‘When failing trainee valkyrie Lotta mistakes an unconscious viking thief, Whetstone, for a fallen hero and takes him triumphantly to Valhalla, things are definitely not turning out to be epic or glorious. Having lost a precious talking cup, Whetstone is also desperate to cover up his mistake and the two embark on a quarrelsome journey to find it and regain their heroic status. But Loki the trickster God is desperate to get his hands on the cup with a plan to unleash chaos across the nine worlds. Can Whetstone prove himself a hero after all when it matters most?’
How to Be a Hero is an adventure book for infant and junior school (around 6-8 years old) children that is not only a fun read, but would work well as an introduction to Norse mythology for those who’ve shown an interest in other histories and mythologies. I always try to avoid thinking that any books are specifically suited to a particular gender, but I had the feeling from this one, primarily owing to the nature of the language choices and the style of humour, that it might be aimed more at boys, but this is not to say that it couldn’t be enjoyed by anyone. The content of the story is certainly inclusive and allows equal opportunities for the messages within to be applicable to all, with the pressure both Whetstone and Lotta feel to fit in with their respective societies, each lingering on the outside because they don’t quite fit the mould that others want them to.
At the beginning of the story, the reader meets Whetstone, who only wishes to prove himself, but has got himself mixed up with those who are quite obviously using him to get what they want. They promise that their endeavour will earn him the glory he can’t otherwise see himself gaining, and, despite some misgivings, he goes ahead with the plan, which only begins his greater troubles. There’s more than one moment where Whetstone demonstrates that he is clever and able to think his way out of various situations, but, as this isn’t something especially valued by those around him, he tends not to consider this one of his strengths. His experience with doing what he feels could be wrong at the behest of others and trying to fit in by mimicking those around him opens up some important discussion points for young children about individuality and when it might not be right to do as others ask. Lotta’s journey addresses similar themes, in that she has been repeatedly told that she only has one purpose – and she finds herself failing to be anything like the valkyrie she is supposed to be. Others look down on her and tease her for not being exactly them, but fail to notice her more important qualities and that she is truly trying to do her best – which is exactly what leads her to Whetstone and their greater discoveries about themselves and all that is at play.
The tale is accompanied by maps and other artwork from Katie Kear (I particularly liked the drawing of Broken Tooth, the dog), which is delightful and often brings further humorous commentary with it. In my opinion, How to Be a Hero would be a great book for parents to read with their children, as the images will help engage those of a younger reading age, while the text itself is challenging enough to encourage those moving on from more simple narratives, or will invite confidence in those who may have a reading age beyond their biological age. It would be a lovely story to read together, taking turns with pages or characters, and has plenty of opportunities for play-acting and features of mythology that children may want to learn more about as they’re reading.
How to Be a Hero is out on January 21st, 2021. Thank you, Pan Macmillan, for sending me a copy for review!