November 21, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

Legends Meet History and Science: Mythology | Series Nonfiction

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SMS1504-MythComics, deep expertise, and formulaic packages are all characteristics of this season’s offerings of classical mythology and modern legends often labelled as occult or paranormal. Some subjects appear repeatedly, but these series include a broad array of topics: Greek and Roman gods, zombies and werewolves, witches and oracles, extraterrestrial beings, and many others. Are they all imaginary creatures, born of belief and superstition, or might some of them exist in fact? Several writers ask us to keep an open mind when examining the mounting piles of evidence.

Preschool to Grade 4

Collins, Terry. Scooby-Doo! and the Truth Behind Ghosts. illus. by Christian Cornia. ISBN 9781491417911.

––––. Scooby-Doo! and the Truth Behind Sea Monsters. illus. by Dario Brizuela. ISBN 9781491417935.

––––. Scooby-Doo! and the Truth Behind Zombies. illus. by Scott Neely. ISBN 9781491417966.

Weakland, Mark. Scooby-Doo! and the Truth Behind Mummies. illus. by Scott Neely. ISBN 9781491417928.

––––. Scooby-Doo! and the Truth Behind Vampires. illus. by Christian Cornia. ISBN 9781491417942.

––––. Scooby-Doo! and the Truth Behind Werewolves. illus. by Dario Brizuela. ISBN 9781491417959.

ea vol: 24p. (Unmasking Monsters with Scooby-Doo!). further reading. glossary. illus. websites. Capstone. 2015. lib. ed. $25.65.

Gr 3-5 –Each of these volumes sees Scooby-Doo, that enormous brown Great Dane, and his human companion Shaggy become frightened by a different mythical creature. Their sensible teen friends—Daphne, Fred, and Velma—rush to the rescue and explain the basics of werewolves, vampires, and the like. Each title follows a familiar and formulaic pattern: the gang visits a museum, the beach, Baron Creepy’s house, a park, or a homey living room, where similar discussions occur. Shaggy, easily discombobulated, asks lots of questions (“Like, are werewolves afraid of anything?”), while Scooby, with his speech impediment, makes shorter, echoing queries, prompting further explanations (“Roaning and ruffling?”). The format has a melded picture book/comics scheme with full-page scenes, occasionally wordless, but mostly superimposed variously with blocks of text or speech balloons. VERDICT Older elementary schoolers will learn much in those explanations of how popular culture enlarges folklore’s spooky creatures. Solid choices for Halloween displays.

Dicker, Katie. Missing! ISBN 9781625882011.

––––. Mysterious Creatures. ISBN 9781 625882028.

––––. Mysterious Messages. ISBN 9781 625882035.

––––. Mysterious Places. ISBN 9781625882042.

––––. Unsolved Crimes. ISBN 9781625882059.

––––. Visitors from Space. ISBN 9781 625882066.

ea vol: 24p. (Mystery!). glossary. illus. index. websites. Black Rabbit/Smart Apple Media. 2015. lib. ed. $27.10.

Gr 3-5 –This set takes on mysteries and phenomenon of all kinds, from UFOs and aliens to psychics, ghosts, and a milk-drinking statue. Wide ranging and sketchy, sometimes difficult or just dull, some of these hang together a bit better than others. The mysterious places, creatures, and space visitors are heavily covered in other sources. Plentiful photographs on shaded pages in varied tones accompany black-and-white text, the black sometimes hard to read on dark backgrounds. Questions are inserted for critical thinking. Varied websites are appended, but no further print sources are listed. VERDICT There are intriguing bits here and there for quick reading or browsing. Missing! and Mysterious Messages are the strongest of the lot.

Hoena, Blake retel. The 12 Labors of Hercules: A Graphic Retelling. ISBN 9781491420713.

––––. Weakland, Mark retel. The Adventures of Perseus: A Graphic Retelling. ISBN 9781491420737.

––––. Hoena, Blake retel. Jason and the Argonauts: A Graphic Retelling. ISBN 9781491420720.

––––. Hoena, Blake retel. Theseus and the Minotaur: A Graphic Retelling. ISBN 9781491420751.

