All posts by Mikey Brooks

About Mikey Brooks

When he's not saving the world from evil villains, drawing, or changing diapers, Mikey Brooks is writing, or napping. He’s published six middle-grade books, including the best-selling series "The Dream Keeper Chronicles" and several picture books. He lives in Utah with his smokin’-hot- wife, their four kiddos, and the world’s ugliest dog. You can find out more about him, his art and books at: www.insidemikeysworld.com.

Retellings

Like most people, I am a huge fan of retellings—familiar stories, legends, or myths told in a new fantastic way. You see this happen a lot in the movies, especially with fairy tales. We’ve all heard of the story of Cinderella. How many different variations of that story have you seen or read? Me? I have seen tons! In fact one of my wife’s favorite films is a retelling Endless-Coverof Cinderella. It was cleverly titled: A Cinderella Story (I know, not too creative there.) One of my favorite Cinderella movies is Ever After. They tried to put a more historical twist to the story and make it more about friendship and invention that helps save our heroine rather than magic and a fairy godmother. One of my favorite retellings of Cinderella in book form is Ella Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine. Even one of our Emblazon authors, Jaclyn Weist, just released another retelling of Cinderella in her new book Endless. As you can see, I can go on and on naming all the retellings of just one familiar story.

As writers we like to use the familiar story as the skeleton or premise on which to build our new telling. As readers we like the closeness we feel with retellings because they feel like an old friend.

Noah's_Ark_on_Mount_Ararat_by_Simon_de_MyleI had a wonderful experience recently reading a collection of books all based of a retelling of stories from the bible. Everyone has heard of the story of Noah’s Arc and his mission to save mankind and all the animal kingdom. I would never have thought to take that familiar story and do a retelling of it. Furthermore, I would never have thought to put the story in space and set it way in the future. How awesome does that sound? D. Robert Pease, also an Emblazon author, does just this with his fantastic books: the Noah Zarc series.

In the first book, Noah Zarc: Mammoth Trouble, we get a retelling of Noah’s mission to save the animals. But you wouldn’t guess that from its synopsis:

24fdccbbf14631708e714c88cec439b0“Noah lives for piloting spaceships through time, dodging killer robots and saving Earth’s animals from extinction. Life couldn’t be better. But the twelve-year-old time traveler learns it could be a whole lot worse. His mom is kidnapped and taken to Mars; his dad is stranded in the Ice Age; and Noah is attacked at every turn by a foe bent on destroying Earth… for the second time.”

This is such a fun story! What I like most about the main character, Noah, is that he is disabled. He can’t walk. I think this was an even better twist on a hero’s tale. How many heroes to we see or read about that are disabled? Not too many. The ones that I have read like Noah Zarc and the Farworld Series have touched me deeply. I think kids facing their own challenges can see how disabilities, large or small, can be overcome and turned into strengths.

The second book, Noah Zarc: Cataclysm, is a retelling of Moses and the exodus of his people. Again you wouldn’t get that from the synopsis:

08eb9044cd1429dc01d9f44725731fae“Thirteen-year-old Noah Zarc rockets to Venus in a quest to learn more about his past. He refuses to believe his father is really the monster everyone says he is. Could there be valid reasons for everything he’s done, including abandoning Noah at birth? While searching for answers to secrets no one wants to talk about, even those that have remained hidden for over a thousand years, Noah becomes embroiled in a mission that could cause the greatest cataclysm in the history of the solar system. Will his name, Noah Zarc, be forever linked to the most devastating crime in humanity’s existence, all because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time?”

The third book, Noah Zarc: Declaration, takes a different approach to a retelling. One that I really like! Pease takes on another familiar story just one closer in time and more connected to US citizens: a retelling of the American Revolution. Again, you wouldn’t guess that from the synopsis:

noahzarcdeclarationcover“As battles rage across the solar system, Noah must work to join together a rag-tag bunch of miners, farmers, and scientists who would rather just live in peace. With only a time-traveling ship full of animals and a general from the history books, the Zarc family has to stand against the full might of the Poligarchy. Will the truth about what really happened a thousand years in the past be enough to stop total war, or will Noah and his friends need to find another way to bring down a dictator?”

I think the key in creating any retelling is not to make the story it’s based on the largest concern in the book. Pease does an excellent job with his books because the main focus is always his main character: Noah. This is more of an emotional journey of overcoming the greatest of obstacles more than it is a just a retelling. Stories that can accomplish this become the favorites we continue to read over and over.

What are some retellings that you have enjoyed?

