• Putting Books to Work

Putting Books to Work: Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson & the Olympians Series

by Aimee Rogers
March 5, 2013
Percy Jackson and the Olympians series (Hyperion Books for Children, 2005-2009)
Written by Rick Riordan
Grades 4–10

THE LIGHTNING THIEF, the first in this five-book series, introduces us to 12-year-old Percy Jackson. Percy has always had a tendency to get into trouble and is constantly stumbling upon unusual situations. Over the course of this novel, Percy learns that he is a demi-god, meaning that one of his parents, in this case his mother, is mortal and the other is a Greek god, in Percy’s case, Poseidon. Before he has time to acclimate to this life-changing information, he is sent on a quest to recover Zeus’ master bolt. His companions are Annabeth, a daughter of Athena, and his best friend Grover, who is revealed to be a satyr. The book is punctuated with characters and legends from Greek mythology.

Percy’s story and adventures continue in THE SEA OF MONSTERS, with both returning and new characters. One of the most interesting new characters is Percy’s new friend, Tyson, who isn’t quite who he says he is, nor is his relationship to Percy what it seems. Percy is off on another quest, this time the goal is saving Camp Half-Blood, the only place where demi-gods are protected. In order to save Camp Half-Blood Percy, along with Annabeth, must sail into the Sea of Monsters, and if that wasn’t enough, they must rescue Grover from certain death along the way. The pages are again filled with characters from and references to Greek mythology.

In THE TITAN’S CURSE (Book 3), the goddess Artemis is missing, the return of an ancient monster is immanent and a deadline rapidly approaches—basically, just another week in the life of half-blood Percy Jackson and his friends Grover and Annabeth. The gods are on the cusp of war with the Titans and the success or failure of Percy’s quest may influence whether war erupts or a fragile peace is maintained. Grover has also discovered two powerful half-bloods, whose parentage is unknown, but who may have something to do with the prophecy of the Titan’s curse.

Against the odds, Percy has survived long enough to enter his freshman year of high school. However, things immediately go down hill with the arrival of a mortal acquaintance and demon cheerleaders (THE BATTLE OF THE LABYRINTH). Kronos is gaining strength and his army continues to grow. This army is preparing to invade the once impenetrable Camp Half-Blood, the only place that Percy and his friends have truly felt safe. In order to protect Camp Half-Blood and to forestall the coming war between the gods and the Titans, Percy and his friends must travel through the underground labyrinth and survive its many dangers.

THE LAST OLYMPIAN, the final book in the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series, culminates in a battle against the Titans and their leader, Kronos. New York City, the current location of Mount Olympus, is besieged by the monster, Typon. Soon-to-be 16-year-old Percy Jackson and his half-blood friends battle for their lives and the survival of Western civilization in the streets of Manhattan. As Percy’s sixteenth birthday grows closer, the prophecy regarding this moment unfolds. This is a thrilling and satisfying conclusion to the series.

Additional Texts:

Beyond the five novels, there are two published guides to the series, a graphic novel version of the first book, and a movie based on THE LIGHTNING THIEF. A movie based on THE SEA OF MONSTERS is forthcoming as well. These additional and alternative texts provide a number of great opportunities for comparisons across texts, as well as a source of supplemental activities and means of differentiating instruction.

Riordan, Rick. (2009). THE DEMIGOD FILES (Percy Jackson & the Olympians). New York: Hyperion Books for Children.

Knight, Mary-Jane. (2009). PERCY JACKSON & THE OLYMPIANS: THE ULTIMATE GUIDE. New York: Disney/Hyperion.

Riordan, Rick. (2010). THE LIGHTNING THIEF: THE GRAPHIC NOVEL (Percy Jackson & the Olympians, Book 1). New York: Disney/Hyperion Books.

Motion Picture: PERCY JACKSON & THE OLYMPIANS: THE LIGHTNING THIEF (2010). 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.

