Sunday, March 6, 2011

Ancient World (Greek Myths): Persephone by Sally Pomme Clayton

Summary of Persephone
Persephone is playing in the fields and picking flowers with her friends on a beautiful sunny day.   She gets so caught up in the splendor of the flowers and the day that she inadvertently wonders away from her group of companions.  Hades, King of the Underworld, spots the radiant Persephone.  He is determined to make her his queen, so he snatches her up.  When they come to a sparking pool, a water nymph unsuccessfully attempts to stop their descent into Hades’ kingdom.  As they pass slithering snakes, crawling creatures, boiling lakes, and lava fields, Persephone becomes increasingly hopeless.  A shadow falls across her once radiant face.  Meanwhile, her friends realize she is missing, so they run to inform her mother Demeter, Goddess of the Earth.   She immediately sets out to find her missing daughter.   Exhausted, she stops at a pool of water to rest.  The nymph appears to reveal where Persephone is hidden.  Demeter is so distraught that she does not allow anything to grow on the Earth for a full year.  Realizing something must be done or the Earth will die, Zeus, God of the Sky, sends Hermes to the Underworld to demand the release of Persephone.  Hades tells Persephone that he will allow her to leave because of his great love for her.  Before she goes, he coerces her to eat a little.  She takes three juicy seeds from a golden plate and pops them into her mouth.  Afterwards, mother and daughter are overjoyed to be reunited.  Everything they pass springs to life.   Unfortunately, their happy reunion is short lived:  Persephone reveals she ate three seeds from the Land of the Dead.  Demeter is heart-broken that she will lose her daughter every year for three months.  During those three months, it is winter on Earth.  The ice melts, the ground grows soft, and spring returns when Persephone and Demeter are together once again.

The illustrations of Sally Pomme Clayton’s Persephone are brilliant.   Illustrator Virginia Lee beautifully captures the mythical setting and characters of this popular Greek narrative.  This first-rate retelling includes poetic elements like similes and alliteration that make it a perfect read aloud tale.   The final two pages include information on pomegranate seeds and the Greek culture.  I highly recommend this book for class, school, and home libraries.   Persephone is an ideal accompaniment to any study of ancient Greece or mythology. 

Teaching Opportunities:
·         Science—discuss the seasons and the cause for them; explain that the Greeks (like other ancient people) used myths to explain what they did not understand but today we use the scientific method to determine causes for natural phenomena
·         Literature—compare this narrative to other Greek retellings or to other ancient myths about the seasons
·         History—bring in pomegranate seeds for students to sample; teach about the historical and cultural significance of them to the Greeks

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