Wednesday 28 September 2011

OLYMPIAN WEEK Blog Tour Day 1 - Interview with Rick Riordan

Photo of Rick Riordan by Marty Umans

Wow... I am sort of lost for words right this moment. When I started this blog my intention was to try to share my knowledge of boy-friendly books with a hope that one or two parents may find something I wrote useful in helping their sons to develop an interest in reading. At no point did I think, less than two years on, that I would be hosting a Q&A with one of my writing heroes, and one of the most famous author of children's books in the world. Imagine my surprise and complete excitement when I received an email from just so for Puffin Books asking if I would be interested in taking part in a Rick Riordan blog tour. I was actually supposed to be taking minutes in a meeting at work and only god knows what was discussed for the next few minutes as my mind was suddenly elsewhere!

Today is Day One of Rick's Olympian Week Blog Tour, where he will be visiting seven UK blogs in order to celebrate the return of Percy Jackson (how great does that sounds PJ fans?) in the new Heroes of Olympus book, titled The Son of Neptune. Each day we will be honouring a different Greek god, and I chose Ares for The Book Zone. Let's face it - who else would be the most apt for this boy blog than the God of War himself. I have always loved the way that Rick portrayed Ares as a leather-clad biker complete with Harley Davidson, in the Percy Jackson books and even though he was often out to ruin things for Percy and his friends I couldn't help but look forward to any new appearance of his character.

Since I started The Book Zone I have received quite a number of emails from parents asking for advice regarding their son/daughter as he/she has ADHD and/or dyslexia. Knowing that Rick first wrote Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief for his son Haley who has both of these conditions I really wanted to tap into his expert knowledge for this Q&A. My huge thanks go to Rick for taking the time to answer my questions, and readers please don't shoot off straight after the interview as I have news about a great competition that is being run at the moment.

BZ: Rick, thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions for us. Your books are great at engaging reluctant readers. Was this something you were consciously trying to achieve as you wrote the original Percy Jackson series?

RR: The story was originally for my dyslexic son, who was very much a reluctant reader, so yes, it was a conscious decision. My years of teaching definitely helped me craft the stories, too. I always imagine reading the books to my own classroom. I try to keep the story moving, inject plenty or humor and action, and keep things relevant for modern kids.

BZ: I have loved reading books ever since I was a child. Were you like this when you were younger or were you a reluctant reader? Who encouraged you to read when you were younger?

RR: I was a reluctant reader until I was in middle school (around age 13). That’s why I have a lot of sympathy for reluctant readers. I liked to read with my parents, and I still think that’s one of the most powerful and important ways for a family to spend time together. I remember reading E.B. White and Roald Dahl with my mom, and mythology and tall tales with my dad. But I was never a child who would sit down and read just for fun. Later, however, I got into fantasy and would spend hours in Middle Earth. My middle school English teacher showed me how the Lord of the Rings was derived from Norse mythology, and I’ve been hooked on myths ever since.

BZ: It is now popular knowledge that the original Percy Jackson came into being through your attempts to motivate your son Haley after he had been diagnosed with dyslexia and ADHD. What effect did the books have on Haley?

RR: Over the years, Haley and Percy have grown up together. Percy became a hero. Haley did some pretty heroic things too. He learned to overcome his learning disabilities, excelled in school, became a voracious reader, and even decided he wanted to write books of his own. He recently completed his first manuscript for a novel, which is longer than anything I’ve ever written!

BZ: As a teacher I have seen first-hand the improved self-esteem that kids with ADHD and/or dyslexia have felt after reading about Percy. Is this something you hear a lot from your readers and their parents?

RR: I always love when a child tells me they started reading because of Percy Jackson. I get thank you notes from parents, teachers and kids all the time, and that is the most gratifying part of my job.

BZ: Did you read to your children when they were younger? How important do you think it is that parents read to and with their kids?

RR: Yes, absolutely. I still read to my sons, as they are usually the first ones to hear each of my new books. It’s critical that parents model reading for their children, and treat reading as a family experience. If the parents are too busy to read, it’s a given that children will model that behaviour.

BZ: I have emails from my blog readers saying that their sons find reading boring. What advice would you give these parents?

RR: It’s very important to match readers with the right books. Every boy is different, but there are books out there that can appeal to almost any reader – male or female. Nonfiction counts as reading. A sports magazine counts. So do manga or graphic novels. Some boys love fantasy, some love thrillers. Try many different things, and above all strike up a good relationship with a librarian or bookseller. They have a wealth of information about titles that appeal to boys.

BZ: What other tips do you have for parents of children who are reluctant readers, or who are diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia?

RR: When it comes to encouraging readers, one size definitely does not fit all, but a few things tend to work well for most families: Have a family reading time every night. It doesn’t matter what you read, as long as you are reading. Provide the space and instil the habit. Second, let your children have a wide selection of material to choose from, and let them make their own choices (as long as they choose something!) Try different strategies to make reading more comfortable. Some reluctant readers do well with e-readers because it makes the text seem less daunting. Some kids prefer physical books. Sometimes dyslexic children benefit from using a straightedge to follow lines of text, or reading on a different colour background, like blue or red. Audiobooks are also very useful for some reluctant readers. I’m rather ADHD, and I always have a stress ball in my hand when I try to sit with a book. It gives me an outlet for that nervous energy and actually improves my focus. Most of all, don’t despair! My own son is proof that reluctant readers don’t have to be reluctant forever.


Again, my heartfelt thanks to Rick for agreeing to take part in this and for sharing his experiences with us. I know that these answers will go some way to helping ease the worries of some of the parents who read this blog. My thanks also go to Justin at just so for asking me if I would like to be involved in the blog tour and making my year!

The Son of Neptune is released in the Uk on 4th October. Rick's Olympian Week blog tour continues tomorrow with Hephaestus Day over at The Bookette, but before you shoot off over there why not head on over to the Hunt For A Half-Blood Hero Competition by clicking on the image below. You could be in with a chance of winning the following:

  • Heroes of Olympus, Percy Jackson and Kane Chronicles author Rick Riordan streamed exclusively live into your school assembly.
  • A trip for your class to your local SEA LIFE Centre
  • A full set of Rick Riordan books for your library