A few months ago, for his short novel, The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman won the Newbery Medal, presented each year to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children by the Association for Library Service to Children . This wasn’t the first time one of Neil’s books for young readers took home an award. Coraline, later to become a motion picture, copped the Hugo and Nebula Awards in 2003 for Best Novella.
The previous year Gaiman took home the Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novel for his American Gods, a lengthy adult tome that celebrates his fascination with Norse mythology. This fall the versatile and prolific Gaiman combines his talent for storytelling to young audiences and his preoccupation with Scandinavian legends in Odd and the Frost Giants, a dandy little book with terrific illustrations by Brett Helquist.
There was a boy called Odd, and there was nothing strange or unusual about that, not in that time or place. Odd meant the tip of a blade, and it was a lucky name.
He was odd, though. At least the other villagers thought so. But if there was one thing he wasn’t, it was lucky...
So begins the story of how a crippled twelve-year-old in ancient Norway saves the ancient Viking gods from the gigantic and apparently evil frost giants who have taken over Asgard.
Loki, the trickster god, has been beaten at his own game by a clever frost giant. As a result he has been changed to a fox; Thor, the thunder god, has been transformed to a bear; and Odin, the ruler of them all, finds himself in the body of an eagle. The three have been banished to earth, and, in time, they will forget their former selves and wander the world of men as animals. And, unless they can find a way to outwit the giant and return to their kingdom in the sky, Odd’s home will remain in winter’s grip, and all will die.
In his lyrical narrative style, Gaiman shows that a even a poor mistreated youngster may have a hero hidden inside him and that even the most villainous of monsters may find himself nostalgic for home.
If you are looking for a fun Christmas present for a child on your list, you’ve found it. Ages 9 to 12 are recommended, but my 8-year-old niece is getting a copy, and I bought one for myself—I am considerably older than 12. What could be better reading on a cold winter night than a tale of frost giants, magestic animals and the coming of spring. And the pictures are as good as the story.
Mark Graham reviewed books for the Rocky Mountain News from 1977 until the paper closed its doors in February 2009. His “Unreal Worlds” column on science fiction and fantasy appeared regularly in the paper since 1988. He has reviewed well over 1,000 genre books. If you see a Rocky Mountain News blurb on a book it is likely from a review or interview he wrote. Graham also created and taught Unreal Literature, a high school science fiction class, for nearly 30 years in the Jefferson County Colorado public schools.