A 'Percy Jackson' Summer Camp Thrives In Brooklyn

Jai Chablat-Yates and Georgia Silverman duel with foam swords at Brownstone Books' Camp Half-Blood. i i

Campers Jai Chablat-Yates and Georgia Silverman duel with foam swords at Brownstone Books' Camp Half-Blood in Brooklyn's Prospect Park. Margot Adler/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Margot Adler/NPR
Jai Chablat-Yates and Georgia Silverman duel with foam swords at Brownstone Books' Camp Half-Blood.

Campers Jai Chablat-Yates and Georgia Silverman duel with foam swords at Brownstone Books' Camp Half-Blood in Brooklyn's Prospect Park.

Margot Adler/NPR

With 15 million copies sold, Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson and the Olympians children's book series has become ubiquitous in 'tween households.

Now, a summertime trend is taking the popularity of Riordan's series to a new level. From Texas to Georgia to New York, independent bookstores have been running day camps for children based on the adventures of protagonist Percy Jackson — a kid with dyslexia and ADHD who discovers he is really the son of the sea god Poseidon, and dangerous monsters are after him.

After discovering his true identity, Percy goes to Camp Half-Blood, a training facility for young demigods and a place where he is somewhat protected with others of his kind. He then goes on various adventures involving Greek mythology mixed in with the modern world. To get to Mount Olympus, for example, you have to go to the 600th floor of the Empire State Building.

But Camp Half-Blood is no longer just a fictional training ground.

At Brownstone Books' Camp Half-Blood in Brooklyn, the campers' adventures come right out of Greek mythology. Based in nearby Prospect Park — with its wooded paths, groves of trees and classical-looking buildings — the camp is protected by the Golden Fleece, which looks a lot like a yellow T-shirt. Campers give offerings to the gods before they eat. There are daily quests and even prophesies that sometimes pop up on counselors' cell phones.

On one summer day, a group is battling it out with swords made from foam and masking tape and shields they had designed themselves. Counselor Jason McConnell explains the rules of engagement.

"Let's say Georgia slashes Jai's leg — he's gotta go on one leg," McConnell says. A hit on the neck or head is "a kill."

The Sea of Monsters
The Sea of Monsters (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 2)
By Rick Riordan
Hardcover, 288 pages
Disney-Hyperion
List price: $17.99
Read An Excerpt

Counselors referee the fights as the kids cry out and spectators shout advice.

"Use those shields!" one counselor shouts. "Protect your body!"

Another group of kids is creating a labyrinth with string and colored squares of paper. They hope to use it to trap monsters, but it's first used as a trivia game. Campers advance through the labyrinth by answering questions.

"What is the name of the nine-headed monster that Hercules had to kill in one of his 12 labors?" a counselor asks.

A small child immediately answers, "The Hydra."

Who stole Apollo's cows?

"Hermes! Hermes!" at least four kids shout out.

They are between 7 and 11 years old, and they really know their stuff. Campers Dinah Schone and Georgia Silverman say they've been reading D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths — a book they say everyone and their mother has read.

Camp Half-Blood is relaxed, unregimented and definitely low-tech. The kids each have a bandanna representing their parent god — orange for Athena, yellow for Apollo and so forth. They bring their own lunch and if someone wants to just sit in the shade and read a book, that's fine.

The bookstore that runs the camp is located in Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, a diverse neighborhood with a large African-American population. Store owner and camp head Crystal Bobb-Semple says that two or three years ago, the Percy Jackson books just took off.

"The kids were so excited about the series that we got the notion to try to figure out how to extend the life of these books," she says. "We found out about a couple of other indie bookstores that were doing camps and we thought, 'Let's give it a try.' "

The camp costs $375 for the week, but bookstore supporters have raised scholarships for neighborhood kids.

Back in Prospect Park, the campers are on another quest. After discovering peacock feathers on the trail, they decide the villain is Zeus's wife, Hera.

"Hera's symbol is the peacock," one camper shouts to the others. "We think it might be Hera."

The campers walk through fields, wooded paths and up steep steps holding their shields in a line. Suddenly, there's a surprise attack from the rear. All the kids are running and screaming,

I ask Bobb-Semple what it is about Greek mythology that makes it so enduring. She says part of it is that the gods have human frailties.

