Once again, the holiday season is upon us, and once again we’re all left scrambling, searching for the perfect gifts for the youngsters in our lives. This year, we here at GeekDad thought we might ask advice from some folks who have seen more than a few holiday seasons come and go (and come and go, and come and go). We asked the immortal Greek Gods (as seen in George O’Connor’s ongoing graphic novel series Olympians, published by First Second) what books they might recommend for your young readers.
GeekDad: Hi, state your name and occupation, please.
Athena: Athena, goddess of wisdom and war, specifically the strategic side of things. Patron of heroes, and turner of Medusa into a horrible snake monster.
GD: I see. And what sort of books would you recommend?
Athena: I recommend anything with a good dose of adventure, with a kick-butt female protagonist who maybe solves her problems with a healthy application of brainpower. I also like graphic novels, because visual literacy is an amazing way to learn and absorb information.
I’m talking about the Hildafolk series by Luke Pearson or the Zita the Spacegirl series by Ben Hatke. They’re both great, with strong, brave, smart heroines as the main characters. Right now I’m reading Dragons Beware! by Jorge Aguirre and Rafael Rosado. It’s about Claudette, a little girl who wants to kill a dragon. It’s the sequel to Giants Beware! I killed a giant once.
Athena: Yeah, see this cape?
Athena: It’s made of his skin.
GD: Okay, I’m going over here now.
GD: Hi, what’s your name and occupation?
Hermes: I’m Hermes, god of peacemakers, astronomy, calendars, and writing. I’m the god of thieves and liars, language and eloquence, and politicians. I’m the god of merchants, of trade, of hospitality, of travel and boundaries. Also athletics, gymnasiums, the home, guard dogs, shepherds…
GD: Oh my.
Hermes: Yeah, I’m also the god who brings you your dreams every night, and when you die, I’m the guy who will bring you to the Underworld.
Hermes: Oh, and I’m the messenger of the gods, and the right-hand man of my dad, Zeus, king of the gods.
GD: So you’re a pretty busy god!
Hermes: A bit. So when I do get a chance to read, I like it to hit as many of my interests at once as possible. So that’s why I’m recommending the entire His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman.
In Book 1, The Golden Compass, we meet Lyra Belacqua, aka Lyra Silvertongue. She is one of the best truthbenders in all of fiction, which appeals to my interest in liars. In Book 2, The Subtle Knife, we are introduced to the artifact of the same name. This knife can literally cut holes through the walls between dimensions. How’s that for both boundaries and travel? And finally, in Book 3, The Amber Spyglass, Lyra literally travels to the land of the dead! Bam! It’s like this series was written for me!
GD: Sounds like it.
Hermes: Plus it has talking polar bears in armor. TALKING POLAR BEARS IN ARMOR. How cool is that?
GD: Very cool.
Hermes: You know it. By the way, that dream you had last night? With the clowns? That was messed up, son.
GD: Tell me about it.
Demeter: No, no, I’m fine. I’m Demeter, the goddess of the harvest. I just always get sad this time of year.
GD: I understand. The holidays can be rough for a lot of people.
Demeter: I’m sad because I miss my daughter, Persephone. She spends half the year with me on Olympus, but she spends the other half in the Underworld with her husband, Hades. When she’s away, I get so sad that I don’t let anything grow on Earth. It’s a rough time.
GD: I bet.
Demeter: Know what else is weird? Hades is my brother. She’s married to her uncle.
GD: Wow. That must make for some awkward holiday dinners.
Demeter: You know, they’ve never once had me over for dinner! Not that they would eat anything anyway. Not even a single pomegranate seed…
Demeter: So I recommend the book When Green Becomes Tomatoes by Julie Fogliano, with illustrations by Julie Morstad. It’s a wonderful, lyrical collection of poems for all the seasons of the year. I read it over and over again, and it reminds me of the times when my beautiful Persephone is here with me. Even the winter seems more beautiful in Fogliano’s delightful poems.
GD: Well, thank you very much for the recommendation, Demeter.
Demeter: Did you know that Hades named the Underworld after himself? What sort of egomaniac names his home after himself? I mean, really.
Ares: Ares. God of war.
GD: I thought Athena was the goddess of war?
Ares: Oh, she is. All the training and skill and strategy stuff, that’s her job. Slicing up your enemies, feeling their hot blood splash against your chest as the light leaves their eyes, the chaos, the clamor, the fear—that’s what I’m the god of.
GD: Sounds dreadful!
Ares: Oh, it is.
GD: Do you have a recommendation for our readers?
Ares: Yes, I do. I like to read about history. I’d recommend Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales series, like Alamo All-Stars or Treaties, Trenches, Mud and Blood. Exciting explorations of history in a graphic novel format. Right now, I’m reading Bomb by Steve Sheinkin, a fascinating history of the race to create the atom bomb. Highly recommended.
GD: Wow, thank you, Ares. I must say, I’m surprised at how well-thought-out and reasonable your suggestions were.
Ares: It’s also got explosions in it.
GD: I imagine so, yes.
Ares: I like explosions. Boom!
Zeus: The honor’s all yours.
GD: May I ask what that is you’re reading?
Zeus: This? Oh, this is a bit embarrassing. This is D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths by Ingri and Edgar D’Aulaire.
GD: Reading up on yourself, huh?
Zeus: Kind of. You see, in addition to being a great compendium of Greek myth, it has a really accurate and detailed family tree, and well, uh…
Hera: He’s trying to figure out how many kids he has.
Zeus: Hera, please…
Hera: Oh no, really, that’s a totally normal thing to have to do. To have so many children that you need to guess their number by consulting a book.
GD: Well, Zeus is over 5000 years old…
Hera: That’s an excuse? So am I, we’ve been married for almost that whole time! Zeus, how many kids have you found so far?
Zeus: …over 75…
Hera: And he’s only just started! And Zeus, how many of those children have you had with me?
Hera: Three! My goodness! That means I’m the stepmother to an awful lot of children, aren’t I?
GD: I guess so!
Hera: That’s why I’m recommending Coraline, by Neil Gaiman, specifically the graphic novel version adapted by P. Craig Russell. It’s about a young girl named Coraline who discovers she has a sort of stepmother, the Other Mother, who wants to try and take care of her.
GD: Sounds interesting.
Hera: The Other Mother wants to take care of Coraline by sewing buttons over her eyes.
Hera: I can think of a few people I’d like to sew buttons over the eyes of.
GD: Wow, any, uh, any other books either of you can recommend? Zeus, are there any other good sources for kids to learn about Greek mythology? What about the Olympians graphic novel series by George O’Connor?
Zeus: They’re pretty good, I guess…
Hera: Excellent family trees!
Zeus: Yeah, but I wouldn’t get too attached to him, though. I’m totally going to blow him up with a lightning bolt.
This post was contributed by George O’Connor who has been writing and illustrating the Olympians graphic novel series for First Second Books. He’s the author of several picture books, including the New York Times bestseller Kapow!, Ker-Splash, and Sally and the Some-thing. His debut graphic novel, Journey into Mohawk Country, was also published by First Second. He is over 7 foot tall, and is the handsomest man in the world.