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Friday, September 28, 2012

Best Greek Mythology Graphic Novels Ever!

If you teach Greek mythology, like Greek mythology, are interested in Greek mythology, or basically are breathing and are literate, you need to check out the series of graphic novels by George O'Connor.  The series is published by First Second books, which has to be consistantly the most excellently selective publisher of graphic novels out there.  They understand what makes for a great graphic novels, and their list shows it.

Anyway, George O'Connor has at least four books out so far:  Zeus: King of the Gods; Hera: The Goddess in her Glory; Athena:  Grey-eved Goddess; and Hades: Lord of the Dead with Posiedon due out any day now.  Each book brings together a plethera of different sources to present a completely compelling tale of that Greek god or goddess that usually frames them in a new way.  

In Zeus, for example, the creation story is told, including the story of the youg gods and godesses rebelling agains their evil father Chronos.  What I found fascinating about this book was the depiction of Zeus as a young man (actually, he looks a little like a California surfer dude.)  Zeus's youth and immaturity grow in the course of the book into responsibility and determination.  The drawings are amazing and give a sense of the drama and excitement of the battle.  
     The book also shows the beginning of Zeus's courtship of Hera.  Their relationship is continued in Hera.

I wish I knew how O'Connor manages to pull it off -- but this has to be the most sympathetic portrayal of Hera I have ever read.  Usually she comes off as an annoying, crabby, shrewish wife (which has always seemed unfair to me given that Zeus has got to be the definition of an unfaithful husband. ).  Here we see how smart (and kind) she can be as we follow the labors of Heracles.  Hera works behind the scenes to ensure that Heracles learns through his labors to use not only his brawn, but his brain as well (so that he can live up to his name and truely be "The Glory of Hera").  When I field tested this book on upper elementary students I was amazed how carefully they read both the text and the images. For that reason, I really appreciate O'Connor's care in depicting (or actually not depicting) violence and sex.  There is plenty of violence here, but little gore.  And although we see Zeus unfaithfully wooing (and wooing, and wooing), that is all we see. 


The care O'Connor takes in constructing his stories comes through clearly in the way he weaves together the story of Athena.  Each part of the story, each page layout, and each individual panel contribute to the overall tale.  It is nearly poetic in the way that nothing is left out.  This story weaves together several stories including Perseus, Arachne, and a couple of different versions of how Athena got the name Pallas -- but the whole thing works together as one coherant narrative.  


O'Connor has conceived of these books as a connected series and is passionate about getting them right.  I have also been amazed how they keep getting better with each one.  I found the story of Hades to be the most compelling and well developed so far. Based on what I have heard about the upcoming one, Poseidon, which is due out this coming March, it may surpass his previous work yet again.   O'Connor tells the story in the first person from Poseidon's point of view.  This stuff just keps getting better and better.

Collectively, these would be most perfect for language arts teachers, but social studies teachers could use them too.  I have seen an excellent fourth grade reader devour these and have also had good reports from my high school daughter and my college students who have read them -- so they really appeal to a pretty broad range of readers. Go buy them from an independent bookstore near you as soon as you can. 


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