These are some of the best pagan-oriented children’s books that we’ve found. There are many, many retellings of individual myths, of course, but some care needs to be taken in choosing just the right volume. When judging a book I haven’t seen before, I usually start at the beginning – far too many mythology story books start out with some sort of disclaimer that basically says “these are stories that people used to believe a long time ago before they knew any better…” Such books are worthy of being avoided. (A prime example is Mordecai Gerstein’s Tales of Pan; I had high hopes for this one, but the tone is highly patronizing – “These are stories of Pan and his silly relatives and some of the silly things they did…” Feh.)
Most of the books in this list are aimed at younger children, because at the moment that’s what we have… plus I’m a sucker for a good picture book.
D’Aulaire’s Greek Myths This is the old sentimental favorite that we all grew up with, and it still gives decent value for money.
David Levine: The Fables of Aesop
I highly recommend this edition of Aesop over most that are on the market, because it does NOT have the stupid “moral of the story” bits that were added by the Victorians; it just presents the stories directly, without commentary other than the quite humorous illustrations.
Jamie and Scott Simons, ill. Deborah Winograd:
Why Spiders Spin: a story of Arachne and Why Dolphins Call: a story of Dionysus
Very nice retellings of the story of Arachne, and Dionysos and the pirates respectively. Out of print. There are two other books in the series, Why Seashells Sing: a story of Phaethon, and Why Winter Comes: a story of Persephone, but as far as I can tell they no longer exist anywhere.
Louise LeQuire: Athena Smiles Normally sold only at the gift shop of the Nashville Parthenon, but Amazon lists a few used copies. The author is the wife (I believe) of Alan LeQuire, the sculptor who executed the 42-foot tall Athena statue at the Parthenon.
Stephanides Brothers – Greek Mythology series
You’ll have to scrounge around to find the whole series, but they can be had used at fairly reasonable prices (around $3-12, depending on the volume). I like the straightforward writing style, and the fact that it’s quite comprehensive and touches on a number of stories that frequently get left out of children’s mythology books, at least in America.
Margaret Hodges, ill. Donna Diamond: The Arrow and the Lamp: the story of Psyche
Marianna Mayer, ill. Kinuko Craft: Pegasus
Actually, you can save some time by just following the link to Kinuko Craft’s website and buying everything he’s done… ;) One of the finest illustrators working today – and together with Mayer, one of the best children’s authors, this book is not to be missed. (Craft has also done books of King Midas and Cupid and Psyche with his wife.)
Mary Pope Osborne: Favorite Greek Myths and the “Tales From the Odyssey” series.
Lenny Hort, ill. Lloyd Bloom: The Goatherd and the Shepherdess
The story of Daphnis and Chloe. I like this one in particular because it depicts everyday piety – offerings and libations – as a matter of course.
Claire Martin, ill. Leo and Diane Dillon: The Race of the Golden Apples
The only oddity with this book is the decision to use the Roman names Diana and Venus, but at least she does it consistently. Great illustrations.
James Rumford: There’s a Monster in the Alphabet
Somewhat peculiar, but still entertaining – it reproduces what is apparently a traditional teaching tool for the Greek alphabet, linking the letters to the story of Cadmus and the founding of Thebes; the illustrations are very nicely done in red-figure vase style. Some of the derivations he gave for the letters seemed suspect to me (“Z (zeta) may once have been a sword”, for instance), but I did a little research and it seems it’s actually pretty much on target.
Next – other pagan books