Help me find some good mythology books to read to my kids
October 22, 2008 11:52 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for some good mythology books to read to my kids. I grew up reading greek mythology, and I would like some suggestions of good greek (and non-greek) mythology books that break the stories up into sections. I have a few books on my shelf, but I would consider them a bit higher level then what I am looking for.

So what books do you suggest?
Optimally they would cover from creation forward.
Online resources are welcome as well.

posted by Jonsnews to Media & Arts (30 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
I read D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths many times when I was a kid, and enjoyed it very much.

Happily, their book of Norse Myths has recently been reprinted as well.
posted by mogget at 11:57 AM on October 22, 2008 [5 favorites]

When I was a kid I loved D'Aulaires' book of Greek Myths. Coffee table size. great illustrations. It was a book I read over and over again.

ON PREVIEW: Mogget beat me to it. And yes the Norse Myths book was great as well.
posted by cjets at 12:01 PM on October 22, 2008

Yeah, seconding D'Aulaire's, both Greek and Norse. Cool art, not too advanced like Bullfinch's and they'll enjoy reading the stories on their own.
posted by electroboy at 12:02 PM on October 22, 2008

In case you haven't gotten the hint yet- D'Aulaire's! Wonderful, wonderful books.
posted by mkultra at 12:02 PM on October 22, 2008

How old are your kids? I liked Jeanne and William Steig's A Gift from Zeus, but it doesn't censor the myths, which means some of the plot points could be considered shocking. Great pictures, though, and Steig of course created Shrek.
posted by roger ackroyd at 12:12 PM on October 22, 2008

As others have said - D'Aulaires is the one!

My copy was literally in tatters by the time I reached high school.
posted by susanvance at 12:13 PM on October 22, 2008

I remember being really into the Norse book when I WAS a kid.

I was about to suggest Celtic myths, but on second thought, only a couple would really be appropriate for kids -- The Boyhood Deeds of Cuchullain and The Boyhood Deeds of Fionn. MAYBE, MAYBE the Children of Lir, though that one has a sad end. Most other Celtic myths are pretty....earthy (one of my favorite passages is about the hero Cuchullain, who one time got whipped up into such a battle frenzy he was running around and attacking his own men, and the only way that people could get him to calm down was when his wife Emer rounded up all her handmaidens and they all went out onto the battlefield where he was having a spaz fit and they all flashed him, and he was sufficiently stunned into submission).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:15 PM on October 22, 2008 [2 favorites]

Barbara Leonie Picard's Tales of the Norse Gods and Heroes is accessible and splits the longer sagas (Hello Volsungs!) into chapters. Covers the major myths from creation to apocalypse. The artwork's pretty poor, though.

As far as greece goes, Tony Robinson's retellings of the Illiad and the Oddyssey are fabulous for younger kids: really funny and accessible. They take some liberties with the story, but they're a great starting point. The two books are called Oddysseus and Oddysseus Goes Through Hell.
posted by the latin mouse at 12:28 PM on October 22, 2008

I grew up with Bullfinch's Mythology and Edith Hamilton. When I got older I discovered Robert Graves.
posted by RussHy at 12:38 PM on October 22, 2008

I'm not sure how old your kids are, but once they learn some of the myths, I wanted to plug the Percy Jackson novels -- sort of Harry Potter of the Greek world. The first was the Lightning Thief. I read it simultaneously with my nephew (he's 11) and we had great fun.
posted by dpx.mfx at 12:41 PM on October 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

As a child I read "Bible Stories for Children" published by MacMillan in 1980 or so, which is still sold on Amazon. Although I'm no longer Christian per se, I've kept my original copy for when my own kids are old enough to read it, because, frankly, it's AWESOME.

Although not 'myths' in the Greek sense this collection of Bible stories are really well chosen and there's nothing particularly proselytizing about the approach. I.e. it's not trying to tell children that JESUS IS YOUR SAVIOUR, it just lays out the stories, clearly and 'chronologically' (read into those air quotes what you will).

The BEST part by far: the illustrations! Superbly rendered paintings by a single artist, very colourful and culturally accurate (by which I mean that the people look Arab). I spent most of my youth scared shitless of the two page spread of Jonah being swallowed by the whale. Also awesome are Moses losing his wig and smacking the rock with his staff, Solomon about to cut the baby in two, Job all pustuled and rending his garments, etc.

