I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I opened up Encyclopedia Mythologica’s Gods and Heroes popup book by Matthew Reinhart and Robert Sabuda. A giant popup Anubis was a delightful surprise on the first page.
The images in this work are bright, colorful, highly detailed and will easily engage the attention of readers young and old. When I described this book to my friends, many of my adult friends expressed an interest in seeing it. These images are also highly detailed and multilayered, and through several re-readings, I have seen different things within the illustrations and inside the popups.
Scattered around the many large and small pop up images are bits of information about culture, history and religion from the cultures that the main images come from. Much of the information is accurate, though sparse. These are more tidbits to awaken a young person’s curiosity about these ancient cultures than to be a main educational source. If homeschooling young children, I think this would make an excellent foreshadowing activity before embarking on a unit about mythology.
One thing that truly brings a smile to my face is the wealth of tiny images in the smaller popups off to the side. Some of these are very multilayered, and just today, when scanning the book for a third time as I am writing this review, I discovered another image that I had not yet seen before. This book has the potential to reveal new secrets every time you look at it.
My favorite page by far, though I imagine given my user name, will hardly come as a surprise to my readers, is the page on the Norse Gods. The brilliant center piece is the god Thor, with hammer Mjöllnir raised overhead. The side panels reveal a colorful Asgard, Loki dressed in drag, and a Valkyrie racing into battle.
The only things that I can find room to be critical on this particular book is that the balance of localities is about what you find in school text books. A bit on Egypt, with a random panel on the Fertile Crescent thrown in, twice the amount of Greece/Rome as any other culture, Asian and New World mythologies all mashed together as if they are the same thing. What would be more interesting to me is to see a separate book for each culture, going into more detail. I would also be interested in seeing a works cited in the back, suggesting sources for children who would like to learn more. However, this is not to take away from my opinion that this book is a stunning display of paper art that will captivate young imaginations and delight people of all ages.
At this point I will extend a word of caution. Though the book is marked ages 5 and up, this is definitely a book to be read under adult supervision. The pop up images are exceptionally complex and detailed, and fold back amazingly easily, but they *must* be opened and closed SLOWLY, or else risk damaging the art. There are a wealth of hidden surprises in the smaller side panel popups, but these must be opened very carefully as they can get caught on the central popup.
Overall, this is a high quality book written with care to engage students in learning more about the past. It is whimsical, funny, and brief enough to not exhaust the attention span of younger children, and I think it is bound to become a reading time favorite.