Around the time I last posted to this blog, I set myself a deadline of the middle of October to complete a draft of the book of lessons based on Hercules for autistic children. Since then, I've been intensively writing and have... just this afternoon... completed a draft of the book and sent it to some dear colleagues for comments. I'm now going to immerse myself in preparing for two events I'm organising within the next month. One is a remote 'show and tell' for Black History Month UK of classics and children's culture - to take place a week tomorrow, on Weds 21 October. The other is an online 'Hercules Cafe' for this year's UK Being Human Festival on Wednesday 12 November. More to follow on this latter event! And on the lessons...
Why classical myth and autism?
The idea for this project started to take shape at a meeting in 2008 with a special needs teacher, who mentioned that, in her experience and those of her colleagues, autistic children often enjoy classical myth. I began to wonder why this might be the case, and whether – as a classicist who researches, and loves, classical myth – there was anything I could contribute. I started this blog to report on my progress which was often sporadic until the launch of the Warsaw-based European Research Council-funded project Our Mythical Childhood (2016-21) to trace the role of classics in children’s culture.
Tuesday, 13 October 2020
Wednesday, 23 September 2020
I've been visiting this blog a good deal lately - indeed, I've recently re-read pretty well each posting I've out up since I got going in early 2009. But this engagement with my own previous postings hasn't been translating in to creating new posts.
Here's why: I am throwing myself into writing the book I've mentioned in earlier postings. It's a book which introduces then presents a set of lessons using classical myth for autistic children. So, just when I'm working more intensively than ever on the project, I'm quieter than I sometimes am on the blog.
I'm close to finishing a draft of the introduction - currently at 12,298 words. Here's the current version of the first paragraph:
This book – part of the series Our Mythical Childhood – is concerned with a particular kind of “mythical childhood,” an autistic childhood. It is a book which presents a set of activities which are each concerned with classical myth. The second part of the book presents the activities, which are divided into ten lessons. This first part of the book explains the purpose of the lessons, what they focus on and why they take this focus. I spend quite a bit of time giving the background for two key reasons. One is to help any teacher, or other adult, who is interested in using some or more of the lessons, know about the mythological background to the activities. The other key reason is to set out why I have developed the activities.
Now I must to get back to the book!
Wednesday, 9 September 2020
In the previous posting, I ran through what happened at a session on “Meeting Hercules” at a primary school’s autism base a couple of years ago. Now, as promised, I am going to turn to the second of the two lessons that took place om the same day.
The first lesson had been observed by the then researcher, Effie Kostara, alone. I joined Effie for this second lesson, again for students between 8 and 11. To give some brief background, classes at the school are taught following a four-fold pattern which combines being given initial information, brainstorming opportunities, hands-on activities and opportunities for in-depth engagement with a given topic. Classes are small in size, led by a class teacher, with teaching assistants to support the students further.
“Meeting Hercules” formed the Topic lesson for the day. The teacher started the lesson, like all her lessons, by picking up a bucket and taking out of it something relevant to the session. This time, she had but in a card with the word “video” on it. Showing this led into the second, “Talk about…”, part of the lesson, which began with an introduction to Hercules via the trailer for the Disney Hercules – which the children looked entranced by.
The teacher then showed this picture of a statue of Hercules, and asked the students to discuss what they saw:They rose to this task, making lots of comments including about the lion on his head, and his eyes, which one student found ”scary.”
Then the teacher introduced the chimneypiece panel which produced a response of “wow” from one of the children. It was the women that especially interested them. They were full of ideas as to how the women are reacting to Hercules. One said “they both want his attention.” Another suggested that they both want to marry him.
As for Hercules, one student thought that he might be bored, another that he looked like he is flirting. Others thought that he might not be paying any attention to the women with one student wondering whether he was looking up at the sky to find a planet, and another commenting that he could be looking at the sea.
When it was time for the next stage of the class, called “your turn,” the students coloured in a picture of Hercules: the same one that the previous class had coloured in:
As they did the task, the students kept asking questions. There was a lot of working together and sharing of ideas as well as sharing their colours and looking at what others were drawing.
