David Conley – Mythology series

That Book About Greek Mythology Part 1
That Book About Greek Mythology Part 2
That Book About Norse Mythology Part 1
That Book About Norse Mythology Part 2
Written, illustrated and published by David Conley, Canberra, Australia, 2022

I wouldn’t normally bundle four books together but these belong so well as a set that I am doing so on this occasion. It’s something akin to the Labours of Heracles to create a set of books retelling the complex stories of Greek and Norse mythology suitable for and appealing to young children.

David Conley discusses his Mythology series

However, the task has by no means been a penance for author, illustrator and teacher David Conley. We must consider all of his roles in writing about his books because the stories have been created in his classroom with a set of live, real-time critics to keep him on track.

If things make sense to the students, then they get into the book; if not, they are thrown out. The process starts with the drawings.

This is very significant because so often picture books for children begin with the text and the illustrations then enhance the words, whilst also adding another story dimension. This author-illustrator had a vast amount of source material from which to draw – the stories were already there and he had to sieve and sift to find the crucial ones, those that gave the big picture whilst containing the sorts of details children would understand, recognize and enjoy reading about.

Graphic novels

David Conley has written and drawn in a style that will be immediately accessible to children, because it is based on how they think, write and draw themselves. The books are graphic novels, in fact, or longer versions of the comic book of old. The drawings are humorous and quirky, the text deliberately blunt and action-based – no musing on motivation here or deep delving into character.

The thing is that the characters of the personae dramatis do shine through without any explanation or soul searching. The gods are generally self-absorbed and vengeful, violent and selfish. The society portrayed is highly sexist and, for the most part, women get a rough deal. The odd act of female violence or jealous rage seems almost reasonable in this context.

The strength of these books lies precisely in their child appeal. I can see young male students, especially reluctant readers, finding a home in these texts. They can easily start and finish with the pictures if need be and then progress to tackling the relatively simple text.

Humour

There is also a great deal of humour in the works. They’re wry in their bald-faced statements of action. The very lack of embellishment makes them laugh out loud funny.

Clearly David Conley has done extensive research and made considered choices to source the right parts of these mythologies to advance the literacy skills and love of books of his students.

The books stand up in the home market, but shine in the school environment, which thankfully has now moved on a good way from David, Sue and Wendy and Dick and Jane – who seemed, from memory, to be constantly running and looking.

Two more That book about… titles are on the way, one about Space Stuff and another about Egyptian mythology. We’ll look forward to them. What a brilliant way to get young folk reading and talking about the classical stories of great civilisations!

Thank you to David Conley for copies of these four books and for chatting about mythology, books and teaching.