Obviously, my daughter and I are both big readers, but neither one of us will read just anything. Pleasure reading needs to be fun, to have exciting plots, and have cool characters. Luckily, Rick Riordan’s series have all those things, plus they are good ways to introduce kids to Greek, Roman, and Egyptian mythology. There are some spoilers ahead, so read with caution!
We started with The Lightning Thief, the first Percy Jackson book, many years ago. These were “read together” books, so we read them simultaneously, out loud. This summer, we finished The Blood of Olympus, the final book in the Heroes of Olympus series, and, in between, we read the Kane Chronicles.
I enjoyed the books on my own–they weren’t a chore to read. And there have been choices that were! Percy Jackson, who is the focus of the first series, is an interesting character with interesting problems. There is drama, mystery, suspense, and humor. There were many times when we would literally laugh out loud. As a parent, I also liked the mythological connections, and we would often stop to talk about the original story that is being referenced in the book. I picked up a couple of reference books for Phoebe to refer to for more information, and she enjoyed learning more about the ancient Greek characters Percy and Co. encountered.
The Heroes of Olympus, which is a sequel series–you really need to read the first series to get all the allusions–is written for kids who have grown up with Percy–the characters are older, there are dating couples, and the stories are a bit more intense and mature–similar to the way the Harry Potter books mature with the readers. There still isn’t any “real” swearing or any intimacy beyond kissing, but HO is definitely for a slightly older reader. There were a few awkward moments when we started reading The Lost Hero and realized it was more mature. But once we accepted that, it was fine. Phoebe would still hide her face occasionally, but she never wanted to stop reading.
The later books of The Heroes of Olympus did experience some controversy when it was revealed that Nico is gay. One of the things I like about the series is that there are kids from all backgrounds, ethnicities, and social classes. Nico is just another type of kid. There is nothing explicit. It is revealed at one point that he has a crush on another male character, and those feelings are not reciprocated. At the end of the final book, there are hints that Nico may find love after all. That is really it. When we got to that part, we talked about it. I wanted to make sure Phoebe understood what was going on, and I wanted to ask how she felt about it. We even looked at some of the negative things people said about the character and the series as a whole. Kids are often refreshingly open-minded, and mine is no exception. She just kind of shrugged it off as another aspect of diversity, and that was it.
Phoebe did enjoy that the second series incorporated more girls and shifted point of view. She loves girls who can take care of themselves and don’t need to be rescued any more than the boys do, and this series is full of them–Piper and Annabeth were her favorites. She liked Leo because he was funny and Frank because he could turn into animals. She also liked many of the non-human characters, Blackjack the Pegasus in particular. I try to do voices for the different characters, so that often made it more fun for her.
The Kane Chronicles is a shorter series–only three books–and the focus is Egyptian mythology and a mixed-race brother-sister team. There is also a lot of humor and a lot of suspense–and also ample diversity. The narration is like a found-footage movie: Carter and Sadie take turns narrating their adventures into a tape recorder that is later found and transcribed for the reader. Because they are narrating, there is the assumption that they will be OK at the end, but since they switch off, there is a bit of suspense that one of them will not return to finish their story. There are a couple of romantic story threads, but the unavailabilty of the object of affection makes that more of a secondary plot.
I asked Phoebe for some thoughts on the three series, and she said that The Heroes of Olympus was her favorite of the three. Although girls get their share of the spotlight in all three series, she thought they had more “screen time” in HO, and there are chapters told from their perspectives, which is a change from the first Percy Jackson series. She also likes that there is more to the girls than just being pretty, and that they often have to save the boys. They are smart as well as good fighters. There is also a Hunter named Phoebe, so I am sure that helped!
We were both hoping that the new series, which focuses on Norse myth, would have a female lead, but as the main character is named “Magnus,” that doesn’t seem to be the case. However, there are some badass women in Norse mythology, so I am confident there will be someone for her to root for!