Understanding Greek mythology has long been considered a staple in understanding other classic works of literature. Not only that, but many kids enjoy learning about these stories that feature heroic deeds, mighty quests, and deities with lots of personality. Fortunately, you can find a lot of great anthologies, books featuring certain portions of Greek mythology, and even popular fiction that weaves in Greek myths.
Great Anthologies of Greek Mythology
No doubt about it - the best way to learn the myths of Ancient Greece is to pick up an anthology and immerse yourself in the stories.
D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths
D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths, written by Ingri and Edgar Parin D'Aulaire, is a classic in the world of anthologies on Greek mythology. Beautifully illustrated, D'Aulaire's manages to highlight the most important and popular myths.
The book is organized into four parts:
- The 'old days' or Greek version of creation
- Zeus and his family
- Minor gods
- Mortal children of Zeus
Making the New York Public Library's list of 100 Great Children's Books in 100 Years, D'Aulaire's is appropriate for elementary children (who wouldn't be too frightened of Zeus and his shenanigans).
A Child's Introduction to Greek Mythology
A Child's Introduction to Greek Mythology: The Stories of the Gods, Goddesses, Heroes, Monsters, and Other Mythical Creatures, by Heather Alexander, is a great option for upper elementary kids who want to study up on their myths. The book comes with a family tree poster, stickers and temporary tattoos - which definitely adds to the fun factor.
The book has two parts:
- The first part is dedicated to the gods, goddesses, and other mythological creatures that make Greek mythology so interesting.
- The second part is dedicated to the myths themselves.
While there are lots of things to love about this book, including the awesome sidebars with definitions, projects and games, many reviewers note that the illustrations add a rich dimension to the book.
Treasury of Greek Mythology
Treasury of Greek Mythology: Classic Stories of Gods, Goddesses, Heroes & Monsters is a gem of an anthology published by National Geographic and written by Donna Jo Napoli. While Publisher's Weekly notes that it is especially vivid in language, teachers will especially love the book for its resource lists and side-bar snippets that offer students a glimpse into the cultural and historical aspects of myths as well. Consequently, it makes a great teaching tool or supplement to a unit on Greek myths, especially for the middle school classroom.
Books Focusing on Single Stories
While anthologies are great for getting an overview of the whole body of Greek mythology, or to use as a reference, a single book focusing on one story can be less intimidating.
Pegasus, the Flying Horse
Award-winning author Jane Yolen, who is perhaps best known for books like, Devil's Arithmetic and Owl Moon, has also dabbled a bit in the classical tales of Greek mythology. In Pegasus, the Flying Horse, Yolen tells the tale of Bellerophon, the boy who was able to tame the flying horse Pegasus, through the eyes of a beggar. In the end, it is implied that the beggar may have been Bellerophon himself. Publisher's Weekly notes that Yolen does an excellent job capturing the drama in the story, and retelling the highlights of this myth.
The Olympians Series
Published as a series of graphic novels, each book of The Olympians focuses on just one of the gods or goddesses of Mt. Olympus (Ares, Aphrodite, Poseidon, Hades, Hera, Athena and Zeus). The books come with a companion website that offers a host of resources for teachers who might be covering Greek mythology.
The graphic novel format appeal to students, and many of the individual graphic novels have notable reviews. For example, Kirkus calls the graphic novel Hades an "outstanding addition" to the series for middle-grade students.
Z is for Zeus
Engaging and witty, Z is for Zeus by Helen L. Wilbur provides a great introduction to all things related to Greek mythology. Geared toward early elementary-age students, this Mom's Choice Gold Award winner (2009) features a rhyme for each letter of the alphabet focusing mostly on aspects of Greek mythology, although the book does have some historical information as well.
The book has sidebars, offering readers more, and a helpful glossary in the back. The pairing of more advanced text with some humorous illustrations makes the book more suitable for older elementary than younger elementary students.
Young Zeus, by author G. Brian Karas, uses a little embellishment on classic mythology to tell the story of Zeus' childhood. The story starts out with what those familiar with Greek mythology already know: Zeus was raised on the island of Crete by a magical she-goat named Amaltheia. From there, the book takes some liberties, but as the review from Kirkus notes, this is part of what makes the tale so relatable and not scary for young children.
Because of the book's ability to give the general drift of Zeus' beginnings without getting into the gory detail, this is one of the few books that's well suited to the early elementary-aged crowd.
Greek Mythology in Fiction
While reading Greek myths are generally fascinating enough in and of themselves, sometimes kids pick up more information when the stories are woven throughout fiction. These stories, while not strictly classified or shelved as non-fiction mythology, can teach students quite a bit.
Percy Jackson and the Olympians
The Percy Jackson series, by Rick Riordan, has been so wildly popular that it has spawned movies and won countless awards. In the books, the fictional character Percy Jackson (who is the son of Poseidon and a mortal mother) solves problems and goes on quests while interacting with other characters from Greek mythology.
While you might not ace a mythology test by reading the Percy Jackson series, these modernized retellings are entertaining and the stories are based on several actual myths or take elements from Greek mythology.
Goddess of Yesterday
Weaving the tale of a young girl into the background of a famous battle, the Goddess of Yesterday recounts the events of the Trojan War through the eyes of the main character, Anaxandra. It's like an up-close and personal look at the Trojan War and offers some hypothetical details as to the motivations of the main players in the Greek myth. It is a 2003 ALA notable book and written for middle school-aged students.
Explore Greek Myths
Chances are good that at some point during your child's education, she will need to be familiar with Greek mythology. Children's books with colorful illustrations are a great way to learn your Greek gods and goddesses and be well on your way to mastering mythology.