REBECCA ROBERTS, host:
If you have in your acquaintance a kid between, say, eight and 14 or so, you've probably seen them reading "The Lightning Thief" or another book in the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan. It seems possible, in fact, that at any given time every American fourth-grader is reading about Percy Jackson, an ordinary kid who discovers he's actually half Greek god.
That series topped out at five books, but author Rick Riordan, who is now hailed as a rock star by middle-schoolers, has just published the first book in a new series. The book is called "The Red Pyramid," and this time the kids involved are connected to Egyptian mythology.
Rick Riordan joins me now from the studios of Louisville Public Media in Kentucky. Welcome to the program.
Mr. RICK RIORDAN (Author, "The Lightning Thief," "The Red Pyramid"): Thank you.
ROBERTS: So, I took my kids to see you at Politics and Prose here in Washington, D.C. and I couldn't get over the size of the crowd and the enthusiasm of the crowd. Are you getting used to being a rock star?
Mr. RIORDAN: A rock star to middle-schoolers - that's something I never thought I would hear about myself.
ROBERTS: Yes. You and the Jonas Brothers.
Mr. RIORDAN: It was a great event and, yeah, we've had turnouts like that across the country for "The Red Pyramid" tour. It's just been fantastic. Whether I'm getting used to it or not, that's another question. But it is a lot of fun to see the kids come out and get excited about a book.
ROBERTS: So, "The Red Pyramid" is the first in what will be a series about the Kane kids, Carter and Sadie. Are you having fun with Egyptian mythology?
Mr. RIORDAN: Oh, it's great. And, you know, one thing I've learned is you have to listen to kids. As I toured the country for Percy Jackson, so many young readers said, why don't you do something about Egypt? And as a former classroom teacher myself, I knew that it was a very high-interest subject. So, after thinking about it for a few years, I thought this would be wonderful if I could bring those old myths that aren't as well known as the Greek myths into the present, with a Percy Jackson-type spin.
And that's when I started working on "The Red Pyramid." And it's been a wonderful experience. I so enjoy seeing the excitement levels that the kids are having about the Greek, and now Egyptian, mythology.
ROBERTS: "The Red Pyramid" is the first in the Kane Chronicles. Carter and Sadie Kane are brother and sister. They're 14 and 12, respectively. You know, that's an age when most kids, I would venture to guess, feel like they don't fit in for one reason or another.
And these kids - first of all, they're half-Egyptian god - but also they, you know, they're half African-American, half white. They have sort of real-world problems as well as these fantasy problems. Is it hard to strike that balance between something that's an adventure for kids to read but also characters that they'll identify with?
Mr. RIORDAN: I think actually the two things go together very well, and I think that's one reason why fantasy and why mythology appeal so strongly to kids in those middle grade. You know, being a middle-school teacher, I see this all the time. Kids are struggling with their identity, they're struggling with how they fit in with their peers, they're struggling with how they fit in with their families and what their relationship to their parents is.
And so to throw a fantasy in there where they're having to deal with all of these issues that normal kids deal with, but in a fantasy setting, I think that really resonates strongly with young readers.
ROBERTS: How do you feel about the inevitable "Harry Potter" comparisons?
Mr. RIORDAN: Well, you know, I love "Harry Potter" and "Harry Potter" opened so many doors for young adult literature. It really did convince the publishing industry that writing for children was a viable enterprise. And it also, I think, convinced a lot of people that kids will read if we give them books that they care about and they love.
I am very optimistic about children. I don't see them turning off to books. In fact, the opposite. I see so much excitement about so many authors out there and I'm lucky enough to be one of them. I think children love reading and they will make time for it, if we put the right books into their hands. And I hope that I'll get the chance to keep being one of the people that writes them.
ROBERTS: Those early teen years, they could be tough. You know, they can be tough on the kids, they can be tough on the parents who might think some malicious Egyptian monsters possess their children. You clearly have a gift for reaching this age group. What advice do you have for parents?
