I recently picked up a book that the publisher/my boss is hailing as the “next Percy Jackson”. It’s not. At least not in my book. Which got me to thinking: what should have been?
The first thing I need to do is figure out what makes Percy Jackson, well, Percy Jackson. I think a strong character/voice is a major thing; all my girls (and me, as well) have fallen for the loveable dork that is Percy. But it’s not just a strong main character, it’s a fantastic ensemble cast. My kids talk about Annabeth, Clarisse, Grover, Leo, Thalia, and Nico as much as Percy. I also think a strong opening: when I asked how The Lightning Thief opened up, the girls immediately responded: “Percy almost got killed!” It’s also pacing; Riordan knows how to intersperse action with a wee bit of romance (not too much!) and give us character development as well. It’s also — mostly — independent story arcs in each book, while keeping an over-arching story to tie the series together. And, at least in Percy’s case, it’s playing with mythology, exposing kids to something they wouldn’t have otherwise been exposed to (all of my girls who love Percy have turned to our D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths to see what’s “real” and what’s not).
So, with that in mind, I came up with the following Percy Jackson read-alikes.
The Screaming Staircase, by Jonathan Stroud: “This book oozes kid appeal, giving us adventure, suspense, mystery, humor, ghosts, and even swordplay. The Screaming Staircase will engage readers until the very last page.” (from the Cybils description.)
The Great Greene Heist, by Varian Johnson: My review hasn’t gone up for this one yet (it’s out May 27), but it’s a fun book. Good characters, only a hint of romance, and while it’s not fantasy action, Johnson keeps the pacing going. A, who normally only loves fantasy, ate this one up.
Fablehaven, by Brandon Mull: Admittedly, I didn’t like this one. But I’m going off the fact that every kid I know who has started this series absolutely loved it. There must be some appeal in that, right?
Leviathan, by Scott Westerfeld: “It was an awesome, wild and weird ride, a fabulous adventure — no one writes nail-biting action like Westerfield — and a grand beginning to a story that has the potential to be absolutely amazing.”
Artemis Fowl, by Eoin Colfer: It’s been a long time since I’ve read this one, and I gave up after the second book, I think. But I do remember it has a ton of action (as does the first in his more recent series, The Reluctant Assassin) I did write this: “Not very well written, but the world he has created is fantastic. That, and it’s interesting to be rooting for the ‘bad guy’.”
The Book of Three, by Lloyd Alexander: I think too many people have forgotten this one. Prydian is a fantastic world, and there are some amazing characters to visit with there. ” I think it’s because Alexander is a master storyteller, and he knows how to create characters that we can relate to and root for, ones that are flawed even in a black-and-white world.”
The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom, by Christopher Healey: I threw this one in here for the humor; Percy’s quite funny, as is this. “I’m not sure I’d call this book hilarious — no milk was ever snorted through my nose, a good benchmark, I think — but it was definitely amusing. From the chapter titles, all of which begin “Prince Charming…” (my favorite? “Prince Charming Walks into a Bar”. Sounds like a joke waiting to happen), to the silliness of the princes to the fact that it all just kinda sorta works out in the end, it was enough to keep a smile pasted on my face.”
Geeks, Girls and Secret Identities, by Mike Jung: “Yes, this is really over the top. WAY over the top. But, it worked for me. I liked the nod to the kind of superhero geekery that guys (and some girls) get into, knowing every little bit about the superhero they idolize. Jung just took it one step further and made the superhero a real, rather than made-up, person. Which, in my humble opinion, is way cool.”
The False Prince, by Jennifer E. Nelson: I compared it (unfavorable) to Megan Whalen Turner’s The Thief, but in retrospect, this is much more accessible and action-packed than MWT’s book is. ” The detailed world Nielsen creates is full of life, populated with mystery, twists and turns, and engaging and complex characters… Readers can’t help but cheer for [Sage], even as he struggles to come to grips with the ups and downs of a fate he doesn’t desire.”(from the Cybils description.)
The Mysterious Benedict Society, by Trenton Lee Stewart: A confession: I’ve never read this one. BUT, I did read the second book, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Not fantasy, but definitely fun.
You’ve probably noticed, by now, that most of these are all-male main characters. (And mostly all-male authors.) Partially that’s because of the nature of Percy, and partially (for better or worse) it’s what I found when I started thinking about this. I did, however, find a handful of books with girl main characters that are just as fun and just as awesome as Percy Jackson is.
Magic Marks the Spot, by Caroline Carlson: “I liked this one an awful lot, mostly because of the above reason. But — aside from the unnecessary letters that were written in cursive, which is a real turn-off for kids These Days; the book got much better after I started skipping them — I really enjoyed all of it. There was humor (Miss Greyson, the governess/chaperone, was hilarious), sword fighting, a wee bit of romance (but not overstated; it was between the adults), and most of all Hilary being Awesome.”
The Inventor’s Secret, by Andrea Cremer: I haven’t put a review up on this one yet, as I’m not quite done with it. But I’m having a blast. The romance is probably a bit too pronounced for the lower middle-grade crowd, but it’s got action, snark, great characters, and a fantastic alternate history/steampunk world.
The Penderwicks, by Jeanne Birdsall: Possibly the “quietest” book on this list, it’s still fun of wonderful elements: spot-on terrific writing, a great cast of characters, and some non-fantasy action and tension. Hubby’s read it out loud a few times to different girls, and I have yet to get tired of hearing it. “
Into the Wild, by Sarah Beth Durst: “This was a fabulous book. But it’s hard to convey in a review how wonderfully clever it is, how enjoyable it is to read. Durst takes every single fairy tale character and uses them in new and unexpected ways, making the old stories come alive again. I loved the struggle for free will and how the Wild uses character’s choices; I loved how Julie used the Wild against itself, in order to make it through her story; and I loved how endings and beginnings were used.”
Zita the Spacegirl, by Ben Hartke: I think this one’s on here because it’s fresh in my mind, having just read the last one in the trilogy. But, it’s also here because K took them to school, and she got all the kids (except for the one boy who refused to read it because it’s about a girl. Grrrrr.) excited about Zita and her adventures. Still, even though it’s a graphic novel, I think it fits. It’s awesome.
So…. how did I do? What ones did I forget?