The Golden Age: Ovid’s Metamorphoses retold by Heinz Janish, illustrated by Ana Sender, translated by David Henry Wilson. NorthSouth, 2022. 9780735844711
Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5
Format: Hardcover picture book
What did you like about the book? This lovely retelling of the Roman poet Ovid’s masterwork Metamorphoses will introduce these stories to a whole new generation of readers. The emphasis here is on Ovid’s telling, a facet that’s often missing from mythology collections for children. Janish has chosen seventeen of the original stories (out of approximately 250), all of which relate to the theme of transformation. Some will be familiar to readers, such as three stories in which young people turn into flora: Daphne and Apollo, Pan and Syrinx, and Narcissus and Echo. But Janish also presents lesser known tales. When the Lycian farmers refuse to share their water with the goddess Latona and her infant twins, she turns them into frogs. When the young and handsome king Picus refuses the advances of the goddess Circe, she turns him into a woodpecker. Readers hungry for stories filled with mythological beings will appreciate these novel entries and Janish’s text (via Wilson’s translation) is lyrical, suspenseful, and strange. Backmatter includes an easy to understand essay about Ovid’s work and legacy, a paragraph about the poet, and a list of the immortals’ names.
I loved Sender’s layered and artful illustrations, which recalled the classic images of D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths. Bright colors, transparent paint, and fine detail will draw readers in and reward close, repeated examination. Strangely, the time period is hard to pin down; some characters appear vaguely Greek or Roman, sporting sandals and togas, but others look medieval, and by the time we reach the last story (“The Open House: The Story of Fama”) the setting looks positively 19th century Parisian. Eerie gray endpapers open with the Minotaur in his labyrinth, but by the close, he’s escaping by following a bright red thread. For me, it all worked brilliantly.
Anything you didn’t like about it? I would have put the Ovid essay at the front of the book. This way we could learn about his unique retellings before reading the stories. There was a bit of a muddle with the names: most characters are referred to by their Roman names but occasionally Greek ones would pop up: Artemis instead of Diana or Pan instead of Faunus. This being a European import, the gods and humans are slightly more naked than we might see in children’s books from U.S. publishers.
To whom would you recommend this book? Elementary and middle school readers or anyone looking for new collections of Greek and Roman myths. The fact that kids will be learning about Ovid is an added bonus. Many thanks to BLS Latin teacher Michael Howard, who generously added his expertise and insight to this review.
Who should buy this book? Elementary, middle school, and public libraries
Where would you shelve it? Tricky. I see some libraries are putting it in literature at 873.01 but I think that would make it difficult for kids to find. I would be more inclined to shelve it with mythology over at 292.
Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? Yes
Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA
Date of review: December 3, 2022