The Iliad and the Odyssey – Review

We are two weeks in to the school year, I went to especial pains to have better record keeping and accountability for the work David accomplishes this year, I have even been diligent (mostly) about keeping my daily record of his work… and I still can’t get learning notes up on time.

I’m going to blame the Entmaiden. She spent nine days with us and it’s much more enjoyable to spend time with her knitting and watching Daredevil, than it is to sit down and blog. (Also, I’m incurably lazy.)

I’ll get my learning notes for the first two weeks up today, probably over lunch. Right now, I want to tell you about my latest book acquisitions for school. If a book can be luscious, these are.

Last year we stalled out in history right as we reached Ancient Greece. I loved this era as a child, and David’s complete disinterest was discouraging, so we set the whole business aside and I accepted that he needed more developmental time before he could handle information dense read aloud work*.

This year we picked up history again with the Greeks. I wanted a picture book level Iliad and Odyssey to read aloud with him but hadn’t had any success finding anything. We had tried Padraic Colum’s The Children’s Homer previously – it wasn’t a good fit then, and I knew still he hadn’t grown into it. But all I could find were Rosemary Sutcliff’s Black Ships Before Troy and The Wanderings of Odysseus. While I was noodling reading them aloud, these popped up in my Amazon “also looked at ” list.


These are the same two books by Sutcliff, in a large hardback format and illustrated by Alan Lee. While I regret the loss of the evocative title, Black Ships Before Troy, I bought them and never looked back.

They came last Thursday, and they are beautiful.

Most pages have illustrations. But the chapters are short, the illustrations are large and beautiful, and Sutcliff’s prose is perfect, just complex enough to be challenging for him without being difficult enough to frustrate. At the back is a very helpful pronunciation guide for the Greek names – I use this quite a bit since I’m reading it aloud.

I also appreciate how much extra information she adds to provide context for readers unfamiliar with the background. Instead of beginning in media res, like The Illiad, we get a detailed story of The Golden Apple, Paris’s birth and the prophecy that he would be a firebrand that would burn all of Troy, and the judgement of Paris and his elopement with Helen.

So far we are three chapters in. David is really enjoying it, although we have a firm rule of only one chapter a day. Sometimes he wants more, but lacks the stamina to pay attention to so much at once. So we pace ourselves.

I originally had these books (without the pictures) planned for independent middle school reading. Now I’m not sure how this will play out. When David returns to Ancient Greece, it will be Raphael’s first go-round, and these will be read aloud again. I may have him read them aloud to his brother. I may read them aloud myself to both and assign The Children’s Homer for independent reading. I’m slowly learning not to plan too far ahead for David, he is unpredictable and stubborn and progresses on his own, internal, schedule***.

For now, we’re just going to enjoy the books.

* This was in fact, the whole take home message of school last year – that he couldn’t handle listening or reading and information acquisition at the same time. More on this another time, but thank God we didn’t send him to school.
** images are Amazon Associates links.
*** Much like myself. It’s so hard having a child that’s just like you were.

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