I had a hardcover copy of D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths by Ingri and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire when I was growing up. I kept it on my bottom bookshelf and read it over and over. The illustrations inspired me to draw my own pictures of Zeus and Athena and Poseidon. By the time I first encountered the Greek myths in school, they were already old friends.
Imagine my excitement at rediscovering these old friends in a fresh, new set of stories by Rick Riordan. The premise of the fabulously fun Percy Jackson books is that the gods of Olympus still meddle in the lives of mortals. And their demigod children face dangers that no ordinary child can imagine. Percy, for example, defeats one of the Furies with a celestial bronze sword during a school field trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Riordan has written two five-book series (Percy Jackson and the Olympians and Heroes of Olympus) plus several companion books and stories incorporating Greek mythology. All of the books are fast-paced and action-packed. They also include plenty of humor—starting with the funny chapter titles. The real charm of the series, though, is the way Riordan weaves mythological characters into a modern-day quest. For instance, Medusa appears as Aunty Em, the proprietor of a stone statuary shop in New Jersey. Percy and his companions lose five days in the Lotus Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. And they find the entrance to the Underworld in Los Angeles.
I read the first series, starting with The Lightning Thief, to Blaine back in 2010. It inspired his Camp Half-Blood 6th birthday party. (Note the Minotaur piñata, the Golden Fleece on the monkey bars, Grandma as the Oracle at Delphi, capture-the-flag with swords, and the slightly melted lightning bolt cake). Since then, we’ve enjoyed at least one new Riordan book each year as we worked our way through the Heroes of Olympus series, the Kane Chronicles (based on Egyptian mythology), and the first book in the new Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard series (based on Norse mythology).
I just started reading The Lightning Thief to Larrabee last week. This series is on a very short list (so far including just the Harry Potter books and the Magic Treehouse books) that I’ve been willing to read a second time to my younger son.
I will caution you that these books are aimed at a middle grade audience and would not be a good choice for some younger kids. For one thing, Percy and his friends face mortal peril at every turn. For another thing, these books follow Percy from age twelve through his teenage years and so deal with topics, such as his first girlfriend, of more interest to older kids. If you’re hesitating to share the later Harry Potter books with your kids, you should wait on these books too.
That said, my kids and I love them. We’ve learned a lot about Greek mythology without even realizing it.
And for those of you who say, “Yeah, we know, we’ve read all these books too,” I have some good news. The Hidden Oracle, the first book in Riordan’s new Trials of Apollo series, was published yesterday! It’s on our virtual to-be-read pile.