The Characters from Murder at Mykenai

Before I review Murder at Mykenai by Catherine Mayo, I would like to discuss the people she is writing about. She has chosen to set the story in Bronze Age Greece and focuses on two of the main characters from the Trojan War, Odysseus and Menelaos, while they are still teenagers. This is perhaps 10-20 years before Paris abducts Helen, Menelaos’ future wife, and sets the Trojan War in action. We are briefly introduced to Helen and also Klytemnestra, who later becomes the wife of Agamemnon, Menelaos’ older brother. Note that the spelling used here is consistent with that used by Mayo who has chosen to use transliterations close to the Ancient Greek forms.

To put everyone in the picture, here is a summarised version of Menelaos’ family tree and includes both Menelaos’ and Agamemnon’s future wives, who just happen to be sisters, twins in fact. But while Klytemnestra is human and the daughter of Leda and Tyndareus, Helen is the daughter of Leda and Zeus.

Menelaos Family Tree

Odysseus’ summarised family tree follows, also showing his future wife, Penelope, who happens to be the cousin of Helen and Klytemnestra. 

Odysseus Family Tree

Given the connections between the three families shown in the family trees it is possible to imagine that they may have known each other from an early age. Mayo has made use of this possibility in Murder at Mykenai and created a plausible scenario which I will discuss in my next post.

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Greek Mythology

Heracles in the cup of Helios (Sun) Photo by Sebastia Giralt

Heracles in the cup of Helios (Sun) Photo by Sebastia Giralt

As mentioned in my last post, this year is all about myths, legends and folktales. I’m going to start off with Greek Mythology but where to start? The field is huge. When I was at high school I found a book in my mother’s bookshelf called The Myths of Greece and Rome. I hadn’t had any exposure to Greek mythology to this point and so when I found it I got quite excited. Ultimately, I couldn’t read it because everything was so alien. I suppose I’d heard of Hercules (Heracles), Zeus, Poseidon, Aphrodite (as Venus), Odysseus and Achilles but I’m sure I knew nothing about the other fascinating characters. I don’t remember Perseus, Hera, or even Paris, and Helen was just the “face that sank a thousand ships” but I didn’t know what that meant. I have spent the last few years filling in a few of those gaps and, even though I am still just scratching the surface, the search has been very rewarding and I will continue.

This site is for teachers, librarians, parents and students and I’ve been wondering how best to approach the topic of Greek Mythology. I think students today are much more aware than I was of aspects of Greek Mythology: subject choices in years 7-10 are wider than when I was at school and the internet means the information is available with one click for anyone who’s interested. For me there are two possible approaches:

  1. The big topics like the Olympians (the most important Greek gods and goddesses who lived on Mt Olympus), Hercules, the Odyssey and the Iliad (the Trojan War) and perhaps Perseus or Jason and the Argonauts.
  2. Or a focus on smaller stories such as those about Diana (Atalanta) and the Golden Apples, or Demeter and Persephone, or perhaps the story of the Minotaur

The remainder of this post provides a few ideas to start exploring this fascinating world. As this site is also about NZ children’s books, my next post will review the book Murder at Mykenai by NZ author Catherine Mayo. Mayo focuses on a time before the Trojan War when the key players in that event were still teenagers.

The 12 Olympians (Roman names in brackets):

  1. Zeus (Jupiter): King of all the gods, God of Weather, protector and ruler of humankind, dispenser of law and order. Symbols: thunderbolt and eagle
  2. Hera (Juno): Goddess of Marriage and Motherhood, married to Zeus. Symbols: sceptre, peacock and crown
  3. Aphrodite (Venus): Goddess of Love and Beauty. Symbol: dove
  4. Ares (Mars): God of War. Symbols: spear, helmet, shield
  5. Artemis (Diana): Goddess of the Hunt. Symbols: wild animals, bow and arrow
  6. Hermes (Mercury): Messenger God, accompanied souls to the Underworld, a trickster. Symbols: winged feet/boots/sandals, wide brimmed hat or sometimes winged cap
  7. Poseidon (Neptune): God of the Sea. Symbols: trident, sea creatures, horses, bulls
  8. Hephaestus (Vulcan): God of Fire and Forge, a blacksmith, lame. Symbols: hammer, anvil
  9. Apollo (Apollo): God of the Sun and Music, prophecy, healing. Symbols: bow and arrow, lyre, laurel
  10. Athena (Minerva): Goddess of Wisdom and War (more strategic and tactical than physical) highly intelligent. Symbols: owl, helmet, spear, shield
  11. Demeter (Ceres): Goddess of the Earth and Harvest, the Corn Goddess. Symbols: torches, corn, sometimes a serpent
  12. Dionysus (Bacchus): God of Wine, merry making. Symbols: vine, panther/leopard

