Phil Rink is an author, a professional mechanical engineer, an inventor and entrepreneur, a licensed ship’s captain, and a private pilot. He also has run science fairs and coached kids for years in sports (mostly soccer) and for Science Olympiad teams.
The Children’s Book Review: In each of your Jimi and Isaac books, you like to explore issues. In Jimi and Isaac 2a: Keystone Species you explore a wonderful menagerie of topics: boating skills, marine ecology, friendship, survival. Can you tell us how your own experiences and years of boating helped shape this story?
Phil Rink: I’m a USCG licensed captain and I’ve been boating for a long, long time – lakes and rivers, protected waters and open ocean. I’ve made three trips on the northern Pacific coast.
You try to prepare for emergencies and react appropriately, but you are never completely prepared for emergencies. The ocean will always surprise you. It’s an awesome, beautiful, terrible place.
TCBR: Jimi and Isaac are completely unsuspecting of the epic and dangerous events that are begging to drag them into a riptide of trouble. How did you decide on the right balance of character driven moments versus plot driven moments?
PR: Jimi and Isaac are full of wonder and awe, are starting to become participants instead of spectators, and are not yet skeptical or cynical.
They fall into circumstances that create opportunities. Those opportunities drive action that creates problems, resulting in opportunities. It’s a delightful, complicated dance. I don’t make any overt effort to balance the story elements. Mostly I try to keep everything moving.
TCBR: The age of the boys, Jimi and Isaac, is not mentioned in Keystone Species, but based on the experiences and the way in which they handle themselves—as well as the one time use of the word sex in relation to fish mating—the book lends itself to an older middle grade audience. Which age range did you have in mind when you wrote it? And which age group do you find enjoys the book the most?
PR: The five-book Jimi & Isaac series covers middle school. This book is towards the early part. However, I purposely left their physical descriptions vague so readers can see themselves and their friends as Jimi and/or Isaac.
Young boys and adult men identify strongly with middle-school boys – still children, but facing adult issues. It’s a good place to stand and tell a story. I’ve heard from a lot of parents who read these books to their younger children, which really makes me happy. Jimi & Isaac books are built to raise questions and promote discussions, not provide answers.
TCBR: Would you mind sharing some of the praise you have received from readers about your Jimi and Isaac series?
PR: Teachers and librarians get what I’m trying to do and are rooting for the books, but I’ve gotten a few letters where kids told me exactly what sentences they like the best. That’s high praise.
Teacher: “My number one goal as a middle school literacy teacher is to get my students excited about books, and this series has helped me do just that! Get this series for your school or classroom library. “
Kid (from 4a: Solar Powered): “This book is now one of my favorites. I don’t really like reading books that are really informational when it reminds me of school but I loved this book. When I was reading it, I couldn’t help but laugh even when I know it’s all about science.”
TCBR: What should we expect to see from the Jimi and Isaac duo next?
PR: The problems get harder as the boys get older.
Jimi & Isaac 1a: School Soccer is about competition and adapting to change.
Jimi & Isaac 3a: The Mars Mission addresses solving problems and honoring commitments.
Jimi & Isaac 4a: Solar Power covers the business of inventing, product development, and marketing.
Jimi & Isaac 5a: The Brain Injury (out soon), is a tough book. Isaac learns about life and death and uncertainty and love. It’s brutal.
TCBR: When you write, I believe that you predominately write with boys in mind. Or is it more that you just write what you know and it lends itself well to a male audience?
PR: It’s what I know. I also think it’s an effective platform for discussing issues of the day.
It may surprise some people that girls like Jimi & Isaac books. It doesn’t surprise me at all. There are plenty of strong female characters. Besides, boys are cool.
There are also a significant number of boys that will live their entire childhood without having positive male role models. I hope I’m helping those kids.
TCBR: What is your writing process and what does your typical writing day look like?
PR: I take a long time (years, often) thinking about the story arc. Then I write out most of the chapter names as a rough guide before I start writing.
I start every morning reading and editing what I wrote the day before, then add more story as quickly as I can before I run out of gas. By the time I get to the end of the book I’m mostly done, but sometimes I need to circle back and clean up the story. Then it’s sent off to my test readers for comments and pickups, then professional editing, then out the door.
TCBR: Where did your original desire to become a writer come from?
PR: When my daughter was in forth grade, she brought home a copy of “Hatchet” by Gary Paulsen, because she had read it and she knew I’d like it. We finished the series together and had a great time talking about the books, but she (and her school librarian) couldn’t find any similar content-rich books for follow-up. So I decided to write my own.
TCBR: What were your favorite childhood books?
PR: The stuff I’m writing. It used to be so common – plot driven, smart, compact books. “The Mad Scientist Club,” “Nancy Drew,” and, of course, the entire ageless “Tom Swift” series.
I also really love the heavily illustrated stories from Holling Clancy Holling. “Pagoo” might be the most important book of my life. It dragged me out of the New Mexico desert and plopped me on the edge of the ocean.
I read “Dune” as a teenager and I still read classic science fiction. I wasn’t able to read “The Hobbit” until I was over forty. Too many names and weird words.
TCBR: Before we end, do you have any parting words of inspiration or anything in general that you would like to share about Jimi & Isaac 2a: Keystone Species?
PR: People need to post online reviews and advocate for the books they like at their schools and community libraries, and at their favorite bookstores. More and more books are being produced, but the overwhelming quantity makes quality books harder and harder to find.
We hope people will try Jimi & Isaac books. Jimi and Isaac have something to say.
Read The Children’s Book Review‘s full review of Jimi & Isaac 2a: Keystone Species, by Phil Rink.
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