Summer vacation has just begun at our house and so has what I like to call the overplaying-of-video-games season. This week on the blog I’m featuring an author who writes, among other books, a series for kids inspired by the game Fortnite, which, of course, needs little introduction. 😉 But Rebecca’s story is very interesting because, for her, writing for children all started as a way to help her dyslexic and autistic son take a greater interest in reading. Please welcome author Bec J. Smith to the blog. And if you need books to interest your kids when the gaming screens have been turned off, look no further.
Q. Hi Bec. Please tell us a little bit about yourselves and your books.
A. Hi! We’re an authoring trio. I’m Rebecca Laffar-Smith and I write with my daughter Kaylie and my son Joshua to create our Bec J. Smith books. We currently have two series.
P.I. Penguin is a cute full-colour illustrated detective series for middle graders. We started that series in December 2014 as a way to inspire Josh to read. Josh is both dyslexic and autistic so he’s had a lot of difficulty with language. He didn’t much like books, but he does absolutely love penguins. So with that series we create fun, flowing, rhythmic stories full of bright, colorful illustrations. We include real world places and animals, and our very special penguin detective who is always keen to solve the case and help his friends.
Our new series, GameNite, is a black & white illustrated chapter book inspired by the video game, Fortnite. Joshua loves playing games and Fortnite has been a big hit with our whole family. Even his grandmother has fun playing it with him. One day, while editing Fortnite Let’s Play video footage to upload to Joshua’s YouTube channel the characters seemed to come alive for us so we captured them on the page and told their story. These books are almost transcriptions of the gameplay, but include some fun characterization. We’re looking forward to continuing to explore this series but need the help of our readers to make that happen.
Q. What sort of books do you write?
A. We write books that inspire kids to want to read. One of the things Joshua struggled with when he was first learning to read was that the leveled readers he was given in school were boring. They didn’t really have stories in them. Just words and decodable sequences of letters that sort of went together but didn’t create anything interesting to reward all the effort Joshua was putting in to reading them. So, we focus on creating stories that are interest-driven rather than age or ability-focused. We’re very big on supporting early readers, reading together, and focusing first on reading for the love of great stories. We believe that if kids love stories, they’ll master reading because they’re keen to uncover more stories for themselves.
Q. WHY do you write what you write?
A. It all started as a way to get Joshua to read. He was really struggling in school. From kindergarten to grade three he struggled to learn. So we started homeschooling him from grade four.
When we first started homeschooling I introduced a rule that said, “You never have to read anything.” It might seem counter-intuitive, especially since as a science fiction and fantasy novelist I’m a big lover of reading myself. But Joshua was experiencing a lot of anxiety around books and words. I wanted to first help him get past his fears and instead bring back a love for stories. So we started by taking the pressure off. Soon he was bringing me book after book after book for me to read to him. But he still wasn’t really practicing reading for himself. That’s when I thought we’d try writing stories together.
I actually made that first book just for him. We worked on the story, the characters, and the words together. Then I commissioned our illustrator, Adit Galih to take my storyboard sketches and turn them into picture book illustrations. I printed just one copy of that book for us. But when the book arrived, Josh said, “I hope other kids love it too.” I realized that the stories we write together for Joshua could actually inspire other kids just like him to love reading too.
So that’s why we write. To help kids like Joshua discover the true magic of stories.
Q. That’s wonderful. So where are you located?
A. We live in Western Australia. And we absolutely love setting our P.I. Penguin stories here too. We have some really beautiful landmarks and attractions. We also have so many fabulous animals. And we love going into schools around the state and sharing the excitement with kids who have actually been to the places featured in the books.
Q. Tell us something about your work that makes you proud.
A. I think one of the things that makes me most proud about creating children’s books is the opportunities it has given us to take storytelling into schools and libraries. I love being able to share this creative energy with other children. They’re so full of ideas and it’s such an important thing to nurture that creative energy while they’re young because it fades if it’s not given room to flourish. Hearing how much a child has loved our visit, or was inspired to create their own story, or loved seeing that dyslexic people can read and write great stories, or that autistic kids can still do amazing things, etc. All of those inspirations mean so much to me. It’s such an honour and a privilege to have this opportunity to reach children in that way.
