When you were a child did you read adventure stories about other children going off on adventures, wandering through caves and solving mysteries? I remember reading some and as I read them to my children I think, how do I explain the incredible freedom the children had compared to today’s children, and how could an author today write a book about children on an adventure and somehow explain what it is the children are doing outside of adult supervision?
That’s one of the challenges Mr. Guignard is faced with in his book, and I think he does an admirable job of it. He has this character who is generally a good stay-by-the-rules child and yet he finds a way to delay her doing what she knows she must do (return to the hotel) long enough for her perspective on things to change. He does it partly by pairing this child with a second very playful but somewhat selfish child, and lets their little mistakes lead up to unforeseen consequences.
I actually downloaded the story when Amazon was offering it for free and by total coincidence I had an email from Mr. Guignard asking if I’d like to do a review. I took advantage of that contact with him to ask him a few questions about the book. I asked him about the magic in the book. The book is sort of like Harry Potter, where some people have magic and others don’t, but in this story Zoe is incredibly skeptical about all the magical things around her. There’s quite a bit of time spent in the book with her saying how weird things are, and why she doesn’t believe these things could happen. Why have that, I asked? There are books where magic can’t happen, books where magic can and it seems normal, but in this book magic does happen but people don’t think it should be able to. He wrote back saying it is just who Zoe is. In his words:
I guess Zoe’s just a skeptical kid, a realist. I think all kids are different and Zoe’s always dealt with things that are a little off-kilter in her life (single mom etc) so it’s made her question things more than a lot of kids. I’m not saying that’s the right way to be, but that’s Zoe. I guess in some ways she’s older than her years.
In his description on Amazon, Mr. Guinard wrote that the book isn’t meant to be “some kind of fancy cultural study of the country.” I can believe that description, but was delighted that it does have quite a bit of cultural details anyway, inspiring me to look up more pictures (like photos of overcrowded buses with people on top) to share with the kids. It also introduced them to the names of some Hindu deities, though I was slightly nervous about that. I don’t know enough about Hindu religious beliefs to make a guess as to whether or not the talking stone Ganesh would be considered insulting. I mean, I’m used to stories about Hercules or Zeus, but I generally don’t think of them as part of a current religion, whereas Ganesh is, isn’t he?
I would really hope the representation isn’t insulting. What I would hope is that it’s fun. There are many different Bollywood movies featuring representations of various Hindu deities. Some are kids’ movies, some adult, but the gods interact with the characters and a resolution is reached. So I would hope that my treatment of the gods, given that it’s a living religion are respectful, but at the same time fun, since the book is meant to be a fun story.
Finally, knowing from Mr. Guinard’s webpage that he had spent a year in school in India, I asked whether his time there included the chance to hike the hills his characters hike. His answer:
When I went to school in India, I actually won an award for the number of miles hiked. We also did a more technical climb on a Himalayan peak, (think Everest style) so yes, I explored those mountains extensively. Stay tuned for what life in school was like (which I could literally write ten books about) It was a strange magical experience and all will be revealed in the next book.
The book is fun, and my kids were excited about it. My oldest’s only complaint was that we had the ebook version, and I wasn’t allowing him to take my tablet to read in bed all night. He’s already asking me to re-read the story to him, so maybe he’ll get the print copy for Christmas. Maybe.
Here is an affiliate link for the book on Amazon: Zoe & Zak and the Ghost Leopard (The Heroes of the Himalayas Book 1) and you can follow the author on twitter: @Lars_Gu. You can also check out my review of the second book in the series, Zoe and Zak and the Yogi’s Curse.