Bea Wolf (First Second, March 2023) is hands-down one of the most creative books I’ve read this year. It’s a fictional graphic novel that takes the classic Beowulf and gives it a modern-day twist, making it a thrilling and hilarious read for the reader, including older tweens, young adults, and any interested adults. Written by Zach Weinersmith and beautifully illustrated by Boulet, Bea Wolf captures the essence of epic poetry while presenting a unique story featuring child heroes defending their right to be kids.
The story revolves around a group of kids who become heroes in their own right, fighting evil within their kingdom. But this kingdom is no ordinary one; it centers around toys and candy, creating a kid’s paradise where generations of youngsters spend their time indulging in innocent pleasures and resisting the impending doom of adulthood. In this world, all parents are the enemy, constantly urging the children to save for college, clean their room, and conform to the path of maturity. But the first of the child kings, Carl, defies societal expectations by using a treasure he discovered to buy toys and candy, becoming a beloved figure among the neighborhood children.
As the generations pass, the crown is eventually inherited by Ralph, the current king. Together, these resourceful kids band together to build a magnificent treehouse, called Treeheart. However, looming over their idyllic kingdom is the embodiment of grown-up hood, Mr. Grindle. Mr. Grindle, a teacher, represents the grim-faced “joy-gobbler,” whose touch turns children into teenagers or even worse, adults obsessed with taxes and responsibility. When Mr. Grindle conquers the children in Treeheart and “adultifies” them, Treeheart is left vacant, and Mr. Grindle vacuums and cleans the precious child-retreat, which is now void of fun.
Enter Bea Wolf, a girl five Halloweens old and from a different kingdom. Bea Wolf has become a legend in her kingdom and she possesses heroism beyond her years. Through a glimpse into her backstory, we learn about her journey to become a hero. When Bea Wolf arrives in Roger’s kingdom, she immediately recognizes the wickedness of Mr. Grindle and sets out to defeat him, leading to an epic battle of good versus evil.
What sets Bea Wolf apart is the author’s clever use of Old English language structures and poetic devices. The author employs patterns, language structures, and the general feel of Old English to create a whimsical yet action-packed tale. The text is filled with alliteration, reminiscent of Old English, and the author skillfully weaves in kennings, which are riddles with words, such as “seawood” for a boat or a “whale road” for the sea. The result is a hilarious and entertaining read that captures the essence of epic poetry.
Confession time: I can’t remember much about the original Beowulf, but Bea Wolf has piqued my curiosity, and I now have a burning desire to explore the original story further. The way the author has taken this ancient tale and transformed it into a “picnic of absurdity” is truly remarkable.
This graphic novel would be an excellent resource for high school students who are gearing up to read the original Beowulf. Not only does it give them a general understanding of the story, but it also exposes them to the structure of language used in Beowulf, albeit in a fun and engaging way. While the publisher has categorized Bea Wolf as a middle-grade graphic novel for ages 8-12, its unique sentence structure and word riddles make it a slightly more complex read. It is possible that young readers will need some patience to grasp the sentence structure and language tricks employed in the book.
All together, Bea Wolf is a delightful and imaginative graphic novel that successfully merges the worlds of ancient epic poetry and modern storytelling. Zach Weinersmith and Boulet have created a captivating adventure filled with humor, heroism, and an appreciation for the power of language. Whether you’re a student of Beowulf or simply looking for an entertaining read, Bea Wolf is an absolute treat that shouldn’t be missed. I can’t wait to dive into the original Beowulf now and explore the true depths of this epic tale.