Will The 39 Clues be the next Webkinz—creating an online frenzy, this time with a literary tie-in instead of stuffed animals? Scholastic hopes so, especially now that the Harry Potter publishing phenomenon has ended. Time will tell, but the publisher may well be onto something big, with a project that should appeal to readers, gamers and collectors.
The 39 Clues series includes 10 books, each by a different well-known author (such as Gordon Korman and Jude Watson), with a new one coming out every two or three months. The series presents a giant mystery that readers must try to decipher, using trading cards and a website, along with the books. Each book also contains six cards, and readers can buy additional clue - laden packs (350 cards in all). As for the jackpot, Scholastic will provide $100,000 in cash and prizes, some awarded for skill and others as part of a sweepstakes. The bottom line is that the first book is quite good—full of suspense, humor, likable characters and a riveting plot. Rick Riordan, the wildly successful author of the Percy Jackson series, delivers an intricate web of suspense, a sort of Da Vinci Code for kids (without the religious overtones). Amy and Dan Cahill are orphans who live with their not-so-nice aunt. Their world falls apart with the death of their beloved (and wealthy) grandmother, Grace. At the funeral, the lawyer calls together her many heirs in the mansion's Great Hall and offers them each a choice: take a one-million-dollar inheritance and leave, or, instead of money, be given the first of 39 clues. The clue, the lawyer explains, "might lead you to the most important treasure in the world and make you powerful beyond belief." Of course, Amy and Dan take a clue, and the action begins. Other family members take the clue too, so the race is on. As Dan and Amy try to piece the puzzle pieces together, they travel the world and learn a bit of history too.
The series is such top - secret stuff that my advance reading copy of The 39 Clues, Book One: The Maze of Bones did not contain the complete text or the first clue. Nor could I try out the website—no one gets a head start until the official launch on September 9. It looks to be great fun, however, with online missions, character blogs, maps, surveillance videos and games. Did I mention that DreamWorks Studios has bought movie rights, and that Spielberg may direct? All I can say is Harry Potter, Webkinz—watch your back!
Alice Cary and her twin daughters are pondering their clues in Groton, Massachusetts.