Athena: Goddess of Wisdom and War (Tales of Great Goddesses)

Young readers won’t realize they’re actually absorbing enough information to give them a head start in any school’s Greek mythology unit while reading this fun and educational book. 

Readers first are introduced to Mount Olympus and each of the different characters that will be found throughout the book, including what they are most known for. This gives the reader a nice section to flip back to if they forget who someone is, as there are a lot of characters involved and some have tricky names. The book is organized into seven sections with a glossary at the end, a select bibliography for those who want to read even deeper into Greek mythology, and a little about the author and illustrator. 

The book goes through Athena’s life chronologically with vivid images and descriptions of how she was born, the chaos and trouble she caused, and conflicts she had with other Gods and mortals. Many other Gods and notables are featured, such as Poseidon, Medusa, Perseus, and Zeus. The most famous of stories are included, like the Trojan Horse, Odysseus’s adventures, and the story of Arachne, the weaver who was turned into a spider. 

This is truly a wonderful, funny, and light look at Greek mythology. Yet, it has enough depth to provide readers with as much information about demigods, notable mortals, gods, and goddesses as any non-fiction children’s book on the topic. Author Imogen Greenberg and illustrator Isabel Greenberg are a London based pair who’s styles work seamlessly together. The artwork is colorful. Dramatic purples and blues are used to create swirling seas around Poseidon, bright oranges are used around Athena to show her anger, and pages are kept simple when explanations are given. Pages feature large panels, some spanning two whole pages, with dialogue and text found in an understandable flow. 

Overall, this is a well done adaptation of Greek mythology into an enjoyable comic. It would be a great recommendation for students who are studying Greek mythology at school and are looking for a fun read, or for children who are fans of Rick Riordan’s novels. It gives a balanced view of Athena by including her strengths, weaknesses, and mistakes that she made along the way. She may have been a Goddess, but this book makes it clear to the reader that no one is perfect. Anyone can make a bad decision. It is very age appropriate, as the stories have been tailored to omit some details, such as why Medusa was turned into a gorgon, without it feeling like there is anything missing from explanations. Any children’s collection would benefit from this addition. 


Athena: Goddess of Wisdom and War (Tales of Great Goddesses)
By Imogen Greenberg
Art by Isabel Greenberg
Amulet Books, 2021
ISBN: 9781419748592
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12

NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13)

Tamamo the Fox Maiden and Other Asian Stories

Cautionary Fables and Fairy Tales is the umbrella title for a series of three compilations themed after a specific region of which this one is the third. The first two cover Europe and Africa while the fourth one, on Oceania tales, is in publication. All have been funded through Kickstarter efforts.

I had high hopes for this collection of Asian folktales, but was dismayed to discover that few of them have source notes or any markers for context. The geographic location is mentioned, but no background is provided for readers who may not be familiar with yokai, kitsune, demons, and other supernatural beings from Japan, China, India, Georgia, Laos, Myanmar, Turkey, Iraq and Tibet. I was very pleased, however, with the reworking of “The Ballad of Mulan” which followed the ancient tales rather than the Disney film. Aside from this tale and a few others such as the title story and “Urashima Taro,” most of the stories may not be familiar with young audiences. This is not a criticism, but it is also where source notes could have made this an outstanding addition to the ongoing reworkings of folklore in the comic book format.

The length of the stories varies as does the black and white art work in this anthology. Several of the tales have been modernized to including texting and other nods to contemporary life, but the vast majority have retained the ancient settings; particularly those by a diverse range of illustrators including Gene Luen Yang, Nina Matsumoto, and Carla Speed McNeil. Most of the other creators in this collection are known better through their webcomics and indie titles. The illustrations range from manga-like cartoon-y artwork to detailed and realistic penciling and the application of black and shadows. The mood of the stories is also as diverse as the tales themselves, with a mixture of light and dark themes. Some of the tales are excerpts from longer legends and books such as Yang’s “From the Journey of the Monkey King” from American Born Chinese. All the tales offer warnings or advice for the protagonists and the readers. Unfortunately for many of the protagonists, there is a great deal of pain in learning these lessons. They do, as the overall theme indicates, offer a cautionary edification for the reader.

