Firekeeper’s Daughter: The Hero’s Journey and the Ojibwe Medicine Wheel

The 2021 Big Read programming featured Angeline Boulley and her debut novel Firekeeper’s Daughter. Her book is one example of following the hero’s journey, but it contains a twist by also using the Ojibwe medicine wheel to create the story. She discussed the structure of her book at the Michigan Council of Teachers of English Conference on October 14. 

Boulley structured her book into four acts in order to overlap the four quadrants of the hero’s journey with the medicine wheel. She incorporated the medicine wheel by combining the plant medicine of tobacco into the story. Each act continues to highlight areas of the medicine wheel to capture this aspect of her Native American culture. 

We see a similar theme in our 2022 Big Read Lakeshore book since Circe is knowledgeable in herbal medicine and hones her craft throughout the book. One of the reasons we read stories is to learn about the culture and practices of different cultures. 

Angeline Boulley announced that her next book will be available next spring about a heist gone wrong. Keep an eye out for it! 

The Odyssey: Choosing a Translation

With over 60 English translations, knowing which translation of The Odyssey to read can be difficult. 

In the original Greek, The Odyssey is in blank verse, using dactylic hexameter, both of which are common attributes of Greek and Latin poetry. Some translators of The Odyssey choose to keep their translation in blank verse while others choose to change the style or instead write in prose. Because of these style choices, each translation highlights different aspects of the original. 

The first person to translate The Odyssey into English was the British poet and playwright George Chapman in 1616. Since then, men have continued to translate the famous epic, but it was not until 2018 when the first female translator published her version of The Odyssey.

Emily Wilson is this first female translator. Her translation of The Odyssey keeps the original blank verse, but changes the dactylic hexameter into iambic pentameter. Throughout the poem, she keeps many of the original Homeric similes. Another unique characteristic of Wilson’s translation is her portrayal of the female characters and certain situations; for instance, she translates male and female relationships without compromising the original meaning. Wilson’s translation is great for anyone who is interested in reading The Odyssey, whether a first-timer or a veteran.

George Chapman’s translation, one of the most advanced, is written in Elizabethan English. Similar to Wilson, he also keeps the epic in blank verse and turns the dactylic hexameter into iambic pentameter. Throughout his translation, Chapman adds descriptive, moral, and philosophical details and interpretations that are not in the original, making his translation more like a personal response. This translation is best for more advanced readers who are already familiar with The Odyssey.

Some translators choose to write their version in prose since it can be easier to read and understand. One prose version of The Odyssey can be found in the textbook World Mythology: An Anthology of the Great Myths and Epics by Donna Rosenberg. This is a paraphrased version best for younger students and individuals who are only interested in a summary of The Odyssey. Another prose translation by A. S. Kline can be found for free online. It includes hyperlinks to character descriptions and images which can be helpful for first-time readers. This translation is great for beginners since it keeps the integrity of the original translation while still providing a prose version that is easy to read.

Robert Fitzgerald and Peter Green both wrote poetry translations of The Odyssey. Fitzgerald’s translation has been the most common modern translation since 1961. It has sold more than two million copies, and has been the standard translation for most schools and poets. The one aspect Fitzgerald’s translation lacks, however, is a rhythm; it is not written in a particular meter like Wilson or Chapman’s. Peter Green translated the original poem line-by-line which keeps most of the original integrity of the poem. Similar to Fitzgerald, Green’s translation is not in a specific meter; however, it maintains a lyrical tone, analogous to the original. Both Green and Fitzgerald’s translations are great for students and adults alike.

Although finding a translation of The Odyssey can feel challenging, when looking at the pros and cons of each translation, you can easily find one that fits your needs.

So You Want to Learn About Greek Mythology?

Question: Why did Achilles pull over to the side of the road? 

Answer: He heard Sirens.

Question: What game do Greek Gods play at birthday parties? 

Answer: Hydra and go seek.

Question: What did Poseidon say to the sea monster?

Answer: What’s Kraken?

If you are not laughing, either you do not have a sense of humor, or you need to brush up on your Greek mythology.

