High Variance

Mythical Creatures


Head and body of a cock,
Its breath cracks rock.

Leather wings--Whish!
Serpent tail--Swish!
A Basilisk--Hisss!
No doodle-head this!

(A Basilisk!--HISSS!
    Is also called--HISSS!
    A Cockatrice.)
                  by Laura Whipple

As you may remember from my last post, my older daughter loves Greek mythology, but the stories are hopelessly age-inappropriate. We’ve been reading them anyway and I try to tone them down on the fly with limited success. What I’ve really wanted was something that could extract the magic and wonder of the creatures and leave the ultra-violence and the mixed moral messages behind. It turns out I owe Eric Carle an apology because he’s published exactly the book I was looking for.

Dragons, Dragons combines Eric Carle’s admittedly pretty collage pictures with poems about 30 mythical creatures from around the world. Many are from Greek myths (e.g., Cerberus, Pegasus, the Minotaur!) but they also hail from Japan (kappa), Africa (Okolo), the Americas (Quetzalcoatl), Australia (bunyip), the Middle East (manticore and roc), and other places. In some cases the artistic representations don’t match the images in my head (in addition to his lion’s head, the chimaera has a goat’s head sprouting out of his back!) but considering we don’t have any actual specimens to determine who is “correct,” I don’t mind.

My favorite part of the book is the poetry. Why should mythical creatures be constrained to prose? To accompany his illustrations, Mr. Carle has chosen work ranging from classic (William Blake and Elizabeth Barrett Browning) to poets I’ve never heard of but are a lot of fun (see Laura Whipple’s contribution above). R learns vocabulary when we read them and she definitely appreciates the vivid word pictures and rhymes. She’s already memorized a few of the poems and there’s even one (the Phoenix) that is written specifically for two voices.

I’m still not a fan of all of Eric Carle’s work, but this book is almost perfect.