Goodreads: Bea Wolf
Series: None (So Far)
Age Category: Middle Grade
Listen! Hear a tale of mallow-munchers and warriors who answer candy’s clarion call!
Somewhere in a generic suburb stands Treeheart, a kid-forged sanctuary where generations of tireless tykes have spent their youths making merry, spilling soda, and staving off the shadow of adulthood. One day, these brave warriors find their fun cut short by their nefarious neighbor Grindle, who can no longer tolerate the sounds of mirth seeping into his joyless adult life.
As the guardian of gloom lays siege to Treeheart, scores of kids suddenly find themselves transformed into pimply teenagers and sullen adults! The survivors of the onslaught cry out for a savior—a warrior whose will is unbreakable and whose appetite for mischief is unbounded.
They call for Bea Wolf.
A retelling of Beowulf in verse for middle grade readers may not seem like an obvious choice. However, Bea Wolf delivers drama and laughs for kids and grown-ups alike. Children will likely delight in the depiction of kids triumphing over adults who want to ruin all the fun. Adults, meanwhile, will appreciate some of the jokes that might fly over kids’ heads (digs at credit scores, political commentators, etc.). The illustrations by Boulet bring the world to life, delivering hard-hitting emotion and action, while also helping readers follow along (if the verse seems a bit difficult). Bea Wolf is a rollicking good time for all!
At first glance, Bea Wolf might seem a bit tongue-in-cheek, but it soon becomes clear that Zach Weinersmith is a huge Beowulf fan, and quite in earnest. Chaos- and candy-loving children work surprisingly well as a modern equivalent for Hrothgar’s warriors, who also gathered around on the benches to hear stories and feast. And Grendel becomes Grindle, a surprisingly frightening neighbor whose villainous power is to age up children to boring grown-ups or angst-filled teens. It might sound weird–but it works. After all, the concept of losing one’s childhood–one’s time–is very, very scary.
The verse adds spirit to telling, as well, giving it a dramatic flair. While Weinersmith does not try to recapture the full Anglo-Saxoness of the original poem (avoiding caesuras, for instance), he does use a lot of alliteration and plenty of kennings. The result is an exuberant poetry that begs to be read aloud. And makes even plastic armor and foam swords seem dreadfully serious. While some might worry that the vocabulary or even the poetic form might lose young readers, I have a feeling that the sheer drama of it all could engage more tweens than one might initially think.
Bea Wolf is, at its heart, a love letter to Beowulf, one so enthusiastic that even those not familiar with the original tale will likely find it engaging. (Weinersmith provides a humorous end note for those readers who would like to learn more about his story’s inspiration.) I was not expecting to enjoy it as much as I did–but now I find myself hoping for a sequel!
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