Posts Tagged adventure

Digging Into Journey Beyond the Burrow

Hi Mixed-Up Filers! We dug into all kinds of nature topics with author Rina Heisel, author of the upcoming Journey Beyond the Burrow.

MUF: Welcome Rina. Thanks for joining us today. I’m really excited to be talking to you about this book.

Rina Heisel: Thanks. I’m excited to be here.

MUF: So, tell us about Journey Beyond the Burrow.

Rina Heisel: Journey Beyond the Burrow is an adventure story about a young mouse, Tobin. He’s the top weather scout in his burrow, and he’s an expert in the Rules of Rodentia. He’s very proud of this, and always follows the Rules, until a big storm introduces a new predator that scuttles off with Tobin’s new baby brother. The Rules say to never pursue a predator, but Tobin goes on a rescue mission, along with his best friend and his little sister.

MUF: Speaking of the new predator, they definitely freaked me out, but not as much as the part where Tobin winds up in a nest of snakes. I had to put the book down at that part. Snakes scare me.

Rina Heisel: I’ve actually heard that from a few reviewers. Some people go into Journey Beyond the Burrow expecting a cute animal story, and it is that. But it’s also got some pretty scary, intense parts. Those are some of my favorites because I always loved those types of books when I was a kid.

MUF: Speaking of books that you enjoyed as a child, can you tell us some of the books that influenced you?

Rina Heisel: I read a lot of animal fantasy: Charlotte’s Web, Watership Down, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. I liked horse books and animal rescue books, but I also loved ghost stories, especially books by Mary Downing Hahn, and the Choose Your Own Adventure books.

MUF: Oh! Those were so good. I saw on your website that you worked on nature shows for South Dakota Public Broadcasting, how did your time there influence Journey Beyond the Burrow?

Rina Heisel: The natural science shows were my favorite projects. I spent a lot of time in the Badlands getting prairie dog footage and observing them and their burrows. It got me thinking about the relationship between predator and prey.

MUF: So, you started with prairie dogs, why is the story about mice?

Rina Heisel: Mice are so expressive, and they have fingers. It’s so helpful in writing animals that an animal is able to hold something because it’s such a human quality.

Also, I had a pet mouse in college that I rescued from a tarantula cage. The owner tried to feed the mouse to the tarantula, but the spider was scared of this little baby mouse and just clung to the top of its cage. I had a very understanding roommate who let me take the mouse back to our room. We named it Lucky, and it lived on cafeteria food.

MUF: Oh! That’s awesome. So, are the Arakni in the story based on that tarantula then?

Huntsman Spider

“Hunstman Spider (Heteropoda sp.)” by GeeC is licensed with CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Rina Heisel: Arakni are based on tarantulas, yes, but also on Hunstman spiders, and A. Eximius spiders, which are spiders that live in colonies. I basically took the most terrifying traits of several spider species and combined them to make the Arakni, much to my agent’s chagrin. She had to go over all of the

different versions of the cover with spiders on them.

MUF: Wait! There’s a spider on the cover? I never noticed.

Rina Heisel: Yes! The mice that Paul Canavan drew are so expressive that they just pull you in, but there’s definitely a spider on the cover if you look for it.

MUF: Oh, I see it now. It’s kind of … menacing. So, tell us about the Rules of Rodentia. How did you come up with them?

Rina Heisel: The Rules come from nature and the relationships that animals have with each other. I got the idea from a biologist who talked about rabbits and the trails that they memorize. I thought about how all animals have these codes that they follow instinctively, and I wondered what that would look like written down.

MUF: Are there more rules that weren’t covered in the book?

Rina Heisel: There’s a little wiggle room in the numbering. So, there may be new rules, but there’s also a gray area. In life, it’s not just black and white. There’s this whole murky gray area.

MUF: That really feels like Tobin’s arc is finding that out. Rules of Rodentia would have made a pretty good title too.

