Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Iliad and The Odyssey (Candlewick Press)

Anyone who has ever taken a literature course knows Homer's two epics The Iliad and The Odyssey. There have been countless translations of them and ways to make them more accessible to current generations and younger audiences. Candlewick Press has recently published these works of Homer aimed at children ages 8-12. They are both written by Gillian Cross and illustrated by Neil Packer, and I am going to tell you about them.

The Iliad begins with the story of Paris and the golden apple. Three goddesses (Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite) presented him with a golden apple and told him to give it to the most beautiful. Paris was not bright enough to realize that no matter who he picked, two others would be upset with him. They all offered him bribes to try and be picked, but Aphrodite offered him the most beautiful woman in the world (Helen) as his wife if he gave Aphrodite the golden apple. This was the most appealing bribe to him, and from this small apple the Trojan War soon followed.

Within this story is a lot of bloodshed and capturing of women. Paris took Helen from King Menelaus. Agamemnon took a woman named Chryseis who was the daughter of a priest. Briseis was taken from Achilles by Agamemnon, because Agamemnon had to give back Chryseis. For a while Achilles refused to help Agamemnon and the Greeks, until his cousin Patroclus was killed by Hector. This led to Achilles finally going to war with the Trojans, killing Hector, and Paris killing Achilles. This did not end the war, though. Odysseus created what became known as the Trojan Horse, and was able to sneak all the Greek soldiers into Troy to destroy the city and everyone in it. With the war over, Odysseus was ready to go home.

This leads us to the story The Odyssey. The Odyssey takes place after the Trojan War and Odysseus' journey back home takes ten years itself. That means that in total, he was gone from his home for twenty years. On this long trek, he is held captive for seven years on Calypso's island. They were captured by a Cyclops and had to blind him to escape. They narrowly avoided the Sirens who tried to steer their boats into the rocks and drown them. There are many marvelous tales in this epic, but I always like the end and the cleverness of Odysseus' wife Penelope. She was clever and stalled her many suitors for years in the hopes that her husband would return. She also arranges an archery contest that she knows only her husband could win and when he does win, she tests him one time further just so she can be 100% sure. This is truly a marvelous tale.

So what makes Gillian Cross and Neil Packer's versions great for kids? It's the way they are told. The story is simplified, but not dumbed down. All the elements, plot lines, gods, goddesses, etc. are present and accounted for. And the pictures are absolutely perfect in form and style. There are some images that are a bit off-putting and grotesque, which I appreciate, because not all characters in these stories are meant to be beautiful. At the end of the books is the Greek alphabet and context on both Homer and the Trojan War. These serve to further educate young minds and adds to the beauty of these books. These books are proof that you don't need to be an adult to enjoy the Classics and that if you start your children early, they too will love good literature. Highly recommended!

These books were provided to me for free by Candlewick Press in exchange for honest reviews. If you found these reviews helpful, click here and/or here and hit Yes!