I recently came across a kids’ book called The Explorers: The Door in the Alley and was instantly drawn in by the fun, cool-looking cover art. But it was the fact that it was an adventure story, starring both a boy and girl lead, that made me want to take a closer look.
I was lucky enough to get a chance to chat with the author, a Toronto writer named Adrienne Kress, who was lovely, funny and passionate about encouraging kids to love to read. So, I brought the book home to read with my oldest daughter. As soon as we got to the part with a pig in a tiny hat, I knew we had found a hilarious story we were both going to enjoy.
The Explorers is the first of a series of books for kids ages 8 – 12 that revolves around two ordinary kids, Sebastian and Evie, and a secret society known as The Explorers Society. In this book, the two adventurers come together to uncover the fate of the Filipendulous Five, a famous group of explorers that mysteriously disbanded years ago and to whom Evie has a personal connection.
It’s an exciting, fun, absurd story from the magical realist genre, meaning it’s set in our reality but is slightly heightened with unreal things. It appeals to both boys and girls equally—and was also written with reluctant readers in mind.
“I myself was a reluctant reader as a child,” Adrienne explained to me. “So, I tend to write the kinds of books I would want to read. The book is fast-paced, there’s a lot of dialogue and action which helps move things along, there are mysteries to solve and questions kids can work out along the way.”
The illustrations and little footnotes also add humour and fun, which makes it less intimidating and more enjoyable and accessible for all young readers.
The thing that struck me the most when speaking to Adrienne was who the story was coming from—a writer with a magical and refreshing outlook on the world and on life. And it’s no wonder. She grew up with what sounded like a pretty amazing childhood, with 2 teachers for parents.
“It’s quite a lucky thing to have parents as teachers. They had summers off. So, we spent our time in farm country and for 2 solid months, I would run through forests and fields, climb, play, bike on dirt roads.”
I loved listening to her talk about her vivid memories of stories and adventures she had as a kid, how she was obsessed with space, her love of a good portal story (like Alice in Wonderland where you travel to a magical world). It all translates to a kids’ book that is, quite simply, a really cool adventure.
“I can’t look at the world as anything other than absurd and wonderful. There are wonderfully delightful things here. There are so many places in our world that are pretty magical.” she said.
While there are a couple of villains who are a touch on the scary side (a man with a melted face, and another with wires sticking out of his jaw), overall Kress focuses her writing on telling a story that’s really good fun.
Yet, at the same time, she doesn’t ignore the fact that people are complicated. One of her main characters, Evie, is trying to find her place in the world and determine what family means. Sebastian, her other lead, is a rule-follower, but he is assigned to do something that bends or breaks the rules.
We learn that things are not always simple. People aren’t all bad or all good. Mistakes are made. But we learn it all in a fantastically wonderful book, told in a unique, fun style.
“Comedy, absurdity, adventure and mystery is where it all comes together,” says Kress.
My daughter and I love it.