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Theseus and the Minotaur

Review

Theseus and the Minotaur

Toon Books reaches an older audience with THESEUS AND THE MINOTAUR, a terrific retelling of this classic story from Greek mythology.

TOON Books has been a huge success over the past several years since its founding in 2008, bringing wildly entertaining stories to life for beginning readers through the work of world-class cartoonists and graphic novelists. TOON Books such as JACK AND THE BOX and LUKE ON THE LOOSE were instrumental in getting my now 11-year-old son excited about reading. Now, of course, he's an expert reader --- but that doesn't mean that he wouldn't still rather sit down with a comic book than with a "real" book now and then. TOON's new imprint, TOON Graphics, is made for kids like him, with a great new list of graphic novels for kids in grades 3 and up.

Throughout, the layout perfectly balances text and pictures, never overwhelming the page with long blocks of text and using the illustrations cleverly and strategically to both reinforce the language and advance the storytelling in their own right.

THESEUS AND THE MINOTAUR is one of the first books issued under this new imprint, and it's kind of a perfect choice. As anyone who's been to an art museum knows, the ancient Greeks were visual storytellers, too, often illustrating scenes and stories through sculpture or on vases (which actually look a lot like comic strips, if you think about it). The author/illustrator of this new retelling is Yvan Pommaux, a French graphic novelist who has previously told the story of Odysseus in a similar format.

Pommaux opens his retelling with a beautifully spare two-page spread, highlighting the importance of the sea to this story (and to so many of the tales of Greek mythology). Shades of blue and black hint at some of the darkness to come, but are immediately replaced on the next page with lighter tones of yellow, green and white, as Pommaux tackles Theseus and the Minotaur's respective origin stories (he does an admirable job of dealing with the awkward and humorous prospect of human-god and human-animal unions here).

Throughout, the layout perfectly balances text and pictures, never overwhelming the page with long blocks of text and using the illustrations cleverly and strategically to both reinforce the language and advance the storytelling in their own right.  Periodically, Pommaux pauses to luxuriate in a full-page illustration, such as a colorful underwater scene, a landscape featuring the Minotaur's imposing Labyrinth or a memorable two-page spread showing the Athenian youths unwinding Ariadne's string as they navigate the labyrinth, with skeletons and circling crows as reminders of the dangers they face.

Even readers who think they know the story of Theseus besting the Minotaur will likely learn something from Pommaux's enjoyable and straightforward retelling. The book also closes with several pages of additional information, including more detailed profiles of each of the key players, a map of Theseus's journey and some discussion questions and activities that will make the book even more useful for teachers. There's also a list of great online resources about Greek mythology and a list of other books on mythology appropriate for kids ages 8 and up. That's the best thing about graphic novels like this one --- they can get kids excited about learning and enthusiastic about stories in general, even if those stories don't always have such entertaining illustrations.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on September 3, 2014

Theseus and the Minotaur
by Yvan Pommaux

  • Publication Date: August 26, 2014
  • Genres: Fiction, Mythology
  • Hardcover: 56 pages
  • Publisher: Toon Books
  • ISBN-10: 1935179616
  • ISBN-13: 9781935179610