BookPeople, which in 2006 organized the first literary day camp for children, Camp Half-Blood, inspired by Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Young Olympians series, is branching out. The Austin, Tex., independent bookstore hosted its first Ranger’s Apprentice Corps Training Camp, inspired by Australian author John Flanagan’s medieval fantasy series of, to date, nine novels for readers ages 9-12 (eight of which have been released in the U.S.). Two million copies of the books have been sold worldwide since the series launched in Australia in 2004; Halt’s Peril, the ninth book in the series, will be released in the U.S. by Philomel in October.
Seventy-five children between the ages of nine and 14, hailing from all over the country, spent five days in mid-June in McKinney State Park near downtown Austin, learning the skills necessary for those hoping to join the Rangers Corps, the mysterious group to which the series’ 15-year-old protagonist, Will Treaty, is apprenticed, which protects the mythical world of Araluen from invaders and other threats. Campers included nine-year-old David Smith from Arizona, the winner among 1,300 entries of the Penguin’s Rangers Apprentice sweepstakes drawing. He received an all-expenses-paid trip to the camp.
In a letter sent to the 75 children who registered for this inaugural Ranger’s Apprentice camp, written in the voice of and signed by the fictional character Treaty (but actually written by Flanagan) campers were promised that they would learn “all the skills I was taught by [Treaty’s Ranger mentor] Halt in the woods around Castle Redmont,” including “archery, tracking, and the art of concealment and unseen movement.” Campers also learned first aid.
“They were taught the field tactics and battle tactics of knighthood,” said Topher Bradfield, BookPeople’s children’s outreach coordinator and camp director. The 75 campers were divided into 12 fiefdoms—four more than the eight created in the Ranger’s Apprentice series; Flanagan created additional fiefdom names exclusively for the camp, which may appear in future Ranger Apprentice tales. (The tenth and final book, The Emperor of Nihon-Ja, comes out next April.)
Not only did all campers receive T-shirts from BookPeople, but Penguin Young Readers Group also provided each camper with a silver oak leaf pin and a gold-embossed Ranger’s Apprentice bookmark. Five Ranger’s Apprentice books signed by Flanagan were also raffled off to campers.
BookPeople is running five Camp Half-Blood sessions this summer, in addition to the Ranger’s Apprentice Camp. Bradfield, who described the first Ranger’s Apprentice Camp as “something special,” said that it was the bookstore’s only literary camp besides Camp Half-Blood that has sold out and generated a waiting list.
“It tells you something about John Flanagan’s following in the U.S.,” Bradfield said, who said that the bookstore intends to schedule another Rangers Apprentice Camp next summer; it will also offer four sessions of Camp Half-Blood and will launch a camp inspired by Riordan’s new series, The Kane Chronicles.
In the past four years, BookPeople has also run a Kiki Strike camp based on Kirsten Miller’s series, a Spiderwick Chronicles camp based on Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi’s series, and a Half Moon Investigations camp, based on Eoin Colfer’s novel. “You don’t always get the opportunity to turn books into a camp,” Bradfield commented. “It really has to translate into a camp setting.”
Shanta Newlin, director of publicity at Penguin Young Readers Group, reports that other bookstores have contacted the publisher, inquiring about scheduling their own Ranger’s Apprentice Camps, including Little Shop of Stories in Decatur, Ga., which has tentatively scheduled a camp next summer, in addition to their own Camp Half-Blood.