Reading Outside Your Comfort Zone

I am always amazed at the diversity and sheer number of good books that are out there.  If you are anything like me, your “To-Read” list is so large it would take a couple of lifetimes to get through it.  Despite this choice and diversity, I tend to gravitate toward one or two favorite types/genres/styles of books, even when I know I should expand my horizons a bit.

Here, I set out to change that.

I admit it…I don’t “get” graphic novels.  Sure, as a kid, I read the occasional comic book, but it was really the bottle of soda part of the Sunday drugstore outing that I was really interested in.  However, the allure and popularity of graphic novels is undeniable, and I feel that I am missing something.  So, here is my first installment of Reading Outside Your Comfort Zone…

It can be intimidating trying to find out where to start, and I wanted to make sure I was starting with good titles.  So I researched and read reviews, and came up with just a few titles that sounded interesting to get me started.  Here are my thoughts:

Mangaman by Barry Lyga (ill. by Colleen Doran). 2011. 9780547423159. Gr. 7-12.

Barry Lyga is one of my favorite young adult authors.  (I reviewed his latest YA novel, I Hunt Killers here) When I saw that he had authored a graphic novel, I knew I had to check it out.  In reading the summary of Mangaman, it talked about how Lyga has created a funny “metafictive masterpiece” that pokes fun of the manga genre.

I did find Mangaman to be funny and inventive.  Ryoko Kiyama is flung into our world through a tear in the fabric of reality.  He looks and acts like a character in a manga book, so he obviously has a hard time fitting in.  (His eyes turn to hearts when he sees a pretty girl, he trails “speed lines” when he moves quickly, etc.)  He is here on Earth learning about our culture while a government scientist tries to complete a machine that will return him to his world of manga.  This gets more complicated when he meets the school’s prettiest and most popular girl, and has to choose between her world and his. (Note: there is a brief moment of sexuality in this book, and although it is presented in a rather innocuous, lighthearted way, I would recommend this title for older readers).

Olympians series by George O’Connor:

Athena: Grey-Eyed Goddess. 2010. 9781596436497. Gr. 5-8.

Hades: Lord of the Dead2012. 9781596437616. Gr. 5-8.

Hera: The Goddess and Her Glory. 2011. 9781596437241. Gr. 5-8.

Zeus: King of the Gods. 2010. 9781596436251. Gr. 5-8.

I recently read the brilliant novel, Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller.  It is a retelling of the Trojan War from Patroclus’ perspective, and it rekindled my interest in mythology and folklore.  I came across the Olympians graphic novel series, and decided to check it out.

Each book in this series focuses on a key figure in mythology: Zeus, Athena, Hera, and Hades.  Secondary characters are highlighted as well, as they weave in and out of the lives of the main character.  For example, the story of Hades is told through the life of Kore and her mother Demeter.  Kore is kidnapped by the Lord of the Underworld, and eventually becomes Persephone, Queen of the Underworld.

In my opinion, the graphic novel format is ideal for this topic.  I always had trouble keeping the Greek/Roman names straight, as well as what the characters were known for.  These titles memorably lay this out in a visual and very entertaining way.  After all, the Greek gods were the first superheroes!  This series would be a great supplement to any lesson or discussion about mythology. Each title includes a family tree of the main players, discussion guide, bibliography, and in-depth notes/references.

Conclusion:  While I have only dipped my toe into the sea of graphic novels, I must say that I am impressed.  The creativity and artistry is magnificent, and some stories are just better told visually. I think that the Olympians series is particularly exceptional, and it has caused me to look for other titles about mythology.  I have to confess that I was going to include a review of a traditional Japanese manga title here, but I just didn’t care for it enough to justify a review.  Perhaps manga will be featured in another installment of Reading Outside Your Comfort Zone!

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