Thanks to the popularity of Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series, Greek mythology is a hot topic in my middle school. Once students start reading about Percy’s adventure with the Greek gods in the modern world, they are ready to learn more about the original myths. George O’Connor’s series of graphic novels about the twelve Olympians is the perfect source for more information about the Greek gods and the myths that surround them.
Each book focuses on one of the twelve major Greek gods and goddesses and explores the connections between them. You can read about the first four books (Zeus: King of the Gods, Athena: Grey-Eyed Goddess, Hera: The Goddess and Her Glory; and Hades: Lord of the Dead) here. The next two Olympians are Poseidon and Aphrodite.
Poseidon: Earth Shaker (First Second 2013)
Poseidon may have thoughts as deep and as unsearchable as the oceans he rules, but O’Connor gives us a glimpse into this mysterious god with first person narration. That’s right, Poseidon gets to tell his own story from his conflict with Athena to his obsessions with the heroes Odysseus and Theseus. Even though Poseidon chose the perfect realm for him to rule, he is never quite satisfied. And what is the deal with his affinity for horses? I appreciate the author’s note where O’Connor shares the difficulty he had in writing about Poseidon and the revisions he made in choices of point-of-view. Poseidon has always been one of my favorites (right up there with Athena). Now I understand his story even more.
Aphrodite: Goddess of Love (First Second 2014)
The goddess of love sure causes a lot of conflict among both gods and mortals alike. After springing forth from the ocean foam, Aphrodite stirs love (and its attendant jealousy) wherever she goes. Her adoring attendants, Aglaia, Euphrosyne, and Thalia, tell Aphrodite’s story as they wait on her with grace, beauty, and adornment. Of course, you can’t talk about Aphrodite without including her husband Hephaistos, the sculptor Pygmalion, her mischievous son Eros, and the golden aapple that led to the Trojan War. Clever drawings reference other stories of Aphrodite from Adonis to Narcissus. And you thought she was just another pretty face.
As always in this series, the reference pages at the end are just as fascinating as the story. I love the Author’s Note, were O’Connor explains the joys and challenges of writing the book along with the choices he made in doing so. One page fact sheets on the major players give essential information at a glance, including modern references to the myths. For those who want to learn more, a bibliography points readers to additional resources. I can’t wait to learn about the next six Olympians.
My students love graphic novels, and my one small shelf cannot keep up with the demand. I’m excited to have several more to introduce after Christmas break. One of the things I am enjoying as I explore more graphic novels is the great variety of stories that are told through this format.
The world of Pandemonium is dark and full of secrets. Seifer Tombchewer is a hero in his small mountain village for playing skullball, but he longs to see what lies beyond. One day he gets his wish, but it is not at all what he expected. He has been kidnapped because he looks just like Prince Talon. Now he is to take the prince’s place in order to fool the kingdom until the real prince can be found again. He knows nothing of royalty, but begins to make a better prince than the one who disappeared. I enjoyed this dark and fantastical twist on a tale of mistaken identity, but there are many more questions to be answered. Where is the missing prince? How did the royal advisors know of Seifer’s existence in a village that has forgotten the wider world? Just what other secrets lie in Seifer’s past that even he doesn’t know? Not only is this gem a dark fantasy, it rocks with British humor!
Travel through history to when World War II raged across the globe and land in France, where part of the citizens support the occupying Germans, and where many of them fight against the occupation. It is hard for Paul and his sisters to know who they can trust, but when their friend Henri’s parents are rounded up by the Nazis for being Jewish, they must decide which side they will take. Their first action is to hide their friend Henri, but soon they find themselves delivering messages for the Resistance as well trying to reunite Henri with his parents. I can’t imagine living in an occupied country and having to make the decisions faced by people such as Paul and his family. I hope I never have to learn.
Horror is not my favorite genre. (The blood and gore and general scariness give me nightmares), but I see students who are horror fans devouring this graphic novel. Lord Baltimre is fighting the vampires, but he is cursed and downright creepy himself. The vampires definitely do not sparkle. They and the other creatures of the plague are dark and deadly and horrifically ugly as they creep out of shadows and sunken wrecks. Throw in a superstitious witch and her beautiful but stubborn granddaughter, and the sense of foreboding grows. The dark illustrations with lots of black and red enhance the feeling of fear throughout the story. It is not for the faint of heart. Who is going to stay up with me and my nightmares tonight?
