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Blog: Calliope’s Library: Books for Young Readers

A book cover with a pink and white geometrically-patterned background. In the middle stands a cartoon man with a beard, a bald head, a toga, and a walking stick. He is surrounded by stars and symbols. A small, gray dog at his feet sniffs an ant.

Do you know any kids? Do they like books? Do you want to lure them down the path of Classical Studies before paleontology fever sets in? The good news is that there’s a new resource in development to help you do just that. I’m please to introduce Calliope’s Library: Books for Young Readers.

Figure 1: Bone Gap, by Laura Ruby. Krishni Burns writes, “I appreciate a modern-day Persephone who sets the curtains on fire to get the fire department’s attention, because trapped isn’t the same as helpless.”

Last year, the SCS blog provided several useful resources to help you find books for young Classics fans, among them Sarah Bond’s excellent post about titles that Classical scholars who are also parents have shared with their own children. In the post, Dr. Bond linked to a Twitter thread full of wonderful book recommendations. Twitter being what it is, that thread is now gone.

Figure 2: Truth with Socrates, by Duane Armitage and Maureen McQuerry, illustrated by Robin Rosenthal, Big Ideas for Little Philosophers Series. Krishni Burns writes, “I never would have thought that it was possible to distill ancient philosophy down to something that is both comprehensible and relevant to preschoolers, but this series does it.”

At the 2021 Zoom meeting of recipients of the SCS’ Classics Everywhere grant (now Ancient Worlds, Modern Communities), various participants lamented just that: the transient nature of the collections of book recommendations that appeared at about this time each year. We said, “Wouldn’t it be great if there was a permanent home for these resources, where we could always find them?”

Figure 3: Wings, by Christopher Myers. Rebecca Resinski writes, “In Christopher Myers’ Wings a young girl recounts the harassment which a winged boy named Ikarus Jackson experiences from schoolmates, teachers, neighborhood kids, and police.”

Calliope’s Library is a project that grew out of those conversations. The website features a curated collection of book recommendations for young readers of all ages. In time, this website will incorporate recommendations and write-ups from SCS members, K-12 teachers, students, parents, and young readers themselves. The collection seeks to recommend books that are not only excellent, but also reflect both the diversity of the ancient world and the readers who love it today. A prototype of the project’s website is now up and running. Once the project moves to its permanent home, it will also include a blog with featured book recommendations, themed posts, and news from the study of classical reception in children’s culture.

Figure 4: The Golden Treasury of Myths and Legends, by Anne Terry White, illustrated by Alice and Martin Provensen. Sarah Kiletnic Wear writes, “Anne Terry White excels as a storyteller. Her adaptions of myths are literature in their own right; while some myth collections recount tales in a textbook style, she weaves tales with expertise.”

Each book cover on the main page links to a write-up with some basic information about the book and why the recommender loves it. The fundamental requirement for a book to be added to the collection is that the recommender likes it enough to give it as a gift. At the time of writing, there are over 50 books in the collection, and we hope to have well over a hundred by this time next year. You can use the drop-down menus at the top to filter covers by subject, recommended age, and many other features to find the best books for your reader (or yourself). There’s also a list of books that we’re going to add but haven’t written up yet.

Figure 5: Never Look Back, by Lilliam Rivera. Krishni Burns writes, “Never Look back is a retelling of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice set in the Bronx in today’s New York City. The characters are Afro-Latinx, and the story interweaves Greek myth with Caribbean folklore.”

Right now, each book only has one write-up. However, we’d love to get more voices involved. If you or your young reader would like to submit a write-up of a book that is already on our website, or a book that should be, we’d love to hear from you! There’s a form to submit a write-up at the bottom of this page. Submissions will be vetted by the board of directors to ensure their quality and propriety, but we want to be as inclusive as possible. Details about the vetting process are on the “About” page of the website. Also, if there’s a book missing that you know is too good to be left off this list, you can suggest it here.

Figure 6: Girl Meets Boy: The Myth of Iphis, by Ali Smith. Krishni Burns writes, “This book is actually kind of hard to describe. It is narrated by two Scottish sisters in their early twenties who are both struggling to find their footing in the adult world.”

In addition, the board is seeking some feedback on the prototype website to improve the eventual permanent version. If there’s something you really like or you think needs work, please click on the “Feedback” button and leave your thoughts. Happy reading!

Krishni Burns's picture

Krishni Burns is Lecturer of Latin at the University of Illinois at Chicago in Chicago, Illinois, US. Her main areas of study are ancient religion and the lives of women in Republican Rome, as well as the expression of classical myth in children’s popular culture. Her current book project is Bringing Their Mother Home: Roman Multiculturalism and the Mother of the Gods. She participates in the European Research Council project Our Mythical Childhood and chairs the Committee on Ancient and Modern Performance (CAMP).

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