Greetings from my new favorite spot! I'm currently soaking up the sunshine and spending my days buried in a book while lounging on an island off the coast of Georgia, and let me tell you, I am loving it. You can keep up with my vacation reads on Instagram (@topshelftext), if you're so inclined.
This week I'm bringing you something new: an author interview! I.J. Brindle's new middle grade fiction novel, Balthazar Fabuloso in the Lair of the Humbugs, debuts on May 1st. I am always looking for new fiction to recommend to my students, and I jumped at the chance to read a book that I thought looked both funny and appealing to boy readers -- who are, let's face it, the hardest to find good books recommendations for. Balthazar is one of those quirky books that will appeal to readers who like sassy characters and absolutely ridiculous plots. Balthazar's family is eccentric, to say the least -- they perform wacky magic shows for a living -- but here's the real trick: the magic that they "perform" is actually real. That's right, every one of them has a particular power, that is, except for Balthazar. At the age of 11, it looks like he'll just turn out to be an ordinary kid. One day, in the middle of a performance, Balthazar's entire family disappears without rhyme or reason. It's up to him to save them, and the task set out before him seems nothing if not overwhelming for a kid without any magic. I can see this appealing to my students who are super hard to find books for, and I'd simply recommend it as a crazy adventure. I will say that there were a few points in the book that made me cringe -- jokes that I thought were in bad taste, or things that I found too inappropriate for my fourth graders. For that reason, I'd highly recommend this for those on the older end of the middle grade age group (11 and up), or for readers who are a bit more mature.
Now that you know the premise of the book, let's have a chat with I.J. Brindle!
What was the inspiration behind the book?
My first inspiration was this experience I had in seventh grade. I was staying in Quebec with a host family on some kind of a school exchange trip and they were nice and it was my first time away from home and their house smelled different from my house and the room I was staying in was really different from my room so I couldn’t really sleep. So instead, I spent all my nights reading this classic fantasy series I had with me. I absolutely loved it, but it left me with this out-of-sorts feeling. In part because I was homesick and sleep deprived, but also I couldn’t stop thinking about how, as much as I loved the world I was reading about, it was this somewhere-else world I would never, in real life, get to be a part of, and as much as I admired the hero, he was this mystical prodigy super-magic-genius that I would never be. I wanted a book that showed the possibility of the magic I often felt just floating beneath the surface of my own quirky, random, everyday life. So I wrote to try to do that for the seventh-grade me and for anyone else who ever gets that feeling.
It was also inspired by my firstborn, Theo, who believed in this book before it existed and grilled me about all the little nonexistent details until they became real, and by my sister, Mary, who has been drawing in sketchbooks since before I could scribble and who had the best knife collection, comic book collection and taxidermy animal collection of any kid in St. Catharines.
What makes this book special to you? What important message do you feel it brings to young readers?
A fancy-pants Russian novelist once wrote “any instant of life if deeply enough probed becomes a doorway to infinity.” I believe this idea holds true for people as well as instants.
I would love it if young readers came away from this book being a bit more aware of the incredible power that lies in being deeply true to who you are, even if it’s not who anyone else wants you to be and even if you’re not even quite sure what that is yet.
What inspired you to write, and when did you know you would become an
I think the first clue I would become a writer was in preschool when I used to horrify unsuspecting adults by spicing up stories about my life with alarming details I borrowed off the news. Back then they called it lying. Then somewhere along the line I figured out if I did the same thing but called it fiction, I could have the same kind of fun without the scolding after. I always planned to become an author at some point—and also to buy an island that I'd specifically set aside for authors and readers. I'm still working on the island part.
What advice do you have for aspiring young writers?
Read lots, watch carefully and be real—especially when you’re making stuff up.
If you're interested in pre-ordering a copy of Balthazar Fabuloso in the Lair of the Humbugs before its release on May 1st, you can get a copy here on Amazon, or if you'd like to read an excerpt (and see the CCSS connections), you can view the publisher's listing here.
A big thank you (and congratulations on this first novel) to I.J. Brindle, and also to the fun and friendly team at Holiday House Books, who were kind enough to send a copy to Top Shelf Text! (Please note that all opinions are my own, and have not been influenced by my partnership with Holiday House Books).
I'm off to soak up some more of that sunshine!