Because Hades (Pluto), God of the Underworld, lived in the Underworld and not on Mt Olympus he is not usually classed as one of the Olympians. Symbol: helmet that rendered the wearer invisible.

The Twelve Labours of Heracles (Hercules):

Labour 1: The Nemean Lion

Labour 2: The Lernaean Hydra (The Hydra of Lerna)

Labour 3: The Hind of Ceryneia

Labour 4: The Erymanthian Boar

Labour 5: The Stables of Augias

Labour 6: The Stymphalian Birds

Labour 7: The Cretan Bull

Labour 8: The Mares of Diomedes

Labour 9: The Girdle of Queen Hippolyta

Labour 10: The Cattle of Geryon

Labour 11: The Golden Apples of Hesperides

Labour 12: Cerberus

For more information on the 12 Labours of Heracles try these sites:

Diana (Atalanta) and the Golden Apples:

Compare two versions of this story. The first one is a YouTube video aimed at children and the second is based on the original version which was a lot more ruthless!

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NZ Children’s Book Reviews welcomes in 2014

Well, 2013 has been and gone and not one book review from me – sigh! All good intentions were blasted away with a new job, studying for a Graduate Certificate in Children’s Literature and just general busy-ness. But now we are into a new year and I am refreshed (after having read six books in a week including the fantastic Hunger Games trilogy) and ready to launch into a new round of book reviews.

My intention for 2013 was to focus on myths, legends, fairy/folktales and fantasy but as that never eventuated I will retain this focus for 2014. New Zealand has some of the best children’s fantasy authors in the world – Sherryl Jordan, Fleur Beale and Barbara Else to name just three. Not only that, we also have authors reworking myths, legends and folktales from around the world, giving me a solid pool of works to call on.

A reminder about how the site works. It is primarily aimed at teachers, librarians, parents and students in Years 7-10. I will review around a book a month including an interview with the author if I can get it. Links to teaching notes, if available, will also be provided as well as links to other websites that may be of interest to you. I will be working a little differently this year by giving some background on different myths, legends and folktales before the book review. I hope you will find plenty to work with. As a heads up I will be starting with Greek mythology and hope to have my first post up by the start of the school year.

A note about the site header: This gorgeous image is by Vojtech Kubasta from the book Once Long Ago – a book of folk and fairytales of the world retold by Roger Lancelyn Green. This was my favourite book as a child, which we completely destroyed because we read it so much. For years I’ve been trying to find another copy and finally did, managing to convince my family it could be my 2012 birthday and Christmas present. My favourite story was Coat of Rushes and the header image above one of my favourite illustrations.

Happy reading, everyone! Please share this link with other teachers, librarians and parents, especially those who have an interest in myths, legends and folktales.

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Some exciting personal news from NZ Children’s Book Reviews

Just recently I put my first children’s book, The Rose and the Daisy, on Amazon as an e-book and I wanted to let you know that it is free here until Wednesday if you would like a copy. The Rose and the Daisy is an original fairytale aimed at children aged 8-12. I am also working on my own website ( which will feature my books, particularly the magical adventure stories I write for girls.

A bit about The Rose and the Daisy:

The Rose and the DaisyPrincess Samantha and Prince Joe are strangers, living in neighbouring kingdoms. They have each been sent by their fathers on separate missions to retrieve The Book of Secrets. The finder of The Book of Secrets will be able to reunite the two kingdoms into one. Join Princess Samantha and Prince Joe on their adventure and find out who gets there first. And is everything as straightforward as it seems? The Rose and the Daisy is Book 1 in The Book of Secrets. Book 2, Journey to Torca, is also available on Amazon.

