Book Review, Illustrated Fiction, Middle Grade Fiction

Monster Slayer: A Beowulf Tale by Brian Patten

Monster Slayer: A Beowulf Tale, written by Brian Patten and illustrated by Chris Riddell, is a wonderfully horrible retelling of the classic tale of Anglo Saxon hero, Beowulf, and the gruesome monsters he defeats.  When Grendel attacks the village, it seems like there is nothing the people can do to stop him. Then, one day, the mighty warrior Beowulf arrives from across the sea to save the day. 

Published by Barrington Stoke, this version of the epic (and notoriously challenging) story is incredibly accessible with features reminiscent of the traditional tales with which children will already be familiar. Repetition of important details of the story, key plot elements happening in threes and a monster’s song that brings to mind the “Fee Fi Fo Fum” of Jack’s giant will make children feel comfortable with the plot.  Familiar language, the use of synonyms to develop vocabulary and manageable chapters that build confidence as children make steady progress through the book combine to create an exciting story for children and a valuable resource for teachers. The use of figurative language allows children to play with language through similes and imagery. Lines like “Toads croaked and sang like a choir of witches” create a magnificent world for children to explore.

Illustrations by the brilliant Chris Riddell bring the story to life. The horrible monsters are satisfyingly scary and bring a more grown-up feel to the book. The details in the borders of the drawings are magical. We see something new every time we look at them!

My 10 year-old twins enjoyed reading this book as well. Having just studied Beowulf at school using the Michael Morpurgo version of the story, they wanted to share their thoughts.

“I like this one better because it’s easier to read and understand. There were some weird words in the other one. This is really clear and I can picture the story. My favourite part was the description of Grendel and his song.”

“The story is slightly different in this one. They called the building the Great Hall instead of the Mead Hall (Heorot). I like the proper names for things so it would have been good if it was included along with the name of the king. I like that different people have different views of the story and tell it differently. There isn’t as much detail in this version. I like the repetition of the song. It got stuck in my mind. The drawings helped give an interpretation of what things look like so the reader can understand it better. People have different interpretations of what Grendel looks like. I think Chris Riddell is really good.  His drawings are exactly like what it says in the text. My favourite drawing is Grendel’s mother. She is really ugly!”

Special thanks to Barrington Stoke for this copy of Monster Slayer: A Beowulf Tale! This edition was released in the UK in January 2020.

Click on the cover below to find out more or purchase on-line from Amazon.