We are pleased to introduce you to W.J. Brutocao, author of The Basking Shark Rescue Team—a fast-paced tale that emphasizes tolerance, an appreciation of nature and the value of understanding our differences.
TCBR: The Basking Shark Rescue Team provides readers with the opportunity to see the world through the eyes of a misunderstood boy with ADD. Tell us about the book and the inspiration behind creating this new series?
Brutocao: My stories are set in the beautiful California coastal towns of Mendo and Morro (obviously based on Mendocino and Morro Bay). People in these towns live close to nature and wildlife. In Morro Bay there is a bird sanctuary where the residents include herons, egrets, cormorants, hawks, and other birds. So naturally, my stories have herons, egrets, cormorants, hawks, and other birds, as well as a couple of children, otters and other animals.
One of the children has ADD. It is important for everyone, not just children, to accept differences among us all. Having a protagonist with a learning disability helps children see the world through the eyes of someone who is “different,” while at the same time most kids will see something of themselves in Angelo. I have friends and family members with disabilities, and I feel that people with disabilities are frequently misunderstood and are underrepresented in traditional media channels, including books, movies, and television.
TCBR: What is the most important lesson you hope readers will learn from your book?
Brutocao: That we should honor and respect other people and animals; that individuals should not be judged by the way they look or their manner of speech, but by their actions; and that by working together we can accomplish things that we cannot do alone. Oh, and by the way, even though children might not appreciate it, sometimes, though maybe not always, it is a good idea to listen to your mother.
TCBR: What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating this book?
Brutocao: The power of a story to change people. I wrote this story while I was undergoing treatment for Hodgkin Lymphoma—I wrote chapters between chemotherapy sessions. This enabled me to get outside of myself. Instead of dwelling on my own frailty, I turned my attention to creating a whimsical world where birds and animals communicate and interact with two special children. The entire process caused me to change my own priorities. I am more inquisitive about the natural world and I have more respect for writers! In all seriousness, writing is a very introspective endeavor and I learned more about myself than I could have imagined beforehand.
TCBR: If you were told you had to live with one of the characters from your book, which one would be your preference? Why?
Brutocao: This is a difficult choice — Corky the Cormorant is my favorite character, but to live with I would choose Rocky the Otter because he is daring and he is genuinely interested in helping others. Also, he is humble and has a sense of humor.
TCBR: How long did it take you to complete The Basking Shark Rescue Team?
Brutocao: I completed a draft of the story in about one month. After that, it took more than a year to find an illustrator, to edit and revise the story, and to get the book printed.
TCBR: Rocky and the Great Bird Race is going to be the second book in the series. Can you give us any clues as to what to ?
Brutocao: The Great Bird Race is a triathlon for birds. The inspiration for the story came from my niece, who also is a lymphoma survivor. Following her treatment she resumed running marathons and triathlons. The story blends the annual Tour of California bicycle race with the Great Bird Race, which according to one of the birds, is the “most important athletic event in the history of the world.” Rocky and Angelo, who had never heard of the Great Bird Race, get involved, more than just as spectators. This book has most of the same characters as the first book, and a few new ones.
TCBR: Did you always aspire to be a writer and when did you first consider yourself a writer?
Brutocao: I have tried my hand at writing since my college days. In my profession, I have written a lot. In my avocation as storyteller and songwriter, I have written many songs for and about children over the past twenty years or so. So I would say I have always been a writer, only I never wrote a book before.
TCBR: What do you find to be the most challenging aspect or writing for children?
Brutocao: In some ways writing for children is no different than writing for adults. A writer has to respect his audience. Children are much smarter than most adults give them credit for. The worst thing an adult can do in communicating with children is to be patronizing or condescending. Children see through that. Children are a great audience. They are totally honest in their reactions, and have no pretense. If you miss the mark with children, they let you know.
TCBR: What do you find to be the most rewarding aspect of writing for children?
Brutocao: Children find nothing wrong mixing fantasy with reality. I am free to be whimsical and less serious. In my stories, events don’t always make sense. Adults sometimes find fault with that. Children do not. It makes my day when children laugh out loud at parts of my stories.
TCBR: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Brutocao: We are all in this together. Being less serious and more whimsical never hurts. When you look back on your life, the only thing important is how you touched those around you. I hope my light-hearted stories will help to inform and entertain my readers, be they children or even grown-ups.
Read more about The Basking Shark Rescue Team.
Author’s website: www.wjbrutocao.com
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*Used by permission of The Mendocino Beacon. Photo credit: Amy Johnston/The Mendocino Beacon photo.