As a former elementary school teacher and coordinator of in-school programming, Connecticut author Adam Shaughnessy logged countless hours encouraging kids to engage with stories, and with each other, through Adventure Play, a story-based enrichment program he developed in 2009. For the program, Shaughnessy creates interactive stories that allow children to become the heroes of the narratives; as the stories progress, kids combat obstacles and challenges through cooperative games and puzzles that combine physical activity, problem solving, and reading.
Adventure Play inspired Shaughnessy’s debut middle-grade novel, The Entirely True Story of the Unbelievable FIB, in which two kids are recruited into the Fantasy Investigation Bureau to help rescue their town from invading Viking gods and giants. Published in September 2015 by Algonquin Young Readers, the novel was a BEA Middle Grade Buzz pick and a 2015 Summer/Fall Indies Introduce Selection, and was named to the fall 2015 Kids’ Indie Next List. In August, the publisher released a paperback edition of the novel as The Trickster’s Tale, and the second installment, Over the Underworld, is due out this month.
The premise of Shaughnessy’s series sprang from the stories he created for the Adventure Play program, which itself was inspired by a broader initiative, Adventure Programming, an experiential learning model that builds teamwork skills through physical challenges. “I wanted to take that concept and bring it down to the elementary level, and reimagine the physical challenges as playful and cooperative games within the context of stories,” Shaughnessy explained. “Adventure Play also differs from Adventure Programming in that it places as much emphasis on story as it does on physical activity.”
Introducing kids to his stories via the written word, said Shaughnessy, was long in the back of his mind. “Adventure Play was so integral to my life that I had thought about taking it to the next level, and sharing stories with young people through writing as well,” he said. A sad event pushed that notion to the forefront of his mind: “In 2003, I lost my mother to lung cancer. When you deal with a loss like that, you reflect on your own mortality, and on what is important to you. And that’s when I realized that I definitely wanted to share my stories in books.”
Playing with the Written Word
Since many of the storylines that Shaughnessy created for Adventure Play dealt with mythology, he was again drawn to that realm when he decided to write a novel. “I especially love Norse mythology,” he recalled, “so those are the adventures I went back to to create the series.”
Yet when he began writing The Entirely True Story of the Unbelievable FIB, the novel took on a life of its own. “The story really changed dramatically as I wrote,” he said. “The heroes of my Adventure Play interactive stories were the kids themselves, but in the novel I had to create fictional characters to be the heroes, which was totally new for me. So my first book ended up being a very different beast than I’d initially imagined. ”
It was a beast that Krestyna Lypen was very willing to tackle when she became editor of Over the Underworld after joining Algonquin Young Readers in 2014, taking over the series’ editorial reins from publisher Elise Howard. “I am very happy to have the chance to work on Adam’s books, which are filled with action and adventure,” said Lypen. “His novels are so smartly written and include wordplay, puns, and riddles—and the Norse mythology adds another wonderful layer. The bookselling community, especially the indies, has really rallied around the series, as have schools and libraries. It’s evident that Adam understands kids and knows how to interact with them.”
Shaughnessy has the opportunity to do just that during his current tour promoting Over the Underground, on which he’s visiting independent bookstores and schools in the Northeast in conjunction with Algonquin’s #iLoveMG campaign.
For the tour, the author explained, “I have developed a presentation that is a modified version of Adventure Play. I share clues to help kids in the audience solve riddles and meet challenges, much as I do in my books. Kids are essentially playing their way through a story—they are the decision makers and they have ownership of the action. I love bringing play into my storytelling, and I love leaving a trail of breadcrumbs to help kids solve the mystery.”
The Unbelievable FIB 2: Over the Underworld by Adam Shaughnessy. Algonquin Young Readers, $16.95 Sept. ISBN 978-1-61620-499-0
The Unbelievable FIB 1: The Trickster’s Tale by Adam Shaughnessy. Algonquin Young Readers, $6.95 paper Aug. ISBN 978-1-61620-637-6