This was a hard letter for me, not for a lack of choices, but an excess. Two of my all time favorite books belong here: Little Women and The Lord of the Rings. But I have written about both before, so I decided to write about a different set of books that I have encountered more recently, one that is still going strong at this time--The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan, the first book of his hugely successful Percy Jackson series.
Like so many great children's books, this began as a bedtime story. Mr Riordan, a teacher as well as a writer, has a son with dyslexia. To encourage his son he began to tell him stories about a hero who also had dyslexia, a Greek demigod in fact (son of a god and a mortal). Demigods have dyslexia because their brains are hardwired for ancient Greek. They are hyperactive because they haven't learned to harness their semi divine powers. His son loved the stories so much that Mr Riordan started writing them down and now there are 9 hugely successful books with another on the way, plus a set of books built around Egyptian Mythology.
I first found the Percy Jackson books while reading an article on books for boys. Under the section on "If they like Harry Potter try this..." was a recommendation of the Percy Jackson Books. A few days later I was Christmas shopping and found a box set of the first three volumes at the store, and gave them to the Boy for Christmas. The Boy loved them, and we bought each of the next two books in hardback as they came out, which finished the first set of adventures. The Boy wasn't as interested in the second set, which featured a number of other demigod characters (though Percy is still around) but my daughter took the stories up, and I have read each one along with her.
At the beginning of the first movie Percy is an 11 year old misfit. He's been kicked out of a number of school, he has dyslexia and ADHD, and his stepfather, Gabe is a total jerk who exploits his mother. Percy can understand why she stays with the jerk.
In other words he is a very typical, very real, middle school boy. Until he is attacked by some monsters in a museum and learns that nothing in his life is what he has thought he was.
Percy discovers that he is a demigod, and that his father is Poseidon, the God of the Seas. He learns that many of the great men of history have also been demigods, and that many wars have been born of the rivalries between sons of different gods. He also learns there are a lot of demons in the world who do not like demigods, and that they can literally smell their presence. This is why his mother has lived with Gabe all these years, his behavior and grooming habits throw the demons off Percy's track. (We also learn that none of the Greek Monsters ever really die, they are repeatedly reborn, so Percy will encounter the likes of Medusa and the Minotaur, sometimes more than once.)
Percy also learns their is a summer camp especially for demigods called Camp Half Blood. The camp is surrounded by a force field that keeps the monsters (and mortals) out. Here he can learn in relative safety how to manage the powers he inherited from his father. But when Percy arrives things are in chaos--someone has stolen Zeus' lightening bolt, Hades thinks Percy knows something about it, and he is holding Percy's mother hostage in the Underworld.
So Percy and his two friends Grover (a satyr) and Annabeth (daughter of Athena) set off on a cross country journey.
One of the things that is so entrancing about this story is the way Mr Riordan updates the Greek Myths for modern times. For example, Mount Olympus is now above the Empire State Building, because New York is the center of power in the world. Meanwhile, the gateway to hell is behind the Hollywood sign in California (didn't you suspect it all along?)
For kids who love mythology, the stories are especially exciting because they often know where the stories are going even before Percy does. As a teacher, Mr Riordan fills the books with classical and historical references that hopefully inspire young readers to research. The great popularity of the books has caused several classic works on mythology (including my favorite, The Greek Myths by Robert Graves to be reissued with forwards by Rick Riordan.
Another thing I like about the books is he gives considerable thought to what causes kids to feel marginalized and uses his stories to address exactly those situations.
According to a recent article on his blog, he is planning to launch a series grounded in Norse mythology sometime in 2015. I'm looking forward to it, and I know a lot of kids who are too.
But I will always have a place on my shelf for Percy Jackson.
|This post is part of the A-Z chalenge. To see what other|
writers are blogging about please click on the link above.