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Babe To Teens, Past
A YOuth Column
By Beverly Rowe

  • Stephen J. Brooks
  • Contests

May is that wonderful month that everyone has been waiting will be out for the summer.

We are all looking forward to baseball, picnics, lolling on the beach, hiking, summer camp...all those exciting vacation things. Writers and publishers have outdone themselves this year in providing us with new summer reading adventures

When it comes to choosing books for your kid's summer reading, you may need help. Parents want to know how to select books that interest children and how to create an atmosphere that encourages reading. Today, that help is available in many forms; reading lists provided by teachers, summer reading programs sponsored by school and local libraries and educational Web sites that explain the reading process and provide tips on selecting books. It easy to organize reading activities that involve both parents and children and everyone will enjoy. At the bottom of this page are several exciting web sites that you should check out.

I just finished reading Unicorn Races, and had previously read and reviewed Creatures of the Night, Alexander Asenby's Great Adventure and The Fairy Ball by Stephen J. Brooks. Unicorn Races is pure magic. Linda Crockett's beautiful illustrations complement the imaginative text perfectly, and Purple Sky Publishing presents the book in a lush format with a padded cover that gives the book a wonderful, luxurious feel. I was curious about this author and his exciting children's books.  He was kind enough to answer my curiosity.
Bev: When did you first know that you wanted to write children's books? 
Steve: To be honest, my desire to write children's stories came as a result of the maturation process that goes along with becoming a parent, as well as the unusual nature of my career.  I spent fifteen years as a Federal Agent traveling the globe and working in a variety of roles related to security and anti-terrorism.  In my travels, I witnessed unbelievable living conditions:  families living in extreme poverty, children roaming the streets begging for money, hatred festered by ignorance.  It was always the children that stood out to me in these harsh environments.  Despite living conditions unseen in the United States, the children still had that glimmer of hope in their eyes.  Among the blank, lost stares of the adults, the children still ran and played, lost in some imaginary world seemingly oblivious to their surroundings. 
Subsequent to the events of 9/11 my wife, who also served a Federal Agent in a similar role to my own, and I decided that one of us needed to change our careers to take care of our children.  I had always loved to write.  Most of my writing was poetry or musings lost in notebooks long since discarded.  My foray into children's writing started right after 9/11 when I wrote a short poem for my daughter to quell her bedtime fears when I couldn't be there to tuck her in at night.  This poem was picked up by a small press in Nebraska and published as a children's bedtime story.  Thus began the journey.  I loved doing something to comfort and inspire children.  I was thrilled to assist children in their imaginative processes.  It was a wonderful transformation for me, to go from bystander and witness to the baleful side of humanity to actually participating in the creation of worlds where children could escape the tribulations of their environment.   
Bev: Have any other authors been an inspiration to you?
Steve: I must admit to having always been a great Tolkien fan.  When you talk about creating magical worlds there was no one better.  It's impossible to read his work without becoming totally immersed in his creative processes.  I always loved the Narnia series as well.
Bev: What were your favorite books as a child? 
Steve: As a child I read the usual favorites: Where the Wild Things Are, The Velveteen Rabbit, anything by Dr. Seuss.  As I got older I remember sneaking my sister's Judy Blume books out of her room and reading them in earnest.  I thank Mrs. Blume for guiding me through early adolescence.
Bev: It seems like quite a stretch to go from being a federal agent to creating enchanting stories like this for small children.  I know that federal agents are regular, everyday people, but, I guess it is just the idea of them...they really don't come across as having much magic and poetry in their souls.  Tell me about your road to publishing children's books.
Steve: The path is as explained above.  As to Federal Agent's lacking "poetry or magic" in their souls, I don't know, there may be some truth to that.  There are of course exceptions to every scenario.  I do know we had our share of individuals in basic training who definitely fit the stereotypical machismo persona.  I'll simply say that I didn't fit in well with this group and leave it at that.  I also know that much of the training we went through was aimed at desensitizing the individual to certain situations - I can assure you I never want to be desensitized.  That's probably about as much explanation as I can get into here.
Bev: Each of your books is illustrated by a different artist.  Do you have any input on the choice of artist or the art content of your books? How does that work?
