The Lightning Thief; A Powerful Book for Young Readers.

lightning-thief.jpg
Rick Riordan. The Lightning Thief. New York: Hyperion Books, 2005.

Perseus Jackson warns the audience at the beginning of the book,

“Look, I didn’t want to be a half-blood.
If you’re reading this because you think you might be one, my advice is: close this book right now. Believe whatever lie your mom or dad told you about your birth, and try to lead a normal life.
Being a half-blood is dangerous. It’s scary. Most of the time, it gets you killed in painful, nasty ways.
If you’re a normal kid, reading this because you think it’s fiction, great. Read on. I envy you for being able to believe that none of this ever happened.
But if you recognize yourself in these pages – if you feel something stirring inside – stop reading immediately. You might be one of us. And once you know that, it’s only a matter of time before they sense it too, and they’ll come for you.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

Percy bounces from boarding school to boarding school; six of them in the past six years to be exact! He is searching for his niche, somewhere that provides support for his ADHD and dyslexia, but he always seems to get himself in trouble. The novel begins by plopping the reader in the middle of a museum field trip set up for failure. Here we are introduced to Grover, the unlikely best friend, Mr. Brunner, the Latin teacher who takes a special interest in Percy despite his learning disabilities, and Mrs. Dodds, an old spitfire of a math teacher. By the end of the day, Mrs. Dodds turns into a leathery bat and Percy has no choice but to kill her with Mr. Brunner’s pen-turned-sword, thus giving the first chapter it’s name, “I accidentally vaporize my pre-algebra teacher”.
Percy Jackson is a lost cause, a grade A troublemaker... or is he? Imagine for a second there were “perfectly reasonable” explanations for his inability to focus and his bad grades, that his bizarre dreams were actually messages from the Greek gods and that one of those gods was his father. Percy Jackson, prince of the sea, son of Poseidon. That seemed more fitting than Percy Jackson, dweeb, step-son of smelly Gabe.
As the reader journeys through Percy’s struggle to find himself, they get to co-experience the life of a half-blood, for better and for worse. Percy opts to spend his summer with Grover, who happens to be a satyr, at a camp led by Chiron who was disguised the previous school year as Mr. Brunner, the Latin teacher with which he had a special connection. Most of his questions are answered at Camp Half-Blood and he spends his afternoons training in sword-fighting with his mentor, Luke. Eventually he is offered a quest.
Zeus and Poseidon are on the brink of war after Zeus’ lightning bolt mysteriously disappears. All fingers point to Percy. He must visit Hades in the underworld in order to find The Lightning Thief and clear his name. He takes along with him Grover and his new quest-obsessed friend, Annabeth. The three form an unlikely trio, making up where the others lack and developing solid relationships with one another. Rick Riordan uses both the ordinary and the extraordinary, doubt and betrayal, abandonment and assistance all weaved through a story founded on Greek mythology. The end product is the first book in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. The Lightning Thief is a must have on any Middle School teacher’s classroom library.


Recommendations for Teachers

Current Events/Life Lessons Opportunities
The Lightning Thief is an appropriate read for pre-teens because it addresses many current issues for this demographic by means of pop culture references, not to mention that Percy is incredibly relatable. Riordan does an eloquent job of covering sensitive issues that many students will have unique views about. Between the main characters in the book, hot topics such as death, single-parent homes, 'bi-racialism', abandonment, abuse, betrayal, physical disabilities, learning disabilities, courage, friendship, and morality are covered. Any given middle school student will surely identify with one or more of these topics. Percy and his crew show how to come out on top when dealt an undesirable hand in life. And, frankly, what middle schooler wouldn't be positively affected by seeing their flaws in a character who turns out to be a hero?
It would be ignorant not to recognize another simple advantage beyond the students reading this book and relating to it; the students are reading. When Percy takes off the cap to his special ink pen he reveals a deadly sword that, even when misplaced, will always return to him. It is notable that using The Lightning Thief in the classroom will provide students with a weapon much like Percy's; the rich literary elements, supported with classroom activities, are the proverbial sword to the pen of the students engaging in a desirable reading experience.
The element of mythology should not be overlooked. The subject itself is rich in history and literature. Teaching a unit on mythology prior to reading The Lightning Thief will give students a tremendous amount of schema. This schema can be strategically built upon with reading activities. For example, Rick Riordan will often tap into factoids about the gods to foreshadow. A middle school student with age-appropriate knowledge on the matter will be able to recognize, maybe with some guidance, these elements of foreshadowing. Learning how to recognize and understand these elements will expand the young reader's skills and may even pour into their writing. Alternately, teaching a unit on mythology after reading The Lightning Thief will help students put a name to a face, so to speak. They will feel as if they know the characters and will, in turn, be more apt to remember their powers, weapons, quirks, etc. Mythological entities not discussed in the novel can, many times, be easily pointed back to a setting or a relationship to another character that the student is now familiar with. The Lightning Thief gives life to the realm of the greek gods that students only read about in textbooks. One way for students to express this new relationship they have with mythology is with the 'trading cards of the gods' activity below.