Next week I am back to reviewing and will start with Margaret Mahy’s The Magician of Hoad.

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New Look for NZ Children’s Book Reviews

Yes, you are still at NZ Children’s Book Reviews! Nothing has changed except for the new look. In 2013 I will be focusing on myths, legends, fairytales and fantasy so I thought the site should reflect the new focus. The gorgeous image is by Vojtech Kubasta from the book Once Long Ago – a book of folk and fairytales of the world retold by Roger Lancelyn Green. This was my favourite book as a child, which we completely destroyed because we read it so much. For years I’ve been trying to find another copy and finally did, managing to convince my family it could be my birthday and Christmas present. My favourite story was Coat of Rushes and this is the story I’ve taken the image from.

The stories range from American Indian to Egyptian to Icelandic to Peruvian to Sudanese to Welsh and more. There are no Maori tales but one Polynesian one, The Bones of Djulung. From a modern perspective it’s hard to place the folktale in Polynesia (the location in the story is “an island of the South Seas”) – rice seems to be a staple food and a tree grows with a trunk of iron, leaves of silk, flowers of gold and fruit of diamonds. Djulung as a name also doesn’t fit with my knowledge (little though it is) of the Polynesian languages. That aside, it is a lovely story very much in a Cinderella-ish vein and evokes memories of days curled up on the bed with the book beside me.

My plan for the year is to still review a book a month. Mostly I will stay with New Zealand authors although, as there is such a rich variety of myth, legend, folktale and fantasy worldwide, I might stray every now and then. There is also a fascinating website I’d like to review so keep your eye out for that.

Please feel free to leave comments – I’d be paticularly interested in anyone’s take on The Bones of Djulung. Has anyone else read it? Do you know it’s actual origin?

Happy reading, teaching and sharing!

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NZ Children’s Book Reviews reviews “Reach” by Hugh Brown

As we approach the last day of 2012 I am writing my last review for the year. Things haven’t gone entirely to plan and I haven’t quite reached my goal of one review a month but I have done pretty well and have reviewed some spectacular New Zealand books. I am hoping I will get to interview Hugh Brown but I’m afraid that won’t be posted until January. And speaking of Hugh Brown…

by Hugh Brown
reviewed by Katharine Derrick

In the words of Kate de Goldi, Reach by Hugh Brown is a remarkable debut novel and I have to agree with her.

Living with his grandparents, sixteen-year-old Will Clark is still trying to understand why he was abandoned by his mother 5 years ago and why his father keeps him at arms’ length when Conway Jones enters his life. Now he has a new focus but Conway has a boyfriend. Add to this the reappearance of his mother at a nearby commune, and Will’s confusion and frustration deepens. With lively appearances by Hex the milking cow Reach addresses Will’s growing understanding of his world with lightness and humour.

This book is one both boys and girls will enjoy: there’s the nerdy maths guy, the “jock” and the nonchalant girls all the boys seem to be in love with. Will himself borders on the geeky bookworm. Yet underneath the surface each character is quite different from the person they appear to be in the schoolyard.

Brown seems to understand what it’s like to be a teenager – or perhaps he’s remembering what it’s like – either way his snapshot of teenage turmoil is a refreshing look at a turbulent time. Very enjoyable and highly recommended.

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NZ Children’s Book Reviews is still active!

It may look as if I’ve disappeared but what with finishing a batch of study (I now have my National Certificate in Adult Education and Training – phew what a mouthful!) and supervising NCEA exams I haven’t had time to read. Believe me I’m trying! I have Reach by Hugh Brown sitting right next to me and if I can get it read and reviewed by the end of November I’ll post it up. Any later and you’ll all have shut down for the year. Although I have no intention of closing this site so  I might just post it up when I finish regardless of the date and it’ll be ready for you in the new year.

I have exciting plans for next year – more study – this time a Graduate Certificate in Children’s Literature studying myths, legends and fantasy. That’ll mean a new focus at NZ Children’s Book Reviews for 2013. This year has been mostly about realistic stories (and mostly with male protagonists interestingly enough) so next year I’ll look at NZ fantasy fiction and also at some of the myths and legends (Maori and European) that have helped shape us and our stories. Should be exciting and I look forward to sharing my thoughts with you.


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