Ex Libris: Percy Jackson and the Olympians

The end of school and beginning of summer always brings many exhilarating anticipations to fruition –– long weeks and days stretching endlessly ahead sprinkled with vacations, days by the pool, no math homework and blissfully uninterrupted summer reading. I fondly remember traipsing down to the library with my sisters to fill our canvas tote bags until they were bursting at the seams, each of us with as many books as the library would permit. Yes, summer is for reading to the heart’s content.  

First published in 2005, the “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” series missed my youthful summers, but after reading them recently, it brought back fond memories of binge reading Harry Potter; indeed, this series could easily be described as the Harry Potter for Greek mythology enthusiasts. Like Harry, Percy is in a sense the “chosen one.” He is the child of a prophesy –– from the Oracle of Delphi no less –– on whom hinges the fate of Mount Olympus as the Titans struggle free from their age-old imprisonment and rise again to make war against the Olympian gods. On this premise, the Greek gods really did (and still do) exist, and as the center of Western Civilization has shifted, so has the palace of Mount Olympus; the plot contends that while it previously sat above the literal Mount Olympus in Greece, it later moved to reside above Rome during the height of the Empire and now, in the golden age of America, is above the Empire State Building in New York City.

Told from the sarcastically entertaining perspective of a 12-year-old boy, the first book, Percy Jackson and the Lightening Thief, chronicles Percy learning that he is a demigod (or hero), son of Poseidon. In order to survive the inevitable onslaught of monsters drawn to his powerful aura as such, he must train at Camp Half-Blood in the summers with other demigods, and it is there he is sent on his first quest to find Zeus’ stolen lightning bolt. The other four books each have their own succeeding adventures while building up to the final confrontation of the resurrected Kronos — Titan and father of the Olympian gods — where he challenges the Olympians for supreme power over heaven and earth in an epic battle over Manhattan.

Young readers are introduced to the pantheon of Greek gods and goddesses — as well as satyrs, dryads, naiads and other mythological beings –– and as each character is brought forward in their modern context, the original myths associated with them are woven into the newer plot of the novel. Poseidon (god of the sea) dresses like a beach bum in Bermuda shorts, Birkenstocks and a Hawaiian shirt; Apollo (god of the sun) drives a sports car across the sky pulling the sun; Hermes (the messenger god) is basically a divine Fed Ex distributor. Children reading these books will become intimately acquainted with the sagaciously instructive centaur, Chiron, not to be confused with Charon, the ferryman who transports souls across the River Styx to Tartarus, the realm of Hades (god of the underworld).  

While I would estimate the targeted age for these books is 10 to 14, I am not ashamed to admit that I enjoyed them immensely as an adult. Happy summer reading! 

For more summer reading suggestions this month, visit our blog, Cola Town {Curated} at ColumbiaMetro.com/Cola-Town-Curated.


Tips for Summer Reading

The importance of reading in a child’s life cannot be overestimated. Not only does it help brain development and improve vocabulary, but it is a wonderful alternative to TV and screen time, which should be minimized as more and more studies continue to show that prolonged screen time can be damaging to eyesight and is linked to attention deficit disorder, learning problems and risky behavior; young brains are especially susceptible to this “rewiring.” Conversely, reading fiction was recently linked to developing stronger empathy. 

Here are a few tips to help you encourage your child to spend time reading this summer:

Let each child have their own library card and check out as many books as they want. Most libraries have summer reading incentive programs, so be sure to sign them up! You can even create your own contest within your home and offer prizes. 

Read the same novel as your child so you can discuss it together. It always meant so much to me when my mom would read a book I had enjoyed so we could talk about our favorite characters and parts. And you may be surprised… your new favorite book may just be a children’s or YA novel!

Find out what books your child has enjoyed and supply them with more books by the same author. Children don’t usually think this way, so they are likely to miss out on many books they would adore. 

Encourage them to read good children’s literature, but don’t force your child to read something over the summer that isn’t appealing to him or her. Children have to do this in the school year and are probably required to read certain books over the summer already. 

Similarly, as long as you are comfortable with the content, don’t discourage them from the newest popular book for their age group. That will only dampen their budding passion for reading. 

Listen to books on tape (or on your Audible app) together during the long vacation car rides, or for plane trips, have each child download one or two personal choices onto their own devices. 

Tell your children that in August, they can each pick their favorite book from the summer and you will buy it for them in hardcover. Don’t forget to write in the front and date it … this will be a treasure they keep forever. 

Lastly, set a good example! Exemplifying the habit and enjoyment of reading will develop a literary culture in your home. 

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