REVIEW and INTERVIEW
and the Case of the Missing Bottle
(P.I. Penguin Book 1)
and the Case of the Missing Bottle
(P.I. Penguin Book 1)
by Bec J. Smith
P.I. Penguin and the Case of the Missing Bottle is the first book in a new children's book series by Bec J. Smith and published by Aulexic, who specialise in books for children with language and literacy difficulties. The author joins me today for an interview and to share an excerpt from the book. You can also read my review. Also available: P.I Penguin and the Case of the Lost Little Penguin and P.I. Penguin and the Case of the Bell Tower Bandit.
The P.I. Penguin series is a collection of titles revolving around private investigator, P.I., and the mysteries and crimes he solves for his friends. P.I. is an adorable Australian Little Penguin and the books feature other Australian native animals as well as local Australian settings and interesting themes. The first book in the series, P.I. Penguin and the Case of the Missing Bottle, follows P.I.’s investigation into the disappearance of a favourite bottle for his bottlenose dolphin friend, Bella.
All of the Aulexic titles are especially formatted to support readers with language and literacy difficulties. They use the Dyslexie specialty font designed to ease reading and comprehension, particularly for people with dyslexia. The P.I. Penguin series also incorporates rich rhyme, meter, and vocabulary to keep readers engaged and enchanted. The full-colour illustrations are bright and vibrant, enthralling readers of all ages. The paperback editions are printed on high quality matte stock with pastel contrast that reduces glare and promotes a positive reading experience. The books create fabulous talking points in classrooms and offer parents and teachers an opportunity to share the joy of reading with the children in their lives.
In this, the first book of the P.I. Penguin series, P.I. Penguin is on the hunt for Bella Bottlenose’s missing bottle. Was it stolen by a nasty bottle thief? Let’s follow the clues to find out!
Join P.I. Penguin as he solves crimes and mysteries for his animal friends while trying to discover the truth of the mystery that set him on his path, that of his missing parents.
Aulexic titles are all carefully crafted to encourage language and literacy learning. Each story is rich with rhyme and rhythm, vivid concrete words, vibrant images, and dyslexia-friendly text and formatting. We focus on creating engaging stories to inspire even the most resistant readers.
Praise for the Book
"My 5 year old daughter loved this book. The rhymes are great for early readers who are learning rhyming and letter sounds. She also loved the illustrations, which are bright and inviting." ~ AvidReader
"The illustrations are bright and cheerful, and my daughter loved the rhyming prose." ~ Linda Wallace
"I love the rhythm of the sentences, more poetic than prose. And the rhymes come at the right beat and are almost always natural and perfect." ~ Rob Natiuk
"This book is targeted for ages four through twelve, though I believe it most appropriate for ages six through nine. Younger child might enjoy it as a read aloud or picture book." ~ Barbara Mojica
"P.I. Penguin is a wonderful short story that triggers the imagination for children, while teaching very important life lessons. It incorporates words that will give you the opportunity to expand your child's vocabulary. The illustrations are great as well. I can't wait to continue the series to see if P.I. Penguin finds what he is missing." ~ KT
"This is a very clever story, a delightfully fun book with cute drawings ..." ~ Israel Drazin
By Lynda Dickson
P.I. Penguin's parents have been missing for a while, but he has never stopped looking for them. In the meantime, P.I. Penguin contents himself with solving his friends' mysteries. Today, Bella the bottlenose dolphin comes to him with a case involving the disappearance of a piece from her precious bottle collection. Will P.I. Penguin be able to help out a friend in need?
The book begins with a glossary of tricky words and hints for parents reading to a child with learning difficulties. The rhyming text - in paragraphs instead of verse - is a pleasure to read. The story is illustrated throughout with gorgeous, full-page, colourful illustrations by Adit Galih depicting the cute sea creatures. I especially love the leafy sea dragons; you can find out more about these delightful creatures on the publisher's website. While you're there, sign up for the newsletter to receive free kids' activities and offers.
While this is a picture book, it is primarily aimed at middle grade children (ages 6 to 12) with reading or literacy difficulties. The font, paper, and colours have be especially chosen to promote a positive reading experience. The mystery of P.I. Penguin's missing parents will be a continuing theme throughout the series. This is a clever idea to keep the kids coming back to read the further adventures of P.I. Penguin.
Interview With the Author
I'm joined today by Rebecca Laffar-Smith, part of the Bec J. Smith writing team, to talk about her P.I. Penguin series. (Because we're both Aussies, I'm going to stick with Australian spelling today.)
For what age group do you recommend your book?
6-12 year olds.
What sparked the idea for this series?
It's amazing what can spring from a simple idea.