Skills Lesson Plans
The Lightning Thief is also an excellent resource for a number of skills lessons, including the small list below:
*Compare and Contrast - Students write/discuss which gods are similar and which gods are opposed. This could be tied to a research project.
*Making Inferences - The Oracle tells Percy that he will be betrayed by someone he believes to be a friend. Students have to decide who they think will betray him by making inferences either on the characters themselves or based on the gods they are related to. This could be expanded into a mini-argument project as well.
*Making Predictions - At the end of the story the only thing we know for sure is that Percy is taking a risk by leaving Camp Half-Blood to live with his mother in city for the school. Students make predictions about what will happen his first week at home and write journal entries to express those positions.
*Research Skills - Students create trading cards of the gods based on research they have done. Also see "Compare and Contrast" above.
*Creative Writing - Students imagine that they are a half-blood and, based on their personality traits, who they think they are related to.

If you're looking for an entire unit based on The Lightning Thief, then look no further than the author's website where the lovely Kathleen Joaquin has posted her great unit.

About Rick Riordan
rick_riordan.jpg

Rick Riordan was born in San Antonio, Texas on June 5, 1964. It was clear that writing was in his blood from a young age, with his first serious writing beginning in middle school and his first publication at the age of 13. He was also an avid reader who loved The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Greek and Norse Mythology, Fantasy, Sci-Fi and Mysteries. At Alamo Heights High School, in San Antonio, he was an award winning writer and an editor for his school newspaper. He completed his college career after transferring to the University of Texas at Austin where he graduated with a degree in both English and History. He was certified to teach in both subjects by the University of Texas San Antonio.

Growing up in a family of teachers and artists was fateful. In college, Riordan was a music director at Camp Capers, a summer camp that inspired Camp Half-Blood in the Percy Jackson series. He then went on to teach in high school and middle school in both Texas and California before becoming a full-time writer. His favorite class to teach? Mythology, of course!

Along with the five books in the "Percy Jackson and the Olympians" series, he is the author of the "Heroes of Olympus" series and "The Kane Chronicles" series. Some of his other work includes, the"Tres Navarre" adult series, and The Maze of Bones, which was the first book in the "39 Clues" Series.

Riordan's family includes his wife, two boys, one dog and two cats. He is the winner of eight writing awards since he began his professional career, including a Mark Twain award and a Children's Choice Book award for The Lightning Thief.

The author's biographical information was gathered from the author's website, his publisher's website and wikipedia.

Multimedia (Video or Audio)




Video One (left-top), Riordan explains where he came up with the idea for the Percy Jackson series. Riordan shares with viewers that he crafted the character of Percy from his own son- who was a dyslexic, ADHD, second grader who had found an interest in Greek Mythology. Video Two (right-top), Here Riordan goes in depth about his own experience becoming interested in writing and mythology. He shares that his eighth grade teacher encouraged him toward his discovery of writing and of mythology. "Anything you could possibly want in a story is in Greek Mythology", is what Riordan's eighth grade teacher told him and this inspired for the rest of his life and throughout his career. A Greek hero, Riordan explains, experiences life stuck between two different worlds...just like a middle school kid may feel in their every day life- also feeling as if they don't belong in the world(s) they're living in. Riordan's explanation may be beneficial to both the average reader as well as the educator, because it proves the power of both an inspiring teacher, as well as the power of writing and literature in itself to a young adult reader. Video Three (left-bottom), this third video Riordan admits that as a reader he loved indulging in book series, because he liked to go back and feel as if he was visiting old friends he hadn't seen in a while; this too was his reasoning for making the Percy Jackson books into a series. Video Four (right-bottom), is a preview for the movie that was based off of Riordan's book series.

Additional Resources:
  • Riordan's Website - The Lightning Thief author's website; full of great information about the author, the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series and the author's blog.
  • Mythology Unit - A great teaching resource by two current public school teachers with a fun mythology research lesson plan for middle school students.
  • Mythology Teacher Website - Games and challenges for mythology lessons abound here, and the Gallery of the Gods can be a great tool for making students familiar with characters in the novel.
  • Camp Half Blood Wiki - An independent wiki with a lot of information about Rick Riordan and Camp Half-Blood.
  • Lightning Thief Extension Activities - An extension activity lesson plan for middle school students.
  • Lightning Thief Discussion Ideas - A discussion guide for literature circle practice in middle school.
  • Myth Web - The content is clear from the URL!
  • Mythology for Adults - A resource for learning about mythology for adults.
  • wingedsandals.com - An interactive website with games, "ask the oracle", history and everything you could want regarding Greek Mythology.
  • Greek Mythology for Kids - A website that is aimed for younger children to simplify and explain Greek Mythology. Games, stories, videos, and a description of the individual Greek gods are included here. There is also a link to another page and that includes a page full of teacher resources that they can implement in their classroom.
  • Myths K3-6 - A resource page specifically created for teachers from grades 3rd-6th who may be introducing or continuing the learning of Greek Mythology in their curriculum. Included are short plays that could be acted out as skits in the classroom for better visual representation of the stories, Greek vocabulary quizzes, and other worksheets and skill tests that can be used to help your students keep up with the material.
  • activityvillage.co.uk - Provides ideas for supplemental/hands-on learning in the classroom during a Greek Mythology lesson.
  • edsitement.neh.gov - Lesson plans for grades 3rd through 5th are available here for teachers.
  • greekmythology.com - details for teaching purposes and/or for students about Greek Mythology's beginnings.

Sources:
Camp Half Blood Wiki - Image of the author.
youtube.com - Videos of the author; Trailer of The Lightning Thief film.
rickriordan.com - Author's biographic information.
disney.go.com - Author's biographic information.
wikipedia.org - Award information about the author.
scholastic.com - Lesson plan ideas.

--Created by: Andria Barberi, Natasha Alexander, & Sarah McCoy