bo the brave

Bethan Woollvin’s picture books are always beloved by the littles in my life. Kids are enamored of Woollvin’s subversive reinterpretations of classic fairy tales, and her art’s distinctive color schemes and shapes. Their parents and grandparents are (usually) amused too.  When a publisher sent me Woollvin’s latest, Bo the Brave, I was sure I’d fall in love with it just like I did with Rapunzel and Hansel & Gretel and Little Red. And I did! And so did the two children (ages 3 & 5) I tested it with. It’s a winner!

bo the brave by bethan woollvin book cover
Once, there lived a little girl called Bo. Bo wanted to be just like her brothers and capture a fearsome monster. Bo is small, too small to catch a monster—or so her brothers say. But Bo isn’t one to take no for an answer, so she sets off on a quest to catch a monster of her own. Can she defeat the furious griffin, conquer the hideous kraken, and triumph over the monstrous dragon? Or has Bo got the wrong idea who the real monsters are?

Author-illustrator Bethan Woollvin, the creator of the New York Times Best Illustrated Little Red, employs her signature style in this original fairy tale with a clever twist. Readers are sure to fall in love with Woollvin’s newest vibrant and sassy protagonist.

When Bo asks to come along on their quest, her brothers Erik and Ivar say no. At first Bo stews a bit, but then she decides to do something about it, and sneaks out to catch a monster of her own. Along the way Bo’s quest changes course – and new friends help her reimagine the world and her place in it. Bo, who christens herself “the Brave,” is my favorite sort of princess – one who doesn’t judge based on appearance, values friendship and good behavior, and is “smart, and strong, and brave!” She also has pink hair!


The best sorts of fantasy books start with a map – and Bo the Brave has maps for endpapers – a sign of delightful things to come, and at the end a delightful recap of the storyline. This book introduces the reader to several traditional science fiction and fantasy monsters: dragons, a kraken, and a griffin to start. But there are more hiding in the trees… for little ones and adults to identify on their own (and imagine their powers!).


Woollvin’s text emphasizes using your senses AND your thinking before making decisions or judging folks – and that’s an excellent lesson for readers of all ages. As an English teacher I love the idea of teaching inferences (based on behavior) to the younger set this way, and of course as a reader it’s fun to see the tired old monster-hunting script turned on its head! This, combined with Bo getting her chance to save the day after being told ignominiously that she’s too little to join her brothers, will resonate with young readers and have them asking for read aloud after read aloud.


And finally, the most important bit: ART. Woollvin’s signature style uses geometric shapes and uncomplicated human figures (with big eyes) to great effect. Add in a limited color palette of black, gray, teal, pink and orange, and the look is effective and engaging. Woollvin’s monsters’ different textures (scales, feathers, etc.) are created using simple methods: scallops, dots, and lines! The overall look is a cross between cute and uncanny, and I can’t think of a better way to describe the book as a whole, so… there you go!


Bo the Brave is a funny, unexpected tale about a girl determined to do great things, even when no one else believes in her. I’m super fond of it and I’m sure it’ll be a hit for holiday gifting! It’s A+ fun!


Recommended for: fairy tale and mythology fans ages four and up, clever and faintly subversive books for storytimes and read alouds, and anyone who likes seeing tired old tropes turned on their heads.

Fine print: I received a copy of this book for review consideration from the publisher. I did not receive any compensation for this post.

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