––––. Chandler, Matt retel. The Trojan War: A Graphic Retelling. ISBN 9781491420744.

––––. Hoena, Blake retel. The Voyages of Odysseus: A Graphic Retelling. ISBN 9781491420768.

ea vol: illus. by Estudio Haus. 32p. (Ancient Myths). ebook available. further reading. glossary. index. websites. Capstone. 2015. lib. ed. $29.99.

Gr 3-6 –These comic booklike versions depict the old Greek tales of magical creatures and superhuman men interacting with the gods, briefly sketched in small narrative blocks and energetic, dark-toned graphic scenes. A small statement about “Origins of the Myth” appears below the table of contents, and occasional text boxes labeled “Ancient Fact” explain character relationships or the Roman names given to these Greek figures. Dialogue, presented through speech balloons, is often vapid but sometimes adds to the story. The quick-paced tales of retribution, marital infidelity, cursed voyages, and vigorous combat among humans and between men and monstrous animals are greatly abbreviated, with some of the brutality glossed over, yet complex in the number and variety of characters and events. Read as a whole, the books feel repetitive. The final blocks in Hercules’ tale are in mistaken order, confusing the conclusion. VERDICT Competent additions.

Owings, Lisa. Atlantis. ISBN 9781626172005.

––––. ESP. ISBN 9781626172012.

––––. Ghost Ships. ISBN 9781626172029.

––––. The Mummy’s Curse. ISBN 9781626172036.

––––. Stonehenge. ISBN 9781626172043.

ea vol: 32p. (Unexplained Mysteries). bibliog. further reading. glossary. index. Bellwether. 2015. Tr. $22.95.

Gr 3-5 –These small volumes with minimal text offer sketchy introductions to phenomena widely known in legend. Each begins with a fictional anecdote, moves on to a brief definition and history, and then states the opinions of believers and skeptics. All conclude with some variation of “Nobody knows for sure.” The spare, wooden narratives and small, adequate photographs contradict the publisher’s claim “They burst with intense action, high speed heroics, and shadows of the unknown.” Hardly epic, they do provide critical thinking lessons on encouraging readers to be both open to possibilities and also skeptical in considering these inherently intriguing topics. More informative titles appear in each book’s bibliography. All include one web resource, factsurfer.com, apparently designed for children and leading to resources varying from minimal to deeply informative. VERDICT Suitable options.

Grades 5 & Up

Coppens, Philip. Ancient Aliens: Close Encounters with Human History. ISBN 9781477781579.

Dolan, Richard & Bryce Zabel. Project Disclosure: Revealing Government Secrets and Breaking the Truth Embargo. ISBN 9781477781555.

Marden, Kathleen & Denise Stoner. Making Contact: Alien Abduction Case Studies. ISBN 9781477781593.

Redfern, Nick. Top Secret Government Archives: Missing Files and Conspiracy Paper Trails. ISBN 9781477781531.

ea vol: 250p. (Conspiracies and Cover-Ups). further reading. glossary. maps. websites. Rosen Young Adult. 2015. lib. ed. $38.25.

Gr 10 Up –These dense accounts all emphasize the ways government, military, and science fields ignore or destroy evidence of long-standing activity of extraterrestrial beings on Earth. The broadest look at truth suppression, Top Secret Government Archives, explores how individuals “secreted within the highest echelons of government” have expunged material on many events and individuals often considered infamous, including the 1947 UFO crash at Roswell, NM. The books draw on copious writings, opinions, and extensive interviews with individuals who have personally interacted with aliens. The discussion of the disclosure movement among ufologists hypothesizes numerous ways history and society might be changed if the information were all made public. The layout may put off readers: few black-and-white photos break up the long blocks of text. The glossaries and some items in the lengthy bibliographies are the only real young adult material here. VERDICT There’s worthwhile information, but it’s likely that only very committed adults will slog through the reading.

Davis, Graeme. Thor. ISBN 9781477781340.

Lente, Fred Van. Hercules. ISBN 9781477781371.

McCullough, Joseph. Dragonslayers. ISBN 9781477781364.