For the final stage of the lesson, the teacher asked the children which picture of Hercules they liked better. They all said that they preferred the picture of Hercules alone to the one of him with the women.
Then – because the teacher invited me to – I told them the story that is being depicted on the panel. The children listened carefully to the story about the choice that the women asked Hercules to make. They said that they thought that Hercules looked scared. One of the children impersonated his pose.
I asked them what they thought he should chose: the easy life or the life of adventures. They all said: the easy life.
Here are some thoughts on what took place and how what came up in the class is shaping what I am now doing,
With the class teacher present along with two teaching assistants, Effie and myself, there must have been as many adults as children in the room. Yet my memory is that there were more children present than adults. That I remember there being more students that adults testifies perhaps to how student-centred the class felt.
I was struck by just how much the children liked hearing about Hercules, and how proactive they were in coming up with their responses to what he looked like, what he might be feeling and how he was interacting with others. Likewise, I was struck by just how much the children engaged with what was going on in the scene – not only with Hercules but with how the women were responding to Hercules.
The children’s responses showed just how many ways there can be of making sense of Hercules. Like the children suggested, he might be ignoring the women for instance, or he might be flirting with them. Or his attention might be elsewhere – he might be looking at the sky, or at the sea.
The activity also showed just how much colouring in is something worth doing as an activity. After the session, I learned how controversial colouring in is in children’s education, with some arguing that it is often done in place of teaching students and that, as an activity, colouring might go so far as to impede student learning. But what I saw were students turning with enthusiasm to the task, looking thoughtfully at the image, noticing new things and – all the time – reflecting on what they responses to Hercules and to the scene on the panel.
Had the session ended with the final task planned by the teacher – the comparison between two depictions of Hercules – it would have achieved some useful things. For example, the students would have had opportunities to think about Hercules and about feelings and about how he communications with others.
But due to what happened in the closing minutes – where I outlined to the students what mythological episode is being depicted on the panel – I gained a sense of the potential for this aspect of the panel too. As I only told the story close to the end of the class, there wasn’t much time for thinking about choices, let alone causality. However, there was enough time for a brief chat about how the students thought about what Hercules might be feeling. The students were very willing to think about what they themselves would choose faced with comparable options.
Indeed, one thing I took from the session is that Hercules’s choice can be introduced in a single lesson. I am now thinking about a way to make this the focus of a discrete session – one where students get an opportunity to think about choices and about the implications of what they choose for the future.
Tuesday, 1 September 2020
A couple of years ago, I experienced for the first time something key for the classical myth-themed resources I have been designing for autistic children. This was when Effie Kostara and I visited a local primary school with an autism base while Effie was working at Roehampton as a Researcher for the autism project.
Two classes, each comprised of students aged between 8 and 11, took part in a lesson called “Meeting Hercules.” Each lesson was based on the first of a set of activities I had developed several months earlier and for which Effie had written a Teachers’ Guide. Effie observed both of the sessions, and I observed the second one and ended up taking part as well. I hadn’t planned this but did so on the teacher’s invitation.
Right now, I am revisiting the report that Effie wrote afterwards as I prepare the activities for a book I am writing. I am now going to run though what happened in the first of the lessons. I’ll follow this with some reflections what happened and the implications for my project. Then, in the next posting, I’ll share what happened in the other lesson.
The focus was different in some respects from what I had been envisaging. What I had designed was a set of activities where, starting with “Meeting Hercules”, students would go increasingly deeply into a particular mythological encounter where – at a curious place – Hercules meets two women who task him with making a choice between two distinct ways of life.
But what happened at the school were two stand-alone, one-off lessons. Both of these lessons followed the standard four-part structure for lessons at the school: introduction, discussion, activity, more complex activity.
The first lesson – for a class of 5 children, all boys – formed the History lesson of the day. The teacher began by showing the class a photo of the chimneypiece panel – the artwork on which the activities are based.
|Choice of Hercules chimneypiece panel, Adam Room, Grove House, Roehampton. |
Photo by Marina Vorobieva
Without saying anything about classical myth or about the kind of artwork the panel is, the teacher asked who the people in the scene might be. Straightaway, the children became super animated and came up with all sorts of possibilities as to who the figures are and how they are interacting with one another. They were especially interested in the woman on the right – asking, for example, whether she is a servant, and wondering if she is saying “help!”
