Thursday, June 16, 2011

Greek Week

It's summer reading time here in the Campbell County Library Teen Room -- easily our busiest time of the year.  If you have a teen, or are a teen, come by to pick up a summer reading log and start earning prizes for reading.  Our theme this summer is "You Are Here."  Since it's summer, we thought it would be fun to take a little vacation, at least in our imaginations.  So, "Here" will be a different location each week.  Every weekday afternoon,  teens can stop by to "visit" another locale:  we will offer trivia contests, crafts, games and, of course, food from each place.

This week has been Greek Week, and we've had a good time pretending to be in Ancient Greece every afternoon.  Teens have demonstrated their knowledge of Greek mythology (or their research skills about Greek mythology); created a "Trojan Horse" craft; learned how to tie a toga; and tasted new-to-them foods such as hummus, feta cheese, and kalamata olives.

And, of course, we have been featuring books about Greek mythology.  If you or your teen has not been able to stop in, we probably won't be able to offer them any hummus, but we can still offer these great Greek books to read:

If you haven't heard of the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series yet, perhaps you've been trapped in Polyphemus' cave for the last few years? Rick Riordan can be credited with a large resurgence in teens' interest in mythology, simply through this series.  In it, we meet Percy, one of those kids who always seems to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and always getting into trouble. When there is a major incident at his school, he discovers that the reason for his trouble is not his dyslexia, his bad luck, or his reputation: rather, it's his heritage.  His mother is mortal, but his father just happens to be Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea. This fact makes Percy a demigod, and also a target for the wrath of assorted other gods and creatures.  Thus begin Percy's adventures, starting with The Lightning Thief and continuing through five books.  The books have been so popular that Riordan is now working on two other series: the Lost Heroes of Olympus series follows some of the lesser characters in the Percy Jackson books; and the Kane Chronicles series focuses on Egyptian, rather than Greek, mythology.

Before Riordan, however, other authors were re-telling the ancient tales of Greek mythology for teens. One older book featured this week is Voyage with Jason by Ken Catran, copyright 2006.  It the story of the quest of Jason and the Argonauts for the Golden Fleece. The original version of the story is not accessible to some teen readers: told as an epic poem, it features archaic language and structures that can be confusing.  Catran's version retells the story in first-person narrative, more easily comprehensible for an average teen reader; yet it retains the elements of the story that have cultural and literary significance.

Another retelling of ancient stories comes from Adele Geras, in her novels Troy and Ithaka. Both novels tell traditional stories -- that of the Trojan War and of Odysseus' long voyage back to Ithaka -- but through the eyes of the women involved in the stories rather than the men.  This is a major departure from Homer's original oral versions of the epics; few women, other than the goddess Athena, played a major role there.  Still, Geras manages to maintain enough literacy authenticity that a reader of these novels still comes away with an understanding of the original stories.

Those original stories are adapted for even more accessibility in two graphic novels that we featured this week: The Iliad, adapted by Roy Thomas and Miguel Angel Sepulveda, and The Odyssey, adapted by Gareth Hinds. I've written and spoken before in favor of these illustrated versions of classic stories: they offer a framework to shape readers' understanding of the classics. Usually, these adaptations are shorter, but retain enough of the original story to be authentic. Both the Thomas and the Hinds adaptations do re-write Homer's original poetic language; while I prefer the original, I would have loved to have these versions as teaching resources when my students struggled to understand Homer. If nothing else, readers could gain enough of the original stories to develop a cultural intelligence about them; and perhaps some will even be inspired to attempt the originals.

The final two books featured during Greek Week are perhaps my own favorites: Nobody's Princess and its sequel, Nobody's Prize by Esther Friesner.  In these two novels, Friesner weaves history, mythology, and a lot of imagination to create a story about Helen, the girl destined to spark the infamous Trojan War.  We might see Helen of Troy as fickle, shrinking, weak . . . but Friesner paints an entirely different picture of a young woman who is independent and strong.  The story becomes an interesting perception of a cultural legend.  Following Riordan's lead, Friesner has authored two newer books about an Egyptian heroine: Sphinx's Princess and Sphinx's Queen, about the legendary Nefertiti.

So, grab a great YA novel and brush up on your remembering of Greek mythology.  It's a fun way to pass a summer day!  Next week, we return home to visit the Americas -- look for more great books then.

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