- book covers, courtesy of Rich Riordan - Percy Jackson
by Rick Riordan
Stories of the Greek goddesses and gods and their demi-god offspring have entertained us mortals for thousands of years. But legends don't always just entertain. With a little luck, a dose of magic, and an ability to tell a story without being preachy, those legends can also teach while they entertain.
The Percy Jackson and the Olympians series is a perfect example. Once you read the books and fall in love with them (it's impossible not to love them!) you can pass them on to any middle grade readers (8- to 14 year-olds) with the confidence that they'll never suspect they're being taught. They'll be too busy turning pages, gasping and laughing at the adventures and misadventures of the newest demi-god hero: 12-year-old Percy Jackson, his friends, and his not-so-much friends.
Percy is a hero many 12-year-olds can identify with. Adventurous, kind-hearted, dyslexic and diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder, he leads a life that is no piece of cake. As the story begins in The Lightning Thief, Percy learns that it's not going to get any easier. He already has a hard time with school, some of the other kids, and his obnoxious stepfather. As if that weren't bad enough, he suddenly finds himself in a fight to the death with his math teacher-turned-horrible-monster and, surviving that, he learns that his real father is Poseidon, god of the sea. Poseidon is not much of a hands-on kind of dad and there are people (of both the human and non-human varieties) who are not happy about the "half-bloods" like Percy. Yes, it turns out there are many children who are the products of human and god/goddess romantic encounters, and life is dangerous for each of them. The one somewhat safe place for them is at a summer camp called, appropriately enough, Camp Half-Blood.
It's at the camp that Percy finds his best friends: Grover the Satyr and Annabeth, a daughter of Athena. Unfortunately, it's also where he finds his nemesis, Clarisse, daughter of Ares. He also finds that most of the others are also dyslexic and prone to ADD due to their Olympian heritage; and sometimes that is to their advantage.
Over the course of the three books so far in the series, Percy and his friends meet many of the gods and goddesses (and the readers learn their stories), fight many battles and, of course, save the world more than once. But not without sacrifices. Two more books are in the works to complete the series the fourth, The Battle of the Labyrinth, is scheduled for release May 6, 2008 and I'm just as anxious as any 12-year-old to read it.
The author is a genius at mixing the well-known Greek and Roman myths with humor, angst, great dialog, and an amazing feeling of reality as viewed by present-day, almost normal 12-year-olds. Chapter titles alone are enough to make people drop what they're doing and get into the story. The three books offer such title gems as:
"I Accidently Vaporize My Pre-algebra Teacher"
Books 4 and 5 have much to live up to.
Aside from learning the stories of the inhabitants of Mount Olympus in a way modern kids can relate to, they can also learn self-acceptance.
I recommended The Lightning Thief to two families with children diagnosed with ADD and dyslexia, just on the chance the kids might find the story entertaining. Both families contacted me soon after to tell me that some amazing things had happened. Neither child had been interested in reading before this, finding it difficult and boring. After hearing the first couple of chapters read aloud, they grew impatient and began devouring the book on their own. They kept on reading, and they've checked for each Riordan sequel to get it as soon as it came out. One of the children had refused to talk about his feelings around being labeled with ADD until Percy's story made him feel not so alone and he could find the humor and acceptance the story had to offer. I consider that, in itself, to be the best kind of magic.
You don't need to be a child or have a child to share these books with.
I'm a great lover of really well written, highly entertaining stories,
no matter what age they're aimed at, and this series is one of my favorites.