Learning Greek mythology may seem like an Olympic feat, but once you get started, you will find it is not all that difficult.

Fortunately, there are many free resources available to learn about mythology, especially Greek mythology.

One of the best resources is, which is an app, YouTube channel, and website. The website has the most information with a clear outline of each god and goddess as well as the famous myths.

Besides, there are many videos on YouTube that explain different aspects of Greek mythology. The best video is Greek Gods Explained in 12 Minutes which does exactly as the title suggests. Greek Mythology Stories: The Essentials goes through the origin stories chronologically and is needed to understand the Greek pantheon and other myths later on.

Do you want your kids to learn about Greek mythology? Greek Mythology for Kids is a quick video explaining the history of mythology as well as the Greek gods and goddesses.

If you do not have much time to sit down and read or watch something, I suggest listening to a podcast. 

The Greek Mythology: Short Stories podcast is best for a quick listen since most episodes are only five minutes long and talk only about one myth. This podcast can be found anywhere you get your podcasts. 

Let’s Talk Myths, Baby is another good podcast, but the episodes are about 20-30 minutes long. There should also be a content warning since the occasional swear word is used. This podcast also takes a political view on certain myths, which can be interesting. 

Whether listening, reading, or watching, any mortal can turn this seemingly Herculean task into an enjoyable afternoon. 

Heroes and the Home

They say home is where the heart is a trend which is true for many heroes as they leave home to embark on the hero’s journey. 

In one of the Big Read meetings for our area teachers, participants were asked what aspect of home they miss most when they go away from home. I answered that I missed a stocked pantry the most because my mom always has the one at home full of our favorite snacks. When I am away from home at college, I rarely spend the money to buy things to fill the pantry. 

One of our teachers linked homesickness to Odysseus’s travels in the Odyssey. He spends 10 years at war and then another 10 years trying to get back to his wife and son. Then, when he returns home he finds a home full of people trying to woo his wife, Penelope. This is likely not the homecoming Odysseus was expecting. 

Ties to Greek Mythology

In Greek mythology, the goddess Hestia is the goddess of the home and the hearth. She’s one of the 12 gods and goddesses of Olympus and receives a portion of all the sacrifices made to any of the other gods.

Most gods and goddesses on Olympus are prideful and aim to gain power over the other Olympians. However, Hestia is arguably the best-liked Olympian. This is significant because it shows that the Greeks felt that home should be a place of compassion and peace.

The term nostalgia also has links to the Greeks. The roots of this word are derived from the Greek nostos (return) and algos (pain). This translates to mean the suffering felt because of the desire to return to one’s place of origin. 

A desire and a longing for home links people. It is even a natural part of the hero’s journey since the hero must leave what is familiar and cross the threshold into the extraordinary world. Yet, the hero usually returns home at the end of their quest. 

Let us know what you miss most when you leave home in the comments below!

The 2022 Big Read and Little Read Events are Live!

Now that you have learned a little bit about all of our 2022 Big Read, Middle Read, and Little Read books we are excited that our 2022 events calendar is live. The Big Read and Little Read has 100 events taking place on the West Michigan Lakeshore with help from our partners and libraries. This year is going to be bigger and better than ever! 

There are a variety of events for people of all different interests. We have author visits with Madeline Miller and Matt de la Pena, a murder mystery game night at Herrick District Library, book discussions, and a variety of other art and literature events. 

The goal of our program is to foster a community where reading matters, so we hope you will pick up a copy of Circe or another one of our books and join us for a few events! This year we are specifically exploring Greek culture, what we can learn from classics like The Odyssey, what constitutes heroes and villains, and so many other themes. 

We hope that you will read alongside us as our November programming grows closer! 

View the full calendar of events online.

Themes in Last Stop on Market Street

As I said in the last blog post, multiple themes can help foster discussion of Matt De La Peña’s Last Stop on Market Street, no matter what age range you decide to use the book for.  Some of the themes in the book are happiness or goodness, inequity, beauty, and community. 


Happiness and goodness can be seen clearly in CJ’s grandmother Nana. Nana seems optimistic about everything and tries to get CJ to see the bright side. When CJ and Nana go to the soup kitchen, happiness can also be seen. They are doing something good, but it also makes CJ and Nana happy to help others. 