After that, the teacher introduced Hercules – as someone who is always taking part in adventures. She showed them a picture of Hercules wearing the lionskin and wielding his club.
|Hercules wearing lionskin - |
from image shown to children during
"Meeting Hercules" lesson
The teacher asked the students what they thought now about Hercules on the picture of the panel. What especially interested them was how adventurous they thought Hercules was. They said that he looked like an adventurous person but the he wasn’t being very active here. One pupil commented that he looks like he is thinking. Another commented that he looks like he is sleeping. Another said that he looks to be thinking about his next adventure.
When the teacher asked what he was holding, they got very interested in his club and how it could function as a weapon.
The teacher asked next what kind of adventure Hercules might be going to face. Among the responses was that he was going to rescue someone; meanwhile, another pupil said that Hercules was going to look for a lost temple.
The teacher then told the students about one of the labours performed by Hercules – his encounter with the Lernean Hydra. The children loved hearing about this encounter, and asked for more monster stories in the future.
Then the children were given a picture of Hercules: the very provisional one I had created before Steve Simons created the high-quality vector drawings of the panel.
|Hercules drawing used during the class|
|Hercules drawing created since the class took place by Steve Simons|
The students were set a task – of colour in Hercules. A lot of thought went into which colours to choose and which colours to use for different parts of the drawing.
For the final part of the lesson, the students were asked to look again at the two picture of Hercules and compare and contrast them. They were asked to write down the words they were thinking of to describe Hercules. As they did this, the students continued to talk about the hero and how adventurous he is. They wanted to learn more about his labours.
I’ll end with a few things that especially struck me about the lesson. One was that knowing who Hercules is isn’t vital: the students made some thoughtful observations about the panel, and the communications between the three people, before they found out who Hercules is and who the women might be.
But what the lesson also showed is just how much the students enjoyed finding out about Hercules, especially as someone who performed tasks, particular tasks involving monsters. The word “adventurous” is one that kept coming up. As a result, I am planning more than I had initially intended around different aspects of Hercules, and how these form a backdrop to what is taking place on the panel. Indeed, what is taking place on the panel can itself count as an adventure.
The session has also shown me that, as we well as producing a series of lessons about Hercules, it is worth developing standalone sessions. I’ll say more about this in due course.
In the next posing, I shall turn to the second session which followed the same broad structure but took some distinctive turns…
Tuesday, 25 August 2020
Here are the reflections I promised last week on some trends in how Hercules is used in children’s literature. I mentioned last week that the reflections were, then, in draft form. Turning the draft into a final version has taken longer than anticipated, one reason being that I initially made quite polemical comments that I’ve since put into a “spares” folder. I might do something with these comments further down the road...
Also, I’ve spent the past few days throwing myself into writing activities involving Hercules for autistic children. Reflecting on the trends in children’s literature is helping with these activities, so I find myself at a more advanced stage as I present my reflections than when I drafted them last week.
What is set out below is indebted to Lisa Maurice’s article published in late 2019 and also to the list Lisa shared with me of children’s books involving Hercules from 1970-2018 which provided the basis of the one I shared last week. Please see the last two postings for details! Where I include hyperlinks below, these are to relevant entries in the Our Mythical Childhood survey of works for children inspired by anything classical.
For a long time, Hercules could pose a problem. On the one hand, as the best-known of classical mythological figures, with a rich set of appropriations during the long “classical tradition,” Hercules was seen to epitomise Classics as forming part of the kind of knowledge that it was suitable to impart to children. Hercules, as the quintessential classical hero, could stand as “a mark of intellect and good education,” in Lisa Maurice’s words from her article of last year (2019: 81).
But – and here’s where the problem comes in – for all that Hercules was regarded as a suitable figure to learn about, and for all that he was considered to be one whose stories were seen to impart all sorts of virtues appropriate to a rounded education, there was also another side to Hercules. This side comprised the Hercules who perpetuated violence, including violence against those close to him, even his own children. One option – of absolving Hercules from blame in place of blaming others, such as the gods, notably Hera – only opens up a further set of moral issues such as around divine capriciousness.
