Ready, set, go!
Talk a bit about Attack! Boss! Cheat Code!: A Gamer’s Alphabet (available now!). What made you want to write a lightly ironic gamer book?
What made me want to write the book, period, was my realization through my clueless conversations with my own kids of just how baffling contemporary gaming lingo can be to the uninitiated — and also the realization that the decades-old culture and history of video games may be lost on gamers who aren’t tuned in to all that came before Minecraft and Angry Birds. I saw Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! as a fun opportunity to spread the knowledge and understanding around a bit more evenly among gamers of varying levels of experience.
But the lightly ironic tone? That came from trying to figure out the ideal narrator. Who would have the authority and inclination to bring readers up to speed on all these gaming terms? I came to see that narrator as a knowing, benevolent teenager — someone who’d be willing and able to explain things to the reader, cool enough to do so with a sense of humor and secure enough to share what they know without being condescending about it.
Now on to The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch (spring 2015), which marks the first but not last time we’re sharing an (amazing) illustrator, Don Tate. How did you come to learn about Lynch and what about his life inspired you to write this book? What do you think Lynch would make of American in 2014?
Several years ago, I saw the PBS documentary Reconstruction: The Second Civil War (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/reconstruction/). The early life of John Roy Lynch — his 10-year journey from enslaved teenager to U.S. congressman — was one of the lenses through which the documentary told the larger story of Reconstruction. John Roy Lynch made such huge strides at such a young age, and I was captivated by the glimpses of his engaging personality that came through in his autobiography.
But the book is as much about Reconstruction as it is about this one man. Most of what little I’d learned in school about Reconstruction, I’d forgotten until I saw that documentary. After seeing it, I was consumed by the desire to try to explain why the Civil Rights movement occurred nearly a century after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation rather than in the years immediately following the end of the Civil War.
I think John Roy Lynch would be taken aback by how much inequality persists in the United States in 2014, but he’d possibly be even more surprised by the low levels of political engagement among young people. I hope he’d appreciate the potential for his own story to inspire improvements on both counts.
What character from children’s lit would you like to spend a day gaming with? What would that day be like?
By “character,” I can consider real people with character, right? Because at the YALSA Symposium in Austin last month, I met a librarian who was over-the-moon enthusiastic about Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! because a video game — The Legend of Zelda — had been the thing that turned her into a reader when she was a kid. She got tired of relying on a (perhaps not entirely reliable) older sibling to read the narrative text to her, so she learned to read it herself.
So, she and I could probably have a good conversation while gaming. But spending an entire day gaming isn’t for me. I’d get fidgety after an hour, tops, and suggest we take my dog for a walk.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a new school-visit presentation. I’ve gotten really good at “Bob and Joe and Shark and Train,” my standard presentation based on The Day-Glo Brothers and Shark Vs. Train. But in addition to Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! and The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch, I’ve got four new picture books coming out in the next 15 months, so it’s time to set the tried and true aside and come up with something that does right by my new books as well as my older ones.
Once I’ve got that done, I have a couple of nonfiction projects that I’m at the very early stages of researching, and I hope to mainly spend the month of January playing with new fiction picture book ideas. Do you have any you’re not using?
Chris, of course, is just kidding, because he knows the fun to be had, seeking new ideas in a new year.
Happy holidays, everyone! And all the best in the new year!