Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Lightning Thief - A Book Review

I'm always interested in finding new books that seem to resonate with my students. Up through winter break this past school year, I had read aloud The Castle in the Attic (Elizabeth Winthrop), Coraline (Neil Gaiman), The City of Ember (Jeanne DuPrau), The Giver (Lois Lowry), and had read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever (Barbara Robinson) right before the break. So coming back, I wanted to start things off with a bang.

Luckily, over the vacation, I had run across Rick Riordan's popular Percy Jackson & the Olympians series, namely the first book, The Lightning Thief. It was an interesting book, if not one obviously written for the pre-adolescent set (ages 10-13). It definitely wasn't a young adult or children's book that surpassed most adult books in quality, at least not from an adult perspective. But I was anxious to try it out with my class.

First off, The Lightning Thief clocks in at 375 pages, so it does require a commitment on the part of the read aloud teacher to really stick with it and read for at least 30 minutes every day. What my students loved about this book was its action, how it basically went from one monster to the next, and that the main character, Percy Jackson, is just "some kid."

This book lends itself extremely well to studying Greek Mythology. I had the class do companion projects where they studied a Greek God and presented a report on them, either using technology (like power point) or doing a poster board based presentation (for those artists who like to use their skills with pencil and paper).

This book resonated quite well with my 5th graders. It did take a little time to get through it. I made the commitment to read no less than 20 pages in each sitting. And even at that pace, it took a month to finish the book. By the time we reached the end, the class was very excited, had felt a sense of accomplishment by finishing such a large book, and many of them went on in the series. This series is currently at its fifth book, with more surely coming.

There are great reasons to read large books with your class. Too often read aloud turns into small books that can be finished in a few sittings or a couple of weeks (if the teacher even reads books in the first place, too many teachers still rely heavily on textbook basal readers). The amount of time involved with this book shows to those students who aren't used to sitting down with a large book the payoffs to reading something so big, and that it's ok to sit with one book for an extended period of time.

Right after we finished The Lightning Thief, my school had its book fair, and sure enough, they were selling the entire series. I bought a few copies of each, and followed the course of these books, as well as my students who bought their own copies, and believe it or not, out of a class of 18 students, 7 finished the second book, 4 went on to the third, and 2 also read the fourth by the end of the year. Finding a series that gets kids excited about reading, takes them into the world of mythology, and has them begging for more is a very exciting thing. Although it didn't really hold me as an adult reader, it is a great book (and series) for students. I highly recommend this book.