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Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman is a wonderful transition or chapter book which tells the story of how Odd, the crippled son of a Viking woodcutter, teams up with Odin, Thor and Loki to beat the Frost Giant who has tricked Loki into giving him control of the home of the gods, Asgard, and who has plunged the earth into perpetual winter.

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I love Gaiman’s contemporary telling of norse mythology. The simplicity of the language and the wonderfully relaxed way that the narrative flows in an almost conversational manner, belies the emotional depths of this story. It is a wonderful study of humanity in the face of ineffable immortality.

Odd is lame and fatherless since his father drowned on the last viking raid, trying to save one of their precious horses from the winter waves. His mother has remarried, but Odd’s stepfather and myriad children hate him, and since the accident which lamed him, Odd is shunned by the people in his village.  He is finding winter trapped in the feasting hall with people who delight in bullying him unendurable. Odd escapes the hall one morning, takes his dead father’s axe and sets off into the winter morning to escape to his father’s old woodcutting hut in the woods. He is, at first, just in need of some peace, but on his first day alone, he comes across a fox who leads him to a bear who is trapped with his paw in a hole in a tree trunk. Odd realises that these creatures, and the eagle that is circling above them, are not just ordinary animals, and it soon becomes clear that he is dealing with the gods his people worship.

Odd’s relationship with the gods is one of the things which makes this story so wonderful. Odd is down to earth, resilient, strange and in his own way, as unknowable as the gods themselves. He treats them as if they were as ordinary as he perceives himself to be, and their dialogue hums with wit and humour.

This is a tale of transformation and change. It is wonderful if you are interested in Norse myths and want child friendly stories to whet a child’s appetite. It would be brilliant if you are studying the Vikings as a topic in class and would make an excellent guided reading text in class. It is beautifully illustrated by Brett Helquist, who is perhaps better known for his collaboration with Lemony Snicket on the Unfortunate Events series.

This is suitable for both boys and girls. Given the popularity of the recent Thor films this might be a great way to introduce this book as something children will ‘want’ to read rather than something that is forced upon them. It would make a great book for newly confident readers. I recommend it as a read out loud book for children aged six and upwards, and for newly confident readers, as long as they get help with some of the trickier Norse names. I would recommend it for readers up to twelve years old.

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