Bedtime Adventures Await With STORY WHALE
An interview with Solomon Larsen, author of Story Whale, and story juggler extraordinaire
Hello! I'm Sri Juneja and this is my children’s book recommendation newsletter. You can subscribe by clicking on this handy little button:
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In today’s newsletter, I’m so excited to interview Solomon Larsen. Solomon is responsible for a really lovely corner of the Internet called Story Whale. Story Whale is a free newsletter and website featuring fantastical, adventurous bedtime stories for kids. And the really impressive part is that these are serialized stories so the stories unfold over time as each part is released (no skipping ahead!). It’s hard enough to do it with one story but Solomon is serializing THREE stories simultaneously! Each part, or “chapter,” clocks in at around 1,000 words so it’s meaty without being too lengthy; basically the perfect amount of reading before bedtime. The prose is simple and eloquent–-kids will understand what is happening and also expand their vocabulary at the same time.
At the end of this newsletter, I’ve summarized each of the 3 stories on Story Whale so you can see which ones might be of most interest to your kids.
Sri: Solomon, thank you for doing this interview! I’m so excited to get to know more about you and your process. Can you tell us more about yourself and what inspired you to start Story Whale?
Solomon: Sure, I’m a 26-year-old Australian writer with a love for fiction. I started writing stories in high school and have been writing ever since. I graduated with a Master's in Writing, Editing, and Publishing from The University of Queensland. Story Whale originally started off as a small business idea where I would write personalized bedtime stories for customers. It was a fun beginning and I was able to write up a number of personalized stories for friends and family. My attention quickly turned to start up my newsletter of free, weekly serialized bedtime stories. The idea of focusing on publishing free stories for everyone was really compelling to me. I also then get to write the stories I want to write! Over time, it's been heartwarming to hear some of the feedback from parents whose kids have been enjoying the stories. It's just incredible to have my stories actually being regularly read by an audience!
Sri: That is an incredibly cool start! I have to ask, of the personalized stories you wrote, was there one in particular that was close to your heart?
Solomon: Personalized stories were a lot of fun. I think they made for a really special present. There was a story that I wrote for my auntie and uncle that I really loved. A while ago, their wonderful cat, Pumpkin, went missing for a week or two. Thankfully, he was eventually found in another part of town and returned home by a kind stranger. For their personalized story, my auntie and uncle wanted to hear what Pumpkin must have gotten up to during his little adventure. It was a hoot to write. I wrapped it up by having Pumpkin save a mouse who then granted him a wish. Of course, his wish was to go home to mum and dad.
Sri: I love that! That’s such a nice way of reframing what I imagine was a stressful period of time for your aunt and uncle. I also wanted to ask–-what’s the story behind the name?
Solomon: I wish I could tell you the name Story Whale had a deep and personal meaning behind it, but it was more so just the happy outcome of a stint of brainstorming. In hindsight, I also think whales have a special place in fiction. I am specifically thinking of the whales of Pinocchio and Moby Dick. A family member who is a musician actually recently composed a beautiful song about the whale of Story Whale (listen here).
Sri: I really like that interpretation and that song is hauntingly beautiful. When I first heard the name, I thought of an old, wise whale with many stories to tell. I think children’s fiction is hard to write well and serialized fiction is just plain hard. And yet you’ve managed to do both so effortlessly. How do you come up with your story ideas?
Solomon: First and foremost, Story Whale stories need to be fun! I definitely do not have a specific approach to coming up with new ideas, but I know that when I write for Story Whale, I want the stories to be imaginative and fun. I want medieval settings with knights and monsters and dragons and stories from unusual perspectives, like pigeons in New York City!
Sri: Well you’ve certainly accomplished that. One of the challenges I’ve always felt with writing is staying motivated and since you’re doing it in a serialized way, it’s even more important to keep yourself motivated. How do you manage that?
Solomon: Motivation is tricky. The reality is that it is incredibly difficult to grow an audience in the current online environment. If you want to build an audience online, you can’t have expectations of going "viral.” You need to be ready to keep chipping away at it, especially at the start when your audience is mainly friends and family! It takes time. There is so much fantastic content out there and you’re competing with all of it, like a TikTok star across the world to a TV goliath like The Last of Us! Against all of the competition out there, growing any sizeable audience in this current entertainment age is definitely challenging! I also think it's important to commit to a workload that’s manageable. I post weekly but allow myself one extra day for times when things are just too chaotic and motivation might be low. It's a long-haul game.