Originally, I started P.I. Penguin as a way to integrate language and story into the homeschool curriculum with my son, Joshua. Having experienced significant reading failure in traditional school due to dyslexia and autism, Josh had become a very resistant reader. In the first years of homeschooling I removed reading from the curriculum completely and didn't require him to read at all. If he wanted things read to him he just had to ask. Over time this evolved into his choosing to bring books to me wanting to enjoy their story, but I needed to develop that sparking interest into a greater interaction with words, language, and structure so, using his deep passion for penguins, I introduced brainstorming and story concept development with him. He embraced the idea, exploring (tentatively at first) his creativity and imagination. We planned and storyboarded the first P.I. Penguin book together with his sister, Kaylie, during a visit to Coogee Beach (where the book is set).
When we'd finished planning the story and drawing up the storyboards I sent those to a professional illustrator, Adit Galih, who came back with the full-colour illustrations. I set to work on layouts and design then used a POD [print-on-demand] service to create a "real" book for my son. There is something magical about being able to hold your creation in your hands and I knew bonding with his creativity would inspire him to want to repeat the process.
When the proof copies arrived, his hope that other children would love it as much as he did, and his desire to make more stories for kids like him, inspired us to take a plunge. Instead of just making a cute little picture book at home, we launched a publishing house. We transformed the cute little book into a high quality middle-grade picture book series that is professionally printed and produced. And, of course, one book would never be enough. We've since written more books in the series during other trips to fabulous places in Western Australia.
So, evolving from the simple idea of a DIY book, came Aulexic, a publishing house specialising in books for children with language and literacy difficulties like Joshua's. We hope not only to produce our own books, but also to publish the works of other authors and illustrators and create a thriving publishing business.
So, which comes first? The character's story or the idea for the series?
In the P.I. Penguin series the character definitely came first. But it's not true of all books. We're working on another series now where the concept has come first and we're having to find our way into the characters.
With P.I. Penguin, we started with our protagonist, our special Australian Little Penguin, P.I. in his black jacket and fedora. From that, evolved the idea of solving mysteries and the other characters in P.I.'s world that would have problems to solve.
What was the hardest part to write in these books?
For me, the storyboards are the hardest part. We brainstorm the ideas together, develop the characters together, and decide what should be on each page together, but Josh doesn't like to draw (he has fine motor skill difficulties) so creating a sense of the stories as pictures fell to me. He could tell me what the picture should look like, but I had to try and get it on the page.
Now, I've not ever been very good at drawing. Since we've gotten into children's picture books I've started to learn how to draw and I'm taking lessons and practising, but I'm still nowhere near talented enough as an artist to do the illustrations myself. Thankfully, we have a fabulous illustrator. Adit Galih is very talented. Still, I like to send him storyboards so that he has an idea of how we see the story on the page.
Hopefully, as I get better at drawing, this part won't continue to be so difficult in future books. And who knows, maybe, someday I'll illustrate my own children's books series although we hope Adit will stay with us through all of the P.I. Penguin books.
How do you hope this series affects its readers?
The main goal of all our Aulexic books is to foster a love of reading within children. We want kids to enjoy the rhythmic language, rich story, and vibrant illustrations so that they come back to our books over and over again. We want them to be inspired to try reading the words, even if they have language or literacy difficulties that make reading hard. We've taken special care to format the books in the most reader-friendly way we know based on research into Dyslexia and language impairments. We hope our books invite children to read together with their loved ones, and perhaps even imagine their own stories and create their own worlds when the book has ended.
How long did it take you to write the first book, P.I. Penguin and the Case of the Missing Bottle?
It depends which part you think about as the "writing" of the book. We could say we wrote it in a day, because the majority of the story and all of the storyboards came together in that one trip to Coogee Beach. After that, we still had to hone, shape, and edit the words which took about three more days. The illustrator created the illustrations in about a month. Then I did the layouts and design. I did that twice because we started with a different book size format and then had to remake it when we settled on the right size. Layouts probably took me about a two weeks each then because I was learning how to do it at the same time.
All up, I guess the book took about three months to create from concept to publication. But each book since has taken less and less time. Now we could probably go from concept to publication in a month - although we usually let the concept percolate a while before we start production.
In fact, P.I. Penguin and the Case of the Treetop Tagger (Book 4) took two days at King's Park to brainstorm and outline, three days to storyboard, two weeks to illustrate, four days to hone words, and three days for layouts and design. That means it took just one month to produce. It's scheduled for release in April. P.I. Penguin and the Case of the Parkour Prince (Book 5) is scheduled for August 2016 and we've got a concept and some ideas but haven't started to outline or storyboard it yet.
What is your writing routine?
Routine? Um ... Yes, I'll admit that we haven't got much of a routine. I also write science fiction, fantasy, romance, and nonfiction books, so I try to write every day. Theoretically, I have a writing block from 9am to 11am every weekday and a writing session 1pm to 3pm on Sundays. I'm still working at making that block consistent and regular enough to consider it a "routine", and just because I have that block doesn't mean I won't be writing at other times as well or instead of then.
