The prolific James Patterson has been busy at his keyboard. He debuts a middle-grade adventure series with Treasure Hunters, written with Chris Grabenstein and Mark Shulman and due from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers September 16. Confessions: The Private School Murders, coauthored by Maxine Paetro and the sequel to 2012’s Confessions of a Murder Suspect, pubs on October 7. And I Even Funnier, volume two of Patterson’s middle-grade I Funny series with Grabenstein, which spotlights an aspiring young comedian, has a December 9 release date. Each has an announced first printing of 750,000 copies.
Patterson, whose books for young readers have sold more than 25 million copies, wrapped up his bestselling eight-book Maximum Ride series last year, and his Witch & Wizard, Middle School, and Daniel X series are ongoing. Treasure Hunters takes Patterson in a new comedic action-adventure direction. The novel follows the four globetrotting Kidd siblings as they search for a shipwreck full of gold, long-lost artifacts, world-famous paintings – and their missing parents. “I wanted to create an adventure that is both exciting and funny, and I’m not aware of too many books that do both successfully,” Patterson told PW. “I also wanted to touch on the importance of kids’ taking responsibility for their own actions, and get kids thinking about that when they read this book.”
Like his Middle School and I Funny series, Treasure Hunters, which features art by Juliana Neufeld, is heavily illustrated. “I think illustrations make it easier for a lot of kids to get into a book,” Patterson explained. “What turned on a light bulb for me about the possibilities of words and pictures working together was Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret. It is such a fresh and cool format. My illustrated novels are about two-thirds words and one-third pictures, which I think is a nice balance. The pictures help encourage kids, who are used to a lot of visual stimulation, to keep reading.”
Andrea Spooner, editorial director for Little Brown’s James Patterson publishing program for young readers, said she is “more excited about this series launch than I have been about any since Maximum Ride debuted in 2005. I see Treasure Hunters as a mash-up of the humor of Jim’s Middle School series and high-stakes, Percy Jackson-type adventure.” According to Spooner, Patterson hit on the idea of writing the text from the perspective of one sibling and have the art drawn from his twin sister’s point of view. “And there are tidbits of history and art history that parents and educators will love.”
A bookstore promotion for Treasure Hunters encourages retailers to throw a treasure hunt-themed party between September 16 and November 15; the downloadable party kit is available on the book’s Web site. In addition, print components of the campaign include posters to publicize events and collectible trading cards featuring the Kidd siblings. Patterson will reimburse booksellers who submit a clear photo of their Treasure Hunters events for party-related expenses. And the author will select two participating stores to host him for a personal visit. (Stores interested in taking part in the promotion should contact their sales rep.)
“Creating events around books and reading is really crucial in helping kids unwrap the joys of a book,” said Patterson. “That’s what I’m hoping these in-store treasure hunts will do – get kids fired up about books. It might even change some of those reluctant readers’ minds. These parties will probably bring a lot of foot traffic into the stores, and get people to experience the skills of their local indie. And kids might pick up a couple of other books while they’re there.”
Patterson, who said he will continue to create both YA and middle grade series, has one of each – both illustrated – scheduled to launch in 2014. Homeroom Diaries, which is coauthored by Lisa Papademetriou and illustrated by Keino, introduces a teen in the foster care system who recently spent a short time in a mental health facility. Now back in school and writing and drawing in a diary to help her through the ups and downs of high school, she discovers that sometimes the people who seem the most together are the ones who need the most help.
“I think that this book is my closest yet to the kind of book I always thought I’d write when I began writing,” said Patterson. “It has some fantasy, humor, and is very human. Some heavy things happen to the kids in the book, things that happen in real life. And I like the idea of writing about kids who are kind of on the fringe – kids who lots of high school kids wouldn’t give a chance. I’d like readers to think that those kids might actually be cool if they make the effort to get to know them.”
Aimed at an early middle-grade audience is House of Robots, which Patterson is writing with Grabenstein; an illustrator has yet to be selected. The novel centers on a boy whose college professor mother invents robots, one of which she insists her son take to school. “She thinks it will give him a friend, but he thinks it’s making a laughingstock out of him,” Patterson said. “There’s a reasonable amount of science in there, which is cool.”
According to Spooner, these forthcoming series point to Patterson’s versatility. “I’ve been working with Jim for 10 years, and I learned early on that he can take his style, technique, and secret sauce, and apply it to virtually any genre,” she said. “His books all have an emotional punch, even the funny ones. And the great thing is that he shows no sign of stopping. In fact, we’re currently working on 15 books together that have yet to be published.”
Treasure Hunters by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein, with Mark Shulman, illus. by Juliana Neufeld. Little, Brown, $14.99 Sept. ISBN 978-0-316-20756-0
Confessions: The Private School Murders by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro. Little, Brown, $18 Oct. ISBN 978-0-316-20765-2
I Even Funnier by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein, illus. by Laura Park. Little, Brown, $13.99 Dec. ISBN 978-0-316-20697-6