There’s a popular book series out called Percy Jackson and the Olympians, by Rick Riordan. My students insisted upon my reading them and once I started I embodied the cliche, “I couldn’t put the books down!” Those of us who are on the religious side of the fence may struggle with wondering if it is appropriate to read books about Greek mythology; however, I found the books positively enlightening in many ways.
Percy Jackson is a middle schooler who is a normal kid wanting to live a normal life despite being afflicted with dyslexia, ADHD, and calamites that follow him wherever he goes. He can’t seem to complete a full school year at any school because something catastrophic always happens that results in his being expelled. Not too far into the first book, Lightning Thief, we find out, with Percy, that he is a demigod (hence the dyslexia because he can innately read ancient Greek) and the ADHD (because he was born with fighting and self-preservation reflexes). The question is: which god is his father? Once he finds out he must embark on great adventures to preserve the peace on Mt. Olympus and simultaneously save the world from certain incineration.
Percy Jackson is a protagonist that any kid can identify with. He does not like sitting still and learning about stuff that seems so irrelevant. He’d much rather be at Camp Half-Blood learning how to ride pegasi, practicing his swordfighting skills, and playing ultimate capture the flag. He embraces the thrill of dangerous adventures where everything is at stake. His friends are his world, yet he loves his mom and would give his life to protect her. Insecurities are not strangers to Percy; he can’t fit in with the normal crowd and he often wonders about his dad, and if his dad truly loves him.
The Greek gods are a fascinating bunch, but the books portray them as beings with human natures times 100. They do not keep their emotions in check and when they are in a bad mood (which happens quite frequently) Earth is the punching bag. These are not the kind of gods you picture saving the world, nor are they a trustworthy refuge you can run to when you feel your world is caving in because they are probably the ones who started the avalanche. Nevertheless, the intricate lives and backgrounds of these divine bullies are fascinating and complex; Rick Riordan manages to simplify them enough for the average middle school reader (and his teacher) to understand and remember them.
The enduring themes of this series make them a valuable use of time away from the game consul or Facebook account. Maintaining relationships by practicing loyalty and respect can make an unlikely hero of each one of us. And when life’s brutal challenges attempt to vaporize or miniaturize us, we should remember that they’re simply more adventures that will reveal our hidden bravery and courageous hearts.