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Beowulf, Book 1: Grendel the Ghastly Review by Kathy Gelzer

Adapted by Michelle L. Szobody
Illustrated by Justin Gerard
Portland Studios
112 Poinsett Hwy.
Greenville, SC 29609

Whenever I start a new book, I look for information about the author. This usually gives me a greater understanding of and appreciation for the book itself. In the case of this retelling of Beowulf for children, the author and illustrator bios were so impressive, I felt honored to be holding in my hands a product of their collaboration. From the jacket I read, "Michelle Szobody's zeal for the classics ignited on page 11 of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Ever since encountering Lucy and the faun at age 3, she has been drawn to quality literature and eventually earned an English degree." Illustrator Justin Gerard's list of interests includes world travel, WWII battles, and classical art.

In 26 pages of concise yet delicious text (and 11 of those pages are fully devoted to Gerard's mesmerizing graphic art), the basic tale of Beowulf is made accessible to young children. Szobody is a master of creating hyphenated words such as "spite-crime," "marsh-mists," and "feast-worthy." The language, full of imagery and alliteration, makes for a delightful read-aloud. I read the book to my 7- to 12-year-olds who all really liked it.

The back of the book has a letter to parents and educators--an excellent explanation of the timelessness of the tale of Beowulf. There is also a glossary in the back with a helpful list of epic components. Pronunciation footnotes appear at the bottom of applicable pages.

My husband thought the book was a bit simplistic, expecting something meatier for young teens, but I think the book provides an enchanting introduction for young children. Beowulf, Book Two: The Monster's Mother is "coming soon."

I wish the author had included an annotated list of texts and references she found useful in her research, especially for those of us with children whose interest in Beowulf was piqued by this version.

Product review by Kathy Gelzer, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, February 2008