Myths, Monsters and Mayhem in Ancient Greece

Myths, Monsters and Mayhem in Ancient Greece
James Davies
Big Picture Press

However famous the Greek myths might be, retellings of these ancient tales for youngsters can sometimes be pretty dull, turgid even; now here’s a book that makes them anything but.

In a dramatic comic book style James Davies presents half a dozen tales making them highly accessible to primary age readers wherein they will find bravery, loss, love,

greed and envy. Interspersed between the stories are thematic spreads on various topics that offer a broader look at such aspects of Greek mythology as the Greek gods and how the Greek myths explained the world; there’s a presentation of heroes and heroines including Atlanta, Achilles, Penthesilea and Odysseus. We also take a journey through the Greek underworld, a place that could be downright scary or delightful depending on your actions during your life.

James Davies’s bold graphic artistic style means that he manages to make even the most terrifying monsters such as the many-headed Scylla and the gigantic Hydra look amusing.

Right now I think we definitely need that tiny little shining insect that popped out of Pandora’s Box spreading light wherever there was darkness and hope wherever there was despair. Definitely now would not be a good time even to contemplate hiding away inside that ginormous wooden horse like those Greek soldiers did when Helen was rescued in The Trojan Horse story. However there’s much to learn from all six stories: that of Theseus and his quest to defeat the horrendous Minotaur,

the Twelve Labours of Heracles, Orpheus and Eurydice and Perseus and Medusa.

With Ancient Greece being one of the oft used topics in KS2 history, a couple of copies of this enthralling book would make a worthwhile, up to the minute addition to primary school topic resources as well as the school library.

Meet the … Ancient Greeks Meet the … Pirates / Building a Roman Fort

Meet the … Ancient Greeks
Meet the … Pirates

James Davies
Big Picture Press

Now with sturdy flexible covers, are James Davies’ most recent Meet the … books.

As with the first two titles, what characterises these is James’ exuberant writing style and the way he presents a considerable amount of information in a way that is highly engaging, gently irreverent, funny and sometimes surprising.

In Ancient Greeks, definitely one of the greatest civilisations, we find out about buildings, battles, politics, the gods, education, language, festivals, games, arts, science and more, each topic having its own spread; and the book ends with a quick look at Greece today and a timeline.

Who could fail to giggle at his cartoonish comic-strip presentations of The Twelve Labours of Heracles

and Pandora’s Box, or chuckle over the depiction of Homer writing his epic blog? And all those speech bubbles are splendidly silly.

Which brings me to the illustrations in general: the Greek spreads are rendered in orange and black (with occasional use of blue) – let’s give the last words to the final panel of Pandora’s Box – highly pertinent today …

In Meet the … Pirates – equally bursting with facts and fun – we move forwards in time a fair bit (after a Viking encounter) and come face to face with some of the most famous and fearsome pirates, the likes of Blackbeard with his famously smouldering beard and hair. EEEK! You certainly wouldn’t want to come across him or his ship on the high seas.

I was unaware of Black Bart though – the most successful pirate of the Golden Age by all accounts. And we mustn’t forget the women: apparently they weren’t actually allowed to be pirates at all but some made a pretty successful job of it from the 1500s to the late 18th century.

We also discover what life aboard ship was like, – certainly not a life for me, booty or no booty, with the likelihood of scurvy, gangrene, lost limbs and worse.

No thanks! However hard James tries in his hilarious presentation, I’ll restrict my piratical fun to reading this splutter-inducing offering from the safety of my sofa.

Again the book concludes with a look at modern day piracy and a time line.

Building a Roman Fort
Robin Twiddy
BookLife Publishing

This is one of a history series Life Long Ago that uses a child narrator – in this instance Atticus, son of a Roman centurion in AD 46 – to help make the topic accessible to a young audience.

The boy describes the process of building a fort from the outside inwards; and in addition, readers will discover the answers to where and why. They’ll learn about the various materials used, the design and more.

The text comprises speech bubbles and fact boxes that present the information succinctly using the occasional Latin word. (I was surprised to discover that a centurion was in charge of 80 not 100 men.)

There are plans and diagrams, as well as illustrations of Atticus and his family, making for a clear and informative first guide to use in a primary school topic on the Romans.

Meet the Ancient Romans

Meet the … Ancient Romans
James Davies
Big Picture Press

This is one of a new history series. It’s an engaging look at the Ancient Romans, presented with an exuberance that young readers will find both highly entertaining and illuminating.

Small chunks of information are delivered with a gentle wit, on almost thirty topics. These range from The Birth of the Roman Empire (a comic strip rendering of the Romulus and Remus myth), through emperors …

writing and number systems, home life, clothing, inventions, food and farming, bathing, theatre, building (the Romans were superb builders and engineers) …

medicine (herbs and healing baths were prescribed for most illnesses);

entertainment, (the Romans pitted animals against animals as well as humans; and entry to the Colosseum was free, sometimes even the food came gratis), and ending with the fall of the empire, and a spread on Rome Today.

Throughout, the emphasis is on the visuals: Davies has an off-beat style, uses limited colour to great effect and peppers his illustrations with amusing speech bubbles.

All in all a great introduction for a younger audience, to a fascinating ancient civilisation, the legacy of which is still evident today.

Check out the companion volume ‘Meet the Ancient Egyptians’ too.