Here is yet another beautiful picture story book from the wonderful Christmas Press. Christmas Press is a fine example of Australian small press publishing, springing up to fill a niche that the large publishing houses have left open. It only does a few books a year, but all of them are carefully and exquisitely produced, retelling folk and fairytales from various countries.
This latest book is by John Heffernan, better known as a YA novelist. It retells, in language young readers can follow, part of the story of Gilgamesh, King of Uruk, and his friend Enkidu, who are as close as brothers. The two stories are "The King And The Wild Man" and "Brothers Battle The Beast." In the first story, the two men meet, fight and find themselves admiring each other. Gilgamesh has been a bad king, making the lives of his subjects a misery in his arrogance. The gods answer his subjects' prayers by creating a wild man, Enkidu, to match him, since he won't pay any attention to a lesser being. Then, in the second story, the two battle the monster Humbaba, the Bull of Heaven.
Both stories are beautifully illustrated by Kate Durack, who uses ancient Mesopotamian styles as her starting point and gives them a cartoon-like flavour which, oddly, works. The stories and the artwork match well. The ancient Mesopotamian style will also give children some idea of the history behind the story. That's a good thing, because I don't think anyone does Mesopotamia in history any more; our Year 7 students study Egypt, Greece, Rome and China.
Young readers might also follow up the stories told here.
Just one thing: the author changes the ending, making it happier than in the original "Epic of Gilgamesh". But the original ending of this part of the story leads to the next part, in which Gilgamesh, upset by his friend's death, goes on his quest for immortality. And there's only so much you can fit into a picture story book, only so complex you can make it. That was recognised by Ursula Dubosarsky in her story about Romulus and Remus, in which she finishes by saying that she wishes she could give it a happy ending, but does say that Rome was founded as a result of this story. If children want to know more, they can always look it up.
Suitable for children from about middle primary school upwards.
Available from the Christmas Press web site.