Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Odysseus in the Serpent Maze

Odysseus in the Serpent Maze
Jane Yolen & Robert Harris
HarperCollins 2001, 248 pgs
Grades 3-6

The first in Yolen and Harris' mythology based "Young Heroes" series the authors offer an account of the early adventures of Odysseus. Odysseus longs for adventure and battle. He and his companion Mentor attempt to kill a wild boar leaving them both injured for their troubles. Young Odysseus' grandfather sends the boys on a boat back home to Ithaca, where the real adventure begins. First the boys are capsized in a storm, then they are rescues by pirates, where they meet the beautiful Helen of Troy and her trusty companion Penelope. After escape from the pirates the group of young people have more hair-raising adventures involving a satyr, further misadventures at sea, and help from unexpected places. Eventually they discover a ghost ship, which leads them to a secret workshop belonging to a former toy maker. The workshop is a place of wonders and seems to be made of magic, but is actually well conceived and designed mechanical devices. Eventually it is discovered that they are on the island of Crete. The king of the island nation arrests the boys, holds Helen for ransom, and throws Penelope into the dreaded labyrinth as a sacrifice for the beast that lurks within. Odysseus must escape prison, find Penelope in the labyrinth, kill the beast, and break the curse. He and his team work together to do just that, all while making new friends along the way and figuring out how to return to their homes.

Part mythology and part history of ancient Greece, Yolen and Harris pen a well-constructed and solid adventure story for young people. A perfect choice for the child who has finished the Percy Jackson series and is looking for what to read next, this is a classic mythological tale without the modern touches Riordan throws in. Odysseus is brave, smart, and loyal. He and his companions boldly plow ahead to save their lives and others as they solve the puzzle of the labyrinth, battle mother nature, and fight evil characters, both monster and human. The action never stops and the plot offers many twist and turns. Characters seem to disappear and then reappear later in the story, adding to the interesting plot. Mythological beasts abound, both good and bad, adding to the fun. Although Odysseus is the true hero of the story, his companions also play a part. The female characters in the book are brave and contribute to the dangerous situations, making this book accessible to both boys and girls. The vocabulary is rich and the ancient Greek names can be difficult to read, making this a natural choice for smart kids who like a bit of an meaty story to sink into. The fast moving plot will attract reluctant readers and possibly encourage them to read something a bit more challenging, while having fun doing it. Yolen and Harris add an afterwards at the end putting the story within its historical context and linking it with Odysseus' further adventures in The Odyssey and The Iliad. A classic tale of good verses evil, this book will have a ready made audience and will appeal to a wide range of readers.

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