It’s nonfiction week at Redeemed Reader—or not entirely, but we’ve got a lot of nonfiction titles to review, including a quick trip around the world and a delve into scientific inquiry for the picture-book set. Today we take a trip back in time—way back—to the ancient Egyptians and the slightly-less-ancient Romans.
Treasury of Egyptian Mythology: Classic Stories of Gods, Goddesses, Monsters and Mortals, by Donna Jo Napoli, illustrated by Christina Balit. National Geographic, 2013, 191 pages including index and appendix. Age/interest level: 8-up.
Egyptian mythology is confusing: the names are hard to remember and the deities aren’t as clear-cut as the Greek & Roman pantheon (and several of them have animal heads—how weird is that?!). Theis book does better than most at sorting it all out, beginning at creation and structuring the stories so that a tale starring one god leads into a story featuring another. It’s a little easier to keep track this way. The stories are told in a conversation but not jokey tone, with a hint of traditional formality. Here, for example, is what happened at the very beginning, with “The first and the profound disorder: thought. The single thought rubbed faster and faster until it warmed and finally ignited into language. The god Ra sprang to life with a word already in his mouth. More bubbled-up words crowded his mouth.”
The design and illustration are very striking, with full-page-spread chapter headings for each deity, distinctive borders for each chapter, and stylized art and hieroglyphics throughout. Sidebars include factual information and set the stories in their historical framework. Altogether beautifully done.
NOTE: When studying Egyptian mythology, it’s instructive, as some point to compare with the first 12 chapters of Exodus. Specifically Ex. 12:12: “. . . on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD.” The story of the ten plagues is sometimes presented as a contest between Israel’s one true God and the Egyptian deities, wherein the Lord proves that there is none like him in power and authority. After reading about the gods of Egypt, can your kids determine which god, specifically, was outmatched in each plague?
- Worldview/moral value: N/A
- Literary value: 4.5 (out of 5)
The Romans: Gods, Emperors and Dormice, by Marcia Williams, Candlewick, 2013, 40 pages. Age/interest level: 8-13.
Marcia Williams has come to our attention before, mainly for her retellings of stories from Shakespeare and Charles Dickens. She also has a book on Egyptian mythology which we haven’t looked at yet. Williams has developed a singular style based on comic-strip panels surrounded by additional characters commenting or expanding on the main narrative thread. With The Romans, she steps beyond her usual literary bailiwick and takes up history: Rome from the very beginning (Prometheus forming people out of clay, eventually producing Romulus and Remus), to the very end, with barbarians at the gate and Emperor Romulus (neat framing, that) falling with the rest of the city. “Comic” doesn’t just refer to the artwork style; she’s known for clever aside and broad jibes, but amid all the chuckles there are lots of res vera (facts) to learn. From the early kings to the days of the Republic, from Julius and Augustus Caesar to Huns, from the Roman army all the way down to daily life in the city, the format entices reluctant readers.
The “Dormice” in the title refers to one in particular, Dormeo Augustus, who adorns the margins and adds his own comments. It’s all both funny and informative, but a few cautions: B.C.E. and C.E. are used instead of B.C. and A.D. Also some blobby naked people pictured in the baths (posteriors only), and the aside that Gauls fought in the nude, which may be too much information.
- Literary value: 3.5