So here’s the deal. I wrote here about how I like to read kids’ books, so this post is (one of) my promised follow-ups. I pulled up Amazon.com’s list of the top 100 children’s books on their site, excluded the picture books (not that Dr. Seuss isn’t a classic and all, but I think he would better listed under ‘Fine Arts’ than ‘Literature’), and reviewed the remaining books that I’ve read.
And I know my list doesn’t seem very long, but I’ve condensed it a bit, reviewing a whole series when the individual books were listed in four or five different spots (weirdly, The Hunger Games managed to take up three different spots, the single book mind, not the whole series; I never even knew there were multiple editions of the book, but apparently there are). So check them, see what you think.
Percy Jackson and the Olympians and Heroes of Olympus by Rick Riordan
I’m clumping the two series together here, because, let’s admit it, there really isn’t much difference between the two. They share the same universe, story, and characters. The biggest difference is that in Percy Jackson, the gods are called by their Greek names; in Heroes of Olympus, they’re called by their Roman names.
The story, in case you aren’t familiar with it, is about a kid named Percy who discovers that he’s the son of Poseidon (yes, THAT Poseidon), and goes to a camp to learn how to fight all the monsters that are now attempting to kill him. And, turns out he’s in the middle of a prophecy that could destroy the entire world.
It’s a fun, light read about Greek mythology (by which I mean, most of Percy’s adventures are retellings of famous hero myths, with Percy in the lead role; he has to complete the Seven Labors of Herakles, fight Medusa, etc.) It does have a few problems, though. Aside from meandering into corny fields on occasion, there’s the inevitable question of the existence of the Greek gods. At one point in the story, Percy asks one of the gods what their existence implicates about religion and the purpose of life. The god sort of shrugs off the question, saying something along the lines of the Greek gods being ‘just gods’ whose existence has nothing to do with the existence (or lack thereof) of ‘God’. Take from that what you will.
The issue of note, particularly addressing the suitability of the series for children, is that virtually all of the main characters were born out of wedlock. Again, this mirrors the traditional Greek myths.
The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan (The Kane Chronicles)
I feel like I’m honor-bound to mention this one, since I did read it, and it is on Amazon’s Bestseller List. Honestly, though, I can’t remember a thing about it. I think it was about some kids who run into some Egyptian gods, only I don’t remember anything about deities of any kind. I think the kids might have been orphans (or maybe not). And I think they were in Scotland or Ireland or someplace.
I didn’t like it very much.
I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore
The story is about an alien boy who’s hiding among us Earthlings, after some baddies blew up his home planet. I know a lot of people like this book, but I couldn’t get into it. I found the characters flat, the action slow, and the plot Swiss cheesed with holes large enough to serve as tunnels for a reasonably large Rancor. In short, I wouldn’t recommend it, and aren’t really sure how it ended up on anybody’s bestseller list.
But for any who do want to read it, here’s the run down: It’s mostly clean, with some violence and perhaps a few kisses, but not much more than that. The main character is something of a rebel as well.
Gregor the Overlander Series by Suzanne Collins
I must admit I was a bit surprised to see this on in Amazon’s Top 100, considering that I don’t think I’ve ever talked to anyone (who doesn’t share my mitochondrial DNA) who’s familiar with the books. I read these years ago, before Collins ever wrote The Hunger Games. The series follows a young boy named Gregor who, along with his baby sister, discovers a subterranean world beneath New York City. This world is populated with people and giant, uh, pests? You know, those living creatures you kinda wish maybe weren’t? And now they’re huge. We’re talking bats large enough to use as steeds, man-sized rats, and roaches roughly the size of Panzers. The humans and their bat allies (they’ve got bonded riders, ala Eregon, but with bats instead of dragons) are locked in unending warfare with the rats–can’t blame them, really, if I lived next door to rats large enough to wear my clothes, I too would be in unending warfare with them (or I might just move to Wyoming).
Honestly, except for the gross-out factor of giant rats and roaches, there’s not much objectionable about these books. Once or twice Gregor lies to his mother to sneak down to the Underland, and in a couple other instances characters lie to each other, but bad things tend to happen with characters lie or otherwise betray trust. Trust, honor, friendship, bravery–they’re all lauded here. The battles can get a bit ferocious at times (not The Hunger Games disturbing violence, it’s more like Redwall), and characters face danger on a regular basis, which might be a bit much for really young kids. When my family read the series, the youngest of us was about six or seven, and I probably wouldn’t recommend it for kids younger than that.
As far as the story, it’s good. After I read the last book, I remember looking for other Collins’ books and being disappointed when there weren’t any (as I said, this was pre-Hunger Games). The endless prophecies can get a bit much at times, but other than, I can’t think of other caveats (though I did read these in middle school/early high school, so maybe if I read them again today, I would be aware of other things).
