Middle-Grade · Summer Reading Mission 2017

Summer Reading Mission: Percy Jackson

This is another series I loved as a kid, but haven’t thought much about in years. This past week, I re-read The Lightning Thief, the first book of the original series. I wasn’t sure quite what to expect, because first of all, I’m about twice the age I was when I first fell in love with the series, and secondly, I know a lot more about mythology than I did back then. And I can’t say I got quite as caught up in it this time around. But I can see what I liked about it, and maybe even appreciate it in new ways.

One thing in particular that I appreciate is how real the kids in the book are. Kids’ books where the kid characters are too grown-up or too perfect are a pet peeve of mine. These kids have flaws. They have insecurities. They sometimes get into trouble, and they’re definitely twelve-year-olds dealing with things bigger than anything twelve-year-olds should have to. But they’re good kids, and they rise to the challenge and mature as the series goes on.

The mythology is pretty decent, too. It’s all adapted for modern times, so for example, the entrance to the Underworld is in Los Angeles, Medusa runs a statue shop, and future heroes train with Chiron at a summer camp in New York. I remember finding all that very fun and not too difficult to separate from the “real” myths I learned about in school, although I do wonder if that’s still the case for kids who read the Percy Jackson books before they learn about mythology from other sources.

There’s a lot in mythology that’s really not appropriate for kids, and it’s a delicate balance telling the stories in a child-friendly way without warping them too much. The Percy Jackson books do a much better job of this than, say, Disney’s Hercules. I’m sure it helped that Rick Riordan was a teacher before he became an author, and already had some experience with adapting myths for children. It probably also helped that the Percy Jackson books are new stories, rather than strict retellings of existing myths.

The biggest difference, I think, between reading these books as a pre-teen and reading them now is … well, I’m a lot older now. I’m not dealing with the same things as my twelve-year-old self, I don’t find the same things funny or scary, and there’s something very over-the-top about the Percy Jackson books that was okay then but seemed cheesy this time around. I kind of expected that. I tried reading the Heroes of Olympus series when it came out and didn’t make it very far. It wasn’t that the books weren’t any good, but I was just too old for them by that point and couldn’t get invested in the new characters.

That doesn’t mean I disliked The Lightning Thief this time around. On the contrary, I found it to be fun and exciting. I’m thrilled that there are now so many of these books – not just the original Greek mythology series, but others that focus on Roman, Egyptian, and Norse mythology as well. Anything that kids enjoy and can learn something from is definitely worth reading, even if it’s something that most of them will outgrow as they mature.

Middle-Grade

Series Out-of-Order

When I first read Among the Betrayed, by Margaret Peterson Haddix, in elementary school, I didn’t know it was part of a series. I definitely didn’t know it was the third book in the series, or that it picked up at the moment Among the Impostors left off, from a different character’s point of view. I just saw it in the Scholastic catalog and thought it looked interesting. Sometimes I still wonder if I’d see the Shadow Children series differently if I’d started with Among the Hidden.

I definitely read book 3 differently. I assumed from the start that Nina was trustworthy and that Mr. Talbot wasn’t, whereas it might be the other way around for someone who read them in order. I wondered along with Nina whether Jen had ever existed, and I believed she was really in danger where someone who read the first two might have figured out she was being tested. Perhaps most importantly, I had to figure out the weird rules of the series’ dystopian world in a book written for kids who already knew.

It affected the way I read the first two books, as well. I knew not to trust Jason. I knew that Jen’s father was a double agent. I could guess from the start that Jen’s rally would fail. I was as surprised by Luke’s comparatively normal childhood as his friends at school would be later, because I had Nina’s as a reference point.

Did it change the way I read the rest of the series? I don’t know. That’s a harder “what if” question to consider. I went into the last four books having read all of the first three. I was always attached to Nina, even though she was a minor character outside of book 3, but then again I felt the same way about Trey, and I certainly didn’t start with his book. But did I read the books through the lens of her experiences instead of Luke’s? I’m really not sure, but I think I’ll always wonder.

Middle-Grade · Young Adult

Fictional Metaphors, Real-Life Issues

One of my favorite authors as a kid was Margaret Peterson Haddix. I still have most of her novels on the bookshelf I reserve for childhood nostalgia books, and I’ve been re-reading some of them. This time around, I’ve been struck by something I could never have put into words when I was 10 or 12 years old: the books deal with real issues kids face through sci-fi and fantasy metaphors.

Let me explain. One of her books – Claim to Fame – is about a girl who can hear everything anyone says about her, no matter where they are. No real kid is going to have that experience, but kids do deal with gossip and peer pressure. They do worry about what their friends are saying behind their backs. Another book, Double Identity, is about a girl who is a clone of her older “sister”, who died in a car crash before she was born. Real children might feel that they are living in an older sibling’s shadow, and twins – the closest real-world equivalent to clones – certainly struggle to define themselves as individuals. Game Changer talks about school cliques, bullying, and popularity, but uses an alternate world where the nerds are popular and the jocks are outcasts to do so. Turnabout features two women who are aging backwards and are now teenagers. Aimed at an age group that may be dealing with losing grandparents or other older relatives, the book explores old age and death via characters the readers’ age in a way that would not be possible without the sci-fi element. And the Missing series is about time travel and historical mysteries, but it’s also about adopted kids who want to know where they come from – which happens to be different time periods instead of just different parents.

I think there’s a lot of value in this. Kids who read middle grade books are old enough to be dealing with serious issues, like identity, peer pressure, bullying, and even death, but not necessarily ready for books high schoolers or adults might read which address these issues directly. Tying it into the supernatural aspect of the story seems like a good way to let kids explore these issues without hitting too close to home. I know it certainly worked for me when I was younger.

Uncategorized

A Bookworm’s Adventures in Bookland

… yes, that’s a reference to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. It seems fitting to me. After all, there’s nothing that can pull you down a rabbit-hole into a world where anything is possible faster than picking up a book. Metaphorically, at least.

Hi, I’m Sarah. I’m a recent college graduate in my early 20’s, and if you know me, you’ll probably know that I love reading. If you don’t, you probably guessed that from the title of my blog. So, what can you expect to find here? Everything from book reviews, to theories about my favorite series, to random thoughts I just couldn’t help sharing. I read everything from classics to historical fiction to science fiction and fantasy, but I’ll probably talk a lot about YA and middle grade books. I may be “all grown up” now and definitely look at them from a different perspective than I did when I was ten or fifteen, but in my opinion, books for older kids can be much deeper and more worthwhile than most adults give them credit for.

Anyway, that’s all for now, but be sure to check back soon for more.