Friday, June 15, 2012

Homeschool Review: Classic Myths to Read Aloud

Classic Myths to Read Aloud: The Great Stories of Greek and Roman Mythology by William F. Russell, EdD

This book is recommended by Mater Amabilis for Level 1A (second and third grade) for Tales under Literature.

In the introduction, Dr. Russell encourages parents to continue reading aloud to children long after they can read on their own. (I agree!) He extends that encouragement to include stories of our cultural history, drawing on arguments by E.D. Hirsch. (Someday I'm going to have to read his writings.)
The great myths, though, are valuable in their own right, not just because they provide the mental "hooks," or schemata, that enable us to gather and understand new material. These myths have survived through the centuries because they have had something important to say, and because people of widely disparate ages and cultures have found in these tales lessons and inspiration for their own lives.
He continues with some helpful suggestions for parents who are reading aloud to children. There are also some recommendations of additional books of myths and warnings about modern re-tellings.

After the introduction is a helpful list of Greek and Roman Gods along with their particular powers. Then come the myths! They are divided into two "levels:" Listening Level I for ages 5 and up and Listening Level II for ages 8 and up. The children and I read all the Level I stories in second grade with First Son narrating them. I read one story aloud each week for 22 weeks, taking time off for Advent. We'll be reading the Level II stories next year in third grade.

I haven't read the Level II stories myself yet, but so far I have loved the Level I stories. They wander through Greek and Roman myths but include delightful versions of Icarus and Daedalus, the Battle of Marathon, Europa and Cadmus, Pegasus, Orpheus and Eurydice, Pygmalion and Galatea, Theseus and Jason and the Argonauts. The myths of Theseus and Jason are divided into two or three parts to make each reading session a reasonable length.

In the introduction to the Level I myths, Dr. Russell warns that these tales can be disturbing:
[M]any ancient myths have tragic of unhappy endings. Such tales, therefore, do not make good bedtime stories, nor are they suitable for those times when a read-aloud can provide a much-needed cheering up.
We read these during our lesson time and I found nothing too distressing for my girls (who were five and three).

Each myth includes a brief summary, an approximate reading time and an extensive list of vocabulary and pronunciation. The pronunciation is invaluable for parents or teachers who may not remember the Greek myths themselves and seems to include all of the words that might be troublesome. Dr. Russell encourages the reader to read the myth ahead of time, preferably out loud, which I'm sure would be ideal though I usually did not take the time to do that myself. After the myth, a section called "A Few Words More" talks a little about how the myth has become a part of our culture or the English language. It's not meant to be read aloud but merely to be a bit of extra information for the reader.

I highly recommend this book. We've enjoyed the myths. First Son narrated them reasonably well, with some narrations ranking among his very best. The language treats adult themes perfectly for little ears without sharing unnecessary and inappropriate information and also without inducing unwanted questions. The Level II myths are mainly taken from the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Aeneid. I am very much looking forward to reading them aloud with First Son.

I'll end with a final quote from the introduction:
The great myths can teach us many things, for in them we find history and geography and astronomy and word origins. But most of all we find the struggles of human beings, including all the passions and frailties that are to be found in humans today. We are connected to these ancient civilizations in Greece and Rome by some words in our language, to be sure, but we are even more directly connected to them by these myths, for it is in these tales that we see ourselves...We struggle, just as the ancients did, to know where we fit on this planet and how we should conduct our lives, and we wonder on occasion, just as they did, whether our lives and actions are all part of some grand plan.


  1. I remember reading this to my daughter when she was 5 or so. It was a great favorite and was the first of many books of myths. I think it is time to bring it out for my son, thanks for the reminder!


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