Second only to fairy tales, Greek mythology is a favorite of mine. A few years ago, I created a post featuring reference books, story collections and retellings of The Iliad and The Odyssey for kids that you can read here. And, while I love Greek mythology, I am very picky about what I choose to read, give my kids to read and, now as a school librarian, purchase for my students to read. I am grateful to Rick Riordan for making Greek mythology interesting to kids in a huge way, but I am not always happy with the ways that he tweaks the myths. And, while my personal taste does not keep these books - or the graphic editions - off the shelves, I am thrilled that my students share my taste, making George O'Connor's SUPERB Olympians series of graphic novels the most checked out in my library.
O'Connor is a true scholar of Greek myths and this is evident in each of his books, from the various stories about each god and goddess that he chooses to present in each book to the way he frames these stories and connects them to the excellent back matter, starting with the Author's Note, god/goddess stats, "Greek Notes," which are footnotes that add a wealth of information to the stories, and discussion questions. The frontmatter always includes an extensive Olympians Family Tree. And, while I can't be sure if my students are reading these excellent extras, I do know that they are more likely to consume this information at the end of these graphic novels than they are to pick up D'Aulaire's Greek Myths or other collections, both because of its massive size and outdated appearance. Be sure to visit O'Connor's website, Olympians Rule, where you can read excepts from each book and find more extras to go with each book in the series, like Reader's Theater scripts, an "Add Art or Text" feather that provides a page of illustrated panels with blank speech bubbles OR a page of speech bubbles allowing you to draw in your own gods and goddesses.
O'Connor begins Apollo: The Brilliant One with a quote from The Odyssey, "O Muse! Sing in me, and through me tell a story." Apollo's story begins with one of the Mousai, the nine goddesses of inspiration, or, the Muses. As I read Apollo, I wondered how O'Connor chose the stories that he shares and what order to share them in. Happily, his Author's Note answered that question, which is lengthy but so illuminating. O'Connor writes,
I felt I had to find the thread of what made Apollo compelling, not just as the central character of this book, but as a widely revered god in the ancient world. Ultimately, , inspiration did strike - the nature of the stories told about Apollo is exactly what makes him so interesting to others and to me. He is not some bland, perfect deity; he is conflicted, malicious, and spiteful. He is unknowable in his inhumanity, yet simultaneously relatable. Through research and immersion, the personality of shining Apollo revealed itself to me: an imperfect, proud, brilliant god, resplendent in his glory and unashamed of his pettiness.
For me, O'Connor's description of Apollo also perfectly explains why the Greek myths have endured for thousands of years and are still infinitely interesting and relevant, to both adults and children.
Born of the she-wolf, Leto, and Zeus, Apollo and his twin sister Artemis's birth story is fascinating. As children, they are taken before their father who asked them what "gifts they desired, what they would become." Artemis, who was born first and, in the way that gods and goddesses do, helped Leto deliver her brother nine days later, wants to remain unmarried forever. She wants to hunt with a silver bow and arrows and run wild through the woods with her "own entourage of Oceanides, nymphs and hounds." Apollo refuses to answer. Zeus gives him a "bow to match his sister's. A golden tripod. A chariot pulled by swans to carry him wherever he wished."
The Muses get a nice bit of page time which includes listing the artistic endeavors they are the inspirations for. The story of Apollo and Daphne, subject of many works of art including Bernini's magnificent sculpture, and the story of Apollo and Hyacinth are both filled with action and emotion. My favorite tale is presented by Clio, the Muse of History, and so much of it is part of our everyday lives today. Apollo fell in love with a mortal woman, the Thessalian princess Koronis. He leaves a white crow to watch over her and, when this crow reports her infidelity, Apollo's rage "scorches the very air around him," which is why all crows are now black. Apollo's ego - and his deep love for his child (another crazy awesome birth story there...) make for a very compelling myth. Turns out, Asklepios, Apollo's son, is raised by Chiron, a centaur and great healer who basically trains Asklepios to be the first human doctor! In turn, Asklepios trains his daughters, Hygeia and Panacea (what what??) to be doctors! Asklepios's sad end is almost as gripping as his strange birth. But I'll leave that for you to discover!
God Stats, found in every book!
Source: Review Copy