Greek Myths for Young Children by Heather Amery
Illustrated by Linda Edwards
First Published: 2000
Pages: 128 including pronunciation guide (Hardback)
Form: Picture book, short stories
The Greek myths are wonderful stories, full of brave heroes, terrifying monsters, powerful gods and goddesses, battles and great adventures. In this book, they are retold in a way that young children can listen to and understand, and older children can enjoy reading the tales for themselves.
Beautifully and imaginatively illustrated by Linda Edwards, this is a book that will be a source of interest and pleasure for the whole family.
One of very many children’s books on Greek mythology, I picked this one up mainly because it’s Usborne (I grew up on Usborne books and I have a certain amount of loyalty to them despite the fact that they keep putting out gendered shit like this) and because the pictures inside are pretty dang gorgeous. With so many of these sort of books about though it’s always worth flipping through a few in the bookshop, maybe reading a couple of the stories, and getting the one that works for you. This one, I have to say, doesn’t quite work for me. It’s very good, perfect for the purpose I got it for – which was to ensure my Greek storytelling event later this month is age appropriate – and I’ll be keeping it in my library of Greek myths, but it’s far too kiddified in places for my own personal liking. For public storytelling where I don’t know how (over)sensitive or protective children’s parents are it’s great. For my own kids/nieces/nephews (if I were ever to have any) I would want something that didn’t gloss over Theseus leaving Ariadne, or pretended that Jason and Medea didn’t murder her brother.
It’s a beautiful book though, and I think it achieves its aim of working for both children too young to read and children just learning. It’s written in a way that works very well when read out loud, accompanied by really lovely illustrations, for parents reading to smaller children, while the typeface is big, bold, and easy to read for when the child wants to pick it up for themselves. There’s also a pronounciation guide for the Greek names at the back, which is very useful. And then it’s got some really nice stylistic touches. Every page, even when it isn’t illustrated, has a patterned border running round it – spiders for Arachne, snakes for Perseus and Medusa, a variety of greek pot patterns etc etc. but a unique pattern for every story. The longer stories (Hercules, Odysseus, Jason) are broken up into smaller sections, making them easier to digest if you’re reading ‘one a night’ with a child, and each story is written on different coloured pages, making it very easy to tell when one story ends and another begins. I don’t have a working scanner or I’d put in a few examples here but I did find one bookseller site that did have a single page sample:
For me, though, though the book itself is beautiful (the dragons and sea serpents are all particularly great) the content of the text plays it just a little too safe: Medea doesn’t kill her brother, she lives happily ever after with Jason, Ariadne doesn’t get abandoned, Theseus’s dad doesn’t commit suicide, and the battles against monsters seem a little too perfuntory, making them less compelling than they should be. And yes, it’s for kids (Usborne.com says 7+ but it’s clearly aimed at younger), but the Usborne books of mythology I was reading when I was that age didn’t shy away from that stuff – they may not have gone on to detail Medea’s infanticide, but they showed her killing her brother to help Jason escape. Lessons and videos we watched at primary school discussed Theseus leaving Ariadne. The ending of the Theseus story was always bittersweet, with the minotaur having been killed but, due to Theseus’s neglect in changing his sails, his father having given him up for dead and jumped into the sea in grief. That’s the emotional heart of the story.
I just find this book a little too codling in places and I know that, as a child, I prefered my monsters scarier and less easily dispatched and that what drew me, and continues to draw me, to Medea was her ruthlessness – she was so unlike any princess I’d ever read about before. A great book for read aloud sessions with groups of young children you don’t know because I don’t particularly want to step on someone else’s parenting. But if I was reading this aloud to kids I knew well I would be surreptitiously adding more of the ‘unsuitable’ bits in for them. Kids can deal with a lot more than people think and I think it’s the fact that Greek myths often don’t conform to the ‘happily ever after’ narrative that makes them so intriguing.