The Children’s Book Review | March 31, 2020
Wesley King is the bestselling author of eleven novels. His works include OCDaniel, The Vindico Series, and A World Below. His books have been optioned for film and television and translated for release worldwide. Besides writing, he is working on a circumnavigation via a 1967 sailboat. Here we chatted with him about collaborating with basketball legend Kobe Bryant ( August 23, 1978 – January 26, 2020) on the New York Times bestselling Wizenard series, the latest book Season One, and the future of the series.
The Children’s Book Review: Season One is the latest action-packed book in the New York Times bestselling Wizenard series. Created by the late Kobe Bryant and written by yourself, can you describe to us how you came to collaborate with Kobe and what this collaboration looked like during the process from start to finished book?
Wesley King: It was a whirlwind process. Actually, it was a whirlwind four years! It went from email to phone call to a meeting within a week, and we shared an instant connection about the power of stories and the positive messages we could send within them. As it turned out, he had read my first book, The Vindico, in a day, and then devoured my other books as well. He was a voracious reader. We started brainstorming immediately, utilizing his concepts of grana [a supernatural power], and decided to go big. Didn’t he always? We created a unique, thoughtful, and deeply heartfelt story about these down-on-their-luck boys and the personal journey each takes toward self-acceptance. It was also in-person meetings. Research trips. Phone calls and endless text messages. It was truly a collaborative process.
If you were to choose five words that best describe the experience you had working with Kobe, what would they be?
Legend to collaborator to friend.
In Season One, Reggie lives and dreams of basketball; only the sport does not seem to love him back. He must learn to channel his emotions productively, so they don’t break him. From where was the inspiration of Reggie’s story drawn from?
It was drawn from both of our experiences, and also from our observations and shared insights of working with kids. I think it’s such a shared human experience—our dreams and aspirations don’t always seem reachable. Wrong time. Wrong place. We wanted to challenge that notion and tell this underdog story of a boy who rewrites his self-perception.
The game of basketball is the life and foundation of this story, and it’s very well-written. Have you ever played basketball yourself, or were the ballplaying details of the story based solely on Kobe’s experience as a professional ballplayer?
Well, I don’t want to brag, but my co-ed ball team did win a league championship last year. And we once placed second in high school…out of eight teams? Or was it six? I love ball, both as a great fan and subpar player, but suffice to say I turned to Kobe when it came to drills and specific directions. I was actually taller by an inch or two and definitely had the weight on him (mostly in my stomach). A reporter had asked if we were going to play one-on-one, and he humbly said I could be a tough match. It would have been 11-1, as I do think he might have allowed me a pity point. Actually, probably not.
The added element of magical realism is terrific and creates the heartbeat of the story by bringing a transcendent depth to Reggie’s character. The mystic supernatural power of ‘grana’ leads Reggie to discover the importance of self-reflection, personal growth, commitment, and a positive mindset. Who came up with the term grana? And how did you determine the right balance between the action of the ballgame and the mysticism?
That was Kobe. He had an idea of an overall framework (one that was built on by the exceptional Granity creative team), but we had to find our way as to what it really did and meant and how it impacted our story. In our series, it was always about the metaphorical representation of real-world issues, and the mysticism was a tool to explore the psychological. But we were moving toward a much more magical story in book three that was to explore the wider usage and dangers.
Coach Rolabi Wizenard knows that the road for those coming from the bottom (referencing both poverty and the scoreboard) is hard. Still, his carefully inserted wisdom and guidance challenges each of the team members to dig deep within themselves, and the result is a set of solid characters with gumption. It feels as though Coach Wizenard has a lot more to add to the series in future installments. He knows more than he lets on. Am I right?
You are very right! I laughed when reading this, because Kobe and I were talking at length about his character for book three. Kobe wanted him to have a big role and focus on his perspective. I said we can’t have an adult be a main protagonist in kid’s books, then had to internally debate whether Bilbo Baggins counted. He was fifty, but he was also a hobbit…these are the things that we think about. All this is to say, yes, Rolabi was to play a big part going forward.
Heightening the impact of the life lessons placed within the pages are thoughtful and well-chosen Wizenard proverbs set at the beginning of each chapter, which allows for additional pondering for deep-thinkers: “The deeper the hole, the longer the climb, and the stronger you arrive.” Who came up with these sayings? And were they added after the chapters were written, or did the proverb sometimes come first and help guide the story development?
I came up with the sayings, though Kobe certainly suggested adjustments to some. He loved the proverbs. I wanted them to serve the exact function you suggested: as an additional point of refection, and also as a summary of the wider messages and values that we were trying to convey. Some came first, some after, and they don’t always align precisely with the theme of the chapter—I just went with whatever inspiration came to me as I wrote. They are some of my proudest literary creations. Now I just have to remember to live by them.
Can you share a highlight from the book? Or maybe your thoughts on, or an excerpt of, your favorite sentence, paragraph, or page?
I would love to. Here are two, because I am horrible at following directions. One is cheating though since it’s Kobe’s dedication: To young athletes who commit to doing the hard work. It always pays off. I love this line because he is speaking to the conception of appreciating the journey. He doesn’t mean that hard work will necessarily pay off as a professional athlete. He means that the strength you build on that journey will help you and guide you no matter what road you take. And as for me, I’ll add one of my favorite proverbs: The deeper the hole, the longer the climb, and the stronger you arrive.
Season One finishes with an impactful ending that feels more like the beginning of something even more exciting. What should readers expect to see next? Will the series continue?
For now, the future of the series is undecided. We were about to dive into more books, but of course, the world is much different than it was to start this year. I hope to one day continue on to share the magical vision that Kobe created, but regardless of what is to come, I am grateful to see this timely, motivational story released to the world this week.
Is there anything else you would like to share with us about the Wizenard series, yourself, your writing, or Kobe Bryant?
There’s so much to share, of course. But mostly, I am just grateful to have spent the time with Kobe, to have created these amazing stories with him, and to have seen the incredible love he had for his family. He was a friend and a mentor. I miss him, but I take comfort in knowing that his words are going to live on. I think we can all continue to learn from his self-assurance, his drive, and his belief in the inherent good of humanity.
Created by Kobe Bryant
Written by Wesley King
Publisher’s Synopsis: The next book in the #1 New York Times bestselling Wizenard series.
Reggie has never felt destined for greatness. He dreams about basketball brilliance all day and night, but the hard truth is that he’s a benchwarmer for the West Bottom Badgers the worst team in the league. Even their mysterious new coach, Rolabi Wizenard, can’t seem to help them end their losing streak.
Reggie is willing to train tirelessly to improve his game, but the gym itself seems to be working against him in magical ways. Before Reggie can become the player he dreams of being, he must survive the extraordinary trials of practice.
Basketball legend Kobe Bryant presents this illuminating follow-up to the #1 New York Times best seller The Wizenard Series: Training Camp―a story of strain and sacrifice, supernatural breakthroughs, and supreme dedication to the game.
“The Wizenard Series: Season One is an inspiring, encouraging, and must-read novel for any baller or sports enthusiast!” — The Children’s Book Review
Ages 8+ | Publisher: Granity Studios | March 31, 2020 | ISBN: 978-1949520149
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This interview—Author Wesley King Discusses the Wizenard Series Created With Kobe Bryant—was conducted between Wesley King and Bianca Schulze. For similar books and articles, follow along with our content tagged with Basketball Books, Books with Life Lessons, Magic-Realism, Middle Grade Books, Mystery, and Team Sport Books.