Monthly Archives:

November 2015

Roman Holiday for Us

There is no place like Rome for the holidays. Two of our books are set there and the Eternal City, well, I admit it’s my favorite. It is an easy bias because, over the course of writing Molly Goes to Rome and The Shield of Horatius, I learned so much. I love talking about Rome.

Our first book had a distinct disadvantage: it was our first book. Molly Goes to Rome is a fun story and we immensely enjoyed the process of putting it together. However, each book is a learning process and many lessons were learned with our “prototype.”

Amy has a few more pencils and more tricks to show off these days.
Amy has a few more pencils and more tricks to show off these days.

So, we’re revising it. The story won’t change, though one misspell will be corrected. There will be a new illustration for the cover and each of the existing illustrations will get a makeover, as this one, featuring the Pantheon, has.

The revised edition will be out in the next couple of weeks. We’re very excited to do this.

Oval Meets a Square

While you’re here, let’s talk a bit more about Rome. One of the locations featured in Molly Goes to Rome is the Piazza Navona.

The Piazza is a plaza with three fountains, the most famous of which is the Fountain of the Four Rivers (Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi) by Bernini.

The fountain and square area is a large oval. Some of my research indicates it represents what was once the competition ground of the Stadium of Domitian. This may or may not be true as the oval also defines the street that runs around the square. What is true is that portions of the stadium remain and are visible when you take a stroll.

One of the striking aspects, maybe because I was only there at night, is how enclosed the area feels. There is no visual continuity for the small streets that lead into the piazza. In other words, you can’t look down the street to see other buildings, etc..

When you’re on a tour looking for the next thing is a natural thing to do. The Piazza Navona, however, forces you to reckon with it, to appreciate it.

The old illustration, soon to be updated. Molly in the Piazza Navona.
The old illustration, soon to be updated. Molly in the Piazza Navona.

There was  another reason for me to appreciate it. I visited Rome as a student in my teens. The excursion to the piazza was not a planned one, and only a couple of students were invited. I was thankful then and continue to be grateful for this.

Then, as now, the piazza had a good place to get gelato. After we confirmed it still existed, there was no question that Molly and Michael would find their way to it. Our contributor to the book, who was born and raised in Rome, agreed it was an excellent place to include.

Part of the charm includes the art market that sets up there. This is depicted in our book where an artist does a drawing for Molly.

If you’re going, particularly if you travel with kids, the Piazza Navona is not to be missed.

 

Notes from Sydney: Roads Not Taken

A couple of weeks ago I shared some things we learned while working on the Shanghai book. These were things we didn’t explain in the book because they were fairly complex or we just didn’t have room. We faced similar decisions on every book.

The process is different every time. I wanted to share some of the thought process because we often are asked about this. Plus, it’s an opportunity to share the attractions and unique places that don’t appear in the books.

Bondi Beach, Logic, and Clothing

World-famous Bondi Beach did not appear in Molly Goes to Sydney. This was not an oversight, we skipped it on purpose and there were good reasons for it.Sydney Front Cover Small

The first of those reasons is geography. This is a good time to reveal a big secret about the Molly and the Magic Suitcase booksGrab a map of Sydney (or any city or country the books visit) and plot out the sites Molly and Michael visit. What do you find? There is a logical pattern. The sites form a sort of trail, or, in the case of Molly Goes to Barcelona, a circle.

Why did I do this? It just seemed like common sense. Molly and Michael spend a day at these destinations. Now, I certainly don’t make the claim that their tour of Peru or Thailand is possible in a single day (without a magic suitcase), but when it’s a different story when it comes to visiting a city. The Sydney book starts at Manly Beach, makes a quick trip up to North Curl Curl, then down to Shelly Beach. From there, the story moves to the Sydney Zoo, then Luna Park (just on the north side of the Sydney Harbor Bridge), and then on to the downtown sites.

Bondi Beach is well south and east of downtown. It didn’t fit the pattern. Plus, there was another factor: it’s somewhat clothing optional. Thankfully, this was discovered in casual conversation. I talked to someone who traveled to Sydney and knew the beach. He said, “I’m surprised you included Bondi Beach.” I was taken aback. It was world famous, why wouldn’t I include it? “Because it’s a topless beach.” Oh.

Our Sydney contributors failed to mention it, probably because they didn’t think it was a big deal or just assumed I knew. Thank goodness for that conversation.

