Oakley Graham (text), Emi Ordas (illus.) Beowulf the Brave, Big Sky Publishing, 28 June 2016, 32pp., $14.99 (pbk), ISBN: 9781925275933
What a great way to introduce children to the significant, historical and epic poem of Beowulf as retold by award winning English writer Oakley Graham. With lavish full page colour illustrations by Emi Ordas, the story is made safe and accessible to young children by framing it as a bedtime story, with the boy who is listening picturing himself as Beowulf.
Ordas’ illustrations are full of action and humour- the young boy’s ‘armour’ is a colander helmet and garbage-tin-lid shield – and the colour palette evokes a medieval feel. Although the themes of knights and ogres, dragons, death and destruction are dark, it is rendered with a light touch. The details in the illustrations demand repeat readings.
Graham’s condensing of the longest poem in the English language (written in old English and 3,000 lines long) is commendable. The story line is clear, capturing the main events (Beowulf slays two ogres and a dragon before being mortally wounded) and told with one or two stanzas on each page. The text is light-hearted in this rhyming tale that honours the spirit of the original poem – the occasional forcing of rhythm and rhyme are understandable given the epic task.
The book concludes with some facts about the original poem, further piquing children’s interest in the epic tale. The possibilities for use in the lower primary classroom are endless.
Reviewed by Debra Tidball