Chapter Books – Shakespeare’s Secret

Hero is not exactly thrilled to be starting the sixth grade at a new school. It’s not that she hasn’t done this before – her father’s academic jobs have moved the family around a lot – it’s that she has done this before, and she already knows exactly how things will go. Her older sister Beatrice will immediately join the crowd of popular kids, instantly liked by everyone, while Hero will muddle along, hoping only to go unnoticed, a goal made much harder when your Shakespeare obsessed parents have named you “Hero”.

But a chance encounter with an elderly neighbor might change that. Miriam Roth tells Hero that the house her family has just moved into holds an amazing secret: there is a diamond hidden somewhere in the house, one worth millions of dollars. It was once part of an antique necklace that dates all the way back to the era of Shakespeare. Hero is determined to find the diamond, even if it means having to hang out with Danny Cordova, who is the most eligible eighth grader in town, and also something of a jerk sometimes.

With themes of betrayal and the disastrous effects of slander, this book could easily have been weighed down, or turned into a generic problem novel. Author Elise Broach was too smart for that, however, choosing to concentrate on the mystery at hand, rather than dwell on the teasing Hero endures. I liked that as soon as the school was made aware of the situation, they reacted instantly and with force. Too many times we see books where the administration or teachers simply didn’t care about teasing, rather than, as can often be the case, they were simply unaware of the whispers or other comments. Not that this was a large part of the book. Most of the plot centers around finding the diamond, and the circumstances under which the diamond was hidden in Hero’s house in the first place. The end of the book, particularly the subplot about Danny and Miriam, was a little too coincidental and neatly tied up with a bow, but it had an emotional satisfaction that will resonate with readers.

The author brings in a lot of history about Shakespeare. But since this historical information is integral to the plot, it never feels heavy-handed. It is clear that the author was not secretly thinking “how can I teach kids today about the life of Shakespeare or Anne Bolyen?”, a trap too many first time authors fall into. The facts and history are breezy, and presented in an exciting context.

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One thought on “Chapter Books – Shakespeare’s Secret

  1. I love this book! I used it in my classroom (with a reading group of advanced 3rd graders) and it was very well received. I would caution teachers and parents of younger students, however. There is one moment when Broach uses the term “sleeping around” (or something like that) when referring to the original (from Much Ado) Hero’s accused promiscuity. I avoided the section by reading it aloud to my students and substituting the phrase for “cheating on” (or something like that).

    If you’re interested, I have other suggestions and resources available on my website: http://www.kidsloveshakespeare.com

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