Children's Corner: Talking with 'Serpent's Shadow' author Rick Riordan


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Best-selling children's author Rick Riordan admits he's looking forward to "kind of a break" in his writing schedule.

With the May 1 publication of "The Serpent's Shadow" (Hyperion/Disney, $19.99, ages 8-12), the final book of his "Kane Chronicles" series, Mr. Riordan (pronounced "RY-er-dan") will be able to focus totally on his other series, "The Heroes of Olympus."

"For the next year, I'll just be working on one book," he said in a recent telephone interview from his San Antonio, Texas, home. "That's really kind of a break for me."

Over the past three years, Mr. Riordan has produced two books annually -- one each for "Kane" and "Olympus." He decided to make "Kane" a trilogy, while "Olympus" will be a five-book series.

"It was a challenge for me," said Mr. Riordan, who initially won fame and fortune as the creator of the "Percy Jackson" series. "It was a lot of fun, and I'm happy I did it. But I'm also happy I now get to do one book a year -- for at least a year!"

At the moment, however, Mr. Riordan, 47, is busy touring parts of the United States, including Alaska, to talk about the final volume in the "Kane" series. Like his other books, "The Serpent's Shadow" is expected to be a blockbuster, boasting a 2 million volume first printing.

While Mr. Riordan's other series are built around Greek and Roman mythology, "Kane" highlights the lesser-known mythology of ancient Egypt. Yet, like his other series, "Kane" brings ancient mythology into modern life. In this case, it's two current-day teenage siblings -- Carter Kane and younger sister Sadie -- who learn their true heritage as powerful Egyptian magicians in the first book of the series, "The Red Pyramid."

In both that book and the second one, "The Throne of Fire," the Kanes battle evil Egyptian gods and magicians who want to take over the world and destroy humanity. Even as they do battle, the Kanes also are trying to learn how to follow the "path of the gods" so that "Ma'at" (the order of the universe) can triumph over chaos.

But those battles just set the stage for the final showdown detailed in "The Serpent's Shadow." At the center of it all is Apophis, the Chaos snake, who has threatened to destroy the world in three days' time. To effectively counter Apophis, Carter and Sadie must first undertake a perilous journey to capture Apophis' shadow and then figure out how to do an exceedingly complex kind of magic -- rarely done before -- to annihilate the serpent.

Like all of Mr. Riordan's other books, "The Serpent's Shadow" is a true page-turner that mixes adventure, humor, gross stuff, a bit of romance and some sibling rivalry with a crash course on Egyptian mythology. The result is a book that readers will find hard to put down; they'll also find it hard to find another one like it. His literary formula for young readers is both intoxicating and unique.

Mr. Riordan, a former middle school teacher, began writing children's books based on mythology as a way to both hook his students on the subject and get his then-elementary-school-age son Haley to enjoy reading.

Propelled to worldwide fame through the "Percy Jackson" books, Mr. Riordan nonetheless decided to end the series at five books, saying that he wanted to conclude on a high note. He then began "Kane" and "Olympus." The third book in the "Olympus" series, "The Mark of Athena," will be published in October.

Mr. Riordan acknowledged that ending "Kane" wasn't necessarily easy.

"It's always hard to wrap up a series. The longer I spend with the characters, the more they become like friends," he said, adding: "I sort of left the door open at the end, and I can always revisit the characters if I want to, although I don't know if I will. I do like to wrap things up and leave some things to the readers' imagination."

He said he plans to tackle Norse mythology in his next series.

"It will be the same sort of take that I've done with Greek, Roman and Egyptian mythologies -- bringing the mythology into the modern age," Mr. Riordan said. Writing about Norse mythology "represents a return to my roots as a reader," he added, noting that his eighth-grade teacher got him interested in mythology by pointing out that the "Lord of the Rings" books -- Mr. Riordan's favorites at the time -- were based on Norse mythology.

Asked about his success, Mr. Riordan said it's still hard for him to believe.

"I can't actually wrap my mind around it easily -- I can't really visualize what 2 million books looks like. ... So I try to keep it real for myself by focusing on individual anecdotes of how my books have helped kids learn to love reading.

"I'm a teacher still, but with a much larger classroom," he said.

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Karen MacPherson, the children's/teen librarian at the Takoma Park, Md., Library, can be reached at Kam.Macpherson@gmail.com.


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