Voices Award for the manuscript for Love Twelve Miles Long. Glenda loves reading about history and is passionate about sharing the stories of enslaved African Americans and little-known historical figures. She lives with her husband in West Covina, California. You can visit her online at FLOYD COOPER has been honored four times for his illustrations by the Coretta Scott King Award. Born and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma, he received a degree in fine arts from the University of Oklahoma. In 1984 Frank came to New York City to pursue a career as an illustrator of books, and he now lives in Easton, Pennsylvania, with his family. You can visit him online at


Though his acting earned him fame and a knighthood in Europe, Ira Aldridge is hardly a household name in his homeland, but this attractive picture book biography may change that. Born in New York City in 1807, Aldridge fell in love with acting as he sat in the balcony of the whites-only Park Theatre, watching the performances from afar. His dream grew wings at the African Grove, a new all-black venue, where he could sit wherever he liked. However, Aldridge's father insisted that his son follow in his footsteps and become a minister. Frustrated and seeking adventure, Aldridge left home to serve as cabin boy on a ship headed South. When a man offered to buy him from the captain for $500 and Aldridge witnessed other, less fortunate blacks on the auction block, he became angry and afraid. At 17, he decided to sail to England, where he would be free of his country's inhumanity and his father's expectations. Working his way up from errand boy to understudy, he eventually became "one of the most celebrated Shakespearean actors in Europe." Aldridge was also a vocal abolitionist, addressing audiences and raising money for the cause. The third-person narration invites readers into Ira's world and thoughts, incorporating Shakespearean verse where appropriate. Cooper's signature oil wash illustrations, created with kneaded eraser, beautifully capture the period and subjects' emotions. The palette of somber browns spring to life, complemented by the vivid colors of the stage and costumes.VERDICTUse this handsome, inspiring offering to enrich units on Shakespeare, theater, or black history.

-- (06/01/2015)

This gracefully told and elegantly illustrated story studies African-American actor Ira Frederick Aldridge, born in New York City in 1807. When a young Aldridge tells his teacher that he wants to perform Shakespeare at a theater that allows only white actors, the man (who is also African-American) replies, "You dream too big for a colored boy." (An author's note explains that while the book adheres to what is known about Aldridge, it also includes "some imagined scenes, people, thoughts, and dialogue.") In what proves to be a crucial decision, Aldridge signs on as a cabin boy on a ship bound for South Carolina, where he is horrified to see slaves sold at auction. That sorrow and compassion remains with him as he becomes an acclaimed Shakespearean actor in England. Using oil washes and erasers to create his familiar hazy effect, Cooper (A Dance Like Starlight) integrates both natural and stage light to underscore Ira's passion for his craft and his beliefs. Laced with Shakespearean lines, Armand's (Love Twelve Miles Long) understated narrative gives Ira a gentle and inspiring strength.

-- (07/01/2015)