Eric the ox was going as fast as he could.
Eric didn’t believe in doing things quickly. Especially not pulling heavy carts filled with actors, singers, musical instruments, props, costumes and everything else that made up the Black Skulls, the most exciting theatrical performers in England. Eric’s cart was heading south towards Richmond Palace where the Skulls were due to perform for Her Most Glorious and Majestic Queen Elizabeth. Eleven-year-old William Shakespeare, known as Willy Waggledagger to his friends, was the driver. He had been a member of the Skulls for little over a week and was looking forward to this performance ore than anything he’d ever looked forward to before. But right now, all he could think about was his aching bum.
Willy Waggledagger is the newest member of the Black Skulls, a touring band of players. Willy is on the run from his overbearing and very smelly father and the threat of life as a hide tanner. The Black Skulls are en route to perform for the Queen and her sycophantic court. The players set up camp within Richmond Forest, slightly unsettled by the stories about it being haunted. There, after a misunderstanding with a bear, they meet the King of the Faeries. The wildfire plot loosely follows the story of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. Mayhem, misunderstanding, and misdirected love cause Willy all manner of anguish. At times, he considers a return to the horror of his father’s wrath as being less troublesome than his present circumstances. Gregory Roger’s full page illustrations add to the humour as Willy and his friends try to retrieve a golden girdle and prevent war.
Shakespeare’s texts can be very dense to young readers, even where the story is full of almost slapstick humour as in his comedies. Martin Chatterton doesn’t pretend to follow the texts closely, but he does suggest that such stories may have provided inspiration to a young Shakespeare. Chatterton concocts a wild and funny adventure with a million absurd twists and turns. He pokes fun at the more pompous members of the court and suggests that every world has it’s share of buffoons. Clothed as it is in humour, ‘A Belt Around My Bum’ readers may not really notice that they are also being introduced to history and the world in which Shakespeare lived. There’s the very fragile grace and favour system of the English Court, the superstitions and jealousies of the theatre, and more. Recommended for mid- to upper-primary readers.
A Belt Around My Bum (Willy Waggledagger), Martin Chatterton ill Gregory Rogers
Little Hare 2009
review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author
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