"Jealousy, envy, fate," she says, "those are wonderful themes to work through, and the kids find themselves acting like the gods. So I think it is our attraction to that part of ourselves."

As for the kids, they say they like the power of the gods and their immortality. In a world filled with video games and superheroes, it's nice to know that these millennia-old deities still have traction.

Excerpt: 'Sea Of Monsters'

The Sea of Monsters
The Sea of Monsters (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 2)
By Rick Riordan
Hardcover, 288 pages
Disney-Hyperion
List price: $17.99

ONE

MY BEST FRIEND SHOPS FOR A WEDDING DRESS

My nightmare started like this.

I was standing on a deserted street in some little beach town. It was the middle of the night. A storm was blowing. Wind and rain ripped at the palm trees along the sidewalk. Pink and yellow stucco buildings lined the street, their windows boarded up. A block away, past a line of hibiscus bushes, the ocean churned.

Florida, I thought. Though I wasn’t sure how I knew that. I’d never been to Florida.

Then I heard hooves clattering against the pavement. I turned and saw my friend Grover running for his life.

Yeah, I said hooves.

Grover is a satyr. From the waist up, he looks like a typical gangly teenager with a peach-fuzz goatee and a bad case of acne. He walks with a strange limp, but unless you happen to catch him without his pants on (which I don’t recommend), you’d never know there was anything unhuman about him. Baggy jeans and fake feet hide the fact that he’s got furry hindquarters and hooves.

Grover had been my best friend in sixth grade. He’d gone on this adventure with me and a girl named Annabeth to save the world, but I hadn’t seen him since last July, when he set off alone on a dangerous quest—a quest no satyr had ever returned from.

Anyway, in my dream, Grover was hauling goat tail, holding his human shoes in his hands the way he does when he needs to move fast. He clopped past the little tourist shops and surfboard rental places. The wind bent the palm trees almost to the ground.

Grover was terrified of something behind him. He must’ve just come from the beach. Wet sand was caked in his fur. He’d escaped from somewhere. He was trying to get away from . . . something.

A bone-rattling growl cut through the storm. Behind Grover, at the far end of the block, a shadowy figure loomed. It swatted aside a street lamp, which burst in a shower of sparks.

Grover stumbled, whimpering in fear. He muttered to himself, Have to get away. Have to warn them!

I couldn’t see what was chasing him, but I could hear it muttering and cursing. The ground shook as it got closer. Grover dashed around a street corner and faltered. He’d run into a dead-end courtyard full of shops. No time to back up. The nearest door had been blown open by the storm. The sign above the darkened display window read: ST. AUGUSTINE BRIDAL BOUTIQUE.

Grover dashed inside. He dove behind a rack of wedding dresses.

The monster’s shadow passed in front of the shop. I could smell the thing—a sickening combination of wet sheep wool and rotten meat and that weird sour body odor only monsters have, like a skunk that’s been living off Mexican food.

Grover trembled behind the wedding dresses. The monster’s shadow passed on.

Silence except for the rain. Grover took a deep breath. Maybe the thing was gone.

Then lightning flashed. The entire front of the store exploded, and a monstrous voice bellowed: “MIIIIINE!”

I sat bolt upright, shivering in my bed.

There was no storm. No monster.

Morning sunlight filtered through my bedroom window.

I thought I saw a shadow flicker across the glass—a humanlike shape. But then there was a knock on my bedroom door—my mom called: “Percy, you’re going to be late”—and the shadow at the window disappeared.

It must’ve been my imagination. A fifth-story window with a rickety old fire escape . . . there couldn’t have been anyone out there.

“Come on, dear,” my mother called again. “Last day of school. You should be excited! You’ve almost made it!”

“Coming,” I managed.

I felt under my pillow. My fingers closed reassuringly around the ballpoint pen I always slept with. I brought it out, studied the Ancient Greek writing engraved on the side: Anaklusmos. Riptide.

I thought about uncapping it, but something held me back. I hadn’t used Riptide for so long. . . .

Besides, my mom had made me promise not to use deadly weapons in the apartment after I’d swung a javelin the wrong way and taken out her china cabinet. I put Anaklusmos on my nightstand and dragged myself out of bed.

I got dressed as quickly as I could. I tried not to think about my nightmare or monsters or the shadow at my window.

Have to get away. Have to warn them!

What had Grover meant?

