Theseus and the Minotaur

Theseus and the MinotaurTheseus and the Minotaur
Written and illustrated by: Yvan Pommaux
Publisher: TOON Books
Format: Hardcover, 7 x 10, 56 pages, Full Color, $16.95
ISBN: 978-1-93517-961-0


When I met Francoise Mouly and her new adventure with TOON Books in 2008-ish I honestly wondered – with her – if other adults would really understand the critical necessity of teaching modern early readers to read with comics, especially because these young minds are now growing up in a much more visually dominant literary world. Clearly, her idea was right now on the mark. Every single TOON Book has experienced success. More than a few, tremendous success.

But most of us know about that success at this point. What I want to concentrate on in this review is a critical underlying theme that runs through the collective TOON Book mission. Mouly and Spiegelman's Toon Books are high quality and sincere efforts to introduce early readers to historical and culturally diverse literary topics that today's children find not only approachable, but also memorable. Literature typically reserved for older readers merely because of its assumed canonical and/or cultural power becomes experimentally-exceptional kids play in the hands of TOON Books.

Canonical and historical the story of Theseus and the Minotaur is traditional and legendary mythology. Yet in one of Toon Books latest publications Theseus and the Minotaur is kid-friendly and easily applied to the Common Core Standards for third through fifth grade level readers. Well told, well-illustrated, and with a thoughtful eye on helping today's kids become smarter and more knowledgeable about both classical and contemporary literary stories and literary storytelling TOON Books' new Theseus and the Minotaur should be read in every third through fifth grade Language Arts classroom in the country.

I can't end the review there. There is something left lingering in my mind that must be said in this review. On behalf of readers of this TOON Book, Theseus and the Minotaur, to creator Yvan Pommaux: Please close your eyes when you are done reading this and visualize what I see as a large and loud standing ovation for your storytelling.  

Elements of Story

Plot: Theseus, the original mind to explain democracy and what it means in theory and in practice, is pretty much destined for greatness. But his story is not that simple. Told for young yet maturing readers this TOON Book tells and shows its reader why greatness is sometimes hard work and tough choices . . . even if you are the son of both G-d and man.

Major Characters: Theseus, Minotaur, Ariadne, Poseidon, Princess Aethra, King Aegeus, Minos, Pasipaë, Daedalus, Asterion, Androgeos, Medea, Cretians, Athenians, Amphitrite, Dionysus

Settings: Mount Olympus, the seaside, Athens, the ocean, labyrinth, island of Crete, Troezen, port of Knossos, Naxos, the Aegean Sea

Themes: Family, Democracy, Legend and Myth, Cause and Effect, Decisions and Consequences, Legacies

Recommended Common Core Standards for Early Readers

Key Ideas and Details
3. Describe how a particular story's or drama's plot unfolds in a series of episodes as well as how the characters respond or change as the plot moves toward a resolution.

Craft and Structure
4. Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.
5. Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text (e.g., a section, chapter, scene, or stanza) relate to each other and the whole.
6. Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.

Lesson Plan:  

STEP 1: To begin, you need to find two graphic organizers: a blank family tree and a blank timeline. A Google image search for each will offer you a plethora of choices.

STEP 2: Give each student in class a number, either 1 or 2. As they read in small groups, the 1s will fill out the family tree together. Similarly, as they read in small groups, the 2s will fill out the timeline.

STEP 3: Display student story-based family trees and timelines somewhere where all students can see them. Ask each group to explain their graphic organizer and their decisions.

STEP 4: After all of the groups have shared their ideas work on a larger and displayed class Family Tree and Timeline, where all students discuss, contribute, critique, and decide what is the VERY most important information for the class' ULTIMATE Family Tree and Timeline to contain.

Dr. Katie Monnin is an Associate Professor of Literacy at the University of North Florida. Besides the joy that comes with reading comic books and graphic novels, Dr. Monnin enjoys a Peter Pan-ish life of researching and writing her own books about teaching comics, graphic novels, and cartoons: Teaching Graphic Novels (2010), Teaching Early Reader Comics and Graphic Novels (2011), Using Content-Area Graphic Texts for Learning (2012), Teaching Reading Comprehension with Graphic Texts (2013), and Get Animated! Teaching 21st Century Early Reader and Young Adult Cartoons in Language Arts (2013); Teaching New Literacies in Elementary Language Arts ( in press, 2014). When she is not writing (or sitting around wondering how she ended up making an awesome career out of studying comics and graphic novels), Dr. Monnin spends her time with her two wiener dogs, Sam and Max.