Does your young reader love animal adventure tales? Memphian Barry Wolverton is celebrating the publication of his first children's book, the middle grade novel Neversink. This funny story is set in the Arctic Circle on the island of Neversink, where a pompous walrus, an underdog puffin, and a sassy hummingbird plot to save their island from a flock of scheming owls. Be prepared to giggle and guffaw as you read this charming tale. My 10-year-old is clamoring to get her hands on my copy.
Wolverton launches his novel locally with a book signing at the Booksellers at Laurelwood on Tuesday, April 3, at 6 p.m . Neversink is published by Walden Pond Press, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.
While living in Washington, D.C., Wolverton wrote for National Geographic, Scholastic, Discovery Networks, and Time-Life Books. A Rhodes College graduate, he returned to Memphis to be closer to his family and now balances novel writing with copywriting as an employee with Baptist Memorial Health Care.
In your story, the auks struggle to protect their island from an owl invasion. Have you always been interested in birds?
Barry Wolverton: I've always been an animal lover. My uncle is a naturalist and he used to visit us when I was a kid. As soon as he finished his coffee, I'd make him take me outside and we'd go through the woodpile looking for bugs. He got me interested in backyard birding. My characters are based on real species. Their habitats, behaviors, and conflicts are grounded in natural science and the crisis in the story revolves around food supply: fish, which all of these animals need to survive.
What inspired you to write fiction?
I was living in Washington, D.C., when I made a field trip to the Baltimore Aquarium. I saw a puffin exhibit and that sparked the notion that I should write this novel. Puffins are crazy looking, something Lewis Carroll would have made up if they hadn't exist in real life. Penguins are popular in children's entertainment, and I wondered why their northern counterparts didn't get much attention. Puffins "fly" underwater by flapping their wings as opposed to using their feet like other diving birds. These birds live off of the coast of Maine, but most reside in Iceland and the northern British Isles. Puffins just fit the cosmos of the book.
How long did you work on your novel?
I started the book 10 years ago, but didn't get serious about writing it until 2004. When I finished my first draft, I gave it to a friend's 10-year-old sister, a really bright kid. I thought, "If Neversink is ready, this young lady will like it. Well, she absolutely adored it, and so I thought it might be ready.
I think the characters and humor will appeal to even reluctant readers.
It's a middle-grade novel for kids 8 to 12, though that can be a pretty big gap, maturity-wise. I think it's better suited to 10- to 12-year-olds, unless they are more advanced readers. I think kids can appreciate the characters. The pompous walrus is a blowhard, and even if you don't understand all of his words, you understand he's trying to be self-important.
Were you an avid reader as a child?
I loved Encyclopedia Brown, where the nerdy kid triumphed and the Mouse and Motorcycle books. I really loved Edgar Rice Burroughs sci-fi stuff. I was one of those boys who stopped reading for awhile around age 12. By then, I wanted to be doing something more active.
How will Neversink be promoted in Memphis?
I'm trying to connect with teachers and librarians and going to schools. My publisher just struck a deal with Project Puffin, which is part of the National Audubon Society. Its goal is escorting puffins to the Maine coast. It's a great cause. We worked out something with my book to have curriculum that teachers can use in classroom modules.
Are you working on another book?
Yes, this one is a boy's adventure, kind of a Treasure Island meets Indiana Jones-type story. It's set in an invented, 17th-century seafaring age. I read that Jules Verne tried to run away from home when he was 12. He was caught by his father and whipped severly. So he vowed from then on, he would travel on in his imagination. I had that in mind, an adventurous 12-year-old boy with a vivid imagination who wants to get out of his small village in the world and in doing so, gets into all sorts of mischief.