An Interview with Glen Downey, Author of Into the Fire
July 2, 2012 in Book Club Possibility, Downey Glen, Elementary Educators, Making Book to Book Comparisons, Making Personal Connections, Middle Grade Novel, Reading Skills, Research Ideas Tags: author intervi, middle grade novels for boys
I am excited to welcome Glen Downey, author of Into the Fire, a middle-grade book. Here’s a synopsis from Amazon: “It’s been a year since Alice Booker disappeared — a year since she went to work one morning at the Byron County Library and never came back. Her son, Max, is still trying to come to terms with her disappearance when he strikes up a unusual friendship with Becky Smart, a tough new kid at Lincoln Middle School that everyone quickly learns not to mess with. When Max discovers there’s been a fire in his mom’s old office at the library, he and Becky form the Book-Smart Detective Agency to investigate. What they discover about the fire, and about the strange circumstances surrounding it, plunge them into a mystery that is almost too impossible to be imagined.”
WOW! As kids, can you remember wanting to be a detective? I can–I used to love to play Charlie’s Angels! But I digress. I got to ask Glen some questions about his new book and his writing career, so here we go. . .
Margo: Welcome, Glen, to Read These Books and Use Them. I’m excited to talk to you about your latest children’s book, Into the Fire. From the synopsis above, we know it has some mystery and adventure. How would you describe your book?
Glen: Into the Fire is the first installment of The Book-Smart Detective Agency series. At its heart, it’s a book about relationships: the lost relationship between Max and his mother, Alice, who disappears about a year before the novel opens, and his unique relationship with Becky Smart, the new kid at school whose tough exterior is not quite what it seems. It’s also a book about the insatiable curiosity of young people and about how brilliant they can be when given the opportunity to think for themselves. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it’s a story about the power of books and reading, although to understand this fully, one needs to read the story.
Margo: Yes, of course! I am imagining it has something to do with the fact his mom is a librarian. . .(smiles) What age reader is it appropriate for and why?
Glen: When I came up with the concept for The Book-Smart Detective Agency, I wanted the series to be for middle-schoolers. This is a group of kids that I’ve worked with for many years as an educator. Into the Fire really speaks to kids in Grades 4-8, and its two protagonists are in Grade 7 and 8 respectively. I feel strongly, though, that teenagers and adults will enjoy the book as well.
Margo: I think that is true more and more–we are all reading each other’s books. What made you want to write Into the Fire?
Glen: I wanted to write a novel for young people about the special power of books and reading. As a kid, I was an avid reader; and as such, I was often encouraged to read books that would “challenge” me. I distinctly recall a conversation with a school librarian when I was a young lad who was bemoaning the fact that I seemed interested in books that were “below my reading level.” I can remember thinking at the time (not saying, of course, but thinking) that this was rather bad advice. I spent countless hours reading books like Two-Minute Mysteries, Encyclopedia Brown, Choose Your Own Adventure stories, Fighting Fantasy game books, comics, and the endless manuals and tomes of fantasy role-playing games, like Dungeons and Dragons. Ultimately, Into the Fire is a story that is easy and fun to read, but also shows kids how reading can unlock the imagination.
Margo: It sounds wonderful! And you mentioned a couple of book series that I used to love. So, what’s next for you?
Glen: I am currently hard at work on the second book of the series: Boomtown. The Renaissance Fair comes to Byron County, and Max and Becky are enlisted to solve the mystery of priceless jewels that go missing. In doing so, they uncover a bit more about how the circumstances in the first book are connected to the disappearance of Max’s mother. I am hoping to release Boomtown in the fall, so stay tuned!
Margo: Sounds great–who doesn’t love a good missing jewelry mystery?! What themes are you exploring in Into the Fire?
Glen: The book explores a variety of themes, including friendship, loss, the conflict between good and evil, the wonderful curiosity of young people, and, of course, the power of books and reading as a way of unlocking the imagination.
Margo: I like to tell teachers and parents how they can use books with children. What are some activities they could do to go along with this book?
Glen: As an educator with a profound interest in twenty-first century learning and inquiry-based models of education, I look at Into the Fire as an opportunity to foster critical thinking and a love of reading. A great way to use the novel is to put students in the role of Max and Becky and to have them use the principles of inquiry to try and uncover the connections between what is happening in the novel and the disappearance of Max’s mother, Alice. This is a mystery that will be slowly unraveled over the course of the series, and so it’s a great opportunity to allow students to think critically, make connections, draw upon prior experiences, uncover and interpret clues, and use their inquiring minds in the same way that Max and Becky must use them. As well, without revealing too much, each of the books will explore—in a rather unique way—a particular historical place and time, and this is a great opportunity in the context of a social science or English classroom for kids to do research on the characters and personalities that shaped these historical moments. The cover of Into the Fire provides some clues about the first book, but I’ll stop there. . .
Margo: This sounds so great. What an exciting series! I love that each of these explores a historical place and time, too. Anything else you’d like to share about yourself, your books, or Into the Fire?
Glen: Into the Fire was a joy to write, and I’m eagerly looking forward to the release of Boomtown. The former is the first book that I’ve released exclusively for a digital platform, and I’m interested in seeing the response it gets from readers. When I haven’t been working on Book-Smart, I’ve been writing children’s books for Rubicon Publishing, a wonderful and rewarding relationship going on ten years. Indeed, I’m always at work on new and exciting projects, especially ones that look to foster and develop basic literacy skills and to engage kids who are reluctant readers. In addition, I am a regular reviewer for the graphic novel division of Publishers Weekly, PW Comics World, and was a member of the panel that selected the top comics and graphic novels for 2011.
Margo: How cool! My husband and stepson are jealous! Readers, if you are interested in checking out Into the Fire, please visit www.smashwords.com/books/view/166765. The book has been released for the Kindle and a variety of other digital platforms. You can also follow Glen’s work at www.glendowney.ca, or on Twitter @GlenDowney.