Why I Built This Kit
If you’ve children between the ages of 9-12 then you are probably well aware of the Percy Jackson phenomenon that has swept the nation. That series, which follows the son of Poseidon and his fellow Greek God offspring friends has inspired a love of Greek mythology the likes of which we haven’t seen in years. But what about younger children? Is there any way to give them some background knowledge on the myths and legends that continue to permeate our culture? Absolutely. From stargazing to real world facts, from fun crafts to clever apps, knowing your Greek mythology isn’t just for older kids. Younger ones can get in on the action as well.
Sparking Their Interest
Once you have a kid hooked they’ll devour everything related to the Greek gods within their reach. But how do you begin the conversation in the first place? Here are some ideas for introducing Greek mythology to your kiddos at the get go.
Good guys vs. Bad guysThe thing to remember about the myths is that when it comes to cool and funny characters, as well as despicable, venom-dripping baddies, there’s no better place to turn. Consider making a chart or poster of the good guys vs. the bad guys. Just don’t be surprised if you have to move someone from one side to another occasionally.
Funny names. Funny storiesPlay up the funniest of the Greek god stories to spark the very first interest. Remember that tale about King Midas and how he gets a pair of donkey ears stuck to his head? Or what about the one where Zeus chased Hypnos all over creation until the poor guy had to hide under his mommy’s skirt? Silly names abound as well. Never forget good old Echo (echo . . echo . . . echo . . .).
Play pretendIt’s the great myths on display and your kid gets to have a starring role! After telling them a couple stories, reenact them for yourselves! Your child is the hero and you are the villain (unless your kid wants to be the villain, in which case all power to you). This will hold particular charms for those kids who have ever wanted to cast their parents into the deepest depths of the underworld or, alternately, turn them into trees.
Books Discussing This Theme
Young Zeus by Brian G. Karas
Zeus comes off as a little hero in this charming, but never pandering tale. He may be small, but with a little help Cronus the Titan’s youngest son has exactly what it takes to free his brothers and sisters from his father’s belly. A remarkably accurate and yet still child-friendly take on the gods’ origin story.
Strong Stuff: Herakles and His Labors by John Harris, ill. Gary Baseman
The 12 Labors of Hercules are siphoned down to their most essential elements and made palatable with cartoony illustrations and funny text. Chatty, funny, and energetic from start to finish.
The Mighty 12: Superheroes of Greek Myth by Charles R. Smith, ill. P. Craig Russell
It’s poetry! It’s mythology! It’s comics! It’s all that and more in this eclectic collection. Each of the major Greek gods gets his or her due here. The comic book style is charming and may even inspire a kid or two to write their own epic poems.
D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths by Ingri and Edgar D’Aulaire
It may have originally published in 1962, but for many this collection of myths by the D’Aulaires is the best one written for kids of all time. It doesn’t matter how many other iterations appear. Here you’ll find all the top tales, and maybe a couple you didn’t know all that well, accompanied by gorgeous illustrations.
Mythology: Oh My! Gods And Goddesses by Mary Budzik, ill. Basher
If you’re looking to expand out from the usual Greco-Roman gods into something a little different, this book serves as the perfect introduction. Meet the Egyptian and Norse gods, as well as the usual Greek suspects. Visually stimulating and funny to boot.
Michael Townsend’s Amazing Greek Myths of Wonder and Blunders by Michael Townsend
Nowhere else are you liable to find mythical retellings half as funny or downright goofy as this. Various myths are presented in a comic book style. The result is a whole new interpretation that’s as child-friendly (and enticing!) as it is goofy.
Apps for Exploring This Theme
Odysseus – The App
There are plenty of apps about the Greek gods in the world but few are appropriate for younger children. This one is one of the few. A great introduction to mythology with beautiful art and the familiar storyline supported by 15 themed games. The story can be told in 11 languages and the narration is crisp, clean, and interesting. Before using, find a good version of the Odysseus story to tell to your kids. I recommend making a quick summary of The Adventures of Odysseus by Hugh Lupton. The illustrations by Christine Balit will hook their interest, and you’ll be able to introduce the characters first and foremost, then use the app to back it up. If you’re looking for something a little younger, try Joan Holub’s The One-Eyed People Eater, which tells the Cyclops story with ribald delight.
Though no one would accuse it of traipsing too closely to the original myths, the Disney Hercules television show did make a go at covering a whole slew of various gods and goddesses. The first episode was cheekily entitled “The Apollo Mission”. Pair this video with Strong Stuff: Herakles and His Labors by John Harris, ill. Gary Baseman so that kids can see a variety of different interpretations of Hercules.
Another Disney take on the myths was this selection from the 1940 edition of Fantasia. All set to Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony. Pair this with Jean Marzollo’s Let’s Go, Pegasus for the true story behind the winged horse.
The Mythic Warriors television show did a fairly good job of synthesizing down the various episodes in the gods’ lives. This episode recounts the legend of Atalanta. Try pairing it with Shirley Climo’s lovely retelling Atalanta’s Race.
