Tales of the 4th Grade demigods
When the female offspring began 4th grade, I assumed it would be a Harry Potter-type of year. My husband and I had read the series and enjoyed the movies, and many of her friends had dressed as Hermione and Harry for several Halloweens in a row. The male offspring was just into chapter books and dying to read them, and as reading always came easy for her, I just assumed she would devour and reenact them with her friends. Imagine my surprise when I found her reading one of “MY” Young Adult authors, Rick Riordan!
I fell in love with Young Adult literature when my babies were small, as teens have all the angst and drama, energy and enthusiasm, and less of the emotional baggage found in the Mature Adult genre. It was refreshing to have the optimism of youth and, unlike the genre when I was actually a teen, the fantasy aspect with fairies, vampires, werewolves, and dystopian societies were an added bonus. I LOOOOVE sarcasm and wit, even if I lack it myself! I often joked with our local librarians that I was “trying to stay ahead” of my children without censoring them, as knowledge is power. But I hadn’t had a situation of sharing books with her until that point and was fascinated that maybe we would discuss literature like a mini book club?! But Rick Riordan? Didn’t he write about Greek heroes? I pulled my dog-eared copy of Edith Hamilton’s Mythology from high school off of the shelf and realized I needed to learn more about her newfound “world” of Greek mythology-lite.
The entire school year was full of Greek gods (“Mom, if you google ‘Greek gods for kids’ the results will be images that have their CLOTHES on”…the things we learned!) and research, including several Percy Jackson birthday parties, and my birthday spent on the floor of Barnes & Noble looking at the various mythologies meant for adults vs kids, and in cultures like Greek, Japanese, Hawaiian and Norse with her. We discussed what the stories might have been meant as a lesson (parable), to control a culture or population (fear-based outcome) or to build character (the Odyssey or other quests).
Photo credit: Barnes and Noble
The focus for her and her friends became the adventures of a character named Percy Jackson. She started with The Lightning Thief and blew through that series and the next before the end of 4th grade. For those of you unfamiliar with the young hero, he is a teen with some academic challenges, a stepdad that is rude, and a buddy that seems to stick to him like a bodyguard. On a school field trip, events occur that lead him down a path to learn that his real dad is a major Greek god, Poseidon (god of the Ocean), but children that are the offspring of Zeus, Poseidon or Hades, are not recognized by their fathers. Instead, there is a camp on Earth for these “demigods”, with some attending Camp Half Blood (Long Island, NY) or Camp Jupiter (California). Percy goes to Camp Half Blood where all the cabins are named after Greek gods. He then goes on a quest with his friends.
As her 10th birthday approached, I began to debate the design for her bedroom door. I had started the tradition of decorating the offsprings’ doors a few years ago, and they love them so much, they insist on keeping them up for the next year. She was heavily involved in Girl Scouts and gardening, so my plan was to make a riot of flowers on her door, but it dawned on me that this might be too “generic” for her…
At school, the role playing was earnest and all the kids seem to identify with particular elements, gods or characters in the series. My offspring was drawn to the god of fire, Hephaestus, and his cabin was number 9. I was still intending to decorate her door with greenery and flowers, but found myself making her a Camp Half Blood shirt with a sharpie the night before her actual birthday. Percy Jackson wasn’t going away.
She was disappointed when I didn’t have the new door design ready for her actual birthday, but we do tend to celebrate “moveable feasts” in our house, often sliding a party several months later to take advantage of warmer weather or a visiting family member. The party plan was to celebrate “at” Camp Half Blood (our backyard) after school let out. So I was able to play off the delayed door design, and got to work one day when she was at school.
I found orange bulletin board paper at Joann’s and generated my plan around that. I wanted columns, but found nothing scalable. And did I mention my simple software? My Adobe suite had been purchased before I got married, and slowly was losing reliability. I had Microsoft Power Point, Microsoft Publisher, a temperamental version of Photoshop, Excel and Word, and wished I could access InDesign or even old Quark Xpress as I knew how to render this quickly in platforms with programmable sizes. So I captured images of columns, capitals, bases and caps from Google Image and added them in Publisher, stretching the limits of the viewable screen! It turned out to be easier to approximate a column with lines and gradient fills, adding the jpgs to fill out the scrollwork of the capitals.
I found a logo that someone had created for Cabin 9, and as I was not selling this to a customer, I borrowed it for the main emblem. I lost some resolution as I increased the size, but the pixilation worked in this case as it looks like a rustic camp insignia that has withstood a few seasons:)
I was finally ready to “build” the entrance to Cabin 9, so I wrapped her door in the orange paper and attached the emblem. Easy peasy! However, I envisioned the architectural details as dimensional, so attached them to white foam core. This was not sticking well to the door frame and wall above, so I had to dig deep to my days of Creative Services at Reebok. I remembered an installation technique to hang dimensional signs called a “French Cleat”. With minutes to spare and the incorrect materials, I fashioned one out of cardboard, affixing half to the back of the “Camp Half Blood” sign and the other half to the wall above her door. The columns went up easily with removable painter’s tape on the door jambs and it was ready for presentation!