Percy in the Classroom

I had a great event last night at Luna Middle School here in my hometown of San Antonio. It was so encouraging to see over a hundred families come out on a school night for a literacy event. The school hosted a dyslexia information seminar beforehand, which was fun because a lot of the dyslexic kids came to my presentation afterward and got to hear about Percy Jackson, my dyslexic main character, and my son’s own struggle with reading and writing. It was amazing to see the kids’ eyes light up. One boy raised his hand, very excited, and said, “That’s just like me!” He felt like he was suddenly a hero himself. That made my night.

While at Luna, I learned that the Northside Independent School District, the largest district in San Antonio, has adopted The Lightning Thief as required reading in seventh grade. The classes will be reading it during the last six weeks, and many of the teachers are using the on-line guide I designed.

Wow. I’m still trying to adjust to the idea that The Lightning Thief has become more than a personal story for my son. First I started getting emails from individual kids all over the world who had discovered the book. That’s was cool enough. Then I learned that whole schools were reading it. Now, I find out that an entire district in my hometown is using Percy Jackson and thousands upon thousands of kids will be reading it in class, all at the same time. That’s sort of mind-boggling.

I have to admit, I’m honored to see the book in the curriculum, and at the same time I’m a little worried by the idea of Percy in the classroom. There’s something about that word “required” that sometimes takes the magic and fun out of reading a book. I hope that doesn’t happen! My first goal is always to promote a love of reading. My favorite emails from parents are the ones that say, “Your book made my child into a reader.” In my opinion, that is the greatest compliment a writer can get. I hope that the kids of the Northside District enjoy the book, even if they do have to write an essay on it, or answer some questions (no doubt in complete sentences!). I’m very honored by the vote of confidence NISD gave the book. I hope Percy Jackson is up for the challenge. He is a hero, and he’s never let me down yet, so I’m choosing to think optimistically.

In the meantime, I have trouble wrapping my mind around huge numbers. When people ask me how the series is doing, I know they are wondering about numbers, and sure, the numbers for Percy are good. But what I think about are individual stories. I think about the eight-year-old boy who hated writing, but who liked Percy Jackson so much he labored to produce a handwritten note he could mail to me. I think about the thirteen-year-old girl who told me she used to be ashamed of her ADHD, but now she wears it as a “badge or honor” after reading about Percy. And I think of that boy who raised his hand and proudly announced to the whole auditorium, “That’s just like me!”

When I get comments like that, how could I wish for anything different?

Rick Riordan