(first published in 1998)
This is not a new book, but since it still appears on school summer reading lists, I thought I'd try it.
The Shakespeare Stealer is a historical fiction adventure, featuring Widge, a poor orphan boy, recently apprenticed to first one, and then another unsavory master. As a "prentice," Widge is unfamiliar with the concepts of freedom, choice, honesty, and friendship. For Widge, life is merely a series of events over which he has no control; he survives them, or he does not.
When Widge's new master gives him the task of stealing William Shakespeare's latest play, The Tragedy of Hamlet: Prince of Denmark, he thinks of it as nothing more than another of life's turns. He will steal the play or be severely beaten. Only after Widge ingratiates himself with the Lord Chamberlain's Men, Shakespeare's acting company, does he realizes that, while life may be a grand stage upon which we are all actors, we have the ability to play our part as we choose.
The historical details are threaded into the story creating a rich tapestry which includes period dialogue, anecdotes about Shakespeare and his contemporaries, and an insider's view of theater life in Elizabethan London. The message of honesty, loyalty and friendship may be a bit heavy-handed, but the story line is full of intrigue and adventure; the action is fast-paced and exciting. My library has this book in the young adult (YA) section, but it would make a fine choice for grade 6 and up.
An ALA Notable Children's Book Award winner
There are two more books in this series: Shakespeare's Scribe and Shakespeare's Spy