Should Shakespeare be available in child-friendly versions before they tackle the real thing?

Children's author Michael Morpurgo thinks so. The War Horse author has announced his latest project - a retelling of Shakespeare's plays in prose form, with modern language and a 21st-century slant - the aim of which is to ensure a new generation regards the playwright as friend not foe.

The prospects are good: Morpurgo has a way of appealing to young readers in terms of both fleet-footed action and emotional heft.

He's following, uncontroversially, in a long-standing tradition of making Shakespeare palatable - nay, readable and enjoyable - to those of tender years.

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Charles Lamb and his sister Mary created a benchmark primer in 1807, with their illustrated Tales from Shakespeare, a venture so successful it remains in circulation, and is even found on Kindle.

Enduring, too, is Leon Garfield's Shakespeare Stories , which was the basis of an animated TV spin-off, and a picturesque "box set" called The Shakespeare Stories, by Andrew Matthews.

Some traditionalists disagree with this approach. There is a definite school of thought that if you translate the work too much, you traduce it: sever the "content" from the stylistic context and the Bard becomes a king of shreds and patches.

At the RSC, they uphold the notion that it's better if a school-age audience is left a bit bamboozled by the text - and picks up the gist - so it can begin to acquire the Shakespearean mother tongue.

Such dutifulness doesn't always work. My own introduction to the Bard came in an unsatisfactory way - in the classroom, watching doddery VHS recordings of the BBC's complete works.

It's important that some of the original language is maintained. Part of the beauty of the Lambs' tales is that they dropped Shakespearean language into the flow of their versions, a rather medicinal decision but not hard to swallow.

This shouldn't be done out of a panicked fear that children won't ever "get" Shakespeare, but out of deep affection. It's how the author builds a bridge to understanding Shakespeare later on.

You want an early degree of familiarisation but what's crucial is that the stories are allowed to breathe, providing the stimulus to greater curiosity.

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Morpurgo has promised to weave in the Shakespearean vernacular, though alarm bells ring at the implication he's rebooting the Bard for the inner-city yard. That sounds horribly close to dreaded "yoof" productions that try too hard to be relevant.

It's patronising to assume a young mind, especially one weaned on TV sci-fi/fantasy, can't make the leap, without hoodies, to ancient Rome or Agincourt. I'd argue that on the page, you should be able to re-tell and refashion the stories with a fresh authorial voice provided you don't mar the tale in the telling of it.

Shakespeare is a genius storyteller and part of that genius lies in his capacity to generate wonder in all ages. The Lambs answered the spellbinding aspect of the plays well.

Garfield - adept at honouring the works' psychological and dramatic intensity - mustered equivalent enchantment, too: take the magical opening lines to his Twelfth Night: "Before you hear of the shipwreck, you must know that, inland from its wild sea coast, Illyria was a green and golden land..."

We're away! My rule of thumb would be that the book's the thing to capture the enthusiasm of the young.

Thereafter, the plays can be left to spring all their rich complexity on those fledgling fans once they're heading into maturity. Trust the tales to inspire children, trust the verse later on to make their souls sing.