Hello, and welcome to Behind the Fiction. Here is where I will be presenting thoughts, reviews, and interviews for all age groups in the Fiction reading area. This month, I am starting off with children's fiction. Before we move on to May 2001's interview with Lisa B.C. O'Connell, the creator of Miracle Max, I would like to give you some web information about childrens book awards. The first link is a comprehensive list of international awards. The other links are to US childrens book award web pages. Check them out and and find some award winning reading ideas for your kids.
The Children's Literature Web Guide - A comprehensive list of international children's awards, including the US.
I discovered Miracle Max on-line a
long time ago. I was so impressed with what Ms. O'Connell was trying to
do with the series, I became a member at her website. Since then, every
once in a while I would get newsletters updating me on the progress of
the series and web page. When the first book Miracle Max... Missing in
Maryland came out, I requested a review copy for MyShelf. After breezing
through it and reading a fellow reviewer's agreeing opinion, I knew it
was a series worth promoting. I don't know Ms O'Connell very well, but
I emailed her some questions in the hopes of learning more about her and
Miracle Max. Below are her answers. Enjoy.
BW: First, tell us about you and how you got to this stage in your life as a children’s author.
Lisa: My family and I moved several times while I was growing up. We lived in Delaware, New Jersey, Mexico, and Switzerland. I consider myself lucky to have been able to live in so many different places and to have met so many interesting people.
I loved being a kid! My friends and I played in tree forts, explored in woods, rode our bikes, swam, and ran after the ice cream man! We played: Kick the Can, Hide & Seek, Kick Ball, Red Light Green Light, Mother May I, basketball, tennis, and tag. We caught fire flies, ate watermelon, grilled out with our families, and wished on stars! We had slumber parties, played Truth or Dare, ate popcorn, and told ghost stories! We made spook houses in our basements, planned our Halloween costumes, and went trick-or-treating! We hoped that school would be cancelled, so we could go ice-skating on our creeks, sledding on any hill we that could find, and make huge snow forts! We drank hot chocolate with marshmallows while we sat in our warm kitchens until we could feel our feet again! We dressed up for holidays, like Thanksgiving and Christmas, and were truly glad to be with our families on such special occasions… Until we could put on our play clothes and run outside to meet our friends again that is!
I am married now, and have four children
of my own, however…I have arrived at this stage in my life - a children's
author - by never fully "growing up." Yes, I went to High Schools
(in three different countries), and attended college (University of Delaware),
so that I could become a proficient writer. I chose to be a children's
author, and start the Miracle Max Corporation, at this stage in my life
because I wanted to do something fun that could involve my kids.
I work part-time in my home office, and my kids "stop in" all the time;
their computer is also in my office. They are my greatest inspirations,
and often my best critics! If you are going to write children's
books, maintain a Family Friendly web site and Club, and sell related
children's merchandise, my advice is...don't "grow old!"
BW: Tell us about the Miracle Max series and how it came about.
Lisa: I always wanted my children
to learn about other cultures and customs. However, I also believe
that it is important for them to learn about, and appreciate, their own
country. When we would make trips to the library to get reference
books for their various book reports, my children would ask if they could
also check out "fun books." I noticed that while there were plenty
of wonderful factual books about the States, there were no books that
taught children about the United States "in a fun way." A few weeks after
that trip to the library...One stormy summer night...My children and I
were huddled in a fort that we had made out of sheets, and we were telling
spooky stories...when it hit me! Kids love to tell stories...especially
mysteries. So, why not write stories that combine fact with fiction....
and involve children! I thought it would be original, and a lot
of fun for the kids, to be able to help create the books that they will
be reading...the Miracle Max Mystery Series!
BW: There are many dog breeds regarded as sleuths; why a German Shepard as lead character and sleuth?
Lisa: If you could meet Miracle Max, you would understand! Our German shepherd, Max, is the perfect family pet. She is incredibly strong, and yet extremely gentle with children. She is 100 pounds of muscle, and yet, she and our cat will curl up together! She is surprisingly intelligent, reassuringly protective, and heartwarmingly loyal.
