Ev­ery­one has that spe­cial power to be ex­tra­or­di­nary

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - GOODPOSTER - MOIRA E. MCLAUGH­LIN

THE Last Ak­away by Gary Kar­ton. 288 pages. Ages 8 to 12.

What is your spirit an­i­mal? Is it a rhi­noc­eros bee­tle, a bug that can lift 850 times its weight? Is it a de­ter­mined and cat­like spot­ted ocelot that will fight to the death? Or maybe a rain­bow trout, with its keen sense of di­rec­tion? Ac­cord­ing to the leg­end in Gary Kar­ton’s kids’ book The Last Ak­away, all kids have spirit an­i­mals that give them mag­i­cal an­i­mal-like pow­ers.

Kar­ton’s book, the first in a tril­ogy, (that’s a se­ries of three books), fol­lows two brothers as they seek to save the Ak­away, a mag­i­cal an­i­mal that helps kids con­nect with their spirit an­i­mal. The ad­ven­ture through snowy woods in­cludes a talk­ing crab, but Kar­ton drew a lot of his in­spi­ra­tion from real-life ex­pe­ri­ences. The main char­ac­ters are named af­ter his sons, and Kar­ton sought to make the di­a­logue re­al­is­tic, like some­thing he would hear his chil­dren say.

“I never re­ally thought about writ­ing kids’ books un­til I was read­ing with my kids,” said Kar­ton, who lives in Ar­ling­ton, Vir­ginia, in the US, with his wife and sons Jake, 14, and Brody, 12. His boys, he said, wanted him to write a book that was un­pre­dictable. So he did.

“I’m just go­ing to write a book that I would re­ally like,” Kar­ton re­called think­ing. “I love an­i­mals. I love spe­cial pow­ers and I love hav­ing fun.” He wrote the first draft of The Last Ak­away in about four months.

“I was just try­ing to type as fast I could to fig­ure out where my imag­i­na­tion was go­ing,” he said.

Grow­ing up in Chicago, Illi­nois, with a learn­ing dis­abil­ity, Kar­ton didn’t like to read. “My mem­ory of school was tough,” he said. “I felt stupid be­cause I could never read very well.”

What Kar­ton lacked in nat­u­ral abil­ity, he made up for in de­ter­mi­na­tion and cre­ativ­ity. As a kid he liked to make up games with his best friend, such as a ping pong ob­sta­cle course.

“I was a big day­dreamer,” he said. “I dreamed all the time.”

When Kar­ton was in col­lege, he hated go­ing to the li­brary to do re­search. Read­ing was still hard for him. In­stead, he would find ex­perts on the topic that he needed to write about and call them for an in­ter­view. (He later used those in­ter­view skills while work­ing as a sports reporter at the Wash­ing­ton Post.) And when Kar­ton was writ­ing, rewrit­ing and edit­ing his book – which took two years af­ter that first draft – he went to the ex­perts again: this time, kids.

“I had a group of 10 kids and ev­ery time I would write some­thing, I would talk to the kids and they would say: ‘This is funny,’ or ‘This is not funny,’” he said. “I have been crit­i­cised for lis­ten­ing to kids too much, but I think kids are amaz­ing and hon­est, and they have so much cre­ativ­ity.”

Kar­ton was re­jected by 12 pub­lish­ers. But he never let him­self get dis­cour­aged.

“I’m a big be­liever in per­se­ver­ance,” said Kar­ton, who is writ­ing the sec­ond book in his se­ries while work­ing for Safe Kids, a non-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion ded­i­cated to keep­ing kids safe around the world.

When Kar­ton was a kid, he used to try to get spiders to bite him in hopes that it would give him spe­cial pow­ers, like Spi­der­Man’s. That trick never worked. But as an adult, he re­alised that ev­ery­one has spe­cial pow­ers.

“It’s hard to be dif­fer­ent, but so good to be dif­fer­ent,” Kar­ton said. “Ev­ery­one has at least one spe­cial power that makes them quite ex­tra­or­di­nary.”

Like the char­ac­ters in his book, Brody and Jake, you just have to fig­ure out what your spe­cial power is, he said. – Wash­ing­ton Post

The Last Ak­away

AU­THOR: Gary Kar­ton has writ­ten pow­ers of kids.

about the spe­cial

Last Ak­away The

KIDS’ BOOK: The cover of

by Gary Kar­ton.

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