Audiobooks—Oh, how I love thee

I want to start this post of by saying I LOVE audiobooks. I love them so much I gave up a publishing contract with a good publisher over my audiobook rights. As some might know I work full time as a freelance illustrator and cover designer. Drawing can take up a lot of time throughout the day. Instead of listening to music, I listen to books. I average about 3 audiobooks a week. They help me get through my day and get through my “to be read list”. Audiobooks make up at least 90% of my day to day reading. The majority of them are middle-grade books.

Why am I such a lover of audiobooks? Check out this list below to find out. There are many benefits from reading an audiobook. These are just a few:

  • Storytelling out loud goes back to the beginning of time. It is how we all used to cute-15719“read” a story. The love of the spoken word grew into all sorts of other forms of entertainment: readings, theater, and movies. When we listen to an audiobook we are embracing that love that is fused in our very makeup.
  • Listening to books can actually help your reading levels. Listening to how words are pronounced and how sentences are spoken aloud can actually strengthen your reading. This is why parents are encouraged by doctors to read aloud to their children at least twenty minutes a day.
  • Most narrators have experience in the theater and they showcase that during their productions of audiobooks. Narrators diversify the books by giving different voices to each of the characters and making the senses more real and gripping. I remember my first time listening to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, read by Jim Dale. It was fantastic! I had read that book probably half a dozen times before listening to the audiobook. To be honest, I never enjoyed it as much as I did when Jim Dale read it to me. I really believe that it also promotes literacy to children and gets them excited to read on their own.read-316507
  • Audiobooks are readily available. Most libraries carry them, and with companies like iTunes and Audible, audiobooks are at our figure tips. This is particularly nice because lots of teachers encourage kids to listen to the audiobook as they follow along in the print version. This too helps advance reading levels.
  • Piggybacking on reading along with audiobook I’d like to share a little about Amazon’s Whispersync technology. You can purchase an eBook from Amazon and then get the audiobook (also at a discounted price of normally $1.99) and then you can listen to the book as you read on your kindle. It’s quite fascinating. Each word highlights as the narrator reads along. I think this is a marvelous tool for those that want to advance their reading skills, especially kids.

51JwCnlVzJL._SL500_AA300_PIaudible,BottomRight,13,73_AA300_Did you know that many of the Emblazon authors have audiobooks available? I just found this out myself. They have all been added to my “listening list”. The few that I have had the opportunity to let my ears devour have been sensational. They took me right into another world and kept me entertained up until the very end. Like all good books they left me with a linger of that world still on my mind.

I invite you to listen to an audiobook. If you never have, oh what a treat you are in for. If you have before keep doing it. If your first experience wasn’t so good. Try again. Most people want to tackle an audiobook by listening to something brain challenging like War and Peace. Not that it isn’t a great book, but it might not be your best audiobook “first”. Make your “first” be a middle-grade book…seriously. You will have fun. You will laugh. You will cry. You will become a fan of audiobooks for a lifetime.

List of audiobooks by Emblazoner authors:

 Some of my “recent” favs to give a listen:

Let me know how your audiobook experiences are going. I love to hear what others think of audiobooks. If you need more suggestions just let me know I have a wickedly long list of favorite audiobooks. My top favorite right now: The Dream Keeper Chronicles books 1 and 2 (I know, I know those are my books. But I still love them). Now go listen to a book!

Tips From a Middle-Grade Panel

Farworld_Water.FRecently I attended a writer’s conference in Utah where I was invited to participate on a panel for children’s writers. I was the only author on the panel representing middle-grade indie authors (or those that are self-published). It was a wonderful experience to sit next to top selling authors like Chad Morris, author of Cragbridge Hall series, and J. Scott Savage, author of the Farworld series and The Case File 13 series. Sometimes as an indie author I feel dwarfed when sitting next to these big names. However, I’ve learned they’re just like me: there to ‘write stories on the heart of children’

cover1-v2The panel started with the moderator asking us why we wrote children’s books. Many of the panelists had the same response that I did. It was a middle-grade book that sparked our love of reading. For me it was The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. I was a kid that didn’t have many friends, and I was isolated on a farm surrounded by a haunted forest (at least I thought it was haunted). That book helped me connect with another world: one filled with magic. It was the book that helped me discover the type of person I wanted to be. It taught me a valuable life lesson: If I want something, I have to work hard to get it. Dorothy just wasn’t told at the beginning to use her shoes—she was told after she’d tried everything else. After she’d traveled miles and miles through a foreign land filled with dangerous creatures and faced an evil witch, then she found she had the power all along to get home. For me as a boy, that was priceless information. Now I write the books I would have loved to read when I was kid. I want my books to have that magical realism but somewhere hidden in the text, there’s a message about strength and hope.

