We Barefoot editors refer to our book projects as our babies. So you can imagine how proud I am to have just brought a trio of beautiful book babies into the world! I had the privilege of working with an incredible team—storytellers Hugh Lupton and Daniel Morden, illustrator Carole Hénaff, and editor-in-chief Tessa Strickland—to create our brand-new Greek Myths series. Want to learn a little bit more about how we brought these ancient myths to life for a young audience? Read on for some fun behind-the-scenes tidbits.
Revisiting the ancient originals
Tessa and I were both classical scholars in our student days so we relished the chance to reread some of the ancient texts that preserve the tradition of ancient Greek mythology. Since there is not a single canonical text for Greek mythology, we had the fun of dabbling around with a number of ancient sources, both Greek and Latin, to make sure our texts preserved all of the thrill and magic of the ancient originals. The primary source for the Demeter and Persephone myth is the Homeric Hymn to Demeter. The story of Theseus and the Minotaur comes from Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Plutarch’s Parallel Lives. The tale of Orpheus and Eurydice can be found in Virgil’s Georgics and Ovid’s Metamorphoses (If you don’t read Greek and Latin, don’t fret! The links above will send you to English translations of the ancient originals).
Creating the family tree
Creating a family tree for the Twelve Olympians was no easy task. Because the gods are immortal and prone to reproducing with their family members, the traditional notion of generations goes right out the window! Also, some ancient sources contradict one another about the lineage of the deities. Most importantly, how in the world do you show unusual circumstances, like Athene springing fully formed from Zeus’ head? I created the family tree by writing all of the relevant deities’ names on index cards, and spending an entire afternoon rearranging them at my desk until I could get them to fit together properly. Even then, we had to include Zeus multiple times to make it work! I turned the index cards into a chart, which I sent to Carole. And then Carole blew all of us away by turning my messy chart into an elegant family tree.
Making a pronunciation guide
When some of our colleagues here in the Barefoot Books offices struggled to pronounce names like <Eurydice>, we knew we had to add a pronunciation guide to the books. I did a first draft and then sent it to Hugh and Daniel for approval. But I failed to consider that my Tennessee-raised tongue might deal with these words differently than English Hugh and Welsh Daniel! It was a fun challenge to craft the pronunciation guide in a way that is at once true to Hugh and Daniel’s storytelling and accessible for an American audience as well as a British one. ( I still say “ZOOSE” instead of “ZYOOSE”!)
Mining details from ancient material culture
Illustrator Carole has such an amazing eye for including visual references to the ancient world in her artwork. We knew we wanted the flaming crown Ariadne gives to Theseus for his trip through the labyrinth to be dazzlingly beautiful. When we found this incredible ancient Macedonian gold leaf crown, we knew it would be perfect to light the way to the Minotaur.
Macedonian crown photo from Wikimedia Commons
Selecting artwork for chapter closers
Each chapter in all of our Greek Myths books ends with a small illustration, carefully chosen to reflect the mood as the chapter comes to a close. But you might not have noticed that each illustration (which we call a “spot art”) was actually pulled from the larger illustrations in the book. Young readers will enjoy the challenge of finding each of the spot art illustrations in another place in the book. I really wanted a torch to close out the first chapter of Orpheus and Eurydice to refer to Eurydice’s funeral pyre, so I asked Carole to add a torch to the illustration of Hades and Persephone in the Underworld. Sometimes the tail wags the dog when it comes to art direction!
Creating the covers
Often the greatest illustration challenge comes when it is time to create the cover. A good book cover communicates a lot of information about what the reader can expect inside. We had a really difficult time deciding what to put on the back cover of Orpheus and Eurydice. I had a flash of inspiration and sent Carole a sketch of Orpheus descending into the Underworld. As you can see, she took my childish stick figure sketch and turned it into an intriguing composition.
Naming the chapters
One of my most beloved tasks as an editor is dividing our independent readers into chapters and giving those chapters names. The trickster goddess in me couldn’t resist the temptation to add in a little pop culture reference. The chapter in Theseus and the Minotaur called “Love in a Dangerous Time” is a reference to the 1984 Bruce Cockburn song “Lovers in a Dangerous Time.”
I hope you all enjoyed this glimpse behind the scenes! If our editorial process intrigues you, be sure to check out our Inside the Creative Cauldron forums. We’re always giving sneak peeks at projects in progress, and soliciting feedback from readers and fans just like you!
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