I wish I could recommend this for library collections but the lack of source notes for this storyteller is truly a stumbling block. There is no need in today’s publishing world not to respect the tales and culture from where the stories originated. Very few of the entries even acknowledge that the individual tale has been adapted.

Tamamo the Fox Maiden and Other Asian Stories 
By C. Spike Trotman, ed. Kate Ashwin, ed. Kel McDonald
Art by Carla Speed McNeil, Gene Leun Yang, Nina Matsumoto, et al
ISBN: 9781945820342
Iron Circus, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: all ages
NFNT Age Recommendation: Easy Readers (5-9), Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13)

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Related to…: Inspired by myth, Retelling

The Silence of Malka

Winner of the Best Foreign Graphic Album at the Angoulème Festival in Belgium and recently translated into English from the original French text, this version of the traditional Jewish legend of the Golem is innovative for me, a person who has collected these legends for a long time.

Inspired by oral stories told to the author by his grandmother, the story follows young Malka and her family from the pogroms of the Russian shtetl to the Argentine pampas to better their living conditions at the end of the nineteenth century. Unfortunately, things are not much improved for them in this new scorched country. A visit from the prophet Elias to Malka’s uncle results in the creation of a Golem to aid and protect the new comers. Their mythical Golem, created from the earth, resembles a human and lives among the people as a neighbor peacefully for many years.

As time passes, however, another danger emerges when the Golem aids the family in taking an ill child, on the recommendation of their doctor, to the indigenous Old Wise Medicine Woman, Tomasa. The child is fine but the Golem and Tomasa’s young niece, Rosita, notice each other. Events escalate when Tomasa prepares a love potent which backfires horrifically. The Golem murders Rosita and then, running amuck as the Golem often does in the variants of these legends, he continues his murderous journey. Years later Malka, now an adult, meets Elias and is told the Golem’s story and instructed on how to destroy the monster who has continued his murderous journey as a bodyguard to corrupt politicians and gangsters.

The story is equally violent and hopeful, with a wide and vivid array of brightly and menacingly illustrations ardently activating this powerful tale. The imaginative layout and strong artwork bring, simultaneously, a historical time alive and subtly highlights the relevancy to today’s political environment. All while reworking one of the most powerful Jewish legends and breathing fresh air into its creation.

Prefacing the story is an essay by the author describing the genesis of his story and a concise history of the Jewish journey from Russia to a land of promise. There are also numerous sketches, figure studies, and full page watercolor paintings that follow the story itself, enclosing the hardcover graphic novel in a circle of love, memory, tragedy and hope.
Highly recommended.

The Silence of Malka
by Jorge Zentner
Art by Rubén Pellejero
ISBN: 9781684052875
IDW, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: OT (16+)

The Girl Who Married a Skull: and Other African Stories

In this graphic anthology for youth ages 8-12, a collection of creators come together to present various reimaginings of African folklore and fairy tales. Spanning fables from Nigeria, Egypt, West Africa, Zimbabwe, and more, The Girl Who Married a Skull includes origin stories that explain why no one likes hyenas (they’re mean) and why turtles live in water (they don’t want you to eat them) as well as tales that highlight wit, bravery, and female strength. While some stories suffer from rather lackadaisical endings and look like coloring pages for toddlers, I found this little collection both amusing and playful.

For example, in the Nigerian fable of the book’s title, the main character is cheekily named “disobedient daughter.” She’s one of the most beautiful girls in her village, and all of the boys are in love with her. But it’s the dashing stranger (really a devious skull in disguise) who ultimately wins her hand in marriage. When the skull starts shedding borrowed body parts and returning them to their eager owners, (we’ve been previously warned that things are going to “get a little weird”) she realizes her mistake too late. Now she’s stuck in the underworld, expected to do the cleaning, washing, and household chores for the skull and its mother. It’s one of the more clever stories in the collection, and you can tell that writer and artist Nicole Chartrand had a lot of fun playing with the girl-meets-boy trope, as well as the unfortunate girl-wants-to-marry-boy-after-five-minutes-of-knowing-him plot device.

