Title: Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief
Author: Rick Riordan
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Age Level: 4th-8th Grade
Let's see if this sounds familiar to you. A young boy living in a terrible family situation learns that he has special powers when someone comes to take him away to a place where he will learn about his powers with other special children. While there he discovers that someone very powerful wants to kill him, and the only way that he can survive is to go on a quest to find a magical object. With him on his quest is an awkward, bumbling boy and a super smart girl. If you think I'm describing Harry Potter, you are right! But I am also describing the basic plot of The Lightning Thief. Percy discovers that he is the son of the god Poseidon, making him a demi-god. He goes to the camp at Half-Blood Hill to learn about his powers, where monsters try to kill him. Seems that the gods think that he has stolen Zeus' lighting bolt, the most powerful weapon in the universe. In order to save himself and stop a war between the gods, he must go down to Hades itself to retrieve the weapon and save the day.
I found it pretty funny that the director of the movie version of this book was the same man who directed the first Harry Potter movie. I know that Riordan has stated in interviews that this novel started out as a bedtime story for his son with ADHD, but the parallels are just too close to be completely coincidental. I'm not saying that Riordan plagarized-this is a new take on a "classic" tale. Trouble is that the "classic" tale of Harry Potter is a little too new for me (and other's, I'm sure) not to make some comparisons. Riordan is not the first author to make a clone of a successful series, of course. The number of Twilight clones out there in the young adult world boggles the mind. Unfortunately the basic plot is so closely related to Harry Potter that it distracted me from the story.
That said, lots of kids LOVE this series, and I can understand why. I may have been distracted by the similarities to a certain young wizard with a lightning-shaped scar (seriously, lightning), but I still enjoyed this romp through Greek mythology. Riordan does an excellent job of balancing exposition with action, creating a novel that is by turns exciting and thought-provoking. Percy is a very likable character, and as a special education teacher I appreciated that they took his dyslexia and gave it a purposeful explanation. Fully getting into this story did require a certain amount of knowledge of Greek gods and goddesses, but having loved those stories as a child myself I had no problem following the many characters, both central and tangential to the main plot. In fact, the mythological aspect of the book is what saved it for me, turning it into something that I could see using in the classroom much easier than the much-challenged Potter series. This novel provides readers with a jumping off point for learning more about the ancient stories of mighty gods and the heroes of a distant age. I suppose that explaining the many instances of rape and incest in the original Greek myths would be problematic, but from a very shallow perspective there are many opportunities to get kids engaged with some of the oldest stories in Western civilization.
The Lightning Thief Lesson Plans
Discussion Guide from Scholastic
The Lightning Thief: Teacher's Guide