Last June, Austin's BookPeople hosted an innovative program: Camp Half-Blood. The week-long day camp for children, inspired by Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, took its name from the "half-bloods," the children of Gods and humans who populate the novels. A total of 55 kids attended from such far-flung states as New York, Colorado and Iowa, and even Greece, and inquiries came from England and Japan.
The event was such a success that its organizer, BookPeople's children's outreach coordinator Topher Bradfield, is now planning eight more. The first, based on The Spiderwick Chronicles by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi, is scheduled for December 26–31. Camp Spiderwick will be followed in 2007 by camps based on Half-Moon Investigations by Eoin Colfer (March), Abarat by Clive Barker (August), the Abhorsen trilogy by Garth Nix (October), the Charlie Bone books by Jenny Nimmo (November), Babymouse by Jennifer and Matt Holm, and Bone by Jeff Smith (both December). And Camp Half-Blood will return for another run in the summer.
Each camp accepts a maximum of 50 children, with five additional slots reserved for scholarship students sponsored by the bookstore. The cost is $325 per camper.
Although Bradford calls his invention a "literary" camp, the event stresses action. Last summer's festivities included a theatrical "claiming" ceremony (complete with colored smoke, sound effects and stage lighting), simulated chariot racing and Spartan warrior training.
BookPeople owner Steve Bercu explained to PW that Camp Half-Blood was "the test" to whether the idea would be well received and if they could pull it off. "It was and we did," said Bercu. "Then we immediately looked to see what could be done along the same lines."
While last June's Camp Half- Blood managed a $600 profit, Bercu emphasized that the priority of the camps is not to make money. "As much as I'd like to be profitable on every one of these, it's not essential," he said. "I'm more interested in the concept and seeing this have an impact on our potential future customers."
Bercu (PW's Bookseller of the Year in 2005) noted that the passion and involvement of the staff and community was impressive. Hyperion, Riordan's publisher, supplied T-shirts and banners, BookPeople staff sewed costumes and painted sets, and various teachers and parents volunteered to be counselors. After the camp ended, Bradfield said the store was flooded with letters from campers and their parents praising the event.
Though no U.S. booksellers have contacted BookPeople about running a similar camp, interest ran extremely high when Bradfield described the program at the Association of Booksellers for Children's annual meeting at BEA in June. And it has inspired Toni Davis, an employee at the Cornwall branch of the U.K. bookseller Ottakars (recently taken over by Waterstones) to approach Riordan's British publisher, Penguin, about the possibility.
Davis recently traveled to the U.S. to meet with Bradfield and author Rick Riordan during the Texas Book Festival. As a special honor to Davis, who is battling ovarian cancer, Bradfield arranged for some of the children who attended last year's Camp Half-Blood to hold a "claiming" ceremony for her.
Riordan, who told PW he wishes he could "clone" Bradfield and Davis, has dedicated the third book in the series, The Curse of the Titans, to them.
Bradfield continues to drum up enthusiasm for the Percy Jackson books during his weekly visits to schools in the Austin area, where he runs fairs and meets with groups of students to talk about new books. In all, BookPeople has sold more than 1,400 copies of The Lightning Thief,the first Percy Jackson title, and nearly 500 of its followup, The Sea of Monsters. "Prior to the camp, we saw a small boost in sales," said Bradford, "but after—as the kids who went started talking about it to their friends—we saw a bigger bump. Having an excited kid talking about a book is the best form of advertising."