Beautiful, Unusual Children’s Books 6

Persephone – Sally Pomme Clayton (writer) and Virgina Lee (illustrator)

Persephone

Part 1:

For those who do not know this Greek myth, or may not remember it, it begins in this way:

Persephone is the daughter of Demeter, the harvest-goddess. One day when she is wandering alone, Persephone is abducted by Hades, the god of the dead. He takes her to the Underworld where he declares that she will be his queen.

In the above-world, Demeter is bereft at the loss of her child. When she learns that Persephone is trapped inside the earth, she becomes furious. She then curses the land to be barren until her daughter returns. 

I won’t write the whole tale here. But that introduction is enough to know that that is how winter first came to be.

Part 2:

The story of Persephone has been on my mind since the beginning of 2013. I think I know the reason for this: that charming, lovely scene from David Almond’s My Name Is Mina, when nine-year old Mina McKee calls to Persephone and asks her to come back so that the goddess can end an especially cold England winter.

My Name Is Mina is my new favorite book, and I think that scene was the part I liked best. It made me want to revisit the original myth. So, it was to my joy that I found Clayton’s version at the local library. (The cover was so enticing! I couldn’t leave the book alone.)

Part 3:

Is Clayton’s version identical to the original Greek telling? Honestly, I don’t know. There may be a few deviations, but to the best of my memory, it’s identical (or close enough) to the Greek form. It’s not embellished in any way that I could tell. The story is written simply and clearly, as I think it should be. Persphone’s tale is not about complex, psychological motivations. The focus is on the events of the story itself, how a young goddess was robbed of the life she knew and how her fate affected the entire world.

I don’t wish to say too much on the illustrations. They really are impressive, and I’d rather you be surprised (and maybe awed) when you see them for yourselves. I will say this though: Virginia Lee’s illustrations are a perfect complement to the Persephone story.

First of all, they are done in the classical Greek art style, the kind you might see on pottery.

Red Figure

Secondly, each one manages to perfectly convey a mood or an atmosphere in the story, from innocence to horror… even to utter bleakness, as when Demeter covers the world in winter.

Demeter covers the world in winter.

Part 4:

I think the myth of Persephone is beautiful. It is a sad story, and a dark one, but it’s filled with brightness, like Demeter’s love and relentless searching for the daughter who was lost. Ultimately, it’s a hopeful tale. Yes, winter must come, but spring will always return.

As will Persephone.

Reading level: K+
Available for purchase: http://www.powells.com/biblio/61-9780802853493-0

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