For a long time, as Lisa explores in her article, what an author presenting Hercules for children would do was to omit, or to sanitise, certain aspects of the stories about Hercules. However, as Lisa shows, in the 1990s, the children for whom the books were written were potentially coming into contact with a different kind of Hercules: the Hercules of the Disney film and the TV series Legendary Journeys. These versions of Hercules were very much reflecting contemporary 1990s values but they had moved away from the elitism and focus on provision of knowledge and worthiness of Hercules in books for children.
Helped by a shake-up started by Disney and the Legendary Journeys, there is now a Hercules who has been adapted afresh over recent years as part of a new more inclusive approach to classical myth. Such is the Hercules who figures in various recent books for children. These books have not been concerned with imparting “correct” knowledge about classical myth.
While standard episodes that form part of ancient sources recur, a range of other characters, from classical myth and from other cultures sometimes wander into and out of this world. After centuries of standing as an epitome of where classics is, Hercules has got away from the discipline.
|Heroism for all in a 2018 "Choose Your Own" Herculean adventure|
These works include Hercules who has somehow entered the modern world, and where he is out of place. Here there is scope for the protagonists of particular novels to find themselves inhabiting the world of classical myth where, against a backdrop of creatures and heroes they work though their own identities and concerns and come of age. Such is the case in the “time travel” novel Helping Hercules by Francesca Simon, in Crib and the Labours of Hercules by Gerald Vinestock and in the Camp Hercules series by P.J. Hoover.
In Steve Barlow and Steve Skidmore’s “Choose your Own” adventure involving Hercules from 2018 meanwhile, anyone can be a hero – and make choices and explore issues like friendship and empathy. This approach seems quite different from that taken in another “choose your own” book I wrote about here a couple of years back: by Anika Fajardo. In this book, the reader is tasked to make choices but if the choice is out of line with “the myth,” they end up defeated or killed.
But there is still space for learning about the classical world from books about Hercules. For example John Bankson’s book on Hercules from the series A Kid’s Guide to Mythology uses Hercules as a vehicle for introducing aspects of the classical world which explore how, today, people engage with antiquity – including via a discussion of what we know, how we know it and the possible of more than one version.
As Tikva Schein writes in her analysis of the book for the survey entry on this book, Bankson “begins with a recognition that many versions of Hercules prevail and this story presents just one...The story is no longer merely about overcoming demons but is set in a wider context of how we relate to our past and the ancient world.”
How Hercules is used in books for children has changed, then. This change has come at a time when how children’s literature has used and engaged with classics has been changing. Hercules has moved away from a figure worthy of study as an exemplar of a mythological figure who can transmit knowledge about, and values of, classical antiquity. Hercules has moved towards a vehicle to explore issues relevant to children’s lives.
Hercules can still be used a route into engaging with classical antiquity but via a move away from single, linear view of the classical past and who can “own” that past.
These two issues – knowing about the past, and exploring issues in children’s lives – are key to my project. One thing this exercise has done is to bear out what I’d hoped – namely that an overview of Hercules in books for children can complement the activities for autistic children.
Tuesday, 18 August 2020
In the previous posting, put up yesterday, I listed a sample of recent children’s books involving Hercules. I am currently writing about these and will share what I have come up with soon.
I have also been thinking about the bigger picture of Hercules in children’s literature aided by the article by Lisa Maurice that I have mentioned previously and also by a list of works about Hercules that Lisa has just sent me. Here’s the list of books from Lisa from 1970 down to 2018 with one addition: Hercules and Bampots written in Scots from 2005.