Mr. RIORDAN: Well, you know, the best thing that I found is just to provide a time for kids to read. And it doesn't so much matter what they're reading rather we just need to give them a time in the day when the family's sitting down - and I do this at my home with my kids - and it's an expectation that we're all going to read together. I'll pick up my novel and they'll pick up their novel and we'll spend an hour just with books.
It's so important to model reading because if the parents are too busy to read then the children are going to feel like they're too busy to read as well. Beyond that, encourage their interest. Strike up a good relationship with your children's librarian. They are a wealth of information for good books. Find a good independent bookseller in your community. They're another great source of information.
And find the books that engage your child. Every child is different. And I think it's important that we don't have maybe just one or two books that we're recommending to all children but rather we cater the books to fit each individual child.
ROBERTS: That family reading time sounds suspiciously like a plan for you to get another chapter read in your own book.
Mr. RIORDAN: It's true. My own sons are my first editors and they are always the first ones to hear the manuscript. It's a really great part of my editing process. Because if I write a joke that I think is hysterical and they don't laugh, I know that joke has to be cut.
ROBERTS: Rick Riordan, his new book is called "The Red Pyramid." Thank you so much for joining us.
Mr. RIORDAN: Thank you.
ROBERTS: You can read an excerpt from "The Red Pyramid" at our website, NPR.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
Rick Riordan has just released the first book in his new young-adult fantasy series about a couple of kids and their mysterious connection to the Egyptian gods. Like Riordan's popular Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, The Kane Chronicles add magical twists to the obstacles kids face in everyday life.
If you have in your acquaintance a person between the ages of 8 and 14, you've probably seen them reading The Lightning Thief or another book in the Percy Jackson young-adult fantasy series by Rick Riordan.
That series, about an ordinary kid who discovers he's actually half Greek god, ended after five books last year. Riordan hasn't been resting up, though. He's just published the first installment of The Kane Chronicles, a new series inspired by Egyptian mythology.
That first book, The Red Pyramid, introduces brother-sister duo Carter and Sadie Kane — 14 and 12 years old, respectively — who discover that they are related to the Egyptian gods. Riordan tells NPR's Rebecca Roberts that he got the idea for The Kane Chronicles from his readers.
"One thing I've learned is you have to listen to kids," says Riordan, whose own sons are his first editors. "As I toured the country for Percy Jackson, so many young readers said, 'Why don't you do something about Egypt?' As a former classroom teacher myself, I knew that it was a very high-interest subject. So after thinking about it for a few years, I thought it would be wonderful if I could bring those old myths that aren't as well known as the Greek myths into the present, with a Percy Jackson-type spin."
Like Percy, Carter and Sadie are dealing with serious real-world and fantasy issues: They're biracial, orphaned and have recently made that surprising discovery about their heritage. Riordan says it's an experience kids can identify with — except maybe for the part about being half-deity.
"I see this all the time," he says. "Kids are struggling with their identity; they're struggling with how they fit in with their peers. They're struggling with how they fit in with their families and what their relationship to their parents is."
Riordan says he believes placing normal kid issues in a fantasy context resonates for young readers. It's a phenomenon that perhaps wasn't truly appreciated until J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter exploded onto the scene — an event that Riordan credits with changing the world of young adult literature.
"Harry Potter opened so many doors for young adult literature," he says. "It really did convince the publishing industry that writing for children was a viable enterprise. And it also convinced a lot of people that kids will read if we give them books that they care about and love."
A more developed young-adult publishing industry means a better selection of young-adult literature — which, Riordan says, is important when it comes to encouraging kids to read.
"Every child is different," he says. "I think it's important that we don't have maybe just one or two books that we're recommending to all children — but rather we cater the books to fit each individual child."
Still, Riordan doesn't worry about the state of kids and books these days.
"I think children love reading, and they will make time for it if we put the right books into their hands," he says. "And I hope I get the chance to keep being one of the people that writes them."