The Golden Bull {Book Review}

The Golden Bull book review

The Golden bull is a staple in our house, with it being read aloud (or read alone) each time we study Mesopotamia. There is very little good fiction set in Ancient Mesopotamia. And to be honest, not much has changed over the last decade or so. It’s a shame because we love to learn about ancient history using great literature.  The Golden Bull is a fiction book written by Marjorie Cowley (see the end of the post for more of her books).  

Do check out my MEGA Mesopotamia Unit Study post to find out where The Golden Bull fits into the history of Mesopotamia. This huge post has lots of printables, videos, science experiments and, as always, stacks of suggestions for easy hands on activities you can do with your children! I am always adding new stuff to this post so do go and check it out.

The Golden Bull is a simply written book, with extremely short chapters. This makes it perfect for emergent readers or as a read aloud for younger children.  It describes many aspects of polytheism, which may be a problem for some. As Christians, we are happy for our children to read about mythical tales and historical religions different from our own but only once they are fairly strong in their own faith. In this case, I would be happy for our children aged around 8 plus to read The Golden Bull alone. However, any younger and I would choose to read it to them so that I could answer the inevitable questions that arise.

The Golden Bull

What is The Golden Bull About?

Life is particularly hard in the countryside for 14-year-old Jamar and his family. Crops are failing because of a long-lasting drought and starvation is a very real possibility. Hoping for a better life for their children, Jamar’s parents send him and his sister to the ancient Sumerian city-state of Ur. Here, Jamar will apprentice Sidah, a master goldsmith for the temple of the moon-god.

His sister, a gifted but untrained musician, is not wanted in Sidah’s household and has no apprenticeship to call her own. A condition of being allowed to stay in the city of Ur is being apprenticed to someone. Because of this, Zefa is constantly at threat of eviction out of the city walls.

Jomar enjoys his work assisting the goldsmith with crafting a magnificent gold and lapis lazuli bull. This golden bull will embellish a special lyre to be used in the temple. His sister is less fortunate. And when she is accused of stealing a priceless lapis lazuli bead, she must face almost certain death at the hands of the sacred River Euphrates. She will be thrown into the depths of the river to determine her guilt or innocence…

How We Used The Golden Bull

Where is it Set?

We brought out our huge map and found where Mesopotamia had been situated all those years ago:

Mesopotamia on the Map

Read More: I’ve written a post all about how we made our Mesopotamian paper mache map and painted it, along with two videos demonstrating the process.

The Golden Bull Study Guide

The author of The Golden Bull has written a study guide to go with the book. We downloaded and printed it out. After we had finished the book, we took a look at the discussion guide and worked our way through it. Feel free to download it below. We used our morning meetings for our discussions.

Return to Eden

We’ve always enjoyed the Lost Civilisation videos and this one is particularly good. We used the following guided questions based on the video.  These can be obtained from here free. This is a really fun activity and could easily be slotted into a relaxed Friday as it doesn’t require too much out of your students!

Hands on Activities Related to The Golden Bull

  • Making our own gold covered bull’s head.  We attempted to replicate the Golden Bull on the cover of my copy, using clay and paint.  This was to be similar to the one Jomar and Sidar adorned the golden lyre within the story:
The Golden Bull
The Golden Bull

What Did We Think of The Golden Bull?

This is a difficult question to answer. Unlike Ancient Egypt, where one has a multitude of historical fiction to choose from, there is little written about Ancient Mesopotamia. The lack of choice means that one must take what one can where one can get it. The Golden Bull is not the best historical fiction in terms of the writing or the story. It didn’t grab my children’s attention, although they all read it happily enough. Would I recommend it? You know, in the absence of anything else to recommend, I would. It contains a lot of Mesopotamia historical nuggets, which automatically lends itself well to a homeschool study. However, it’s not the most exhilarating or exciting of books. Also the character development lacked considerably because there was no one character that was likeable enough to become invested in their story.

Other Books by Marjorie Cowley

Apart from The Golden Bull, Cowley has written three other books. These are historical fiction for children. Firstly, we have a book set 10,000 years ago called Dar and the Spear Thrower. It is a coming of age story of a young man who is trying to forge ahead in life, independent from his family. Secondly, Wind on the Water which is not set during a historic time in the past. However, it contains much of historic interest regarding the Pacific Northwest Indians. In particular, it focuses on the Seattle historic canoe race on the Puget Sound. And, lastly, Anooka’s Answer, which is set during the Stone Age. This book is all about Anooka and her gift for making animals from the river bed mud.

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