Sourcebooks has just released the first in a trilogy of picture books, The Dragon Hunters by James Russell and illustrated by Link Choi, that aims to enhance the conventional reading experience through the use of technology. The picture books – The Dragon Hunters (April), The Dragon Tamers (June), and The Dragon Riders (August) – are self-contained stories about two brothers who share an island with dragons; they can be read on their own, but readers have the option of downloading the AR Reads app on their iPhone or iPad that makes the maps of the island setting on the books’ endpapers come alive in three dimensions when held above the endpapers. It’s reminiscent to some degree of Pokémon Go.
“It lets you take a step back and get an overview of the island and its inhabitants,” said Steve Geck, editorial director for children’s books at Sourcebooks. “It’s like a 3-D map. You see the dragons and where the boys live. You are up above the island, getting a view of all of it.”
The series creator, a journalist in Auckland, New Zealand. with an interest in augmented reality, initially wanted to entertain his two sons by developing the idea that became the Dragon Hunters trilogy. “He wanted to add something special: he wanted to develop a whole world,” Geck said. The trilogy originally was self-published in traditional picture book format in New Zealand, where it sold 30,000 copies. When Russell and Link realized how entranced readers were with the maps of the island, they added the augmented reality content.
A year ago, Russell attended the Bologna Book Fair in search of a global publisher to take the series to the next step. “It was serendipity that he stopped by the Sourcebooks booth despite not having an appointment,” Geck recalled, “[Sourcebooks publisher] Dominique Raccah responded really positively to the books. [She] herself is an entrepreneur and she admires that entrepreneurial spirit in others.” Sourcebooks released its edition of Dragon Hunters with a 55,000-copy initial print run.
Unsurprisingly, Russell’s U.S. seven-city book tour of bookstores and school visits this month includes an interactive component, with participating booksellers offering dragon egg hunts in their stores during his appearances. Sourcebooks is providing booksellers with golden eggs filled with prizes to hide for the hunt, Dragon Hunter bandanas, and an activity kit with clues and maps. The tour began in Huntingdon Beach, Calif. on April 4 and ends in Studio City, Calif. on April 15, with stops in Denver, New Orleans, San Antonio, St. Louis, and Chicago in between.
From all accounts, the tour so far has been a hit with booksellers, who have praised Russell’s presentation, which includes stories about his young sons and a display of a dragon they once encountered, which in reality was a crab. “James presents not just his book, but his own life with the children,” Denver’s Book Bar bookseller Marilyn Robbins said, “I loved watching James with the young readers. He is what is right with this world, bridging the long distances from different countries and continents with a simple story that is filled with adventure, love, and a disgusting sandwich of roast beef and lemon zest.”
Anastasia McKenna at San Antonio’s Twig Bookshop was even more effusive, asking Sourcebooks to “send him here again and start working on getting him to present at TLA 2018. His app is absolutely mind-blowing. His technology is going to change children’s books forever: I am so blown away!”