Author: David Elliott
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: March 28th, 2017
Genre/Format: Mythology/Novel in Verse
GoodReads Summary: Much like Lin-Manuel Miranda did in Hamilton, the New York Times best-selling author David Elliott turns a classic on its head in form and approach, updating the timeless story of Theseus and the Minotaur for a new generation. A rough, rowdy, and darkly comedic young adult retelling in verse, Bull will have readers reevaluating one of mythology's most infamous monsters.
What I Think: Holy smokes! This book has voice, voice voice. From the very first line, I was like, whoa. I had no idea what to expect when I picked it up other than the cover was awesome and I knew it was about the myth of the minotaur. I only vaguely remember the original myth but it seems like it's pretty true to it, it's not a retelling as much as it is a new and up-to-date version that's going to speak to today's teenagers.
As a mentor text, I can't tell you enough how fantastic the voice is. Poseidon is pretty full of himself, he's a god after all, and David does an amazing job of bringing him to life on the page. You can't miss him. He's larger than life just as a god should be. Of course, there are other characters too and it's clear the difference in voice when other characters share their perspective. To think about the different characters, I would look at the word choice and what we learn about the characters through their actions and make connections to what students are visualizing. One way to do this would be to have students draw one or two characters based on what they can infer about their personalities or a variation of this could be to have students create a collage that represents a character, pulling pictures from the Internet or magazines. Students can think about what a character might wear, where they would hang out, what hairstyle they might have. There are so many ways to take the words in the book and ask the students to pay attention to how what they read translates to what they know about a character. Another option would be to have kids create a social media profile for one of the characters. There are so many options and I'm always in favor of giving students a choice but because of how clearly the characters jump off the page (especially Poseidon), this book truly lends itself to think about character development and how word choice and voice influence that.
If I was teaching high school, I'd be bringing in this mentor text to compare with a more traditional version of this myth and to see what is similar and what is different. I'd also look at other examples of works that have been retold and maybe retold in different ways. One book that comes to mind that I read recently is My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows. The authors take Lady Jane Grey's story and twist it up in so many ways. This would make a great lesson for thinking about ideas and how we find ideas. Sometimes a great story comes from taking a well-known story and turning it on its head and we can help students see this.
Please know that there is mature language in this book (from beginning to end!) and some mature content. This is a book that I would recommend to a student who is at least in high school.
Snatch of Text:
I could have turned his eyes
Into a nest for seething wasps.
I could have turned his face
Into a snapping clam.
I could have given him hooves
Or studded the roof
Of his mouth with thorns.
Could have fitted him with horns.
Made him smell like an outhouse.
Covered him with zits.
Turned his arms into eels.
His teeth into snails.
Bleat like a sea cow.
Blow like a whale.
I could have.
But I didn't.
A tad too mild.
And Poseidon's no child.
He needed something
His howl stinkin' life.
That's why I bypassed him...
And went straight for his wife."
(p. 11-13)Writing Prompt: Describe one of the characters and their character traits using evidence from the text to support your reasoning.