Jokes About the Greek Gods
What kind of footwear does a Greek god wear? Tennis Zeus.
What is a favorite game of ancient Greek mythology? Hydra and go seek.
What is a game popular in ancient Greek mythology? Pick up Styx.
Where did the ancient Greek goddess have to go? To a Hera appointment.
Which Greek god is the windiest? Ares.
Words We Get from Greek Myths
A museum is a place that honors history, art, and science. The “Muses”, where the museum gets its name, were daughters of the god Zeus and the goddess of memory Mnemosyne. They inspired artists and other people with new ideas, just like the ones you’d find in a museum!
A janitor is the person who cleans and maintains a building. The word comes from “Janus”, the god of doorways who had two faces: one on the front of his head and one on the back. Statues of him would be put in places where he could look after buildings and doorways. That’s why we call people who take care of those things “janitors” today!
When you’re hypnotized it’s like you’re asleep, even if you’re not. The Greek god “Hypnos” was the god of sleep. He even tricked Zeus and put him to sleep once! Hence the word “hypnotized”
Source: Gifts from the Gods: Ancient Words and Wisdom from Greek and Roman Mythology by Lise Lunge-Larsen, illustrated by Gareth Hinds
Even businesses like to appropriate Greek words and heroes. See if any of these look familiar.
Make Your Own Greek Mask
Ages 4 and Up
To make your own Greek mask, first draw and cut out a large dinner plate-sized circle from cardboard. Mark eyes and mouth on the cardboard, and carefully cut these out. Decorate as desired. Feel free to use strips of colored construction paper for the hair and beard. You can cut thin strips and then roll them around a pencil to give each “hair” a curly effect. Then glue them to the mask. Finally you can either punch a hole on both sides of the mask and attach elastic so the mask can be worn, or you can tape a large popsicle stick or paint stirrer to the back of the mask and use as a handle to enable the mask to be held in front of your face.
Make a Greek Pot
Ages 6 and Up
In Ancient Greece pots would show scenes depicting the gods and goddesses, as well as scenes of everyday life. Make your own pot and with pictures of YOUR life on the sides.
First draw the outline of a vase on a large piece of thick paper. Next, take some oil pastels and use a variety of different colors to color in the entire vase, pressing hard (parents might want to do this and the next step themselves beforehand). After the oil pastels have fully coated the entire vase use black acrylic paint to paint over all the oil pastels. Now it’s ready for scratching!
Take a sharp implement like a paperclip to gently scratch away the black paint. Make patterns or drawings on the side of your “vase”.
Make Some Medusa Hair
To make Medusa Hair, start by taking a basic hairband. Next find some green and black pipe cleaners (the thicker the better). Twist two pipe cleaners together and wrap them around the headband to make them stay. Parents can cut some little red felt tongues if they like to attach to each snake head. You can also experiment in other ways as well. What if you tried to attach rubber snakes to the pipe cleaners? What about paper snakes? Let your imagination go wild!
Suggested Family Experiences (Ages 4-7)
Ever tried to go stargazing? Now’s your chance! You don’t need to take a telescope or binoculars but there are some pieces of equipment that will make your experience more fun. Try bringing along:
- Something to lie on – Especially if you can lie on it on your back without straining your neck.
- Food and drink – If the nights get cold where you live then something warm would be best.
- Something to pass the time – Like fireworks, waiting for the stars to come out takes time. Bring along some Greek myths you can read. Extra points if the myths are about some of the constellations you’re about to see. Consider bringing along Find the Constellations by H.A. Rey (the same guy who wrote Curious George!) or Once Upon a Starry Night: A Book of Constellation Stories by Jacqueline Mitton. You can even load some star songs to your iPod while you wait. Ziggy Stardust anyone?
A Guide to the Stars
If you have an iPhone, the Star Walk app is good for identifying what’s what in the night sky. Google Sky is also a great app for Android phones and tablets. For ambitious families you can make a star wheel or a deck of star cards! You can even print out a star guide to help you spot constellations during spring, summer, autumn and winter.
- Red torchIt takes quite a while for our eyes to become properly adjusted to the darkness of an inky black night sky. It’s a good idea not to look at your mobile phone screen, and cover any torches you are using with a red sweet wrapper or red film.’
- Warm clothes
- A CompassVery handy for locating a particular constellation or star.
- When should you do it?Stargazing is best done before the moon is full, so it might be worth looking at the next new moon dates before you book your trip. Also, consider camping while you stargaze. That way you can sleep and stare all in the same place. Check out this list of the 10 best places to stargaze in America.
About Betsy B.
Betsy is currently New York Public Library’s Youth Materials Collections Specialist. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, reviewed for Kirkus and The New York Times and has also written the picture book Giant Dance Party, illustrated by Brandon Dorman. In 2014, Candlewick will publish Wild Things: Acts of Mischief in Children's Literature which she co-wrote with Jules Danielson and Peter Sieruta. You can follow Betsy on Twitter @FuseEight or at her blog A Fuse #8 Production hosted by School Library Journal.