We all know that literacy and reading are important, especially for kids who are still learning. One of the most effective ways of getting kids to read is to give them something that they want to read. Percy Jackson is a popular juvenile/YA fiction that many kids have found extremely exciting, and that you should consider for your kids.
Percy Jackson books are intended for kids ages 9-14. The books blend the lines between middle-grade and young-adult fiction, so it can be a good choice to challenge young readers. At the same time, Percy grows throughout the series, so it will still be exciting enough to keep them reading.
Below, we will explore the question of reader age for the Percy Jackson books in greater detail. NOTE: SPOILERS FOR THE PERCY JACKSON SERIES FOLLOW. READ WITH CAUTION.
In the initial book, we meet Percy in a middle school for troubled teens (mild spoiler: Percy is almost always in a school for troubled teens). Percy is 12-years old and in the sixth grade. Generally, books are meant to be read by people around the same age as the main protagonist (though that is not always the case). Using this logic, Percy Jackson is a great book for anyone around 6th grade age, or around 12 years old.
However, Percy Jackson is written in a manner that is friendly to slightly younger ages as well. Most people seem to have found Percy Jackson sometime in the upper elementary grades (between 3rd and 6th grades), although that is not always the case. Percy Jackson has a special kind of universal appeal, such that younger kids and even adults may find it to be an appealing read.
The Percy Jackson books are authored by Rick Riordan. One thing that Riordan does well is match the tone and theme of the story to Percy’s age. Thus, when Percy is 12, Percy thinks like a 12-year old might think. Because Riordan’s use of theme and voice is so masterfully done, Percy Jackson can appeal to readers from all walks of life, as they will find themselves liking Percy and his rebellious attitude, and cheering for him in spite of his troublemaking tendencies.
*SPOILERS BELOW – skip to next section to avoid*
Percy grows with the books, usually at a rate of about 1 year per book. The series builds up to Percy’s 16th birthday, which doesn’t occur until the very end of the 5th and final book in the series. In spite of this rapid growth, Percy remains an interesting and relatable character, even for younger readers, much like Harry Potter through his 7-book, 7-year saga. During a time of rapid growth in their own lives, kids will appreciate how Percy faces adversity and how he matures while still maintaining his sense of fun and optimism.
Riordan does not put anything inappropriate in the books. Though they are filled with magic and danger, violence is never glorified and is rarely scary. Action is used as a means of engagement, and helps to develop characters’ sense of justice, grit, and determination. Although love is a persistent theme between Percy and Annabeth, this is only developed as Percy approaches the age of 15-16, and involves only one kissing scene.
Note: Percy and Annabeth’s relationship is further developed in the sequel series, The Heroes of Olympus, which functions more as YA fiction than Juvenile fiction, although there’s still nothing to fear, as kissing and cuddling are the extent of any romantic advances.
Themes in the Books
There are many themes that Riordan explores in the Percy Jackson series. We will touch on a few here, to see how Riordan explores these themes through Percy and his story.
The theme of friendship is obvious from the outset of the novel, as the very opening scene includes Percy standing up for his disabled friend who is being bullied. This theme continues throughout the entirety of the series, with Percy developing many different friendships.
Although Percy is not a perfect friend, he does seem to value his friendships and seeks to take care of his friends, particularly when they are in danger. There are rivalries that occur at Camp Half-Blood (the main setting for the novels), and Percy must explore how these rivalries affect his feelings and friendships, particularly with larger danger looming. Ultimately, Percy sees that small rivalries become insignificant in the face of danger, and that learning how to work with others and trust others is essential to overcoming adversity.
Love – *SPOILERS IN THIS SECTION*
This theme is not apparent throughout the first book, but becomes more significant in later books as the characters grow in age. Percy explores his own developing feelings for Annabeth who is his longtime friend, but other romantic relationships involving other characters are also explored. These relationships can be complicated and lead to interesting developments, with some characters losing their significant other, and some relationships in which both characters die.
Although these themes may appear too mature for juvenile readers, they are rarely significant plot-lines, acting more as side stories. These can be a good way for young readers to learn more about their own romantic feelings, and explore what it might be like to lose somebody significant in their lives. Riordan does all of this without anything explicit, so this can be a good learning experience for young readers!
As a 12-year old with various problems, Percy is already struggling to find his identity when his world is turned upside-down with the news that he is a demigod (half-human, half-god). This realization sends Percy into a new world where he must explore what it means to be a hero, and what he must do in order to become the hero that he wants to be.
Themes of heroism, identity, and growth are common throughout the Percy Jackson books as Percy grows from a scared 12-year old to a leader among his peers and a hero. Children will find this story compelling yet relatable as they seek to form their own identity, and inspiring as they seek to become good people.
YA Fiction vs. Juvenile Fiction
When it comes to genres, some people can be sticklers! We hope that this section doesn’t make us out to be sticklers; sometimes these divisions can be helpful for guiding readers’ decisions. If you’re still unsure of what age is appropriate for reading Percy Jackson, this section may be helpful.
