Secrets of the Ancient Gods by Vicky Alvear Shecter

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Anubis Speaks! A Guide to the Afterlife by the Egyptian God of the Dead with illustrations by Antoine Revoy (2013)
Hades Speaks! A Guide to the Underworld by the Greek God of the Dead with illustrations by J. E. Larson (2014)

anubisIn this new series, aimed at upper elementary/lower middle school kids, gods of the afterlife take us through the myths and rituals associated with death in their cultures, as well as giving us some information about the other gods and the people of their civilizations.

Written in a exuberant, wise-cracking style, these slim volumes manage to pack in a surprising amount of information. The focus is often on creepy or grisly details, to keep up readers’ interest, but there are also plenty of straightforward facts too, including, for example, the names of the five rivers of the Greek underworld, and why Egyptian gods often are depicted with animal heads. Contemporary references are thrown in as well; there are several nods to Harry Potter, and Hades suggests that Isis could be “the world’s first stage mom.” Interestingly, there are no Rick Riordan mentions!

Both books have an underlying structure – Hades takes the reader on a tour of the Greek underworld, Anubis goes through the hours of Ra’s nightly trip through the Egyptian underworld – though there are many detours along the way for stories, background information and explanations. These can be either read as a complete story or dipped into for specific pieces of information.hades

Hades Speaks! is the more recent publication, and I prefer the way the sources have been organized in this book as they are split into primary, secondary, articles and websites; whereas those for Anubis Speaks! are all lumped together. Both books have glossaries, indices as well as guides to gods mentioned in the books. However, I did feel a little historical context might have been useful. There are no dates, and I found references to Roman and Greek versions of Egyptian mythology confusing.

Different illustrators have been used – again I prefer those in Hades as they seem a little more polished and are sharper in the black and white format. In both cases, they work well to add visual interest and depth to the text as well as breaking up the pages of words.

My biggest beef is that the voice gets a little wearing. The position is that both gods feel disrespected by their fellows, and make many, many mentions of this. It is amusing – these high powered deities have the same sibling issues as the rest of us! – but gets a bit one note over the course of 100+ pages.

Though I prefer Marcia Williams’ graphic novels, I think this series is, nonetheless, a great addition to mythology section of school and public libraries – it’s way more fun than D’Aulaires or the Donna Jo Napoli books, though less exhaustive; and is more accurate than the popular graphic Amazing Greek Myths of Wonder and Blunder by Michael Townsend.

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