D'Aulaires' Book of Greek MythsWith the popularity of Greek Mythology rising (see Percy Jackson and the Olympians, The Goddess Girls, Underworlds, … I could go on), it’s almost imperative that kids have a basic understanding of the original Greek tales. It’s much more exciting to read Percy Jackson retracing the steps of Jason and Heracles if you’re actually familiar with the original stories of Jason and Heracles. But how do you obtain a collection of Greek myths that is:

  1. Easily digestable and understood by children
  2. Comprehensive enough to impart the stories and characters that children are most likely to encounter
  3. Accurate to the best of a scholar’s knowledge (see Disney’s Hercules – it’s about 3% accurate)
  4. Free of adult related themes (R-rated stuff)
  5. Most important, enjoyable to read

The perfect answer: D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths by Ingri and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire.

D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths

is rated Buy Two! (One for You, One for a Friend)

Originally published in 1961, this book is a wonderful oversized compendium of most (not all) of the Greek Myths and stories about the Gods and heroes. There is a full 2-6 page spread about each character or group of characters, broken up as chapters. But it’s not just an encyclopedia of facts. The characters are introduced through the telling of some of their most famous stories. Add to that, the stories aren’t told as independent occurrences, they often flow together.  The illustrations are bold, colorful, and exciting. And the fact that this book is over 50 years old and hasn’t been eclipsed is a testament to how profoundly sensational it truly is.

The first half of the book discusses the Gods, beginning with Gaea, then the Titans, then the Gods of Olympus, ending with many of the minor gods, nymphs, Satyrs, and Centaurs. Prior to the table of contents, there is a great depiction of the Olympian family tree, that we were constantly flipping back to every time a new character was introduced.

The second half of the book, beginning with another expansive family tree depiction on page 106, details the lives of the ‘mortal descendants of Zeus’ – or the Kings and Heroes of Greek Legend. Told in a very logical (partially chronological) order, these stories often flow into one another. When the story of Theseus ends, the story of Oedipus begins with a meeting with Theseus. Later on, many of the previously mentioned heroes meet up in the story of Jason and the Golden Fleece upon the Argo.

The book ends with a final depiction of the Greek Olympians and their Roman counterparts, followed by an Index for quick reference.

As a child, I never read this book. As an adult reading this book with my children, some (er… many) of the stories were new to me. Most of the characters I’d heard of, but even some of those were new. Not everything is covered in this nearly 200 page, oversized, illustrated package (no Pygmalion, no Psyche). But after reading a handful of other collections (I did like The Beautiful Stories of Life: Six Greek Myths, retold by Cynthia Rylant), there isn’t a single book that meets even four of the five criteria listed above. We also tried reading D’Auliare’s Book of Norse Myths, which was pretty good, but because the subject matter isn’t quite as familiar (and it’s slightly more violent), it’s not necessarilly a must read.

D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths belongs on everyone’s home library shelf.

Book Information:

  • Reading Level: Grade 3-6
  • Interest: Age 4-12 … or everyone
  • Pages: 189
  • Pictures: Full color pictures throughout
  • Main Characters: Gods and Heroes
  • Genre: Mythology, History