I made a three-fingered claw over my heart and pushed outward—an ancient gesture Grover had once taught me for warding off evil.

The dream couldn’t have been real.

Last day of school. My mom was right, I should have been excited. For the first time in my life, I’d almost made it an entire year without getting expelled. No weird accidents. No fights in the classroom. No teachers turning into monsters and trying to kill me with poisoned cafeteria food or exploding homework. Tomorrow, I’d be on my way to my favorite place in the world—Camp Half-Blood.

Only one more day to go. Surely even I couldn’t mess that up.

As usual, I didn’t have a clue how wrong I was.

My mom made blue waffles and blue eggs for breakfast. She’s funny that way, celebrating special occasions with blue food. I think it’s her way of saying anything is possible. Percy can pass seventh grade. Waffles can be blue. Little miracles like that.

I ate at the kitchen table while my mom washed dishes. She was dressed in her work uniform—a starry blue skirt and a red-and-white striped blouse she wore to sell candy at Sweet on America. Her long brown hair was pulled back in a ponytail.

The waffles tasted great, but I guess I wasn’t digging in like I usually did. My mom looked over and frowned. “Percy, are you all right?”

“Yeah . . . fine.”

But she could always tell when something was bothering me. She dried her hands and sat down across from me.

“School, or . . .”

She didn’t need to finish. I knew what she was asking.

“I think Grover’s in trouble,” I said, and I told her about my dream.

She pursed her lips. We didn’t talk much about the other part of my life. We tried to live as normally as possible, but my mom knew all about Grover.

“I wouldn’t be too worried, dear,” she said. “Grover is a big satyr now. If there were a problem, I’m sure we would’ve heard from . . . from camp. . . .” Her shoulders tensed as she said the word camp.

“What is it?” I asked.

“Nothing,” she said. “I’ll tell you what. This afternoon we’ll celebrate the end of school. I’ll take you and Tyson to Rockefeller Center—to that skateboard shop you like.”

Oh, man, that was tempting. We were always struggling with money. Between my mom’s night classes and my private school tuition, we could never afford to do special stuff like shop for a skateboard. But something in her voice bothered me.

“Wait a minute,” I said. “I thought we were packing me up for camp tonight.”

She twisted her dishrag. “Ah, dear, about that . . . I got a message from Chiron last night.”

My heart sank. Chiron was the activities director at Camp Half-Blood. He wouldn’t contact us unless something serious was going on. “What did he say?”

“He thinks . . . it might not be safe for you to come to camp just yet. We might have to postpone.”

Postpone? Mom, how could it not be safe? I’m a halfblood! It’s like the only safe place on earth for me!”

“Usually, dear. But with the problems they’re having—”

What problems?”

“Percy . . . I’m very, very sorry. I was hoping to talk to you about it this afternoon. I can’t explain it all now. I’m not even sure Chiron can. Everything happened so suddenly.”

My mind was reeling. How could I not go to camp? I wanted to ask a million questions, but just then the kitchen clock chimed the half-hour.

My mom looked almost relieved. “Seven-thirty, dear. You should go. Tyson will be waiting.”

“But—”

“Percy, we’ll talk this afternoon. Go on to school.”

That was the last thing I wanted to do, but my mom had this fragile look in her eyes—a kind of warning, like if I pushed her too hard she’d start to cry. Besides, she was right about my friend Tyson. I had to meet him at the subway station on time or he’d get upset. He was scared of traveling underground alone.

I gathered up my stuff, but I stopped in the doorway. “Mom, this problem at camp. Does it . . . could it have anything to do with my dream about Grover?”

She wouldn’t meet my eyes. “We’ll talk this afternoon, dear. I’ll explain . . . as much as I can.”

Reluctantly, I told her good-bye. I jogged downstairs to catch the Number Two train.

I didn’t know it at the time, but my mom and I would never get to have our afternoon talk.

In fact, I wouldn’t be seeing home for a long, long time.

As I stepped outside, I glanced at the brownstone building across the street. Just for a second I saw a dark shape in the morning sunlight—a human silhouette against the brick wall, a shadow that belonged to no one.

Then it rippled and vanished.

Excerpted from Sea of Monsters: Percy & the Olympians, Book 2 by Rick Riordan. Copyright © 2006, Rick Riordan. Reprinted by permission of Miramax Books, a division of Disney Publishing Worldwide. All rights reserved.

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