CBP: What inspired you to write the Imagination Station series?
Marianne: Paul (McCusker) had always wanted to write stories about the Imagination Station. When looking to do a kids’ series about it, we chose early elementary to introduce new readers to the Adventures in Odyssey world. We also wanted to touch on a group of kids that didn’t have many Christian books written for their level. There seemed to be a gap from picture books to later elementary readers.
CBP: The Imagination Station device is well-known to fans of the radio drama Adventures in Odyssey. Why did you and Paul decide to use it in a book series?
Marianne: It lends itself to stand-alone adventures. It’s a fascinating device. Why wouldn’t he want to write about it? It allowed us to write about settings outside of Odyssey. We’d like some of the books to augment the history kids learn from public school textbooks or TV. The Imagination Station radio dramas are also among the most popular. We thought that kids would like them, that’s all!
CBP: The first two books focus on the Vikings and ancient Rome. The next two books focus on Kublai Khan and the War of the Roses. How did you and Paul decide which historical events to write about?
Marianne: They just seemed interesting and we thought they’d be popular with boys. I also looked through the Bennett books on core knowledge to make sure the things we write about would be taught in schools. Also, the Rome book is based on an actual Adventures in Odyssey radio drama. It is one of our favorites, and so we wanted to retell the story. The Kublai Khan book started out to be more about Marco Polo, but Kublai took the stage. He was a fascinating character. We don’t always decide with concrete objectives. Most times the story just sounds plain old fun.
CBP: How true to history are the books?
Marianne: Now, this is a spoiler. Mr. Whittaker isn’t real. Neither are Patrick and Beth. Though they are named after Paul’s children. Patrick and Beth are his children’s middle names. Most of the events are based on sagas, legends, or some sort of historical base—except for book 4. All the characters in the War of the Roses story are fictional. For plot purposes, I sped up the storytelling. For example, the events in the Kublai Khan story took place over months, not hours. Same with the Viking book. I wanted Leif to leave for the New World shortly after he brought back the gospel from Norway. In reality, a lot of time passed between the events.
I did make some vocabulary exceptions. For example, Marco Polo was Venetian, but I called him Italian—a more familiar term for the readership. But the basic events of books 1 to 3 are true, and the War of the Roses did occur in England with Lords fighting their neighbors, etc. We really just wanted to write about the jousting. Paul did a lot great research for the jousting scene. I had to cut a lot of it, and that made me sad.
On the website The ImaginationStation.com, I’ve listed what’s true and what’s exaggerated for each book. There are also nonfiction pages for the kids to read about Leif Ericsson and the other Christian heroes.
CBP: These books are geared towards young readers, ages 7 and up. What is the number one issue that children learning to read struggle with?
Marianne: Speed processing. The kids who are slower reading learners usually need more help with sight words and fluency. That’s just practice at an accessible reading level. These are just slower readers in general—I’m not counting kids with true auditory processing issues or other learning disabilities, which represent between 3 and 10 percent. Most kids can learn to read better with one-on-one instruction and a loving atmosphere. I’ve posted reading tips on the website for each book and lists of words to practice before tackling a chapter. See TheImaginationStation.com.
CBP: What kinds of books do you recommend children read?
Marianne: I don’t only recommend books. There are fabulous magazines out there for this age group. Not all kids like fiction, so magazines draw them in with nonfiction and pictures. There are some good book series out there—I personally give my children the tried-and-true series written years ago, like Beverly Cleary’s Ramona books. My boys enjoyed the Horrible Harry books by Suzy Kline. My daughter was a Gertrude Chandler Warner/Boxcar Children fanatic. Parents can ask librarians to recommend books. One of my sons loves anything about animals in the nonfiction section—I don’t make him read fiction unless it’s for school. I do have to review their books first, and that can take a lot of time, but it’s worth it.
CBP: What are some ways that parents can help their children develop their reading skills?
Marianne: (Get their vision checked for not only vision but for tracking issues as well.) Turn off the electronics and make reading a fun time. You can read to them or they can read to you. Make reading an event. Your kids will complain for about two weeks while the electronic addiction wears off. Then they will be better able to engage in literary pursuits. For free reading, let your kids read “easy” books. Don’t judge. If they want to read Hop on Pop twenty times, that means that’s where they are comfortable. If you push your kids beyond what they perceive to be the right level, they will rebel. Better a lot of fluent reading at an easy level than choppy reading at a higher level. Reading with starts and stops is a bad habit to let them get into.
CBP: What encouragement can you offer parents who may have reluctant or struggling readers?
Marianne: I can encourage parents by letting them know that there are GREAT reading programs for kids. Most kids, 60 percent, need extra help at home to make it to the fourth grade reading level. That extra help can come from parents who gently and lovingly make reading a family hobby. There is no lack of teaching material, and your school districts should be able to help you find the right tools. The biggest factor in children’s success at school is a loving parent who takes the time to work with their children. One of my sons could not learn to sound out letters quickly enough to “hear” the word. I couldn’t help him, and so I hired a reading specialist who was more of a cognitive trainer and we worked through his auditory glitch. There are some terms to search “phonemic” awareness and “phonograms” that will help parents read more about how to help emergent readers. When the kids know how to sound out words, speed training on sight words can jump start their reading fluency. On the website, TheImaginationStation.com, I’ve prepared this long essay on how use a metronome to speed up your child’s reaction time to sight words. It’s under the book The Attack at the Arena. Don’t give up. Virtually every kid can learn to read well enough to go to college if his or her parent(s) invest in them.
CBP: What do you hope kids will walk away with after reading Imagination Station?
Marianne: A smile and a desire to learn more about history and faith in Jesus Christ.
CBP: Can you give us any “sneak peeks” into what we can expect in future books?
Marianne: Book 5 is a Bible story, a familiar Bible story. The title is “Showdown with the
Shepherd.” I think that’s a fairly strong clue.
Book 6 is about Miles Standish and William Bradford and Native American
relations. It centers on a certain holiday in November.
That will end the first story arc. As for the next set of 6, that may depend on sales
of the first set. (That’s a strong hint to readers to buy the books so we can keep
developing the series.)
Be sure to check out the click book for book 1 at TheImaginationStation.com. That way you can tell if these books will be at the right level for your kids.