From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Double Review: Foiled by Jane Yolen & Mike Cavallaro / Zeus: King of the Gods by George O’Connor

Reviewed by Paula Guran

We’ve recently seen two graphic books from the First Second (:01) imprint of Roaring Brook Press (a division of Macmillan). According to its Web site, “First Second aims for high quality, literate graphic novels for a wide age-range, from Middlegrade to Young Adult to Adult readers.”

Our first exposure was to Zeus: King of the Gods by George O’Connor. Part of the Olympians series (The Glory of Hera, Athena: Grey-Eyed Goddess, and Hades: The Wealthy One) the books are obviously aimed primarily at teachers and school libraries. The art in Zeus is eye-catching and O’Connor manages to present the basic Greek myth and tip-toe around the randier aspects of the king of the gods with a dash of humor and without offense. Notes, activities, and a bibliography are included; a Web site recommends activities. The series will be a good addition to classrooms or libraries—as long as D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths is already there (and maybe Rosemary Sutcliff’s Black Ships Before Troy).

Unfortunately, the entire series is not yet available. (The Athena book is the only other to be released so far.) When feeding a kid’s mythological habit, it’s a good idea to offer plenty of immediate fodder.

Zeus: King of the Gods (Olympians)
George O’Connor
First Second | 80 pages | $9.99
January 5, 2010

The second First Second title we’ve seen, Foiled, is written by the fabulous Jane Yolen and effectively illustrated by Mike Cavallaro. The story is sure to capture girls (and, one hopes, boys) from tween through young teen (and some of us oldsters, too).

Aliera Carstairs is a urban (New York City) heroine with typical teen alienation from family, academics, and peers, who finds her calling in competitive fencing. As Aliera tells us early on: “There is a difference between a fencing tournament, where a swordswoman has to be the aggressor to win and in, well, life, where she is a defender. One is a sport, and one is not.” She’s also taught to “protect her heart,” but, of course, we also learn you have to risk all, sometimes, in order to win.

Yes, metaphors abound as well as plenty of, uh, pointed wordplay. A magic sword (sorry, weapon, as Aliera teaches us) and fencing mask turn the tale into a fantasy and, by the end, we and Aliera are introduced to an alternate world and all sorts of exciting new possibilities.

Foiled parries with plenty of well-known (okay, cliched) themes, including role-playing games, but for younger readers they are fresh and the execution is clever enough to capture the more jaded reader as well. The fencing connection is both informative and a fine frame for the plot. Foiled is a real winner and one hopes to see more of Aliera and her adventures soon.

Jane Yolen and Mike Cavallaro
First Second
ISBN: 978-1596432796 | 160 pages | $15.99
April 13, 2010

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