Sunday, August 15, 2010
Audio books save the trip: Percy and the Olympians and Ellie
Faced with a ten-hour car ride to Wisconsin, and a pre-teen who was already missing her older sister (who was flying in later) and her parents (who were leaving her in Madison with her grandparents to attend a conference), I racked my brain for a way to make the trip more enjoyable. Ellie was in the middle of reading Rick Riordan’s The Lightning Thief, and loving it. (This is great news, as Ellie has up-to-now been the kind of kid who avoided certain titles because they looked “too long.”) So I figured we could get the audio books of both The Lightning Thief and the second book in the series, The Sea of Monsters, and make the trip a lot more fun for all of us.
For those who don’t know, Riordan’s Percy and the Olympians series chronicles the exciting and dangerous life of Perseus Jackson, a modern-day son of Poseidon with an uncanny ability to attract monsters – and mayhem – as he battles to save the world from the forces of the evil Titan Kronos. His friends include a host of other demi-gods and mythical creatures, most importantly Annabeth (a gray-eyed daughter of Athena) and Grover (the satyr who identified Percy as a demi-god, or half-blood, in the first place).
Generally, I am not a reader of Young Adult titles*, at least on my own. But I have enjoyed reading many of them with my daughters over the years, and I was excited when Ellie decided to read this series – I remember going through a phase where I couldn’t get enough Greek and Roman mythology myself. I thought it might be just the thing to push her into the next level of reading achievement. Turns out I was right.
Let me say that there is nothing groundbreaking in either of the titles. The same formula – take a seemingly regular kid and surround him/her with a collection of unusual friends in the combat of some great evil – worked in other great series, like The Wizard of Oz, Star Wars, and Harry Potter. The particular fun of Riordan’s books, however, is in the juxtaposition of archetypical Greek characters with thoroughly modern settings. Mount Olympus is found at the top of the Empire State Building. The Gray Sisters share their eye to navigate a supernatural taxi service. The entrance to Hades is – of course – in Los Angeles, with Charon reimagined as the snarky receptionist of D.O.A. Records. Hilarious! Actually, I'd say this series is a perfect choice for multi-generational listening, because there are a lot of jokes that are clearly meant for the parents.
Audio books include another factor – the reader. Both The Lightning Thief and The Sea of Monsters were read by Jesse Bernstein. His mild New York accent worked well for Manhattan-based Percy, but my daughter thought he sounded a bit too old to read Percy’s first-person narrative. Also, some of the accents he employed to differentiate the characters were simply awful, and not consistent within characters when they reappeared. But Bernstein does have a gentle voice, and it didn’t grate on me even after a long car ride, so I think his interpretation was mostly successful.
So listening to the audio books made the long car trips lots of fun. I always thought of audio books as kind of a “cheat,” but having listened to one, I now think of them as a whole different form of entertainment. Even better, Ellie’s next trip to the library netted D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths, and she hasn’t had her nose out of it since. She knows a Satyr from a Centaur, and a Nereid from a Dryad. She has even chosen her costume for Halloween: Artemis. Her rationale: she’s the only goddess who doesn’t want to smooch boys all the time! I’m glad that even though her reading tastes are maturing, she isn’t growing up too fast – she is my baby after all.
*Although this summer has been an exception, I admit, with Looking for Alaska and the Percy Jacksons