15818470The next question was what is the most important thing to remember about writing children’s books. Many said to make them fun, engaging, thrilling, adventurous, ect. J. Scott Savage said to make them smart. He shared that when his editor at HarperCollins was reviewing the manuscript for Case Files 13: Zombie Kid, they asked him to change a few things that he just added. Scott was trying to make the book funnier by adding in some humor that would appeal to kids. Mostly body humor. (Think farts, boogers, etc.) When he asked why they wanted it removed, they said, “We want this to be a smart book.” What they meant was: sure kids love the funny body sounds, but adults don’t. With the growing number of adults reading middle-grade books, they wanted his book to be something that would be loved by both children and adults—a smart book. He made the changes and ended up getting a starred review from Kirkus Reviews (only given to the best of the best books).

Cragbridge-HallAnother question we had was what do include and exclude in middle-grade books. This was a fun question because we talked about several things that a lot of writers say DON’T put in middle-grade. One was horror. If your story has dark concepts you can still include them, you just don’t add a lot of details into it. With the lack of details, you allow the child to create in their mind what they can handle. Another was romance. A lot of people say, oh, don’t put that in. But guess what? Kids dig reading about “the crush”. Most of them actually will have their first crush around this time. But just like horror, you limit the details of things and you don’t move past the crush stage. Once that threshold is passed, you go into YA. We then moved on to what to include in middle-grade. Chad Morris shared that he liked his books to teach but in a fun way that kids didn’t pick up. (Yes, a little secret teachers and parents don’t want their kids to know: middle-grade books are filled with math, history, humanities, arts, and science). The trick is to make these educational moments fun. Chad’s books are a great example of this. His book is set in the distant future where kids learn through virtual experiences. Just check out the book trailer for The Inventor’s Secret (yes, it’s like a Hollywood movie preview). You’ll get how he makes history fun to learn about. Another set of books that have capitalized on the education fun aspect are The 39 Clues and The Infinity Ring series published by Scholastic. They teach loads of math, science and history in fun and fantastical ways.Cragbridge Hall Bk2_cover

As always, the panel ended with encouragement to aspiring authors. I counseled that in or to write really terrific middle-grade books you need to be reading really terrific middle-grade books. We learn as we read. (Yes, another little secret). I hope you have learned a little from this fun panel that I was able to take a part in. There was a ton of other great information given, but it was hard for me to take notes while up on the panel. Keep writing on the hearts of children! –Mikey Brooks

Showing Thanks

I love fall—the colors, the bite in the air, the smell of baking pies. There is something about fall that bri220px-Baum_1911ngs people together. It’s a time to snuggle up with a blanket and good book. Fall is also the season of thanks. The time we take to share with others what we are most grateful for. I want to express my thanks to a very special person who helped me as a tween.

I want to thank L. Frank Baum. Although he is long passed away, his presence is still strong in my home. I grew to love his books when I was a tween. Life was hard for me during those early years. I lived on my grandparent’s farm, miles away from friends or family. It was lonely and most of the time I wished I were far, far away.

One day I took my copy of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz with me to the woods.Wizard of Oz 1015 I had created a fortress in a clearing next to a pond. As I read, characters would come to life and fill the empty spaces of those woods. Fairies would dance in the trees and munchkins would sing as they fished. Callidas would haunt the dark corners between evergreens. Magic existed. I had found my escape.

Every day I would sneak out to those woods and bury myself in another adventure. I was with Dorothy when she narrowly escaped the Wicked Witch. I was with her when she returned to Oz. I fought alongside Glinda as she rescued Ozma and Dorothy from the Skeezers. Tick-Tok, Scarecrow, and Jack Pumpkin Head became my imaginary confidants. They helped m02e deal with not living with my mom and the bullies at school. Baum created a world with his books that transcended the pages of reality and helped me in my time of need.

Today, I still have my collection of Oz books. When my wife and I became pregnant with our first child, I read The Wizard of Oz to my daughter every night before she was born. Since, we have read it numerous times. I am glad she has latched onto the love I have for Baum and his books. I hope as she grows up she can find lessons hidden in the pages. I hope she can find the magic and bring it to life.

L. Frank Baum is the first American middle-grade author. He struggled at first to 04get his books known, but once he did, he found they were loved by the old and young alike. Thank you, Mr. Baum for being one of the caretakers of children. You have truly written your words on my heart and I will forever be grateful.

Please take a moment this month to honor those authors whose books have helped you in some way. Take a moment to say, “Thank you.” Books can touch our hearts in more ways than one. I am certainly grateful for those that have touched mine.

-Mikey Brooks, author of The Dream Keeper