Teaching Ancient History with Children’s Literature: Ancient Greece and the Olympics

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Ancient Greece and the Olympics, written by Mary Pope Osborne and Natalie Pope Boyce, illustrated by Sal Murdocca, is part of the infamous Magic Tree House Series that aims to realistically take children on a voyage through ancient history.  This particular journey to Greece begins with an introduction to the country's history and its people, then moves to the country's religion, its daily life and its culture.  All of these integral elements serve as the foundation for the major focus of this book.  Children are granted with a thorough understanding of Greece's background so as to see how the concept of the Olympic games originated within this magical culture of gods and goddesses.  "The ancient Greeks believed that strong bodies and sports pleased [these] gods, so they honored [them] with sporting events and contests, [thus] the Olympics began as a festival to honor Zeus, [ruler of all the gods]" (69).

Curriculum Connections

This book does a fabulous job uncovering history for children with vivid images, quirky captions, and easy to understand examples, but it also serves as a superb reference tool.  Children could easily utilize this guide when studying, writing about, or researching Ancient Greece and/ or how the country contributed to the creation of the Olympics Games as we know them today (VA SOL 3.1).  The authors provide frequent summaries recapping what prior pages have revealed, pronunciations of unfamiliar vocabulary, as well as italicized and bold terms with definitions that are crucial to the book's understanding.  For example, as the authors describe Athens, they tell readers that "Ancient Athens was divided into about 300 city-states, or poleis (POE-lace)" (14).

Additional Resources

This kid friendly site offers simple summaries, interactive activities, fun facts, and quizzes for children all about Ancient Greece.

With this website, children can learn about the Ancient Greek influence on the English language as they "Go for the Gold" in the Olympic Games. 

This site presents teachers with a mini-unit on theOlympics in Ancient Greece.  Each day is planned out as students meet the Olympians, prepare for various Olympic games, experience the traditional "Opening and Closing Procession" and so much more! 

Book: Ancient Greece and the Olympics: A Nonfiction Companion to Hour of the Olympics

Authors: Mary Pope Osborne and Natalie Pope Boyce

Illustrator: Sal Murdocca

Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers

Publication Date: June 8, 2004

Pages: 128

Grade Range: Recommended Ages 6-10

ISBN: 978-0375823787