Greek Myths by Ann Turnbull and Sarah Young

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Greek Myths by Ann Turnbull and Sarah Young

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Linda Lawlor
Reviewed by Linda Lawlor
Summary: A retelling of many of the Greek Myths in simple, accessible prose, in one sumptuous and beautifully illustrated volume.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 168 Date: October 2010
Publisher: Walker Books Ltd
ISBN: 978-1406300833

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One word keeps coming to mind when looking at this book: lavish. Sixteen well-known stories are presented here, in a book positively overflowing with brightly coloured illustrations. Generous use of gold makes the book feel even more special, and the only danger, if you buy it for a child, is that you may not be able to bring yourself to give it away.

A lot of books which are published fall squarely into a single category: light-hearted adventure stories for newly-confident readers or edgy, issue-driven fiction for teenagers, for example. But a quick trawl through the various websites which advertise this book shows that it is not so easy to categorise. Some sites label it as 8+ and certainly younger readers will have no difficulty whatsoever with the language or the concepts. Others suggest 10+, probably because those Ancient Greeks and their gods did spend a large amount of their time chasing pretty girls, and slaying animals, mythical creatures or, when all else failed, each other. But the parent or grandparent thinking to buy this book can be reassured: gods and mortals are generally described as simply falling in love, or being pierced by Eros' arrows, and the blood and gore on offer is no more than many books and television programmes offer children every day. In fact, for all their subject matter, there is rather less of the seamier side of life in these pages than more recent media provide, and several websites recommend its purchase for school and public libraries. This last is an excellent idea: the book is well-made, and certainly sturdy enough to last a long time.

All the great themes are here: courage, love and loyalty, and to balance them, pride, greed and foolishness. Midas refuses to take advice, and almost starves to death before he realises that having everything he touches turn to gold is not such a good idea after all. Theseus may have been a brave lad, ready to risk his life to kill the Minotaur, but his treatment of Ariadne was shameful. The story of the gods can often seem like an older version of today's televised soap operas, but the stakes are higher and lift these tales out of the humdrum to give them epic dimensions. When Demeter searches for her daughter Persephone, kidnapped by Hades, crops wither in the fields and the cattle die, for example, and the monster Typhon's struggles to escape his underground prison cause hot ash and molten lava to flow across the land. While the first and foremost purpose of stories must be to delight and entertain, such tales as these will also lead to fruitful discussions at home and at school about how our predecessors saw the world, and how they sought to explain phenomena far beyond their understanding.

Ann Turnbull has written an excellent introduction to the book, giving clear information on the hierarchy of the gods and other mythical creatures, and even explaining how to pronounce many of the names. She provides a simple and accessible summary, using the early versions of the myths as her sources, and briefly mentions the connection with Roman mythology. She does not hesitate to use words like naiad, sovereignty and foreboding, which may not be within the experience of many of her readers, but their meaning is always clear in context. And the book would even be worth purchasing for extraordinary illustrations of Sarah Young alone: they teem with detail, and are a joy to look at. This book will give many hours of pleasure.

Many thanks to Walker Books for sending this wonderful book to Bookbag.

Further reading suggestion: Bookbag helpfully provides a whole list for you: the Top Ten Retellings of Myths, Legends and Fairy Tales. You might want to start with The Thousand Nights and One Nights by David Walser, illustrated by the wonderful Jam Pienkowski.

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Buy Greek Myths by Ann Turnbull and Sarah Young at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Greek Myths by Ann Turnbull and Sarah Young at


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