Chris McMahen remembers what he liked to read while he was growing up and as a parent, school librarian and classroom teacher, he knows what today’s kids like.
His previous books, Klutzhood, about a boy moving from a city to a small town and having difficulty fitting in, and Tabloidology, about a student newspaper and understanding fact and entertainment in the media.
He wrote his latest book, Box of Shocks, with the input of his class at Highland Park school in Armstrong last year.
“I was asking the students to write stories and I started writing myself. It was a great motivator. I was doing what they were doing and I would read what I was writing and get feed back,” he said. “I was a fairly imaginative kid and that sort of morphed into writing fiction. I took my class through the whole publishing process, from the editor’s suggestions, to the cover design, to seeing the advance copy.”
Box of Shocks follows Oliver, a boy who feels his parents are overprotective and who has secret, daring adventures. He keeps his mementos, the shocks, in a box which is left behind when the family moves.
Oliver sets about getting back into the old house and gets to know the boy his own age who lives there and learns about empathy and understanding for his parents and for the other boy.
“You have to tell a good story with good characters to get kids reading, then maybe you can inject a few other issues,” said McMahen.
He decided to add some adventure to the adventure in the book by having copies of Box of Shocks geocached around the province. The books are in safe, easily accessed areas which can be found with the GPS coordinates on his blog. He asks that when kids find the books, they replace them with another book that they enjoyed reading and then comment on the blog. Replacing the books means that children will be able to share their favourite reading for a long time to come.
“This is a good family outing, like a treasure hunt. No one has found a book yet as far as I know so I’m looking forward to hearing about their searches,” said McMahen.
He suggests that parents immerse kids in books at home and they will likely see the results in years to come.
“Reading offers something that computer games and other entertainment can’t. Reading engages the imagination,” said McMahen.
His advice to anyone who is interested in writing for children is to read extensively in the excellent children’s literature being published. Organizations like CANSCAIP (Canadian Society of Children’s Authors and Illustrators) and CWILLBC (Children’s Writers and Illustrators of B.C.) can provide more information.
Box of Shocks and McMahen’s other books are published by Orca Book Publishers. McMahen is donating the proceeds from book sales to Right to Play, an international non-profit organization that provides sports equipment for children in third-world countries.
For more information about the book, the geocaching and how to find the books around the province, (there are some in the North Okanagan), see www.boxofshocks.blogspot.com.