Classics for Kids: The Greek and Romans

The Lost Hero hb - mid resIntroduction

With the popularity of Rick Riordan’s Heroes of Olympus series , kids’ books containing themes and allusions to Greek and Roman mythology and culture are perhaps more plentiful than ever.   It may not seem immediately apparent why Christian families would be pleased about this development.  Isn’t it just paganism, repackaged for modern kids?  But classical education, prized by many Christians, of course values the rich literature and philosophy of the Greeks and Romans.  By familiarizing my kids with Greek and Roman culture and mythology, I hope not to indoctrinate them into that belief system, but to prepare them for an adulthood of reading the great books of Western culture.  Perhaps even more importantly, learning about Greek and Roman culture makes their appreciation of the Bible much richer as well.  When we read of Paul standing in the Aereopagus in Acts, the “foolishness” and glory of his speech attempting to show Greek philosophers their need for Christ becomes much more sensible.

That’s not to say that this renaissance of Greek and Roman culture for kids is all good.  In my opinion, in the wider culture, it’s largely driven by America’s desire to fill the spiritual void left after its rejection of Christianity.  In the same way we may be seeing a renaissance of Bible stories in popular TV and movies (see this month’s History Channel presentation of The Bible), postmodern families may not believe Greek and Roman stories are True–but they lean on them for their beauty, their connection with the past, and their wisdom and emotional comfort.

Learning to read them from a Christian worldview is in many ways just the same as reading other genres of secular literature:

  • You will find heroes, flawed but inspiring.  Christians can use them to teach children that just as Moses and Abraham pointed to Christ, so Odysseus points us to the only flawless Hero who would save us on Calvary.
  • With so many flawed gods, you will find failures and those who need mercy.  Christians can use them to teach children that mercy isn’t a principle, it’s ultimately a Person.  Mercy doesn’t come to us arbitrarily, nor in abrogation of justice, but in Christ, we find mercy that is just, paid for in full.
  • Greek stories often illustrate profound truths about the nature of reality.  When Icarus lets pride get the best of him, he suffers a terrible fall.  Christians can use such stories to reaffirm the Biblical idea that we reap what we sow.  (Thankfully, we aren’t the only ones sowing, since God is sowing above us!)

A Few Books to Try

  • marcia williamsGreek Myths by Marcia Williams.  Candlewick, 2011.  Ages 5- up.  This is a great introduction to Greek mythology.  It includes a number of short story presentations, in comic book format, that allow kids to read a story and understand the plot arc in just a few minutes.  Like storybook Bibles, the content is simplified so that kids get the main ideas, and the cartoon illustrations and thought bubbles add whimsy and humor to tales that might otherwise be depressing.  Williams has done a number of books like this on classic subjects, including the Illiad and the Odyssey, Ancient Egypt and Shakespeare.  I can’t personally vouch for all the content, but her Greek Myths are fantastic.  Worldview/Morality: 4 (out of 5), Literary Value: 5.
  • dariusThe Amazing Flight of Darius Frobisher by Bill Harley.  Peachtree Publishers, 2006.  Ages 6-12.  Full disclosure: I helped edit this book, so I’m really partial to the story for personal reasons.  But my 7 year old just read it for herself, and she couldn’t put it down.  (Believe me, there are plenty of books I put in her hand that she does put down.)  The allusions to Greek mythology aren’t overdone, and the story is equally informed by the writings of Roald Dahl or Lemony Snicket.  But the hero in this case is really sweet, and there is a moral center to the story that more modern stories don’t always have.  Add in the Greek mythology references, and you’ve got a very enjoyable and educational read.  Worldview/Morality: 4 (out of 5), Literary Value: 4.
  • D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Mythsd'aulaire's (audiobook version) by Ingri and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire.  Doubleday, originally published 1962.  Ages 8-12.   If you aren’t already familiar with the d’Aulaire’s, they are a powerhouse couple in kids’ publishing from the early to mid twentieth century.  Their biographies were cutting edge in terms of illustrations and biographical interest for the time, although today their books obviously look quite dated.  I like them because while not idolizing their subjects, they aren’t weighed down with common politically correct obsessions of many contemporary kids’ books.   For instance, in their book on Christopher Columbus, kids can just appreciate the man without having to hang on him the future destruction of native cultures.  This particular book didn’t hold my children’s interest as well as the Williams book (probably because of the older illustrations), but we enjoyed reading it aloud.  That’s why I think the audiobook version read by Paul Newman, Kathleen Turner, etc. would be the way to go.  Worldview/Morality: 4 (out of 5), Literary Value: 4.

Do you guys have any favorites on Greek and Roman culture for kids?  We’d love to check them out!

If you’re looking for more Greek and Roman resources, check back tomorrow for Janie’s post.  For more similar-themed posts, check out our review of a book set in ancient Egypt, as well as our Growing Up Shakespearean post.

         

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6 Responses to Classics for Kids: The Greek and Romans

  1. Emily March 12, 2013 at 6:27 pm #

    Jess, Sounds like an exciting time for your family! Janie wrote a pretty influential post about her homeschooling experience that I highly recommend. http://www.redeemedreader.com/2012/05/laid-back-homeschooling/ My family has taken a lot of cues from classical homeschooling, but I probably draw more from Janie’s “laid-back homeschooling” than any other source.

  2. Jessalyn March 12, 2013 at 10:26 am #

    OoooooOOOooh, we are looking into classical homeschooling options so this post is really exciting. Thanks for the recommendations. HEY, have you ever written about homeschool curriculums? That might be a cool thing…. (and beneficial to many of us…ok, really beneficial to me).

  3. Emily March 8, 2013 at 1:28 pm #

    Paula,

    So great to hear that studying the Greeks and Romans helped your kids “to see more clearly how weak their gods were compared to our God when we studied it.” That’s so awesome. I’ve been meaning to order the Magic Tree House book from a nearby library…need to get to that soon before we’re on to another subject! Thanks for the reminder.

  4. Emily March 8, 2013 at 1:26 pm #

    Kathy,
    Thanks for the recommendations! We will definitely have to check those out. Great point about Hercules and Samson. I hadn’t ever thought about that, but I’m going to point it out to my kids next time we’re on the subject.

  5. Kathy March 7, 2013 at 11:27 pm #

    My grandmother gave me H.A. Guerber’s Myths of Greece and Rome when I was in 4th grade and it quickly became my favorite book. I read it over and over, although it was a bit above that reading level. Now I read it to my 8th grade Latin class to introduce them to the full scope of mythology. I just discovered another book of Guerber’s, at a simpler level, giving the history of the Romans. Famous Men of Greece and Famous Men of Rome are also excellent ancient history sources for younger students.

    The more I read mythology, the more parallels I see with the Biblical narrative. Not in the sense that “they’re all just made-up stories,” but that, as C.S. Lewis believed, myths contain echoes of what is really True. Read Hercules and you are reminded of Samson, for example.

  6. Paula March 7, 2013 at 4:54 pm #

    We studied Rome and Greece a couple years ago and look forward to studying it again in a couple years. I am grateful for your great reviews! I agree that there is no reason to keep from reading about Greek myths with our children. We definitely were able to see more clearly how weak their gods were compared to our God when we studied it.

    My kids loved D’aulaires’ Greek Myths. City by David Macaulay was something my engineer-minded boy enjoyed browsing through. All the kids also enjoy Hour of the Olympics by Mary Pope Osborne from the Magic Tree House series.

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