Review: Julius Zebra: Rumble with the Romans! by Gary Northfield

Review by Marek Oziewiczzebra

You wouldn’t want to be a zebra in Emperor Hadrian’s Rome. And you certainly wouldn’t want to enter the Colosseum through the circus entrance. Or even if you used that gate, you wouldn’t want to fight gladiators and wild beasts. Not without opposable thumbs. But that’s exactly what happens when a plucky teenage zebra named Julius is caught in Africa and transported to Rome for slaughter in the games. This quick-paced chapter book offers a loony glimpse of what the gladiator show might be like when experienced by a talking zebra. Unlike in real Rome, in this story Julius and his animal friends take matters into their own hooves. A warthog, a giraffe, an antelope, and a vegetarian crocodile named Lucia must learn to work together, despite their differences. All this is hard for Julius. Nobody recognizes him as a zebra and instead they keep calling him a stripey horse. Even worse, characters have trouble remembering his name. Mostly, he’s called “Julianne.” But Julius doesn’t snap under pressure like Roman swords do. He mobilizes his ragtag menagerie and leads the team to win their freedom.


In addition to a rollercoaster of a story, the book offers an immersive historical experience: Roman numerals as page numbers, multiple Roman words used in the text and explained in the glossary, and a delight of reading the story in words and pictures. Authored by award-winning cartoonist, Julius Zebra is a graphic narrative chapter book. It alternates textual and pictorial story in ways that will thrill early grade readers. It will also leave them knowing more about Roman culture than you’d otherwise expect. Including why the term “zebra” is still used in Europe to mean the crosswalk. Gross!

Julius Zebra: Rumble with the Romans!
by Gary Northfield
Candlewick, 2016
288 pages

Marek has never trained as gladiator, but unlike Julius he can tell an aqua duck from an aqueduct.

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