Monday, April 5, 2010

Author Interview: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

As part of the Virtual Book Tour, I'll be hosting some very interesting and varied authors over the next few months. First up is a children's writer with a fabulous background.

I’d like to introduce James C. Wallace II, creator of Magician of Oz trilogy. Originally a native of West Virginia, James currently lives in Terre Haute, Indiana with his wife Amanda. They have been married more than 26 years, with a herd of 5 children and 12 grandchildren. His background covers nearly 26 years in children's education, including experience working for the world's largest children's museum; The Children's Museum of Indianapolis, where he was the Planetarium Educator for SpaceQuest Planetarium. In addition to children's books about Oz, he is recognized by NASA as a leading developer of web-based educational games, educational exhibit design, curriculum development and implementation. In addition, he is involved in the DiscoverHover program, which is an educational program developing and utilizing hovercraft in a unique and fun way. He now serves as the Royal Liaison to Princess Ozma, Sovereign Ruler of Oz and endeavors to fulfill her royal command to tell the tale of her newest Royal Magician to the children of the Great Outside.


In Magician of Oz we meet young Jamie Diggs, great-grandson of O.Z. Diggs, the original wizard of Oz. In the early month of Spring, Jamie opened his great-grandfather’s old humpback trunk, revealing a magical heritage lurking within. Following in the footsteps of O.Z. Diggs, Jamie pursued the ways of magic and soon found himself transported to the magical Land of Oz where, alongside Dorothy, he faced his greatest fears and the fearsome Army of Trees in defense of the Tin Woodman.

I asked James a few questions about his inspirations, motivations, and passions in his writing.

What are your inspirations for the books, characters, spells, and other magical elements?
I started out as a child and have remained one ever since. My inspirations come from children, including my own five and my twelve grandchildren. I write specifically of Oz not only because I grew up with parents who read to me every night from these wonderful books, but because, as an eight year old kid, I became a magician, alongside my father. We are charter members of Ring 210, the Duke Stern Chapter of the International Brotherhood of Magicians. I have always tried to incorporate magic into whatever projects I am currently involved in and writing of Oz seemed like a natural fit with my magical background.

What are the most important messages you want children to glean from your books?
For me, I write of the values of love, honesty, loyalty, and friendship. These are crucial elements for any story I write. Nowadays, these values are more important than ever and I consider it one of my goals in life to bring these values out in the stories I tell. The nice thing about Oz is that all of these values come in great abundance throughout the Land of Oz, courtesy of L. Frank Baum. As such, it makes my job easier and more pleasant.

• From your background in children's education and literacy, how can parents become more involved with boosting their kids' reading success?
Success can be measured in many ways. The most crucial part of any parents’ responsibility to their child’s future success is to read to them. Do it often and with great enthusiasm. A child will remember this throughout their life, as I have done with memories of my own parents and their readings to me of Oz, Wonderland, and many other tales. I would not be nearly as successful an author, educator, and advocate for literacy if I had not been brought up with a profound love of reading. That love of reading came directly through my parents and their desire to see that I also developed a love of reading.

• How do you feel about the state of children’s literacy these days?
The saddest thing I have encountered during my tenure at The Children's Museum of Indianapolis and beyond were meeting 6th-8th grade children in the urban schools of Indy who were functionally illiterate. It's one thing to suggest that there are kids in America who cannot read. It's quite another to come face-to-face with them. Today's child has lost the art of reading. No longer do children sit down to read a book, to linger within the world of fiction and fantasy. Nowadays, kids are glued to the computer screen and read in snippets. In fact, with the advent of text messages, most kids now understand a truncated language that would have Daniel Webster spinning in his grave.

• Is there any glimmer of hope for getting kids to want to read?
Only in the last few years has the Harry Potter effect taken hold and inspired kids to once again pick up the traditional book and immerse themselves in another world. Despite this momentary reawakening, most kids still reach for the cell phone and communicate with their thumbs. Most kids would have trouble taking the time to sit down with a good book and giving themselves over to the realm of fantasy. They prefer the instant gratification that comes with a world overflowing with technology. The book has become a lost art, and with that thought in mind, I chose to reinvigorate the original dream of L. Frank Baum.

• What do you want to achieve in the tales of Jamie Digg and his adventures?
In writing about young Jamie Diggs, the great grandson of O.Z. Diggs, the original Wizard of Oz, my most sincere desire is that children will pick up my book and rediscover the joy of reading. If, by writing about this wonderful land and all of its unique characters, I can inspire children and introduce them to the joys of reading, to the values of love, honesty, loyalty, and friendship, even if it be only a single child, I will have made an impact that reaches far beyond my own lifetime. To this end, I have committed all my efforts towards creating an environment where kids will want to pick up that book and put aside that cell phone for a few moments.
If I can serve as a mentor promoting the value of literacy, love, honesty, loyalty, and friendship to our youth, then I will have realized my dream.

Eager to browse? Click on Magician of Oz link and read the first few pages, along with the chapter titles. Feel free to ask James any questions about his work; we'd love to hear from you.
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