One of the areas I work on a lot is Ancient Greek philosophy, and you won’t be surprised to hear that there aren’t a huge amount of books out there to introduce children to the wonderful worlds of people like the Presocratics or Plato. So when the 5yo recently asked ‘Is Atlantis real?’, I jumped at the opportunity for some Platonic myths! I was extremely excited to find Christina Balit, who wrote the fab Escape from Pompeii,had also written a book all about the Atlantis myth – based on the story in Plato. Hurrah! Atlantis: The Legend of a Lost City was a little tricky to track down but we got lucky with an impeccably-timed eBay auction. Can you believe nobody else bid on it!?
The story follows the Atlantis myth from the very beginning, starting all the way back with Chaos itself. We quickly learn that Zeus overthrows the Titans and the world is divided between him and his two brothers: Zeus gets the heavens, Hades gets the Underworld, and Poseidon gets the sea. This is how we learn more about Atlantis – at this point, just a tiny little island floating in Poseidon’s great sea.
We’re in a big making-up-stories phase at the minute, coinciding with the 5yo’s current focus in school on independent creative writing. He loves writing all sorts of weird and wonderful little tales about monsters and ghosts and smugglers (thanks, Famous Five), so I’ve been gathering some books specifically designed to build vocabulary – and there are so many choices! We were especially happy to find The Ancient World in 100 Words by Clive Gifford and Gosia Herba. I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but look at this beauty! I actually came across it in the monthly Postscript Books catalogue, and immediately ordered it – a big colourful hardback for £6.99? Yes please!
The set-up is simple: each page focuses on a specific English word about the ancient world, with a full-page cheerful retro illustration and a brief definition underneath. There’s a great mix of vocabulary from the geographical to the mythological and the straightforward historical. There’s people, places, things – and importantly in our house, monsters!
Okay, okay, I know we share a lot of Homeric-based books and activities but just wait until you see this latest discovery: a pop-up retelling of the Trojan War story! No, really! The fantastic Troie Antique: Pop Up is created by paper engineer David Hawcock. It currently seems to only be available in French – but the language used to explain each scene is nice and simple, and fairly short. Even if your French skills are long-forgotten, the pop-up scenes alone make it well worth exploring!
There are 8 scenes altogether retelling the main story of the conflict between the Greeks and the Trojans, 7 based closely on the Homeric account. Each scene is intricately layered and rendered in beautifully bright colours, and the illustrations incorporate lots of ancient features – architecture, art, clothing – really nicely, with plenty of interesting things to point out and chat about.
We have been in a big Ancient Egypt phase lately, and given our ongoing love of all things spooky I was especially excited to find The Official Guide to the Ancient Egyptian Afterlife by Laura Winstone. It has definitely been getting a lot more re-reading than most of our other Ancient Egypt non-fiction! Bright illustrations plus clear short sections of information keeps things engaging – and not too morbid! – for younger readers.
The book is narrated by Bastet the Cat, Ancient Egyptian goddess and your own personal tour guide to the afterlife. This speech style means the information never seems too dense or impenetrable, and is often split into little speech bubbles which address the reader directly. I found this engaged the 5yo much more (and it’s always good to have an excuse for silly voices!)
After a busy messy summer, we’re getting everything ready for the start of a new school and university year – and everyone knows the first step of tidying up is organising the bookshelves! So while we sort out our shelves full of myths and monsters, we thought we’d share some of our current favourites from the ‘beautifully illustrated hardbacks’ category. We’d love to hear yours!