In the main opening session on Saturday, we heard Rick Riordan, author of the wildly successful Percy Jackson series, much beloved by many of my students. The title of his talk was "Reading Myths and the Myths of Reading." He began by comparing his previous appearance at IRA, in 2005, after The Lightning Thief had just come out. He claimed that there were only fifteen people in the room to hear him then, and the huge conference hall full of thousands of people testified to the fame his Percy Jackson books have brought him. He peppered his talk with one-liners; for example, he said that prior to writing the Percy Jackson books, he wrote murder mysteries, but once he quit teaching, he quit contemplating murder. Riordan (pronounced REAR-don, by the way; I'd been saying it wrong for years) told us three reasons to read mythology and three myths about reading. The reasons to read mythology were:
- 1. It has something for everyone. Riordan is still finding myths, and they include examples of everything we deal with in modern life. He is working on a book of myths told from Percy Jackson's point of view; he's returned to the original sources: Ovid and Hesiod. He gave the example of the the story of Arisicthon, which he called a classic story of addiction.
- 2. It is especially good for kids in the middle grades. Just as toddlers are drawn to stories about dinosaurs and construction equipment, powerful icons for children with very little power, so middle schoolers are drawn to stories of beings that are half mortal and half divine, because middle schoolers themselves are between worlds.
- 3. Mythology helps understand life.
- 1. Reading is dying. Riordan cited the attendance at his events and the enthusiasm for authors in general to debunk the idea that kids no loner read.
- 2. One book fits all. Kids need books that are as individual as they are. Riordan gave credit to J.K. Rowling for starting a huge renaissance of children's literature, helping to provide a "buffet" of books kids can choose from.
- 3. Some kids are just reluctant readers. Riordan insists that it takes "one good teacher and one good book" to change a reluctant reader into an eager reader.