Julius Zebra: Rumble with the Romans! by Gary Northfield, 288 pp, RL 4
I absolutely love the concept for Julius Zebra: Rumble with the Romans! by the genius Gary Northfield! If I had to nutshell it, I'd say, think Terry Deary's Horrible Histories meets 13 Story Tree House. Julius is a hilarious character living in a time period that makes for some crazy adventures. Northfield layers in the history, from using Roman numerals for the page numbers to giving characters Roman names, as well as the names of famous Romans, and using Latin and the historically accurate names for the fights, fighters, arenas and more that appear in this book. There is even a tutorial on how to read Roman numerals and a glossary at the back of the book!
Julius Zebra: Rumble with the Romans! begins in African plains at a watering hole, called the Lake of Doom by Julius, that he does not want to be at. Actually, the book begins with Julius schooling readers about what zebras are really like, burps and all. It stinks (an illustration shows a yak pooping in the lake) is "sooo boring!" and presents the constant danger of being eaten. Wandering off from the Lake of Doom and trying to outrun a lion, Julius and helpful but annoying warthog named Cornelius and . . . a lion.
Never fear, it's not as bad as it seems! The naive Julius hears talk of a circus and caravans, of juggling monkeys and bears dancing with ostriches and he gets pretty excited. Unfortunately, the circus he is going to is the Circus Maximus (well, actually the Colosseum) and he is going to be performing in it, not watching it. This is such a fantastic conceit and I really hope that kids take to this kind of mash-up of history and humor so that Julius Zebra spawns imitators the way Diary of a Wimpy Kid has.
Instead of losing his life to gladiators in the ring, in an effort to keep himself from becoming "someone's fancy carpet," Julius grabs a sword and saves his tail, winning over the crowd and the Emperor, Hadrian. Julius earns himself a spot in the gladiatorial championship in 30 days that will celebrate Hadrian's birthday. As the new "People's Champion," he will get to fight for his freedom, and fame and wealth. Julius, Cornelius and a gang of animals, including Lucia, a vegetarian crocodile, Pliny the mouse, Milus the lion, Rufus a giraffe and Felix, a gazelle, begin training for the battle and also for escape. I don't want to give away the ending, but there is a second book in this series...
Source: Review Copy