What It Keeps
The book keeps the feud between the two families, has the young lovers meet in disguise at a ball, fall in love on a balcony, get married, and amazingly, DIE! Laden still manages to tell the story in a kid-friendly way, though giving it tragic weight.
The book opens with a rhyming prologue, which, although it isn’t in sonnet form, has the same function as Shakespeare’s prologue- to explain the plot before we see it played out in the book, thus giving the whole story a sense of dramatic irony. Plus, as you can see, Laden also imitates Shakespeare’s love of wordplay with metaphors and puns, (a tale of tails), and alliteration to give the dialogue some wit and effervescence. Reading it gave me giggles like I’d just popped open some champagne.
What it changes: Spoiler alert
All throughout, Laden makes small changes to simplify the plot and remove characters that don’t directly impact the main plot. The characters of Lord/Lady Capulet and Lord/Lady Montegue, The Nurse, Paris, Peter, the servants, and the friars are completely absent, turning an already brief play into an even more compressed story.
Like a lot of animal retellings I’ve seen of this story, the author recasts the human leads as animals that are natural enemies- in this case, cats and dogs. This makes the story easier for kids to understand- as I’ve said before, it’s often difficult to keep track of who belongs to which house in Shakespeare’s version. All you need to know is that Romeo and his brothers are cats and Juliet’s family are dogs.
Funnily enough, my daughter actually complained that the story would’ve been better if Juliet were a cat instead of Romeo, which I agree with for very specific reasons. The character of Tybalt is named after a character from a prose story called “Reynard the Fox,” who had the epithet, Prince of CATS. Mercutio annoys Tybalt by taunting him with this title before challenging him to a duel:
Tybalt: What would you with me?
Mercutio: Good Prince of Cats, nothing but one of your nine lives! Romeo and Juliet, Act III, Scene i.
It would’ve been a funny Shakespeare easter egg to have Juliet and Tybalt be portrayed as cats, but I understand why they went with dogs- Drooliet is a hilarious pun, and having Tybalt be a vicious, rabid dog helps set him up as a fearsome antagonist.
I suppose you’re wondering, how can the author keep Shakespeare’s tragic ending in a children’s book? Well, like Shroedinger’s cat, she manages to make Romeow die and not die at the same time. He gives Drooliet one of his 9 lives, allowing them both to ‘die’ and then come back for a happy ending. It’s a brilliant way to nod at the original, while also keeping the kid-friendly tone.
This book is really fun and very enjoyable for kids, parents, and teachers who want to introduce kids to Shakespeare at an early age!
Just below you can watch the book being read by actress Hayle Duff: