Tales from the Odyssey, Part 1& 2, by Mary Pope Osborne, 270 pp and 283 pp, RL 4
Mary Pope Osborne is best known for her Magic Tree House series of chapter books, but she also the author of a handful of excellent books on mythology and folklore, a genre of children's books that is sadly underrepresented. Osborne is the author of Favorite Greek Myths, the best collection out there after the D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths, as well as American Tall Tales and a collection of Norse Myths. Her Tales from the Odyssey books were originally published in 2003 as six chapter books, the size and length of her Magic Tree House seres. Since then, they have been combined into two volumes and serve as a wonderful introduction to this classic story for independent readers. For length and depth of text, I think Osborne's books fall somewhere between Gillian Cross and Neil Packer's version of The Odyssey, which is more like a very long picture book, and Gareth Hinds's faithful graphic novel adaptation of The Odyssey. What Osborne does best with her Tales from the Odyssey is to give a narrative structure to Homer's classic story that contemporary young readers will recognize.
Osborne begins Tales from the Odyssey with a prologue that introduces the gods and goddesses of Mount Olympus, helping the reader to understand their power over humans. She also introduces Homer as the Greek poet who first told the tale of Odysseus's long journey, although, sharing this after the introduction of the gods and goddesses, I wonder if readers will realize that Homer was a real person? One aspect of Homer's Odyssey that can make it hard to follow is the path of the narrative and the stories that are told within the story. Homer begins his tale, twenty years after Odysseus has left to fight in the Trojan war and ten years after the ware has ended, in Ithaca where we see Penelope besieged by suitors who. According to Greek custom, these suitors are allowed to stay in her home and eat all her food until she accepts one as her husband. Telemachus, now twenty years old, is distraught and furious over this situation, but unsure what to do. Zeus allows Athena, Odysseus's protector, to intervene, sending Telemachus on a journey to find his father. Osborne shifts the focus for the start of her telling, focusing on how deeply sad Odysseus was to leave his wife and son, pretending to be insane in front of King Agamemnon's messenger sent to call him to war. A chapter is devoted to the story of the Trojan Horse and Athena's influence and, by chapter three, the Odyssey begins...
Osborne's language is gently formal and she retains some of Homer's language, like references to the "wine dark sea" and the "rosy dawn." She minimizes the gore and violence where possible, as in the chapter that takes place in the cave of the Cyclops, Polyphemus, the giant who has a penchant for grabbing two of Odysseus's men at a time, smashing their heads against the stone floor, then munching them like Slim Jims. While it remains a disturbing scene, Osborne pares it down to two sentences that are effective and should appeal to the sensibilities of readers aware of the truculent nature of the gods and goddesses, as well as the Greeks, but hopefully not cause nightmares for the more sensitive readers. She handles the final battle at the end of the story, where Odysseus and Telemachus take on all the suitors, as well as Odysseus's testing of Penelope, in an equally thoughtful manner. Tales from the Odyssey is perfect for fans of Greek mythology who are ready to step up from the short tales in D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths to a longer narrative. Equally, Tales from the Odyssey is easy to follow and an entertaining read. Although slightly lower in reading level than Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series of books, Osborne's adaptation is the perfect way to get fans of Riordan's work reading the classic stories that he draws upon for his books.
Troy Howell, the artist who created all of the covers for Brian Jacques's Redwall series of books, beautifully illustrated Osborne's Favorite Greek Myths and provides spot illustrations for Tales from the Odyssey, including an all-important map, which I was constantly referring back to in order to keep track of Odysseus's journey. At the end of the books, there is a brief further description of the role of the gods and goddesses in Ancient Greece as well as a fantastic list of the main gods and goddesses and an extremely helpful pronunciation guide for their names and other proper names in the story. Osborne closes with a note on her sources and endpapers that are illustrations of the gods and goddesses.