I hate being asked what my favorite book is because there are just too many good books to choose from, but Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time is always near the top of my list of potential all-time favorites. Actually, that’s not quite right. I like each book in the Time Quintet better than the one before, but Wrinkle holds a special place in my heart for being the book that starts them all.
I was a little nervous to try Hope Larson’s graphic novel adaptation. What if she didn’t get all the things I loved about this story where Meg Murray, her brother Charles Wallace, and their friend Calvin O’Keefe travel through time and space to rescue her father from the dark thing that holds him captive on Camozotz?
I didn’t need to worry. Larson gets it. The blue and black drawings give an other-worldly feel, and the pictures and text capture the gist of the story. I particularly liked her portrayal of the tesseract. It is much as I pictured it when reading it.
More than anything else, I hope that this graphic novel introduces a new generation of readers to A Wrinkle in Time and leads them to journey through the rest of L’Engle’s books. I can’t wait to share it with my students when I get back after Christmas break.
Every year graphic novels become more and more more popular with my students. Or maybe I’ve grown to enjoy them more and promote them more. Whichever is the case, I cannot stock my room with nearly enough of them. I’m glad to have another one to add to my collection–Friends with Boys by Faith Erin Hicks–especially one that will appeal to a wide variety of readers.
Maggie is not only starting with her first day of high school. It is also her first day of public school because she has been homeschooled for years before. She does have three older brothers to watch out for her, but she struggles to find her own place and her own friends in the huge school. She’s also missing her mother, who left for some unknown reason. Maggie eventually meets Lucy and Alistair, who eat lunch with her and join her in small town adventures. Of course, there is past high school drama issues to deal with–and not just on the stage with a musical about zombies. Oh yeah, one more thing–Maggie is haunted by a ghost from the old cemetery.
I have a couple of students in mind for this book already, and I think it won’t sit on the shelf for long with it’s mix of real-life drama and hint of spooky ghosts. For those who are into the art and story, Friends with Boys started as a webcomic. You can still read a preview of the beginning of the book and go back to read the blog posts that Hicks wrote as she created the story as a serialized comic for the web.
I am taking part in the Slice of Live Challenge sponsored by Two Writing Teachers, where teachers write and share every Tuesday through the year and every day during the month of March. Join yourself or head over to check out what’s going on with the other slicers. If you are taking part in SOF, leave a link to your blog. I’d love to read it.
I am always excited when the Young Hoosier Award list contains a graphic novel because I always looking for new titles to add to my graphic novel collection. I can’t wait to share Anya’s Ghost (First Second 2011) by Vera Brosgol with my students in the fall. It has something for almost every reader: teen angst, a helpful ghost, a dark secret, and even a troubled romance. The black and white pictures add to the spookiness.
Anya is a bit of an outcast at school. She wants desperately to fit in, but she’s embarrassed by her immigrant family and self-conscious about her appearance. When she falls down an old well, she doesn’t expect to make a new friend. The ghost of Emily, a murdered girl, follows Anya out of the well and helps her navigate–and even improve–her barely tolerable life. But Emily has plans of her own that she needs Anya’s help to complete. Can Anya uncover the truth about Emily’s life and death before it’s too late?
Rafe Khatchadorian may have survived his first year of middle school, but seventh grade looms on the horizon. And seventh grade promises more changes for Rafe and his imaginary best friend, Leo the Silent. First, Rafe’s family moves in with Grandma Dotty in the big city. That means a new big city middle school to survive–Cathedral School of the Arts–and a new mission–Rafe Get a Life.
Just like last year, trouble follows in Rafe’s wake, no matter how hard he tries to avoid it. Trouble first shows up in new bullies and then a new friend–Matty the Freak. Along the way, Rafe tries all kinds of new experiences, from riding the subway to dropping water balloons, uh gloves.
Like the first installment, Middle School Get Me Out of Here (Little, Brown, and Company 2012) by James Patterson and Chris Tebbetts is packed with snarky humor (and innocence from Rafe–Who, me?). Rafe’s illustrations of his life reveal that his imagination is much more interesting than real life. Rafe also discovers a surprising secret about his dad. That’s the only part of the book that bothered me. I’m not sure why his mom would keep the secret the truth about Rafe’s dad.