Rina Heisel: It’s funny that you bring that up. Rules of Rodentia was my title, but my editor, Alice Jerman, wanted a title that would convey more of the story. So, my daughter and I brainstormed about 10 titles, and Journey Beyond the Burrow was one of my daughter’s suggestions.

MUF: Ha! That’s awesome. Can you tell us about your writing journey so far?

Rina Heisel: This story has been with me for about 15 years. The idea for the plot came to me in the Black Hills when we were interviewing a biologist about symbiotic relationships between animals, and I wondered “What would make a mouse and a snake team up?” I carried that little kernel of an idea around for a year or so. Then, the spiders came into play, and I wrote a summary. Then, I went to SCBWI classes and conferences to learn about writing for kids. It was around that time that my family moved to Florida, and I met my amazing writing group, The OWLS. I My first meeting with them I brought a 15 page first chapter of this animal fantasy that started out with Tobin just thinking about life. The OWLS were very patient with me, and I learned so much from them.

“Giant Batfish!” by montereydiver is licensed under CC BY 2.0

MUF: So, would that be your advice to new writers? Find a good group?

Rina Heisel: Yes, a supportive group is the biggest blessing, and SCBWI is a good resource. I learned so much by going to conferences, and going to conferences with my writing group was like imagination fuel.

MUF: Speaking of imagination fuel, what are you working on next?

Rina Heisel: I have an idea for a possible sequel to Journey Beyond the Burrow sketched out, but, right now, I’m working on an MG ghost story about siblings who visit a haunted hunting lodge in the North Woods.

MUF: Sounds spooky! Only a few more questions. What is something that readers would be surprised to find out about you?

Rina Heisel: Well, I love nature and being outside, but I’m scared of big fish. I went scuba diving with a friend near the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, and we saw a huge batfish. My poor diving partner, when we surfaced, said, “You kn

ow, for a small person, you have the most vice-like grip.” I was terrified!

MUF: That sounds like nightmare fuel. How can readers find you on social media?

Rina 

Heisel: I’m on Twitter: @rinaheisel. Instagram: rina.heisel and my Facebook page is Author Rina Heisel.

MUF: Thank you so much for talking with us today.

Journey Beyond the Burrow comes out July 13th, but one lucky winner will have a chance to win a sneak peek by entering our giveaway below.

 

Journey Beyond the Burrow Prize Pack
a Rafflecopter giveaway

A Novel Approach to Readers’ Advisory

Normally when a middle-grader comes into the library looking for a book, librarians will focus on a title’s genre and subject matter. They’ll try to match these up to the reader’s interests, such as mysteries, sports books, or science fiction. But it can be tough to pin down the exact type of experience that our readers are looking for. Dominique McCafferty, the Childrens’ Collection Management Librarian at Library System & Services, recommends using a different method of finding the right read, using the super genres developed by Neal Wyatt and Joyce Saricks in their book,The Reader’s Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction (3rd ed).

