The Story of Antigone
Publisher: Pushkin Children's Books
For their Save the Story series, Pushkin’s Children’s Books has commissioned a number of writers to retell classic stories for contemporary young audiences. Ali Smith's wonderfully presented adaptation of Sophocles's play opens on a battlefield with a crow contemplating which bit of a fallen soldier she might like to eat first. As she ponders her breakfast, two young girls - Antigone and her sister Ismene - exit the city gates and plan to bury their brother, a prince killed in the recent combat, against the wishes of their uncle King Creon. This is a dark beginning, and the story doesn’t get much brighter: there’s certainly a reason they’re called tragedies, and suffice it to say, there’s no happy ending.
This is not a dismal telling, however, and Smith breathes a great deal of humour into the story (though it tends to be of the gallows variety). The crow, in particular, seems to take great pleasure in the body count - it does, after all, mean that she’s got plenty to feed her chicks with. Smith’s handling of the story is accomplished, skilfully drawing out the themes of revenge and justice with an admirable lightness of touch, and Laura Paoletti’s illustrations make for an atmospheric accompaniment. A bloody but beautiful retelling which will be enjoyed as much by adults as by children.