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The Percy Jackson & The Olympians Books

The Percy Jackson &  The Olympians Books by Rick Riordan

Kid book alert!

And I have it right from an 11-year-old: these books are “better than Harry Potter.” That said with a knowing nod. I was then treated to all-but-the-last book of the first series to borrow and read – which I am, and unabashedly admit that I am enjoying them immensely.

Once engaged in a verbal review, two young kids (11 and 8) proceeded to tell me all about the Olympians, the Gods of the Roman pantheon, then on to the Norse tales of Thor and Odin and Frigg – and explained to me how the Titans came to be, what a “hero” was, and which gifts each of the characters had.

Then they regaled me the many myths associated with the beginning of the world – from Greek to Hindu to Native American.

What was the best part? Their enthusiasm, interest, and dare I say it, sophistication in understanding the concept of “myth,” and how myth gives us insight into us as human beings.

Fair warning, parents: like the Harry Potter series, these books are not for all children and should be browsed by an adult for suitability. Where Harry Potter deals with wizardry, magic, and “ages” as the children do with each book, this series deals with Gods, powers, good versus bad, and is part of the Disney empire. So if you object to any of these, proceed with caution.

Yes, the books borrow heavily from the ethos of Harry Potter (clearly, J.K. Rowling, like Dickens, had a gift for story telling that has been emulated again and again). A young boy is “different,” and he doesn’t know why. Seemingly out of nowhere, and removing him from an unhappy situation, he is introduced to a world he is part of, but knew nothing about. And something about him is super special.

And of course, he has a quest.

In Percy (Perseus, of course) learning about his hidden history, the young reader learns about the Greek pantheon and the attributes of each (his apparently wheel-chair-bound teacher is actually a Centaur; his best buddy with the odd gait is a satyr fitted out with prosthetics), and sets up a challenge to which young Percy must rise.

When we meet Percy, he is 12, and like many a hero considers himself an outsider, even a loser. In this series, our protagonist is dyslexic, and has ADHD. As the author explains it, these characteristics are the result of the person’s talents and abilities at war with trying to live in the ordinary “human” world. Like many children in this pre-pubescent phase, Percy feels awkward and uncertain – and how much we all wished for the magic that Percy finds when he discovers that water is the elixir of his true —and better— self. I won’t give it away, but suffice to say Percy’s watery talents tell which of the Greek Olympians he is related to.

Percy is taken to a special camp—Camp Half-Blood— where, as with Hogwarts’ Sorting Hat, each child is “determined” as to which Olympian he is related. And, as in Harry Potter, we learn that a battle royale is brewing in which our main character has an important role to play.

Each book, of course, has its own centerpiece plot, and we meet a cadre of friends who are the “good guys,” engaged in the small battles of adolescence, and the larger battles of kids’ fiction.

While the books are fun, and written at the right level and pace for a young reader, what delights me most with any children or YA (young adult) fiction is its ability to open a new world to the child in the guise of simply story-telling. And here, from what I gathered listening to the young reviewers who described the books to me, the Percy Jackson books excel.

Where the Harry Potter books offer clues a child may or may not pick up on (like, why is the werewolf character named Remus Lupin?), these books use an actual mythology to supply the magic. Where Harry’s world of witchcraft and wizardry is endlessly clever but imagined, Percy’s world is based upon the mythical world of Ancient Greece – thus introducing the child to an important framework of cultural history without the pain of Edith Hamilton (though, yes, I admit it – I actually enjoyed her books about mythology) and her more didactic approach.

Beyond that, I always appreciate a children’s book in which Good is good and Bad is bad, there are levels of each, and the possibility of Doing Better is always available.

Labores torquatos.

Nancy Roberts
Writer, voice over artist, information achitect, very curious person.