Guest Post: Author P.J. Hoover on Adapting Mythology for Today’s Young Readers


By P.J. Hoover

CBAY Books. Can you spot any Easter Eggs hidden on the cover?

Hello, and a huge shout out to my mythology fans out there! I’ve loved mythology for ages, so when I started spinning stories of my own, there was only one path to take. Of course I was going to create stories with mythology.

My newest book, Homer’s Excellent Adventure (CBAY, 2020), just came out, and if you can’t tell from the title, it’s filled with Greek mythology.

That said, it’s far from my first book with mythological elements in it. In fact, at this point, it would be much easier to count the number of books I’ve written that don’t have mythology twisted inside. I adore mythology.

Always have. Always will.

The best part about writing books with mythology aimed at kids is that so many kids devour mythology books. From Greek and Roman to Egyptian and Norse, there are dedicated shelves at libraries and bookstores for mythology these days. That makes me beyond happy.

One request I get all the time from educators is for tips on how to reinvent Greek myths for modern young readers.

Let’s talk about that, and if you don’t mind indulging me just a bit, I’d love to use Homer’s Excellent Adventure (available now!) as my example. Anyone have a problem with that?

No? Great! Here we go!

Starting Point

My dog, Homer.

Every story needs a starting point, and reinventions of Greek mythology stories are no different.

What is your myth? For Homer’s Excellent Adventure, if you don’t know much about mythology, here’s a quick spoiler. The “Homer” I’m referring to is not the donut-eating protagonist of The Simpsons. Nope.

It’s also not my adorable dog (who, yes, is named Homer).

I’m talking about the original Homer. The (possibly blind) poet from ages ago who is credited with the writing of The Odyssey and The Iliad.

I’ve loved The Odyssey forever. I talk about it all the time in school visits. And I wanted to bring this story to young readers is a fun and compelling manner.

Too often kids in high school are assigned The Odyssey as required reading, and because of the dense and oddly-worded text, it becomes an immediate snooze-fest. I didn’t want that. My story was going to be fun.

And a quick side note because it is kind of important, The Odyssey is about the Greek hero Odysseus trying to sail home to the island of Ithaca after the ten-year-long Trojan War.

Quick refresher on The Odyssey.

Right, so everyone now has a starting point for a Greek mythology inspired story?

Perfect. Let’s move on.

The Twist

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure helped inspire Homer’s Excellent Adventure.

Next up is what I like to call “The Twist.”

Simply put, it’s this. If I just rewrote The Odyssey, there is a major problem with that for the kid market: The main character is an adult. Most stories for kids need a kid protagonist. (Hold your exceptions, please.)

But making Odysseus a kid wasn’t really going to cut it. Instead, I thought and thought and thought and thought, and after a fun re-watch of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, I figured it out.

My main character would be 11-year-old Homer who is about to fail out of school unless he can come up with the perfect story.

The problem is that he hates writing (sound like any kids you know?) and he has no idea what to write about.

Also, the story has to be written in Dactylic Hexameter! While bemoaning his fate to his best friend Dory, the Greek god Hermes overhears him and sends Homer and Dory back to the end of the Trojan War. There, they join up with Odysseus and crew and set sail back for the island of Ithaca. This is our twist.

Homer is just like every kid out there. Kids can now relate. Also, Homer has a super-fun voice, making him completely approachable and delightful to read. He’s got motivation. He’s got a character arc. He’s our new protagonist.

Have we all got our twists? Perfect. Let’s move on.

Quick Dactylic Hexameter refresher anyone?

The Deviation

We have a starting point. We have a twist. We are now ready to write our story.

Here is where the story can run into trouble or where it can really come to life. The choice is yours. I have one big rule here: Allow yourself to deviate from the myth. When writing for the modern audience, everything does not need to be completely literal. You are not writing a Language Arts textbook. You are writing a creative work of fiction.

Make it fun. Make it relatable. Break the mythology mold.

Examples? Sure, glad you asked.

In The Odyssey, Odysseus returns to Ithaca and promptly murders all the guys trying to marry his wife. That’s a little dark for a middle grade novel. Yep, I eliminate that completely in Homer’s Excellent Adventure.

Homer is our new main character, not Odysseus. It doesn’t need to be in there.

Also, in The Odyssey, the journey takes ten years! That’s going to drag on into an epic saga which isn’t going to fly for a middle grade novel. Enter the “magic of the gods.”

Magic of the gods is always a handy trick.

Ten years passage of time is nothing Hermes can’t take care of. Though the journey may feel long to Homer and Dory, in actuality only ten days pass.

Also, for middle grade, I recommend leaving out any references to otherwise questionable material.

Have fun with your story. Cyclops eyes made out of hardtack!

So, my mythology lovers, take it from there. It is the perfect time to get your kid to write a story or even to write a story of your own. Sit them down, give them the three basics, and then let them go.

You’re going to be amazed by the myth-inspired stories they come up with!

Cynsational Notes

P. J. (Tricia) Hoover wanted to be a Jedi, but when that didn’t work out, she became an electrical engineer instead.

After a fifteen year bout designing computer chips for a living, P. J. started creating worlds of her own.

She’s the award-winning author of The Hidden Code (CBAY, 2019), a Da Vinci Code-style young adult adventure with a kick-butt heroine, and Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life (Tor/Starscape, 2016), featuring a fourteen-year-old King Tut who’s stuck in middle school.

When not writing, P. J. spends time practicing kung fu, fixing things around the house, and solving Rubik’s cubes. For more information about P. J. (Tricia) Hoover, please visit her website.