Author Rick Riordan found a way to make 6th grade Social Studies interesting by giving Greek mythology a modern update and employing a likeable adolescent hero in this first installment of his Percy Jackson and the Olympians Series, The Lightning Thief.
Percy is a dyslexic, ADHD kid who has been kicked out of six schools in the past six years. He’s also a demigod — a half-human, half-God hybrid. Percy’s Mom is a nice lady named Sally Jackson, and his father is one of Olympus’ Big Three — Zeus, Poseidon or Hades. Learning his father’s identity is the first of many quests for Percy.
Riordan taught English and Social Studies and is the father of an ADHD child, all of which he incorporates into the fictional world of Percy Jackson and the Olympians. Riordan also uses Neil Gaiman’s American Gods formula of putting mythological gods in modern day America, breathing new life into the stuffy, dusty world of centaurs, satyrs, and sea nymphs. The Lightning Thief plays out like an action adventure flick rather than a retelling of Bulfinch’s Mythology.
As Percy travels the country trying to solve the mystery of Zeus’ missing lightning bolt, he battles some major monsters, including Medusa, Echidna, and Chimera (as well as avoiding the allure of Kronos’ hypnotic whisper from the dark depths of a Tartaran pit). Things get a little heavy along the way and some parts of The Lightning Thief might be scary for kids — but isn’t that the mark of all great children’s literature?
There are enough backstabbings and betrayals to make The Lightning Thief read more like junior high crime noir than Greek mythology. Riordan keeps the plot twisting and turning right up until the very end — which, of course, leaves the door open for the other four books in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series.