Steve: My first couple of books, I had no input into the artist.  Subsequent titles are a collaborative effort in which I had input.  Essentially, we look for an artist or illustrator that truly captures the essence of the book.  Each artist has obvious stylistic differences that show when they represent a story.  For example, we were very much committed to having Linda Crockett illustrate "Unicorn Races."  The idea behind the story was to present a magical world where anything is possible.  We needed an artist who could represent the illusion of the fantasy.  Her use of bright colors and vivid imagery truly bring the story to life.  We are absolutely thrilled with the final product.
Bev: Tell us about the process of going from idea to published book for you.
Steve: My ideas come from literally getting on the floor and playing with my daughter.  They used to be inspired by similar play with my son, but, he has since become a teenager and doesn't seem to have an interest in playing my muse anymore.  My daughter assists me in returning to that magical world we all knew as children.  I loved Bridge to Terabithia because it so wonderfully represents the reality of growing up.  It becomes so much more difficult to access our imaginative faculties as we mature and lose ourselves to the responsibilities of adulthood.  I run all my ideas past my daughter.  She still resides in the wonderful world where anything is possible.  After payment of consultation fee's (cookies or candy) to my daughter I work toward story and character development.  What is it I want to do with this story?  How deep or developed do I want to make the character?  It's interesting because one of the initial criticisms of Unicorn Races from one unnamed critic was that it did not teach a lesson.  One of the things I like are stories where children can simply escape.  I write stories where they can be a child and if we can inter-mix some subtle messages in there, great, but I don't believe in trying to be forceful in relaying some moral code to the reader.  For example, in Unicorn Races the main character, Abigail, has a great and fantastic magical journey to a world where unicorns race and fairies and elves prepare marvelous feasts.  While this would appear, on the surface, to not contain any messages of import, we were careful to actually put the character in complete control of the environment.  Through words such as "decreed," "declared," and "commanded," Abigail is clearly controlling the story.  The purpose was to show empowerment for little girls.  This clearly isn't the primary purpose of the story, but, provides a nice subtle backdrop - reinforcing the idea that girls can be in charge and control.
The remainder of the process is simply story development, editorial analysis, story- boarding and waiting, waiting and more waiting.
Bev: Have you done any other kind of writing besides books for young children?
Steve: I have always written poetry and prose for as long as I can remember.  I lived in Spain for a while, fancying myself a Hemingway, inhabiting coffee shops and tapas bars writing poetry that would inevitably be decimated by critics.  We all have our own escape mechanisms, our own way of expressing ourselves and releasing our inner imaginations; mine has always been through paper and pen.  I do currently have two novels I'm working on, but, continue to concentrate on my children's writing.  It provides me the most satisfaction.  There is nothing better than reading one of my books before a group of children and seeing their eyes light up as they get lost in my story.
Bev: What is your least favorite part of being a children's book author?
Steve: I enjoy almost all the processes involved in producing a children's book.  If there is one part that is my "least" favorite it would be the marketing aspect.  I would much rather work directly with the children or be writing.
Bev: And your favorite thing?
Steve: Making a difference.  Creating worlds where children are safe to wander and explore. 
Bev: Do you have any advice for kids who love to read, and want to be a writer some day?
Steve: Keep a daily journal.  Write down your thoughts, fears, insecurities, and triumphs.  It's not only cathartic, but, it exercises your mind and your imagination.  It provides practice in translating feelings and ideas into words.
Bev: Do you have any other thoughts you would like to share with us?
Steve: Follow your dreams.  I know it sounds cliche, but, it's the phrase with which I begin and end all of my presentations.  While I certainly don't regret my former employment, I do recognize that it wasn't my calling.  While it provided me with a wealth of experiences that I would not have otherwise had, it did not provide the sense of fulfillment that is so important in life.  One of the reasons I love writing for, and speaking to, children is because they are clean slates.  They are wonderful bundles of unrealized potential.  Sometimes it seems that in our hurry to prepare them for life we are taking the life out of them.  I encourage kids to believe in themselves and to truly listen to their inner calling.  There are no "do-overs."  How many of us have found ourselves staring out the window from our cubicles or offices wishing we were somewhere else - reminiscing of better times.  If nothing else I hope to help foster the imaginative spirit of children and help them believe that anything is possible.
My favorite quote is from Henry David Thoreau - "Go confidently in the direction of your dreams!  Live the life you've imagined." 

