My sons are seven and nine, with overactive imaginations and slapstick humor like kids their age seem wired to have. As much as they enjoy living vicariously the rough days of a wimpy middle-schooler, they are more than ready to embark on wild, fantastical adventures, be it on the Hogwarts Express or through a portal to Narnia. Quick trips in a magic tree house still entertain my younger son, but the older one needs more volumes in a story--as long as there isn't much kissing. Even though he reads above grade level, he is as interested in relationships as James Bond.
Of the many books people have pitched my older son's way, Rick Riordan's novels always score. And not just due to my son sharing Percy Jackson's dyslexia. Be it Greek or Egyptian, Riordan's take on gods among earthlings mingles enough reality into his stories for suspension of disbelief, while keeping the peril fantastical enough not to give nightmares. That sense of safety in reality is essential for my son. The later Harry Potter books do not scare him, but the kidnapping during Halloween in the opening of the Five Kingdoms series did. He found it was a lot easier to empathize with kids that get into adventurous trouble because they are supernatural than because they did something stupid. Whether he was conscious that the kids' behavior in Sky Raiders was of the kind that fuels helicopter parenting, I'm not certain. But after reading three chapters aloud together, we had to set the book aside.
The fidgeting is the first sign of discomfort, which can develop into cartwheels or brash declarations of "I'm too tired" from a kid who has choosen not to go to sleep voluntarily since he was old enough to open his eyes. My counter-tactics alternate between stopping to discuss the issue, sending him to bed, and plowing on through Harry's jitters whenever he tried to talk to Cho. Even after watching the movie, my son was not prepared for the crush-related angst of the Order of the Phoenix. On the other hand, Harry kissing Ginny in the Half-Blood Prince was, as for the boy at the end of The Princess Bride, not a problem.
Maybe my kids will feel the universe shift when they meet a new classmate in forth grade, or watch their crush kiss their frenemy from a rooftop balcony when they are thirteen. For now, I am happy that they still want to read aloud with me, even if what we end up discussing is toilet papyrus and Egyptians walking sideways. Rick Riordan, thank you for the connection.