Fiction is generally divided based on two factors: the style of fiction and the age of the reader. The style of fiction is basically what kinds of books you like to read: fiction can be historical fiction, fantasy, science fiction, etc. However, fiction books are also typically divided according to what age they are appropriate for. These are typically divided into adult fiction, young adult (YA) fiction, and juvenile or middle-grade fiction (technically “children’s books” is a division here as well, but that’s less relevant for the current topic).
As for specific ages, juvenile fiction is generally considered good for kids ages 8 to the early teenage years. While there’s no true standard, the consensus seems to be that juvenile stops and YA starts sometime between ages 12-14. YA fiction covers from this range to age 18, and adult fiction is for readers 18+.
There can be much that goes into determining what age range a work of fiction truly “fits in.” Books tend to get longer for older readers—adult fiction books can be 1,000+ pages—while juvenile fiction tends to stay in the 300-500 page range. YA fiction tends to always fall somewhere in-between juvenile and adult fiction.
Adult fiction books will have adult themes sometimes accompanied by explicit scenes, while juvenile fiction will never have anything too violent, sensual, or graphic.
One easy rule of thumb for grading a fiction book is the age/maturity level of the main character(s). Wherever the protagonist and their closest comrades fall should be the same age as the reader. For example, a 15-year old protagonist would denote a YA novel, while a 35-year old protagonist would denote an adult fiction novel.
Percy Jackson is hard to put clearly into either juvenile or YA because he grows from 12 at the start of the series to 16 by the end of the series. In the sequel series, The Heroes of Olympus, Percy and his friends then grow from 16 to 18+, becoming adults. For this reason, there are times when Percy Jackson blurs the lines between juvenile and YA, particularly in his first series.
Personally, I would rank Percy Jackson as an upper juvenile fiction series based on themes and overall tone. There is nothing inappropriate or difficult that would make it unreadable for younger juvenile audiences, but many of the themes feel close to YA themes as well. However, I believe that Percy Jackson would appeal to many YA fiction readers as well, due to its excellent storytelling and fun magic. For this reason, I’d call it an upper juvenile or lower YA fiction series.
The sequel series, The Heroes of Olympus, is similar, although I would put it in the YA category. In this series, the characters are older, the books are longer, and the themes are slightly more mature. There is nothing explicit in these books, although romance is a more pronounced theme, with more characters dating, kissing, and cuddling than in the original series.
Why Percy Jackson?
So why should any kid read Percy Jackson? Aside from the themes mentioned above, Percy Jackson is a unique blend of modern-day society, modern teen problems, and historical myths and magic. Riordan is extremely careful in his use of Greek history and mythology, seeking to be accurate to historical truths while also embellishing the magic and recreating myths to be relatable to the present-day experience.
This is beneficial for a few reasons. First, it gives kids a basic understanding of Greek history and mythology that will serve them throughout their educational experience. So much of academia and history starts with and revolves around Greece—whether it be philosophy, rhetoric, math, or history, understanding Greek myths will help students in future courses.
Second, it helps young readers to see how the human story is the same throughout history. Though the names of our protagonists have changed from Achilles to Harry, or from Odysseus to Captain American, Percy (short for his namesake, Perseus) helps us to see how ancient stories fit into modern contexts, and how they can be as relatable as ever when we make that bridge through time. Achieving this understanding will turn young readers into lifelong readers as they understand how history and modern stories help us to understand and live the human experience.
I’d like to share a bit of my own experience with Percy Jackson. I don’t remember the exact age when I began reading the Percy Jackson books, although it must have been sometime in elementary school. I began reading them at a time when only a few were out, so I had to wait as the final books were released year-by-year.
I remember feeling enamored by Percy Jackson’s story. The magical world was exciting, and somehow realistic (Riordan does a great job of blending the real world with his fictional story). Although Percy and I are extremely different, I found him charismatic and relatable. He inspired me to be a good friend to my friends.
As I grew older, I left Percy behind for a while. His sequel series (The Heroes of Olympus) got left behind as I had to begin reading classic literature for high school. However, the lessons I learned as a young kid with Percy stuck with me. I am now an adult finishing up my final year in college, and I list “loyalty” as one of my most important values. When I think about Percy, I think of a hero who reminds me that you can be courageous and frightened and still have fun while you’re scared or unsure of yourself.
I recently went back to Percy and reread the entire original series in addition to finally reading The Heroes of Olympus. Even as an adult, I found Percy’s story engaging, albeit written for a younger audience. Percy’s wit was as funny as ever, and reminded me to laugh at myself and those around me when appropriate. It was like reconnecting with an old friend.
I also realized how much my knowledge of Greek mythology was gained through reading Percy Jackson, and how much that benefitted me through university English, History, and other courses.
While new adult readers to Percy Jackson may not find it as engaging as they may not share my own experience of nostalgia, young readers will find in Percy a lifelong friend. They will find someone who will inspire them to be better without taking themselves too seriously. They’ll find a story that allows them to laugh and cry and feel a wide range of emotions. And then—thirty years down the road—they’ll be excited to share Percy’s story with their own kids.