April 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Greeks, Ghosts, Gremlins Explored in New Nonfic Titles | Series Made Simple

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Greek mythology and stories of hauntings and monsters are popular in this season’s folklore and mythology titles. Although several of the series show a distinct focus on Common Core, sometimes the inclusion feels like a distraction from the reading experience rather than a help for students. However, intriguing formats, such as the graphic novel or comic book styles, will resonate with readers. Don’t miss these tales of twisted mythology, strange and mysterious creatures, and ghostly happenings around the United States.

Preschool to Grade 4

Baumann, Susan K. Jason and the Golden Fleece. ISBN 9781477762288.

Ehrmann, Johanna. The Labors of Heracles. ISBN 9781477762240.

––––. Theseus and the Minotaur. ISBN 9781477762363.

Ferrell, David L. Achilles and the Trojan War. ISBN 9781477762400.

Weiss, Lynne. Perseus and Medusa. ISBN 9781477762325.

––––. The Voyage of Odysseus. ISBN 9781477762448.

ea vol: 24p. (Jr. Graphic Myths: Greek Heroes Series). glossary. index. maps. websites. PowerKids. 2014. lib. ed. $25.25.

Gr 3-5 –Greek myths take the spotlight in these titles that do a great job with the subject material, presenting each story in a comic book format. The twists and turns of the Trojan War are easy to navigate here, and the depiction of Heracles as a strong but not very bright champion suits the stories well. The art isn’t as engaging as the writing; it’s servicable, and the images certainly help move the stories along, but the clothing does not always seem period, and the facial expressions often seem overdone. Despite these flaws, however, the tales are well told, and the sometimes racy subject material is toned down to the appropriate level for a lower to upper elementary audience. Back matter in each title includes a helpful glossary as well as a map that depicts the supposed route scholars have plotted out for each hero. There isn’t much here to tie into the Common Core, but this action-packed, quick-paced format will engage young readers and will likely lead them to search for further sources.

Braun, Eric. Medea Tells All: A Mad, Magical Love. illus. by Stephen Gilpin. ISBN 9781479521838; ISBN 9781479529407. LC 2013032210.

Davis, Rebecca Fjelland. Medusa Tells All: Beauty Missing, Hair Hissing. illus. by Stephen Gilpin. ISBN 9781479521852; ISBN 9781479529421. LC 2013027678.

Loewen, Nancy. Cyclops Tells All: The Way Eye See It. illus. by Ryan Pentney. ISBN 9781479521807; ISBN 9781479529377. LC 2013032208.

––––. Pandora Tells All: Not the Curious Kind. illus. by Ryan Pentney. ISBN 9781479521814; ISBN 9781479529384. LC 2013032211.

ea vol: 32p. (The Other Side of the Myth Series). ebook available. further reading. glossary. illus. index. websites. Picture Window. 2014. lib. ed. $26.65. pap. $6.95.

Gr 2-5 –With kidfriendly illustrations and a clever narrative voice, these twisted myths will have kids chuckling. For example, in the story of the Cyclops and Odysseus, Polyphemus explains that he ate Odysseus’s companions because he believed the old saying “You are what you eat” and he desperately wanted to become human. The stories of Medea and Medusa stick closer to the original source material, with the two women blaming the gods for their woes—a true reflection of Greek mythology, where typically blame did boil down to the interference of the gods (and perhaps a little pride on the part of the mortals). A critical thinking section at the end will guide teachers to using these books in classroom discussions about mythology, and the notes on integrating Common Core topics is helpful. Though the books are humorous, they may be confusing to those unfamiliar with the original tales. The additional sources recommended in the end notes will aid interested readers in tracking down further retellings.

Chandler, Matt. Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery and Other Haunted Places of the Midwest. ISBN 9781476539133.

––––. Ghosts of the Alamo and Other Hauntings of the South. ISBN 9781476539140.

Garbe, Suzanne. Ghosts of Alcatraz and Other Hauntings of the West. ISBN 9781476539157.

––––. Ghosts of Gettysburg and Other Hauntings of the East. ISBN 9781476539164.

ea vol: 32p. (Haunted America Series). bibliog. further reading. glossary. illus. index. maps. photos. websites. Capstone. 2014. lib. ed. $27.32.