Though you may not be Christian and/or may not be particularly interested in raising your children Christian, having a solid non-religious understanding of the 'myths' of the Bible will assist your kids immeasurably in western society - everything from Shakespeare to political leaders repeatedly reference these stories and their lessons, and they are important cultural touchstones everywhere English is spoken (and elsewhere).
posted by Mrs Hilksom at 12:49 PM on October 22, 2008

Response by poster: My kids are 1mo, 3years, and 5 years.
The books I have are mostly "top down" analyzing the myths instead of telling them.

I'm pretty familiar with the myths myself, so I can censor whatever squicky parts I need to as I go.
Awesome suggests so far. Off to amazon I go!
posted by Jonsnews at 12:53 PM on October 22, 2008

It's not exactly ancient mythology, but Alexander Lloyd had a loosely influenced by Welsh mythology. But like Empress suggested, it seems like most of the old celtic / welsh stuff is "PG-13".
posted by pwnguin at 1:07 PM on October 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Read them the advanced stuff, they'll be fine. The expectation that they should understand everything isn't constructive. The conversations you'll have with them will be far more education. Harry Potter stuff is entertaining, but the Greek myths will be both entertaining and educational.
posted by ewkpates at 1:07 PM on October 22, 2008

Wow. I fail. Llyod Alexander wrote a novel loosely influenced by Welsh mythology.
posted by pwnguin at 1:08 PM on October 22, 2008

My childhood love of mythology was fostered by the work of Roger Lancelyn Green.
posted by Abiezer at 1:19 PM on October 22, 2008

The princess and the goblin. "Said to be one of J.R.R. Tolkien's childhood favorites".
posted by metastability at 1:28 PM on October 22, 2008

nthing D'Aulaire's, but I know some have been put off by the ending of the Norse set (which was my favorite) as putting a hokey "now we know better" sort of ending to the whole thing in favor of the "enlightened" Christianity story. Even being of the Christian flavor, I really wish they'd left that out. Sigh.

And frankly, turn 'em loose on Bullfinch and Hamilton sooner than you ever thought possible. Nothing like interest in "hard" reading to make the literacy level soar. Which then leads to other issues in the public school system, but I'm not bitter .
posted by LoraxGuy at 1:39 PM on October 22, 2008

Illustrated/abridged editions of any of the following seem like good bets (probably worth browsing in person for specific titles):

-1001 Nights (aka Arabian Nights)
-Hans Christen Anderson
-Grimms Fairly Tales
-Aesop's Fables

There are some perennial anthologies out there that I recall enjoying--Golden Book of Fairy Tales, Child's Garden of Verse, etc.

There are a lot of one-off adapted myth/folktale picture books out there, many of which are very good. Arrow To The Sun comes to mind as a good example.

Then there are the classic children's books that almost qualify as myth or folklore at this point (Beatrix Potter, Babar, Pooh, The Jungle Book etc., and later) but I assume that's not what you're getting at.

Searching Amazon for books for readers aged 4-8 and the keywords "myth" or "folktale" returns some useful results.
posted by snuffleupagus at 1:44 PM on October 22, 2008

Also, at 8 years old I think I might see what kind of reception some basic myth-based YA fantasy receives. The Dark is Rising might be a real hit at that age, and draws pretty heavily on Celtic mythology.
posted by snuffleupagus at 1:53 PM on October 22, 2008

For when they're older, there's pretty much everything ever written by Mary Renault. She's brilliant. If you like Greek mythology, I highly, highly recommend them to you -- if you like them, buy them and have them around the house for when the kids get old enough. I'd start with The King Must Die, which is about Theseus's boyhood.
posted by coppermoss at 2:22 PM on October 22, 2008

When my daughter was four she loved Geraldine Mccaughrean's audiobook of the greek myths I got from the library. I can't recommend it highly enough. We listened to it in the car and before bed constantly. The gentleman reading it was fantastic.
posted by saucysault at 2:26 PM on October 22, 2008

When I went to elementary school, the reading primers they gave you in first and second grade flowed into Greek mythology after the first few lessons. That's where I got my first exposure, after which I promptly started raiding the elementary school library for everything I could find on the topic that was accessible to me and a few things that weren't. I'd love to be able to find these primers, so this is a question more than an answer -- does anybody remember these things? This would have been circa 1978 or so....
posted by weston at 3:35 PM on October 22, 2008

Seconding Edith Hamilton and Bulfinch's Mythology for when they're a little older. I also enjoyed the various Pantheon mythology books, but again, even your oldest is a bit young for them.
posted by immlass at 4:13 PM on October 22, 2008

Edith Hamilton today, Edith Hamilton tomorrow, Edith Hamilton forever!

