Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Stuff I Love: Percy Jackson and the Olympians

(Sorry about the late post guys! I had to work Sunday, and the kidlet got a nosebleed after she fell asleep, so last night was kind of hectic.)

Anyway, on to (belated) Stuff I Love.

I hesitated to write a post about Percy Jackson, because I’m late to the party. I’ll be honest, when the first book came out way back in 2005, I ignored it. I saw it on the VOYA Top Shelf Fiction List and the School Library Journal Best Books; but, I didn’t read it. It just… didn’t look like my kind of book.

Fast forward 5 years to a darkened movie theater playing one of those annoying trailers that aren’t trailers. You know, the ones that they try to disguise as “sneak peaks” but are really just extended commercials? Well, this one is for The Lightning Thief, and the main actress is talking about her character, Annabeth Chase as “intelligent and fierce.” My 8 year old daughter looks at me and says “We are SO there.”

However, one of the hard and fast rules in our house is “No Book/No Movie.” You must read the book before you see the film. The only exception to this rule is Lord of the Rings because asking an 8 year old to tackle Tolkien is a bit much, even for us.

So, we started listening to the audio-book of The Lightning Thief. Before long, we got hooked.

It was exciting; there was a spunky, smart girl. The Greek mythology was interesting, not something that we had heard before. The book was funny and scary and engaging. It hit us right in the sweet spot. I think it spoke to both the kidlet and I not only because we’re fantasy geeks, but because it assumed that we were smart enough to keep up. The books explained just enough to make sense, and leave us wanting to know more.

Another reason I think the books worked so well for us is Annabeth. She is indeed “intelligent and fierce”. As a mom (and a feminist) I am always looking for good girl role models for my daughter, and I think Annabeth is one. No, she’s not the main character, but the main character couldn’t get along without her. She plays to her strengths, and even when the inevitable romance starts, it doesn’t change who she is. One of my favorite things about Annabeth is that she acts like a real girl would. She gets snippy, she gets frustrated, and she makes dumb choices. But she recovers. Often, particularly in fantasy books, the girl character is either an afterthought or so perfect that she can't be real. Annabeth is both vital and believable.   Lots of librarians seem to think of this series as "boy books" but there is lot of girl appeal here.  I mean, what fiesty girl could resist a pre-teen huntress with her own pet stag?  What smart gal doesn't want to believe she is the daughter of the goddess of wisdom?

Watching the effect these books had on my daughter was revelatory. She’s a strong reader, and she enjoys it, but I’ve never seen her devour anything like Percy Jackson and the Olympians. As I said, we started with the audiobooks, but somewhere along the line she decided those were too slow, and started reading the series on her own. On weekends, she would only stop to eat and bathe, and that was a struggle. We made and named our own sword. She wants to dress up as a goddess for Comic-Con.  More than anything else, her enthusiasm for the series is what sold me on it. 

Seeing as all of this started because of a trailer, I guess I should talk about the movie.  Honestly, I'm not a fan.  To me, it felt like they made some odd changes, including aging the characters quite a bit and changing the plot dramatically.  There were some good moments, mostly from the supporting cast, but overall, it felt kind of flat and generic.   I wouldn't recommend it, particularly if you're fan of the books.

I always have a hard time ending these "Stuff I Love" posts, because I tend to get wordy and go on and on and on... knowing when to stop is a problem.  I guess I would say even if you've passed on this series initally, take a second look.

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