By Marilyn Singer, illustrated by Josée Masse, Dial, $16.99, ages 6-9
Public service announcement: If you don’t have “D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths,” Ingri and Edgar d’Aulaires’ 1962 classic, evocatively illustrated, memory-making collection of retellings sitting on your bookshelf, borrow or buy one as soon as you can.
For those who either have exhausted or haven’t cracked “D’Aulaires,’ ” Marilyn Singer’s “Echo Echo,” illustrated by Josée Masse, is the perfect supplement or introduction to Pandora, King Midas, Icarus, and the rest of the bunch of fantastically flawed gods, monsters, and mortals. At first, Singer’s crafty form for telling their stories seems like a gimmick that won’t work. There are pairs of “reverso” poems on each spread, which read the same — line by line — forward and backward. Singer has used the form before in two books about fairy tales — “Follow Follow” and “Mirror Mirror,” also illustrated by Masse.
When I first explained the premise to my 5-year-old he said, “That sounds hard!” Hard to write, maybe, but easy and rewarding to read, especially for early readers who are eager to play with words (palindromes and even sestinas are terrific for this age). The best part is that the reversos turn out to be not a gimmick at all, but a storytelling device. Each pair of poems tells the story of two characters from Greek myths. The first poem tells the story from one character’s point of view. The second poem reflects, in mirror form, the story from the other character’s point of view. There’s Narcissus, who fell in love with his own reflection (“Leave me, foolish pursuer! I will forever be the only one that I desire”) and Echo, who loved him (“I desire that one only. I will forever be the foolish pursuer”); and my favorite mythic pair, Eurydice (“pain leading to promise, gray gloom fading to light!”) and Orpheus (“Light fading to gray gloom, promise leading to pain”). Brief summaries of the myths at the bottom of each page fill in the missing plot points. And the illustrations for each set of poems double down on the dual perspectives. The pages are divided in horizontal and vertical halves, colored with Grecian blues and golds, artfully joined to tell one story two ways. They’re felicitous complements to the book’s daring form, one that honors divergent perspectives.