Mersey, Daniel. King Arthur. ISBN 9781477781357.

Smith, Neil. Jason and the Argonauts. ISBN 9781477781388.

––––. Robin Hood. ISBN 9781477781395.

ea vol: 80p. (Heroes and Legends). further reading. glossary. index. websites. Rosen Young Adult. 2015. lib. ed. $35.60.

Gr 10 Up –Stories, background information, and analysis are interwoven in these substantial histories. Incorporating considerable scholarship, each book moves from earliest origins of the material through centuries of evolution into contemporary renderings of the characters and related themes “to freshen up the stories for new audiences.” Occasional shaded insets add explanations. Original paintings, full page and a few double page, along with prints from many sources richly illustrate the written material. Tight bindings will be slightly annoying for readers. Many of the materials in the bibliographies will go over the heads of students, and the websites are mainly geared to subject specialists and researchers. All of the material would suit college students and adult readers. VERDICT Young adults will find good stories and some bits of information in the packed presentations, and there’s plentiful background information to support curriculum and teaching.

Henneberg, Susan. Investigating Ghosts and the Spirit World. ISBN 9781622758630.

Kamberg, Mary-Lane. Investigating Zombies and the Living Dead. ISBN 9781622758715.

Nagle, Jeanne. Investigating the Abominable Snowman and Other Legendary Beasts. ISBN 9781622758531.

Shea, Therese. Investigating UFOs and Aliens. ISBN 9781622758494.

––––. Investigating Witches and Witchcraft. ISBN 9781622758777.

Wolny, Philip. Investigating Atlantis and Other Lost Cities. ISBN 9781622758579.

ea vol: 48p. (Understanding the Paranormal). further reading. glossary. index. websites. Britannica Educational. 2015. lib. ed. $25.85.

Gr 5 Up –Comprised of four chapters, these useful introductions begin with definitions and descriptions and move through history, and cultural beliefs and practices in various parts of the world, scientific investigations, and contemporary practices and popularity in movies, television, books, and games. Readable text on white pages predominates, accompanied and occasionally interrupted by asides on related topics set in blue blocks. Selected photos in varied sizes are unfortunately caught into the binding in Abominable Snowman. Bibliographies range from meager to generous. No websites are listed; a note refers readers to the publisher’s site to find recommendations. VERDICT Adequate additions to paranormal collections.

Krieg, Katherine. What We Get From Greek Mythology. ISBN 9781631889134; ISBN 9781631889295.

––––. What We Get From Norse Mythology. ISBN 9781631889141; ISBN 9781631889301.

Marsico, Katie. What We Get From Celtic Mythology. ISBN 9781631889103; ISBN 9781631889264.

––––. What We Get From Chinese Mythology. ISBN 9781631889110; ISBN 9781631889271.

Mincks, Margaret. What We Get From Roman Mythology. ISBN 9781631889158; ISBN 9781631889318.

Owings, Lisa. What We Get From Egyptian Mythology. ISBN 9781631889127; ISBN 9781631889288.

ea vol: 32p. (21st Century Skills Library: Mythology and Culture). bibliog. ebook available. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Cherry Lake. 2015. lib. ed. $19.95. pap. $9.95.

Gr 4-8 –Designed as Common Core teaching material, these slim, compact volumes each devote five chapters to history and religion, the gods and major characters in the myths, and the cultural legacy of the myths in modern literature, art, and language. Labels “pinned” to text or pictures pose questions for students, asking them to think more deeply about the subject. Three concluding questions might form the basis for written or oral reports or class discussion. Egypt and Greece receive the clearest treatments. The writing is plodding, piling on the facts, and many of the references to myth-related literature, movies and music are in the adult realm (though Walt Disney, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Harry Potter are here, too). The textbooklike format builds on a valuable theme and includes some nice visual choices. VERDICT While this set probably won’t entice browsers, educators may find it useful.

Levy, Janey. The Curse of King Tut’s Tomb. ISBN 9781482420838.

––––. Roanoke: The Lost Colony. ISBN 9781482420999.

