Whether you’re a Heathen, Ásatrúar, or ADF Druid with a Norse hearth culture, I hope you find this guide to teaching kids Norse mythology helpful in some way. My first exposure to Norse mythology was “Nordic Gods and Heroes” by Padraic Colum which I recommend highly. Yet here, I have only reviewed books with lots of illustrations, to really capture the interest of young children. One well illustrated mythology book can go a long way in teaching children the lore and providing a sense of wonder and understanding.
D’Aulaires’ Book of Norse Myths (for ages 5 to 9)
After much thought and trepidation, I finally decided to suggest this book. The pluses outweigh the minuses, and so here it is. For the younger ages, this is the book of Norse mythology. The old fashioned colored pencil illustrations are enchanting, and there is a good balance of words to pictures to keep young children interested. At the youngest stage, kids mostly want to look at the colorful pages and repeat the names of what they see. At the beginning of this book, they will see all the characters of the myths lined up together with their names written above their heads. The endpapers display a map of the Nine Worlds, a great aid in learning Norse cosmology.
I have heard of people being so enthralled with this book that they site it as the reason they grew up to be Ásatrúar. Having said that, I with tell you about the deep flaw; it contains anti-pagan biases that I find heart breaking. (Which is strange, since D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths doesn’t seem to have any such bias.) Just to give you some idea of what I’m talking about, here’s a quote from the introduction- “A thousand years ago, when Christianity conquered the north, the Aesir gods perished. They met their destiny on the day of Ragnarokk…” -which is mild compared to this quote from the final chapter- “Lif and Lifthrasir did not lift their heads and hands in prayer to the Aesir gods. The prayed to God Almighty, who stepped out from above to rule all the worlds in eternity.”
Other parts of the book are quite enjoyable, if you can ignore the way Ragnarok is mentioned as something that already happened, and the fact that the deities are always spoken of in the past tense. If you decide to look into this book despite the flaws, try to find it cheap at a used book store or from the public library and avoid reading the introduction and the final two chapters. (I wouldn’t blame you if you ripped those pages out of your own copy.)
Gods & Heroes from Viking Mythology by Brian Branston
If you can only buy one picture book of Norse mythology for your children, get this one. It is excellent. There is no anti-pagan bias. The stories are told with much eloquence, in a narrative prose; as “High One” speaks to king Gylfi of Sweden. The publisher gives no age recommendations, but since the stories have such rich descriptive language and detail, I suspect it was written with older children in mind.
However, even young children with short attention spans would be in awe of the pictures, which are detailed and beautiful. There are twenty four color pictures and fifty line drawings gracing the pages. The title page and facing page have drawings of the deities juxtaposed with twining branches of the Yggdrasill. This would be a great tool for teaching children the names of the deities, by pouring over this page (and others) and naming them one by one (like with D’Aulaires’ book). The contents page and facing page have panels illustrating scenes and symbols of many of the stories. This could be used as a “quiz” page once a child has become a bit familiar with the stories. A parent could ask “What story does this panel represent?”, then perhaps “Can you tell me the story from memory- or, how many details can you remember?” After several readings, you may want to ask “What does this story mean to you?” You may even later get into deep conversations about the symbolism and meanings behind the stories.
Remember that lack of anti-pagan bias I mentioned? Unlike in D’Aulaires’ Norse Myths, in this book, Ragnarok has not yet happened. Here, a much different conclusion of a post-Ragnarok world is foretold… “The Æsir will rise to a new Asgard and meet like old friends in their old former haunts in Idavale…”
So, those are the two books of mythology I recommend. I think that they are inspiring enough that no others are really needed. Read them, and use the pictures as flash cards- quiz cards- conversation starters. Its as simple as that. Kids will also learn about the deities by participating in family (or community) rituals in which the deities are hailed, praised, and prayed to. The mythologies of some deities may even be included in High Day celebrations through story-telling and drama. I didn’t give any teen recommendations because by the time your child is a teenager, he may be reading the Eddas, or picking out her own books. At any rate, by that time she or he will know the basic myths (probably by heart), which is the goal.
For further inspiration, print out Norse deity coloring pages from the internet, or get the Norse Gods and Goddesses Dover Coloring Book. Coloring pages give kids the chance to personalize their own deity images for their altar. Another great way to reinforce the lore is through music. The Heathen Songbook Online has a wonderful selection of children’s songs. Also, check out this Norse creation story at Mystic Journeys, and Odin and the Lords of Asgard on History.com.