Thursday, February 25, 2010

Gods & Heroes by Robert Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart

The talented creators of beloved pop-up books including versions of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Star Wars: A Pop-Up Guide to the Galaxy as well as the Encyclopedia Prehistorica books have created the first in what I assume will be a series of Encyclopedia Mythologica titles, Gods & Heroes.

The book features six main page-spreads, each of which contains its own title. The spreads feature a central pop-up as well as three (in two cases, four) smaller, additional pop-ups, usually folded into a smaller "page" applied to the main one. In the case of the page about Greek heroes, however, there's a pull-tab that provides information and illustrations on twelve different heroic deeds, most of which were performed by Herakles (Hercules).

The first main spread (Lords of the Two Kingdoms) includes an introduction to what mythology is as well as information on ancient Egyptian gods and myths. The second (The Classical Pantheon)features an eye-popping Mount Olympus and information about various of the Greek gods, along with pop-outs about Atlantis. The third spread, which is entitled Mortal Champions of the Old World, features a pop-up reproduction of the Argo, Jason's ship, the aforementioned pull-tab that flips 12 short scenes and stories, and a small pop-up page that holds the Trojan horse and an even smaller pop-up with the story of Icarus, showing him as he fell to earth. Just earlier this week I read a poem that involved Icarus - I wish I could recall where - that made the point that "Icarus also flew." But I digress. You can see the ship and close ups of some of the other art in the book at Robert Sabuda's website.

The fourth major spread (Kingdoms of the Frozen North) features a large central pop-up of Thor, wielding his hammer in a most muscular way. Additional pop-ups include the Valkyrie, a marvelous representation of Yggdrasil, and a cross-dressed Loki. The penultimate spread is devoted to Mighty Eastern Dynasties featuring ancient gods of Japan and China, as well as Gods of Oceania: the central pop-out on the page is of the Polynesian goddess, Pele. The final spread also holds two titles: Great Spirits of the New World, about North American Native American myths and legends, and Empires of Blood, devoted to the Aztecs, Maya and Inca people.

Encyclopedia Mythologica: Gods & Heroes would make an excellent addition to classroom libraries, to the shelves of anyone interested in mythology, and to fans of pop-up books. The attention to detail in this books is such that even the insides of places that you don't necessarily see are well-finished. In the story of Japanese storm god Susano-Wo and his sister, the sun goddess Ameratsu, for instance, he shuts her inside a cave. If you pay close attention and open (or close) the small page very slowly, you can see Ameratsu back in the cave, but when the page is actually open so that you can read it, she is obscured. Similarly, the back of Zeus's throne is finished in the elaborate central pop-up on the page about the Greek gods, even though there's no good reason for people to be peeking in sideways to figure that out. (Yeah, I know I did it. Curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back.)

A hearty thank you to the good people at Candlewick for sending me a review copy of this title. It has already given my teen-aged daughters and me hours of enjoyment.

Edited to add: The poem I referenced with respect to Icarus is Failing and Falling by Jack Gilbert, which was featured on The Writer's Almanac two days ago. It begins "Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew."

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