November Book Review

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

Here's another hot tip on good reading for kids from Nancy Gilson, The Columbus Dispatch's resident book expert!

The Odyssey (Candlewick, 170 pages, $19.99, all ages) by Gillian Cross, illustrated by Neil Packer

For a ripsnorting adventure filled with one-eyed monsters, mesmerizing sirens, angry gods, scheming suitors and a faithful wife, The Odyssey is tough to beat.

British author Gillian Cross, winner of the Carnegie Medal, has retold the epic Homer saga in a 170-page version ideal for children and adults -- with stunning full-color and black-and-white illustrations by Neil Packer.

"Out of the mysterious past comes this tale of human endurance, full of unknown dangers and terrifying monsters," Cross begins. "It tells the adventures of a man who spent ten years fighting the anger of the raging sea as he struggled to sail home. This is the story of Odysseus of Ithaca, cleverest of all the kings of ancient Greece."

In clean, clear prose, Cross follows Odysseus from the end of the Trojan War on his way back to Ithaca -- through his encounters with the lotus-eaters; the Cyclops (who munches on a great many of his soldiers before Odysseus outwits him); the hypnotic sirens, whom he is able to resist only after being tied to his ship's mast; and Poseidon, the angry god of the sea.

Meanwhile, back in Ithaca, faithful wife Penelope tries to fend off suitors who are determined that she should choose a new husband from among them.

As told by Cross, Odysseus' out-of-the-frying-pan-and-into-the-fire adventures lead smoothly from one crisis to the next.

The figures in Packer's gouache pen-and-wash illustrations frequently recall those on Grecian urns, as profiles of characters in action.

He alternates big, detailed scenes and black-and-white silhouettes.

His Cyclops is an immense creature with scars, fangs, stubbly hair and a horrific single eye.

A black-and-white illustration shows Penelope amid just the heads of the husband wannabes, looking like beetles surrounding their prey.

The book is thick, with illustrations on almost every page and large, easy-to-read type -- making this odyssey seem at once luxurious and compelling.