On Teaching Mythology with Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief

I used this book, along with Tales of the Greek Heroes by Roger Lancelyn Green, to teach mythology to a class of sixth graders during the summer. Working our way through the myths of Hellenic mythology, the kids remained very excited throughout the earlier discussions because of my use of multiple media depictions during the lessons, and their anticipation of the book based upon the excitement of those classmates that had seen the movie previously.

Once we had finished reading through the various myths that are referenced to throughout the novel, I purposefully decided to show them the movie, The Lightning Thief, before reading the book. Once I had done so, I was able to read the book, either orally as a class, or by using the audio book while they read along. They remained engaged throughout the readings, and, as a trick, I played muted video clips from the adaptation, or other movies set in mythology, which depicted the events we were reading that day on a loop. The students that I found were watching the film instead of reading along with the class would then be the ones subject to the critical reading questions that I would ask, which quickly taught them to keep their nose in their books. While doing so, I would also walk around the classroom with Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Ultimate Guide or The Percy Jackson and the Olympians: Lightning Thief: The Graphic Novel to show them characters involved in the scene, especially those that were deleted from the movie. As I said, I had determined previously that I would show them the movie before reading the book, breaking the cardinal rule of film adaptations, because this allowed us to have a group discussion of the book, the film, and the graphic novel where they thought critically about the variations of the different media forms, and allowed us to also spend time discussing the process of adapting books into movies.

The class, which was made up of students from low-income urban households, was part of a program organized by Pennsylvania’s Workforce Investment Act Youth Program and the Erie CareerLink. I thoroughly enjoyed the class, and once it was over I thought that they should be rewarded. I have found that the students do not read often at home because their parents either work shifts that do not allow them to spend time together as a family, or that their parents cannot read themselves. Since the kids had become so excited by their experiences with Greek mythology and Percy Jackson, and I could not give them the school districts books, I gave them each a book from my own personal collection. The students were humbled by the fact that I gave them each a book that I had read previously, along with an award certificate for what I termed “The New Old Book Award,” which I have adopted from my tenure at Virginia Tech, where each professor in the Classical Studies department would give one of the graduating seniors a book, into my classroom. Since I had given each student a book, I decided to give the class’ best student a box set of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians Boxed Set.