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Olympians

The Olympians Series
By: George O'Connor
Publisher: First Second Books

The Olympians Book One: Zeus The Olympians Book Two: Athena The Olympians Book Three: Hera The Olympians Book Four: Hades The Olympians Book Five: Poseidon

George O'Connor's Olympians Series, published by First Second Books, is the only set of texts that has actually taught me about the various Olympians that are so often mentioned in myth and legend in classrooms around the world. An avid reader of each graphic novel issue in the series over the last few years, I gobbled them up. And as I read each one I couldn't help but wonder - sometimes out loud: What if my teachers had assigned these graphic novels?

Many of my teachers mentioned Zeus and Athena, even Hades, but - until now! - I couldn't remember much detail about any of these legendary, Olympian-sized names. Except, maybe, that Zeus was in charge. And Hades was bad. Disney's Hercules movie helped a little. But as I grew older I learned that Disney's good intentions sometimes outweighed the accuracy of the story or legend being told. Every time the Olympians and their story's have surfaced over the years I have found myself thinking: Could someone please clear up who is who and what is what with these Olympians? They seem pretty cool, but I keep mixing up their names and their stories.

Supplying their names and their stories in the most popular textual format available to today's readers, George O'Connor's Olympians Series is perhaps the defining go-to reference for teaching and learning about the Greek Gods in the 21st century.

And even though the good word about the excellency of O'Connor's Olympians graphic novel series is out, it could still be spread further. For that reason, this review will offer teachers and librarians snapshot glances at each issue in the series so far. Enjoy. Learn. And be sure to send George O'Connor a "Thank You" note for using his talents to breath fresh, new life into the stories about each Olympian you are about to memorably meet.  

Book 1: Zeus: King of the Gods ($9.99, 978-1-59643-431-8)
The battle-of-all-battles brings father and son face-to-face. Standing up to his father's tyrannical reign, Zeus stands up to the almighty Kronos. Kronos' unchallenged tyranny is about to come to an abrupt end. Period. And it's his own son bringing down the house, both literally and figuratively.  

Readers of this first issue of O'Connor's Olympians series will be enthralled by this origin story. Unbeknownst to Kronos, and deeply saddened by her husband's selfish actions, Rhea is determined to save her sixth child. After all, she's witnessed Kronos literally eat their first five children, a definite preventative and permanent way to avoid being overthrown by a child with inherited God-like powers.  

After tricking her husband into thinking he ate the sixth child too, readers meet Zeus on the island of Crete. Alive and well, the adventure begins and the the fates are aligned.  

Blinded by his all-consuming tyranny Kronos doesn't know what is about to hit him.

Book 2: Hera: The Goddess and Her Glory ($9.99, 978-1-59643-432-5)
After meeting Zeus in the first book of O'Connor's Olympians series it's pretty hard to imagine that the seemingly fearless Zeus does indeed have a fear. Without blinking an eye, he has faced down his father Kronos; he has also battled many monsters, gods, and titans. Too many to even count. His greatest and only fear, however, is his wife Hera.  

Perhaps capable of dethroning him of his power, Hera is his beloved, but also his feared equal. Goddess of the air, sky, and heavens, Hera might just have one advantage. Full of vengeance and wrath, Hera instills more fear in Zeus than he instills in anyone, or any other being (man, god, or beast).

Book 3: Athena: Grey-Eyed Goddess ($9.99, 978-1-59643-432-5)
Daughter of Zeus, Athena is the Goddess of wisdom and war. Wisdom and war? Yes.

Born of the union between Metis and Zeus, Athena finds herself a bit conflicted. Both a warrior and a wise woman, Athena is born after years of occupying her father's innermost thoughts. Like his father before him, the prophecy that his child would overthrow him instills a fear in Zeus that inevitably becomes his downfall despite his selfish-efforts to avoid it.  

Knowing Metis is pregnant, Zeus challenges her to transform into a number of different animals. Near the end of their game Zeus finally suggests she transform herself into an edible creature. Out of his greed and thirst for power Zeus eats Metis, leaving her and his unborn child to wallow and live inside of his body (unable to escape). That is, until, Athena uses her knowledge of her father's inner most thoughts to became a great headache for Zeus. Unable to get rid of his headache, and falling right into his daughter's plan, the mighty Zeus allows other Olympians to pound his headache away. But the hammer does not relieve Zeus' headache. Instead, it unleashes Athena.  

Book 4: Hades: Lord of the Dead ($9.99, 978-1-59643-434-9)
Before I picked up this issues in O'Connor's Olympians series I assumed it would be pretty predictable. Come on, everyone knows - even me! - that Hades is the god of the underworld, god of the dead. He's the villain. Of course.

