Beowulf by Kevin Crossley-Holland and Charles Keeping

Published by Oxford University Press (ISBN: 978-0192723697) 

This is a story of a hero- a true hero- who made his way across the seas to fight and defeat monsters. First recorded by the Anglo-Saxons, this is the story of Beowulf, beautifully re-told by Kevin Crossley-Holland, whose use of language never fails to delight and inspire.

Teaching the Anglo-Saxons? Then this is the perfect text to share with your class. Not teaching the Anglo-Saxons? Then this is the perfect text to share with your class!

The saga of Beowulf and his heroic deeds is so powerful and exciting that it makes an excellent read. Kevin Crossley- Holland’s amazing knowledge and understanding of the period also means that the essence of the time and place is maintained, using literary devices of the original. Be warned- the story of Beowulf is gruesome- and both the illustrations and text remain true to this.

Taken purely as a story, this is the classic overcoming the monster plot. Grendel rises from his evil lair and attacks King Hrothgar and his people; Beowulf is the hero who arrives to defeat this monster. He then has to face Grendel’s mother. Later, a new challenge arises… The plot structure is excellent for inspiring children- particularly boys- and we re-told the story using Pie Corbett style gestures before the children took the challenge to become the story teller themselves, embellishing and developing their own language choices.  There are so many reading, writing and speaking and listening possibilities that you have to choose carefully- writing in role, exploring and using kennings, persuasive writing in a number of forms, discussion- oral and written, research work, hot seating, freeze framing, using inference and deduction… the list goes on! The language itself is challenging and can be used to explore word origins and for developing vocabulary. Sentence structures would also provide the opportunity for modelling and developing the children’s technical writing.

Used alongside a history topic, Beowulf provides many details about the period and is, of course, of the period in this re-telling.  There are many versions of this story- from comic strip to film, some of which might be used in comparison- but, to my mind, this is the most powerful. What a read!