The Powerhouse

The old Ultimo powerhouse in Sydney is now the Powerhouse Museum (aka Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences) and it is geared to children. It’s interactive, has great family programs, exhibits and a focus on “creativity and curiosity.” In short, it is someplace we’ll definitely take the real Molly and Michael. The building would have been an excellent visual.

Alas, it too was a little outside of our geographic trail. It also never came up in our interviews with our two contributors that grew up in Sydney.

There was a timing issue as well. It was the last illustration set for the book and we decided the book was already long enough, so the Powerhouse was cut, even though both Amy and I are looking forward to seeing it.

And the Rest

Arrrgghhh!
Arrrgghhh!

Amy was particularly keen on the World Square and how great it would look as an illustration. A quick internet search shows you just how right she is. But in the end, it is a shopping center and likely not a top priority for our nine (Michael) and ten (Molly) year-old characters. No, the pirate ship is a much more compelling activity for these characters, as well as for our intended early-reader audience.

No trip to Sydney would be complete without an excursion to the Blue Mountains. The “world’s steepest railway” was mentioned by our contributors and I don’t recall any travel resources failing to include it. At a minimum, three more illustrations would have been needed to show the train, a view of the Three Sisters, and the Skyway cable car ride over the canyon. We simply could not fit it into the book. It is also a full-day activity (at least) and there are some time constraints in a day trip to Sydney.

If our intention was to produce an illustrated travel guide, we could make the books as long as we wanted or just have the host character (Wesley, in this case) mention a long list of sites. Other books do this. Because they do, we don’t. Our books are adventure stories and they’re meant to pique a child’s interest in faraway locations and cultures.

All of the places the books visit are enthralling and we try to share things beyond the typical travel book, things specific to kids having a good time. These discoveries are a wonderful thing to share, we love this work. There was never an illusion we could share everything, particularly because our first book was set in Rome. Instead, we want children and parents to discover more about these places together.

The Immersive (Pre)Travel Experience

Many people talk about how travel changes a person. What is it about the experience that changes you? You see, feel, taste, touch, and hear another culture. There is the beginning of an understanding about the people. You detect the general atmosphere or energy of the city.

This doesn’t have to be an overseas or international thing. There are plenty of differences between Indianapolis and San Antonio, or even San Diego and Los Angeles. The two cities are close to each other, but contrast enough to notice a few things. The differences are subtle to others, but probably not to the people that live there.

The illustrator and author at travel (Red Rock Canyon).
The illustrator and author at travel (Red Rock Canyon).

Austria was the first place I had an experience with this. We were in Salzburg, to be precise. Anyplace where mountains hundreds of feet high shoot suddenly from grassy plains must have a few peculiarities. Everything was clean, and it started with the air coming off of the snow-capped mountains. The cool, crisp, mountain-scoured air seemingly inspired the local residents to likewise behaviors within the city. I cannot recall a place as clean as the birthplace of Mozart, and have seen very few (if any) places as beautiful.

That trip also taught another lesson: if you speak even a bit of the local language, everything is different. A barrier is breached. Locals in many places throughout the world will breach the barrier willingly and show their hospitality, but if you do it and show just a hint of your awareness of the culture, the smiles will be bigger, the laughs heartier, the conversations more open.

Molly and the Magic Suitcase LogoI was pretty young and some of the adding of two and two happened after the fact. Just a few years later I had a much keener experience. This time the city was Washington, D. C.. The Washington I experienced was in a presidential inaugural year. There was energy, probably much more than at other times, there was a fast pace, and there was time to explore. That was the key.

Molly and Michael play Sepak Takraw with friend Yung in Thailand.
Molly and Michael play Sepak Takraw with friend Yung in Thailand.

When we conceived Molly and the Magic Suitcase one of our main goals was to provide an immersive experience. Our characters Molly and Michael do not make the tourist rounds reading from a guide book. There is much value in that, but showing what is in the city only partially gives a sense of being there. Molly and Michael begin the journey by befriending a local.

We begin the process of developing each book the same way by interviewing people from the places and others that have traveled there often. In the story, the local boy or girl that helps Molly and Michael essentially speaks with the voice of our contributors. There are a few instances where the characters’ dialogue is a direct quotation. When Yung talks about his favorite dessert in Molly Goes to Thailand, the words are from someone savoring the memory of the flavor. When Marco explains the game elastico in Molly Goes to Rome, it is the remembered youth of someone that grew up there.

These are the ways we seek to give children and their parents a brief immersion into the sights and culture of the many places our books visit. Even an eyewitness account from us wouldn’t be enough to deliver the same experience. Whether or not there is an opportunity to go, you can travel and share the experience with your kids.