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Exploring the Ancient World

The Ancient World – the history, its heroes, gods and goddesses, myths and legends - continues to capture our imagination. This blog looks at a selection of the great books recently published about the Classical World: the Romans and the Greeks. It includes fiction and non-fiction, books in a series as well as individual publications.

This is an exciting history, the rise and fall of great empires. Paul Mason’s The Greeks are Coming, illustrated by Martin Bustamante in the Franklin Watt’s Invaders and Raiders series, chronicles the Greeks repelling the Persian invasion of 490 BCE. Making reference to real events, using historical and archaeological sources, the book describes what it must have been like to live at this time. Less than one hundred years later, You Wouldn’t Want to Be in Alexander the Great’s Army sees Alexander conquer the known world. Colourfully illustrated, each chapter discusses key tactical information and the reality of a soldier’s life (or more likely ways of dying) with fantastic supporting online material. Two great books for readers aged 7-11.

Three excellent non-fiction books on the Roman Empire offer support to Key Stage 3 learners. Whatever happened to the Romans considers a selection of Rome’s most important Emperors and the defining periods of Rome’s history. The text is richly illuminated with a mixture of illustrations and photographs, informative maps and diagrams. Readers may enjoy the various spoken asides by different individuals, presenting a more irreverent tone to the subject. With the same title, Susan Harrison’s and Moira Butterfield’s Roman Britain explores the rich archaeological finds, engineering and construction of a marginal Roman province. Susan Harrison brilliantly brings together a range of material from across Roman Britain, showcasing the many great British finds, such as the Vindolanda Tablets and surviving Roman sites, including Colchester Castle. Moira Butterfield bases each chapter on an important archaeological find or historic site, explaining the background to the discovery and reproducing a high-quality photograph of the artefact or location, before explaining its function and importance to Roman British life.

Cities were an important development in the Ancient World. How We Lived in Ancient Times and Cities Then & Now showcase the wonder of some of these cities. Ben Hubbard and Christiane Engel’s How We Lived in Ancient Times includes the city of Alexandria with Selene, daughter of the lighthouse keeper, offering a tour for younger readers. Selene highlights some of the amazing monuments and buildings in the city and, of course, the Library across three full colour double spreads. Joe Fullman’s and Lindsey Spinks’ Cities Then & Now reveals the history of twelve cities around the world, such as the ancient city of Pompeii. Designed to lift the flaps and step back in time, readers can lift the flap and the clock winds back from the Pompeiian remains we see today to the Pompeii of 79 AD. A great resource for Key Stage 2 and 3.

All roads lead to Rome … See Inside Ancient Rome is a treasure trove of facts and flaps for children. There are over fifty flaps that children can lift to find out more information about the ancient city of Rome and city life. Written by Katie Daynes and illustrated by David Hancock, the historical information annotating the full colour boards is packed with conventional history as well as lots of incidental and humorous information and illustrations appealing to younger children. For pre-school and Key Stage 1 readers, there is a new Carly Hart and Ed Eaves’ Albie story journeys back in time to Ancient Rome. In How to Drive a Roman Chariot Albie unwittingly teams up with a plucky Roman girl, Julia Fautus. Albie finds himself literally dragged through history to compete in a chariot race at the hippodrome! This fun adventure includes five Roman inventions hidden somewhere in the story to find.

Weaving throughout these books are the stories of everyday people, including children, as well as the rich and powerful. The fascinating life of Cleopatra is given a 21st century make-over in Great Lives in Graphics: Cleopatra, capturing the facts and the fiction of her reign in a number of engaging infographics for children aged 8-12. This includes a timeline of her dynasty and her life, maps of Egypt and the important city of Alexandria as well as infographics showing Cleopatra’s political maneuvering with Rome. This book is an engaging visual feast of facts about the world Cleopatra was born, lived

and died in.

My interest in the Ancient World was first sparked by its myths and legends. Classist Marchella Ward retells the legends of Ancient Greece from the very beginning of creation in A Journey Through Greek Myths. She recounts the wars of the gods, the great heroes and heroines, brilliantly capturing the drama and tragedy of each story in accessible language for readers aged 7-11 years old. The volume as a whole is beautifully illustrated by Sander Berg, making it an appealing book to read. I recently reviewed Gods, Goddesses and Heroes in the Winter 2020 edition of Armadillo introducing the pantheons and sharing the sacred stories of many ancient and indigenous religions from around the world. There is a chapter on Greek mythology, profiling the main deities, heroes and heroines, fantastical creatures and monsters, presented in a fun and engaging style and full colour illustrations.

Heroes, High Low Fiction by Bloomsbury, written for struggling and reluctant readers, makes ancient myths accessible with manga-esque style illustrations helping readers to visualize gods, goddesses and monsters of the ancient world. Bloomsbury have published two new stories by Benjamin Hulme-Cross, illustrated by Alessia Trunfio narrating the trials of two great Classical heroes: Odysseus and Hercules. From Odysseus’ trickery ending the Trojan War, outwitting the Cyclops and his eventual return home to Ithaca, the book Odysseus substantially abridges this epic, perhaps it is too great a story for this kind of book. Hercules is more successful as an individual story as our hero completes three of his twelve labours: killing the Nemean lion, obtaining the golden apples of Hesperides and dognapping the hellhound, Cerberus.

This blog has focussed on the Ancient World of the Greeks and Romans. There are many exciting books, based on excellent scholarship and research, reconstructing and retelling the stories of these people, places and their cultures in full colour. Many of these books introduce not the Ancient World, but ancient worlds from across the globe. That is a lot of history for children and young people to enjoy.

Simon Barrett

Books included in this blog.

Cities Then & Now, Joe Fullman, illus. Lindsey Spinks, pub. Lonely Planet Kids

Gods, Goddesses and Heroes, Marzia Accatino, illus. Laura Brenlla, pub. Lonely Planet Kids

Great Lives in Graphics: Cleopatra, pub. Button Books

The Greeks are Coming! Paul Mason, illus. Martin Bustamante, pub. Franklin Watts’ Invaders and Raiders series

Hercules, Benjamin Hulme-Cross, illus. Alessia Trunfio, pub. Bloomsbury Education, High/Low series

How to Drive a Roman Chariot, Carly Hart, illus. Ed Eaves, pub. Simon & Schuster Children's Books

How We Lived in Ancient Times, Ben Hubbard, illus. Christiane Engel, pub. Welbeck Publishing

A Journey Through Greek Myths, Marchella Ward, illus. Sander Berg, pub. Flying Eye Books

Odysseus, Benjamin Hulme-Cross, illus. Alessia Trunfio, pub. Bloomsbury Education, High/Low series

Roman Britain, Moira Butterfield, pub. Franklin Watts’ Found! series

Roman Britain, Susan Harrison, pub. Booklife Publishing’ Historical Britain series

See inside Ancient Rome, Katie Daynes, illus. David Hancock, pub. Usborne Publishing

Whatever Happened to the Romans?, Kirsty Holmes, pub. Booklife Publishing

You wouldn’t want to be in Alexander the Great’s Army, Jacqueline Morley, illus. David Antram, pub. Book House


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