Category Archives: Beowulf for Young Readers (Children / Kids)

Beowulf for teens as well as children

A teenager I know sent me a private email the other day that made me smile.

Howdy! I started reading Beowulf in English class but I had trouble understanding what was happening in the story, so I started reading the adaptation that you wrote. I’m sooo glad you wrote it because it is much easier to comprehend and the pictures are incredible. Thanks! I have not finished the book but I am excited for your version to help me as I try and break apart the lines, in the book we are reading in class. 

You’re most welcome! Glad to know my book serves as a cliffnote of sorts!

All we have to do is ask

Why are we as human beings so afraid to ask? Probably one of two reasons. Either we think we know the answer and it’s not the answer we want, or we think the simple asking is saying something negative about ourselves. Actually, and more likely, a little combination of both.

But here is what I  know. I know I can be terrified of asking a favor from my parents. Sometimes it’s a request for money, sometimes a request for time, sometimes something else altogether.

I know when I was trying to get some press for my Beowulf book for young readers, I was nervous about asking people to comment on it for the back pages . But I also knew that if I didn’t ask, I would get no press. So I asked. I asked Benjamin Bagby (a well-known Beowulf scholar), and he responded with a very nice quote that now sits in my book. I asked Rita Dove (a well-known poet) ‘s publicist, and she apologetically and politely declined. I searched for and found no way of contacting Maurice Sendak (a well-known children’s author). One out of three. Pretty good, if you ask me. But I didn’t stop there. I asked an editor who knew my work and I asked a professor at Georgetown University who taught classes on Beowulf. Both of them agreed. I know I could have easily not asked. It would have been the easy way out, and honestly, the preferred way out.

I know that when I e-mailed Bhanu Kapil last year and asked her if she would sit on a Board of Directors for Gaiapoetopia, a new organization for poetry advocacy I was forming, I was sure she would say ‘no.’ She did. But only because she didn’t have time. She did say ‘yes’ to my other question. I asked her if we could be pen pals. (Strangely, I haven’t taken her up on that yet. How does one BEGIN a pen pal relationship?)

I know that I’m not alone. So many people feel this way about asking for favors, time, etc. I’ve seen others choke at the challenge. I’ve seen myself choke as well.

Oftentimes it comes down to building a relationship first. Not over time, just in that moment. Within the context of the present conversation, before the actual asking. I know this. I also know, however, that sometimes, all you have to do is ask.

Editor Alex Cigale on my Beowulf

“What makes Joshua Gray’s “verse adaptation with young readers in mind” immediate and powerful is its tender tone: it is addressed to his son, in the same understated, hushed voice of expectation as a will and testament, that it contains a coded message to be passed down from the son, who is father to the man, to his own son and so on. Moreover, being written “with young readers in mind,” and not “for young readers only,” makes it truly special, for in making Beowulf more accessible he has done the time-honored service of digest and abridgement for busy adults as well, and in doing so has helped this reader for one focus on the story’s essential message; that it’s very telling — not just its symbolic content but the form itself — represents the eternal bond between fathers and sons and so between all men.”

— ALEX CIGALE: poet, editor, translator, cyclist, spirit/road warrior

Georgetown University professor on my children’s Beowulf book

Tod Linafelt, Georgetown University says of my Beowulf for kids:

Joshua Gray’s rendering of Beowulf for children is ‘grand and gruesome,’ just like the monster Grendel that stalks its lines. Gray captures both the fearsomeness of the poem’s monsters and the artful alliteration of its Anglo-Saxon origins, while leaving out the long speeches that would turn away many young readers. Hook the kids with this version, and hope that they will return to the longer poem in later years.

And in case you missed the sneak peak of the fabulous art by Sean Yates, go here.

Children’s Beowulf Endorsed By Benjamin Bagby

In my quest to get my children’s adaptation of Beowulf put on the big stage, this weekend I realized I had to get big names to endorse the poem.

I wanted one of the names to come from someone very familiar with the original text, and my search for who that might might be did not take long: almost immediately, I thought of Benjamin Bagby. I emailed his USA contact last night, who responded by telling me he forwarded the email on to Bagby, and this morning I got the email I was hoping for.

For those who don’t know who Benjamin Bagby is, let me fill you in: this guy memorized the first 1000 lines or so of the original text — that is, in Anglo-Saxon and not a translation of the text — got hold of an Anglo-Saxon harp by hiring someone to recreate the harp based on archaeological finds, and he tours around the country performing live in an insanely awesome one-man show. I highly recommend seeing his performance, if you ever are able to. It’s pretty incredible.

So, this endorsement is pretty big. Here is what he had to say of my poem.

Joshua Gray’s poetic re-telling of the Beowulf epic as a tale for children gets to the essence of the action with a use of modern English which is accessible and clear for young minds, listening while busily building their own image-worlds. My own experience is in telling this story to adults in a language they no longer understand, but I have the sense that this new text may well encourage very young listeners, years later (after their bedtime stories are a distant memory), to recall this tale with pleasure and to discover a vibrant curiosity to know more about the doings of Hrothgar, Grendel and Beowulf. It will serve as a wise and entertaining investment in keeping this important story alive and well in our culture’s memory, as oral poetry and a fertile field for imagination, in both children and those who read to them.

Benjamin Bagby, performer of Beowulf in the original Anglo-Saxon

So where are we with the children’s poem? I saw some of the images that Sean Yates has come up with, and I have to say I am super psyched by what he has come up with. The book should definitely be for sale in January 2012.

Children’s Beowulf Endorsed By Benjamin Bagby

In my quest to get my children’s adaptation of Beowulf put on the big stage, this weekend I realized I had to get big names to endorse the poem.

I wanted one of the names to come from someone very familiar with the original text, and my search for who that might might be did not take long: almost immediately, I thought of Benjamin Bagby. I emailed his USA contact last night, who responded by telling me he forwarded the email on to Bagby, and this morning I got the email I was hoping for.

For those who don’t know who Benjamin Bagby is, let me fill you in: this guy memorized the first 1000 lines or so of the original text — that is, in Anglo-Saxon and not a translation of the text — got hold of an Anglo-Saxon harp by hiring someone to recreate the harp based on archaeological finds, and he tours around the country performing live in an insanely awesome one-man show. I highly recommend seeing his performance, if you ever are able to. It’s pretty incredible.

So, this endorsement is pretty big. Here is what he had to say of my poem.

Joshua Gray’s poetic re-telling of the Beowulf epic as a tale for children gets to the essence of the action with a use of modern English which is accessible and clear for young minds, listening while busily building their own image-worlds. My own experience is in telling this story to adults in a language they no longer understand, but I have the sense that this new text may well encourage very young listeners, years later (after their bedtime stories are a distant memory), to recall this tale with pleasure and to discover a vibrant curiosity to know more about the doings of Hrothgar, Grendel and Beowulf. It will serve as a wise and entertaining investment in keeping this important story alive and well in our culture’s memory, as oral poetry and a fertile field for imagination, in both children and those who read to them.

Benjamin Bagby, performer of Beowulf in the original Anglo-Saxon

So where are we with the children’s poem? I saw some of the images that Sean Yates has come up with, and I have to say I am super psyched by what he has come up with. The book should definitely be for sale in January 2012.