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Review: Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn & Red Rackham’s Treasure – Young Readers Editions

Created by Belgian comic book creator Hergé in 1929, Tintin, the intrepid young reporter has become not only a cultural icon in Belgium, alongside his creator, but a worldwide phenomenon. Highlighted this past holiday season by the full-length feature film The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, directed by Steven Spielberg and co-produced by Spielberg and Peter Jackson, there’s no doubt that Tintin, his faithful dog Snowy, Captain Haddock, and other classic characters will be with us for quite some time. With the recent release of the motion-capture animated film on DVD and Blu Ray, what better time to revisit the recent publications of the Tintin graphic novels currently being rereleased by Little Brown & Company in single story Young Reader formats? The two titles I’ll be examining are the stories The Secret of the Unicorn [1943] and Red Rackham’s Treasure [1944], two of the three books on which the movie is based (the third is The Crab with the Golden Claws [1941]).

Secret of the Unicorn
The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn – Young Readers Edition
Written and Illustrated by Hergé
Hachette Books/Little Brown & Company, May 31, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-316-13386-9
Grades 4 -up
96 page, $8.99

Red Rackham's Treasure
The Adventures of Tintin: Red Rackham’s Treasure – Young Readers Edition
Written and Illustrated by Hergé
Hachette Books/Little Brown & Company, May 31, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-316-13384-5
Grades 4 – up
96 pages, $8.99

I have a confession to make: I never read the Adventures of Tintin books prior to late 2011. I’ve always heard people raving about them, but I never read them until just before the December 2011 release of the film in theaters. I knew the film was based on The Secret of the Unicorn (1943) and Red Rackham’s Treasure (1944), and pieces of the story The Crab with the Golden Claws (1941), and I wanted to read the comics and see what was so great about them. I can honestly say I’m hooked. I loved the stories and the grand adventure and thought the film was a fitting tribute to Hergé and his characters.

In case you’re one of the very few that hasn’t read them, in The Secret of the Unicorn, Tintin buys a model ship for his friend Captain Haddock, but soon they discover there’s more to the model than meets the eye as they go on a quest to find the lost treasure from a ship, The Unicorn, that sunk in the ocean centuries earlier and was helmed by Captain Haddock’s ancestor. The story continues in the tale Red Rackham’s Treasure as Tintin and Captain Haddock continue their quest to find the lost treasure with the aid of the brilliant scientist Professor Calculus, but danger lurks at every corner.

Though the titles have been in print for decades, with the release of the feature film, Little Brown & Company began in 2011 to release the Adventures of Tintin series in single story collections listed as “Young Reader” editions. The titles are paperback and 6″ x 9″ in size and the majority of the titles will be reprinted in this format through 2013. Little, Brown, & Co. still has in print since the 1970s the original books in a larger-sized single story format in 8 1/2″ x 11″ size as well as a deluxe hardbound format of the stories marketed for older readers which are hardbound in 6″ x 8 3/4″ and include three stories in one volume. Adventures of Tintin fans familiar with the deluxe hardbound editions will notice a slight bump in the size of the comics. It’s not much, but does make the text a little better for readers. Purists, though, will maintain that there was nothing wrong with the volume size and cover art of the 1970s editions, and the new reprints are much harder on the eyes to read the text and to enjoy the illustrations.

If you’re worried about the comics being edited to simplify them for a younger audience – you have nothing to fear. The titles have not changed at all for younger readers. It’s still the same Tintin stories you’ve known and loved.

The first thing you’ll notice for the Young Reader editions is that the longtime familiar artwork for the books have been changed. Instead of reusing the familiar book covers of old, the new books feature a single panel of artwork from the interior of the books. A solid color background is also featured behind the artwork. It’s simple and gets to the point. This format is being used for the recent reprinting of the hardcover deluxe editions too. Purists may complain about the change, but it’s still Tintin. What’s also been added to the Young Readers version of the stories is a “Who’s Who” of all the players in the story as well as a brief description of them. They take perhaps too many pages to list them all since it’s a full page for each character, but it’s still a helpful guide for readers.

Secondly, the books have a section labeled “The Real-Life Inspiration Behind Tintin’s Adventures.” It’s very young-reader friendly and features a timeline of Hergé’s life as well as facts specific to the books. The Secret of the Unicorn collection features facts about the Brussels flea markets, as well as a well-labeled design of the Unicorn ship by Gerard Liger-Belair, facts on the ships of the day and the daily lives of pirates, as well as a sampling of how Hergé painstakingly added details of 1942 Brussels into his artwork. The Red Rackham’s Treasure book features true facts on the real inspiration for Red Rackham and Professor Calculus, and more. The facts are fun and simple and clearly geared for younger readers, but adults will learn a lot from the facts as well. Purists have complained about the editions to the books, but in the end if it does nothing but raise the interest in reading, then that’s all the better.

If your library system didn’t carry Hergé’s Adventures of Tintin books before, I highly recommend the Young Readers editions. They’re compact, they’re highly accessible for young and older readers, and they look sharp too. Sure, the text and images could be a little larger, but still it’s a great way to introduce young readers to the adventures of Tintin, Snowy, Captain Haddock, and company.

Mike Pawuk About Mike Pawuk

Mike Pawuk has been a teen services public librarian for the Cuyahoga County Public Library for over 15 years. A lifelong fan of comic books and graphic novels, he was chair for the 2002 YALSA all-day preconference on graphic novels, served as a judge for the Will Eisner Awards in 2009, as well as helped to create the Great Graphic Novels for Teens selection committee for YALSA. He is the author of Graphic Novels: A Genre Guide to Comic Books, Manga, and More, published by Libraries Unlimited in 2006 and is working on a followup to his book.


  1. Many thanks for this review of the Tintin Young Readers Editions. As the author of the additional pages I am so happy to learn that this bonus material is appreciated as a complement to the legendary Tintin stories. Ten titles have been published in the Young Readers series and researching the real history, science, art and adventure behind the stories is the most enjoyable work I have ever done. I really hope that the public enjoy the books, and that I will be asked to work on the ten or so remaining titles that would be suited to this new format. For anyone wishing to catch a glimpse of some of the bonus material in the Young Readers Editions, I have set up a Facebook fan page:
    Stuart Tett

  2. To the author of the review: thanks for this nice review, I can qualify myself as a Tintin purist but I do like this nice collection and decided to buy it for my sons (11 and 9). they were introduce to Tintin very young through the 1992 cartoon series and by looking at my French collection of the comics book (I’m 41 now and learn how to read French partially with these comics). when I emigrated to the US in 1998 I rented the same comics at the library and in English, to perfect my English language.

    Mr Tett, thanks for your hard work on the first ten books, I’m really looking forward to the next 11 stories. You did a great job compiling the info and I even managed to learn new stuff from your bonus material, and I already have a few books on Tintin and Herge. Please, make sure that Little Brown/Hachette publish the rest of the stories soon, I’m looking forward to read these Tintin again as well as the bonuses.


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