Gr 3 Up –This series focuses less on sorting fact from fiction, and more on emphasizing what ghost story fans will love: tales of creepy hauntings. Grouped by region, each book offers a look at several haunted locations; a map in the back of each puts those locations in perspective. There are battlefields (Gettysburg, the Alamo) and sites of infamous murders (Lizzy Borden’s house); prisons (Alcatraz) and mental hospitals; and stories of plantations where the slaves were mistreated, tortured, or murdered. The series offers a ranking system of scare factor, but the number is never explained, and some of the places ranked in the middle have much eerier stories than their high or low counterparts. Subject-specific words associated with ghost hunting—orbs, spirits, paranormal—are included and defined in the text and in a glossary at the end. The high-interest content and eye-catching, touched-up images will keep young, confident independent readers hooked, and the tales are intriguing enough that even older readers may find them useful, if brief, resources. The series is not too creepy for the timid but eerie enough that ghost-lovers will want to read the whole set.

Cheatham, Mark. Gremlins! ISBN 9781 477762158; ISBN 9781477762189.

Dooling, Sandra H. Haunted Houses! ISBN 9781477761991; ISBN 9781477762028.

––––. Sorcerers, Spells, and Magic! ISBN 9781477762110; ISBN 9781477762141.

Ferrell, David L. Shape-Shifters! ISBN 9781477762196; ISBN 9781477762226.

Roberts, Stephen. UFOs! ISBN 9781 477762035; ISBN 9781477762066.

––––. The Undead! ISBN 9781477762073; ISBN 9781477762103.

ea vol: 24p. (Jr. Graphic Monster Series). ebook available. further reading. glossary. illus. index. websites. PowerKids. 2014. lib. ed. $25.25. ebk. $25.25.

Gr 3-5 –This graphic novel set is less than successful, especially compared with “Jr. Graphic Myths: Greek Heroes,” in part because the subject material is much broader and there is no inherent story structure to the topic. Each book opens with a tale about modern kids learning about topics such as vampires or wizards. The Undead! has the most problematic framework, featuring two children whose parents attempt to discourage their love of horror movies by sending them to their grandfather’s farm where he can scare the pants off them with terrifying stories of the undead, which makes the book feel more like a lesson than a supernatural guide. Sorcerers, Spells, and Magic has a particularly bad retelling of the Merlin story but does a nice job with the tale of John Dee, with whom readers are less likely to be familiar. UFOs! takes a sensationalist stance on unidentified objects, never admitting the possibility that they might not be real. The strongest of the collection is Gremlins!, which tells the most limited and least familiar story (a World War II British pilot learning about elflike creatures that can damage or repair airplanes). Overall, libraries should give this one a pass, unless they have a strong need for graphic novels.

Grades 5 & Up

Anderson, Jennifer Joline. Bigfoot and Yeti. ISBN 9781624031502. LC 2013027406.

Atwood, Megan. Unicorns. ISBN 9781 624031533. LC 2013027278.

Felix, Rebecca. Vampires. ISBN 9781 624031540. LC 2013027282.

Higgins, Melissa. Sea Monsters. ISBN 9781624031526. LC 2013027270.

Mooney, Carla. Dragons. ISBN 9781 624031519. LC 2013026941.

Morey, Allan. Werewolves. ISBN 9781 624031557. LC 2013021417.

ea vol: 48p. (Creatures of Legend Series). charts. diags. further reading. glossary. illus. index. maps. notes. photos. websites. ABDO. 2014. lib. ed. $32.79.

Gr 4-6 –Rather than focusing on more general myths and legends, ABDO’s mixed-quality series offers a peek into specific monsters and mythical beasts as they appear in world mythologies. By necessity, each of the books is somewhat brief, rather than delving into any topic in depth. Unicorns is the best of the set, narrowing its focus primarily on the Medieval romantic unicorn, providing small anecdotes about earlier appearances of unicornlike creatures in mythology, and leading into modern depictions of unicorns in popular fiction. Bigfoot and Yeti and Werewolves do an excellent job with their subject material, despite some minor flaws. Vampires misses out on some great early Eastern European folklore, focusing primarily on literary vampires instead, and claims Hindu goddess Kali as a vampire, which seems a stretch. Dragons focuses too much on creatures that might have been mistaken for dragons and not enough on the actual folklore. Textbooklike exercises included in the books help highlight Common Core connections, but unless the volumes are used in the classroom, readers are likely to skip over this feature completely. As titles within this series vary, purchase accordingly.