I chose Max for the main character
of my first book because most children love dogs, and what better dog
to write about than one I know so well! However, if I do decide
to continue with the series, I plan on featuring a different pet in each
book. I understand that not everyone shares my opinion of German
shepherds, which is why I would like to have the Miracle Max Mystery Club
members vote for their favorite pets!
BW: Miracle Max is obviously a fun learning series. Have you heard from any teachers, schools or libraries about the first in series, “...missing in Maryland" yet?
Lisa: From what my publicist has told me, it takes a while for the word to spread about a new book. I have however, received very positive feedback from several local teachers and schools. I have given five author presentations at local Elementary Schools. The Miracle Max web site won an award from an Elementary School in North Carolina. Miracle Max has been featured in three different local newspapers. And, I was invited to be a guest author/speaker at Gaithersburg's International Book Festival this past March.
A local Elementary School invited
me to give an Author Presentation because one of their fourth graders
chose my book, Miracle Max... Missing in Maryland!, for her book report.
Not only was that the first book report written about my book, as far
as I am aware, but the student also made a diorama! It was so exciting
to see a scene from my book in a diorama that was handmade by a nine-year-old!
Oh, and she also received an "A" on her book report!
BW: I’ve been a Miracle Max member since I found your web site some time ago, so when I turned to the members list in the book I found my name. Listing the members will certainly make the kids feel special and a part of the series. What will you do if the names reach an astronomical number?
Lisa: Wouldn't that be wonderful!
I hope I can make the Miracle Max Mystery Club members feel special and
that they are a part of the Miracle Max Mystery Series. If the names
reach an astronomical number, that would mean that children like my, hopefully
original, idea of helping to create the books that they will be reading!
So, if they like having their names on the Club Members page, I'll just
keep adding more pages to the book!
BW: You have a wonderful web site and newsletter; tell us about them.
Lisa: Thank you, but first, I have to give credit where credit is due; to Miracle Max's web master, Dave Mroz. Not only is Dave Miracle Max's web master, he is also studying Computer Engineering at Virginia Tech! The new and improved Miracle Max web site is Dave's creation! I merely send him the text, and describe what I envision for the site, and Dave implements everything! Actually, he has been setting up everything so that eventually I will be able to make regular updates to the site myself. The "new and improved" Miracle Max site is a credit to Dave's computer expertise!
The Miracle Max Mystery Club originally consisted of my own children and their friends. However, as word began to spread and I began to get an overwhelmingly positive response to Miracle Max, I realized that the members needed a better way to interact. Therefore, Dave and I created the "Family Friendly" Miracle Max web site, and free Miracle Max Mystery Club with its Members Only section. The Miracle Max web site explains the Miracle Max Corporation, Miracle Max Mystery Series, Miracle Max Mystery Club, as well as my own background. Our site features a free Members Only Section, where Club members can "bark" with each other in our Bark Doghouse, post messages, play games, read the latest Miracle Max Mania, enter contests and win prizes, vote, and e-mail Dave, Max, or myself.... and we will reply!
The Miracle Max Newsletter is another
way for Club members to be kept informed of the latest "Miracle Max Mania,"
or news. It is a free newsletter, and Club members choose whether
they wish to receive it or not. April's newsletter welcomed new
Club members, contained information about the web site, answered Club
members' frequently asked questions, and gave away the secret as to what
Miracle Max's first Secret Product is going to be!
BW: The “Members Only Club” is a great idea. Where did it come from?
Lisa: After I thought of writing original stories that combined fact with fiction - history with mystery - I had to think of a fun way to involve children. That's when I realized that kids love clubs, so why not start a club! Since I had already decided to make our dog, Max, the main character in the first book, I decided to name the club "Miracle Max Mystery Club."
The Miracle Max Mystery Club, which
originally consisted of my four children, currently has over 300 members!
Members interact via the web site, e-mail, fax, and telephone.
BW: Jo Rogers, who reviewed your
book, has a couple of questions.
JR: Do you plan to carry this series to other countries?
Lisa: I think it would be fun
to draw illustrations and write about other countries! However,
I would first like to wait and see what people's response to my first
book is before I decide whether or not to continue with the Series.
JR: Do you feel that, if the children know more about other places, they can erase some of the misunderstandings and prejudices that cause so much trouble now?