Little did I expect a love story. But that indeed is what I found. My favorite issue in the series, Hades: Lord of the Dead is sure to spark some lively conversation. Beyond that, I don't want to give too much away.  

So much of a pleasure I will leave you with this: This issue had me feeling sympathetic for Hades, god of the underworld!


Book 5: Poseidon: Earth Shaker ($9.99, 978-1-59643-738-8)
A dangerous and a wrathful enemy, Poseidon controls the sea. He likes to wreck ships, capture men, twist and curl waves into dangerous obstacles, and generally create havoc for anyone wanting to travel over water.

With all that power, however, Poseidon has a soft spot. His sons. From Pegasus-to-Triton-to-Polyphemus-and-to-Theseus, Poseidon is determined to protect and control the fate of his sons. And he is greatly angered when things do not go his way. Luring, stalking, virtually shadowing his son in the shallows of the sea, Poseidon is pretty convinced that Theseus is indeed his son.  

And despite the fact that Theseus' eyes are like the color and the swirl of the ocean tides, Theseus is led to believe that his father is Aegeas, King of Athens. But his strength in the water and his consistent gaze out to sea suggest that he may believe otherwise.  

Poseidon certainly believes otherwise, for right when Theseus is supposed to meet his father Aegeas the sea claims Aegeas' life. Poised for power, Poseidon now has what he has always wanted: influential power in Athens. But not everyone believes Poseidon should earn more power, and thus a thunderous rivalry between the Gods erupts once again.


English Language Arts Elements of Story

Plot: Profiling various Olympians, George O'Connor's graphic novel series reintroduces 21st century readers to the origins stories of the gods of myth and legend.     

Setting: Mount Olympus, the Underworld, the sea, the sky, a cave, a boat, Crete

Major Characters: Zeus, Hera, Athena, Hades, Poseidon

Themes: Coming of Age, Family, Pride, Leadership, legend and myth

Contemporary Literary Pairing Suggestions: Jeff Smith's Bone series, Kazu Kibuishi's Amulet series, Aesop's fables, Belle Yang's Forget Sorrow, Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club, Toni Morrison's Sula, Richard Wright's Native Son, Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun, Frederick Douglass' Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass


Some Teaching Recommendations For Middle and High School Readers

Suggested Alignment to the Common Core Standards:*
*Standard numbers correspond to the literal common core standards numbers, www.commoncorestandards.com

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas
7. Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse formats and media, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.
8. Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.
9. Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.
Range of reading and Level of text Complexity
10. Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.

Lesson Idea for Sixth Grade Readers and Above:

Directions:
Whether or not you plan to read two or all five of George O'Connor's Olympians Series, the following figure (Figure 1) allows you the flexibility to cater your reading process by chronicling one, two, or as many as all five books in the series.

Since O'Connor's writing is so clear, concise, and yet magically engaging all at the same time I would recommend teaching them all, especially if you want to offer your students more of a comprehensive / unit plan themed around the Olympians.  

Because you will be reading more than one story it would be wise to keep a running record of the class' thoughts and reflections during and after their reading of each text.  

Figure 1: A graphic organizer running record to help you and your students keep track of each Olympian graphic novel you choose to read.

Title of
Olympian
Graphic Novel, by
George O'Connor

 

Key Characters

 

Significant
Events

 

Significant Quotations

 

Memorable Images

(please redraw these images to the best of your ability)

 

Themes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After students are done keeping their running record it would be wise to put an overhead or projected - blank - version of the running record on the board.  One-by-one, and category-by-category, review what students recorded in their running records for each Olympian graphic novel.  

Following this review, engage students in a deeper discussion of the themes they found in George O’Connor’s Olympian graphic novel series.  Keep notes of what students see as similarities and differences on the board.  Encourage your students to keep notes on their own paper as well.  When you are done recording their preliminary ideas ask them to work in small groups on the following graphic organizer, choosing and offering more detail to the stories they think have the most similarities and/or differences.

Choose 2 Titles that you think have strong similarities and differences

Similarities with brief explanations

Differences with brief explanations

Title #1:

 

 

 

 

Title #2:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Title 1:

 

 

 

 

Title 2:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Title 1:

 

 

 

 

 

Title 2:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Title #1:

 

 

 

 

Title #2:

 

 

 

 

 

 


Finally, involve the class in a reflective group discussion / debate about their integration and rationales of similarities and differences for each selection.

Katie Monnin, PhD, is an assistant professor of literacy at the University of North Florida and author of Teaching Graphic Novels: Practical Strategies for the Secondary ELA Classroom (2010) from Maupin House. To learn more about Teaching Graphic Novels or Katie Monnin, please go to this link: http://www.maupinhouse.com/monnin.php.