Other stories include a gorgeously illustrated portrayal of bird politics, an assassin in space, and an exploration in fairness with a crocodile. There is literally something for everyone. A couple of adaptations fell flat for me. Next to their more thoughtful counterparts, the overly simple artwork and fast pace makes them feel like obnoxious commercial breaks during a Saturday cartoon. However, these are rare moments, and young readers might welcome the light-hearted respite from the more involved stories.

The diverse artwork does well to complement the vast array of folktales, incorporating bold, loud lines in tales like “Why Turtles Live in Water” and “Gratitude” to express the collection’s zanier stories. In more contemplative tales, like the Zimbabwean “Chiefs Heads,” the illustrations are soft, almost delicate. My one complaint is that the illustrations are in black-and-white. African culture is known for its use of rich color and it seems a shame not to honor that in a visual representation of its folklore.

It’s important to note that there aren’t many titles out there that expose American children to cultures outside their everyday experiences, that present such a varied palette of artistic styles and moods, and that are both educational and fun all at the same time. The Girl Who Married a Skull manages to incorporate all of these elements into a wonderful introduction to African culture. Highly recommended for young fans of mythology, magic, and adventure.

The Girl Who Married a Skull: and Other African Stories
By Kate Ashwin D. Shazzbaa Bennett Mary Cagle
ISBN: 9781945820243
Iron Circus Comics, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: Middle grade (8-12)

Hasib and the Queen of Serpents

Many tales from the classic compilation of Middle Eastern folktales A Thousand and One Nights have been retold and entered mainstream Western popular culture, such as Aladdin, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, and the Voyages of Sinbad. But there are so many others in this collection of tales that have yet to be told in modern literature. French cartoonist David B. has created a colorful graphic novel interpretation of one little-known tale. Entitled Hasib and the Queen of Serpents, readers are taken on an adventure throughout the mythological world of the Middle East and witness the age-old tradition of storytelling.

The tale opens with Hasib, a woodcutter, exploring the nearby forest with three lumberjacks. When the men stumble upon a cave with a secret stash of gold, the three greedy men take the fortune and leave Hasib trapped inside. However, instead of meeting a grisly fate, Hasib finds himself in the court of the Queen of Serpents, who keeps him company and tells him a tale about King Bulukiya’s search for the prophet Mohammed. During his search, the King discovers the Queen and a host of other characters, each with their own story to tell.

This specific tale may be unfamiliar to most readers but with colorful characters and an intriguing storyline, the graphic novel is able to bring the story to life. The story within a story technique, commonly used in the original A Thousand and One Nights tales, is used often in this interpretation, bringing readers deeper into the world of Middle Eastern folklore. David B.’s uses a variety of colors and detailed images to invoke this ancient tale. He uses his own artistic style with detailed scenery, disproportionate or snakelike bodies, and anthropomorphized animals. This retelling blends text and art so well, with narrators providing background information for each tale and modern dialogue that keeps the story active from page to page.

Some pages contain one panel that covers an entire page, filled with characters and fantastical scenery. The artist includes the characters Scheherazade and Shahryar, the Persian queen and king from the original tales, reminding the reader which night it is within the A Thousand and One Nights. Readers who enjoy folktales and mythology will be intrigued with this interpretation, especially with the scenes of noteworthy figures of Islamic tradition, such as King Solomon and Mohammed, and characters from Middle Eastern mythology, such as Djinns and the bird Simorgh.

David B.’s Hasib and the Queen of Serpents is an artistic interpretation of an ancient tale of adventure, war, and faith. It will make a great addition to any public library’s graphic novel collection. Adult patrons who enjoy mythology and folklore, along with colorful and expressive comics will want to take a look at this tale.

Hasib and the Queen of Serpents
by David B.
ISBN: 9781681121628
NBM Publishing, 2018
Publisher Age Rating:

A Girl in the Himalayas

Complexity and simplicity seem at odds with each other, but David Jesus Vignolli seamlessly weaves together complex themes with simple, expressive art to create a charming and thoughtful story in his debut graphic novel, A Girl in the Himalayas.