Inequity is another theme found in Last Stop on Market Street. The story has the overarching theme of inequity regarding food insecurity and the need to use a soup kitchen, though. However, are also more underlying inequities that can be found in the story. For example, CJ and his Nana take the bus as their primary form of transportation because they do not have a car. Though it is important to note that when the story discusses these types of inequities, it does not seem to do it in a way where having less is seen as a bad thing, it is ultimately seen as a different way of living.  


The third theme, beauty, can also be tied to the theme of inequity, explicitly looking at having less as just a different way of living. Throughout the book, Nana tries to show CJ how beautiful every part of their city is through her smile and being unfazed when the bus enters the side of the city where inequality is present.


The last theme is community. The theme of community can be seen throughout Last Stop on Market Street. There is a community of volunteers at the soup kitchen and people who ride the bus. Still, there is also a larger community in the neighborhood and the community that CJ and Nana are trying to help. 

Finally, as with every Big Read, Middle Read, and Little Read book, readers can discuss many themes, but these are great jumping-off points. We hope you use these themes to start great conversations and can not wait to see what comes to your mind when you think about themes in Last Stop on Market Street by  Matt De La Peña.

Written by Nancy Gately

Lessons in Last Stop on Market Street

While we have been discussing our middle-read books a lot, it is time to switch gears and discuss our little read book for the year. This year the little read book is The Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña. 

Matt de la Peña is a New York Times bestselling author and the winner of the Newbery Medal for seven of his young adult books and five picture books, including The Last Stop on Market Street. He will also be visiting the lakeshore area, including Holland, Hope College, and Muskegon, during the 2022 NEA Big Read Lakeshore season. 

According to Matt de la Peña, The Last Stop on Market Street is about a curious African American boy named CJ and his grandmother’s positive attitude: “Every Sunday after church, CJ and his grandma ride the bus across town. But today, CJ wonders why they don’t own a car like his friend Colby. Why doesn’t he have an iPod like the boys on the bus? How come they always have to get off in the dirty part of town? Each question is met with an encouraging answer from grandma, who helps him see the beauty—and fun—in their routine and the world around them.” 

The lessons do not stop when CJ and his grandmother get off the bus. As CJ and his grandmother exit the bus, readers learn that they made this journey to go to the local soup kitchen and serve a meal as their weekly volunteer outing. They are not only productive members of the community, but they are also able to enjoy and appreciate the community they are surrounded by. 

Ultimately, the NEA Big Read Lakeshore little read books are geared towards elementary-aged children. However, many of our past little read books and our current little read book can foster great discussions for elementary-aged students, middle school students, high school students, and even adults.

In the next blog post, we will discuss some of the themes that can help foster discussion for any age, but in the meantime, pick up a copy of The Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña and learn how to see the beauty in your community.

Written by Nancy Gately

Takeaways from Zita the Space Girl

Even though Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke is a must-read on its own, there are other things, specifically what the reader can take away from it, that help to solidify it as a must-read. 

One of the first takeaways is leadership. Throughout the graphic novel, Zita must learn to become a leader and live into her persona as Zita the Spacegirl. However, she must also be a leader when it comes to putting together a team and saving her friend Joseph. 

The second takeaway is closely related to leadership and why Zita has to be a leader, and that is friendship. Friendship is the true catalyst of this graphic novel. All of the action begins because of Zita’s and Joseph’s friendship. Though, friendship does not have to be only on Earth. Through her adventures in space, Zita gets to meet many different creatures who she can consider her partners and friends. 

The third takeaway from Zita the Spacegirl is trust. When Zita goes into this other world to save Joseph, not only does she have to trust herself and her skills, but she also has to trust that others have her best interest in mind. For example, Zita meets many creatures, such as Robot Randy, Mouse, and Piper, who know the universe better than she does, but she must trust that they are not going to use their knowledge to deceive her. 

