Book Box: The Odyssey. Channel 4. Mondays and Wednesdays 9.45-10am. Age range: 7-11.
The Odyssey is one of the key works of European literature and among the easiest to enjoy. This animated version, designed for seven to 11-year-olds, is a reminder both of how accessible the Homeric epic is and how deeply the events of Odysseus' wanderings are embedded in European culture: reference to the Cyclops, Circe, Calypso and the rest are to be found everywhere in art and literature since classical times. This animation is as good a way as any to become acquainted with them.
It begins with a summary of the events of the Trojan War and the start of the Ithacans' journey home, covering the Lotus Eaters, the Cyclops, Aeolus, Circe and Calypso; the last two episodes tell of Odysseus' actions once home.
The technique used is two-dimensional drawn animation and the style is that of a well-illustrated children's book: colourful, bold and simple to read for children of the target age group - though not strikingly original.
The accompanying teachers' guide suggests using the animated films in conjunction with written versions of the story, to emphasise the contrasts in language and form. It shows how this can be likened to other topics on the curriculum, giving hints for extension work with history, language, geography, PSE and art. The booklet also contains photocopiable activity sheets with further develop-ments for each episode, either to find out more about life in classical times, or to analyse the story and extend vocabulary.
Some of the fun activities seem rather demanding for young children ("Build a model of a raft capable of carrying a prescribed weight for a certain distance"), while others give in to the temptation to over-stretch a particular task to fit in as much learning as possible. But teachers will be able to judge what their own pupils can do.
The series is accompanied by a story book, written by Sally Humble-Jackson. The chapters follow the eight episodes of the television film, so the book could be incorporated into the teach-ing plan for the series, or read afterwards, as a reminder of the events and a further example of narrative form. But this is a story designed first and foremost to give pleasure to the audience, whatever its age.
The film is now available on video for pound;19.99. The teacher's guide costs pound;3.95; the 'Odyssey' story book, pound;6.95 (pound;5.95 if bought in sets of five or more). All these resources can be obtained from Channel 4 Schools, PO Box 100, Warwick, CV 34 6TZ; tel: 01926 436 444