My three and a half year old is a precocious devourer of stories and will listen as happily to The Cat In The Hat as she will to The Lord Of The Rings (which can get a bit exhausting to read aloud, night after night– especially as the chapters are quite long.)
So to satisfy her love of complex plot lines and superheroic magical characters who fly, shoot arrows and throw thundrbolts, etc, we picked up a copy of the 1967 classic volume chronicling the exploits of the Norse gods and goddesses (and giants and trolls and other creatures) by the D’Aulaire family.
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The stories in D’Aulaires’ Book of Norse Myths are told in a straightforward but by no means condescending manner (ah, the 60′s when it was cool to smite your enemy with a giant hammer) and the illustrations are themselves works of genius, striking a perfect balance between beautiful and strange. Which is probably what these creatures would have actually been like, had they ever really roamed the earth.
My kid can now casually discuss the difference between a jotun and the aesir and makes reference to Thor whenever thunder strikes. And I get to brush up on a bunch of old stories that I actually never really knew, so I don’t get bored reading them over and over (which is worth more than I can even relate in words.) They also have a book of Greek myths that is equally compelling.
Back in print after 20 years, you can probably pick up a copy just about anywhere, though I always check Alibris for used copies in good condition as the price is always right and secondhand is the way I like to go.