Since Percy Jackson debuted in 2005, Rick Riordan has been stealth-educating millions of people in over 35 countries with his perfect blend of comedy, action, and Greek mythology. The Percy Jackson series has also been known for its diverse cast of characters from the get go; Percy himself has dyslexia and ADHD, a tribute to Riordan’s own son. And as fans called for greater inclusivity, Riordan has responded with more BIPOC, disabled, and LGBTQ+ characters in all of his books. Better still, he helped launch Rick Riordan Presents back in 2016, an imprint of Disney-Hyperion that publishes middle grade fiction by under-represented authors, inspired by the mythology of their own cultures. Respect, Rick Riordan. So if you’ve finished all the Percy Jackson books and you fancy something rooted in Hindu, Mayan, or even Mesopotamian mythology, start with one of these 15 books.
1. Horrible Histories Series, by Terry Deary and various authors
As you’ve probably guessed from the title, the Horrible Histories series is all about history, though folklore and mythology do pop up from time to time. Still, it aims to make learning about history fun, which Riordan stans should appreciate. The comic strip format, quizzes, and bullet-pointed fact sheets definitely make the books more accessible to readers like Percy. And the emphasis on gross details, bizarre anecdotes, and general “history with the nasty bits left in” has entertained generations of kids and saved many a frazzled teacher. With titles like Vile Victorians and Rotten Romans, Horrible Histories is iconic in the UK, and the superb TV adaptation by the BBC is, dare I say it, even better than the books.
2. The Dark Is Rising, by Susan Cooper
Arthurian legend and Celtic and Norse mythology get the middle grade treatment in The Dark Is Rising, Susan Cooper’s seminal children’s fantasy novel. It tells the story of Will Stanton, who discovers his magical heritage on his eleventh birthday and is immediately launched into a cosmic struggle between the Light and the Dark. Will is one of the Old Ones, guardians of the Light and humanity, currently losing the war against the Dark. Only the Things of Power can save them and, unfortunately, they’re all lost to history… unless Will can track them down. The Dark Is Rising has inspired countless imitations and still stands up as an old school adventure, thanks to its sophisticated use of British folklore and Cooper’s snappy writing.
3. The Jumbies, by Tracey Baptiste
Jumbies aren’t real, they’re just bogeymen parents make up to scare their kids. Corinne La Mer isn’t scared of them or anything else. But could the strange yellow eyes she saw in the woods and Severine, the beautiful woman suddenly romancing her father, somehow be connected? One thing’s for sure, Corinne isn’t going to let some demonic lady mess with her dad or her island, jumbie or not. Baptiste adds her own twist to The Magic Orange Tree, a traditional Haitian folktale, and draws on lore from across the Caribbean. With its spunky heroine, Trinidadian mythology, and spooky, atmospheric writing, The Jumbies is a treat for any thrill-seeking Percy Jackson fan. Just have your oranges ready!
4. Race to the Sun, by Rebecca Roanhorse
Navajo legends get their time to shine in Rebecca Roanhorse’s debut middle grade novel. Like Percy, Nizhoni Begay is a seventh grader who starts noticing strange things no one else sees. Mr. Charles, her dad’s boss, is a monster who seems uncomfortably interested in Nizhoni and her brother Mac. So when their father disappears, it’s up to the kids to rescue him, with the help of their best friend Davery. If the trio can survive the trials set by the Diné Holy People and make it to the House of the Sun, they’ll get the resources they need to defeat Mr. Charles and his monsters and save their dad. But Nizhoni will need more than weapons to fulfill her destiny. Race to the Sun riffs on the legend of the Hero Twins and is a great introduction to a rich body of mythology for readers of any age.
5. Charlie Hernández and the League of Shadows, by Ryan Calejo
If you want more Hispanic heroes and heroines in your middle grade action adventures, look no further than Charlie Hernández and the League of Shadows. Raised on his abuela’s stories, Charlie knows everything there is to know about monsters. Which is just as well when his body starts undergoing weird “changes,” like growing horns and feathers. Shortly afterwards, he’s recruited by La Liga, a secret society of mythical beings sworn to protect the human world from La Mano Negra (“The Black Hand”), a rival society of evil spirits bent on world domination. It’s a mess, but somehow Charlie will have to figure out what’s happening to him, find his missing parents, and maybe even save the world. Ryan Calejo draws on Iberian and Central and South American folklore to craft this witty, rollicking adventure.
6. Tales from the Wyrd Museum Series, by Robin Jarvis
Creepy, grotesque, and sometimes frightening, Tales from the Wyrd Museum is not for the faint of heart, but it is perfect for kids who like a bit of a scare. Set in and around an eerie museum owned by the odd Webster sisters, the trilogy dips into time travel, witchcraft, hauntings, and Norse mythology. We unravel the museum’s secrets along with our protagonist, Neil. It’s a trip, and kind of a horrific one at that. Expect Woden, the Fates, Yggdrasill (the World Tree), Arthurian legend, and homicidal scarecrows, among other things.
7. Aru Shah and the End of Time, by Roshani Chokshi
Aru Shah has a tendency to fib at school, but that’s not a big deal, right? Wrong, especially when three of her classmates corner her in the Museum of Ancient Indian Art and Culture, where her mother works. They refuse to believe that the museum’s Lamp of Bharata is cursed unless she proves it. But lighting the lamp frees the Sleeper, a minion of the God of Destruction, and freezes Aru’s mother and classmates in time. Only the reincarnations of the five Pandava brothers, heroes of the Mahabharata, an ancient Indian epic poem, can break the curse. But Aru will have to (somehow) find them in the Kingdom of Death first… Aru Shah and the End of Time is a brilliant window into the colorful, thrilling world of Hindu mythology.
