The U.S. publisher of Harry Potter will premiere a highly ambitious series with a mystery ending. “The 39 Clues” is a planned 10-volume set about young Amy and Dan Cahill and their worldwide search for the secret to their family’s power. The first book, “The Maze of Bones,” is written by Rick Riordan of “The Lightning Thief” fame and has an announced first printing of 500,000. Steven Spielberg has already acquired film rights to the series.
Designed for boys and girls ages 8 to 12, each book will have a different writer, including such best-sellers as Gordon Korman and Jude Watson. Backed by a multimillion-dollar marketing campaign, “The 39 Clues” also features game cards, a contest with a $10,000 first prize and a sophisticated Web site that includes games, blogs, videos and thousands of pages of background. A Scholastic team, led by Levithan and including about a dozen editors, thought of the series about three years ago, working from the idea of a treasure hunt. The essential outline, including the ending, was set by the publisher. Authors were asked to fill in the details, taking a thread, as Levithan describes it, and turning it into a blanket.
Scholastic quickly decided that “The 39 Clues,” its title an homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s “The 39 Steps,” would make an ideal multiplatform event. Readers might check out the Web site, just as kids who love online games might then turn to the books. A recent study by the American Library Association revealed that many librarians already use games to attract young people and, ideally, get them interested in books.
Books for all ages often originate with publishers, and countless best-sellers are made through marketing. But a blockbuster, whether “Harry Potter” or Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” novels, virtually always happens spontaneously.
Puffer and other booksellers are enthusiastic about “39 Clues,” although unsure whether it will be a sensation. Kimberly Diehm, co-owner of the Neverending Story Children’s Bookshoppe in Las Vegas, calls the first volume “a perfect tale” by Riordan, but says she has noticed little discussion about it among her fellow retailers.
Other multimedia projects are being developed. HarperCollins is working with former Scholastic executive Lisa Holton on an eight-book series for girls. Dutton, a division of Penguin Group (USA), recently acquired a mystery trilogy by “C.S.I.” creator Anthony Zuiker that will be complemented by an interactive Web site. Simon & Schuster will release “Spaceheadz,” Internet sites and a series of chapter books co-authored by Jon Scieszka and Francesco Sedita.