Owl-eyed Group Managing Editor Kate DePalma poured all of her love and enthusiasm for Homer’s Iliad into The Adventures of Achilles, a new addition to the Barefoot Books collection. Read on about Kate’s epic journey into the world of the mighty Achilles!

The first time I tried to read Homer, I was eleven years old. I was on an Odyssey of the Mind team for the first time, and our task that year was to compare a scene in the Iliad to a modern conflict in a short skit. So each of us dutifully went home with our thick Fitzgerald translations of the Iliad and attempted to muddle our way through them.

My dad would read aloud to me, and we’d discuss the details of the story to make sure we were keeping things straight. But as much as I loved to drift away on the sound of my father’s deep voice reading the rhythmic language aloud, I really struggled to follow the plot. I wound up guiltily asking for the Cliff’s Notes.

Once I understood the story, I loved it. It’s a tale about family, love, friendship, war, fame, death, home, wrath, fate, passion. I sympathized with Achilles. I mourned for Patroclus. I longed for the golden apple. I liked Athena best of all.

My Odyssey of the Mind team decided to compare the final showdown between Achilles and Hector to the then-raging conflict between American Olympic ice skaters Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding. Harding had recently gained notoriety in the States after Harding’s ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, hired a hit man to attack fellow skater Nancy Kerrigan by striking her leg with a police baton at a practice session for the US Figure Skating Championships. Kerrigan was not badly hurt, and got her comeuppance by going on to snag the silver medal that year at the Olympics in Lillehammer. If you find the connection tenuous, you have obviously not considered the possibility that the Harding/Kerrigan showdown was orchestrated by jealous gods, which seemed reasonable to me and my fifth-grade cohorts. I got to play Achilles AND Nancy Kerrigan, which yielded me two triumphant victories in the course of our ten-minute skit.

The Iliad stayed with me. Years later, I would decide in the eleventh hour to enter college as a Classics major. And not long after that, I found my way to Barefoot Books. Reading the Iliad at a young age had sparked a passion inside me for ancient literature and mythology that burns to this day. That’s why it was especially exciting for me to work with Editor-in-Chief Tessa Strickland, who also has a background in ancient literature, to bring out a carefully crafted illustrated Iliad for kids with an amazing team of artist and authors ― a version that at once holds appeal to a modern young audience and also is faithful to the ancient tradition of the story.

I want to tell you a secret about this book, and about its twin, The Adventures of Odysseus. Grown-ups really like them too. It’s hard to find retellings of the Iliad and the Odyssey that aren’t either (1) ponderously long or (2) riddled with errors that cause me to clutch my pearls in horror (ahem, Wolfgang Petersen’s Troy). Even as someone who has studied these stories for years, I found that Barefoot’s version of the Iliad has brought me a richer understanding of the many layers and themes in this timeless epic. I suspect many adults will find themselves reading this book and wondering why they don’t read books with pictures more often.

 

The Iliad has been a big part of my story. I hope The Adventures of Achilles will help bring this epic tale into the lives of lots of eager young readers, among whom I numbered not so long ago.

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