8. Lalani of the Distant Sea, by Erin Entrada Kelly
Super powered protagonists are great, but sometimes it’s nice to get back to ordinary people triumphing over supernatural odds. Lalani Sarita is a regular 12-year-old girl who sets out on a perilous mission across the sea to end a supernatural drought and save her village. But can a kid like her succeed where even grown men have failed? Lalani of the Distant Sea has drawn comparisons to Moana, but is actually steeped in Filipino folklore and is a fair bit scarier. Lalani’s adventures showcase the rich folklore of the Philippines (with a bit of poetic license) and can get dark. From Bai-Vinca the birdwoman to whenbos (trees that eat souls), Lalani of the Distant Sea will definitely get your imagination going.
9. The Storm Runner, by C. J. Cervantes
“A teenager with a disability and an MIA dad with a secret identity” may sound like Percy Jackson, but also describes Zane Obispo, protagonist of The Storm Runner. Zane is 13 years old, walks with a cane, and loves nothing more than exploring the dormant volcano in his backyard. So he’s shocked when Brooks, the new girl in town, announces that he’s destined to release the Mayan god of death from its prison in the volcano. Oh, and his father is Hurakan, god of wind and storms. It’s a lot, especially with demons, shape-shifters, giants, and a war between the gods piled on top. To save the day, Zane is supposed to become the Storm Runner. But how’s that going to work when he can barely even walk? The Storm Runner is funny and fast-paced and offers fantastic and much needed disability representation.
10. City of the Plague God, by Sarwat Chadda
Instead of Olympians, Manhattan is riddled with Mesopotamian deities and heroes in City of the Plague God. Sik is your average 13-year-old, trying to keep his head down and make it through school, when he’s abruptly accosted by a weirdo. Except the weirdo turns out to be Nergal, the Mesopotamian god of disease and war. Unless Sik brings him the Flower of Immortality, he’s going to bring a terrible plague down on New York City. Luckily, Sik has allies in Belet, the adopted daughter of Ishtar, the goddess of love, and a reclusive gardener named Gilgamesh (yes, that Gilgamesh). Demons, gods, and educational tidbits make City of the Plague God a worthy successor to the Percy Jackson series.
11. Dragon Pearl, by Yoon Ha Lee
If Star Trek had magic, it might look a bit like Dragon Pearl. In the Thousand Worlds, humans work alongside all kinds of supernatural races, exploring the universe in the Space Forces. But some non-humans are considered more trustworthy than others, leaving Min and her family of kumiho (Korean fox spirits) to live on a backwater planet, hiding their true natures. Min longs to escape and join her brother in the Space Forces. So when Jun abandons his post, supposedly searching for the mysterious Dragon Pearl, Min sets out to find him and clear his name. Yoon Ha Lee’s fantasy/sci-fi worldbuilding is stellar. I particularly liked Min’s powers, a mix of traditional shapeshifting and Charm, the ability to influence emotions and create illusions. With its great writing, queer characters, and dragons, ghosts, space pirates, and interstellar travel, what more could you want?
12. Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, by Kwame Mbalia
Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky is a bit like Percy Jackson crossed with Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, but for kids. African American folk heroes, like John Henry and Brer Rabbit, mix with older African gods as Tristan Strong does what it says on the tin and finds himself trapped in Midpass, a bizarre Wonderland populated by mythical figures. His only hope of getting home lies in persuading Anansi, the spider god, to weave the hole Tristan made back together. But bargaining with the trickster god is dangerous and could have world ending consequences… Apart from the original take on its mythical material, Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky has strong messages about emotional health for boys and coping with grief, setting it apart from other Percy Jackson wannabes.
13. The Twelve, by Cindy Lin
Fans of The Zodiac Legacy and Avatar: The Last Airbender should read The Twelve immediately. It imagines a world where people are born with powers based on the year they were born. Usagi, born in the year of the Rabbit, is endowed with enhanced hearing and the ability to leap over huge distances or objects. Alas, with the Dragonlord hunting down anyone with Zodiac powers, Usagi doesn’t get much opportunity to use her abilities. But then her little sister Uma is captured, setting Usagi on a collision course with the mysterious Heirs of the Twelve and the Dragonlord himself. The Twelve blends Chinese and Japanese influences with its wildly imaginative take on the Chinese Zodiac. Zodiac superpowers are also very cool.
14. The Illyrian Adventure, by Lloyd Alexander
Have you ever thought, “I’d like more Indiana Jones, but Victorian and female?” If so, great news! The Illyrian Adventure kicks off the Vesper Holly series about said awesomely named protagonist and her globe-trotting exploits. In this first instalment in the series, Vesper must sally forth to Illyria with her long-suffering guardian to find a legendary treasure… if they can survive an uprising and a mysterious assassin stalking their every move. Granted, the series is more of a pastiche of 19th century and Hollywood adventure stories than ancient myth, but it’s still packed with educational trips to sites of mythological interest, like Troy and El Dorado. And if that’s not enough for you, all the derring-do, dastardly arch enemies, and our witty, unflappable heroine will win you over.
15. Lore, by Alexandra Bracken
Lore is billed as “Percy Jackson meets The Hunger Games,” and that’s actually pretty accurate. Alexandra Bracken transports what’s left of the Greek pantheon to modern day New York, home of the Agon, a week-long event held every seven years. During the Agon, the gods are rendered mortal and left to be hunted by the descendants of ancient families, all bent on killing a god and claiming their power and immortality. The risks and rewards are great, but not enough to interest Lore Perseous, the last survivor of a bloodline of god-killers. Until she stumbles across the goddess Athena, wounded but offering a chance for Lore to avenge her murdered family…if she rejoins the hunt. Lore is action-packed and melds Greek myth and the modern world seamlessly, making it perfect for older fans of Percy Jackson.