Lisa: Definitely. That is part of why I consider myself lucky to have traveled and lived in so many different places. It is also very important to me that my children not only learn about their own country, which is becoming more and more diverse, but also about other countries and their cultures.
Since I am an author, I just have
to say, as I do in my presentations, that you should not judge a book
(or a person) solely by its cover (or their appearance). Therefore,
if I can teach children about other places, or States, and hopefully erase
some of the misunderstandings and prejudices they may exist, then being
an author is even better than had I thought!!!
BW again: Lisa, tell us, what is in the future for you as a writer and for the Miracle Max series.
Lisa: This is the question that I am most frequently asked, "Are you going to write more books?" I have said all along, that if the Club members aren't happy, then I am doing something wrong! This also applies to the Miracle Max Mystery Series...if the majority of children and grownups who read Volume I of the Series do not like it, why continue?! So far, people seem to like the Miracle Max Mystery Club, and the idea of combining "mystery with history" in the Miracle Max Mystery Series. However, I would like to wait until I get some more reviews of my book before I decide whether or not to continue with the Series.
Ideally, I would like to continue to work on the Miracle Max web site and expand the Miracle Max Mystery Club; as long as the Club members are having fun! I would like to continue with the Miracle Max Mystery Series part-time, until my children are older, and then gradually make the Miracle Max Corporation and writing a full-time career. And, in the meantime, I have decided to expand the Miracle Max Corporation and start selling "Miracle Max Merchandise." I just signed a contract with one of my favorite stuffed animal companies, Applause & Dakin! The Miracle Max Corporation will be selling (stuffed) animals, which are related to the book, Miracle Max...Missing in Maryland!
For the present, I am very happy that my full-time job is my four children. I consider myself extremely lucky to be able to work part-time as a children's author from my home office because I also love to write and illustrate.
I don't care that the grass doesn't grow under our swing set!
I try not to notice the Kool Aid stains on the carpet!
I will pick up those wet towels and dirty socks for the thousandth time and smile.... okay, sometimes I frown!
I will drive to golf, baseball, football, and dance lessons - and I will cheer at their games!
I wanted to (but didn't dare) hold
my fifteen-year-old, my oldest, in my lap last night while the doctor
stitched up a "golf club injury!"
I will pick up the CDs, papers, and clothes that are on my daughter's bed, while I smell that familiar perfumed scent that is unique to her room, and that I know I will never forget!
I will sit down after school this afternoon with my seven year old, my youngest, and go over subtraction, time, and money yet again...but I'll be enthusiastic and patient because it'll be the first time that I go over it with him!
And, tonight, when I check on all four of my children...each asleep in their bed... I will be silently thankful that I know where they all are...home and safe.
I am thankful that I can be a part
of their lives and watch them grow up, because I realize that before I
know it, they will be all grown up, with children of their own!
BW: You can find Lisa and Miracle
Max at their website, Miracle
Max Corporation on the web. Thanks Lisa for a great interview. We
wish you much success!
Miracle Max...Missing in Maryland is the first in a series of fifty books about Max, a beautiful German Shepherd who loves children. Written and illustrated by Lisa B. C. O'Connell, it is set in the state of Maryland. There is a map of the state in the back of the book, and a list of educational facts about Maryland that children will find useful and interesting. Ms. O'Connell plans to set one mystery for Max to solve in each of the fifty states and list facts about each.
Besides being educational, the mystery is entertaining. Miracle Max is the daughter of two police dogs, Miracle, her mother, and her father, Max. Though she didn't follow in her parents' pawsteps as police dog, Max still loves a mystery. She uses her keen sense of smell and hearing to guide her as she hunts for her missing family, and the frightened and hurt child that she can hear crying somewhere in the village where she lives.
Max is a wonderful dog, and the story of her Secret Mission also teaches children the value of following their parents rules, even though those rules sometimes seem foolish. They are rules made for a reason, and unless someone else's life is at stake, they should never be disobeyed.
The illustrations in the book are in black and white, and most of them would be ideal for coloring with pencils. It is a book I would want my children to enjoy, if I had any. I would also let them join the Miracle Max Mystery Club. Those details are also in the book. I would like to see the rest of the series, and even more. Max has a lifetime of mysteries to solve.