Sri: I 100% agree with that. I keep having to remind myself that motivation ebbs and flows but it’s the habit and the commitment that have to keep you going. I think when you first start seeing a story take shape in your head there’s so much excitement but as you start fleshing out the details it gets trickier to keep yourself on track. Since you have three stories in motion, how do you manage all the plot lines? Do you have an ending in mind for each story?
Solomon: I definitely do not carefully plot out my stories. For some of them, I absolutely do not have a clear ending in mind. The stories change a lot over time. The Beast of the Forest, for instance, just kept developing and the plot kept extending. I only recently arrived at a bit of an idea of how things will wrap up for it. We’ll see if that is how things will actually turn out. All of the stories are very much being written in real time! I certainly wish I had them stacked up to post, but it’s a week-to-week operation for the most part.
Sri: I really love The Beast Of The Forest. There’s the part where Jimmy is describing playing the Mr. Wolf game and the way that chapter ends sent a shiver down my spine. I’m excited to see how that story unfolds. Do you already have ideas for your next story?
Solomon: I wish! I’ve just been riding the wave of the current three projects. I’ll have to start thinking about the next lot of stories very soon. Nothing quite like procrastination…
Sri: Oh, I know that feeling. Thank you so much for sharing your journey! Before we wrap up, I, of course, have to ask: What have been some of your favorite children’s books growing up?
Solomon: Oh, so many! I loved the Tashi books by Anna and Barbara Fienberg and Kim Gamble. I also loved Hergé’s Tintin books (especially the beautiful front covers). The Where’s Wally? books by Martin Handford (although I think the character’s name is Waldo in America, apparently) were another classic at the school library. I also remember a short book called The Runner by Keith Gray. I think it was the first real novel-feeling book I read. Those first story encounters you come across as a kid can leave a special nostalgic engraving in your mind. I would love to be a part of that experience with my own writing.
Sri: The Tintin books are so good. It’s actually been too long since I’ve read one. A friend of mine used to collect them just for the covers, they’re so iconic. Well, Solomon, thank you so much for your time. Your stories are wonderful and so gripping. I really look forward to reading the next parts! Everyone, especially those with kids aged 6 and older, you’re definitely going to want to check out Story Whale.
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Here are my summaries of the 3 serialized stories on Story Whale:
The Beast Of The Forest
Age: 9-12 years
Taking up a schoolyard dare, Jimmy decides to head into the forest on the outskirts of town to prove that there is no Beast. Mustering up his courage, Jimmy heads into the forest and is surprised by what he finds. What follows is the adventure of a lifetime as Jimmy gets caught up in a journey of bravery and friendship. If you’ve seen The Princess Bride, you’ll remember it starts with the grandson who is sick at home and his grandfather reads to him to keep him entertained. His character wants an adventure story and he would have absolutely devoured The Beast Of The Forest. Solomon does an absolutely elegant job balancing action, dialogue, and world-building all while keeping a tight grip on pacing. Each chapter ends on a cliffhanger that keeps you on the edge of your seat.
Perfect for kids who love: adventure, thrills, and medieval settings
Age: 6-10 years
In a completely different setting and style, the Princess Hanna series is about 10-year-old Hanna, a spirited dragon princess who lives in Courage Town, and her friends. The story begins when Hanna leads a small revolution as she challenges an age-old edict that female dragons are not allowed to breathe fire. While there is a general arc to the Princess Hanna chapters, several of them can be read independently as well. The chapters do a wonderful job of weaving teachable moments naturally into the story; one of my favorite quotes as an example:
“‘Am I feeling ready?’ she said. ‘No. But I am ready.’”
Perfect for kids who love: dragons, fantasy, royalty
Read Princess Hanna
A Lost Pigeon Named Lew
Ages: 10-12 years
One thing I hate about big cities is that they are usually overrun with the rats of the sky: pigeons. So I was unsure about a story featuring, as a friend casually refers to them: “troll birds.” But as I started reading, I began to feel bad for Lew and pigeon-kind. And I never imagined myself feeling sympathy for this particular species of bird. In a story that is equal parts thrilling and heart-wrenching, Lew shares how scavenging on a cruise ship ultimately leads him to New York City. What ensues is a pigeon well and truly out of his element…
Perfect for kids who love: cities, NYC, birds, animal stories
Up next week…
Stay tuned for next week’s post about books that help kids navigate making new friends!
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