Children's novel author visits Paxton

By ROSS BROWN
bluehavanaross@gmail.com


PAXTON — While on their way home from dropping off their older son at college in northeastern Indiana, Paxton residents Craig and Candi Riecks bought their youngest son, Caiden, a book at a bookstore.

Caiden Riecks enjoyed the book — part of The Adventures of Harry Moon book series — so much that he sent the book publisher an email asking when the next book would be released. Soon, the publisher replied back, and Caiden got to talk to the book’s author, Mark Andrew Poe.

The 1-year-old story continued from there, culminating in the author and his team making an appearance in Paxton over the weekend.

Standing at the northeast corner of Market and Pells streets in downtown Paxton during Saturday’s sixth annual Paxton Swine ‘N’ Dine BBQ Contest & Festival, Poe and co-author Thom Black sold more than a hundred books to attendees, with Poe signing many of them.

To kick off the festival, Caiden Riecks unveiled a banner on a firetruck and announced finalists for the Harry Moon series’ Good Mischief contest, and he stayed around at Poe’s booth to take pictures with other fans and enjoy the day.

Background
Despite writing several varieties of books over the years, Poe did not start writing children’s books until the Harry Moon series was released in 2014.

“Mark had never written a kids’ book until 2014,” said Mark Griffin, owner of J. Farvers Christian Books and Gifts in Shipshewana, Ind., where the Riecks’ bought Caiden the first book. “Now, they’re the largest-selling kids’ book in the country.”

According to Poe’s website, he came up with the idea to write the series several years ago, with a story about a young man with a special connection to deep spiritual magic. After spending several years on the concept, Poe  showed it to a creative-content team and then launched the initial 12-book series in summer 2014.

Like a number of children’s book series, the plot of The Adventures of Harry Moon involves children trying to thwart evil by promoting good and discovering new things along the way.

Set in the fictional community of Sleepy Hollow, Mass., the small town has been overtaken by the Halloween holiday and now can’t seem to escape it, no matter how hard it tries.

“It’s trapped in Halloween, so it can’t get out,” Black said. “All of the shops are Halloween shops. All the holidays are Halloweeny, but they can’t get out. They’re making a ton of money, but they can’t get out.”

Along with Halloween, the town’s mayor is problematic. Like many novels, he is the evil character who doesn’t help matters.

“The mayor is kind of a bad dude, so he’s taking advantage of everything. He owns the newspaper, the ink, controls the news, and so the town just wants out,” Black said.

“There’s a kid in the town named Harry Moon, and (the townspeople) recognize that he has the DNA to get them out. So what happens is that the town discovers that Harry has the DNA for good, and so they’re trying to weaponized good so they can fight evil by producing the good.”

Over the course of the 60-book series, Harry and his friends attempt to help the town out of its misery.

Along with Harry Moon’s special DNA, he is also helped by a rabbit, coincidentally the name of Poe’s publishing company based out of Chicago.

“The rabbit theme is that they give him a magic rabbit,” Black explained, “which gives him special powers.”

Also surprising in the plot is that a character by the name of Harry Moon would have special genetic powers. Black said this is tied into the plot, as well.

“Harry doesn’t like his name because of the ‘hairy bottom’ references, so he wants to change it,” Black said.

Road to Paxton
After the first book in the series was released three years ago, it quickly became popular among students throughout the country.

When he first started carrying the book at his store in July 2016, Griffin said, it became the biggest-selling book in supply, and that continues today.

“I only started carrying the books in July of 2016, and I’m selling over a hundred a month,” Griffin said. “My employees have gotten into it, and they’re enjoying selling the books, as well, and I have one who won’t let up until she outsells me every month.”

“I’ve got books already bought from my September supply,” Griffin added.

A month after Griffin started selling the novel, the Riecks family visited the store on their way home from dropping their oldest son off for his freshman year of college.

“The older brother (Corbin Riecks) goes to at Trine University in northeastern Indiana, and they brought him up to school last year. And on the way home, they stopped at our store and said they’d like to get a gift for their son on the way home. So, I sold them the book for Caiden,” Griffin said.

When he finished reading the book, Caiden was eager to read the other books in the series. Then, when he finished reading the ones already released, he wanted more.

It was at that time that he emailed Rabbit Publishers asking when the next book in the series would be released.

“Caiden got back home, read it, loved it so much that he made his mom read it, schoolteachers read it,” Griffin said. “Then, when he couldn’t figure out where he could get the next one, he sent an email to the publisher with his phone number. The publisher called his house, and that’s what started the relationship between Caiden and the publisher.”

After several conversations between Caiden Riecks and the authors, it became clear that he was the one to represent the popular series, according to Black.

Despite having many avid readers of the series, Black explained that Riecks stood out from the others because of his contact and conversations with them.

“We don’t have one official superfan,” Black said. “He contacted us, asking when the next book would come out. We fell in love him and decided that he was the one who we wanted to help us to sell the books all over the country.”

Good Mischief contest
As part of the ongoing series’ release dates, Poe and Black organized a contest for readers to submit clips of them helping others in need. Called the Good Mischief contest, it aims to help the kids who read the series to do good things for others in their communities.

“The idea of good mischief is doing something good for someone else,” Poe explained. “For example, you take out somebody else’s garbage for them and mow their lawn without asking for anything.”

Caiden, whose father, Craig, owns the Paxton IGA grocery store, entered the contest by uploading a video of himself putting away a shopping cart from an elderly person in the store.

“The whole theory behind it is to be good and do good. Kids doing good things for other people,” Poe said.

During Saturday’s festival, the 100 finalists were revealed. Representing 10 countries — the U.S., China, Canada, France, Scotland, England, Paraguay, Serbia, Bosnia and Australia — the finalists will be voted on in the coming weeks by other readers of the series.

As part of the contest’s promotion, Riecks is featured on a billboard along U.S. 45 across from Just Hamburgers on the south end of Paxton. The billboard was unveiled Saturday morning.

Looking forward
While just 22 books have been released in the past three years — out of 60 total — several more are due to come out in the coming months.

“They were selling an awful lot, and they’ve slowed down a little bit,” Griffin said. “They’re due to release four books here pretty quick, including the second graphic novel that will be coming out before Christmas called ‘The Snowman.’”

Griffin, whose bookstore Poe claims is the largest seller of the series in the country, attends numerous publicity events with Poe. A few weeks ago, Poe held an event similar to the one on Saturday at his bookstore in the heart of the Indiana Amish and Mennonite communities.

“When our schedules mesh, we do an awful lot of events,” Griffin said. “I’ve worked with him on a couple different ones, and it is so much fun to sell.”

Along with the book signing, Poe, Black and Griffin had lunch with Riecks and other fans of the series and visited the festival’s contest entrants and vendors.

Toward the end of the day, Griffin estimated that more than 100 books had been sold at Saturday’s event.

For those who missed the weekend festival, Poe plans to be in Paxton to visit Riecks and his classmates at Paxton-Buckley-Loda Junior High School and also be a part of the community’s Halloween activities.

“Paxton is the soul of what we are writing about in these books,” Black said. “Paxton is small-town America, a very valuable place to live. That’s what the book is about. It’s about a town that’s trapped in Halloween and the kids try to get it out.”

Riecks, who was the reason the authors chose Paxton to begin with, said the day was a special one.

“It’s pretty cool (for him to come here),” he said. “Pretty neat every single time.”
 

Location (3):Local, Paxton, Ford County

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