I’m still answering questions in the Open Thread comments (and will continue bumping longer answers to new posts, like this one). Stephanie wrote:
I would love some suggestions for my 2nd grader – we are going to be covering Ancient Civilizations (Greeks, Romans, China) this coming school year and I’m wondering what read-alouds or chapter books you would suggest to her. She is an advanced reader so I’m looking for both books that would challenge her plus ones I could read to her with younger siblings. I’ve never tackled Greek myths before and need some age appropriate guidance! : )
I replied with a list of things we’ve read & enjoyed. I know there are lots and lots of other good books on these topics; this is just a sort of top-of-my-head collection of standouts from my family’s experience. And linking things nicely takes more time than I have this afternoon, so pardon the dashed-off character of this post.
UPDATED 6/21 to add a book I forgot—possibly Rose’s favorite besides the D’Aulaire. Adventures of the Greek Heroes by Mollie McLean & Anne Wiseman, a book she read so often I had to buy a second copy to replace the tattered, brokenbacked, page-shedding first copy.
D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths is the main one, the book that has enchanted every single one of my girls from age four on. (Neither of my boys are ready for chapter books yet; see this comment for more on that.)
(D’Aulaire’s Norse Myths is another tremendously and enduringly popular book in these parts. Also the Trolls collection.)
Mary Pope Osborne has a lovely Greek myths collection as well. (And I’ll add, though off topic, a cheer for her Favorite Medieval Tales, a book I myself adore.)
A bit older, of course, and my kids go nuts for all things Percy Jackson.
Jim Weiss has several Greek myth cds—they + D’Aulaire are what sparked my Rose’s interest in Ancient Greece at age five, a passion that endures to this day. (Though lately she’s more into Egyptian mythology.)
Odds Bodkin has an Iliad storytelling CD—we checked it out once years ago after hearing many rave reviews, but I think I jumped the gun; the graphic snakes-eating-the-daughters-of-Laocoön part in the beginning terrified my tiny girls. I’m sure they would listen with relish these days, bloodthirsty lasses that they are.
Oh, another big hit has been Famous Men of Greece by John Haaren (you can read it for free at Mainlesson.com). That one focuses more on historical figures (some legendary) than gods & goddesses.
Also, the Ancient Greece chapters of A Child’s History of the World.
As I said, there are oodles of other good books on Greek myths & historical figures, but these are the ones I can vouch for as having engaged my own children across a wide age span.
Oh, and for a while, they were crazy about this website where you can follow the adventures of some cartoony Athenians and Spartans.
Here’s a post I wrote in 2006 about Rose’s passion (age seven at the time) for Ancient Greece: What the Tide Brought In.
And one from another round of enthusiasm in 2009: This Week in Ancient Greece.
(That post reminded me, duh, of Padraic Colum’s The Children’s Homer, which Rose devoured that year. And that was the year I read huge chunks of The Iliad and The Odyssey to the girls—my college texts, not children’s translations, and they were so into it! Ages eight, ten, thirteen, roughly, I think? I can’t be bothered to do the math. Anyway, I mention this not at all in a braggy sense but quite the opposite: there’s a reason those cracking good tales have endured for centuries. They GRAB you, even if you’re little.)
I know the original question asked for Ancient Rome & China suggestions too; will tackle those in separate posts.
**UPDATE! Be sure to see the comments for great suggestions from other readers!**
Ancient Greece, chapter books, D'Aulaire, good read-alouds, Greek myths, Homer, Iliad, Jim Weiss, Mary Pope Osborne, Odyssey, Padraic Colum, stuff that worked for us
October 21, 2009 @ 1:53 pm | Filed under: Books
“You, child. What do you know of Greece?”
Betsy had not understood much of what had passed, but she remembered her nursery night-light burning in a little pan of grease and she said, “It is a bright light.”
Uncle Ambrose leaned back in his chair and stared at her and his jaw dropped. Then an expression of great tenderness came over his face and he said, “Child, you are right. A bright light. One of the brightest the world has known. But that you should know that, a child of your age. I am astonished. Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings.”
—from Linnets and Valerians by Elizabeth Goudge
One of our favorites. Beanie’s reading it now for the first delicious time. This scene popped into my head a couple of weeks ago when we were about to begin reading The Odyssey—a kind of family fun I heartily encourage everyone to try. The Iliad, The Odyssey, Beowulf, Idylls of the King, Macbeth, Plutarch’s Lives: heavy, hard, heady college stuff, right? Not necessarily. Honestly, I’ve had better success reading some of these Great Works with my children than I’ve had with certain Newbery-winning children’s novels. (Longtime readers will recall my laments about our inability to sustain Secret of the Andes or Red Sails to Capri as read-alouds.)
I wonder if one reason the Hard Stuff works well for us is that I feel no pressure to finish the whole thing, figuring that every little morsel of Homer or Shakespeare is a boost, a blessing, a bit of nourishment for mind or soul. You know how Flylady talks about every little bit of housework, even housework done clumsily, being a blessing for the home? I guess that’s my take on reading these literary classics with young children. Our best, deepest, most affecting discussions have been sparked by small passages from big works. Some weeks I may not read more than a score of lines from The Odyssey, a single paragraph from Plutarch’s Life of Pericles, but weeks, months, years later we’re still chewing on those big ideas.
From yesterday’s Pericles passage:
“For [Pericles] was never seen to walk in any street but that which led to the market-place and the council-hall, and he avoided invitations of friends to supper, and all friendly visits and intercourse whatever; in all the time he had to do with the public, which was not a little, he was never known to have gone to any of his friends to a supper, except that once when his near kinsman Euryptolemus married, he remained present till the ceremony of the drink-offering, and then immediately rose from the table and went his way. For these friendly meetings are very quick to defeat any assumed superiority, and in intimate familiarity an exterior of gravity is hard to maintain. Real excellence, indeed, is best recognized when most openly looked into; and in really good men, nothing which meets the eyes of external observers so truly deserves their admiration, as their daily common life does that of their nearer friends.”
Food for thought there for a great many meals.
Related post: The Scent of Water.
Rose, who is obsessed with Ancient Greece these days, was sitting at the kitchen table when she heard Scott’s footsteps on the stairs.
“Listen!” she announced in a stage whisper. “Here comes the mighty Zeus!”
Speaking of Ancient Greece, here’s a website the girls have been enjoying. Thanks to the creative folks at Snaith Primary, we are following the adventures of two families, one in Athens, one in Sparta, during a war between the city-states in 430 B.C.
And of course no visit to Ancient Greece would be complete without some Jim Weiss stories on CD. Rose’s favorite tale is “Atalanta and the Golden Apples,” while Beanie is partial to the story of Hercules.