The super genres that Wyatt and Saricks use focus more on the experience of reading. Their genres are: Adrenaline, Intellect, Landscape, and Emotion. Each of these can contain a number of different subjects and interests. In this post, we’ll show you how the traditional genre of mysteries can translate into all of these different super genres. We’ll also give examples of how to broaden your reader’s interests using these same categories.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgBooks in the adrenaline genre are the ones that readers will finish in one-sitting. Adrenaline books are all about speed. Tightly plotted, and fast paced, Thrillers, suspense, and adventure are among the traditional genre types in the adrenaline category. Mysteries like The 39 Clues are a great example of mysteries that fall into the adrenaline genre. They Cahills race around the globe to beat their greedy relatives to the clues. They’re adventurous because the Cahills often face danger from not only their relatives but also the environment and other enemies. Ultimately, The 39 Clues are mysteries because the Cahills work to figure out the clues that were left behind by their grandmother and solve the mystery of their family. But because of their fast pace and the thrilling adventure, the series also fits well within the adrenaline genre.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgMysteries would normally be found in the intellect genre. This is the genre of books that challenge the mind with language, puzzles, and science. The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin would be a classic example of mystery in this genre with it’s puzzles and wordplay.  Books in the intellect genre can also have lyrical language. Science fiction also tends to fall into this genre because of the science and technology involved. In The Westing Game, a wealthy businessman leaves his fortune to the tenants of a neighboring apartment complex. But first, they need to solve the mystery that he’s left them. It’s a similar plot to The 39 Clues, but the focus in The Westing Game is not on adventure. In fact, most of the story takes place at the apartment complex. Instead, The Westing Game focuses on the puzzles left to each pair of heirs, making it an ideal selection for the intellect genre.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgIf mysteries are normally at home in the intellect genre, then the world-building genre would be the realm of fantasy. But not always. Books in the landscape genre transport readers to a wholly different realm. For example Kate Milford’s Greenglass House is the rich, spooky setting for her mystery of the same name. Sitting on the edge of a cliff, Greenglass House is an inn that welcomes smugglers. Mysterious guests pour into the inn during the winter months when it is normally quiet, and each has a story. When guests belongings start to go missing, it’s up to Milo, the son of the inns’s owners, and Meddy, the cook’s daughter to figure out the mystery of Greenglass House.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgFinally, the emotion genre brings out strong emotions in its readers. Swoony stories of first crushes, touching family stories, and even horror stories all fall into this genre. Thornhill by Pam Smy is just such a horror story. Part graphic novel, Thornhill is a spine-tingling mystery about the last days of Thornhill Institute, and the new girl in town who is intrigued by its tragedy. In dual narratives, Thornhill tells the story of Mary, one of the last residents of the Institute who is bullied by the other girls, and much later, Ella, a lonely girl who becomes fascinated with Thornhill and the girl she sometimes sees still inside. Mary’s story is told through her diary entries, while Ella’s is told through black and white illustrations. It’s a spooky, atmospheric read, but it’s also a mystery, as Ella discovers the truth about the girl in Thornhill.

These titles would all appeal to mystery lovers, and the super genres help librarians narrow down the type of mystery a reader is looking for. But these categories help readers expand their horizons. For example, a reader interested in the fast-paced adrenaline genre might enjoy the I Survived series by Lauren Tarshis. These historical fiction adventures place kids at the center of real life disasters. Or  they might like Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia. In this fantasy, a seventh-grader plunges into a conflict between gods, heroes, and monsters.

In the intellect genre, readers can be as intrigued by novels in verse like Aida Salazar’s The Moon Within. But they may also enjoy the STEM thriller, Charlie Thorne and the Last Equation by Stuart Gibbs.

These all-encompassing genres are a great tool for librarians to help readers narrow down exactly what they’re looking for. And they also help readers to find new books that might interest them.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org      Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org      Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org      Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

Writing Quest Stories

  My fascination for quest stories began when I was in middle school.  At the time, our bespectacled young boy named Harry Potter wasn’t born yet. However, because I lived in India, I had the exposure to fantasy quest stories based on Indian culture. I read  Ramayana and Mahabharata epic novels, and stories from other Hindu texts. Those fantasy stories have been in the world for centuries, even millenia in some cases.

I often compare what I grew up reading to the middle grade quest novels of authors like J.R.R. Tolkien and J.K. Rowling. My brain is hardwired to pay attention to the common themes in the characters’ growth, and appreciate the similarities and deeper meaning in the journeys of the characters.

 

Quest stories make the characters seek something, and we as readers get to join them on the ride. In her book, The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, Diana Wynne Jones describes a quest as “a large-scale treasure hunt, with clues scattered all over the continent, a few false leads, mystical masters as game-show hosts, and the dark lord and the terrain who make the quest interestingly difficult”(153). Therefore, the hero leaves her comfortable, ordinary surroundings to venture into a challenging, unfamiliar world where she encounters conflicts with antagonistic, challenging forces before achieving her goal.