Linde, Barbara. What Happened at Area 51? ISBN 9781482421033.

Nagelhout, Ryan. The Prophecies of Nostradamus. ISBN 9781482420913.

Rajczak, Kristen. Did Atlantis Exist? ISBN 9781482420876.

Shea, Therese. Real-Life Monsters? ISBN 9781482420951.

ea vol: 32p. (History’s Mysteries). further reading. glossary. index. maps. photos. websites. Gareth Stevens. 2015. Tr. $26.60.

Gr 4-6 –Sightings and speculations abound in these rather dense, wide-ranging accounts of creatures, places, and people. Intended to prompt readers’ thinking about popular beliefs, established fact, and attempted studies, these titles will best serve where lessons in investigation are wanted. The introductory histories and subsequently accepted and disproven theories move quickly through substantial, sometimes overly condensed information. Readers are asked to consider what happened to the inhabitants of Roanoke, but a real description of the island and the actual English arrivals who disappeared is absent in the history mash. The many quoted 16th-century quatrains of Nostradamus and the modern intersection of U.S. and Russian spy and military efforts connected with Nevada’s secret site, Area 51, seem likely to interest an older audience. Atlantis, King Tut, vampires, and werewolves are widely covered elsewhere. The writing is on the dry side, and the use of light tones on dark pages sometimes obscures the text. VERDICT Interesting ideas but a utilitarian execution make these adequate selections.

Temple, Teri & Emily Temple. Apollo: God of the Sun, Healing, Music, and Poetry. ISBN 9781631437144.

––––. Cupid: God of Love. ISBN 9781631437151.

––––. Diana: Goddess of Hunting and Protector of Animals. ISBN 9781631437168.

––––. Juno: Queen of the Gods, Goddess of Marriage. ISBN 9781631437175.

––––. Jupiter: King of the Gods, God of Sky and Storms. ISBN 9781631437182.

––––. Mars: God of War. ISBN 9781631437199.

––––. Mercury: God of Travels and Trade. ISBN 9781631437205.

––––. Minerva: Goddess of Wisdom, War, and Crafts. ISBN 9781631437212.

––––. Neptune: God of the Sea and Earthquakes. ISBN 9781631437229.

––––. Pluto: God of the Underworld. ISBN 9781631437236.

––––. Saturn: God of Sowing and Seeds. ISBN 9781631437243.

––––. Venus: Goddess of Love and Beauty. ISBN 9781631437250.

ea vol: illus. by Eric Young. 32p. (Roman Mythology). ebook available. further reading. index. photos. websites. The Child’s World. 2015. Tr. $29.93.

Gr 5-8 –Cramming a wealth of detail into a continuous text with occasional sidebars, these slim accounts are complex and often repetitive in recounting relationships and pivotal events among the featured deities. All begin with the same full-page picture, explanation of Roman beliefs in the gods, and sparsely labeled map of Italy, and all conclude with the same family tree of Roman mythology and comparison of the gods to their Greek counterparts. Wooden text covers each subject’s birth, family history, and responsibilities, as well as notable life events, including marriages and love affairs. Further reading lists often feature other works by the authors of these books, and Internet resources includes only the publisher’s website. The illustrations are suitable; readers won’t be enticed to pick up these works, but those who do will find some interesting material here. VERDICT A solid set covering the basics for collections looking to fill holes.

The enduring allure of mystery and magic, visions and prophecy, superhuman strength, and interventions from other worlds has given these stories popular, often exaggerated presence today, continuing their long history. Many of the slim series books cram in an enormous amount of explanation of characters, ideas, and history. They’re informative but not always enjoyable, with “Heroes and Legends” (Rosen Young Adult) the strongest of the bunch, while the rest will make suitable options for those looking to fill collection holes. Quite a few sets invite readers to consider their beliefs in these subjects. What do we know about them? How do we know it? The themes of mystery and investigation are titillating, of course, but also intended here to spark critical thinking. The interjected questions make some presentations seem textbookish, but they make worthwhile points about skepticism and the possibilities of new understanding through science and scholarship.

This article was published in School Library Journal's April 2015 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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