Percy, the Book Clubs, and Me
I was two books late to the Percy Jackson party. "Lemme splain. No. There is too much. Lemme sum up." When the first Percy Jackson book came out I was excited. I love mythology. I love Poseidon. However, I was also in three different book clubs. This was in addition to my just for me personal reading, so Percy was set aside. Then I was "kicked" out of one book club for arguing with the author of the book we had just read because I was the only member who didn't like the book and rather than glaze her ego like she was a doughnut I spoke my partial truth.
That's right, I pulled my punches because she was a member of the group, albeit her joining the group ensured that we would read her novel. For the record, I voted against reading members' novels because I saw this friction coming from miles and miles away. We all know egos are delicate and it can't be easy or fun to sit and listen to someone say your main character is either a total idiot or insane, even if it's said in a nice way. Even if it's said in an uncharacteristically gentle way designed to protect an ego, or so I thought.
Alas, despite pulling my punches I must have landed a pretty serious blow that sent her mouth guard flying over the ropes and out of the ring because she came for me. I get her hurt feelings. I get the need for retaliation and retribution. My problem had always been that the kerfuffle and verbal sparring could have been avoided. In the end my shunning was no great loss since the member I meshed with the best, Tess, was suddenly gone. The two of us were actually reading books on the side - Laura Joh Rowland's outstanding Sano Ichiro series - because we were so disappointed with the choices the group was making.
Then there was the second book club. I kicked myself out of the second book club once I discovered that we were going to read a murder mystery series written by someone actually convicted of murder. How are people comfortable with this reality? How? Those are both incredibly rhetorical questions. I don't want someone to explain it to me. I wasn't comfortable with the idea, so I bailed. That left me in one book club and while I strongly dislike almost every book we read, these books being of the cozy variety - think Little House meets the DIY Network meets Mary Sue - I think I would miss being the Grinch and watching all the other members try every month to make my heart grow two sizes.
Anyway, the point is I was swamped by book clubs, rereading His Dark Materials trilogy as preparation for trashing the trashy film adaptation, rereading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, deciphering the code in the Artemis Fowl series, my one-sided war with J.K. Rowling, etc., so I was late to the Percy Jackson party. Once my schedule cleared because of the shunning and self-imposed isolation I pushed Percy and friends to the top of my To Be Read pile. To say I was enthralled by The Lightning Thief is an enormous understatement.
The Lightning Thief was one of the books I brought on a 10-hour road trip. I'm not sure when it happened, but as I was reading the outside world fell away and I didn't care about little people who were fighting sleep in the backseat and I certainly didn't care about the big person who wanted help driving. There was only Percy.
When I finally closed the book the first thing I said wasn't, "Let's eat or do you want me to drive." Nope. The first thing I said was, "We need to find a Barnes & Noble. I need books 2 and 3." I'm sensitive like that. My request was met with looks that questioned my sanity. I didn't care. I needed my fix. I tore through books 2 and 3 then sulked about having to wait 6 months for book 4. I felt that old "must pre-order and arrive at 9 a.m. on release day" pull, which I thought dead since 2003 when Rowling committed her first unforgivable paper homicide.
It's been almost a decade since that car ride and I'm just as passionate and just as big a fan of the Percy Jackson & The Olympian series. The Lightning Thief is still the first book I recommend to my reluctant readers and their out of ideas parents. It feels good to have parents thank you for turning their child into a reader. It feels good having students walk up to you and say they asked for the rest of the books in the series for Christmas or a birthday or on Saturday afternoon. It feel good, but I'm just the go-between. Rick Riordan made magic and wrote what is without a doubt a classic. Yet . . .
Too many directors, administrators, and teachers still doubt its power. I never imagined any teacher would argue the power of Percy until I sat in a county level textbook committee meeting where I was fighting to get Lightning Thief added to our 6th grade curriculum. One member of the committee with a lot of years under her belt said, "But is it rigorous enough for the 21st century learner? And what about literary merit? Can we connect it to the classics?" I was tempted to say, "Hello! Did you actually read it or did the taint of contemporary literature burn your hands? Can you actually get more classic that Greek mythology? This meeting is a sham and a clown car!"
What I said was, "This book will absolutely engage our students. They'll love it. They'll read it. They'll connect to it and they'll want more. This novel is full of opportunities to teach the skills specific to our content and the literacy skills that are part of all contents. Plus we can compare it to the movie." That was 3 years ago. It still isn't part of the curriculum and all conversation about it has been squashed. In fact, it's almost like the recommendation and meeting never happened. It makes me sad that books students would actually enjoy never find a way into our curriculum.
I meant this to be a love letter to Rick Riordan, but somehow I've climbed atop a soapbox to try and champion a change in education, which I'm happy to do, but wasn't my intention in this post, so I'll end with this:
Dear Mr. Riordan,
As a teacher and mother I'm so glad you gave us Percy and all his friends. It has never failed me in or out of the classroom. What a fun, engaging, beautiful, diverse, and inclusive world you've built.