I do think that fans of Diary of a Wimpy Kid or Origami Yoda will enjoy this combination of text, pictures, and humor. I suspect that some of my incoming seventh graders might share Rafe’s fear and trepidation of starting middle school. A little humor can go a long way to dispel some of it.
If you can’t get enough of Rafe’s adventures and attitude, and if you haven’t yet gotten his little sister’s story in Middle Schooll My Brother Is a Big, Fat Liar, you can check out Rafe’s Rants, a web series on Patterson’s website.
I’m taking part in the Slice of Life Challenge sponsored by Ruth and Stacey over at Two Writing Teachers. I hope to write every day for the month of March and then continue weekly each Tuesday. Join in yourself or head over to check out what’s happening with other slices. If you’re taking part in the SOL, leave a link to your post. I’d love to read it.
Nonfiction is one of the book gaps I have been trying to fill this year. Graphic novels are another gap. It has been harder for me to fill this book gap. It’s not because there aren’t quality graphic novels out there. There many, with more coming every day. It’s not that my students don’t read them. They do, especially the groups I have this year. My graphic novel shelf is usually empty, or nearly so. No, the problem is with me as a reader. I forget to slow down and look at the pictures. Since half the story is told through the pictures in a graphic novel, I miss a lot until I remember, “Look at the pictures before you go to the next frame.” I wonder if that’s how some of my students feel when reading a text novel if they haven’t learned to visualize while reading. No wonder they don’t enjoy it.
During spring break, I’m catching up on graphic novels that I can take back to share with my students. They are going to love these even more than I did.
The Red Pyramid Graphic Novel (Disney Hyperion 2012) by Rick Riordan, adapted by Orpheus Collar
I loved The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan, but it’s hefty page count can be intimidating to some readers. This graphic novel version will pull in those readers looking for lots of action and danger. New dangers wait for Sadie and Carter Kane around every corner as they discover secrets of their family’s past and seek to reawaken the paths of the gods, the Egyptian gods. Along the way they have to rescue their uncle and stop Set from destroying the world in chaos. Did I mention the magicians who are trying to kill them, too? I enjoyed the vivid pictures and fast-moving panels, but I missed the voices of Sadie and Carter, who alternate telling the tale in the original.
I love George O’Connor’s Olympians series. So far I have four of them, and I just saw on GoodReads that the fifth one is out. There goes more money to a bookstore. Even though each book focuses on one of the Olympians, the stories include so much more that help draw connections between the Greek myths. A chart in the beginning of each outlines the family tree of Greek gods and goddesses. The author’s note in the back explains how O’Connnor chose his retelling. Each book also includes discussion questions and a fact sheet on each god or goddess. I like the modern connections given on each. The vivid drawings and fast-moving panels show these gods and goddesses as the first superheroes
Zeus: King of the Gods (First Second 2010)
Zeus’s story begins before his birth with the existence of Kaos, Gaea, and Ouranos. It continues with the birth of the Titans and the eventual battle between the Titans and the Olympians. Don’t worry, Zeus reappears many times in the later books as well.
Hera: The Goddess and Her Glory (First Second 2011)
Hera not only claims her place as queen beside Zeus, she is the only one who has any chance of keeping him in line. Her story is interwoven with that of Heracles, or “the glory of Hera.” Why would a goddess intent on punishing a human charge him with challenges that would lead to his immortality? Heracles and Hera may not have liked each other, but their stories are forever linked.
Hades: Lord of the Dead (First Second 2012)
The story of Hades cannot be complete without the story of Demeter and Persephone. I like O’Connor’s take on these stories. Maybe Hades is not completely a bad guy (even if he does rule over the dead). Maybe Persephone found good reason to remain in the Underworld for part of the year.
Athena: Grey-Eyed Goddess (First Second 2010)
Not only is Athena my favorite goddess, but this is my favorite book so far. The three fates oor Furies take turns telling stories of Athena, from her birth to her exploits as a warrior. Athena is smart, strong, and cool under fire. Not only all that, but we get to admire the hero Perseus as well, as he seeks to find and behead Medusa.
The Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi is extremely popular with my 8th graders. Since so many of them are reading these graphic novels and raving about them, I thought it was time for me to finish the series and release the new copies into my classroom.
Book One: The Stonekeeper (Scholastic 2008)- A fatal accident prompts Emily and Navin and their mother to start over in an old house that has been in the family for years. Once they arrive, all three are drawn into a mysterious world where they find their great-grandfather. Emily is given a choice to become the newest Stonekeeper. Either choice she makes will have far-reaching consequences, but can the Stone help her rescue her mother?
I was drawn into this vividly imagined world. I loved the quirky creatures who inhabit this world as well as the danger that lurks within it. Emily and Navin are characters I can cheer for as they seek to rescue their mother and learn the ways of Alledia. Usually when I read graphic novels, I tend to rush, but I found myself lingering over the pictures in these books. The colors are lush and vivid.
Book Two: The Stonekeeper’s Curse (Scholastic 2009)- While Book I introduces the world of Alledia, Book II sets up the central conflict with the Elf King. The Elf King is a rogue Stone Keeper who wants all of Alledia for himself and will destroy the world in order to get what he wants. Emily learns more about using the power of the Stone and about the curse that comes with accepting its power. If she cannot control it, it will control and destroy her just as it did with the Elf King.
Again, there are more characters to love. In addition to Miskit and Cogsley (created by Silas to train and protect Emily), Leon, the red warrior fox makes his first appearance. I love Leon, who reminds me a bit of Puss in Boots with is fierce bravado. Navin learns of the role he plays in fulfilling the prophecy to overcome the Elf King. I also love the gadoba trees and hope we hear more from them in later books.
Book Three, The Cloud Searchers (Scholastic 2010)- Emily and her crew must search for help from the missing city of Cielis. They find an old pilot and his airship to take them on this journey. Old Enzo has been ridiculed for years for searching on his own for the city. Will he trust Leon and Emily enough to try one more time? Meanwhile, time is running out. Will Emily’s crew of resistance fighters find the lost city before the Elf King finds–and destroys–them?
I love the portrayal of Emily and Navin’s mom now that she is awake and with them. She won’t leave them to return home. Even though she worries (it’s her full time job) and wants to protect them, she allows them to make their own choices and stays with them to offer what guidance and support she can. Sometimes, though, the “mom” in her just pops out as when she insists on cleaning out Navin’s wound because we just don’t know what dangers lurk in this strange world. We also get a more complex view of Trellis (the Elf Prince) and Luger (once a loyal servant to the Elf King).
Book Four, The Last Council (Scholastic 2011)- Now that Emily and Navin and Leon and their crew are finallly in Cielis, they hope to find help from the Guardian Council. Unfortunately, they areseparated at the city gate and Emily is asked to compete for a spot on the Council. It’s not long before they all realize that something is rotten through and through. Not completely through and through, Leon finds a few willing helpers left in the city even though most of the once bustling streets are now deserted. The prison, however, is overflowing. Will they learn the truth and reunite before it is too late? Is there anyone left in the city who will become another ally?
Once again, I meet another character or two to love–and some more villains to hate. The old Stonekeeper has an uncanny way of showing up at just the right time. Cogsley and Miskit pick up Dagno, a baby wyvern bird. I trust Leon even more, but not Max. Max is not what he appears to be. Even though their situation seems more and more dire by the minute, Navin reminds Emily of an important truth at the end–she is not alone. Each of them may be imperfect and weak alone, but when they come together, they can do so much more. How true that is for all of us.
Book Five, Prince of the Elves (Scholastic 2012)- Oh no! The story doesn’t end. That means I have to wait to see if Emily and Navin and their friends finally defeat the Elf King. Meanwhile, this installment fills in some of the past for some important characters. Trellis visits the void to learn from and to try to change the past of the elves. Max also visits the voids and we learn of the event that drove him to the dark side of the Stonekeepers. I still don’t trust him, but I understand him better now. Emily also learns of the true nature of the stonekeeper’s curse on her visit to the void. It’s much worse than anyone thought.
