As we enjoyed Marcia Williams book "The Iliad and the Odyssey" so much, we decided to try a couple of other books by the same author/ illustrator, and this book fit in perfectly with the first. Marcia Williams has produced a large number of books which bring the classics, history, and Bible stories to life in a comic strip fashion. I happen to be a huge fan of comics/ graphic novels. I love the fact that they making reading easy and fun for very young children - or older children who may have had a delayed start to reading. They give the advantage of relatively simple story lines combined with pictorial clues to the text, and of course helping children to visualise the story.
I personally think a knowledge of Greek mythology is essential to any well rounded education, so I was happy to find an easy way to introduce a few of these stories while my children are quite young. We do in fact have another volume of Greek mythology, but the children haven't taken to it as well. This is a nice book for light reading, but still does have definite educational value in my opinion. It is of course , limited. I am not certain I would have wanted my children reading all of the Greek myths at such a young age. All of the those with extremely adult themes, such as rape, and incest have been left out, although one case of filicide has been left in. Due to the fact that this is heavily illustrated book, with only 40 pages, many of the stories must be left out for lack of space. The Iliad and the Odyssey are covered in a separate book, but the Golden Fleece is left out. I usually do not list contents, but as this information is not available through Amazon I will give a quick list of the stories included:
Arion and the Dolphins
Orpheus and Eurydice
The 12 Tasks of Hercules
Daedalus and Icarus
Perseus and the Gordon's Head
Theseus and the Minotaur
Arachne vs Athene
I think this is a fair mix for a child's first book of Greek Mythology. I'm sure we can all think of a favourite or two left out, but there really is a limited amount of space. There are also some segments of the story that my children did not like - especially Hercules killing his children. I don't think this can be helped when dealing with ancient myths - they did tend to be far more violent than modern stories. I can't help but laugh when I think of all the up roar over violence in comics such as Superman - but modern comics do not compare to the classics - or the Bible for that matter in terms of bloodshed. The illustrations are not terribly life like - but there is one panel with a baby dripping blood and sword through his body accompanied by his older siblings also dead and bleeding. This might be upsetting for some children, and in all honesty I'd just as soon it was left out, or at least blurred, but the death of the children is a key part of the story.
I am not impressed by the quality of the art work. The drawings are crude - not a great deal better than my own attempts at illustrating books for my own children ( we like to make our own stories too). My oldest son has commented on this a few times, as something doesn't look quite right, but he still enjoys this book far more than those with very few illustrations. The pictures may not be perfect - but in the children's opinion any illustrations are better than none. And for all my complaints about illustration quality - I haven't found any similar books with better illustrations. I have three books from this author so far and expect to add to this collection. The illustrations are less than perfect but the story line is good, the books are fun and easy to read, and do help give my sons some introduction to the classics. I do not really expect these books to become bedtime favourites - although 'The Iliad and the Odyssey' did. I am happy enough if my children choose these now and again as a change of pace from their ordinary reading material. This is just one part of a wide variety of reading material we keep, but it does have it's place.
"THOSE AREN'T GREEKS - THEY HAVE CLOTHES ON" - OR MY SON'S OPINIONS:
As this is a child's book - I believe the children's opinions are far more important than my own. No matter how wonderful or educational I may think this book is - if it sits on the shelf unread they will not learn from it.
My three year old absolutely loves 'The Iliad and the Odyssey' - but one of the main sources of amusement for him is the number of nude characters. He was terribly disappointed that the vast majority of the characters in this book are clothed. But perhaps this is a good thing - we don't want the child growing up thinking Greece is giant nudist colony! After his initial disappointment though, he does enjoy the stories except for Hercules. He does not like that Hercules killed his children. Of course he was enchanted by a jealous Hera to do this - but still it was a father killing his sons. He was also very concerned by Prometheus having his liver eaten by a vulture - but it does mention he is set free eventually. His favourite story by far is Daedalus and Icarus, but he does enjoy the story of Arion and the Dolphins as well. He also enjoyed the story of the Minotaur as well but most especially because there is a maze covering a full page and you can trace the routes with your finger to find the way out. Overall though - I do think he is bit young for this book due to the extreme violence of some stories.
My oldest has just turned seven. Even at this age, he did not like the section with Hercules. He can understand a bit more of it - that this is the consequence of extreme jealousy - but that doesn't mean he likes it. He also really enjoyed the the maze with the Minotaur story - but dislikes the hero of this story. Theseus is saved by a woman - but then betrays her. My son has a strong sense of loyalty and this didn't set well with him. He also thought Theseus was very careless to forget to change the sails - thus causing his father's death. But he very much enjoyed Daedalus and Icarus - even though it has some nasty bits. The idea of flight just fascinates both of my sons, and they were familiar with this story from various books on flight. He liked Orpheus and Eurydice as well - but especially found the story of Arachne amusing. This was interesting as well in that it gave me a chance to explain how spiders today are called arachnids, and this name comes from the legend.
My son found this relatively easy to read, but he did struggle with many of the names, as I expect many young children will. I am not at all certain I pronounce them all correctly myself. I have just told my son to sound it out and go with whatever way sounds right to him. It is more important to me that he enjoy the story than that he get every pronunciation correct. He enjoyed the book. It provoked quite a lot of discussion, which to me means a child is learning from a book. He has read this a few times, but it simply can not compete with James Bond, Alex Ryder, or Superman.
In rating this book - I do not think it is fair to rate against the likes of James Bond and Superman for popularity. Instead I am rating based on the facts that the children have enjoyed this book, it is, in my opinion very educational and I am certain we will use again a number of times over the years. I believe I paid around £2.50 for this. A used copy from Amazon will cost you £2.81. A newer edition with a different cover has been released and you can buy this new for £4.54 with free delivery. At these prices I do believe this deserves 5 stars.
I do consider this book would be best for slightly older children due to the act of filicide by Hercules. For this reason I would really say for ages 5+, but as I read it to my older son, my youngest has listened to this story, and does really enjoy other parts of the book. Parents know their own children and can best judge if this will be upsetting to them. I would not recommend this for use in a group or classroom with very young children. If you are looking for a nice bedtime story with all happy endings though - skip this one.
For children over age 8 - a more complete edition of Greek Mythology might be a better bet, especially for home educators, where we have full responsibility for introducing our children to these types of books. But if you have a child between 5-8, especially one with an interest in the Greek Myths - or even just an interest in comics - then I do think this is a valuable resource to add to your home library..