I got a lovely surprise the week before last, when a box arrived containing three extraordinary pop-up books from Candlewick's Encyclopedia Mythologica series--Dragons & Monsters, Gods and Heroes, and Fairies and Magical Creatures, written and illustrated by Matthew Reinhart and Robert Sabuda (of Encyclopedia Prehistorica fame). To call these "pop-up books" does them injustice--rather they are books in which intricate paper art springs (very impressively! small exclamations were elicited!) into lovely three-dimensional wonderful-ness!
It is the paper art that dominates these books--I found it hard to take my eyes from the central creations. And there are numerous side flaps to open as well, making for much fun and excitement. But once I focused on the text, I was pleased to find it crisp and interesting.
These books include myths and fabulous creatures from around the world--like the lovely Chinese dragon on the cover of Dragons and Monsters (although still weighted a tad too much for my taste towards Europe). In Gods and Heroes, for instance, you get one double spread on Egypt, one on the classical pantheon, one on "mortal champions of the old world", one on "mighty Eastern Dynasties," and one on "Great Spirits of the New World."
Even though much of the ground covered is familiar territory, Reinhart includes enough things I had never heard of to make it interesting to the reader who's already read lots about gods, monsters, and fairies.
For instance, from Dragons and Monsters, I learned of the "Leech of Doom"--"According to Algonquian belief, bloodthirsty, horned leeches known as weewilmekq lurk below raging river rapids and at the foot of crashing waterfalls." And on the same page, I learned about the monster in Russia's Lake Brosno, that rose up from the waters to devour a 13th century Mongol army (page 8).
Even more so than most pop-up books, these need to be handled with care. My boys (ten and eight) were able to gently and safely unfold and close again all the lovely pictures; I, myself, am paper-folding-challenged, and ran into a bit of trouble turning the page on the Yeti. I had to get my son to do it. So I don't thing you would want to give this to a young child (say, younger than 5), to look at alone.
That being said, there is nothing better than sharing a book, such as these are, that makes you squeak with excitement when you turn the page, and find, for instance, the Argo of Greek legend coming right out at you! And it's much more fun to look at a three-dimensional Alfheim in company. So although this is a great book for an older kid (or grown-up) to enjoy on their own, I think that any of these books would be a perfect grandparent gift of the sort that guarantees quality sofa time together!
For the younger child, Fairies and Magical Creatures might be best:
Dragons and Monsters is a bit scary....here's a picture that made me squeak:
But on the other hand, that's the only really scary one, and I do like the dragon very much (the picture doesn't do it justice. I can say, with conviction, that it is the most gorgeous pop-up dragon I've ever seen in a book).