Does teaching ancient history overwhelm anyone other than me? My kids love to learn this time period of history, and no matter how determined I am to move past the classic triad of Greek, Roman, and Egyptian, it’s so hard! There is so much to learn just about Greece and mythology and civilizations… We could study it the rest of our lives.

As I prepared to lead the book club for our Classical Conversations homeschool group, I wanted to spark interest in Greek mythology through group discussion and enjoyment. However, I also knew that it was option and needed to be fun. As the first book club for many of these kids, it had to be good or they wouldn’t do another one! One issue would be to not overwhelm the upper elementary school kids with a book that is too difficult to read or understand. What better choice is there than Mary Pope Osborne who they all already know from their favorite Magic Tree House series?

Hosting a book club with such a broad subject matter can be a lot to take on. With that in mind, I focused on that what I wanted my own kids to get out of the story. What connections do we need to make to our other learning, our Christian lives, and our world? While I had a lot prepared for us to talk about, half of this didn’t get discussed. Be prepared to call it done when the attention spans have left. Homeschool prerogative! It’s okay.

Disclaimer: this was my first time hosting a book club for the kids! It was a definite research and learning moment. I didn’t find much for book clubs about the Odyssey for younger kids online, so I hope this helps make your stress about planning book club a little easier!

Tales from The Odyssey by Mary Pope Osborne
Tales from The Odyssey by Mary Pope Osborne

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The Book

Tales from the Odyssey is a great option for a well-understood, flowing adventure story without harder language and length. Broken up into part one, part two, and part three, each individual book is less intimidating for the smaller hands in size and word count. The lines are well-spaced out with larger font which makes it read quickly.

Additionally, with short chapters, there are plenty of stopping points for the younger sibling listeners as well. It’s slightly confusing, so make sure you don’t stop after the first published book. You’ll miss half of Odysseus’ story!

While much of the original epic poem has been left out, each of his main travel stops is discussed and the main characters. Some lesser characters are referred to mainly as their job – “Swineherd” isn’t called by his name Eumaeus. I believe it makes it easier for kids to remember as there are already so many names! The back of each book has a list of characters and a pronunciation guide, so make sure you check these out.

Preparing for Book Club: The Families

Apart from my role as book club facilitator, the families need to know what to expect.

  • Togas. These are extra fun – but optional. I didn’t want to add extra stress to scare off families.
  • Bring basic supplies for your kids: colored pencils, small scissors, tape, water bottle, entertainment for littles.
  • Prepare a guessing game. Together with mom, the kids prepared three “Who Am I?” questions to present so the other kids could guess who they were. This was a great way to get conversation flowing about the different characters.
  • Come for a feast. Some parents brought food or provided supplies; others just contributed money. Food makes everything better and provides a great opportunity for kids and parents to sit around and chat.
  • Play! This was not going to be a strict book club. We met in a backyard. They played before and after. The promise of friends makes the appeal of book club even better.
  • Lastly, read the book or listen to it. However, not finishing the book should not be a reason to not get to participate. There was learning done by all regardless of their completion of the book.

Preparing for Book Club: The Teacher

  • Find the location and pick the date. For us, meeting at a family home worked perfectly!
  • Remember your class. Will they be able to sit for two hours? 30 minutes? Have they done this before? Will there be younger siblings that you might need to entertain slightly? How much movement should you try to incorporate?
  • Check in with the families. Not only do you need to know how many people to expect, they might also need some encouragement to not feel unprepared!
  • Find some recipes for the Greek feast or recruit help.
  • Print out an Odyssey map to follow along with the class.

A Few Phrases to Start Your Book Club

Just for fun, have them greet you.
Kalimera (Ka-lee-ME-ra): Good morning or Yassou (Yah-SU): Hello

Ask the Opening Questions

Just like adults at their own book club, kids want to share their favorites and their opinions. What a better way to get the conversations started by asking for their thoughts. Don’t try to dive in too deep right at the beginning.

  • Did you like the book?
  • What was your favorite part?
  • Did you think it was hard to keep track of all the people, creatures, and places? I sure did!

Remember, this is also a great time as the lead learner to remind kids and their parents of the complexity of this book. There are people who devote years of higher study to Greek history and mythology. Admit that you still get confused after reading through the story of the Odyssey, and they will too. Invite them to speak up if you get your story plot mixed up or forget names. This is a great way to get them listening.

If you want to point back to “traditional story” – think about the story sequence chart? What did we call the most exciting part? What was the climax of this story? What is his ultimate goal? He wants to get home but outside forces keep him away.

Does Greek Mythology Show Up in the Bible?

