Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions, with Craig Battle & Liam O'Donnell

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Max Finder Mystery Vol. 5, by Craig Battle and Ramon Perez

If you were a fan of the Encyclopedia Brown books growing up, you and your kids will love the Max Finder Mystery series published by OWLkids. Craig Battle, editor of OWL Magazine and author of the newest Max Finder Mystery Collected Casebook, and series creator Liam O'Donnell talk to Open Book about the inspiration for the series, why it's so popular with young readers and what we can expect from Max and his friend Alison in the future.

Craig Battle will be signing books at the OWLkids table at TCAF on Sunday, May 8th at 2:00pm. You'll also have a chance to meet Max Finder illustrator Ramón Pérez, who will join Craig for the signing. All books in the Max Finder Mystery series will be available for purchase at the table.

Open Book:

Tell us about the award-winning Max Finder Mystery series.

Craig Battle:

The series centres around Grade 7 detective Max Finder and his best friend, Alison Santos. Max is a mystery buff and Alison a budding journalist, and each has a strong desire to seek out the truth whenever it’s in question. This is particularly important considering they live in Whispering Meadows, a small town with a large amount of anonymously perpetrated, semi-criminal activity.

Each four-page comic is packed with sources, suspects, interrogation and hidden visual clues for readers to dissect. At the end of each one, readers are asked if they can solve the case, which allows for an interactive pause before the answer is given away. The comic has been running in OWL Magazine off and on since 2002, and in 2006 we published the first collected casebook. The fifth volume just came out in March.

OB:

What do readers have to look forward to in this fifth volume of the series that they haven't encountered before?

CB:

This casebook has ten solve-it-yourself comic mysteries just like the other four books in the series, as well as two all-new short stories. This time around, we also thought it would be cool for Max and Alison to host a little survey course in solving mysteries.

OB:

Do you think that the graphic novel format and the participatory nature of the Max Finder Mystery series will attract readers who might otherwise be reluctant to get into books?

Liam O'Donnell:

Definitely. The graphic novel format's combination of short text and illustrations has been very successful in engaging readers who are normally put off by novels with their long passages of text. The interactive, you-solve-it format ties right into many readers' need to have a purpose with their reading. With every Max and Alison mystery the invitation to read is more like a challenge: “Think you can crack the case?” This provides an opportunity for reluctant readers to shine, which builds their confidence with reading and hopefully have them seek out more challenging texts.

CB:

Fun fact: in OWL’s last two annual reader surveys, the “Max Finder Mystery” comic has been the most popular section by far. We’ve found it to be a great entry point into the other parts of the magazine as well, for new readers as well as those graduating from chickaDEE Magazine, one of OWL’s sister publications.

OB:

How do you know if you've given the right number of clues in each case, so that the mysteries are challenging to crack but not discouragingly difficult?

CB:

I don’t know how Liam handled it when he wrote the comic, but this actually gives me fits of anxiety. It’s a balance for every comic, and it really depends on the type of clues used in the story. In the end, you’d like three clues pointing the finger at the eventual culprit, two or three other suspects and a red herring or two. Anything too far beyond that and we run the risk of it all being a lot of white noise. OWL’s primary readership is 9 to 13, so we want it to be accessible and interesting across the age group. In the end, though, one of my favourite things about the comic is that it can be solved. We want readers to either solve it, or head to the answer page, return to the comic, look for the hidden clues and say, “Oh yeah!”

OB:

Tell us about Max Finder's character. What is it about him that readers love so much?

LO:

Readers seem to like both Max and Alison equally, which is great. From talking with students across Canada, they definitely see a bit of themselves in the characters. Max and Alison are naturally curious and persistent in the face of a mystery, much like kids are today.

OB:

Did you visit any junior high schools to get a sense of what the atmosphere is like these days, or did you call upon your own school memories for ideas for the Collected Casebook?

CB:

We visit school groups for the magazine pretty regularly, and I’ve been able to use a few observations in the comics, just in terms of poster campaigns, clubs' notices and things like that. I often pull from my own memories as well, but at this point my own experiences are full of anachronisms, so I have to be careful. For instance, OWL’s “Green Issue” is coming up in September, and I really wanted to do a comic featuring suspects from a recycling club, which was something I was a part of growing up in BC. Back then we would gather all the paper from all the classrooms, dump it in a giant pile in the multi-purpose room and remove staples, separate white paper from coloured and so on. The trash collectors wouldn’t take it otherwise. Of course, it’s not like that these days, so my story didn’t really work. Luckily, kids are doing a whole lot of other cool things these days, especially when it comes to the environment. No shortage of ideas there.

OB:

Tell us about collaborating with cartoonist Ramón Pérez for this book. Did you work together closely throughout the project, or did you give him your text and let him run away with it?

CB:

It’s a collaborative process. I provide notes for each panel, and then we go back and forth on a couple rounds of illustrations. Ramón works wonders with each comic, adding in things I never would have thought of and fitting clues and characters around the myriad speech balloons and caption boxes. Text for Max tends to run a little longer than it might in most other comics.

OB:

What mystery or detective stories did you enjoy reading as a child?

LO:

Max Finder Mystery is directly inspired by one of my favourite book series when I was a kid: Encyclopedia Brown. I devoured those books and really enjoyed the you-solve-it element. As I got older I stumbled onto Sherlock Holmes and the Agatha Christie mysteries. I still go back to those classics when I'm in the mood for a guaranteed good read.

OB:

OWL Magazine will be celebrating its 35th anniversary this year. How has OWL changed over the years, and what's been the secret to its success?

CB:

One of OWL’s founding editors reportedly once said, “OWL is what kids want to read… not what adults think kids want to read.” We’ve definitely become more of a general interest magazine over our 35-year history, but we haven’t lost any of the core pieces that readers fell in love with in the first place. We’ve still got science and animal content, comics and puzzles (we’ve even got a retro “Whatsit?” puzzle coming up in our birthday issue in June). We still write back to every kid who sends us a piece of mail, and we’re trying to grow with kids as they get more comfortable communicating online. It was amazing to see readers take to my editor’s blog pretty much overnight.

OB:

What's next for Max Finder and his friend Alison Santos? Will you be working on another Casebook?

CB:

Oh, you know, more thefts, more rumours, more sabotage… Whispering Meadows is a busy place! We’re already working on another casebook, and I’m particularly excited about one comic in particular. I said in the interview at the end of Vol. 5 that I’d like to do a flash-forward episode with Max and Alison in the future, and we’re going to do that. Only Max and Alison’s future is going to look a whole lot like 70-year-old sepia-tone detective flicks.

Craig Battle has been the editor of OWL Magazine since 2006. He has worked as a reporter, camp counselor and basketball coach, and now adds children's author to his resume. Originally from Lantzville, BC, he lives in Toronto.





Liam O'Donnell is the author of Ramp Rats, the books in the Real World of Pirates series and 20 other books for children. He is an elementary school teacher and frequently writes about literacy and education for national magazines. He lives in Toronto.


For more information about the Max Finder Mystery Collected Casebook, Volume 5, please visit the OWLkids website.


Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

2 comments

I agree, anything that gets kids to read it great, and to make it fun is even better

I remember these when I was younger!!!! Anything that helps the young enjoy reading is great with me.

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