 The last takeaway is choice. There are many choices that Zita and others have to make throughout the graphic novel, such as: Should Zita follow Joseph? Should Zita save herself and Joseph, or should she save the planet?  Should Piper help Zita? While the graphic novel shows many characters making many difficult decisions, one thing that it does make clear is that even with a difficult decision, the characters stand by their choice.

As always, there are plenty of more takeaways that can be found in Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke. We hope that this blog post is a jumping-off point for you and that as you read the graphic novel, you will find these takeaways and your own.

-Written by Nancy Gately

Why Read Zita the Space Girl

Our third middle-grade book for this year’s NEA Big Read Lakeshore 2022 is Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke. Zita the Spacegirl is a graphic novel series and can be considered our more traditional middle-grade heroes’ journey story.

The story follows a girl named Zita Danielson. On Earth, Zita is a normal twelve-year-old girl middle school girl. She is athletic, fun-loving, and loves to play with her friend Joseph. But then, a button falls to Earth, and like any inquisitive person, Zita and Joseph decide to press it, though the button opens up a portal to another dimension and whisks Joseph away. 

Now, this is not where our story ends, it is actually where it begins. Having her friend taken into an unknown universe forces Zita to do everything in her power to get him back. That includes taking on any space creatures in her path and becoming Zita the Spacegirl. 

Not only does the story of Zita help to keep readers intrigued in this space hero journey, but the story of author Ben Hatke and the art style also helps. In an interview with MacMillan Publishers, Ben Hatke explained that being a writer and an artist are not things that can be separated:

“I work a lot on the structure of my stories and I get a lot of joy out of that, but my art is not just in the service of the story, it’s very much a part of the storytelling. I find things like characters’ body language to be a wonderful storytelling tool.”

Ultimately, the goal of choosing a graphic novel like Zita the Spacegirl is to show that a hero can come in any form and that there are many different styles of hero’s journey books. Though in addition to this the team at the Big Read Lakeshore hopes that you will give Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke a try and even complete the series.

-Written by Nancy Gately

Themes in Miles Morales: Spider-Man

In the last blog post, we discussed Miles Morales: Spider-Man by Jason Reynolds and gave a brief synopsis of the book. But what are some of the book’s main themes that you should know about, and what will be different if you decide to read the novel version and your friend chooses to read the graphic novel? 


There are three main themes in Miles Morales: Spider-Man and they are the school-to-prison pipeline, racism, and coming of age. The school-to-prison pipeline is a term that refers to a larger set of rules and policies which place students of color into the criminal justice system. This theme can be seen in many different ways throughout the book. Still, it is most prevalent when Miles and his father visit his cousin Austin in jail and when Miles notices that many of his classmates who are people of color either go missing from school or are suspended in large numbers.

The next theme, racism, is also very prevalent in the book. Mr. Chamberlin, Miles’ history teacher, seems to embody racism. In his history classes, Mr. Chamberlin frequently lectures about the Civil War, where most of them are pro-slavery. 

Finally, the last main theme is coming of age. Throughout the book, Miles not only has to deal with being Spiderman and taking down evil plots, but he also has to deal with the struggles of high school. Even if Miles goes through doubts, such as when he says to his roommate Ganke, “What good is it being a hero if I can’t even save myself?” (p.236), he ultimately learns more about himself, becomes the hero, and can save himself and others.

Novel vs. Graphic Novel

While the themes may not change that much depending on whether or not you read the novel or the graphic novel version of Miles Morales: Spider-Man, you should know some key differences.

  1. The novel has little to no mention of Spider-Man (Peter Parker).
  2. The graphic novel takes place in a world where Spider-Man (Peter Parker) has failed.
  3. The graphic novel has a more traditional “bad guy.” 
  4. The novel has a “bad guy,” but he stands in for a larger theme: racism and the school-to-prison pipeline.
  5. The novel does not focus much on the action or physical things that Miles Morales as Spider-Man can do. 
  6. The graphic novel focuses on what Miles Morales as Spider-Man can do physically or with his Spider-Man skills.
  7. The characters in both the novel and graphic novel seem to be the same. 

Hopefully, whether you read the graphic novel or the novel, you can spot the significant themes, find other themes, and have meaningful discussions about their differences.

-Written by Nancy Gately