The story opens with young Vijaya’s house in flames, and she flees her home alone, wandering into the snow of the Himalayas. When she collapses, Prasad, a supernatural being, sees her and decides to give up his immortality to preserve her life. Prasad takes her to the Sanctuary, a place he and another immortal, Vasu, have created as a shelter from humanity. Prasad and Vasu introduce Vijaya to the Elementals who travel to the Sanctuary to recover from the choking “Illusion” of humanity that threatens to kill them. While Vijaya is quick to befriend a group of Elementals, not all of them are pleased by her presence in the Sanctuary. After all, she is a human, and humans are the source of the Illusion. She must prove to herself and to the Sanctuary that not all humans are ruled by Illusion and that she can honor the values of the Earth and the Elementals.

The novel is in part reminiscent of the mythology of ancient religions. Vignolli incorporates the Indian concepts of maya (Illusion) and yoga to describe energies at war with each other, addressing the heights of humanity found in the innocence and curiosity of a child, versus the depths displayed by the greed and cruelty that some men reach. The story questions what it takes to change the minds of people (or creatures) who are entrenched in one viewpoint. The answer? Love. Hope. Sacrifice. Forgiveness. Curiosity.

Vignolli relies on black, white, and soft orange to color his novel. I found myself examining and appreciating the details of each panel more closely than I often do in a full-color spread. Vignolli depicts the greed, insecurity, and self-centeredness of humanity in a black roiling cloud, in contrast to the softer whites and creams of the Sanctuary. The Elementals are whimsical shapes born of Vignolli’s imagination, representing energies of the Earth that wish to heal the world and live harmoniously. The style of art aligns perfectly with the spirit of the story and its characters.

Lovers of Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away, KiKi’s Delivery Service) will enjoy this graphic novel and its mix of reality and whimsy. This graphic novel appeals to a spectrum of ages and backgrounds. Young readers are able to identify with Vijaya’s eagerness to explore and befriend the world around her, and older readers able to appreciate the more complex themes of sacrifice, hope, and the heights and depths of humanity. As a wonderful story with simple, expressive art and an underlying homage to mythology and ancient belief systems, this graphic novel is a strong addition to any collection.

A Girl in the Himalayas
by David Jesus Vignolli
ISBN: 9781684151295
Archaia / BOOM! Studios, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12

Soulwind

As is unsurprising for such a substantial collected edition (over 500 pages), Soulwind is a winding and expansive tale. At its heart, this is a story of a boy who becomes a hero, in a very Joseph Campbell hero’s journey kind of way. In typical hero fashion, he saves the world. Also there’s some questioning the fact of the creation of the world. But that’s not where we start. At first, this seems to be a story of a young monk in training with his master. The story shifts suddenly to another perspective, throwing the reader into a bizarre conversation between talking animals and what look like the stereotypical Roswell style aliens. Soulwind covers such an extensive scope in time, including Arthurian legends, hopping between stories and perspectives frequently. It is most definitely an epic story, in several senses of the word. This makes it hard to keep your footing when reading it at first, since there are so many subjects and characters to juggle.

Overall though, the whole comic feels deceptively simple. It has clean art, primarily young main characters, and easy dialogue, while covering complex and sometimes controversial topics. Those include things such as the existence of God or gods, death, suicide, and abortion. One section features a young gay couple, whose relationship is tangential to the story itself and is never used as a plot point or to perpetuate stereotypes. The art is exquisite, shifting all the way from formal Chinese ink brush style to scribbly, childish art, and styles in-between. The art adapts with the current perspective of the story and makes excellent use of negative space. Even in sections of more complex art, the important moments of the scenes aren’t lost in detail.

I wouldn’t recommend Soulwind for children, primarily because the comic is so complex. Much of the higher meaning of the comic would escape them, and it could be frustrating to try and keep up with all the shifts in mood and style. Soulwind does have high adventure, elements of fantasy and fairies, and something of a theme of self-discovery, so I could see it appealing to middle school and high school age kids. Ultimately though, it would be best shelved with the adult graphic novels. ONI Press rates Soulwind as Mature, which is understandable considering some of the topics discussed, but I feel there are definitely teens who would feel drawn to the comic if not for the art alone then for the subject matter. There’s no gore or sex, and even the violence is generally drawn in broad, sweeping strokes so nothing comes across as distinct. Much of the story requires the reader to put pieces together, so I could see a lack of appeal for some readers who prefer a more obvious progression of plot.

