It’s that time of year again, when it behooves all generous adults to give gifts to the young people in their lives. As an avid reader, books were always my favorite presents. Now that I’m an adult and a fully-fledged classical scholar, I enjoy sharing my love of the past through interesting and innovative books about and inspired by the ancient world. Over at Calliope’s Library: Books for Young Readers, we are busy collecting beloved books from our own youth and new exciting publications to share with younger generations. Here are some of our board members’ favorite additions this year to inspire you as you hunt through bookstore shelves and bookseller’s websites. If none of these strikes your fancy, head over to the main website, https://www.calliopeslibrary.org/, for many more!
For toddlers who like to talk:
The Little Philosophers Series
All of these books are amazing, but my personal favorite is Love with Plato. This book takes the main points of Socrates’ speech from the Symposium and distills it down to something that a toddler can understand. According to the book, Plato believed that people can love ideas like truth and beauty, and emphasizes that love of what’s inside a person, what makes them themselves, makes people happiest. A cast of multiracial and ability-diverse youngsters explores Plato’s ideas across the pages, and the book frequently pauses to ask readers questions about what they think and feel.
— Krishni Burns
For a short introduction to Greek mythology:
The Gods and Goddesses of Olympus, written and illustrated by Aliki
If you are looking for a book for kids who aren’t ready for D’Aulaires’ yet, this beautifully illustrated short picture book starts with Chaos, quickly outlines the birth of the gods (Titans and Olympians) and the war between them, and then spends a page or two introducing each Olympian god and providing synopses of or allusions to some of their most well-known stories. The intricate illustrations on each page also allude to the gods’ stories and symbols, providing incentive for attentive readers to look further for full explanations. Two caveats: First, the depictions of the gods and goddesses do not accurately represent the cultural diversity of the ancient Mediterranean. Second, this is not a storybook, so readers looking to sit down with a set of fully articulated stories will not find that this book satisfies that need, but there is no shortage of lengthy favorite storybooks. This book, instead, fires up young readers’ imaginations so that they go looking for those longer titles.
— Nava Cohen
For readers who love beautiful art:
Atalanta’s Race by Shirley Climo, illustrated by Alexander Koshkin
This is my favorite Greek mythology picture book. It is an excellent read-aloud for kids with a longish attention span. Every page is illustrated or faced by a beautiful painting by Alexander Koshkin. The book tells the story of Atalanta, from her father’s cruel decision to expose her as an infant, through her nurture first by a she-bear and then a hunter, her return to father’s house, the famous foot race and the golden apples, Atalanta’s marriage to Melanion, and the couple’s final transformation into lions as punishment for their failure to thank Aphrodite. This book is out of print, but used copies are available for sale online.
— Diane Arnson Svarlien
For fans of transformed myths:
Wings by Christopher Myers
In Christopher Myers’s Wings, a young girl recounts the harassment that a winged boy named Ikarus Jackson experiences from schoolmates, teachers, neighborhood kids, and police. When the narrator summons her voice to oppose the boy’s antagonists and celebrate his difference, they both feel freed. Buoyed by the support of the girl-narrator, Ikarus Jackson’s wings become an expression of full, soaring self, and Myers’s picture book becomes a recuperative reception of ancient myth.
— Rebecca Resinski
For readers of Spanish
Colección Mitos Clasicos series
Yoandy Cabrera Ortega of Rockford University recommended this series to me, and I adore them. Each book in the series tackles a different myth in a lively, sensitive way. The myths are true to traditional versions, but they are often told from unique points of view, or with special insight into characters’ thoughts. Ricardo Gómez is the series’ author, but each book is illustrated by a different artist, many of them award-winners. The whole series is a feast for the eyes, as well as a fascinating new look at Greek mythology.
— Krishni Burns
For folks who like comics and graphic novels:
Isis and Osiris: To the Ends of the Earth by Jeff Limke, illustrated by David Witt