When it comes to the P.I. Penguin books, we don't really have a routine for writing but we do have a pattern for getting the book from concept to publication. It usually starts with a day trip to a tourist landmark in Western Australia. For example, with P.I. Penguin and the Case of the Bell Tower Bandit, we took a ferry and visited the Perth Bell Tower. During that day trip we outlined and planned the book while taking photographs, then drew storyboards on a second visit. Those storyboards, outline, and photographs go to our illustrator, and when the illustrations come back we hone the words and do layouts.
It's a routine of sorts, but it's not scheduled to any particular time of day or even day of the week. We keep things fairly fluid and flexible so that the writing fits in around life, health, homeschooling, and running a publishing house.
How did you get your books published?
After originally printing a copy with a print-on-demand service we evolved into a professional publishing house so now our books are published through the Aulexic imprint. We have our paperback copies professionally printed on an offset-printer which prints them in bulk. As the publisher, I do the layouts, design, and upload of the ebook versions myself then distribute those from our Aulexic Direct service on our website, Amazon, and Kobo. We're hoping to spread to other ebook markets soon too. As an small, independent publisher I'm also in charge of developing our distribution and marketing, so a lot of time and work is put into doing that.
What advice do you have for someone who would like to become a published writer?
Write a lot, read a lot, learn a lot, and connect with others in the industry.
There are no real shortcuts to becoming a successful author so you have to bring a lot of passion and tenacity to the table. If you opt to go after a traditional publisher it can be a long haul that takes time and patience. Alternatively, if you opt to self-publish there is a significant learning curve that is not for the faint-hearted. Either way, it's important to approach it with a business mindset because a writer is never just a writer. They are a self-employed sole trader dealing in intellectual property rights, marketing, and accounts.
What do you like to do when you're not writing?
Because my range of writing subject matter is so varied, I spend a LOT of time writing (and production, marketing, distribution, accounting, and all the business side of running a publishing house). I also spend a lot of time reading books and articles and listening to videos and podcasts about writing and publishing.
When I'm not working, I'm spending time with my children.
We homeschool so some of that time involves learning through life, but we also play video games (Minecraft, Ark, and Hearthstones are the current favourites), go on excursions (where we usually get more ideas for stories to write), read books (because reading is just as important to writers as writing), watch interesting TV series and movies (usually paranormal, sci-fi, and crime), and play role-playing games (both tabletop and live action). When we get out of the house we'll head for the bikes, the rollerskates, or the park where we do parkour.
What does your family think of your writing?
It used to be something I did alone but as my daughter, Kaylie, and son, Joshua, got older it's something we've come to do together which makes it a lot more fun for everyone. Josh used to get frustrated when I spent too much time writing because he wanted me to spend more time with him. Now we've found a really good balance so both kids are really happy. Kaylie spends more time writing than I do which is really saying something.
Growing up, my brother and sisters thought my writing was an interesting hobby for me. My parents supported my creative endeavours but I don't know if people really believed I'd still be passionate or that I'd be making a career of it and share it with my children.
These days, everyone is very supportive and they love to see our new books as each one is published.
Fantastic. Please tell us a bit about your childhood.
I feel like I had a fairly normal childhood, because it felt normal to me. But, when I step outside of myself and look at the way our family worked when I was a child, it was a bit odd. You see, my brother was terminally ill. He had a condition that meant his skin became extremely damaged in the sun and he developed skin cancers even as an infant. He was older than me, so I lived my whole life with him. It didn't feel weird to me. Because of his condition, we spent very little time outside when the sun was up and a lot more time enjoying the night.
When we did go out he was fully covered, head to toe, including a full-face-mask helmet that probably freaked people out a lot. But he was my brother, so it was normal to me. We'd go bike riding, roam the neighbourhood from Fremantle to Bibra Lake. Our range was pretty extensive, and life was fun and active.
I wrote a lot even then. In fact, I wrote my first poem when I was six and, by the time I was twelve, I'd become an international award-winning poet. As I got older I experimented with longer fiction, including writing a (really terrible) novel when I was in high school.
Did you like reading when you were a child?
Absolutely. From the time I was learning to read and write I loved it all and spent a lot of time doing both.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I don't remember a moment of "realisation". It just always was, I guess. I was always a writer and I always wanted to make a career from the words I put on a page.
Despite publications of poetry as a teenager, I first had a real sense of being a writer when I sold my first article and started my venture as a freelance writer, editor, and web technician. I freelanced for 12 years but, although I was writing for a living, it wasn't fulfilling my soul because I never had time to work on the fiction that my heart craved.
It's only in the past year and a half that I've been the writer I always wanted to be. Now I can't imagine another path.
Did your childhood experiences influence your writing?
