The classics for kids

There was a time when UVM classics professor Mark Usher preferred a hammer and chisel to his current paper and pen.Now, with a few degrees under his belt, Usher has begun the unique task of turning the classics into children’s books.A former carpenter, Usher made a swift career change after a work-related incident resulted in his loss of an eye.After the accident, he began  full-time classes at UVM, and he pursued an undergraduate degree in classics, he said. After graduation in 1992 and the completion of his Ph.D at Oregon’s Willamette University, Usher said he chose to follow his creativity and take a stab at writing children’s books. He had always excelled in writing, classics professor Barbara Saylor-Rodgers said.”Even at that time he was writing — in addition to really excellent research papers — poetry and other things,” she said. His most recent children’s book, “Diogenes the Cynic,” received praise from The Chicago Tribune and other UVM faculty. “[The book] is about the cynic philosopher Diogenes represented as an actual dog,” Saylor-Rodgers said. “The word cynic derives from the Greek word for dog.””He was called a dog by people who didn’t like him so much, but he adopted [the nameCynic] as sort of a badge of honor as his moniker,” Usher said.The classics might seem too advanced to be inspiration for children’s books, but Usher successfully translated the stories for a young audience.”I thought I could take Diogenes and make him literally a dog,” Usher said. “I could get kids interested in him, and it works.”Usher wrote for children years before “Diogenes the Cynic,” when he published his first children’s book, “Wise Guy.” “I thought I’d just write it for my younger son – then I thought, maybe I’ll send it to a publisher,” Usher said. “It was published in 2005.”Usher’s books take on difficult material about Greek characters and makes it interesting and easy to digest for kids. “Why not attract students from when they are not even old enough to attend grade school and get them started about what is most important in life — the meaning of life itself,” Saylor-Rodgers said.Fellow classics professor John Franklin echoed Saylor-Rodgers. “It is really great how Mark has demystified this material and made it accessible for a young audience,” he said. With another book on the way — a small children’s Latin comedy-inspired novel called “The Golden Ass” — neither his teaching or writing career are slowing down.