This is an older comic, originally published in 1997 and 1998, but the collected edition was recently re-printed in hardcover by ONI Press, coinciding with the comic’s 20th anniversary. A hardcover collected edition is a nice way to add a new graphic novel to a library collection, because the whole story is collected. (Plus, as most librarians know, hardbound copies fare better over time than softbound.) The first four issues of the initial release were nominated for Eisner Awards, and Soulwind is a classic worth keeping in a library collection for its beautiful and unusual story and style.

Soulwind 
by Scott Morse
ISBN: 9781620104644
ONI Press, 2017
Publisher Age Rating: Mature

Universal Myths Series

Are you looking for some graphic novels on mythology? Each book in Capstone Publishing’s Universal Myth series is a collection of myths centered around a common theme. Dawn of Time covers creation myths, End of Days doomsday myths, Cleansing the World flood myths, and Warring Gods conflict between gods. While each collection includes at least one myth from one of the major pantheons– Norse, Greek, and Egyptian–they also include myths from less well-known ones, such as a variety from African nations, Native American tribes, Chinese, and Sumerian. Each volume includes critical thinking questions, a list of books for further reading, and a glossary. The fact that the series includes pantheons beyond the main ones as well as supplementary materials indicate quite a bit of promise, but the series, as a whole, does not quite fulfill its potential.

Mythology can be fascinating, with insightful stories, but these books frequently shortchange the storytelling. When the collection is on point, the result is a short, engaging telling that flows relatively well. However, at times, the brevity prevents the stories and cast from being fully developed, and as a result, some of the stories can be confusing to read or even inaccurate.

One example is the story of how Loki is chained. In the original myth, Loki is restrained by chains made from his son Nari’s entrails, but End of Days portrays Loki chained in ordinary chains. Whether this was done to conserve space or out of ignorance, it further reduces the quality. Another example comes from Warring Gods: there is a myth from Babylon where the gods are fighting after the death of the leader, but not everyone is identified and it’s unclear what they are fighting for. Each story has an introductory section that occasionally provides useful context, but that is not consistent from story to story.

Cheesy dialogue throughout the books also disrupts the story’s flow. For example, in Cleansing the World, a character has to face the consequences of stealing from one of the gods. Instead of a serious death scene, the character screams “Ahh” as his executioner raises his sword behind him. The dialogue adds an air of humor that does not seem appropriate to the stories being told.

The series does not have the same artist for each volume, and the art’s quality fluctuates over the course of the series. Dawn of Time is the weakest: the characters’ poses are stiff, the colors are dull, and the vague backgrounds do little to contribute to a sense of place. The other books have stronger art, but there are still points where the characters’ poses are stiff and awkward or the perspective does not fit with the narrative. The font used throughout the series can be hard to read; it looks carved, and the shape and relatively small size can make it hard to read the words.

The concept behind Universal Myths is a good one, but the inconsistency makes it difficult to recommend. If educators want to use one of the collections, supplementary materials would be necessary to provide additional context. Capstone Publishing recommends it for grade levels 3-9; the series does not get overly gory or sexual, so younger readers would be fine with the series. The fact that these myths are portrayed in such a basic way suggests that students older than fifth grade on are less likely to find this interesting. Libraries developing recreational collections might want to seek out other comic portrayals of myths.

Universal Myths Series
Cleansing the World: Flood Myths Around the World

by Blake Hoena
Art by Silvio Ob
ISBN: 9781515766278
Dawn of Time: Creation Myths Around the World
by Nel Yomtov
Art by Dante Lividini
ISBN: 781515766292
End of Days: Doomsday Myths Around the World
by Blake Hoena
Art by Felipe Kroll
ISBN: 9781515766261
Warring Gods: Immortal Battle Myths Around the World
by Nel Yomtov
Art by Ray Dillon
ISBN: 9781515766285

Capstone Press, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: 8-14