Ian Serraillier, Hercules the Strong
Robert Newman, The Twelve Labors of Hercules
Claudia Zeff, Gill Harvey and Stephen Cartwright, The Amazing Adventures of Hercules (Usborne Young Reading: Series Two)
Bernard Evslin, Hercules
I. M. Richardson, The Adventures of Hercules
Laura Geringer and Peter Bollinger, Hercules the Strong Man (Myth Men: Guardians of the Legend)
Bob Blaisdell, The Story of Hercules (Dover Children's Thrift Classics)
Kathryn Lasky and Mark Hess, Hercules: The Man, the Myth, the Hero
Jan Carr, Hercules: The Hero
James Riordan and Christina Balit, The Twelve Labors Of Hercules
Georges Moroz, Hercules - The Complete Myths of a Legend (Laurel-Leaf Books)
Marc Cerasini, Twelve Labors of Hercules (Step into Reading, Step 3, paper)
Georges Moroz, Hercules: The Twelve Labors
John Whitman, Hercules: Legendary Journeys (Mighty Chronicles)
Nancy Loewen, Hercules (Greek and Roman Mythology Series)
Robert Burleigh and Raul Colon, Hercules
Elizabeth Hookings, Sandra Iverson, Bob Eschenbach, Tom Pipher, Hercules and Other Greek Legends
Della Rowland, Hercules and the golden apples
Geraldine McCaughrean, Hercules
Gill Harvey and Stephen Cartwright, The Amazing Adventures of Hercules (Usborne Young Reading: Series Two)
James Ford and Peter Rutherford, The Twelve Labors of Hercules (Ancient Myths)
Frank Tieri and Jimmy Palmiotti, Hercules: New Labors of Hercules (Marvel Comics)
Geraldine McCaughrean and Cynthia Bishop, Hercules (Heroes)
Chris Mould, and Diana Redmond, Hercules: Superhero and workbook, 2005, 2012
Matthew Fitt, Hercules: Bampots and Heroes, illustrated by Bob Dewar, Edinburgh: Itchy Coo, 57 pages.
Jim Whiting, Hercules (Profiles in Greek & Roman Mythology)
Paul Storrie and Steve Kurth, Hercules: The Twelve Labours (Graphic Universe)
Shannon Eric Denton and Andy Kuhn, Hercules (Short Tales Greek Myths)
Bob Layton, Hercules: Prince of Power (Marvel Premiere Classic)
Bob Layton, Hercules: Full Circle
Janet Hardy-Gould, Hercules,
Bob Layton and Ron Lim, Hercules: Twilight of a God (Hercules (Marvel))
Kate McMullan and Denis Zilber, Get to Work, Hercules! (Myth-O-Mania Book 7)
Sarah Coghill, The Twelve Labors of Hercules
Alex Frith and Linda Cavallini, Hercules The World's Strongest Man
Francesca Simon and Tony Ross, Helping Hercules
Paul D. Storrie and Steve Kurth, Hercules: The Twelve Labors [A Greek Myth] (Graphic Myths and Legends)
Fred Van Lente and Alexey Aparin, Hercules (Myths and Legends)
Brandon Terrell, Greek Mythology's Twelve Labors of Hercules: A Choose Your Path Book (Can You Survive?)
Ryan Madison, Hercules: The First 6 tasks
Tony Bradman, Hercules the Hero (White Wolves: Myths and Legends)
Gary Margrove, Hercules Son of God: Deceit of the Gods (Part 5) (Legacy of the Gods Book 4)
Michaela Morgan, (Illustrated by Glen McBeth), Hercules the hero: a myth from ancient Greece
John Bankston, Hercules (Kids’ Guide to Mythology)
Martin Powell and Alfonso Ruiz, The Adventures of Hercules (Graphic Revolve: Common Core Editions)
Greg Pak and Fred van Lente, Incredible Hercules: Love and War
Estudio Haus, The 12 Labors of Hercules (Ancient Myths)
Anika Fajardo and Nadine Takvorian, Hercules and His 12 Labors: An Interactive
Mythological Adventure (You Choose: Ancient Greek Myths)
Connie Morgan and Herb Leonhard, Hercules on the Bayou
Paul Nation Hercules (Level6 Book 5) older 11-13
Simon Spence and Colm Lawton, Herakles: Book 5- Early Myths: Kids Books on Greek Myth (Volume 5) 4-10 yr olds
Stella Tarakson, Nick Roberts, Here Comes Hercules! (Hopeless Heroes) 6-10 year olds
Gerald Vinestock, Crib and the Labours of Hercules
Winston Forde and Jermaine Carew, The Golden Gloves of Heracles & Hercules's Gauntlet 9-18 yr olds
Michael and David Sorrow, Heroic Hercules and the Baby Dragon (Learning in Motion Adventures Book 1) younger
Elena Paige, Hercules Finds His Courage: Volume 1 Taki and Toula Time Travelers) ages 6-8.