In this post, we will take a look at two fantasy quest novels:

Where the Mountain Meets The Moon by Grace Lin    

and 

The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz by Frank L. Baum

We will focus on some of the common themes around plot, conflict and change that made these quest stories timeless reads.

Plot:

If you’ve been writing fiction for even a short while, you have probably heard or used the word “plot” in your critique conversations. In his book, The Plot Thickens, Noah Lukeman writes that “plot is not just about having a single great idea; on the contrary, a good plot is an amalgamation of many ideas or elements of writing, including characterization, journey, suspense, conflict, and context” (xv). Therefore, while an idea is important, a plot doesn’t exist without the supporting elements that make up the story.

In Where The Mountain Meets The Moon, the main character Minli sets off on an extraordinary journey of adventure and folklore to find the Old Man on the moon to ask him how she can change her family’s fortune.

In the Wizard Of Oz, Dorothy and her dog Toto are swept away from a Kansas farm to the Land of Oz by a cyclone.

Minli’s quest is to find the Old Man on the moon. Dorothy’s quest is to return to her home in Kansas again.

In both the stories, Grace Lin and Frank L. Baum spend considerable amount of time at the beginning of the book establishing their main characters’ normal life before they take off on their journeys. The authors introduce the readers to the secondary characters and set up the cultural context. The settings create a vivid contrast with the strange new worlds Minli and Dorothy enter. All these elements together make strong plot structures for the stories.

Conflict:

Story plots must always involve conflicts.  Philip Athans writes in his book, The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction that “unless your protagonist comes into conflict – in the broadest sense of the word – with someone or something, you have no plot, no story, and no novel” (25). Therefore, it is exceedingly important to put the characters in difficult situations that cause conflict.

In Where the Mountain Meets The Moon, the central conflict for Minli is that her family’s fortune is very weak. So she goes on an adventure to have a better fortune, make friends and bring green to the Fruitless mountain.

In The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz, the main conflict is that Dorothy thinks that life will be better someplace else (i.e. over the rainbow). She runs away from home, gets caught in a tornado, and ends up in another world. Finally, she is desperate to find her way back home.

Baum and Lin put their characters in conflict arising circumstances, and raise the stakes to increase the importance of their story goals. How Dorothy and Minli deal with the conflicts show us a great deal about their traits and personalities. They force the reader to take sides and keep reading.

Change:

In Where The Mountain Meets The Moon, Minli has a lively and impulsive spirit that is different from her parents. She makes friends along the way in her journey. She even befriends a dragon. But when Minli finally reaches home from the Never-Ending Mountain at the end, she realizes that all her questions are answered. Minli’s village is prosperous again, and she is thankful for her family.

In The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz, there’s an inherent change in Dorothy’s character when she meets other characters like the scare crow, the Tin Man, the lion, the wicked witch of the west and the wizard. In the end, Baum shows the change in Dorothy by having her realize that the special world of Oz must eventually be left behind if she has to get back to Kansas. This marks her decision to return to her home where Uncle Henry and Aunt Em live. The quest becomes meaningful when Dorothy returns to Kansas with a lesson from Oz. Dorothy finally returns to Kansas with the knowledge that she is loved, and that there is no place like home.

Even though The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz and Where The Mountain Meets The Moon were written and published at different time periods (1900 and 2009) and have different cultural references and symbolisms, Baum and Lin have made their characters embark on profound journeys that eventually lead them to self-realization and change from within.

Minli’s and Dorothy’s quests sum up themes that center around courage, coming of age, exploration, and family. The novels take us on fascinating journeys that emphasize similar quest elements of plot, conflicts, and change, which in turn give the characters growth and meaning.

And now, to jump into the world of quest stories, here’s a quick list of some recent books:

Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool

The Conch Bearer by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Fish by L.S. Matthews

One Came Home by Amy Timberlake

My Side Of The Mountain by Jean Craighead George

Fog Magic by Julia L. Sauer

What are your favorite quest novels? What do you like about them? Share with us in the comments below.