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Bea Wolf : A Librarian’s Perspective Review

Bea Wolf by Zach Weinersmith is clever, laugh-out-loud funny, and has gorgeously-detailed illustrations. I can see it being nominated for Caldecott, and maybe even Newbery as well. But will kids like it?

AUTHOR: Zach Weinersmith
ILLUSTRATOR: Boulet
SERIES: none
PUBLISHER: First Second
PUBLICATION DATE: March 21, 2023
PAGES: 208
GENRE: graphic novel, humor, classic retelling
SETTING: Treeheart, an amazing treehouse for kids only
GIVE IT TO: ES (with reservations), MS, HS, AD

AWARDS AND KUDOS

  • FIVE starred professional reviews
  • no other awards currently, but I won’t be surprised to see some nominations in the coming year

PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY

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.

THE SHORT VERSION

So clever and fun! I would pesonally age-up the reader from what many professional reviewers recommend. For me, the text is too difficult for an elementary audience, as well as many middle schoolers. Most professional reviewers recommend Grades 3-7. I just don’t agree that 3rd graders will really understand the text.

WHAT I LIKED

The illustrations! They are grayscale and quite detailed. The children all look different from one another, and meddling neighbor Grindle has a spider-like quality that is just deliciously menacing. Look closely at the book titles, posters, and decor in the backgrounds – they go with the story and characters.

Young readers and adults will LOVE those illustrations, and I can see Bea Wolf getting a Caldecott nod for them next January.

It’s clever. This is based on Beowulf, which I haven’t read myself since middle school. I do remember the general story, which is somewhat important to appreciating the details of Bea Wolf. The local kids in this story are trying to defend their beloved, candy-and-toy-filled treehouse from the evil monster Mr. Grindle, who lives next door. Excellent details in both text and illustrations take constant jabs at the evils of adulthood, such as watching opinion news shows, flossing one’s teeth, and eating vegetables.

The kids are loud, having way too much fun, and are stealing Grindle’s electricity. Grindle puts the kibosh on all the fun by disconnecting the electricity, cleaning the treehouse, and turning some of the kids into surly, cell-phone addicted teenagers and money-and-job-obsessed adults.

It made me laugh out loud! Again, the text and illustrations combine to make a funny commentary on the shifting interests among different stages in life. The horrors of facial hair and bow ties descend upon the kids as one touch from Grindle’s long, bony fingers age the children. In the original Beowulf, lots of people die by Grendel’s claws and teeth. In Bea Wolf, no one dies; they are simply cursed to age.

Grindle’s demise is super fun and appropriate to this story. I’m not going to give it away, but again, his “death” is nonviolent and fits the story well.

Grindle’s mother! I sure hope there is a sequel to this because Grindle’s mother’s story is a “story for another day.” She is shown though, and she also has lots of funny book titles. She’s a knitter and appears to love cleaning, too. Very fun!

There’s a TON of alliteration. All the text, in fact, is alliterative. Readers will be saturated in new vocabulary, which is always a win for teachers and parents. Bea Wolf keeps to the rhythm and kennings of the original text, not an easy feat.

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE

So that was a pretty glowing review! And yes, I absolutely loved the book. But I’m an adult, with a BA in English and a MS in library science. I am a school librarian and a middle school English teacher. OF COURSE I loved this fun and funny retelling of Beowulf.

What I’m really not sure about is the kid-appeal. Audience is just so important when marketing a book to children. The illustrations will appeal to all ages – they are fun and interesting and feature cute kewpie-doll style kids with large eyes and big heads. They are detailed and will make readers laugh out loud.

But the text? That is really going to be tough for elementary readers and probably many middle schoolers. At first, even I found it difficult, kind of like reading Shakespeare. Once you read Shakespeare fore a little bit, you get used to the way language is used. But at first, Shakespeare takes some brain adjustment to understand. It’s why they don’t teach original Shakespeare text younger than about 7th or 8th grade. Bea Wolf is similar. I did get used to the artful use of vocabulary, but I still had to get used to the language.

I will say that if the illustrations can bring younger readers to a Beowulf retelling, then that’s fab even if they don’t fully understand it. But as brilliant as this graphic novel is, the audience appeal of the illustrations versus the text is not the same. Be aware than there are plenty of elementary and middle school readers for whom the text will be way too difficult. It’s not a terrible thing, but it is something to be aware of for younger readers.

DIVERSITY

Kids have diverse skin tones and hair and eye colors. Grindle is a bespectacled white man who wears a suit and bowtie. Grindle’s mother is a tiny older lady with spectacles and a tight white bun in her hair. We never see Grindle or his mother’s eyes.

ARTWORK/ILLUSTRATIONS

Illustrations are pencil drawings in grayscale, and many are full-page. They have loads of detail, so be sure to take time to look at them closely. I can see the illustrations getting a Caldecott nod next January. We’ll see!

 

Bea Wolf by Zach Weinersmith, illustration p. 5 Bea Wolf by Zach Weinersmith, illustration p. 32
 

THEMES

childhood, adulthood, growing up, having fun, boring adults, candy, toys, treehouses, play, defending childhood fun from sourface adults, Beowulf, monsters

LIBRARIANS WILL WANT TO KNOW

Would adults like Bea Wolf? YES! I think many adults would enjoy this book.

Would I buy Bea Wolf for my high school library? 100% YES. No reservations. Be sure to tell your English teachers about it.

Would I buy Bea Wolf for my middle school library? 100% YES. No reservations. English teachers will especially love it.

Would I buy this for my elementary school library? 100% YES. No content concerns except that I think there are lots of kids who won’t understand it well. They will get the gist of the story, but the underlying humor will go over the heads of younger and less-savvy readers.

MATURE CONTENT

Language: no concerns

Sexuality: no concerns

Violence: mild; weapons against Grindle include toy swords, foam swords, water balloons, and the like. No one dies.

Drugs/Alcohol: no concerns

Other: some children wear only their underpants with a cape. Grindle is also pictured sans pants once (his shirt is long, and he wears black socks and sock suspenders).

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