The Children’s Book Review | March 25, 2020
Chip Hill is retired from three careers: Air Force officer, defense and space industry, and university engineering research. He lives with his wife, Carmel, in College Station, Texas, along with their dog, Sherlock. Together they have three children and five grandchildren. Chip likes to read (history is a particular favorite), watch sports (especially local college sports), play guitar, travel, indulge his curiosity about things, and more. Including writing! The CLOUDLAND series, about a magical world hidden from our eyes in the clouds, is the first project he has launched since his retirement.
Could there be a strange land up in the clouds—a special place from where snow, rain, and lightning descend—hidden from our eyes? These are the questions that young readers will discover through the adventures of Jane and Robbie and their Uncle Josh in your Cloudland book series. From where did you draw your inspiration for the series?
The inspiration, believe it or not, was a poem I wrote back in high school about twin snowflakes. It was a poetic fairy tale, really, built around the theme that no two snowflakes are supposed to look alike. Over time, I began to think that the basic storyline in the poem could be developed into a book. That’s where imagination took over, in creating this new world and interesting follow-on storylines. I included poems in each of the book drafts, by the way, but they didn’t survive editing.
Written as a fantasy, can you tell us about your approach to writing this genre?
Hmm, good question. One part would be engaging my imagination, as I mentioned, to create something unexpectedly different, but still believable, in a sense. Another aspect of my approach, especially for readers 7-10 or so, is having similar-age kids as the heroes, that the reader can identify with. And, in striving to be age-appropriate, I try not to get too deep or too dark with the books’ themes and situations.
There are plenty of weather connections between Cloudland and Earth that should encourage additional thought. What kind of research takes place while writing your books?
Well, I’ve been conscious all along that Cloudland is a magical place, and I have to fall back on that if a young reader-scientist really starts digging. So, the research is to make sure things don’t appear blatantly unreasonable. Such things as the altitude of clouds, how cold it is there and how thin the air. How hot air balloons work, and so on. I probably tend to overthink these things. And there was also basic research in getting a feel for this genre, such as reading other similar books. My editor was a big help with age-appropriate language.
The storylines for each of the books pursue positive themes and lessons. Would you like to share a little about the positive topics that appear in each book?
I would say the overriding theme is youngsters having the courage and awareness to solve difficult problems themselves. In the first book, love unites the Snowflake family to carry on a mission that the kids have initiated. Jane and Robbie are rewarded by their uncle’s trust in Book 2, that they are probably more capable of meeting a Cloudland challenge than he is. After that, King Nature is impressed enough in Book 3 to summon Robbie and his friend to deal with an evil that is in a land he cannot reach. And appearing at key moments is a mysterious and all-powerful figure, the Old One, who perhaps echoes strong traditions we have in our own lives.
Can you share a highlight from one of the books? Or maybe your thoughts on, or an excerpt of, your favorite sentence, paragraph, or page?
Wow, that’s a tough one. I kind of like it in Book 2 when Jane and Robbie end up in Cloudland, which they believed was just their uncle’s story and didn’t really exist. They keep saying over and over again they can’t believe they are there. Then, separated from their two guides, the following conversation takes place.
[Right,” said Jane. “Suppose we have trouble finding Legs and Roly. Where do we find food and shelter?”
“No clue,” said Robbie. “I don’t remember those details in Uncle Josh’s stories. ‘Course this wasn’t supposed to be a real place.”
“In that case, maybe we won’t need real food,” answered Jane, smiling.
Robbie reached over and gave her a high five. “Good one,” he said. This exchange caused both of them to relax a little.]
And there are a number of tense moments. Here’s one when the kids are in the dark, Shiverme forest.
[…The kids were afraid to move or turn around. The noise stopped. They stayed glued to the spot.
Finally, Robbie whispered, “I have no idea what that was. Sounded like a giant insect or something. I say let’s get away from it.”
Jane gave a thumbs up, and they quietly moved out again in the direction they had been going. The clicking sound was not repeated. As they walked, they bumped into each other several times as they stepped between bushes and over rocks.
“I think it’s getting too dark to see, Robbie,” Jane said in a low voice. “Robbie?”
Suddenly, there was a crash and Jane heard Robbie yell out in surprise. She whipped around and stared in horror. Robbie, who had been walking right behind her, had disappeared!]
What has been the best reaction from a reader, so far?
I like this review, “What a wonderful depiction of the power of family, unconditional love, and how our differences make us unique. No two snowflakes are the same even if they look alike.”
Should we expect to see any more books in this series?
I would like to think so. I have developed a basic storyline for Book 4 that will add to what we know about Cloudland, and probe more deeply into its relationship with Earth.
Is there anything else you would like to share with us about the Cloudland series, yourself, or your writing?
In my professional career as an engineer, researcher, and Air Force officer, my communication emphases stressed an economy of words. So, I’ll have to say that writing fiction, where the reader is often better served by more, not fewer words, does not come easy to me. But I have enjoyed the challenge of learning and improving my craft, and I sincerely hope readers enjoy the Cloudland product. Happy reading!
For more information, visit: https://www.chip-hill.com/
Written by Chip Hill
Illustrated by Michael Kelley
Age Range: 7+
Paperback: Book 1 – 97 pages, Book 2 – 104 pages, Book 3 – 120 pages
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