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Greek Heroes Come Alive for Kids

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SOFIA ZARAMBOUKA has only one recipe for writing and illustrating children's books: ``Have fun.'' ``If you don't have fun, children understand that,'' says the author who lives in Athens.

Specializing in classical themes, Ms. Zarambouka recently published the ``Iliad'' and the ``Odyssey'' (in Greek) for children, which prompted several Greek scholars of Homer to take note.

The people of Greece enjoy the classical literature ``very much. It's close to their culture,'' said the vivacious author during a reception here at Wheelock College where her ``Iliad'' and ``Odyssey'' paintings were recently on view.

One of the best known children's book authors in Greece, Zarambouka has written and illustrated 32 books that have an estimated circulation of 500,000. Her works have been translated into Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, German, Japanese, Hungarian, Spanish, and English. (Only one, ``Irene-Peace,'' was published in the United States in 1979.)

Without having had any formal childhood education training, Zarambouka is able to ``touch a four-year-old and a 14-year-old,'' says Mary Iatridis, early childhood professor at Wheelock College, who helped organize the exhibition. ``While her texts are pretty faithful to history, her pictures give the imagination and creativity,'' she adds.

``She's a fine artist ... very original,'' adds Despina Croussouloudis, assistant librarian in the New York Public Library's central children's room, which has some of Zarambouka's books.

Although the ```Iliad' has a lot of war,'' Zarambouka says she likes to promote peace and understanding as underlying themes in her books. ``Most of my books have these ideas without starting [with] them,'' she says.

One series she wrote for children was based on the works of Aristophanes, a Greek writer of satirical comic dramas (circa 450-322 BC). ``People were interested in how I would do them for children,'' because of some inappropriate subject matter and language, Zarambouka explains. The often-humorous stories capture the same spirit of the orignial plays. In her version of Aristophanes's ``Lysistrata,'' for example, women revolt against war by saying to the men: ``No love until the war stops.... They won't hug their husbands until the war stops,'' says Zarambouka. When the war does stop, ``there is a lot of cheek-to-cheek dancing!'' she says.


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