The Deeper Meaning
While this book is designed to be read by students in Level 1, there are some issues which might initiate some deeper thinking with your students. Here are a few larger questions to consider.
Early in the book, we learn that Decius does not sleep well. and that Leo is a comfort to him. While we have very little information about PTSD in the Roman military, it is certainly possible that they too may have suffered from it as well. Some questions for thought - "Why does Decius awaken perterritus? What may have happened? What do you think he may be dreaming about? How is this similar to issues that modern soldiers have? Would Decius talk to any other people in the camp about this? Why or why not?
At the end of the book, the friendship Aia establishes with Leo proves to be a greater deterrent to war than the superior numbers of Roman soldiers, encamped in Atuatuca. Is this realistic? Are relationships important in war? In treaty negotiations? Are there any historical events where a relationship was more persuasive than military force?
Look Inside The Book
Amazon's "Look Inside the Book" feature doesn't show many pages so I have included a few more pictures here. I hope this will give people a sense of the illustration style and reading level.
The Roman fort at Atuataca, where Decius and Leo are stationed has a long and bloody history. Formerly a Gallic fortress, Caesar, during his conquest of Gaul, used the site for winter quarters for his troops. He writes in De Bello Gallico that in 54 BC the camp was attacked and the Romans were massacred. Caesar enacted swift and bloody revenge and exterminated the Eburones, the tribe that attacked the camp.
Decius and Leo lived in Atuataca during the reign of Augustus. At this time, the fort became an established Roman military camp. Not much is known about this period since there has been little excavation of the fort itself. The town of Tongres, which sprung up around the military camp continued to grow and served as an important center of trade for the region Eventually the fort grew into a walled city which has overtaken the original fort. However, part of the Roman wall is still visible today.
Roman authors such as Caesar have described to us the larger battles, invasions and greater military dramas that took place at Atuataca and the surrounding region. Lost to history is the many smaller disputes that must have also erupted between the Romans and various Gallic tribes in the time following Caesar's conquest of Gaul. While these accounts have not survived, they must have been equally important to those living at the time. It is one of these smaller encounters that I hoped to recapture in Leo Molossus.
About the Idea and the Process
The idea began to germinate watching students read Tres Fabulae Horrificae. They were enamored with the pictures even, if in the case of my 7th grade class, the text was too advanced for them to read. I decided to write another illustrated book.
Then a series of circumstances fell into place. I own an English mastiff. His name is Sherman and he is a veritable rock star everywhere he goes. Luckily, he is also both gentle and gregarious so being surrounded by admirers is just fine with him. His physique is more "traditional" than some of his breed. He is lankier with a longer snout and shaggier fur than some of the modern "show" mastiffs. He of course is not a Molossus but there is a resemblance to the ancestral dog.
Secondly, I came in contact with Andy Volpe, a Roman re-enactor who does presentations for schools about Roman armor and weapons among other things. He did a demo for my class which they greatly enjoyed. He is also a part of Legio III Cyrenaica which also puts on demos for the public. Thirdly, I have known a group of Celtic re-enactors for many years. They also participate in demos and events with the SCA. Suppose a legionary had a Molossus? Suppose this Molossus was gentle like Sherman rather than fierce? Would there be a place in the army for such a dog? Thus the story was created. I started with live actors, added a large dose of Photoshop, and sprinkled in some stock photos Finally, everything was strained through artistic filters and Ecce! the book was created. Below are some outtakes from the process.