Lee Smyth, Hercules: Gods Versus Titans (WARRIORS! Book 3) Middle school and teenage boys.
Steve Barlow, Steve Skidmore and Andrew Tunney, Hercules (EDGE: I HERO: Legends) 6-8 year olds (choose-your-own-destiny adventure).
Connor Hoover, Camp Hercules 7-12
The list is full of relevance to the activities – to give context, to provide a starting point, to provide follow-up reading. When I first drafted activities for children, I considered whether it was necessary to introduce Hercules first. Rather, Hercules could come gradually into the activities.
I can still see pros and cons to either approach and the children’s literature could complement either approach – in some books, Hercules is the focus from the start. In others, like Camp Hercules or Crib and the labours of Hercules, the starting point is a child – the main character – who finds themselves unexpectedly inhabiting a world which comprises Hercules and other mythological characters.
How all this bears on the activities I’ll discuss in the next posting, currently in draft form.
Monday, 17 August 2020
Over the past few weeks, I have been doing some hands-on investigating how classics is presented for children, and to a degree how children themselves engage actively with classical topics and figures. I have been writing entries for the Our Mythical Childhood survey – on various topics including the exhibition I wrote about on this blog a few months’ ago on the Labours of Hercules in Leeds.
Because the exhibition showed how Hercules can keep seeming relevant, I have decided to think more about how Hercules has been treated in works for children. One possible benefit of gauging uses of Hercules will be to establish the kind of image of Hercules that are available for children.
I shall look at how these uses bear on my own uses of Hercules – in the activities I am creating involving this figure. One thing that I’ve noted, for example, is that classical myths, when told for children, can present stereotypical images of issues like gender. The retellings often play down certain themes and topics which the author thinks are not suitable for children. As a result, some of the features that are apparent in ancient tellings are erased.
I’m not saying that they shouldn’t be erased – but the selectively does create a sense of myths that are supposedly timeless in their appeal when, in fact, to be suitable for children, successive retellers have make their own interventions.
There is a tension here between the stories about Hercules and other figures being ever changing, depending on a particular teller and audience and the sense that there exists some “thing” that is “classical myth,” “the myth of Hercules” and so forth.
I started a list of books on an about Hercules back in February 2018 – while our survey was just getting going. Currently we’re up to 1032 entries of which a good number concern Hercules. I just typed “Hercules” into the search engine and 223 entries came up. Some of these were written after I compiled the 2018 list, and all have come out in the period since the Mythical Childhood project began in 2016.
Right now, Hercules matters, and I’ll try to highlight some of the reasons why – with a view to which of the books might complement the autism activities.
|P.J. Hoover, author |
of Camp Hercules
More to follow, but as a taster here are some of the books I plan to look at:
John Bankston. Hercules. Hockessin: Mitchell Lane Publishers, 2016, 48 pp. (ages 8-11) http://www.omc.obta.al.uw.edu.pl/myth-survey/item/539
Gerald Vinestock, Crib and the Labours of Hercules, Bobaloo Books, UK, 2017, 178 pp. (ages 9-14) http://www.omc.obta.al.uw.edu.pl/myth-survey/item/827
P. J. Hoover, Camp Hercules Volume I: The Curse of Hera, Austin, Texas: Roots in Myth, 2018, 300 pp. (ages 8-12) http://www.omc.obta.al.uw.edu.pl/myth-survey/item/956
Steve Barlow and Steve Skidmore, EDGE: I HERO: Legends: Hercules, London: Franklin Watts (an imprint of Hachette Children’s Group), 2018, 64 pp. (ages 7-plus) http://www.omc.obta.al.uw.edu.pl/myth-survey/item/662