I think the growing pains of coming into adulthood have influenced it significantly more than my childhood. My Bipolar broke out when I was fifteen and I was suicidal and went off the rails, but it wasn't until I was in my twenties that I came to understand that and received a diagnosis that helped me make sense of it all. Living with a mental illness definitely shapes me and influences my writing. In fact, there is a lot of my Bipolar in Tori, the protagonist of The Flight of Torque, and I think the darkness of the Blood of the Nagaran series is shaped by my need to explore mental illness and come to peace with it.
Having said that, there are also aspects of my childhood that I'd like to come back to in story. Most particularly aspects of my teen years, but I'd also like to, someday, share the experience of having such a unique brother. I also imagine my estrangement from my father will probably feature in fiction at some point. I expect all aspects of life will continue to influence my writing into the future.
Which writers have influenced you the most?
The author that always comes to mind first is Traci Harding. I was a teenager when I read her Ancient Future Trilogy and realised that fiction books were a gateway for gifting people with extraordinary concepts in a way they won't reject or run from. Her books incorporated spiritual concepts but, because they were given the mask of fiction, readers could embrace them without feeling like they were reading a self-help book. She made me realise that I wanted to use fiction to impart universal truths and deep concepts too.
Since then, my friend H. Y. Hanna has probably influenced me the most because she's been a mentor and guide. She leads the way through the industry as an indie author and I follow in her footsteps, learn from her advice and experience. I also love to learn from the Self Publishing Podcast guys, Johnny, Sean, and Dave; and Joanna Penn from The Creative Penn. I'm always connecting with indie authors so that we can learn and grow together in the industry and I'm discovering that more and more indies are having success in the children's book field.
Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?
I don't hear from readers as much as I'd like. I think every author wishes they heard more from their readers (and sometimes secretly wonders if they even have any readers). *chuckles*
When I do hear from readers, it's wonderful to bask in their feedback. One of the things that inspires me the most is when readers ask about the next book in a series. Especially when they ask about the book that follows my supernatural thriller, The Flight of Torque. The Blood of the Nagaran series is a dark, gritty series that deals with concepts, emotions, and experiences that can be pretty intense. I get into quite a dark and intense space when I'm writing the books and it can be hard to push through that to get them written. That's why feedback from readers matters so much. Each time someone comments on The Flight of Torque, or asks when book two will be published, I get fired up and motivated to get it finished.
With the P.I. Penguin series and Aulexic in general, the feedback has always been very positive and warm with readers sharing how the books inspired their children. Sometimes teachers share how the books have been well-received and embraced by students. I love hearing of a child asking for the book over and over again. It's also great to hear when a resistant reader has enjoyed the book, or created their own stories to suit the pictures, or has picked out words to read themselves as they read together with an able reader. It's wonderful to feel like we're making a difference.
That's great. What can we look forward to from you in the future?
When it come to children's books we have plans for more P.I. Penguin books. We have three more planned for release this year, although we don't yet have our concept for the book due in December.
We're brainstorming some other book ideas too, one that deals with an intrepid adventurer who travels through time, another is a series of choose-your-own adventures on pirate ships.
I've also got a children's picture book in the works that I'm hoping to traditionally print that gives parents a way to talk to their children about death and funerals.
When it comes to my adult fiction, there will be two new Blood of the Nagaran novels later in the year and, if I can maintain momentum, also an accompanying novella.
I've got plans for more books in the two regency romance series I'm writing under a pen name.
Kaylie (my 15yo daughter) and I are working on a YA fantasy novel which is a lot of fun to write and is finally giving me the much awaited "dragons" book I've longed to write all my life.
I have a YA paranormal series on the backburner, not scheduled for publication yet but something I keep coming back to and continue to evolve and develop.
And I have a couple of non-fiction books for writers in the works too that are based on the workshops I give in live events.
Thanks for joining me today, Rebecca. Sounds you're very busy! Best of luck with the P.I. Penguin series and your other writing endeavours. Anything else you would like to add?
Thank you so much for reading and following along with all I've shared. Thanks also for asking awesome questions that really got me thinking about writing and my process as a whole. It has been quite a journey and I'm thrilled to be able to share it with others.
I hope you'll love our books. We'd love to hear from you. You're welcome to send us email to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our website and leave a comment. Cheers and happy reading.
About the Author
Bec J. Smith is the writing team of science fiction and fantasy novelist, Rebecca Laffar-Smith and her two children, Kaylie and Joshua. Rebecca established Aulexic, a small press publishing house specialising in early readers for children with language and literacy acquisition difficulties, because she wanted to inspire her own son to love reading. What better way to do that then to work together to create books he would love and to share those books with other children just like him!
Kids, enter the author's colouring competition for a chance to win a P.I. Penguin paperback of your choice (closes 25 March; open internationally but free postage only within Australia).
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