This week I’m celebrating the anniversary of CJ Milbrandt’s fabulous fantasy series for kids, Byways! At the bottom of this post, you’ll find information about CJ’s anniversary sale!
I recently read Byways Book 2, “Aboard the Train: A Ewan Johns Adventure,”which follows the magical journey of Ewan, the eldest Johns brother as he competes against his two half-brothers in their race across the country. Magic runs on the Johns family. They’re Changers who can take the form of an animal. Not that magic will make winning the race any easier for Ewan, Zane, and Ganix. Subsequent books take turns following each of the boys’ adventures as they try to reach the rendezvous point first.
I highly recommend the Byways books. CJ’s website http://cjmilbrandt.com/ contains fabulous resources to enhance enjoyment of the series. For example, a waypoint log allows kids to submit their home state information and receive a unique seal similar to those of the Johns Brothers. (I confess, my inner child made me submit my name and state to receive my very own seal.) Kids can also mail a postcard to CJ and in return receive a postcard from one of the Johns Brothers.
I’m thrilled CJ dropped in to talk about her inspirations and share what’s coming up in the latest books of this charming, magical series.
Byways was Born on the Fourth of July in 2014, and this year you’re celebrating the anniversary by running a sale. What is the significance of Independence Day in the Byways series?
Byways books are full of shape-shifters and rogue magicians; mythical creatures and runaway slaves. Then there are frightened stowaways and royal lineages, but they all have patriotic underpinnings. They subtly teach readers about the fifty states of the United States of America.
When I reached the end of my book, I noticed the “Let’s Play a Game” section, which included geography and fun facts about Delaware—the first state in the union. What can readers expect in the remaining Byways Books?
Each of the Byways books is tied to one of the fifty states and borrows from its history and geography—icons, mottos, landmarks, people, places, and famous firsts. They’re hidden throughout the story, turning the series into one long game of hide-and-seek. I’ll give you an example from Ewan’s first solo adventure.
Excerpt from Byways #2, Aboard the Train: A Ewan Johns Adventure…
“A race? Against your own brothers?” asked a chatty woman in a fuzzy green coat. “How exciting! Are they aboard this train? I want to meet them!”
Ewan Johns said, “No, Mrs. Throop. We each took different roads. And I chose the railroad.”
“Rush, rush, rush!” she said, shaking her head. “I don’t think I could chase from east to west Liberty. Too much effort! I’m more of an ambler. Yes, I’m quite the walker.” She patted the dog whose head poked out of her purse. “Isn’t that right, Sugarloaf?”
The dog with sandy fur growled.
Leola Throop kept right on talking. “And you’re the elder brother?”
“Eldest of three,” Ewan replied.
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Byways Book #2 is tied to Pennsylvania, the second state to be ratified. At the end of each Byways book, there’s a master list that covers everything from the state tree to the state insect. Nicknames, sports teams, state heroes, and national parks also find their way into the story.
My illustrator even fit two allusions into the cover art—the Liberty Bell and Pennsylvania’s iconic keystone shape.
I homeschooled my children and they would have loved Byways. The books are a fun way for parents and kids to learn about history and geography, not to mention appreciation of the intricate, whimsical art. The series could be categorized in more than one genre.
Byways is a twist on the fantasy quest genre. Three half-brothers take sibling rivalry to new lengths by challenging each other to a cross-country race. While away from home, the Johns brothers encounter things that shake up their ideas and shape their ideals. So the storyline also fits the coming-of-age category.
What age range are you writing for?
These books are for young readers who are ready for chapter books (ages 6-10). However, I wrote the stories with parents in mind. As a mother of five, I listened to a whole lot of read-aloud books, and most of them failed to hold my interest. I wanted to create a kids’ series adults would enjoy. Incidentally, the books will “age up” with readers, increasing in both the length and complexity. By the end, we’ll be in middlegrade territory.
This adult thinks you’ve succeeded in creating a kids series that parents will enjoy! Is there a common thread that holds all the books together?
Readers meet Mr. Ian Johns, Postmaster of a land called Liberty. Ian’s three sons bicker too much, so he plans a family trip, hoping the boys will bond. But everything gets turned around, and their tour becomes a race. Three routes stretch from coast to coast. The rules: each brother—and his two companions—must check in at post offices along their route. At these waypoints, they stamp in with their personal seal and report their progress by postcard.
Excerpt from Book #1, On Your Marks: The Adventures Begins… (and check out the special details in this gorgeous cover)
Laurel jumped when loud growling came from the front hall. Hooves clattered, and a howl filled the house with its high, eerie note. “There they go again,” she said.
“What now?” Ian hurried out of the kitchen. He slowed to step over the shattered pieces of a glass candle stand. “Boys? What’s the meaning of …!”
He was interrupted when a full-grown elk minced past with a young raccoon dangling from his antlers.
“Not in the house!” Ian started after them, but a snarling wolf zoomed between his legs, tripping him. For a moment, Ian was afraid the silver wolf was going to bite the elk. But the wolf only jumped and snapped at the raccoon’s ringed tail.
Laurel charged in, eyes flashing. “Stop this nonsense before someone gets hurt!” Without a speck of fear, she threw her arms around the big wolf’s neck. “For shame, Zane.”
Ian addressed the elk. “I’m surprised at you, Ewan.”
Magic stirred, and the elk Changed into a young man. Ewan still had a chittering raccoon riding on his head, making a mess of his long hair. “I’m sorry, Father. I was only trying to get between them.”
“It’s Ganix’s fault.” Zane had also Changed back. He sat and sulked in the circle of his step-mother’s arms. “He started it.”
Ian lifted the half-grown raccoon off Ewan’s head. Curling up in his father’s arms, the coon blinked happily and churred. His dad said, “Nice try, mister, but being cute won’t save you. Or that crystal candle holder. That was a family heirloom!”
“Change back, Ganix,” Laurel said firmly.
A moment later, the boy mumbled, “I didn’t mean to, Dad. Sorry, Mom.”
Ian shook his head. Laurel was right. It was high time to reveal his new plan.
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To celebrate the first anniversary of the series kick-off, I’m running sales on selected Byways titles. Take advantage of these e-book deals and introduce yourself to Ewan the Eldest.
- Byways #1: On Your Marks: The Adventure Begins is FREE from June 30–July 3, 2015.
- Byways #2: Aboard the Train: A Ewan Johns Adventure is FREE from June 30–July 3, 2015
- Byways #7: Inside the Tree: A Ewan Johns Adventure is on sale until July 8. The quicker you catch this Kindle Countdown Deal, the better the bargain. Starting at $1.99 on July 1.
J. Milbrandt has always believed in miracles, especially small ones. A lifelong bookworm with a love for fairy tales, far-off lands, and fantasy worlds, CJ began spinning adventures of her own on the advice of a dear friend. Her family-friendly stories mingle humor and whimsy with a dash of danger and a touch of magic.
Dear Readers, if you’ve ready any Byways books, which brother is your favorite character?