BookMusings: (Re)Discovering Pagan Literature
A lively discussion of ancient and modern Pagan literature -- including children's books, graphic novels, science fiction, fantasy, and mysteries -- along with interviews, author highlights, and profiles of Pagan publishers.
On Greek Mythology for Children, Part Two
In my previous column, I highlighted some of the best collections of Greek mythology currently available for children. This time around, we'll take a look at some of my favorite single-story titles. Many of these are picture books, retellings of classic tales with beautiful illustrations. A few are novel-length classic or original tales, aimed at slightly older children.
I stumbled across Cupid and Psyche by M Charlotte Craft and KY Craft in a bookstore many years ago and instantly fell in love with the artwork (seriously, if you need a devotional image of Persephone, look no further). I have made a point of picking up anything illustrated by KY Craft ever since. Of course, the younger Craft's storytelling skills are just as wonderful; she does an excellent job of presenting Psyche as a positive role model, a brave woman determined to correct her past mistakes and win back her happiness. (Ages 5+)
And, when I found out that KY Craft had illustrated Pegasus by Marianna Mayer, it was immediately added to my collection. Again, if you are looking for devotional artwork (Athena, in this case), look no further. In addition to the wonderful illustrations, Mayer presents belief in and devotion to the Deities as a natural thing, not the oddities of a primitive people. I love the sequence in which the devout Bellerophon is rewarded for his piety and courage by Athena. Of course, the battle scene is pretty darn cool, too. (Ages 5+)
The tale of Persephone's descent to the underworld and subsequent return is a common theme in literature. I have two children's picture books in my collection which retell that story: Persephone by Sally Pomme Clayton and Virginia Lee; and Persephone and the Pomegranate: A Myth From Ancient Greece by Kris Waldherr. In Clayton and Lee's book, neither Persephone nor Demeter ever quite accept the former's new role as Queen of the Underworld. Persephone's expression remains sad and pensive right up to the final page.* In Waldherr's book, on the other hand, Persephone grows into her own, becoming a Goddess/woman in her own right, and negotiating for herself how she will live her life. Reading the two books together could provide for some interesting discussions. (Ages 7+)
A young woman determining her own fate also lies at the center of The Race of the Golden Apples by Claire Martin and Leo and Diane Dillon. Abandoned in the wilderness as an infant, Atalanta is raised by bears and the Goddess Diana. Years later, when her royal father comes to reclaim her, Atalanta must dare to seize her own future .... Again, it was the artwork which initially drew me to this book, but Martin does an excellent job of retelling the classic tale. Kids will be cheering for Atalanta long before she crosses that finish line. (Ages 7+)
We Goddesses: Athena, Aphrodite, Hera by Doris Orgel and Marilee Heyer may technically be a collection, but the stories of the three Goddesses are woven together in such a way as to create a coherent narrative. Here, the Goddesses speak for themselves, offering their perspective on some of the more famous myths -- such as the Judgment of Paris. Heyer's illustrations are lush and wonderful; the kind you want to copy and hang on the wall. (Ages 9+)
Several years ago, I found Medusa Jones by Ross Collins quite by accident. It took a few confused moments for me to realize that I was holding an original novel based on Greek mythology, rather than just a retelling. In Ross' sweet, comical, coming of age story, Medusa Jones is the daughter of a family of gorgons living in Athens (check out the yard full of petrified postmen). A freak and outcast at school, Medusa is torn between her desire to wreak revenge and her desire to just be "normal." I love the scene in which Medusa visits the new beauty salon for a hair cut; her snakes do not react well .... Lots of important life lessons here, accompanied by slyly humorous illustrations. (Ages 10+)
Back around the turn of the twentieth century, the writer/artist team of Padraic Colum and Willy Pogany produced two of the best mythology novels: The Golden Fleece and the Heroes Who Lived Before Achilles; and The Children's Homer: The Adventures of Ulysses and the Tale of Troy. Colum's prose is alternately spritely and foreboding, while Pogany's illustrations are minimalist, Art Deco confections. If I can figure out how, I need to work his drawing of Hermes into one of my devotional art pieces .... It's the rare library that does not have a copy of one of these on the shelf, and any bookstore can order them. (Ages 11+)
Finally, there is The Trojan War by Olivia Coolidge. This is another book that I stumbled across at the school library, read constantly, than lost track of as I grew older. I eventually found a copy of my own. This is a great way to introduce slightly older children to the Trojan War; while Coolidge skips the graphic violence and gore of so many other retellings, she does not shy away from the passion and deep grief of the saga. (Ages 11+)
And so ends Part Two of our tour of Greek mythology books for children. Did I miss any of your favorites? If so, let me know.
*I should point out here that any devotee of Hermes might well find the book worth the cover price, just for the scene of that God flying over the world in search of Persephone.
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