Book Review: Myths in 30 Seconds – the fast, fun way into world mythology

Myths in 30 Second: 30 Marvellous and Magical World Myths Retold in Half a Minute by Anita Ganeri, illustrated by Melvyn Evans, Ivy Kids, 2016

This book is a buffet of delicious bite-sized treats, miniature versions of mouth-watering delicacies from around the world. You can savour each one or guzzle them down one after the other. I have never timed myself reading them but each myth is given a double-page, with one page narrating the story in a few short paragraphs, and another telling it again in pictures with notes and arrows to show the flow of the story. Each myth also has a ‘3-second-sum-up’ – a master lesson for those of us trying to write a synopsis! – and some extra facts or a ‘quest’, a suggested activity or project for children to try.

The myths chosen are from cultures across the world, some from civilizations that have ended, and others from cultures that still pass these stories down orally, including Greek, Norse, Sumerian, Japanese, Chinese, Native American, West African, Indian, Aboriginal, Aztec, Mayan. One thing that delights us is that the book is arranged by themes, ‘Creation Myths’, ‘Quests and Adventures’, juxtaposing the stories from different places, so that the similarities of story-telling around the world can be explored. Our children love to make those connections, here, and in other books, the story of the great flood in the Bible and the story of the flood and the talking fish in the Mahabharata; the tales of monsters to be slain, journeys to be taken. They’re having fun, enjoying some exciting adventures, but also learning about the universality of story-telling, the human need to tell and explain – and the dazzling variety of creativity in every place. A celebration of both what unites us all, and the differences that can enrich us.

This is a great place to start on myths – but never a place to stop! Quite different in its style, but enthralling is Myth Atlas by Thiago de Moraes (reviewed here). And my son reads and returns to DK’s Children’s Book of Mythical Beasts and Magical Monsters (2nd ed 2018) as another broad collection of world mythology, again, collected by theme, so that Arjuna shares a page with Achilles, Yamoto Takero and other heroes. Mythical Beasts, is jam-packed with information and pictures, and the sort of helpful diagrams that my mythology-obsessed son loves to pore over, like showing how all the Egyptian gods are related to each other, and so probably suits slightly older kids, either as an introduction or a boost to their enthusiasm. But I’m always wary of suggesting ages for books for kids – a picture book can be enjoyed for many years past the age at which it can be read, and my 3 year-old asks for the Usborne Young Reading re-telling of The Odyssey (by Louie Stowell, illustrated by Matteo Pincelli) every night these days, telling us that she is Calypso in her games. There is no limit to the imagination.

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