Archive for Graphic Novels

Zeus: King of the Gods, Book One of The Olympians

Zeus: King of the GodsZeus

 

Book One of The Olympians

Graphic novel

Ages 8 and up

By George O’Connor

80 pages

First Second

2010

 

 

George O’Connor has published several books, including picture books, graphic novels and middle readers. He’s also another talented Books of Wonder alum. Zeus: King of the Gods is the first in a planned twelve book series, one for each of the Greek gods who lived on Mount Olympus. Hera: The Goddess and Her Glory, Athena: Grey-Eyed Goddess and Hades:Lord of the Dead have already followed, and Poseidon: Earth Shaker will be released in March of this year.

O’Connor used multiple references and went as far back to original source material as possible to create his own text for these books. He had this to say in an interview in October 2011,

“When I was researching Olympians, not just reading the ancient sources, but also traveling around Greece and Italy and other places where people had worshiped the gods, I began to get a much different version of how the gods should be depicted and perceived. . . .By shining some light on these very old stories, hopefully I’ll help to expand our understanding of these old gods.”

A long fan of superhero comics, O’Connor has referred to the Greek gods as the original superheroes, “Muscley heroes, beautiful women, fights to the death, tragic love stories, evil villains, scary monsters… it’s all in there.”

His passion for Greek mythology is palpable; his perfectly paced, finely tailored text and rich, energetic art make that passion infectious. O’Connor is careful to leave the original stories intact while also making them age appropriate but without dumbing them down. His original retelling in this accessible form is a tremendous service to young people; his design of the characters is inspired and captivating.

The book opens, “In the time before time, there was nothing, Kaos. From out of Kaos, came Ge, or Gaea, our Mother Earth.”

Mother Earth was lonely so she created Ouranos, the sky.

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Together they had many children; the first were the twelve Titans, the gods of time. They also had three Cyclopes (each with only one eye) and three Hekatonchieres (each with fifty heads and one hundred hands). Ouranos was disgusted by these monstrous children and cast them deep within the earth in Tartaros. Mother Earth was unhappy; she wanted all her children to be free. She encouraged the Titans to exact her revenge and created an adamantine sickle. Kronos, the youngest of the Titans, took the sickle in his grasp and slashed open the sky, rendering his father impotent.

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From the blood of Ouranos many arose: gigantes, nymphs, the fates (sometimes called the furies) and humans. Kronos, now the ruler, took his sister, Rhea, as his wife; it was their children that would be the first Olympians. They’d had five children and Kronos, fearing a fate similar to his father’s, ate his children whole upon their births. Then Zeus, their sixth child, was born. Rhea could not bear to lose another child; she wrapped a stone in a blanket to trick her husband and Kronos was none the wiser.

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The bulk of the story picks up twelve pages in, at the start to Zeus’s life. (Yes, the entire above story is told in a beautifully concise twelve pages.) Zeus grows up in a cave on the island of Crete, hidden away from his father, and raised by nymphs.

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He was one of a new race of gods; a race of gods that was not only ageless and immortal but also able to transform.

At night, when Zeus laid his head on the ground, his grandmother, Earth, would tell him stories of his ancestors. She told him of the fate of his siblings and instructed him to free his brothers and sisters from their father’s belly. Metis, a nymph, helped Zeus form a plan to free his brethren. The plan was successful; Kronos was helpless as each of his now grown children was expelled from his stomach.

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A great and lengthy battle ensued, changing the face of the earth, but Zeus and his siblings could not defeat the Titans, who had come to the aid of their brother. Zeus turned to Grandmother Earth for advice; she sent him deep below the earth to breach the gates of Tartaros and claim his birth right. Zeus returned from Tartaros and challenged Kronos once again, but this time he had the help of the Cyclopes and the Hekatonchieres, Tartaros’s recently released prisoners.

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Zeus and his siblings were the victors of this battle. There was a new world order and a new race of gods. They made Mount Olympus their home, and Zeus was their king.

