Thursday, February 17, 2011

Ancient Greece (Meet the Ancient World 7)

Introducing my kids to Ancient Greece was one of the highlights of our whole study of the ancient world. To sit, snuggled together with eager children, reading about Theseus and the Minotaur, or Odysseus and the Cyclops? This is the sort of thing one dreams of when one begins homeschooling. And rightly so.

This material captivated them. My kids spent a great many hours playing Greek gods and goddesses -- some of them in the gorgeous galleries of the Metropolitan Museum (that's my daughter, as Demeter), some of them at a big rock (Mount Olympus!) in our neighborhood park. I was never ever to track down interesting store-bought toys to accompany our study of Ancient Greece -- hello? has no one ever thought to make Greek mythology figurines? -- but my guys readily transformed their vintage 1970s Fisher-Price Little People into the major figures of the Pantheon.


There is such a wealth of fantastic material for children about Ancient Greece that you can linger for weeks and weeks on this unit, getting in many marvelous hours of reading together on the couch.

If for some mysterious reason you read only one book, let it be the elegantly written and beautifully illustrated D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths. First published in 1962 by Ingri and Edgar Parin D'Aulaire, it is an excellent overview of Greek mythology, covering all of the major gods and goddesses and many key minor figures as well. It's on my short list of Books to Be Sure to Read Aloud Many Times throughout Nini and Desmond's childhood, along with other classics like Alice in Wonderland and The Wind in the Willows.

The drawings have a childlike quality that appeals to the very young; Hermes, for instance, is introduced beside a full-page illustration, posterior view, of Apollo's cows. The text is dense, but consistently engaging.

Because D'Aulaire's is so weighty in addition to being so engaging, you might want to start with something lighter to pique your child's interest in the Greeks. We greatly enjoyed Usborne Greek Myths for Young Children, a compact miniature volume with appealing, whimsical illustrations. Your kids won't meet the full complement of Olympian gods here, but will encounter Icarus, Pegasus, Pandora, Theseus and the Minotaur, and other legendary figures, as well as a brief recounting of the Odyssey. Aliki's The Gods and Goddesses of Olympus is another good introductory option.

Warwick Hutton's picture-book versions of Greek tales are also quite accessible to young kids, though they seem to be out of print (we found them at the library). In addition to Perseus, Theseus and the Minotaur, and Persephone, he has created a nice version of The Trojan Horse, the one episode from the Iliad that you may want to cover at this age.

Out of the many versions of the Odyssey available for reading to the younger set, we preferred Hugh Lupton and Daniel Morden's The Adventures of Odysseus. While not avoiding the story's more gruesome episodes, this version doesn't linger on them the way Mary Pope Osborne does in her multi-volume Tales from the Odyssey. Dorling Kindersley has also produced a nice children's version: Adrian Mitchell's The Odyssey, which intersperses maps and other background information with condensed versions of the tales.

1 comment:

  1. I am a newcomer to your blog, but I love it! I love the book suggestions and the ideas that you have about sharing with your young ones. I have been a history fanatic most of my life, and I can't wait to use these suggestions to introduce my love of other cultures, the past, and mythology to my children.

    I would love to check out the D'Aulaire Greek myths book. I remember when I was a child, my mother had a copy of the D'Aulaire Norse Gods and Goddesses/mythology book... as a child about the age of your kids, I found my love of ancient history right there in its pages. If you've never read that one, it's beautifully done! I have been looking to get a copy for my own kids... I'll have a large book list to get along with it now! Thank you!