A review of Terry Denton’s Storymaze Series

So what’s Denton’s secret? First of all, the book contains a quirky narrative interspersed with cartoons. These aren’t the pretty pastel pictures they got with their preschool books though. Denton’s cartoons are only slightly more sedate than Robert Crumb’s Mr Natural. The well developed characters are utterly cool, wild, disgusting, and often (especially to a young boy) hilarious.

Reviewed by Magdalena Ball

Storymaze 5: The Minotaur’s Maze
Storymaze 6: The Obelisk of Eeeno
By Terry Denton
Allen and Unwin
August 2003, pb, ISBN 1741140889/97
A$12.95

My six year old son reluctantly picked up book five of Terry Denton’s Storymaze series – The Minotaur’s Maze. After all, he had no idea what a minotaur was, and the book seemed fairly lengthy at 135 pages. But he loves mazes, and the brightly coloured cover and outrageous copy with its warning to readers, “Lost? Well don’t expect me to help you, this is a book about a maze, you fool!” intrigued him. By the end of page one he was hooked, and didn’t stop reading, even when begged to come to dinner by his mean parents, until the book was finished two hours later. When Storymaze 6, The Obelisk of Eeeno arrived, I barely had time to take the book out of the letterbox before he was into it, even though he didn’t know what an obelisk was, and was once again unable to do a thing until the book was finished in a single sitting. This was no quiet read though. Throughout the book my boy was laughing outloud, shouting out things like “Hey dad, listen to this,” or repeating his favourite bits again. The next day he decided to re-read The Minotaur’s Maze, only this time taking a different “path.” Kid-friendly? You bet. My son is an enthusiastic reader and doesn’t generally need encouragement to pick up a book, but these books really fired his imagination in a way I haven’t seen before.

Both books are reasonably challenging in their subject matter, and although Denton parodies this by saying at one point, “books like this are so educational,” he is right. Labyrinths, ancient Greece, astronomy, mythology, and the art of narration are all dealt with amidst the characterisation, suspense, and general fun. My son was inspired by these books to write his own stories, and the influence of trick chapters, multiple storylines, and casual author-reader repartee were clearly derived from Denton’s style. These funny irreverent books will tempt even the most reluctant reader to dive in, forever banishing the notions that books are strictly for schoolwork.

So what’s Denton’s secret? First of all, the book contains a quirky narrative interspersed with cartoons. These aren’t the pretty pastel pictures they got with their preschool books though. Denton’s cartoons are only slightly more sedate than Robert Crumb’s Mr Natural. The well developed characters are utterly cool, wild, disgusting, and often (especially to a young boy) hilarious. Another trick is the alternative storylines. Readers get choices: “I’ll give you a choice. Turn to Chapter 15, page 47, and ride out a violent storm with our heroes. Or…advance to Chapter 16, page 52, and take your chances. It’s up to you.” One of the characters, MIT, speaks only in a code 1/0 computer language, with a glossary of translations at the back. One chapter consists only of a series of “ha ha’s” with a note saying that there is no chapter 13 – “tricked you,” and another is all “Noooooo.” The text is often bolded, with exclamations (“Plik!”), and notes to the reader like “Anyway let’s get on with it.” The stories themselves have all the elements of good plot, suspense, and even a touch of romance of a sort, and feature the cross-galactic hijinks of the funky Claudia, Nico, Mikey, and MIT as they try to free a trapped but hunky (at least to Claudia) Minotaur from a maze, or find the best surfing competition for Nico.

The humour is a little toilety and ultra silly, which makes the books particularly suitable for young males. Older children who need to improve their motivation to read will also gain great strides from these seriously funny books which will appeal to children ages 6 to 14 or so. There are two downsides though. The first is that your young reader will learn some new phrases like “You smell lizard brains,” or “holy haggis!” The second is that if your child is anything like mine, you will have to rush out and buy every title in the series. Oh well. At least the paperbacks are very reasonably priced.

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