Six mind-blowing books about ancient myths and legends

Published on: 15 December 2021

From the tombs of the Pharaoh to the legend of Medusa, houses with legs to shape-shifting animals, we're endlessly fascinated by ancient myth and magic from all over the world. Author and illustrator Joe Todd-Stanton shares some of his favourites.

Joe Todd Stanton and a collection of his booksJoe Todd-Stanton and a collection of his books

Tintin: Cigars of the Pharaoh by Hergé  

I was completely obsessed with Tintin as a child and this book was my favourite. Something I think is so great about all the Tintin books is how on their surface they are pure adventure but they inspire the reader to learn more about the world Tintin discovers. This book was no different and i ended up convincing my mum to buy other books about Egyptian mythology so I could discover the story that inspired Hergé - the 1922 discovery of Pharaoh Tutankhamun's tomb and the urban myth than anyone connected with the discovery was cursed.   

Illustration: Hergé Illustration: Hergé 

Greek Myths for Young Children by Marcia Williams  

A beautiful book that takes the most famous Greek myths and makes them fun and easy to digest. Marcia Williams uses a comic book format to tell each story and doesn’t shy away from the darker elements without it ever being too much for a child to process. My favourite was always Arachne. It showed me how the Greeks believed the gods could be just as spiteful and vain as humans which inspired the story of my last book Leo and the Gorgon’s Curse.  

Illustration: Marcia WilliamsIllustration: Marcia Williams

Goliath by Tom Gauld   

I love books about mythology that take a well loved story that’s been told a thousand times and completely flip it on its head. This lovely short comic is one of the best examples of this. Using the characters from David and Goliath, Tom Gauld shows us the story from the other side of battle. Revealing the life of a larger than average man who just wanted to be left alone and work in admin. It's sensitive, funny and poignant.  

Illustration: Tom GauldIllustration: Tom Gauld

Russian Folk Tales by Ivan Bilibin    

A large collection of Russian mythology and folklore illustrated by Ivan Bilibin. My great aunt bought me this for Christmas and it was one of those books that is so old-looking and beautifully made that as a child I felt like it must contain some kind of magic. The illustrations of Baba Yaga and her chicken leg house will stay with me forever.  

Egyptology by Emily Sands (Dugald Steer and Nick Harris, illustrated by Helen Ward)

Like the last recommendation this is another book that, as a child, you feel must contain some kind of magic. The illustrations and design of the book are made to look an ancient artefact and the information is presented through the lens of an explorer (Emily Sands) as she hunts for the tomb of the god Osiris, which is a perfect way to get a child invested in learning about mythology. 

Illustration: Helen Ward Illustration: Helen Ward 

The Book of Yokai: Mysterious Creatures of Japanese Folklore by Michael Dylan Foster and Shinonome Kijin  

An amazing collection of Japanese mythical creatures. This is the perfect kind of book to just open at random and start reading. From shape-shifting foxes to long-tongued ceiling-lickers every spread has something extraordinary to offer and many are accompanied with intricate traditional woodblock illustrations. Even as a paper back this book is strangely expensive but I think it’s possible to find secondhand copies online. 

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