August 30, 2013

Beowulf For The Kids

rumford_beowulf.jpgAt the library yesterday K2 said she wanted "a scary book." None came to mind, and "scary" not being a category in the library's shelving system, I just defaulted to the fairy tales section.

And so we came home with James Rumford's suitably spooky-looking kids version of Beowulf, published in 2007. It turned out to be very good, both in terms of the text and the illustrations.

The story totally works as-is, and the kid totally got and enjoyed it without additional context. But Rumford's an explainer. So his Beowulf has that background/making-of page at the back like some other historically based kids books we like, books like D.B. Johnson's Henry Climbs A Mountain [&c.], or Jon Muth's Zen Shorts [&c.]. I guess the people who read Beowulf, Thoreau, and Sen no Rikyu to their kids like that sort of thing.

Anyway, on his website Rumford goes into even more detail about his approach and process, explaining how he adapted the complicated story. For example, he used the background colors of the layouts to help transition between Beowulf's early adventures in Denmark and the Geatland climax 50 years later. [We handled the situation by reading the first half at bedtime, and the rest in the morning.]

Rumford also mentions that the inspiration for the project was hearing Seamus Heaney's dazzling 2000 translation of Beowulf, read by the Nobel laureate himself. And now I wake up to find news that Heaney has passed away.

So we're pouring one out for Beowulf and Heaney both, and reading the saga again.

Buy James Rumford's Beowulf: A Hero's Tale Retold, for like $12 at Amazon [amazon]
Buy Seamus Heaney's bilingual edition of Beowulf for like $11 or get the 2.25 hr abridged audiobook on 2 CDs, read by Heaney, for like $17 [amazon]
Actually, here's Heaney reading Beowulf on YouTube, disc 1 and 2 [youtube]

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