I poached that book from my mom as a tyke and literally read it to pieces. She keeps even the gruesome bits rather tame, so don't worry about that.

What a great parent you are! Your kids will thank you someday.
posted by orrnyereg at 5:17 PM on October 22, 2008

I'm Irish, so I'm biased, but I grew up with tales from Irish mythology and loved them.

Whilst not admitting my real life name on the Internet, suffice it to say that I have a very traditional Irish name that everyone (Irish at least) would immediately recognize as coming from our mythology. I have named my two beautiful young girls with traditional Irish names; which incidentally is a source of constant fun for us here in Australia, due to the unusual Irish spelling!

Anyway, I would recommend some books of Irish myths & legends. Lots of intelligent (and sometimes cunning and manipulative!) women. Lots of battles. Good vs Evil. Plenty of Christian mythology can be included too, if that appeals to you.

Try this, this and this.

I think it's wonderful that you engage with your children like this. More parents should be as admirable as you.
posted by Mephisto at 8:35 PM on October 22, 2008

I too read D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths over and over again as a child. I think I got it when I was five. We read The Odyssey when I was in 4th grade, and it was really helpful to already be familiar with the story.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:19 PM on October 22, 2008

The World Mythology Series was a terrific series by Peter Bedrick Books. Now out of print I think, but you can find them used. Great color illustrations, stories oriented to slightly older kids (the sites say 8+, and some of the books are pitched even older; generally I would say they work fine for younger but these are definitely not preschool books). Plus, they have a book for just about every big mythological tradition you could want...

Here's the whole series as far as I know, with Amazon links. Some of the links have pictures of the book cover, which will give you a sense of the artwork in the series.

- African
Kings, Gods & Spirits from African Mythology by Jan Knappert.

- American Indian, north
Spirits, Heroes & Hunters from North American Indian Mythology by Marion Wood.

- American Indian, south and central
Warriors, Gods and Spirits from Central and South American Mythology by Douglas Gifford.

- Arab
Fabled Cities, Princes & Jinn from Arab Myths and Legends by Khairat Al-Saleh.

- Celtic
Druids, Gods & Heroes from Celtic Mythology by Anne Ross.

- Chinese
Dragons, Gods & Spirits from Chinese Mythology by Tao Tao Liu Sanders.

- Egyptian
Gods and Pharaohs from Egyptian Mythology by Geraldine Harris.

- Greek
Gods, Men and Monsters from the Greek Myths by Michael Gibson.

- Indian, subcontinental
Demons, Gods & Holy Men from Indian Myths & Legends by Shahrukh Husain.

- Jewish
Angels, Prophets, Rabbis, & Kings from the Stories of the Jewish People by Jose Patterson.

- Norse
Gods and Heroes from Viking Mythology by Brian Branston.

- Roman
Heroes, Gods & Emperors from Roman Mythology by Kerry Usher.

- Russian
Heroes, Monsters, and Other Worlds from Russian Mythology by Elizabeth Warner.

More references: This site has nice lists of mythology books from different cultures. (This and the following site are how I found all the full titles and authors just now.)

The Bedrick publishing co's World Mythology Series is also recommended (along with other books) by alt.mythology in the FAQ entry on mythology books for young readers.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:18 PM on October 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Nthing D'Aulaires. It was read to me until I could read it myself. I still have my (tattered) copy.
posted by desuetude at 6:46 AM on October 23, 2008

Nthing D'Aulaires. I had a copy when I was a kid that I adored - I consider it formative. I'm now working on a PhD in Classics.
posted by AthenaPolias at 7:28 PM on October 24, 2008

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