By writing books that appeal to different genders, an Aussie children’s author is hoping to engage reluctant readers.
It's evident that Louise Park loves what she does: Her eyes shine as she describes her work on Star Girl and Boy Vs Beast, two series that her packaging company Paddlepop Press created.
“I wrote Boy Vs Beast with my friend Susanne McFarlane (with whom Park started the publishing company Pop & Fizz), and we did most of it on Skype,” says Park. “We’d discuss the story and practically act it out. I’m sure we sounded like two kids playing a computer game.”
Park was in Kuala Lumpur recently to promote Star Girl, one of Paddlepop Press’s latest projects. The 16-book series, which takes readers through the three years protagonist Addie Banks spends at a space station boarding school, is published in Malaysia by Scholastic.
Although it’s quite common for packaging houses to assign a group of writers to a single series, Star Girl was written entirely by Park. “I charted the entire story on a white board so that I knew what was going to happen to Addie even before any of the books were written. It was tricky to keep to the story arc as well as to write each book so that it stands alone,” says Park who spent an average of three weeks on each Star Girl title.
The two series are quite gender-specific in their content (monsters for boys, boarding schools for girls), and Park confirms that the gender of potential readers was taken into consideration when creating the books.
“Star Girl sets out to show females that they too can be heroes just like boys – that they can be valued for their thinking skills and their abilities. They too can have the action, be capable and succeed, even when they’re not perfect or look a certain way,” says Park. “As for Boy Vs Beast, it was created to turn disengaged readers on by taking reading to them on their terms, and we have achieved that.”
A former primary school teacher in Australia, Park is passionate about promoting literacy. “I’m aware of the struggle some children have in cracking the reading code, and I know how hard it can be to find material that engages individuals with individual likes and needs. For this reason, I create and write series that set out to make lifelong readers,” says Park.
Thus, the books she writes are “carefully levelled to maximise literacy and English acquisition”. That may not sound very inviting, but Park is also committed to creating “engaging and compelling stories” featuring subjects and activities that kids are known to have an interest in.
For instance, Boys Vs Beast “hijacks the computer gaming world and delivers action-packed stories that boys want to read”. Says Park, “I have testimonials from parents who write to me thanking me for Boy Vs Beast because it was the one thing that made a reader and a satisfied reader of their child – that’s what we are aiming for.”
According to Park, girls and boys are reading both series, but Boy Vs Beast does have more male readers, while Star Girl appeals more to girls. This doesn’t bother her.
“Girls love Star Girl for its sense of fun and adventure. They’re able to identify with a real, not perfect, ‘every girl’ type main character who triumphs emotionally and who relies on her skills and brains. Addie is a role model who breaks the stereotype and I am happy about that,” says Park.
She adds that the series is globally inclusive and globally aware: “This is important to me and it’s important for our children to see these things reflected in their literature. The girls who go to this boarding school and on missions do so as solid global citizens caring for the worlds, environments and inhabitants in space.
“The space setting is a vehicle, a mirror image of our world where issues like clean water for everyone, air quality, environmental issues and endangered species can be addressed.”
A TV group has just acquired the options to Star Girl so fans of the series can look forward to watching their favourite space cadet on the telly soon. A television show should also drive new readers to the books. Park hopes to be consulted on the TV script, as she knows it’s possible for dramatisations of books to stray drastically from the style, feel and even content of the source material.
“The film of The Book Thief was really good, though,” she says. “I love that book so much and was quite apprehensive about watching the film, but I needn’t have worried, because it was perfect.”
Park is also a fan of young adult (YA) fiction novelist John Green’s work and admits to crying buckets over his latest novel The Fault In Our Stars.
“I’d like to work on a YA novel someday,” says Park. “I’ll need to set aside some time for that.”
As she’s currently working on a new series for girls for HarperCollins, and one for younger kids with McFarlane, Park’s fans will probably have to wait a while before they get to read that YA book.