Stephen J. Brooks
Author, "Unicorn Races"

Unicorn Races
By Stephen J. Brooks
Illustrated by Linda Crockett
Purple Sky Publishing -- March 1, 2007
ISBN: 0-9769017-3-0 -Hardcover
Children's Fiction- Age 4-8

Buy a Copy

Review by Beverly J. Rowe,

The first thing to catch your eye is the lush padded cover on this beautifully bound and illustrated book. It is really above the ordinary. You just know that it is going to be a great story.

Stephen Brooks loves to create fantasy lands for children where they feel safe, and their adventures are enchanting. In this story, Abigail closes her eyes, pretending to be asleep when her mother tucks her in at night. But as soon as Mom leaves the room, Abigail is ready for adventure. She puts on her beautiful princess clothes, and summons Lord William, the majestic unicorn of noble descent. They fly off into the night sky to go to the Unicorn Races.

Six majestic, colorful unicorns take part in a nightly race deep in a magic forest in this world of dreams and make-believe. Elves and fairies prepare feasts of sundaes, cakes and cookies, and the excitement begins.

Linda Crockett's glorious illustrations create a fantasy environment sprinkled with stardust for your children's joy. It's an imaginative story that children are sure to love, and parents and grandparents will treasure as a read aloud bedtime story to set the stage for little one's dreams of fairyland. Count on reading this one over and over will be a family favorite.

New books that you might enjoy:

Forever in Blue: The Fourth Summer of the Sisterhood by Ann Brashares

If you have read the first three in this series, this one is a "must have." If you haven't read them, now is a good time to start this exciting series

What's new for May?

These are Stand-Alone Titles:

The Alchemyst: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, by Michael Scott (Delacorte Press)

The truth: Nicholas Flamel was born in Paris on September 28, 1330. Nearly 700 years later, he is acknowledged as the greatest Alchemyst of his day. It is said that he discovered the secret of eternal life. The records show that he died in 1418...But his tomb is empty.
The legend: Nicholas Flamel lives. Sometimes legends are true...

Beauty Shop for Rent…fully equipped, inquire, within, by Laura Bowers

Abbey Garner has a plan: to earn a million dollars by the time she's thirty-five. Financial independence will allow her to break the cycle of unhappiness. Now, to fulfill her dream, Abbey works at Granny Po's struggling beauty shop. Feisty Gray Widows go there to catch up on the latest gossip and to primp, polish, perm. There, among the hair dryers and perm rods--and with the help of a new friend--Abbey finds the courage to open her heart and take risks required for her to live life to its fullest.

Evil Genius by Catherine Jinks

Cadel Piggott has a genius IQ and a fascination with systems of all kinds. At seven, he was illegally hacking into computers. Now he’s fourteen and studying for his World Domination degree. The institute that is run by Dr. Phineas Darkkon has classes like embezzlement, misinformation, forgery, and infiltration. But Cadel, advanced beyond his years, is a lonely kid. When he falls for the mysterious and brilliant Kay-Lee, he begins to question the moral implications of his studies for the first time. But is it too late to stop Dr. Darkkon from carrying out his evil plot? An engrossing thriller with darkness and humor, freaks and geeks, Evil Genius explores the fine line between good and evil where nothing is as it seems.


Contest # 1 WINNER: TBA

These books are great for 8 to twelve-year olds.
The Helper's Apprentice - The Jackson Skye mysteries by C. E. Pickhardt.

Dracula vs Grampa
Monster Fish Frenzy
Super Soccer Freak Show
Grampa's Zombie BBQ


Contest # 2 WINNER: TBA

He Will Go Fearless by Laurie Lawlor.
An exciting story of a boy who sets out for the gold fields of Virginia City in Montana to find his father. He hires on as an oxen driver on a Conestoga wagon train. Filled with fast moving adventure.

Call Me the Canyon by Ann Howard Creel
Madolen is half Navajo and she yearns to discover life in the world outside the red walls of her canyon. She is taken in by a Mormon family and then becomes the guide for a handsome young Easterner in search of Indian artifacts. This is a wonderful historical love story that you will never forget.

Head AboveWater by S. L. Rottman
A YALSA best book for Young Adults
Skye is struggling to qualify for the state swimming championships so that she can win a scholarship to college, but she must spend much of her free time caring for her older brother, Sunny, who has Down syndrome. Her new boyfriend, Mike, also demands his share of her time, but to see him, she must break a trust. Conflicting emotions add suspense to this fast moving story.


NPR : Summer Reading for Kids

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