I recently chatted with local creative Tamara Hecht who has started a children’s book series called Monsterville.
The inaugural book in the series is about a human child named Jen who moves to a new school in the monster world and has to deal with being different than everyone else. With no fangs or claws to look like the other kids, she finds it tough to fit in. With the help of her newfound friends, Jen adapts, but their advice quickly turns into a monstrous mess.
How did you get into making children’s books?
It’s been a backburner dream my whole life. What finally got me to take the next step was reaching a dead end on a previous iteration of this project. Monsterville was initially a cartoon series, but it never got sufficient funding. I had written so many scripts and I love the series so much that I wanted to make sure it could be a finished product, in one medium or another.
Who does the illustrations?
That’d be me as well.
What was the motivation behind this series?
I’m a big fan of myths and legends. I’ve also always loved monster stories in modern pop culture, and I was eager to write my take on it. Monsters are expressions of the human experience, so I wanted to play with that idea and tell stories that are relevant to real life through these fantasy creatures. I wanted to take these ancient ideas of witches and vampires and translate them to the modern world, and there are a lot of different ways to do that.
How do you identify issues that children can understand? Personal experiences with kids?
I think a lot of it is universal. As we age, we experience things in a more complex way, but it’s not necessarily different. There’s not much difference between having a tough teacher and having a tough boss. Peer pressure exists at all ages, albeit with varying degrees of subtlety. Our perceptions of things like love, accomplishment, curiosity, and wistfulness never change. We just find more ways of categorizing them.
In my experience with being a reading buddy and occasionally babysitting the neighbours’ kids, I’ve found that kids care a lot about relatability and relevance. For the kids who don’t particularly like reading, the challenge is to find something that matters to them in terms of subject matter. It doesn’t really matter if the story is about a character who has the same perspective as the reader. The payoff has to come sooner. If a kid likes reading about aliens, give them a book about aliens. For the kids who enjoy reading anyway, there’s a wider selection of books that are suitable, but the story still has to be honest. Young characters should act like kids and notice the things that kids notice.
Tell us about some of the characters and their personalities/character.
Each character is based on the myths about that type of monster. Cal is a ghost. Ghosts are insubstantial, ephemeral, and usually tied to some kind of unfinished business or repeating memory. Therefore, Cal is rather wishy-washy, a terrible procrastinator, and tends to anxiously dwell on things. There is also a theory that ghosts are the “echo” of a strong feeling rather than an actual presence, so Cal is also rather emotional.
There’s also Lucas, who’s a werewolf. The story of the werewolf is about humankind’s struggle with a dual identity, the struggle to repress dangerous primal urges. I had some fun with this one, writing Lucas as a harmless Id creature who’s impulsive in a funny way. He’s hyper, he has no filter, has terrible manners, and can’t really read a situation. He’s perfectly natural in a way that most of us try very hard not to be.
There’s Mia, who’s a witch. The original witches were people who used plants to make medicines, put their faith in nature, and lived in the forest away from society. Mia is creative, resourceful, and uses her magic to help people. She is confident, empowered, and cherishes her independence. So, I’m not just putting monsters in the modern era. I’m creating characters based on what traits those monsters suggest.
What is the main character Jen like?
Jen is a cautiously optimistic person who observes things carefully yet isn’t afraid to be proactive. She values honesty, responsibility, and loyalty. She’s courageous, but in an “everyday life” sort of way more than a “dragon slayer” kind of way.
What are some of the issues Jen has to deal with being a new student or not fitting in?
She is completely new to the culture of this all-monster town, so everything is an adjustment for her. There are minor misunderstandings on both sides, for comedic purposes, but the big misunderstanding is about Jen’s appearance. Monsters find humans to be a little strange, so Jen’s friends try to help her look more like a “normal” monster.
What is the next book called?
The working title is “The Music Room.” It’s about a haunted music class.
To purchase, or for more info on Monsterville, please visit their website.