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Classics For Kids

June 14, 1998|DORIS ORGEL | Doris Orgel is the author of numerous children's books. Her latest, "We Goddesses: Athena, Aphrodite, Hera," will be published by Dorling Kindersley next year. Her essay is provided exclusively to The Times by The Five Owls, a monthly magazine that encourages literacy and reading among young people. For a copy of The Five Owls, send $1 for postage and handling to The Five Owls, 2004 Sheridan Ave. South, Minneapolis, MN 55405

When baby Zeus was hidden away so that his father, Cronos, would not eat him, a goat named Amaltheia gave him milk. Later, Zeus rewarded her by making one of her horns a cornucopia, a horn of plenty, forever filled with whatever goodies Amaltheia wished. Having learned this from the Bakers' "Myths and Legends of Mount Olympus," I now want to recommend another cornucopia of a book: "The Illustrated Book of Myths: Tales and Legends of the World" retold by Neil Philip (Dorling Kindersley, 1995). It overflows with beautifully illustrated stories and a wealth of related facts, artifacts and photographs provided in sidebars that enhance its eye-catchingly designed pages. This book is as multicultural as anyone could wish, including stories from no less than 33 cultures. What's more, Neil Philip is perfectly at home in each. A scholar with a doctorate in myth and folklore, he's an engaging writer, never stuffy or self-important. He seizes on the essence of even the remotest-seeming stories and makes sense of them. His underlying belief must be that all great myths, regardless from where, are equally rich in wonders. By bringing these out glowingly, he whets children's appetites for myths from everywhere. Nilesh Mistry's illustrations vary from bold to delicate as miniatures. They are a pleasure in themselves as well as good accompaniment to Philip's first-rate text.

Lastly, I want to call attention to Ellen Switzer's and Costas' "Greek Myths: Gods, Heroes and Monsters, Their Sources, Their Stories and Their Meanings" (Atheneum, 1988). This book is intended for high school age and up. Its scope is vast; the scholarship behind it solid; its prose style pleasantly breezy. It accounts for major gods, goddesses and heroes, female and male; summarizes major myths as well as some gem-like less well-known ones; popular legends too, and the Trojan War complete with aftermaths, as told in Homer and in the plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides. A unique feature: prefaces to each chapter giving sources and cogent speculations about how different versions of particular stories relate to historical and topographical factors.

Costas, co-author and photographer, was raised on Chios, supposedly the birthplace of Homer, so it's no wonder that his photographs help bridge the chasm between antiquity and now. They include not only monuments and ruins but also landscapes that remain as they once were, a present-day swan who could well be mistaken for Zeus about to make love to Leda and a pelican much like the one who guarded the island of Delos when Leto gave birth to the twin gods Artemis and Apollo.

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