Don’t worry. The action keeps coming, too, as the elf army attacks cities on their way to conquer Ceilis. It seems as if nothing can stop them, much less the rag tag army of resistance fighters that are left. Navin and Ally have to call on all their skill as pilots while Cogsley and the other robots struggle to get the fighting machines running in time.
My students this year are loving graphic novels, and I am feeling the lack in my book collection. I currently have only three books on that shelf. That’s been pretty typical this entire year. At the Scholastic book fair this week, I stocked up on some more titles. I’m reading them as quickly as I can so I can put them in the hands of students. Here they come!
Poe by J. Barton Mitchell (writer), Dean Kotz (art), and many more (BOOM! Studios 2011)
At first I wasn’t sure how to take this fictional biography of Poe, but the further I got into it, the more I liked it. The story line of Poe’s supposed life is as dark and twisted as his short stories and poems. He’s haunted by a Raven and sees visions of gruesome death’s. As Poe helps his police detective (a word Poe creates in this story) brother, they escape one bizarre event after another. The most fun for me was recognizing elements from Poe’s stories in their adventures. The dark artwork lends even more doom to the mood.
Avengers by Paul Toben and others (Marvel worldwide 2010)
I read this one for my students. I am not a huge superhero fan, but I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would. I wss surprised by the somewhat silly humor and allusions.this is a collection of previously collected comics Superheros, Supernova, and Tails of the Pet Avengers. If have to confess that my favorites were from the Pet Avengers. Classic superhero artwork carries the story along with the text.
Excaliber: The Legend of King Arthur: A Graphic Novel by Tony Lee and Sam Heart (Candlewick Press 2010)
No matter what form it’s in, I love stories of King Arthur amd the knights of the Round Table. This version focuses closely on Arthur and how his decision to forget the Lady of the Lake bring about his death and the end of Camelot. Lancelot and his love for Arthur’s Guinivere also are prominent. Lush illustrations add to the fantasy components with the faerie, both seelie and unseelie.
Trouble Maker by Janet and Alex Evanovich, art by Joelle Jones (Dark Horse Books 2010, 2011)
Explosions, kidnappings, and angry chickens lead Alex Barnaby and Sam Hooker on a non stop thrill ride through the streets of MiamI and the swamps of the Florida Keys as they try to outsmart a voodoo priest. The trouble begins when Lorna is kidnapped and held hostage for a statue stolen by her boss, Walter Percy. The nefarious Nitro will stop at nothing to get him back. Can Alex and Sam rescue Rosa and return the Baron Samedi statue to the museum before it’s too late? Vibrant colors bring Miami and South Florida to the page.
The Clique: A Graphic Novel by Lisi Harrison & Yishan Li (Yen Press/Hachette Book Group 2010)
I have never gotten around to reading the popular Clique series even though my middle school girls have raved about it for years. When I saw this graphic novel edition at the book fair, I had to grab it. I can see why middle school girls love it. Massie and her friends are the ultimate mean girls, but newcomer Claire manages to hold her own and even get sweet revenge as she navigates the very expensive social customs of her new school. The manga illustrations are perfect for these girls.
I know these graphic novels won’t stay on my shelf for long. Which ones do you want to read?
I absolutely loved Raina Telgemeir’s first graphic novel, Smile–a memoir from her own middle school years. I can tell you that it has not stayed on my shelf since school started. My students are passing it hand to hand. I was so excited to learn that Telgemeir had a second graphic novel coming out, Drama.
Drama surpassed all that I hoped it would be. The artwork and dialogue combine to tell a story that captures all the drama behind the scenes of a middle school production. Callie loves the theater, but her talents lie backstage. This year she is the set designer for the production of Moon Over Mississippi. She has grand plans (and a middle school budget) to bring the set to life, including a working cannon that fires confetti–if she can get it to work.
In addition to the challenges of building and painting sets, she is drawn into drama on and off stage. She hopes her crush (the older brother of one of her stage crew friends) will finally notice her. The lead actor and actress might be really in love, or their relationship might explode in the middle of a performance. Two new boys join the drama crew and present Callie with more possibilities for romance and friendship.
Telgemeir presents a heartwarming and delightfully funny story that explores the every shifting relationships of middle school. I can’t wait to release this new book into my classroom. I’m sure I won’t see it for a long time. While you wait to read it for yourself, enjoy the book trailer!