Q. What has been your biggest challenge?
A. For us, the biggest challenge is financial. I’m a single mother with a disability raising two special needs children so it’s a real struggle to balance time, energy, and finances. We invest a lot of money in our books. We commission our illustrations, hire our editor, and do print runs in bulk. We also do direct sales and international shipping. That all adds up in expenses. And these days, it’s getting harder and harder to have organic reach and visibility which means we’ve been needing to invest in advertising just to maintain the sales we used to get without it.
Because I’m juggling the children’s books, my career as a Sci Fi Fantasy author, homeschooling, therapies, and general household chores and parenting, all around my own chronic health conditions, it’s tough to get that balance where I’m putting enough time into the activities that earn money as I am in the one that makes up our expenses. We live tight, but each time we publish a book I feel like we’re having to work harder than ever to break even and save up enough to afford to publish the next book.
Finding easier ways to reach our audience would make a big difference. As much as we originally created the books for Josh, we’d really love to share them with more readers. That’s why I’m planning to put more focus on really engaging with and rewarding our Little Owl subscribers in 2019. I’d love to reach more schools and libraries too.
Q. What are your plans for the future in terms of publishing?
A. This year we’re planning to publish three more P.I. Penguin stories. We’ll also follow our readers with GameNite. If there’s demand for more we’ll do more of those. We find them a lot of fun to write, and they flow relatively quickly, so they don’t take long to create but we need to sell enough copies to cover the expense which is why we paused at book three and are waiting to break even before continuing the series.
I also have a really cool dinosaur time travel series I’d like to do at some point. And we’ve been tinkering around with ideas for some interactive choose-your-path type stories. We’ve got way more stories than we have time or budget to write and publish. But that means we have lots of room to grow as our income does. We reinvest everything we make from our Bec J. Smith books into making more Bec J. Smith books and we’re finding their growing popularity is very encouraging. It has us excited about the future.
Fast-paced action, fun-filled adventure, and short, page-turning chapters will inspire your 8- to 12-year old Fortnite fan to love reading.
Josh Johnson is trying to find his way back to the life he must have led before, but it’s not going well. Finding himself on a flying bus is confusing enough. At least skydiving is easy, well, easier than facing a pickaxe-wielding madman. Avoiding snipers is harder. If Josh wants to escape this island battleground, he’s going to have to fight for that win. Unfortunately, surviving armed enemies isn’t Josh’s biggest challenge. A darker and more deadly danger is closing in. The Storm is coming.
GameNite is the first in a series of fun, action-packed stories inspired by real gameplay in the Fortnite universe. It’s a great way to get reluctant readers to disconnect from the game for a few minutes and pick up a book. GameNite is perfect for Fortnite, PubG, or Overwatch fans, as well as readers of video game books for kids like The Legend of Battle Island, Diary of a Minecraft Zombie, the Trapped in a Video Game series, Cube Kid books, and Fortnite Tales.
Although inspired by real gameplay, this Fortnite story is unofficial and not endorsed by Epic Games. Please support Epic Games by downloading Fortnite. It’s free to play, a lot of fun, and CassyJosh would love to see readers in the game!
“I had been looking for some Fortnite-themed reading for my 10 yr old son so was happy to come across this one. My son actually saw the cover of this book after I had downloaded & nearly snatched the phone from my hands (he’s a bit obsessed with gaming at the moment). So, this was really a perfect fit for him. He devoured the first book & is eager to read the next.” M. Wal – 5 Stars
Amazon Purchase links:
Where can people keep up with you and buy your books?
If you’d love to know more about our books or connect with us directly I recommend joining our Little Owls: https://www.aulexic.com.au/join-little-owls/
You can also see all the books we have available from our small publishing house at Aulexic: https://www.aulexic.com.au
If you or your kids love video games you can also follow Joshua on his YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/TheCassyJosh
Thanks, as always, for reading! I hope you’ll check out these books and links!
Disclosure: Some of the links above are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. ~Rosco’s Reading Room