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
The story is set in a futuristic world in which the country is under the thrall of the Capital, which forces each of the twelve Districts to participate in annual gladiator games. Two kids under the age of eighteen are picked by lottery from each District and dumped into a huge arena where they must fight to the death. On television. Katniss, the main character, volunteers to take her sister’s place in the game, and so the story begins.
Where to start with this one?
As far as the actual construction of the story, it’s well put together, with well-developed characters and world. The only problem in this regard is that it can get a bit preachy at times as Collins ultimately condemns violence and a society that inflicts violence on others for entertainment (an example: the country is called Panem, which would be clever except that Collins then tells us it’s from the phrase ‘panem et circenses’, then explains the phrase, and then tells us again, for what seems six or seven times. And it doesn’t even make any sense: who would name their country Panem anyway?). Some, especially guys, might think there’s too much romance (there is the inevitable love triangle).
The positives? It’s a good story that sucks you in and maybe possibly makes you read all three books in one week (but not me, of course, I’m just saying it could happen). Loyalty, sacrificial love, hope, humility, and other virtues are constantly underscored (there are also a few Christian symbols, such as a Christ figure). It denigrates senseless violence and emphasizes the value of family. All in all, there are only a couple problems with the books. . .
. . .But these problems are pretty problematic. The ALA listed it on their Top Ten list of most challenged books for 2010 for “sexually explicit[ness], unsuit[ibility] to age group, and violence.” As for the first, I don’t recall that sort of explicitness at all. (An aside to understand the following point (mild spoiler alert): the gladiator games are set up like reality television, and, in order to get extra help like food and medicine in the game, kids must entice sponsors to give them money. The more sponsors, the better the chance of surviving. Katniss and Peeta, the boy from her District, are cast as lovers by their ‘publicist’ to attract sponsors by appealing to their sense of drama and romance.) There a few kisses, mostly with Katniss and Peeta as they perform for the cameras, and they do cuddle a few times (they sleep together sometimes, literally just sleeping, for warmth and to be true to their roles as ‘the lovers’). A teenage character states that she’s pregnant. That’s about it.
Now the violence. The Hunger Games Trilogy is unequivocally violent. Not only is there violence, but since so much of it is kids killing kids, it’s pretty disturbing stuff. Admittedly, the end purpose of the violence is to show the horror of it, but it’s still there. I won’t go into details, but kids kill each other in pretty much every way you can think of. I personally do not think the violence makes the books bad, just inappropriate for children (and some adults: my general rule of thumb is that if something makes you uncomfortable or pricks your conscience, you’re probably better off not reading/watching it).
The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini
Eragon, young farm boy living in the mountains of Alagaësia, a land ruled by the tyrant king Galbatorix, finds a dragon egg. The dragon inside hatches and bonds with him, and Eragon becomes a Dragon Rider. Unfortunately, Galbatorix has killed all the other Dragon Riders–the Riders being a sort of peace-keeping force–and tries to kill Eregon too. The story snowballs from there, with Eregon and his mentor Brom leaving to join the rebels fighting Galbatorix.
That’s the rough summary–very rough, as that’s about 3200 pages summed up in one paragraph, battling madly not to give any spoilers.
The Eragon books aren’t my favorite, honestly. The first two books could have had half their pages edited out, and been the better for it. The last two could have lost a hundred or two pages each, easily. The ‘parallels’ between these and The Lord of the Rings are shameless.
And then there’s the magic. In the world of Alagaësia, magic is basically defined as, if you know the true essence of a thing, you can control it (though some races are inherently more adept at magic, and some individuals cannot use it at all, so it’s clearly not just a matter of knowledge). Make your peace with the concept now, or forever flee, because the books drip with magic. As the series nears its end in fact, it seems the central struggle against Galbatorix is more a battle of magic than of might.
It’s a bit violent too, come to think of it. The books don’t shy away from what happens on a battlefield, and between dragon teeth, spells that set people on fire, and one character whose favored weapon is a hammer, things can get pretty gnarly. In other news, characters get drunk a few times, lie (though typically in order to save someone’s life), and swear (though usually in another language, so we’re not really sure what they’re saying).
So would I recommend them? Well. . .if you’ve already read the first two books, I’d say yes, finish the series. It’s good. But if you haven’t. . .to me, it seems that 1600 pages is a lot to read to get to the good stuff (and I know LOTS of people disagree with me; they think the first 1600 pages are also good) is too much.
So what do you guys think about these books? Any books on that Amazon list I haven’t read but totally should?
Namarie from the Tale-Weaver.
P.S. Yes, I’m aware of the misbehaving graphic, and if I could corral I Am Number Four into its proper place below The Red Pyramid, I would. But I have the technological acumen of a cognitively illiterate toddler, so I can’t. Sorry.