Book Review: Gods and Heroes

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I have wrapped up the mythology unit in my Freshman English co-op class with American Born Chinese. Now it’s time to review the book that I used as the cornerstone of the unit. It might surprise you, but I went with Gods and Heroes: Mythology Around the World by Korwin Briggs. Of course, this won’t surprise you if you know nothing about it, or it might just because I didn’t go with Edith Wharton’s Mythology.

Here’s the skinny: this book is meant for children. (It also isn’t the only book that I chose for my ninth-ish graders that was technically “below” their reading level. More to come.) It is chock-full of colorful, playful illustrations and the reading level is maybe late elementary school? But there were a few things that this book offered that I couldn’t find elsewhere. The main thing was world mythology. I really wanted to cover myths from around the world, both Eastern and Western world, and there was very little to be found. (Some books covered Greek and maybe Norse and then had some small sections on other mythology, but never anything balanced. Well, I take that back a little bit. I think I recall some college textbooks (or at least that level of study) covering world myth in a more comprehensive way, but there was no way I was pressing a college-level text on these kids.) Two other things I wanted: levity and ease. Originally, I thought they were going to be reading this alongside their novel-reading—and it did start that way—so I didn’t need to challenge their reading skills, just get them information in a painless way. And since they are homeschoolers, I wanted to teach mythology in both a lighthearted and contemplative way. If that makes sense.

I like this book. It’s not very thorough, sure, but it’s meant to introduce children to mythology and it did it’s job telling us stories about mythological gods and goddesses from all over the place. It didn’t deal so much with beasts/monsters or even heroes and heroines, but that isn’t the title, is it? Oh wait, half of it is. Well, it’s more like a colorful encyclopedia with very limited space. It also didn’t have a lot of information about mythology itself or mythology of place. I incorporated that by personally studying books and articles on those specific subjects and teaching it in class (and on their Weekly Worksheet which is a different story). By the time the unit was over, they had an overarching view of mythology, mythology from the point of their worldview, and of each of the “regions” of mythology as I broke it up. (I had like seven weeks to go through the book, so we didn’t read everything, but the majority.) Why would you have this book on your shelf? If you are teaching mythology to a student. If you want to read mythology to your child. If you want a well-rounded and intelligent bookshelf for your child. If you want an easy-to-digest introduction to the characters and ideas of world mythology with a fun, fanciful format, then this is a nice book and I would say it’s your go-to.


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