The Kane Chronicles #1: The Red Pyramid
by Rick Riordan
If your child loved the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series (which began with The Lightning Thief), then this is the book to get next. Riordan mined Greek myths for the lineage of Percy and his fellow campers at Half-Blood. Now he drills into the depths of Egyptian history and lore for the page-turning Kane Chronicles. Fourteen-year-old Carter Kane (named for Howard Carter, who discovered King Tut’s tomb) alternates his first-person narrative with that of his 12-year-old sister, Sadie. After the mysterious death of their anthropologist mother (next to Cleopatra’s Needle in London) and a “big court battle,” their father, “an Egyptologist,” won custody of Carter, and Sadie went to live with their maternal grandparents, the Fausts. The book starts with a bang—literally. On Christmas Eve, Dr. Kane picks up his daughter in London, and takes his two children to the British Museum, where he promptly blows up the Rosetta Stone. The man inadvertently unleashes five gods with the explosion, one of whom entombs him. Naturally, the children want to rescue their father.
Their mission leads to the best kind of detective work: Decoding hieroglyphics, breaking into their father’s library where they find clues to their family tree, and discovering that Sadie’s cat, Muffin, is no cat at all (she’s actually Bast, goddess of cats). And might the amulet given to each of the Kane children be a clue to the strange powers they’re developing? Riordan has a field day, tying the children’s lineage to “the Blood of the Pharaohs,” and imparting Egyptian history as he weaves his spellbinding tale. Plenty of humor keeps things light, as in Sadie’s contemplation of papyrus, made from a river plant: “The stuff was so thick and rough, it made me wonder if the poor Egyptians had had to use toilet papyrus. If so, no wonder they walked sideways.” Riordan also explores more serious themes. Their father is African-American, their mother was blond and blue-eyed. Carter takes after his dad, and Sadie looks like her mom, which presents some interesting opportunities for a discussion of what defines a family, and the insidiousness of prejudice (“Doesn’t matter how open-minded or polite people think they are, there’s always that moment of confusion that flashes across their faces when they realize Sadie is part of our family,” Carter observes. “I hate it, but over the years, I’ve come to expect it”). Their father’s release of the quintet of gods sets off a whole chain of events, including… could it be, that his own children are hosts to the gods? Even if your youngster resists reading, he or she will be clamoring for the next installment.