Can two young boys outsmart and outwit the lords of death? The Hero Twins, Hunahpu and Xbalanque, were blessed by the Mayan gods with special powers. But their incredible skill at playing Pok-ta-Pok, the Mayan ball game, angers the lords of Xibalba, rulers of the land of the dead. When the lords challenge them to a Pok-ta-Pok game in Xibalba, the twins know they must use all of their powers and cunning to defeat the lords' many challenges. Will they survive the land of the dead?
From School Library Journal
Grade 3-6–Hunaphu and Xbalanque are characters from a Mayan myth in the Popul Vuh. Their special powers include their skills at playing the ball game Pok-ta-Pok. The competitive rulers of the underworld are not happy and challenge the twins to a game, planning to destroy them. After crossing a river of blood and a river of pus (This is so gross, says Hunaphu) to meet the Lords of Death, the young men must survive nights in increasingly dangerous houses, including one filled with razors and one filled with bloodthirsty bats. Readers should delight in the creepy action, especially the final game in which Xbalanque's head is used as the ball. The bright colors and strong lines of the cartoon-style illustrations add to the story's irreverent tone. A narrative of a contemporary boy assigned to read the myth for school begins and ends the story. Though slightly corny, this framing device may draw in readers resistant to the historical or educational theme. Children may not pick this up on their own, but once they begin they'll find much to enjoy.
Brings the Mayan Hero Twins to life, May 1, 2010
By T. Webster (Alaska)
The Maya stories of the Hero Twins Hunahpu and Xbalanque go back to the time before contact with Europeans. A central part of the Quiche Maya "Popol Vuh" ("Council Book") tells at greater length the story graphically illustrated in this Graphic Universe book for young readers. I've read Dennis Tedlock's translation of "Popol Vuh" and would recommend it to those interested in Classic Maya culture. It has intriguing strangeness for those immersed in Western culture, as well as moments of great beauty and depth, and Tedlock's introduction and notes are outstanding.
I enjoyed this comic book treatment of the Hero Twins' adventure underground, where their quick thinking and skill at the Mesoamerican ball game enable them to defeat the gods of the underworld. The text was carefully crafted in consultation with an academic specializing in Maya studies, and the illustrations are inventive and a fairly straight representation of the story. The "Lords of Death" in this version appear ghoulish and scary, making the Twins' triumph through skill, magic, and trickery all the more impressive. If this book whets the appetite of readers to go on to the "Popol Vuh" itself one day, it will have served a valuable purpose.
Below: The Hero Twins in Olmec art.