Greek mythology is both fascinating and confusing. That is, the world of Ancient Greece is mesmerizing, and it is exciting to learn about the numerous gods and goddesses, monsters, and other fantastical creatures mingling in with the affairs of humans. But, for many kids, keeping track of who’s who and what’s what is frustrating. Sadly, by the time students reach the point in school that they are assigned read Homer’s The Odyssey, they may be so disenchanted with Greek mythology that they can’t be persuaded to give much attention to the rousing, wondrous adventures of Odysseus.
Enter Christopher Ford’s Stickman Odyssey, a book that draws heavy inspiration from The Odyssey and presents a fresh new take on Ancient Greece in an easy-to-digest format. Stickman Odyssey follows the trials and tribulations of Zozimos, heir to the throne of Sticatha, who is forced to flee his homeland after his evil witch stepmother stages a coup. Zozimos is on a mission to reclaim the kingdom that is rightfully his to rule, though it won’t be an easy journey.
Stickman Odyssey opens with Zozimos floating in the middle of rough ocean waters and facing what is surely certain doom. Thankfully, he seems to have the favor of the gods on his side, and Athena’s massive pen emerges from the clouds to draw a raft to save our drowning hero. “Find your way to Sticatha,” she commands. Unfortunately, Zozimos winds up landing at Marinos Island, where he is quickly thrown in prison and faces execution. However, after recounting his tale to the island’s ruler, suspicion arises that his coming may have been foretold in a prophecy, and he is sent on a perilous quest to prove his worth. Obviously, the road back to Sticatha is a hard one.
Not only is Stickman Odyssey filled with fast-paced adventure, it is paired with a lighthearted tone that saturates the entire work and makes it approachable for children. The book’s story is hilarious, and instead of using vocabulary and dialogue that sounds antiquated, characters say “What’s up?” to one another and Zozimos dishes out amusing one-liners like “This water tastes like griffin piss!” (Which is the most objectionable phrase in the entire book). A host of agreeable supporting characters join up with Zozimos along the way, including my favorite, a hermit who wears a mask to hide his “hideous” face.
True to the book’s title, Stickman Odyssey is drawn in a simple black-and-white style reminiscent of the doodles students might make in the margins of a worksheet or notebook. Ford makes good use of the art direction for comedic expressionism, which injects an abundance of personality and emotion into the characters. The cast are an appealing group that young readers will connect to immediately, and Zozimos is brave and courageous but not without his flaws, making him all the more tangible as a protagonist.
I’m not sure if Stickman Odyssey will quite be a gateway drug to a deeper investigation of Greek mythology, but it will definitely make the subject of Ancient Greece more approachable and interesting for children. The book smartly introduces the setting and many of the most notable figures in Greek mythology without becoming too bogged down in names, dates, places, and the other trappings of historical study that make many students’ eyes gloss over. As with Larry Gonick and his Cartoon History of the Universe series, Christopher Ford has the rare ability to take an otherwise intimidating subject and present it in a way students will actually be anxious to explore. Teachers and librarians should take note of Stickman Odyssey, as it is an excellent complement to more academically-focused materials about Ancient Greece. Perhaps once Ford wraps up the Stickman Odyssey series he can turn his attention to providing illustrated takes on other historical periods, which is something I’d be anxious to see.