(story)time: The Odyssey retold by Gillian Cross

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I have this funny story / post that has taken me forever to finish. Maybe it felt a little boast-y, like “Your six year old reads Disney princess books? Well, mine prefers Homer.” But I’m going to share it anyway because a) our library bags have no shortage of Cinderella in them, b) books are books, and books are good, and sharing books is the best, plus c) I’m always excited to be pushed out of the box with stories, and sometimes it’s our own kids that encourage us to do it. So here’s the story:

The girls received gift certificates to their favorite bookstore for their birthdays. We planned a Saturday night after-dinner excursion to visit the bookstore and then get Jeni’s afterwards. We started dinner late, finished and cleaned it up even later, and it was already 8:30 when the little one had a complete meltdown over putting her shoes on to leave. M shot a look at me like “We’re really going to do this now?” Yes we were, because I had been cleaning the house all day and wanted a bookstore and some ice cream as a reward.

Left Bank Books sits on a lively little corner of the Central West End neighborhood. There are lots of restaurants in the area, and at nine o’clock on a Saturday night the sidewalks are bustling. I love the bookstore at this time – it’s open until ten, and it’s usually full of people browsing after dinner, letting their food settle a bit before heading a few blocks away for a late movie or a show or drinks and dessert. It’s kind of a social space, and we almost always run into someone we know while we’re there.

We fall into our familiar spaces and roles once we’re inside. We head to the children’s section which is in a corner of the main level, but not a bit isolated from the rest of the space. I start browsing the newest releases and books shelved covers out because the booksellers here have the best taste in books. Then I move to the food writing section which is just to the right, and I start stacking titles on the round table in the middle. M finds a place to sit between the shelves, and F starts bringing books to him to read aloud. E’s thumbing through titles in YA until her arms are overflowing. It’s the best kind of Saturday, shoe tantrum notwithstanding.

After about forty-five minutes, we realize that it’s time to make some choices. The bookstore is full of people, and the closing time is fast approaching. M’s read at least a half dozen books to F, and I ask her if she liked any of them enough to purchase with her birthday gift. She shakes her head “no” and starts looking around the room intently, like she knows what she’s looking for but just hasn’t found it yet. I remind her that she has five minutes to make a decision or she can just hold onto the certificate for another visit.

I sit down at the round table in the middle of the room to go through my own pile of books. The table is located right next to a freestanding bookshelf with non-fiction titles, and maybe some poetry. On the bottom shelf is the mythology section. There are several adults standing nearby, looking at magazines and cookbooks and chatting while they browse. F pulls up a chair next to me and plops down in it, but she looks slightly annoyed (and tired), and she hops up again almost immediately. She picks the chair up to adjust its position slightly, and when she does, she turns to face that bookshelf and stops in her tracks.

Finally – what I’ve been looking for. Homer’s Odyssey,” and she picks up a big, thick book off the bottom shelf and thumps it down on the table in front of her. Several adults in the room turn to look at her (she’s not exactly quiet), and one woman asks me “How old is she? Is she for real?” Without batting an eye, F answers her directly. “Oh, this is perfectly normal. My teacher, Lauren, loves mythology.”

She flips through a few pages, turns the book over to check the price, and marches up to the counter to pay. “Did you find everything you needed tonight?” the bookseller asked. “Yes, this is what I needed.” She got her own copy of her receipt with $3.08 in credit left, and she carried that book into the ice cream store next door, and then cradled it in her lap on the drive home.

We arrived home at 10:30 pm, where she promptly resumed the exact same position on the floor in a puddle of screeching tears – this time brought on by our announcement that The Odyssey reading would commence in the morning, and not that very second.

The first chapter is titled “The War”, and I’m sorry, my dear, to do this to you – but I’ll reference the midnight-striking clock in Cinderella as you beg for Odysseus on the carpet. You are now a pumpkin, and when you wake fresh again tomorrow the battle against Troy will be waiting for you.

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She slept until almost nine, and then we heard her feet padding down the stairs. She climbed into our bed from the foot of it, propped her head up on the edges of our pillows, opened the book and began. “The War.”

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This is Homer’s The Odyssey, retold by Gillian Cross, with exquisite illustrations by Neil Packer. It’s a beautiful edition of the book, and perfect for young and old readers alike. Both of my girls love mythology as well as contemporary books based on the ancient myths. F’s kindergarten class did an in depth study on ancient Greece because, as she stated correctly, her student teacher, Lauren, led this exploration. Turns out they had read excerpts from The Odyssey last year, and F really wanted to read the entire thing. Since then, M and I have tossed around the idea of bribing her with The Iliad in the future. We’re only half joking.

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It took us a week to finish it – M read most of it, but the rest of us gathered around to listen. When we were about halfway through, F said that it was even more amazing than she had imagined, and then E told her that she was so excited for all of the good reading in her future, and I could hardly stand how happy their exchange made me.

I know I said earlier that a book is a book and all books are good. But some books are just books, and some books are stories, and when your kid seeks out the stories – well, it doesn’t get much better than that.

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Find this title at your favorite local independent bookstore. Happy reading!

11 Responses to (story)time: The Odyssey retold by Gillian Cross

  1. I love this story so much.
    Brooke recently posted…Some Things (Will) Never ChangeMy Profile

  2. suffering from a lot of envy here — remarkable parents, remarkable reading children…can it possibly get much better than this?

  3. I love this whole post so very very much! That book looks amazing — you have inspired me to get it for our boys, who are very much into Greek mythology. You know something funny? After I made it through The Odyssey (in high school, though, not at 6), it dawned on me how much I loved the adventure and scandal, and I picked it up and read it all over again.

    I love that your daughter picked this out… so impressive!
    Lauren recently posted…Making ThingsMy Profile

    • Lauren – this is so perfect for your boys. It’s very accessible to young kids, but none of the adventure of scandal is watered down. You will LOVE the illustrations. I really would love a framed print of some of them. Just stunning.

  4. Loved this post!!! Can’t wait to share with Popaw?

  5. I think some of my little friends will find this under the Christmas tree, thanks for the recommendation. We’ve had a similar experience with Sherlock Holmes stories in my house – the kids love listening to them, and seek them out in the library. Sometimes I have to skip over opium den references…

  6. This is so awesome.

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