Children get tome on Games’ history

“Despina and the Dove,» by renowned Greek children’s writer Eugene Trivizas, packages historical information about the Olympic Games in a story format that will appeal to children. It is co-published by Ellinika Grammata and the Athens 2004 Organizing Committee. A big blue hardback, the book opens with three shadows – the specter of war, the demon of dissent and the ogre of arrogance, terror and intolerance – meeting to plot against the Olympic Games by poisoning children’s souls. But listening in on their nefarious plans is the dove of the title. Spotted, it is chased, and ends up wounded in the room of a little girl called Despina. To save the world from the malicious anti-Olympic spirits, the dove and Despina set out on a journey (Despina is borne on a flying olive tree) to visit Olympics past, present and future. Thus the reader gets an overview of Ancient Olympia, the legend of the Games’ origins (they were instituted by Hercules, who this time made others do the work: He asked his brothers, the Idaean Dactyls, to compete in a foot race, then crowned the winner with a wreath of wild olive). Next comes a description of Spyros Louis’s victory in the 1896 Games, followed by quick spin through succeeding Olympics. The didactic purpose of the book is explicit here; wisely, the author leaves explanations of terms (in red) to a section at the end. Meanwhile, the cohorts of evil are summoned up, demons with lip-smacking names like slugsloths, cheatsneaks, hackwacks and spitescabs, to whisper into children’s ears the joys of instant gratification and cheating, among other evils. So what happens? Ah, says the book: «Only you can write the end of this story.» Originally, the book was written for a short-story competition (deadline June 15), but it can still be used as a stimulus for children to write tales on resisting (or succumbing to) temptation. Two board games complete the book. One is on positive and negative Olympic mottoes: Sneakingly, one feels that «Kick you opponent on the shin and you will certainly win» is rather more appealing than «The Olympic spirit brings humankind under its wings.» The trouble is the demons (superbly illustrated by Natalia Kapatsoulia) are hellishly attractive. Against them is the admittedly cute dove and Despina (illustrator Maro Alexandrou) and the noble (but with less wicked appeal) Olympic cohorts (illustrator Spyros Gousis). If a slugsloth whispers sweet words of lassitude into my ear, I fear I know what the answer will be.

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