This year marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, which put me in mind of tales about adventures on the high seas. Of course, the most famous voyage of all time is The Odyssey and there are many fine retellings of this epic. My own favorite is Gareth Hind’s graphic novel rendition of this amazing tale of shipwreck and wandering. It’s just a grand epic that after 2500 years is as fresh and exciting as ever.
Another famous adventure yarn is Sinbad by Ludmila Zeman, a retelling from The Thousand and One Nights. This particular book links together two of the seven voyages of Sindbad the Sailor making it easier for younger readers to follow. They follow the intrepid Sinbad as he mistakes a giant whale for an island paradise, is carried off by the eagle Roc, and escapes from a valley filled with snakes and diamonds. The jewel-like illustrations are done in the style of Persian carpets, each one surrounded by an elegant border. Gorgeous!
Leif the Lucky by Ingri and Edgar Parin D’Aulaire is the story of Leif Erickson, son of Eric the Red, who sailed from Greenland to Norway. On his return journey a storm throws his ship off course and he ends up discovering a new land, what we now know is Newfoundland. This retelling from the Norse sagas is expertly done but the illustrations truly steal the show. It is filled with Viking rune-like carvings and the landscapes are gorgeous, depicting green fjords against icebergs and mountains of snow. The grand Viking halls are decorated with carvings of Nordic mythical creatures. It’s truly a book to linger over and many consider it to be the D’Aulaire’s finest work.
A much less known, but equally interesting story is The Shipwrecked Sailor by Tamara Bower. This Egyptian tale is based on a story found on an ancient papyrus scroll from the 19th century B.C.E. It tells of a sailor, the only survivor of a shipwreck, who is washed up on an island paradise. There a huge serpent befriends him and comforts him with the promise that he will soon be rescued. When the sailor leaves, the serpent gives him “precious things” to take back and asks that he speak well of him. I think what will most interest children are Bower’s captivating pictures done in the style of ancient Egyptian artists. Children who like hieroglyphs will love poring over representations of highlighted phrases with their phonetic Egyptian translations. The book includes a map, notes about the story, an explanation of the symbols, and a bibliography.
Onions and Garlic by Eric Kimmel is a funny, light-hearted story retold from the Talmud. It’s a classic tale of three brothers setting out into the world and the youngest has nothing but common onions to barter. But he sails off and one day discovers an island where diamonds are everywhere but nobody has ever heard of onions. The boy trades his wares for 100 sacks of diamonds and returns home. I think you can guess what happens to the older brothers when they travel to the same island with garlic to trade. Naturally they hope for more diamonds, but instead, the king loads their ship with something “more precious than diamonds,” and of course this cargo turns out to be…onions!
Finally, no adventure on the high seas is complete without a few pirate stories and The Barefoot Book of Pirates by Richard Walker is a fun, swashbuckling collection of tales appropriate for younger readers. There are fierce characters such as the captain in a German tale, others, like the young boy in the Japanese tale, are friendly and funny. There’s a spooky African tale, “The Ship of Bones” and the deeply satisfying tale of Grace O’Malley, one of Ireland’s most feared pirates.
So if Titanic in 3D isn;t enough, why not curl up with one of these?