Motion Picture: PERCY JACKSON & THE OLYMPIANS: SEA OF MONSTERS. Scheduled for release in August of 2013.

In addition to these texts, Riordan’s Heroes of Olympus series, which will eventually be composed of five novels as well, features some of the characters from the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series as well as new demi-gods, new quests and unexpected twists.

Cross-curricular Connections: History/Social Studies, Language Arts/English, Art

Ideas for Classroom Use:

Create a God

Many Greek gods and myths developed out of a need to explain natural phenomenon; for example, Zeus’ mastery of the sky served to explain thunder and lightning. Have students brainstorm modern natural and social phenomenon that may be difficult to explain, such as global warming or dropped cell phone calls.

After each student has selected a phenomenon of interest have him or her develop a portfolio of the “god” of this realm. The portfolio might include the following items: a description of the god, a list of the god’s powers, the god’s origins, a picture of the god, a myth featuring the god, or an explanation of why the phenomenon happens (for example, thunder and lightning are a result of Zeus’ anger). You could add an art project to this lesson by asking your students to create a physical representation of their invented god—perhaps a drawing or even a 3-D model.

Your Quirk or Unique Ability

Percy Jackson has been diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia. His ADHD is attributed to his finely tuned fighting skills, which he possesses as a result of being a half-blood. His dyslexia is a result of his brain being hardwired to read Greek rather than English.

We all have unique quirks, abilities or difficulties. Have each student select one of their own characteristics and write an explanation for why they possess such a trait. For example, particularly bad snoring could be the result of a protective spell placed upon me by my fairy godmother in order to keep the monsters away as I sleep.

This activity should be framed in such a way that students are able to embrace their quirks rather than made to feel bad about them.

Greek God Charades

After reading from the Percy Jackson series or studying the Greek gods, goddesses and creatures organize a game of charades focused around Greek mythology.

Without using words, students can act out the behaviors or traits of different characters from Greek mythology. For example, Aphrodite, the goddess of love, may be indicated by air kisses, hugs and swooning. This would be a great way to review the gods and goddesses.

Additional Resources and Activities:

Rick Riordan’s Website
Prior to becoming a full-time author, Riordan was a teacher, and he remains loyal to his teaching roots in the resources he provides on his webpage. This is seriously the best place to start when looking for information on Riordan and his books, or for activity suggestions. Information abounds regarding Riordan, including transcripts from interviews, frequently asked questions, and links to videos. Teachers will find teaching guides for several books in the Percy Jackson series as well as reader’s guides. There is also a reader’s theater script for a scene from THE LIGHTNING THIEF, as well as a link to a unit built around THE LIGHTNING THIEF. Finally, there is a collection of project ideas submitted from schools and educators across the country.

Putting Books to Work: George O’Connor’s HADES: LORD OF THE DEAD
This previous “Putting Books to Work” post is a great pairing to the Percy Jackson series. George O’Connor is creating a series of graphic novels that feature the Greek gods and goddesses. Eventually each of the twelve gods and goddess will have their own graphic novel. This post focuses on HADES: LORD OF THE DEAD. In addition to information about O’Connor’s series, this post also includes suggestions for other activities related to Greek mythology.

Episode 19 — Greek Mythology for Kids
This podcast from ReadWriteThink includes a book chat about three mythology-related titles that are appropriate for reading levels ranging from K through Grade 5. It also includes an activity in which students create a Zeus trading card and a discussion with children’s book author Carolyn Hennesy (Pandora series).

Aimee Rogers is a doctoral student at the University of Minnesota studying children’s and adolescent literature. Prior to her return to school, Aimee taught high school students with special needs, in a wide variety of settings, for ten years. She misses working with adolescents but is developing a passion for working with undergraduate pre-service teachers. She has a growing interest in graphic novels for children and young adults and is hoping to make them the topic of her upcoming dissertation.

© 2013 Aimee Rogers. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.
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