Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A kid's odyssey: Homer's The Odyssey for young readers

For two years, I have been teaching Homer’s The Odyssey to Grade 12 Classical Civilization students. My students (those who actually read the epic poem…), are absolutely thrilled by the story. I am thrilled myself. It is a great story. I am planning on teaching it again in the Fall.

Recently, my second son, Nate (7 yrs) also discovered the excitement and thrill of the Odyssey… dangerous voyages, meddling gods and goddesses, escaping an inhospitable Cyclops, outwitting bewitching nymphs, battling self-serving and usurping nobles…

He isn’t reading Homer (per se)… Rather, he is reading a 6-part series of chapter books retelling the famous story. The series, called Tales from The Odyssey, is written by Mary Pope Osborne (the author of the bestselling Magic Tree House series). She retains the bulk of the narrative, including the sordid moments (albeit appropriately diluted for young readers). She also uses the Greek names of gods and goddesses, heroes and monsters and she provides a pronunciation guide at the back of each book.

My son couldn’t put them down. He devoured the books as fast and as ravenously as the six-headed Scylla or the one-eyed Polyphemus devour Odysseus’s men.

Great stories truly stand the test of time. For almost three thousand years, people have been delighted by the adventures of Odysseus and his fated voyage. Thanks to Mary Pope Osborne, the next generation is able to whet their appetite for great---and ancient---storytelling. If you know any Grade 2 students who would love to go on a romping ride of a read, look up Osborne’s Tales for the Odyssey.

NB: For big people interested in The Odyssey, I highly recommend the recent award-winning translation by Robert Fagles. For a great audio version, Ian McKellen, who played Gandalf in Peter Jackson’s recent film adaptation of Lord of the Rings, reads Fagles translation (unabridged) on CD.


Jennie said...

My g/t kids read a version of the Odyssey in 6th grade...But you have given me a great idea for some my first "Classic Friday" book talk. My kids have to read one classic per semester (along with their state mandated requirements) and it is such a new endeavor for them..I would like to guide them in the best way--of course I always count the Chronicles of Narnia--even though they are not on "the list"

This gives me some great ideas!!

Jeremy W. Johnston said...

Hey Jennie,

Here is a great website for teaching literature. It is called Web English Teacher. It serves as an intermediary between you and the world wide web, sorting out all the crumby webpages and crackpot bloggers out there. Check it out. It is a fabulous resource.

Copy and paste this address into your address window:

Jennie said...

WOW! What a great site. Chock-full of great information! I could be busy with this for a while! Thank you!!

Book said...

Very useful - many thanks. I'm always on the hunt for great children's books and have recently discovered Bayard and their series of StoryBoxBooks, AdventureBoxBooks and DiscoveryBoxBooks (which has a special focus on teeth!) They have work by acclaimed children's books illustrator Helen Oxenbury appearing in the Storybox series for September. In addition to this, they also have some great activities for rainy days:,, Enjoy!

Coastcard said...

My mother found a child's version of The Odyssey in our local library when I was about seven years of age. I was totally hooked ... and went on to take a degree in Classical Studies, and then to teach the subject up to sixth form (school leaver) level. We should never underestimate the power of the written word!

Your blog is fascinating ... thank you for an informative read.