Thursday, March 29, 2012

Book Review: Black Ships Before Troy

Black Ships Before Troy delivers all the epic legendary drama of Homer's Iliad in a package sure to appeal to kids between the ages of 8 and 13.

If you say "Homer" to most kids these days, the most immediate response is "Simpson". "Ajax" is a cleaning product and names like "Hector", "Achilles", and "Priam" evoke blank stares. To counteract this, I recommend that you get them a copy of Black Ships Before Troy by renowned children's author Rosemary Sutcliffe. Given that the Trojan War cycle is, after Sacred Scripture, one of the main fonts of the Western literary canon, it is important that kids have a basic knowledge of the legends, heroes and villains associated with it. While the Iliad itself may be a tough read for kids, Black Ships Before Troy is not. The writing, however, is not pedestrian. It maintains a poetic quality that is well-suited to the subject matter. The illustrations are also superior and held my children captivated.

For homeschoolers, this book is a great way to introduce your kids to ancient Greece and great literature at the same time. It also provides numerous opportunities to discuss morals and the virtues and flaws of the numerous characters. We read the book out-loud as part of our ongoing studies of Bronze-age Greece and it was interesting to see which characters my kids identified with and which they despised. It was also a chance to examine the pagan religions of the ancients and introduce the kids to the differences between the pagan and Judeo-Christian views of the world.

One further bonus is that Black Ships Before Troy actually goes beyond the text of the Iliad and tells the story of the entire war through the fall of Troy.

So overall, I highly recommend this book, particularly for homeschoolers, as a fantastic appetizer to the feast of ancient history and Western literature. Once your kids have read it, they will be ready to move on to other similar books such as The Wanderings of Odysseus, also by Rosemary Sutcliffe, In Search of a Homeland: The Story of the Aeneid, by Penelope Lively, and The Laviniad: An Epic Poem by my friend Claudio Salvucci.

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