Why is it important to know this ancient history story? Some people say you shouldn’t learn it because it’s pagan, that we should stay away from mention of all other gods. I do understand that mentality, but I also want my kids familiar with the beliefs of other religions of today. They will have questions about what others believe; we should help them know.

Look at a map. The Greek culture would have been known to the people of Israel. The world around the Mediterranean Sea was not unreachable, and they travelled around. The Apostle Paul was very religious and followed all the rules; however, even he knew Greek beliefs. He wouldn’t have been able to argue against the gods of the Greeks during his travels and preaching if he had stayed away from all non-Jewish learning.

So, while I understand the concern and the desire to keep your learning God-centered, I also believe that we should learn about Greek mythology and history. That doesn’t mean we are worshipping them or taking them into our lives.

Set the Stage

Look at the big map of the world. And zoom it in. What part of the world are we in? Print out a map of the world of the Odyssey and have the kids follow along as you retell the stories. They need to know that these are real places around the Mediterranean sea.

Do you know these places? Any we could add? Greece has 227 islands. Big map. What other places do you know? Near Egypt? Near Fertile Crescent? Near Israel? What do you notice? Do you know any of these places?

What do you know about the author? Who was Homer? Why don’t we know a lot? This was before dating or writing were created. Passed down orally.

What about this time period? Set it into history. Do you know of any older books? Gilgamesh? Look at this timeline for comparison with places and people they know from other history.

  • 2100 BC Gilgamesh
  • 1400 BC Moses dies
  • 12-8th BC Homer
  • 1220 BC Fall of Troy
  • 1100 BC Prophet Samuel
  • 1000 BC King David
  • 900s BC First Greek writing
  • 776 BC First Olympics (when office dating starts in Greece)
  • 760 BC Jonah to Ninevah
  • 31 BC Rome conquer Greece with Mark Antony and Cleopatra
  • 3 AD Jesus!

The Characters and Places

Who brought their character and their secret three clues? What big groupings could we make?  Before we read our clues, we should made lists to organize them on the board: gods, monsters, people, and places.

Put them on a timeline in the story. Follow along as we go through the timeline. Connect the people and places as we discuss.

Theme of Hospitality

Hospitality. What is hospitality?  Who were some hosts? Who were some guests?

Hospitality, also called “guest-friendship,” was a social ritual expected of men in the Greek world. Under the rules of hospitality, men would be expected to host visitors, providing them with food, a bath, friendship gifts, the promise of safety for the night, and safe escorted travel to their next destination. In return, guests would be expected to pose no threat to the life or property of their hosts and to return the favor if their hosts should turn up at their homes in the future. This idea underlies nearly every section of Odysseus’s journey, from his encounter with the Cyclops to his stay among the Phaeacians to his defeat of the greedy suitors. The Odyssey can be thought of as a manual for a host of how to (and how not to) show hospitality to a guest and vice versa.

How does this apply to us as Christians? What does the Bible say about it? Any examples of hospitality in the Bible? Think of all the times Jesus stayed with family or kings provided banquets.

What is an Epic?

Read the intro from the original Odyssey. Remind them why you picked this version, but this is what they’re headed to in high school. If this is called an epic poem, why doesn’t it rhyme? The original didn’t have rhyme but would have rhythm. Imagine the ability of the original storytellers who would have had much of it memorized!

What makes an Epic? There are lots of different lists of the characteristics of what makes an epic. So I thought we would make our own.

Let’s start by listing some stories you might know that would be considered epics. Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Gilgamesh, Star Wars, Narnia.  For modern Disney examples for younger kids what about Shrek, Finding Nemo, or Moana. The kids in my class added the modern Wingfeather Saga. I loved that they were thinking. Make sure to mention several ancient that the kids probably haven’t heard of – The Aeneid, The Divine Comedy, Beowulf, and The 12 Labors of Heracles. Yes, they will see more epics in the future!

With this list of epics, let them find the connections. What do these stories have in common other than being long?

  • The main character is on a quest and is tested to prove their worth.
  • He/ She has super human ability to battle and acheive.
  • He/ She is often legendary in their own land and abroad.
  • He/ She go through a low point and are about to give up the quest only to come back to continue.
  • He/ She travels over a vast setting to complete the quest.
  • Creatures with supernatural or mythical abilities are encountered to offer assistance or to battle.
  • An omniscient narrator knows all that’s happening; not an “I”.
  • The story starts in media res – in the middle of the story.
  • Good conquers evil. After all, who wants to read bad guy stories?

Grab your books here through Amazon and plan your own book club. I’d love to hear how it goes!

Remember, a mediocre book club is still better than no book club at all! Get out there, get those kids gathered up, and have fun while learning.

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