Cox, Barbara & Scott Forbes . Beyond the Grave. ISBN 9781482402261; ISBN 9781482402285.

––––. Haunted Homes. ISBN 9781482402308; ISBN 9781482402315.

––––. Maniacal Monsters and Bizarre Beasts. ISBN 9781482402360; ISBN 9781482402377.

––––. Spooky Spirits and Creepy Creatures. ISBN 9781482402438; ISBN 9781482402445.

––––. Wicked Waters. ISBN 9781482402629; ISBN 9781482402636.

––––. Witches, Wizards, and Dark Magic. ISBN 9781482402698; ISBN 9781482402667.

ea vol: 32p. (Creepy Chronicles). ebook available. glossary. illus. index. reprods. Gareth Stevens. 2014. lib. ed. $26.60. ebk. $26.60.

Gr 5-8 –These books offer brief descriptions of strange and bizarre creatures. Cox and Forbes focus on the creep factor here, at times making the titles feel more sensationalized than is warranted. However, a number of non-Western, Native American, and Latin American creatures are included, which may give readers a broader sense of monsters worldwide. The most mysterious thing about the series, however, isn’t any one of the creatures; it’s figuring out how the books are organized. Why are vampires listed in Haunted Houses? Zombies are covered in both Beyond the Grave and Witches, Wizards, and Dark Magic. Because the titles move from one creature to the next with no segues, these inclusions and repetitions feel awkward, and the authors seem to have difficulty discussing witches and wizards while still showing respect for religions like voodoo. Still, the approach will pique the interest of upper elementary readers, and the narrative is uninterrupted by pesky homework-style questions. There’s not much to support the Common Core here, but for entertainment value, students will gravitate toward these titles.

Green, Jen. Gods & Goddesses in the Daily Life of the Vikings. ISBN 9781908973856.

Hicks, Peter. Gods & Goddesses in the Daily Life of the Ancient Romans. ISBN 9781908973849.

Macdonald, Fiona. Gods & Goddesses in the Daily Life of the Ancient Greeks. ISBN 9781907184932.

McCall, Henrietta. Gods & Goddesses in the Daily Life of the Ancient Egyptians. ISBN 9781907184925.

ea vol: 48p. (Gods & Goddesses in Daily Life Series). charts. diags. glossary. illus. index. maps. photos. reprods. Book House. 2014. lib. ed. $35.65.

Gr 5-8 –The concept behind this series is so good that it’s a shame the execution is so disappointing. Each of the four titles deals with a popular Western mythology and culture, tying in stories about different gods to aspects of culture (for instance, for Loki, Viking raids are discussed, while for Neptune, ships and the sea are covered). Unfortunately, two pages simply isn’t enough space to explore either the gods or a general topic of daily life, and overall quality varies from book to book. While the titles are certainly well researched, they sometimes introduce concepts that go counter to common knowledge or omit important details. The layout leaves readers at a loss for which part of the text to read first, and the different font styles and sizes result in an odd look. These resources might work well for libraries looking for very basic introductions to mythology and its relation to culture, but others will want to skip them.

There’s a lot to choose from the titles reviewed here. Of these sets, “The Other Side of the Myth” deserves a full recommendation for its novel and fun approach to Greek mythology, along with its unobtrusive inclusion of Common Core material. “Jr. Graphic Greek Myths” is a fun, additional purchase for libraries looking to make Greek myths more appealing for their comic readers, and “Haunted America” is a great additional purchase for students craving ghost stories. Upper-elementary libraries looking to increase their collections of scary books would do well with either “Creepy Chronicles,” for readers looking primarily to be entertained, or “Creatures of Legend,” which features more Common Core material—these series cover enough of the same material that purchasing both would be repetitive.

This article was published in School Library Journal's April 2014 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.