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O’Connor includes many resources; there’s a family tree on the inside cover and suggestions for further reading, notes and a bibliography at the back. Zeus: King of the Gods is not only an excellent way to introduce your young readers to Greek mythology but also a perfect graphic novel for those already interested.

Visit O’Connor’s website, OlympiansRule.com, for more information, activities and teacher’s guides!

 

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Robot Dreams: A funny, and sometimes heartbreaking, tale of friendship.

Robot Dreams

 

Graphic Novel

Ages 7 and up

By Sara Varon

208 pages

First Second

2007

 

Though I have categorized this book for ages seven and up, I happen to know at least one three year old who requests this book often. Because Robot Dreams is nearly wordless (and completely without dialogue), children and adults alike can create their own dialogue, their own narrative.

The story takes place over the course of one year and is broken up by month, so parents reading to children can treat it as a chapter book and break it up over several sessions. Sharing a wordless book with a child can be an excellent opportunity to hear their perspective. How do they interpret the action in the art? How does that compare to what the adult sees? Every time a wordless book is opened a new story can be told, because there are no words to limit the narrator.

A tale of friendships—some are fleeting, others long lasting—Robot Dreams is funny, and sometimes heart breaking. Varon’s characters are expressive and appealing. Her art is clean and uncluttered and her palette is muted yet colorful. The complete package makes for a charming and heartwarming book.

This first page contains one panel; a dog is dropping an envelope into a mailbox. In the next spread a package is delivered and the, now happy, Dog begins assembling a robot. Robot seems to share Dog’s interests and the two become fast friends.

Sadly, a trip to the beach proves tragic. Dog convinces Robot to play with him in the water, which causes Robot to seize up. The beach is closing and Dog must abandon his friend; Robot cannot move and Dog cannot carry him. The disheartened Dog walks off.

As Robot lies on the beach, he dreams of his day with Dog. In the dream version, Robot passes on the swim and instead reads on the beach while Dog frolics in the waves. Back home Dog dreams of his friend alone on the beach. Dog goes to the library and checks out a robot repair manual. He then heads back to the beach to rescue his friend, but the beach is closed for the season.

Despite the setbacks with Robot, Dog is determined to make new friends. While flying a kite in the park he meets a helpful duck. The two have some great times together but Duck and his family soon fly south for the winter, leaving Dog alone again. Then he befriends a pair of anteaters, but they clearly do not share the same interests.

As winter arrives Dog decides to make a friend out of snow. Dog and Snowman enjoy some outdoor activities but Snowman doesn’t survive the warming spring temperatures. All the while, Dog thinks of his old friend Robot.

Back on the beach, the dispirited Robot loses a leg to some seafaring bunnies needing to repair their boat. He has dreams of escaping the beach, only to find a happy Dog who has moved on without him. He dreams of being picked up by a seagull, and dropped onto a fluffy cloud, and riding a snowflake back down to the beach.

Robot dreams of leaving the beach, of making new friends. Come spring, Robot is discovered by a beachcomber and is turned in for cash at scrap yard. A raccoon working to repair a radio purchases Robot’s remaining parts.

Dog returns to the re-opened beach to rescue his old friend, but it’s too late. After much searching he finds only the part of Robot’s leg that was discarded by the bunnies. The dejected Dog decides to build another robot. This time things will be different. When the two friends head to the beach together, Dog prevents another tragedy by making sure his new friend remains on the sand.

In the final few spreads Robot, now part radio, spots Dog outside walking with his new robot friend. Robot is happy in his new home but sentimental, or maybe sad, about seeing his former friend. He watches the happy pair walk on, raises his antennae, and turns on his radio to share his music.

The final, single paneled page shows Dog happily whistling the tune that Robot has shared.

Robot Dreams is an amazing tale of friendship and loss, of mistakes and regrets, and of letting go and moving on.

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