Tomorrow’s the big day for the next Rick Riordan Presents adventure. Uncle Rick writes a powerful endorsement of Rebecca Roanhorse’s epic tale. Read it below.
Changing Woman. Rock Crystal Boy. The Glittering World. The Hero Twins.
If those names don’t ring a bell, you’ve been missing out on some of the coolest stories anywhere. But don’t worry. Thanks to Rebecca Roanhorse and Race to the Sun, you’re about to plunge headfirst into the fabulous, scary, wonderful story world of the Diné, also called the Navajo. Even if you already know something about traditional Navajo tales, you’re going to squee with delight, because you have never experienced them like this before.
Meet Nizhoni Begay. (her first name is pronounced Nih-JHOH-NIH and means “beauty.”) In many ways, she’s a typical New Mexico seventh-grader. She just wants to be good at something, to get some respect at school. Unfortunately, nothing works. Her bid for internet fame is a fail. Her chance to become a sports superstar ends with a basketball in the face. She can barely manage to hang on to her one good friend, Davery, and prevent her artsy younger brother, Mac, from getting beat up by his nemesis, Adrien Cuttlebush.
And as if that weren’t enough, Nizhoni has another small issue. Recently she’s been seeing monsters. Nobody else seems to notice, but Nizhoni is pretty sure that even Mr. Charles, the rich guy who is offering Nizhoni’s dad a new job in Oklahoma, is not human. Worse, it seems that Mr. Charles has sought out the Begay family because he considers Nizhoni some kind of threat. . . .
I love this story, and not just because it’s a funny, brilliant page-turner with unforgettable characters and an ingenious quest. The point of Rick Riordan Presents is to publish and promote great voices from cultures that have been too often marginalized or erased by mainstream culture. No one has suffered from this more than Native and Indigenous peoples. As Rebecca says in her author’s note, it’s important for Native kids to be able to see themselves in fiction, but it’s equally important for people from all backgrounds to read about Indigenous characters who aren’t just a collection of stereotypes or long-dead figures from the past. Native cultures are alive and well and vibrant. Their stories can tell you about Native American gods and heroes, those who inhabited and embodied the land for thousands of years before the Europeans brought over their interloping Zeuses and Aphrodites and what-have-yous.
I’ll tell you something I haven’t shared before: Piper McLean, the half-Cherokee character in my Heroes of Olympus series, was inspired by conversations I had with Native kids during school visits, of which I did hundreds over the years. They asked me repeatedly whether I could add a Native hero to Percy Jackson’s world. They wanted to see themselves reflected at Camp Half-Blood, because they simply never found themselves in popular kids’ books. Piper was my way of saying, “Absolutely! I see you. I value you. You can be part of my world anytime!”
But my perspective is not a Native perspective. It was one thing to include Piper as part of the heroic ensemble, to share Percy Jackson’s world with kids from all backgrounds and send a message that heroes can come from all sorts of places. It would be quite another thing to write entirely from a Native protagonist’s point of view about the mythology of his or her own culture. That sort of story needed to come from a Native writer, and I yearned to find books like that and put them into the hands of young readers, Native and non-Native alike. There are so many wonderful Indigenous mythologies. They deserve to be read, shared and spotlighted.
For Native kids, seeing themselves reflected in books is critical. Seeing themselves reflected in the very authors who create those books is exponentially more empowering. I am thrilled that Rebecca Roanhorse agreed to write Race to the Sun for Rick Riordan Presents. It is a much-needed addition to children’s fiction, and I hope it’s the first of many!
For all kids, reading about other cultures’ stories is a way to expand their imagination and their empathy. There’s an old Czech proverb: Learn a new language, gain a new soul. The traditional sacred stories of every culture can offer us a new window onto the world—a new way of seeing and understanding. As a bonus, when they inspire someone as talented as Rebecca Roanhorse, the result is wildly entertaining!
But I’ve said enough. I’ll let Nizhoni take it from here. Welcome to Dinétah. Keep your hands and feet inside the novel at all times, or some monster might bight them off. If you’re really good, maybe the Begay family will take you to Pasta Palace afterward for some Spaghettini Macaravioli!