Elementary/Middle School: Ares by George O'Connor

This is one of a series of graphic novels that focuses on Gods and Goddess. George O'Connor's goal is to retell classic Greek myths. Each graphic novel focuses on one story the involves the God or Goddess. So if your kid is even slightly interested in Greek mythology they will love this series. What I love about the series are the strong female characters and the larger questions that it raises that can be applied to future discussions or lessons. 

Ares centers on the famous Trojan War but specifically from the Gods and Goddess's perspective. It deals with sibling rivalry, parent-child relationships and the damage that can ensue when someone's only goal is revenge. Ares is the God of War and the story begins with the difference between him and his sister Athena, whose specialty is strategy of war while Ares's is pure destruction. This dynamic is a basis for a lot of sibling rivalry between the two.

 I always recommend graphic novels/comic books for reluctant and not so strong readers, it is a great medium to ease them into reading. George O'Connor has a great website for kids and educators as well!

Young Adult: Nobody's Princess and Goddess of Yesterday

Poor Helen of Troy has so many interpretations of her. Is she a witch or the unwillingly participant in leaving her husband Menelaus for Paris of Troy? Both have been richly discussed and written. Here are two different interpretations of Helen of Troy, both geared towards young adult readers.

Nobody's Princess by Esther Friesner

This Helen is one that seeks her own agency, she wishes to be more than a pretty face. The writer does take artistic liberty on the story around Helen of Troy and Greek mythology but it focuses on Helen's childhood and sets the catalyst for the future Helen of Troy. The sequel Nobody's Prize follows her in a quest to find the Golden Fleece. Dressed as a boy she goes through an epic; from battles to adventures on the sea. Friesner gives the female protagonist, the infamous Helen, a new interpretation by focusing on Helen before her marriage.  

Goddess of Yesterday by Caroline B. Cooney

While Helen is not the main character she is an evil one. It follows Anaxandra who was taken by a King to be a companion to his crippled daughter on the island of Siphnos. Six years later Siphnos is attacked and she is the lone survivor, she assumes the identity of the Princess and she finds she is on the ship of Menelaus the King of Sparta. Queen Helen of Sparta doubts her story which creates tension and trickery for Anaxandra. When Menelaus leaves Paris and Aeneas arrive, and thus begins Helen's affair with Paris, which leads to the great Trojan war. Once again Anaxandra assumes an identity, this time Helen's daughter Hermione to protect the daughter and care for Helen's son. Once Queen Helen of Troy finds out her mission is to make Anaxandra suffer. This Helen of Troy is portrayed as a selfish woman who is driven by lust and is willing to sacrifice her children to be the wife of Paris.

Two contrasting views of Helen but both center on the power of the female, from demanding agency in Nobody's Princess to lust driven decisions as seen in Goddess of Yesterday. When thinking of The Iliad it is important to remember why the war was started; a woman. What does this mean and how can it be applied to modern notions of war, gender roles and relationships.