The Secret History of Giants: Or the Codex Giganticum, written and collected by Ari Berk, Magister and Scribe of the Order of Golden Quills, is an superb new book from one of my favorite publishing houses, Candlewick Press. Publishers of the Ology series of books, including Dragonology, the original fun reference books with flaps, envelopes, books within books and all sorts of other goodies, Candlewick Press are masters at making a visually beautiful book and they have an excellent roster of artists to draw from, including one of my favorites, Wayne Anderson, illustrator of the picture books Tin Forest and The Dragon Machine, both by Helen Ward (and contributor to the Dragonology books) when making a multifaceted book like The Secret History of Giants. They have also found an excellent, scholarly author in Professor Ari Berk, who holds degrees in Ancient History, American Indian Studies and a Ph.D in Comparative Literature and Culture. In addition to this, Professor Berk has worked with the amazing fantasy artist and conceptual designer for the movies Labyrinth and Dark Crystal, Brian Froud. The two collaborated on Goblins! and Runes of Elfland and the very funny but adult Lady Cottington's Pressed Fairy Letters.
I tell you all this because I think it is remarkable to know the academics and artistry that go into this gem of a book, especially if you have never had the chance to read one of the original 'Ologies books and their knock-offs. These aren't just elaborate pop-up books for kids about fantastical (and real) creatures and places, these are collective, collaborative works that come in gorgeous packages, as is this wonderful. The conceit of The Secret History of Giants is that The Order of the Golden Quills, who count among its magisters and scribes Professor Berk, Hesiod, Ovid, Morgan le Fay and Shakespeare, in an effort reestablish a mutual understanding and appreciation between the Huldur, or secret folk, and the human race, has decided to publish its collected knowledge as a means to achieving this end. While the existence of Giants may be fictional, there is quite a bit of folklore from around the world regarding giants, and much of it can be found in this book. Professor Berk blends this folklore with facts of his own creation, although I am hard pressed to tell you which is which. There are sections of the book that cover the early years of the world and the birth of the giants, enduring evidence of giants, the life cycle of giants and giants at work. There are also fascinating entries on the mysteries of the giant's sack, giant fashion, stone lore and charms, and earthfasting, which is when giants, weary at the end of a long life, lay down to sleep, becoming one with the earth again. Finally, there is a section on the giants of the world, from North America to the Mediterranean and Asia as well as the Celtic and Norse giants.
While this book does not have the envelopes and tactile specimens like dragon dust that can be found in the 'Ologies books, it does have flaps, booklets and gatefold pages (that open into a four page spread) and a tassel that hangs off the spine, all richly and gorgeously illustrated. This is more than just a book. Each page contains several little chunks of information, making it perfect for picking up and flipping through any time. Obviously this book will appeal to both boys and girls who already have an interest in fantasy and folklore, but it might also be a good diversion for boys who like to read manga and chapter books packed with illustrations like the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. And, really, this book isn't just for kids. The Secret History of Giants will definitely grab the eye of any adults who are fans of fantasy, folklore and books rich with wonderful illustrations and fascinating information.
Don't miss this other phenomenal book from Professor Berk with yet another amazing cast of illustrators, The Secret History of Mermaids!
And, coming in October of 2012 . . .