Updated: Oct 27, 2019
Hi, everyone! So originally, these books weren't slated to publish until Spring 2019, but somewhere along the way the release date changed to a much earlier December 15, 2018. That means I am very late with this pub day interview, but still no less enthused to introduce you all to Taylor Zajonc's lo-hi chapter book series The Adventures of Samuel Oliver!
So first off, do you want to explain what your series is about and what hi-lo books are in general?
Set during the early days of World War I, THE ADVENTURES OF SAMUEL OLIVER follows a young apprentice diver born into the dangerous family business of deep sea diving. Thirteen-year-old Samuel Oliver spends the four books traveling with his father and father as they save lost sailors, unravel a deadly mystery aboard a lost steam liner, battle a giant squid for sunken treasure and dive to the heart of an ancient cave.
Hi-lo books are for young readers about 10-12 years old, but with lagging reading levels. These readers want engaging, age-appropriate stories, but written to a 1st to 3rd grade reading level. But they're not just for this age group--I read these books to my very own Samuel Oliver, my three year old son.
What was the inspiration behind Samuel Oliver and his courageous, seafaring family?
My own family adventures were an inspiration for this series. While Samuel Oliver uses hard-hat diving gear, the expeditions I accompanied used robotics and manned submersibles to explore the deep. I've been on voyages to the famed Titanic, the Bermuda Triangle, and helped discover several important deep sea shipwrecks over the course of my career. In this series, Samuel Oliver's father introduces him to the wonders of the ocean, just like my dad did for me.
Which book in the series is your favorite and are these titles meant to be read in a certain order?
Out of the four books, THE ANCIENT CAVE is closest to my heart. It's about Samuel and his father exploring the flooded passages of a frozen cave in the Alps. This book isn't about a rescue, a treasure, or even a mystery, but about the powerful family bond between father and son. Beyond that, read the titles in whatever order you want! Each story is a unique journey.
What was it like writing more mature story lines and characters for lower reading levels? Did that change the way you told or approached these stories at all?
I used to volunteer with kids just like the ones this book series is meant for, awesome students who loved reading but needed a little extra push to get started or catch up. It helped me strike the balance, developing exciting storylines but making sure the language used was simple and compelling. Any time I started to get stuck, I thought about those kids and how much they loved books that were written just for them.
In a similar vein, what was it like writing adventure for a children's audience rather than an adult audience? Your first three books (THE WRECKING CREW, RED SUN ROGUE, and THE MAW) are all adult novels, so I imagine switching gears might have been difficult at first!
It was a huge mindset change for me! But my life has also changed a great deal since I started writing. My first book THE WRECKING CREW came out the month after my son was born, he's now three years old. He was my inspiration for this series, I wanted to write books I could read to him when he was very young, books he could read himself once he was a little older. That's in addition to the hi-lo readers that will be enjoying this series.
Did you enjoy getting to see Geraldine Rodriguez's illustrations bring this series to life? Was her artwork what you envisioned in your head or were you surprised by any of its aspects?
Geraldine Rodriguez is an immensely talented artist. I knew it the moment I saw her portfolio. I really didn't visualize any particular style or take, I wanted to see what such a skillful illustrator could do with the story. It's always been my philosophy to step back and let amazing people make a project their own. I absolutely loved the work she did on this series, and I hope we get an opportunity to work together again in the future.