Bookstore Camp Brings Greek Myths to Life
This story originally appeared in Children's Bookshelf on June 8, 2006 Sign up now!
by Edward Nawotka, Children's Bookshelf -- 6/8/2006
This week BookPeople in Austin, Tex., is hosting a unique summer camp. It’s for nine to 14-year-old fans of Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson & the Olympians series, which include 2005’s The Lightning Thief and this season’s sequel, The Sea of Monsters, both published by Hyperion.
Dubbed Camp Half-Blood, it takes its name from the “half-bloods,” the children of Gods and humans who populate the novels.
The inspiration for the camp came from BookPeople’s Topher Bradfield, who in his job as the store’s outreach coordinator, visits Austin-area elementary schools. Often of late, he says, he found himself reading from the first chapter of The Lightning Thief. “It was a great way to get the boys to pay attention,” he explained.
The subsequent sales that his visits generated—so far, BookPeople has sold more than 400 hardcover copies of The Lightning Thief and another 300 paperbacks, as well as 300 hardcover copies of Sea of Monsters—proved to him that the project would have support within the local reading community.
With Riordan’s blessing, Bradfield concocted an elaborate storyline that relocated the camp from its original fictional location in New Jersey to Austin, under the pretense of needing to re-fashioning The Apple of Discord (which was in part responsible for the Trojan War), which has been broken into 13 pieces. Accordingly, campers are broken up into 13 cabins, each representing a different Greek god—with Zeus and Poseidon at the pinnacle.
This past Saturday night, BookPeople staged an elaborate theatrical “claiming” ceremony—complete with colored smoke, storm sound effects and stage lighting—at which campers were assigned parent deities and given an individual prophecies by the Oracle of Delphi. Various deities and mythical creatures were portrayed by BookPeople employees.
Riordan celebrated his birthday by driving the hour from San Antonio for the festivities. Describing the scene, he sounded awed. “There was Greek dancing drumming and even a man dressed up as a Spartan,” he said. “It was like stepping into my own book, and it was the first clue that something I had written was larger than me.”
A total of 55 campers are participating in the camp. Some have traveled such far-flung areas as New York, Colorado, Arizona, Iowa and Greece to take part. Word spread through Riordan’s Web site, and BookPeople answered queries from as far away as Japan and the U.K.
The city of Austin lent use of Zilker Park’s rock garden, a part of Austin’s public park’s system, as the location for the camp. Activities start at 8 a.m. and involve a daily quest for pieces of the Apple of Discord, lessons on Greek mythology and philosophy from University of Texas and Austin Community College graduate students, swimming, kickball and Frisbee golf. A Greek war re-enactor has been flown in from California to teach Greek battle formations, such as the phalanx.
According to Bradfield, the budget for the camp was $9,500 and sponsors include a local bakery, ice cream parlor and an Arabic bazaar. Bradfield and three Austin public school teachers are acting as camp counselors. Campers paid just $185 for the week, and BookPeople offered five needy students full scholarships.
“The price works out to about $4 per hour for childcare, which I think is quite a bargain,” Bradfield said. He joked that if the camp were a success, there may be opportunities to franchise the concept. “But let’s see how it goes first this year. Steve [Bercu—owner of BookPeople] insisted that this [event would have to] sell out before we make any future plans, and it has.”