Do you love Marcia Williams? I love Marcia Williams. Marcia Williams is a British illustrator and author. She writes large-format, intensively-illustrated adaptations of classical literature for kids.
Let me tell you how great this is: lots of little kids get into tales of adventure, and then their parents think to themselves, "Oh, I'll bet he would love Robin Hood!" Or King Arthur, or the story of Troy, etc. And then they ask the librarian - "I want him to read King Arthur." Whereupon the librarian is like, "Errr... you know that adultery and patricide play a big part in that story, right? Is he ready for The Sword in the Stone?"
If the answer is no - and we're listening to The Sword in the Stone in the car right now, and allow me to authoritatively state: AGE 9 AND UP, and then only if said 9-year-old has a lot of patience for huge swathes of vocabulary he or she does not know, and even then, probably only on audio - then you're kind of left with Classic Starts. Classic Starts is an ok series, but you know what? "Ok" is not optimal. "Ok" is ok when you have a report to write, but as an introduction to classic stories, I would like to be able to offer better than "ok."
So what Marcia Williams does is brilliant. She grabs Shakespeare's plays, and the Canterbury Tales, and the Seven Voyages of Sinbad and the like, and transforms them into shorter, funnier stories that allow kids to enjoy them, get the general gist, and, perhaps most importantly, understand what happens in these stories beneath their veneer of language and manners.
Best of all, she somehow manages to do this without the end result feeling dumbed-down or sanitized.
She's done it here with ancient Egyptian history and mythology. After all, when it comes to treachery, murder and betrayal, look no further than Seth, Osiris, and vengeful Horus. And for madness and ambition, look to the pharaohs and the bitter queens. In this book, we get Egyptian myths about creation, the divinity of Ra, and the death of Osiris, plus the stories of four great pharaohs.
In this book, Ms. Williams utilizes a beautiful, sun-soaked palette of gold, turquoise, lapis, jade, and carnelian lifted right off a sarcophagus; the horizontal, two-dimensional composition seen on ancient papyrus and tomb walls; and a full complement of ancient Egyptian symbols and icons, ornaments and borders.
However, these little gods and pharaohs are no stiff figures mired in the ancient past. Expressive postures, smiling faces, and playful interactions among them keep readers scouring the pages for every little joke. Illustration panels floating atop textured paper backgrounds give the book a down-to-earth, craft-project look. Compared to the beautiful but static imagery in books such as Demi’s Tutankhamun (Marshall Cavendish, 2009), each figure in this book, from the great Ra to the tiniest mouse, fairly leaps off the page in order to grab readers’ attention.
Anastasia Suen is hosting Nonfiction Monday today at Booktalking.
Adapted from a review that originally appeared in School Library Journal.