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.
I liked that it started by presenting the city of Troy before the conflict: rich and beautiful, on a strategic point along the coast of Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey – a nice added note which you don’t actually find explained very often in stories) The emphasis on Troy attracting the interest of it’s neighbours – as well as the point that the Greeks weren’t the first to attack the city – leads into a good talking point with slightly older children: did Agamemnon and the Greeks have other reasons for wanting to wage war on this prosperous city?
The scenes which follow unravel the main dramatic points of the Homeric story. We see Paris, the Prince of Troy, bringing Helen to the richly decorated palace where the Trojan royals give her a friendly welcome.
But all is not so friendly for long – immediately the Greeks are on their way, sailing in their vast armada of ships, and the war begins. The layered pop-up effect works really well for the battle scenes, carrying across the sense of ongoing action, movement, and terrible chaos. We see the war spilling across the beaches: the Greeks in shining gold armour, the Trojans in dark red. The 5yo liked looking at what the different soldiers were wearing and what they were fighting with – deciding who would win between a sword and a giant spear, or whether a shield or armour would be more effective for protection. The illustrations don’t opt for gory battle scenes – no spurting injuries or dragging of corpses, for a change! – so it is a little more younger-child friendly than some other versions.
We see other pivotal moments like the combat between Hector and Achilles outside the towering walls of Troy – beautifully rendered through the pop-up layers, with the walls looming behind them and poor Hector surrounded by Greeks, as the Trojans look on from above. The story underneath tells us the outcome of the duel we can see between the two strongest warriors: Achilles kills Hector — but we also find out that Paris will later avenge the death of his brother by firing an arrow into Achilles’ heel. We then watch the Greeks emerging from the Trojan horse after it has been dragged into the city of Troy, thanks to the clever plotting of the hero Odysseus. Swords raised, faces stern, we know it isn’t going to end well for the Trojans.
The final pop-up scene from the Homeric story is the burning of the city – layered bright flames engulf the silhouetted buildings of Troy against the dark night sky as the inhabitants try to flee. I like that the story didn’t shy away at this point from including the people: this would be another good opportunity for discussing more sensitive topics like war and displacement with older children.
Our last sight of Troy is when the archaeologists return and find it! This is always one of my favourites, I love that more books have started included the re-discovery of the ancient world as part of how they present the past. We meet old Heinrich Schliemann in 1872 as he excavates the city, the walls re-emerging as he holds up the elaborate golden necklace that he’d claim must have belonged to Helen herself!