Children’s Book Blog: Recommended read – Wayland by Tony Mitton, illustrated by John Lawrence

Rebecca Davies

wayland Children’s Book Blog: Recommended read – Wayland by Tony Mitton, illustrated by John LawrenceThis retelling of a little-known northern legend brought to Britain by the Vikings is one of the most beautiful books to land on my doormat in the last few weeks.

What’s the story?

Wayland the blacksmith lives in the forest with his two warrior brothers and their three swan-maiden wives.

One day, the swan-maidens stumble across their feather capes, which the brothers had hidden in a secret cave in order to keep their wives captive. The women fly away, but Wayland’s wife, Alvit, loves him, so returns to the smithy to say goodbye before she leaves, hoping that they will be reunited one day.

Wayland throws himself into his work and, as his skill grows, his reputation spreads to the dark realm of King Nidud, who enslaves Wayland and forces him to forge ever finer riches for him. But Wayland is not so easily broken, and begins to hatch a plan for his escape.

Who’s it for?

Anyone who likes a good myth, particularly those from the Ancient North. There are a couple of veiled allusions to sex, so parents should probably have a quick read of it themselves before introducing the book to younger children.

Why should I read it?

The first thing that strikes you about this book is how stunning it looks. The intricate, wood-cut illustrations by John Lawrence create a dark air of mystery and foreboding before you’ve read even a single line – and then you start to read and Tony Mitton’s beautiful, poetic text slowly draws you deeper and deeper into the magic of the story.

As someone who gets through a lot of picture books, it was a real joy to read something so thoughtfully and artfully crafted. Like the ancient ballads of the North, Mitton’s words flow freely and easily with all the lyrical grace of a song. You’ll never find yourself stumbling over the end of a line or feeling the need to cram in extra syllables, as is often the case with lesser picture book writers.

The tale itself is one of love, hope and revenge – and a very gruesome revenge at that (though only so gruesome that younger readers will be enthralled rather than petrified). There’s also a very compelling moral about the futility of greed. To get the most out of this book, I’d take the narrator’s advice and read it out loud on a cold night around an open fire.

Best character: Wayland, who is wily and strong as well as honest and kind (apart from when he turns people’s skulls into drinking goblets).

Best line:

For out of the dark spring stories

To banish both drear and cold.

So gather you near, come, listen and hear,

where the fire burns red and god. ’

If I like this, what other books might I like?

Michael Morpurgo’s retelling of Beowulf.

Rebecca Davies is a journalist and children’s author and completed her middle-grade novel, Shirley Smart and the Nix’s Curse earlier this year. You can read more of her children’s book blogs here

Follow Rebecca on Twitter @TheStoryMonster

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  • quizbook

    In fact not brought to England by the vikings but the Anglo-Saxons. Read the A-S poem “Deor’s lament”.

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