Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Ira's Shakespeare Dream

Ira's Shakespeare Dream

Glenda Armand
Illustrator:  Floyd Cooper 
Nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Lee & Low Books, 2015   ISBN: 978-1620141557

Ira Aldridge lives in New York City and attends the African Free School. Every spare moment he has he spends at the Park Theatre, where, with delight, he watches the actors perform Shakespeare’s plays. For Ira, William Shakespeare’s words are magical, and more than anything he would like to be an actor so that he can say those marvelous words on a stage.

Ira performs a scene from Hamlet for his classmates and some English visitors, and receives a lot of praise for his performance. Elated by the reception his performance receives, Ira tells his teacher, Mr. Andrews, that he wants to “perform Shakespeare at the Park Theatre!” Mr. Andrews brings his student to earth by reminding him that only white actors are allowed to perform at the theatre. “You dream too big for a colored boy,” he adds.

That night Ira tells his father about his dream and Pa is just as discouraging as Mr. Andrews was, if not more so. Pa wants Ira to follow in his own footsteps and become a minister. He does not want Ira spending time at the theatre. Ira does not heed his father’s words. He keeps going to the Park Theatre, and he also goes to an all-black theatre called the African Grove. There the African-American actors perform all kinds of shows, and they even stage some of Shakespeare’s plays.

Ira ran errands for the people at the African Grove, and in return he is given tickets so that he can watch the performances. He is taught how to build sets and make costumes, and is encouraged to pursue his dream of becoming an actor. Ira finally auditions for a small part and over time he is given bigger and bigger parts.

When Ira’s father finds out that his son is no longer going to school and is acting instead, he enrolls his son in ministry college. Ira is going to have to make a difficult decision. Is he going to follow his heart and continue to act, or should he obey his father?

This wonderful picture book biography tells the story of one of “the greatest Shakespearean actors of the nineteenth century.” Like many artistic and creative African-Americans before and after him, Ira was accepted with wide acclaim by people in Britain and Europe. Unfortunately, his own countrymen never gave him the recognition and acclaim that he worked so hard to earn and so richly reserved.

At the back of the book readers will find further information about Ira, his life, and his considerable achievements.